Often it feels as if the whole art shebang is a bit of a comedy: a great cascading yarn that everyone seems to be tuned into but somehow I haven’t quite got. Or perhaps it’s just that the punch line hasn’t arrived yet but, when it comes, it’ll bring the house down. The problem is the joke always seems to be on the artists, often stuck on the bottom step of a mis-wired supply-and-demand culture pyramid. What you might describe as a not-very-good joke. That said, artists and researchers usually wear it all with an appropriate mix of irony and knowingness: the default art survival instinct. So, the Bluecoat’s latest show, Double Act: Art and Comedy, made some sense to me; there seemed to be potential for various areas of mutual interest to be explored.
Fax Back by art collective BANK runs through the Cloister space that connects the galleries; a suitable branch for holding the whole thing together. The work is a series of gallery press releases that the artists have marked-up with cutting and amusing comments, before faxing them back to the galleries. It gets to the crux of how art is written about by many commercial galleries: difficult, meaningless, or often just plain wrong. There’s a silence that surrounds this jargon so it’s good to see it get a going over.
In the Vide space, Kara Hearn re-creates big-budget movie scenes within the confines of her flat, contrasting high drama with everyday settings. Every so often you see her cat wandering through the lounge, looking for a can of Whiskers. Hearn plays multiple parts which gives the piece an uncanny vibe. There’s something about memory as well; if someone had asked me to describe the final scene in Titanic I wouldn’t have a clue but seeing Hearn remake it, it certainly rang a few bells – the trace was there, for sure. On the final screen, Hearn re-creates death scenes, which is a bit of a highpoint. The Gladiator one is great. Hearn nails the moment when Maximus’ legs go. They’re all very well observed. You can imagine an ad agency ripping it off (if they haven’t already got round to it), getting kids to do the same thing with a Pearl and Dean logo slapped on the end.
Galleries 1 and 2a are dedicated to film works. Common Culture’s I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (Karen), has a stand-up performing her routine in an empty drama studio. The piece is given an edge by the lack of an audience. After a while, it starts to feel a little bit like a psychotherapy session, although that’s just one take on it. Next door, Peter Land’s Pink Space has the artist playing a drunken entertainer who repeatedly falls off a stool. The music sets the work up perfectly. It’s funny.
Across the overall form of the exhibition there are moments that resonate between the works and, as an assemblage, it does more than the sum of its parts. Maurice Doherty’s neon sign, “I Slept with the Curator to get this Show”, links to the BANK piece in taking a pop at the art world. The curators, David Campbell and Mark Durden, get the balance right, though, not telling the same joke again and again. For example, the inclusion of a Bill Woodrow sculpture hits a different note and broadens the thing. Gallery 2b also has works that add other textures. I’m thinking of Mel Brimfield’s Charles Ray send-up, On Board, and the Sarah Lucas piece, Got a Salmon On (Prawn).
It’s a good show and certainly worth a visit. I left feeling that the city was open to me for an hour or two, with a bit of space to think, which is always a good sign. It got me – I got it.
Anthony Ellis is a writer based in Manchester.
Double Act: Art and Comedy, Bluecoat, Liverpool.
9 April – 19 June 2016.
Image: Gemma Marmalade, Seed Series (Green Fingered) (2015) Courtesy of the Artist