I don’t get to the Whitchapel very often, indeed I’ve only been there once before long ago for an exhibition I can no longer really remember.
Much of conceptual contemporary art has a super serious, self regarding attitude that I find really off putting. Even if the shows are not actually like this the contemporary galleries, Saatchi, Serpentine and Whitechapel have a tendency to portray them in this manner, so I don’t go.
For me at least the best conceptual art has an element of joy and humour in them, Rauschenberg is a good example, as is Grayson Perry and more recently Hannah Marten (last year’s Turner prize winner). It maybe that this is something I am reading into the works but that doesn’t really matter. The end result is the same.
At the Whitechapel at the moment are four exhibitions, Benedict Drew’s The Trickle-Down Syndrome, a photography exhibition called A Handful of Dust (both ominously pretentious titles), then the Max Mara prize exhibition and the I-self portrait exhibition.
First up, Mr Drew. Queue pretentious spiel written on the wall, I didn’t read it all. Then on the walls large black and white pictures of guts in which you can imagine words and figures appearing. On one side a red and black internally organy figure and a similar green and black one opposite.
In the middle is the prize piece, a multimedia assembly including sound, video screens, lights flicking on a slivery disk all of it displaying a brain with eyes and ears (picture above). I liked this. It had that element of joy I was talking about, particularly the concical bloodshot eyes.
Round the corner, a stack of newspapers being buffeted by large fans. You are encouraged to take one of these newspapers and I did. They contain pieces by the same artist the best of which was a picture of a donkey with the slogan “I hate humans”.
The show ends with a series of red screens hiding a tv showing someone slowly moving through mud and then a separate yellow lit room which smelt funny showing hands with animated cones coming out of them. Moving swiftly on and up the stairs.
A handful of dust was a series of mainly black and white photos saying they were after Man Ray. I didn’t really see a cohesive theme but some of them were quite interesting. There were RAF photos from 1917 showing a formation of parked by planes, then sand sculptures and the California desert. The one I most enjoyed was by Rat Bee Luxembourg’s “In Even Deeper” which in yellowish tint showed steep steps down to a muddy platform with foot prints on and a sharp drop to water below. It made vertiginous looking at it.
On the same floor taking up a room is the I-self exhibition the centre of which is the disturbing part skeletal billy goat but there are some other good things in this room as well. There a few pieces by Louise Borgouise my favourit of which was a tall thin Hepworth like sculpture. Another piece that caught my eye was by Enrico David and in blue and purples depicted a sort of ghostly figure. My favourite though was the Rags Media Collective. It was a large analogue clock but instead of number had things like Doubt, Fatigue, Ecstasy written. Enjoyed that.
Lastly the Max Mara prize winner, Emma Hart. In one large room a series of large ceramic light shades decorated on the outside to look like measuring devices (above). The light forms speech bubble shapes on the floor and this is cut by fans made from large cutlery. The inside of each light shade is colourfully decorated with a different theme, one of them with a series of heads saying “I”, another showing fingers (2 examples below). I liked this.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.