17 April - 4 May 2013
Curated by Catherine Connolly
Opening Night | Thursday 18 April 6-8pm
Joseph Breikers, David Capra, Kel Glaister + Stephen Palmer
Mess Between gathers humorous and absurd performative and material gestures that survey a contemporary interest in engaging humour with other varying concerns within the artist’s practices.
IMAGES | David Capra, Intercession Memphis Gaol cell, 2013, high definition digital video colour still| Images courtesy of the artist.
Ain’t that a kick to the head.
Humour is a funny thing; it unites as much as it divides, it confuses meaning and language only to reinstate them with deeper understanding and it simultaneously creates both pleasure and complication. Much like art. Mess Between gathers some of these commonalities in a collection of performative and material gestures from a selection of contemporary artists interested in engaging humour in their practice.
Though humour may not be the sole focus of the artists here, the works presented share the desire to look at similarities between the two roles of art and joke making, and their shared potential for disrupting social understandings and the production of meaning. They are united in their use of a certain deliberate clumsiness as an artistic strategy for unsettling logic, and mix a degree of humour with interests in pranks and rituals , the language of materials and ideas about how meaning is made or confounded. Freud posited that we laugh when the flow of language and meaning is interrupted, at the temporary release from structure and reason, and the act of laughing itself is the physical relief of having meaning reinstated after this conflation.1 Here we see four artists for whom this conflation is the Trojan horse issuing forth further, wider concerns in their practice.
Several of the works in this show utilise material processes that re-create representational modes of existing objects, with their transition from original object to simulacra skewing meanings. Kel Glaister takes a mortuary headrest and a mould of her finger, ties it to a rotating mechanical device at, right about, eye height if the headrest is in use and proceeds to run the mechanics on a painfully slow rotation. The perverse slowness of the visceral but disembodied finger is disconcerting and the loaded erotic and psychoanalytical possibilities are not ignored, but even so you can’t miss the black ‘punch line’: that even when your dead someone (or thing) is still going to poke you in the eye. Ain’t that a kick to the head. The organisation of this work invites not just the imagined corpse but the live one- namely you, the audience. In which case is the work, and indeed art and humour, really just setting us up for a poke in the eye? Live or dead, is the hunt and attempted capture of meaning such a slippery pursuit that we remain, always, at the end of the poking finger of the disembodied artist?
This potential touching however is not available in Stephen Palmer’s ‘Untitled (Cinder block)’. Placed unreachable on the roof, Palmer has let lose a slow (non) moving confoundment: a cinder block inverted on the gallery ceiling. While it does not have the drama and cartoonish violence of the speeding ACME anvil (usually associated with the Roadrunner), it is rather a very real disruption in expectation, placement and logic. This intervention acts like a pun- a double take that is not a play on words but a play on expectations and reason as it defies gravity, structure and order. The simultaneous awareness and doubt about its illusion or reality conflates our belief in this object- it is safe to laugh (right?) despite its implied potential for violence and calamity.
For Breikers’ materiality itself, its prosaic nature, is part of the joke. The humour lies partly in economy and clumsiness of form, by the simple combination of found objects, movement and dialogue. The idea of taking an inanimate object and giving it an illusion of life resonates with Henri Bergson’s idea of the humourous being that which lends subjecthood to objects.2 Here Breikers’ prankish, lo-fi aesthetic reenacts the oldest of gags: the sock + hand = talking puppet. But there is a layering of gags at play in ‘Acoustic and Luminous Effects’. The first gag, the sock character, is partaking in another classic joke- the crank call. Further complication ensues as we realise the sock puppet is both making and receiving the crank call. He is in effect the subject and object of his prank in an endless, inescapable cycle of perpetration and persecution.
In this show while the performing body is perhaps largely absent, in all its humiliating or emphatic potential, it is always implied; in the disembodied finger, the imagined eye, assumed hand and in the implicated body of the audience. Then enter David Capra. Clad in white, strutting, dancing, waving his props, his face as lively as his moves: his exuberance totally sacrificing his dignity. In his practice Capra acts an as an intercessory, between living and the departed forces. In Intercession (Memphis Goal cell) he is cleansing the depicted space with his body, act and handmade props. He takes this role seriously, sincerely and yet performs with such rigour and animation that it draws attention to the absurdity of ritual. This is not a pompous, righteous act, nor one of celebrated ‘quiet dignity’ but one that utilises every absurd, compromised element of his own bodily materiality. In a sense he is doing it for us - acting on our behalf. Somewhat like a comedian he is prepared to sacrifice his dignity for our sake. And in lots of ways being an artist is like a being a comedian - both drawn to putting oneself and potentially ones poise and ego on the line for an audience due to our own specific, conscious and unconscious drives, or sometimes, as in Capra’s case, in a generous act for an idea of a greater good.
- Catherine Connolly, 2013
1 Sigmund Freud, ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious’, (1905). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud ed. James Starchey, vol. VIII (London: The Hogarth Press and the Instituted of Psychoanalysis) 9.
2 Henri Berson, ‘Le rire. Essai sur la signifcation du comique’ (Paris, 1900); trans. Cloudesley Brereton & Fred Rothwell, ‘Laughter: An essay on the Meaning of the Comic’ (London: Macmillan & Co., 1911)