Room 113: Billy McCall and Neuschloss

A speaker on a stand, a squat ceramic object and a recumbent potato greet you as you enter Room 113, each grounded on a purple yoga mat. The speaker, in a perfect ‘tadasana’ (mountain pose) emits a droning sound. The installation titled ‘Think smarter gateway error’ (2017) is the collaborative work of Allan Hughes and Tom O’Sullivan, two members of Neuschloss – a research group based at Northumbria University. Room 113 is a gallery in the home of BALTIC Director Sarah Munro, which launched in March with the current exhibition by Neuschloss and Glasgow based Billy McCall.

‘Think smarter gateway error’ ‘notionally reconstitutes’ a staff wellbeing centre at Northumbria University – a tiny room that contains a yoga ball and mat and, due to its immediate proximity to a mechanical plant room, is infused with a peculiar industrial womb music. In Neuschloss’ installation this incidental noise is amplified to foreground its absurdity, only the result is oddly affecting: the trance-like drone brings you into the present moment. The capacity for such a sound to soothe must of course depend on one’s faith in the wider machinery, in this case, a workplace that supports one’s wellbeing. A ‘505 gateway error’ indicates a problem with the server, not the user.

The ceramic object, made by artist Anne-Marie Copestake replicates a Neolithic chalk object known as a Folkton Drum. This and the potato are replicated in screen prints set against a mirrored backdrop on the wall, borrowing from the university’s chrome accented corporate aesthetic and disrupting it with stodge and earthiness. Stay for the entire drone loop and you will hear a surprise cameo from a university security guard (or caretaker).

Yogic breathing might offer a solution for dealing with uncertain futures; an alternative is to hide out in a shifting nonspecific memory of yesteryear. Billy McCall’s ‘The Conspiracy of Good Taste 176 pages (After Fred Moore)’ (2017) reveals the dangerous lure of nostalgia pivoting the work around a moment indicated in a timeline on the wall. In 1938, filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl sought distribution in the US for her film Olympia – a darkly mesmeric body-poem of Nazi ideology that purports to document the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Walt Disney was one of few to meet with her. Next to this is a cigarette card bearing Riefenstahl’s portrait framed against a black board with a single shard of glass in the bottom like the inverse of a disintegrating phone screen.

Opposite is a series of ink and pencil (re)drawings of animation cells from Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1940 in which Mickey as ‘The Apprentice’ outsources his labour to a magic broom that multiplies to create a unthinking legion. Known for its menacing sonic motif, here the sound is emptied out and the marks of the drawings amplified. McCall’s fervent re-rendering of the cells in ink and pencil means they go beyond their role as players in the work’s broader narrative. They make its cautionary tale about idealised pasts more uncomfortably felt.

Billy McCall and Neuschloss, Room 113, 18 March – 3 June.

Kate Liston is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Image: Room 113: Billy McCall and Neuschloss installation shot, courtesy of McCall and Room 113.

Published 28.04.2017 by Christopher Little in Reviews

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