Once again start my ramble at Green Park tube station and head north, this time going along Dover Street to get to the Gazelli Art House. Ben Tricklebank has been given the ground floor to display a couple of photographs of a model who has her eyes closed and is part submerged in a pool of white, creamy liquid. Looking at the pictures made me think of Cleopatra taking her morning ablutions in the bath of asses’ milk which apparently helped her keep her good looks and drive both Rex Harrison and Richard Burton crazy with desire, or was it Kenneth Williams and Sid James? Anyway, after reading the gallery notes, I have to accept that I’m way off the mark with my classical carry on references and I’m barking at a red herring up completely the wrong tree. Silly me, I should have been thinking about, ‘The symbiosis of struggle and accord between the figure and the liquid,’ and, ‘…the sociotechnical conundrum whereby control is an illusion and illusion is control…’ Either way, the image of the figure emerging from her soggy opalescent shroud is undoubtedly rather an appealing one and leads on to Tricklebank’s other, more curious, artwork here. This is an interactive installation, consisting of a shallow pool of milky water wired up to some clever piece of electronic wizardry that alerts it to my approach. So while I creep up to peer in, expecting to see some modern day Liz Taylor or Amanda Barrie, the previously still waters start to bubble and froth and once again I’m culturally wrong-footed. It’s soon clear that there’s not going to be any Cleo emerging from this particular milkshake so I wonder if this time maybe the reference is to another, slightly less renowned, piece of cinematic silliness, namely the Hot Tub Time Machine. But, while I wait for lights to flash and for me to time-travel back to join my adolescent friends and relive a crucial turning point during my desperate teenage years, all that happens is for a shadowy silhouette to start swirling its path around the water. Far too small to be a Jaws remake, it’s nevertheless just a little bit scary and probably best avoided, like one of those big brown fish with no eyes that Captain Beefheart sings about in the song Lost in a Whirlpool.
Upstairs at Gazelli are more examples of interactive techno-art experimentation but sampling these delights means having to squeeze my head into one of those heavy 3-D headsets and then fiddling about with the buttons and bows to get the goggles and headphones lined up and strapped into position. The problem with these devices is that they’re just way too clunky and the technology isn’t sleek enough to make using them an enjoyable experience. So it doesn’t matter how magical is the stereoscopic psychedelia that’s being projected onto my eyeballs, I still don’t believe that I’m flying on gossamer wings through some magical, cosmic wonderland but instead feel like I’m very much earthbound and stuck with a rock strapped to my head. There are works here from a few different artists here but having road tested Matteo Zamagni’s Nature Abstraction, which felt like taking an Alton Park ride round one of those corny Rick Wakeman sci-fi LP sleeves from the 1970s, I felt I’d had enough and it was time to give up on virtual reality and revert back to the real reality again
So, I carry on walking up to the Alan Cristea Gallery on Cork Street to take a look at Cast, the latest show from Antony Gormley which, as expected, is quite an impressive display. By curious coincidence, he also seems to have been submersing himself in gloopy liquids but rather taking a soak in asses’ milk he’s gone for a dip in a mix of crude oil and petroleum jelly and then dried off by pressing himself against some sheets of paper. He’s repeated this peculiar act of masochistic self-indulgence a few times, aligning his limbs in different positions, with the results preserved in sets of life-size prints that offer up a contemporary version of Vitruvian Man meeting the Turin Shroud. Interspersed between these pallid yellow pressings, Gormley has created another series of body forms, similarly man-sized, but this time composed of simple overlapping back grids. I suppose it’s possible to see the rounded organic shapes alongside their hard-edged geometrical equivalents and imagine them as representing the contrast between mind and body, or body and spirit, or maybe even the soft internal organs and the hard external carapace we sometimes present to the world.
But enough. As soon as I start spouting this kind of metaphysical waffle I know it’s time to move on. And so I go to Hanover Square and Blain Southern where Bosco Sodi presents a large, room-sized installation entitled Yugen, which, you probably don’t need me to remind you is, ‘a multi-layered Japanese concept describing the evocation of inexplicably deep emotions in response to aesthetic creation, extending to a sense of awareness and acceptance of impermanence’. Having read and re-read that in the gallery leaflet I feel like I’ve walked a few hundred yards just to replace my own metaphysical froth for someone else’s. But, forget about the words, what about the artwork? Well, it basically consist of a lot of bits of rock that have been coated in gold paint and distributed around the gallery floor while on the walls are a series of crusty slabs of cracking plaster. I confess it failed to evoke much in me and just looked a bit like the kind of tacky décor that might appeal to some nouveau riche plonker. Yugen if you want but I don’t think I’ll bother, as Kenneth Williams would have said had they ever got around to making Carry on Curating. And, in fact, there’s a far more evocative scene just outside the gallery where a line of bicycles has gathered together around a large puddle as if in emulation of a herd of mechanical wildebeest about to sup at the local waterhole.
I take a quick snap of this strange alignment of thirsty velocipedes and move on to Ben Brown Fine Arts only to discover a kindred spirit in the form of Ori Gersht, for he too has taken to photographing scenes which use reflections to add to their beauty and complexity. Floating World is a series of images of the ancient gardens in Buddhist Zen temples in Kyoto which have been manipulated with what look like multiple exposures but are probably some form of digital trickery using a programme called Lily-gilder. Unsurprisingly, the gardens look spectacularly beautiful with the dense mass of vibrant colours that emanate from carefully selected shrubs and trees naturally doubled up by being mirrored in various natural lakes and water features. It seems to me that Gersht’s additional post-production digital trickery rather than improving things just makes them all a bit confusing and, rather pointlessly, muddies the previously crystalline waters.
There’s one final stop today and that’s at the ICA where Guan Xiao and Martine Syms, two comparatively young artists respectively from Beijing and Los Angeles, have each been given a floor to assemble their mixed media sculptural installations and offer up reflections on contemporary culture. I suppose if I am allowed to make a reflection of my own it would be to suggest that despite them coming from opposite sides of the world their work is really quite similar, suggesting that the globalisation of contemporary artistic expression seems to have produced a near complete consensus. Evidently the combination of what seem to me to be random objects, random photographic images and a quick succession of random video clips has become the artworld’s accepted lingua franca and it’s a pity that it’s all just a bit insipid. Frankly, it seems a rather overworked style, all a bit bland and equivalent to the dreary 19th century French salon art that got so comprehensively swept away when Impressionism burst on the scene and heralded the start of the wonderful century of Modernist experimentation. Hopefully, we are living through a similar interregnum that will soon end when some true visionaries appear and come up with a more exciting, revolutionary way of examining our new Post-Post-Modern world.