Reviewed by Kev McVeigh
The second Body Collective exhibition opened last night at Mona House in Morecambe. On entry visitors were handed a brown envelope labelled Body Collective Report which served as the catalogue for the show, a huge step up from the unidentified work that was a part of BC1 a few months ago. Inside it was immediately clear that although featuring much work similar to the earlier show this was altogether a more professional event. However it must be said that some potential attendees were still unable to find the gallery or its obscure side-entrance.
BC2 showcases the work of 7 artists (or groups of artists in Free:Control’s case) in assorted media. The first of these, and one which gained much attention all night is Pam Beck’s Endorphia, a chocolate cast of a woman laid prone on a table. Guests were invited to cut into and eat the chocolate, which provoked mixed reactions: nervous jokes about where to start, questioning reluctance to use a knife on the image of a woman, an open expression of the erotic aspects, and much reasoned discussion. People repeatedly assessed their own reaction; one viewer wondering aloud if her discomfort was entirely due to it being a female figure she was expected to carve, or if her vegetarianism would have prompted a similar response to a male figure. Added frisson came as the model stood nearby happily chatting to people who were cutting into her effigy’s breast, or licking at its pudenda, its integrity violated by a cake knife.
And yet it’s title and the accompanying text explicitly link the consumprion of chocolate to the sensations of pleasure, so is the sexualisation of the effigy by the consumer gratuitous or highly relevant?
Helen Gorrill’s large scale ink wash images of dominatrix figures are incredibly striking, beautifully coloured and balancing detail and abstract well. Their juxtaposition alongside Endorphia offers further stimulus for questioning our reactions. Her other pieces, awkward, explicit male nudes provoked complaint when displayed in Carlisle previously. It’s hard to see how a traditional interpretation of obscenity could apply, the figures are grotesque, brutal even, yet undeniably human and real, distorted by the artist in ways emphatically polar opposite to her female figures. This is no casual nudity.
Richard davis’ series of photographs entitled Body language offers a more casual nudity, but in a stylised and highly non-sexualised context. Each image features acutely pertinent sloganeering painted on the face or body of the subject. So, for example, Richard Turner’s bare torso bares the blunt ‘Love Music Hate Racism’, a young Polish woman’s face asks ‘Dirty Pole or Just like You?’ and a naked woman bears two inscriptions: Inspire Me and My Body is A Blank Canvas. These last phrases were later observed carved (by a visitor) into similar places on the chocolate woman’s figure, tying the works together. Davis is a talented photographer with a particularly strong facility for visualising disparate elements into a strikingly effective whole.
Sloganeering and how people view others is also a core of Joseph Glen’s work. His primitive styled images are often decorated with social and political statements. Notably his self portrait ‘Why do you stare at me? Have I No Place in Society?’ and ‘God Save The Queen’ across the face of a niqab wearing woman. It is a dramatic work, though its effect is partially diluted by the sheer number of Glen’s canvases. Paradoxically they also gain impact from their bold colours in such quantity in other ways.
If Glen’s work often references his own experience then that is the core of Adam Hardman’s sole piece here. A tape outline of a body on the floor, around three boxes each playing soundtracks of aspects of his life. It is a work that perhaps needs more space, less chatter, to fully appreciate but Adam has expressed interesting ideas to develop it further.
From the large scale of most of these works, and their obvious, yet coincidental commentary on each other, to Rachael Allan’s stand alone display. Exquisit miniature models of a birthing couch, a pram and a mortuary table with body bag are skilfully rendered at what I’d guess from my Airfix days to be something like 1/64th scale. Oddly miniaturisation has a two-fold effect, the journey from birth to death is made both mundane and significant.
Finally, in a side chamber Free:Control have created the latest iteration of their ongoing quasi-mythology of Azoth. This time the pagan altar of the earlier works gains a body, visceral and shocking, yet seemingly willingly sacrificed for a re-birth? It is a dark work, a nightmare fabulation of intricate detail and striking composition. The depth of invention at Free:Control and the technical awareness to realise their vision is clear.
Mona House is a small space, but this is a large and significant exhibition, packed with ideas, questions, answers, challenges and, overall, wit and intelligence. On my way out I took a piece of chocolate thigh and pondered what I had seen.