David Roberts Art Foundation, Symes Mews, London NW1 7JE

(X) A Fantasy


8 September - 7 October 2017

Review by Edmée Lepercq

‘(X) A Fantasy’. The parentheses, an aside; the X, pornographic or geographic: a site. Or X as multiplier, an infinite number. A fantasy infiltrates the mind, again and again. It blankets the tedious repetitions of the mundane and fills the interstices within the fragmentary experience of desire. It is not so much a fixation on an object but an open arrangement of images – a narrative, almost – which the mind returns to, dwells upon and alters slightly each time.

‘(X) A Fantasy’ is David Roberts Art Foundation’s 10th year anniversary exhibition, its final in the current Camden space (the foundation will thereafter present projects across the UK). The show brings together twenty-five paintings, photographs, friezes, sculptures, installations and videos by close to twenty artists. Series are rife, their repetitions and alterations mirroring the mechanisms of fantasies.

The exhibition opens with three Pierre Molinier (1900-1976) photographs from his series ‘Mon cul’. Over and over, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Molinier captured himself in his Bordeaux apartment, dressed in his wife’s lingerie, sometimes with a mask. In one, he crosses his legs, clad in fine stockings and bound at the ankles; in another, he bends over, presenting his arse. In the third, he impales himself, with the help of an éperon d’amour, a handy device with a dildo attached to a high heel. Molinier is androgynous, penetrator and penetrated, desired object and desiring voyeur. The fantasy is about the self rather than another, with the self as another.

For an exhibition about fantasies, there are very few about bodies. In fact, besides Celia Hempton’s ‘Kamal’ (2016), a luscious painting of buttocks presumably belonging to the man who gave his name to the piece, the sexualisation of other’s bodies, either male or female, is conspicuously absent. Or rather, those present are not so straightforward as objects of desire. Julian Opie’s ‘Statue of Shahnoza’ (2007), for example, is a light-box statue of a larger than life size pole dancer - who seductively pops her hips and throws her arms over her head. Yet desire the seductiveness of the pose is meant to elicit falls flat against the mechanical and advertorial quality of her smooth neon lines and the emptiness of her faceless, hairless head, a perfect circle. Or in ‘Pel III’ (2017), an installation by Zoe Williams that recreates the uterine atmosphere of strip club, fur coats lie on the floor next to poles, skins that were sloughed off to reveal appetizing flesh now nowhere to be seen.

Instead, the exhibition appears to be concerned with the relationship between fantasy and space. In Molinier and Jimmy de Sana for example, fantasy appears as an escape from the domestic space and the boredoms it can offer, while Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hasting’s light-boxes fantasise the gay holiday resort Fire Island as queer and anarchic. The last three rooms of the exhibition fall into literal re-creations of spaces stereotypically associated to erotic desire and pursuit: the nightclub, the strip-club and the bedroom. Williams’s ‘Pel III’ and Megan Rooney’s ‘Everywhere Been There’ (2017) are, admittedly, meant to be close utterances of those places and their strong atmospheric presence uncovers alternative interpretations of artworks beside them (Wolfgang Tillmans’ material investigations of photographic printing, for example, takes on a bodily moistness). However, the room evocative of a nightclub is created by using artworks like props from a set-design, the confining topographical interpretation leading to an impoverishment of meaning.

The exhibition ends with a video by Keren Cytter on a love triangle: a woman loves a man who wants someone younger, another man loves her but she ignores him. Non-linear and cyclical, with images, conversation and subtitles layering and confusing each other, the film highlights the insularity of fantasies, and how they can make us vulnerable to rejection from the object of desire.

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