The Bluecoat’s Winter Exhibition Launch was a lively night of cocktails and performances. It celebrated the opening of two dissimilar exhibitions: Left Hand to Back of Head… by Adam Smythe and Fallible Space by Melissa Gordon.
Gordon is a London-based painter, printmaker and editor whose recent work explores the relation between art and its rhetoric. Here she presents a series of paintings entitled Material Evidence (2014), and a weeklong installation of silkscreen panels in the Bluecoat’s Performance Space.
Three of the paintings—featuring the tagline (Tray)—depict cheap, metal pallets. These colourful representations toy with the notion of value in art, a question echoed in her paintings of the unintentional markings on her studio’s surfaces.
The first event of the evening saw mime artist Rita Pulga install Gordon’s silkscreen panels using a system of pulleys. Her performance, inspired by Mina Lay’s abstruse play ‘Collision’, further explored the lines between accident and intent.
Fallible Space runs alongside a larger exhibition of Gordon’s paintings that opened in the Vide on January 23.
In Smyth’s first exhibition as the Bluecoat’s curator, Left Hand to Back of Head… brings together eight artists whose work uses uncomfortable imagery, clinical materials and sound as a texture.
At the entrance to the gallery is Marianna Simnett’s contribution, Blue Roses (2015): a hyper-realistic short film that merges a narrative about the removal of a woman’s varicose vein with a scientific study in cockroach mind control. The story culminates in an oddly moving musical sequence that sees the patient speak-sing “tip it, tip back to my head, stop the blue roses growing in my legs”, as a research team chants “there’s no need to think about what to do.”
Referencing Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Lynchian visual motifs, Blue Roses is an unexpected concept with disquieting visuals and a satisfying conclusion.
The second room displays a series of HD videos by Mitra Saboury that continues the exhibition’s fascination with secretion and discomfort. In Hardscape (2015), bare feet step over loose paving; in Pothole (2014), a clean mouth masticates asphalt, and, in Fillings (2015), orifices are smothered by cement casts. These tightly-framed close-ups are accompanied by equally crisp audio—played through headphones—that simulate intimacy and movement.
Saboury’s contributions rejuvenate the methods used in Bruce Nauman’s early video work, and flirts with the imagery of Matthew Barney’s mechanistic sexual fantasy Hoist (2006).
Sober photography by Becky Beasley offers respite from the work it follows, and leads onto the gallery’s busiest space—shared by Rowena Harris, Natalie Finnemore and Marie Toseland.
Again, surgery is referenced, along with spittle.
In Harris’s Extend/Compress Part 2 (2013), a cement button is stuck to the wall with chewing gum, near the cast of a folded shirt. This understated arrangement contrasts with the show’s more visceral work, through the absence of an implied body: a running theme.
On the other end of the spectrum is Toseland’s Pushin’ Sumthin’ Nice (feat. Kinlaw) (2015). The components of this mixed media installation sequence at critical junctions to create an audio and visual experience that would be at home in Tresor or Berghain.
Toseland’s harsh yet current style was shared by the evening’s second performance: Movement Study 4 (Dorsal/Breast) (2014), Kitty Fedorec’s collaboration with Mary Hurrell.
Hurrell recited a poem that played upon the exhibition’s instructive title, then Fedorec hypnotised the audience with her slight movements to a vaguely old-school-industrial track, under a pulsating light. On the rare occasions that she turned to face the attendants, she did so with her mouth open like a waxwork.
Her heels added to the mechanic effect, as they left marks upon the vinyl platform.
As with much of the art in Left Hand to Back of Head..., Hurrell’s performance used references to flesh, repetition, and the textural qualities of sound to create a viewing experience that was strangely soothing yet somewhat detached and robotic.
It drew the audience in, and kept them there.
Persistent to its merit, Left Hand to Back of Head…. is a provocative and carefully balanced exhibition that merges the visceral and the uncomfortable with the calm and the playful, always with a nod to the body.
Throughout its diverse artworks, there is a coherent aesthetic that mirrors the show’s interconnected themes: a rare achievement and a brilliant start to the Bluecoat’s New Year.
Simon Ward is a writer and critic from Liverpool currently studying for his MA in Writing.
Melissa Gordon: Fallible Space
January 23- March 13
Left Hand to Back of Head, Object Held Against Right Thigh
January 23 – March 28
Photo credit: Brian Roberts