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TIC TAC TOE
28/01/2012 - 09/03/2012
Artists: Aki Ilomaki, James Viscardi, Shaun Doyle & Mally Mallinson
Curated by: Peter Flack and Darren O’Brien
Is contemporary art no more than a boring, repetitive endgame in the last stages of capitalism?
The curators Darren O’ Brien and Peter Flack present three sets of work by artists, James Viscardi, Aki Ilomaki and collaborators Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson. Chosen for their ‘lightness’ and ‘humour’, the artists are at the same time perceived as offering more complex strategies than meet the eye.
The ASC Gallery, based in Southwark, is a public gallery, not operating for commercial ends and as such, selects work in order to provoke lively discussion around contemporary art.
So, in a ludic spirit of fun, whilst London burns, ASC wants to bypass the usual gallery eulogizing of its artists and seeks to challenge you, the Art-going public, to be worthy opponents in a debate centred round the exhibition “tic tac toe”, a game dating back to Ancient Roman and Egyptian empires, drawing in the sand.
Our opening gambit; a gamut of questions to set the ball rolling: Is art just a game or can it have meaning? Can art ever be fresh despite its weary post-pop, postmodern demeanour? Is it ok for art to plunder modernist and other historical art sources willy-nilly without tiresome, smug irony?
Ask yourself, are you heady with the power of multiple interpretations or fed up of the responsibility for having to come up with the answers? Remember what’s at stake: Knowledge is Power in this Information Age of cliché…what if you (heaven forbid) accidently get the wrong idea?!
Is l- e-g-i-b-i-l-i-t-y something that we, the Art-using Public in today’s compensation culture are entitled to demand of today’s artists?! What do YOU think?
Say your piece.
The End is nigh.
Make your move: TIC TAC TOE
Co-curator, Darren O’Brien sees James Viscardi’s paintings as “fresh and quirky; Californian…wide open.” To him, they have “a light hearted language and are playful in a formal way”, whilst daring to make light of Cubism with an irreverent humour.
So why pick on the Cubists? Whereas those venerable ”masters” attempted to capture the new reality of their time, surpassing the mechanistic camera’s eye, to reveal the then present and future worlds of quantum physics; Viscardi’s gaze “pulverises….breaks down what you see…picks out pieces and reworks them”. Thus he is looking back at the past on a formal level, the content seemingly flattened out. Yep, most definitely “post” modernism. Box: tick.
Yet when first asked about the Cubist references, Viscardi alluded to fragmentation and insanity, momentarily hinting at the modernist metaphor of depth but with an angsty, surreal twist. But, after a beat, the breezy insouciance of youth emerged once more in his perceived role as a painter who performs: “reconfiguring discarded meanings that don’t have value anymore”. His work can be seen as a kind of caricature of pieces from the past but painted with immediacy in the cartoonish style redolent of Viscardi’s American childhood.
At first viewing as jpeg thumbnails on his website, the nudes with their leitmotif of upturned lemons for breasts and scribbled faces might enrage the feminist buried deep within. Their bodies, an unthinking Caucasian pink, the porno testicles dangling dangerously above a steaming cappuccino….?
Viscardi’s interest is in “beauty and sexual energy.” He says of the nudes in his work “…a lot of women love it; they don’t see abuse, only body image”. It’s easier but is it right nowadays to patronise rather than to get “heavy” by raising uncomfortable issues such as identity politics? By extending the postmodern to now appropriate the subject matter and forms of High Modernism –as -popular culture, doesn’t he run the risk of renewing sexual and racially objectified norms as transparent once more? By casually “discarding meanings” which may still be lived experience for many, does the young artist intentionally leave himself open to a potentially inflammatory interpretation and get his balls burnt?!
But when seen “in the flesh”, these works have a softness; a sensitivity in the use of saturated colours, in the delicate application of paint and more latterly, the use of transparent, gauzy canvas. A personal angle is revealed on the cynical position of signalling irony with humour, the paintings are not what he calls “just a cheap trick.”
Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson
These two are a right “pear”. They like to play and have a laugh with art. Any subject, the bigger the better, is fair game for their controversial cosh. But their humour is no blunt bovver boot, being laced as it is with a keen angle on current affairs and political satire. “We don’t care about the art market or art world trends” they state deadpan.
Whereas my initial reaction was to see their large prop-like work as “blundering”, for O’Brien, they evoke nostalgia for British seaside’s “somewhere like Clacton” and share some similarities with the visual language of Bob and Roberta Smith. When I ventured that works like “Fascist Fruit Boys” look “macho… lumbering….lumpen.” The duo laughed and had the last word, repeating it in a German accent, deciding it would be the title of their next show…
Self-admittedly “childish” co-authors of subject-driven narratives, Doyle and Mallinson “start with a concrete idea” but……“delight in confusion”. They derive pleasure from seeing how their nonchalant, postmodern tussle with grand narratives such as politics, religion and science is attributed with meaning by others and consequently “osmoses along the food chain… like Chinese whispers.” They revel in the resultant symbolic violence; the conflict of extreme versions where their original “authentic” intention is lost.
The work Souvenir shown in this exhibition are part of a series inspired by Pascal Desir Maisonneuve (1863-1934), a French artist whose work is considered to be Outsider Art. They describe him as “…rebellious of mind…making effigies from seashells in which he poked fun and ridiculed politicians and monarchs”.
These works began at first as “an attempt to celebrate the Poll Tax Riots of 1990 through the medium of shells”. However, their sojourn into the reassuring, manly busywork that attends the construction of matchstick edifices combined with the heady smell of air fix glue serendipitously prophesied the 2011 summer “consumer riots” in London led by its sprawling BBM-led masses.
Whereupon, they chose to “switch from a riot with a cause, they instead created a scene of general mayhem and chaos.” The various elements were chosen to “keep the ad hoc, cheap and clumsy nature of the mass produced souvenirs” and yet they insist that “…even so, amongst the chaos you may be able to spot some High Art references with some of the figures remarkably similar to Picasso’s bathers…” The tableaux mimic a public holiday, a grand day out, watched over by benign forces however, in reality, the souvenirs were instead from places like JD Sports, Curry’s or Foot Locker.
The curators describe these paintings as “…about choice; finding the right moment; musing and playing with language….uncomplicated gesture.” This artist is highly selective with his means, the wash of colours: bright blue or black, a thin, sinuous neutral line bounding an expanse of orange or yellow. He has allowed himself only sparse means to tell his tale.
And then gradually I start to see myself as a demanding viewer; needing my meaning, my fix, to come quickly. Could it be then that these paintings are about pace…, that over duration, meanings might occur or even accrue? They are actually quite meditative, mirroring the weight of expectation back to the viewer. Is Ilomaki’s game is to keep us guessing, playing for time?
What if the artist is actively seeking though to resist a fixed meaning? To see the viewer’s stabs of connection as attempts to pin down? Should we always be trying to “word it out” for to do so might sound something like this (adopts a sports-commentators tone) “Yes: Get in! Spot that curvilinear Art Deco sweep of American automobile styling! The colours, bright and brassy, their contour a St Tropez coastline navigated by Pop’s beautiful people…!”
Role playing the signifier can slide it along a chain of ever more distant meanings until you realise you have been swept away from what is essentially a simple repeated stencil; almost as unassuming as wallpaper in its reticent, off-centre demeanour. Ilomaki doesn’t seek to represent, but instead conveys a languor which veers off into a wasteland of meaning.
This place could be somewhere he can rest for a while, free from the anxious inner critic that historicises oneself with each move in the artwork. For him “we’re at a good point in history”; he is resigned to seeing Art as a closed circuit and is realistic about its limitations.
Jenny Jones, 2012