MAY IT KEEP THE WOLVES IN THE HILLS AND THE WOMEN IN OUR BEDS, A collision of interests selected by Ryan Gander at Mexico

The latest exhibition at Mexico, an ambitious collectively-run art space in central Leeds, brings together a selection of conceptually deft and formally inventive artworks by four artists. With no singular ‘curator’ as such, the exhibition has been generated through a process of dialogue and collaboration, with Ryan Gander acting as facilitator. After an invitation to work with Mexico, Gander proposed a title and the names of four artists, and from that initial starting point a show was built. The majority of pieces on display have been made new for the exhibition, created with the title in mind.

It would seem from past projects that Gander, as well as diffusing the role of the curator, has an aversion to overarching curatorial themes, and this exhibition is no exception. Other than the title, there is no prescribed theme, merely the abiding sense of an exhibition brought into being through the desire to exhibit four outstanding artists together in one space. It is a simple premise that works to good effect, where emphasis is placed not on thematics, but on the the quality and strength of the work displayed.

Several works make reference to music, but without deploying sound itself. One such work is by Rob Lye, a series of four unflattering filmic portraits. Placed in pairs, the screens show close-up footage of head and shoulders, with each individual engaged in an unseen activity below the frame. We witness fast and frantic movements, as heads bop and jerk, faces perspire, jaws clench with concentration and cheeks become ruddy. Motions at first seem masturbatory, yet these subjects are in fact caught in the act of drumming. Devoid of sound, we are made to focus upon bodily movement and facial expression, the involuntary and often embarrassing faces that are made whilst playing drums. The work intimately situates the viewer within seemingly private moments of practice, play and endurance. Performing the beat to Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana, a distinctive drum part often learnt by beginners, the work makes reference to states of teenage fandom, and processes of learning.

A work by John Newton gives sculptural form to a drum beat, as he transcribes a drum tab using BB gun pellets, the material used to perhaps evoke the violence of a militaristic drum beat. Another work by Newton takes the form of a customised denim jacket adorned with plain black patches. Described as a “monument to a conversation”, the jacket appears to be in mourning. The subject of Newton’s memorialised conversation was black metal, and the patches effectively evoke the black metal scene whilst also conveying a funerary quality. Imbued with traces of the personal, Newton’s sculptural works seem generated from encounters within daily routine. Like Lye’s portraits, they convey a sense of intimacy, commemorating or simply making reference to moments of everyday life.

Lucia Quevedo‘s works similarly take quotidian starting points. Her petite, slight sculptures combine a sharpness of wit with a skilled and precise use of materials. Using a delicately spare visual vocabulary, Quevedo manipulates the materiality of her objects in subtle and absurd ways. The result is a series of idiosyncratic forms. In one work, through the use of marble, she gives classical form to slices of delicatessen ham. Continuing the manipulation of food stuffs, Quevedo renders a block of ceramic ‘butter’ in a lurid and cartoonish canary yellow. One particularly effective work takes the form of an amputated rounders bat. Sliced in half, the bat sits atop an equally slim sliver of plinth. The effect is to make the bat appear unnaturally submerged within the plinth, thus giving the plinth a soft malleable quality.

Like Quevedo, Jacqueline Bebb‘s elegant sculptures play with form and functionality. Beautifying the mundane or the purely functional, Bebb infuses her ambiguous forms with a multiplicity of meaning. Making objects that respond to specific narratives, Bebb uses the the sculptural medium to forge dialogues with particular moments and histories. In one work, Bebb displays a group of beautifully crafted wooden spikes. Bebb uses form and material to dismantle the original connotations of a railing spike, whilst also being suggestive of a multiple and shifting functionality.

The lengthy title of the exhibition may at first seem oblique and ambiguous, yet once unravelled it can be read as a profound proclamation. The title is a slight variation on the statement “May the Gods keep the wolves in the hills and the women in our beds” (words spoken by the Spartan King Menelaus after the fall of Troy), a declaration that expresses a desire for ‘the Gods’ to maintain the peace and status quo. In Gander’s chosen title ‘the Gods’ have been replaced by ‘it’, which we can read as meaning art. Here Gander invites us to put our faith and trust, not in the gods, but in the protective power of art. The sentiment conveyed by the title is a desire for artistic life to prevail; may art keep us safe, alive and well.

MAY IT KEEP THE WOLVES IN THE HILLS AND THE WOMEN IN OUR BEDS, A collision of interests selected by Ryan Gander was shown at Mexico Project Space, Leeds, between 21st September to 5th October.

Alice Miller is a History of Art postgraduate and writer based in Leeds. 

Published 02.11.2012 by Bryony Bond in Reviews

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