‘I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.’
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
With a lurid-pink vinyl exhibition title running across the front of its outwardly suburban space, what at first appears to be a cross between a garage sale and a house party in residential Kennington reveals something altogether more extraordinary. Behind its garage door, the artist-led Gallery GRRG presents recent works from Leeds based artist Alfie Strong in Spit Me Out Said My Ashes To Their Urn.
Two large digital prints titled ‘Seeing Double or Nothing’ (2015) introduce the exhibition’s focus on paradox and the Human Condition. The acidic pink, yellow and green pixilated patterns are Magic Eyes; devices which, when focussed upon, supposedly develop into three dimensional images. Usually Magic Eyes require instructions, without which viewers are unable to locate their hidden image. Strong’s mischievous title lets the viewer know they are already set up for a loss; the two images melt into nothing, no matter how long you stare. Nihilism and hope run through the exhibition in satisfying equal measures. Strong asserts these conflicting attitudes with titles such as ‘Don’t Worry’ (2015) and ‘First Day of My New Job Managing the Snake Pit’ (2015). The former adopts a care-free humorous attitude, whilst the latter brims with anxiety, highlighting the complexities and disenchantments brought about by every-day experience.
Growing up near Pembrokeshire, Strong has acquired a broad knowledge of paganism and regularly mines Celtic Folklore, ritual and imagery to inform his practice. A film eponymously titled ‘Spit Me Out Said My Ashes to Their Urn’ (2015), shows a lonesome figure with small spiteful features, peering out at the viewer through a white hooded mask. Dressed in a thick grey cocoon and matching headpiece fabricated from packing blankets (a low cost material used to protect artworks during installations and frequently employed by Strong) the figure is announced by an eerie blast of a subaqueous sound, and slowly materialises into a smoke filled void. Visible from the chest up, this mute portrait wobbles and twitches, gesturing its head as if deep in eerie, inaudible conversation.
Turning to leave the exhibition the viewer’s eye is drawn up to three fearsome faces standing guard atop the garage door. Stitched in colourful felt, these works are a strange hybrid of balaclava, Luchador mask and executioners’ hood, equipped with contrasting expressions and stuffed pointed beaks. ‘Lugubrious P’ (2015) is a green mask with an elasticated neck, a hole for a mouth and white eyes which stream with tears. This work will seem familiar to those who have followed Strong’s progress over the last year. Exhibited twice under a different title and date, this mask is reflective of his concern to recycle and reuse work. ‘Lugubrious P’’s constant evolution feeds from Strong’s self-made mythology. Stating that ‘I like the idea of incompletion because it means there’s a future’, the artist makes a promise to continue to find and develop meaning, even where there seems to be none.
Further information about making an appointment to visit GRRG can be found here.
Image: Spit Me Out Said My Ashes To Their Urn, 2015, Image Liv Preston, Courtesy GRRG.
Alfie Strong is an artist living in Leeds and a studio holder at STCFTHOTS . He recently graduated from The School of the Damned, and is a member of the Sheffield-based collective (It’s all) Tropical.
Ellen Sankey is a writer based in London.