Text by Rebecca Senior
Bringing together a range of aesthetic and dialogical practices, The Third Quarterly Leeds Weirdo Club Exhibition is full of ghosts. The works on display are presented as remnants of a holiday that never existed, each is recognisable, yet all appear to have been groomed for uncanny experimentation. In their presence you are subtly coerced into the nauseous beauty of an artificial environment, lurching between nostalgic reminiscence and unnerving realisation.
The exhibition takes its title from a short horror-story penned by Steans. It narrates the tale of one family and two Spanish holiday resorts: ‘The Lucky Eskape’ and ‘The Unluky Eskape’. That the resorts co-exist with one another as if in parallel dimensions is perceived only by the reader. The family, whose members experience a series of sinister events at the resorts, remain unaware of their episodic counterparts in the alternate ‘Lucky Eskape’. This ‘all-is-not-as-it-seems’ aesthetic permeates the exhibition. Steans’ spot-lit sun loungers, which are covered by a pair of pool-printed beach towels, are identical in every respect with the exception of colour. The rubber ring and text on one towel are coloured with highlighter yellow, on the other with a similarly vibrant pink. These are not strictly ‘copies’ of sun loungers you would find in a holiday resort, they are displaced and artificial. Each one serves as an uncanny reminder of the other and the absent bodies that would fill them. Floating on the adjacent wall to the loungers are two sets of sunglasses, one pair in yellow and one pair in blue. By installing at head-height, the work cleverly inverts the projection of vision. The visitor stares into a pair of use-less lenses; who don’t stare at you but only reflect your image and, in the case of the blue pair which have mirrored lenses, a microcosmic postcard of the exhibition. These titular works of the show are fascinating in their comical self-consciousness and Ballard-esque conception that the Brits-Abroad holiday is an episode of disillusionment.
An eerie impression of otherness can be found in several other works. The most intriguing of these is Poor shells: a collaborative sculpture between Crawley and Steans which comprises of cast paw-prints, previously left by a cat in the drying cement outside the studio. They are fragmented and apportioned around the space as broken footprints. Aesthetically and conceptually they suggest memory and trace, they are evidence of two distinct creative acts, one nonchalant (the cat’s paw prints’ physical affinity with sea-shells), the other decidedly intentional (the casts are pinned at unrealistic heights across the studio). The physical act of creation is also called into question by Crawley and Meadley’s The Devil’s Castle. Initially the sculpture looks to have been made out of plaster of paris, or has been given that effect, and sits on the grey floor as if on a monochromic beach. The work is in fact made from lightweight ready mixed poly-filler which, although materially impossible, appears to have been turned out in one solid piece. The suggestion that sinister forces were at work is evident from the works title, where the childlike quality of sandcastle making is subverted and an absent maker is to credit for its methodology.
The alcohol which was served at the private view comprised of two types of Lucky Eskape cocktail; red and yellow. The ingredients remain a mystery – the only clue being two framed recipes where the vital constituents have been redacted with electrical tape. They were a crowd dis-pleaser, visitors to the private view could become drunk, but only if they were unaware of exactly what they were drinking.
Visually the show is lurid, grotesque even, but it is also powerful and intriguing. It is in such reference to absence and loss that works like Poor Shells and Happiness (evaporation) – a snow-globe found object of Crawley’s, whose liquid is slowly escaping – find refreshing new perspectives alongside their existence as tokens of a leisure-driven anti- paradise. By artistically scalping the grubby veneer of British holiday making, the Third Quarterly leeds Weirdo Club Exhibition provides a sinister reminder that tales of holiday-horror make for the best anecdotes; because no one wants to know exactly what it was you were drinking, they want to know how many times you were sick.
The 3rd Quartlery Leeds Weirdo Club Exhibition is on display by appointment until October 19 2013.
Rebecca Senior is a writer based in Leeds, and a Phd candidate in History of Art at The University of York.