I spent the last twenty minutes on the top deck of 139, listening to Kimya Dawson and reading the catalogues of the two exhibitions I have just stepped out of. We were travelling relatively fast through London, a city in a state of surprise at the rays of sunshine that were staining a perfectly gloomy day. The bus was completely empty, and had the combined smell of sunscreen and rubber. I sat on the top deck, catching a glimpse on the screen of myself sitting in the front seat, with my coat on, and my bag on my lap, looking decidedly chirpier than I was this morning.
I found my usual spot in the Oxford Circus Costa, sat down and looked at the people in the next table. A father with greying temples and sparkly eyes was making his young daughter cringe by displaying some serious public affection. She clawed her way out of his hug, and sat on the chair next to him, looking intently at his face. He started moving his hands to what I am sure he thought was the way the cool kids moved these days, and said something along the lines of can I get a hug, yo!. The daughter looked at him mortified, eyes scanning the cafe as she said to him ‘dad, you are so embarrassing’, and then flashing a warm grin and falling in his lap. It is a nice day. I take my iPad and my exhibition catalogues out, take a quick sip from my skinny caramel latte, and here we go:
Getting in the Hayward Gallery definitely looks harder than it really is. Littered with construction work and greeted with a queue that would make anyone gasp, it seems a bit of hard work. Trust me, it is worth it. And I should know, I was in a really foul mood this morning. I spent the day watching reruns of Scrubs, listening to Velvet Underground and drinking apple and ginger tea next to the window, watching the weather being as miserable as I was. I reached for the latest copy of Time Out, and saw that this is the last week for the Deller/ Shringley exhibition. Crap. I wanted to see this for ages. Well, I still had some time, maybe I could do it Thursday, before work, or- No; no; no. I would do it now. After changing music (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and gulping down my tea, I had a shower, stood in front of my closet for a good 3 minutes, and then I was off.
I had a plan. I would pop in, wonder around the exhibitions for 30 minutes, then their amazing gallery shop for another 30 minutes, and then take the bus to the British Library for a stale scone and a guilty pleasure read. But, when I was greeted at the corner by a massive queue, I knew that the plans would have to change. I initially did my infamous undecided choreography (3 steps forward, stop, think I better leave, turn, 2 steps forward, stop, think I better stay) long enough that the queue had almost doubled since I came. I decided to join in, brave the rain, and see how it goes. If I am not in by the next 15 minutes, I will just go. However, 5 minutes later, I was inside, had my ticket, and was moving in the gallery space. The gallery assistants are not only lovely and helpful, they are also super fast, effectively cutting down the waiting time to the bare minimum. I thanked them, got the programs, and walked in.
Now, the Hayward Gallery is a really special place for me. It has hosted some of the most inspiring exhibitions I have ever seen, and introduced me to amazing talents and their work. It was there that I first saw the patchworks of Tracey Emin, or stood under a chandelier of knickers by Pippilotti. It is a truly amazing space, and I can not recommend it enough. However, I have to admit that I was unsure if their new exhibitions would hold up to the expectations that the precious ones have created.
Well, they definitely did. I first walked in to the Jeremy Deller exhibition, only to be started for a second. You see, the door actually leads inside a room; more specifically, his room, or a recreation of his room, that held the Open Bedroom exhibition 20 years ago. In a time where artists were holding open studio exhibitions, Deller was living with his parents, and that was the only space he could use. Originally seen by no more than 20 people, the space contains the room and the bathroom, with excerpts from Pensees, his artists book, taped on the four yellow walls, like civilised forms of graffiti, actually originating from graffiti found in the Men’s lavatories of the former British Library. The juxtaposition is so intriguing and thought provoking, that it is impossible not to forget that you are in a gallery space and not in someone’s actual bathroom. It is almost as if you are visiting someone’s house, and at a visit to their WC, you can not help but open their medicine cabinet. The whole exhibit has this kind of voyeristic feeling to it, like exploring the space and mind of someone close to you, without their actual consent.
Passing from the uses of Literacy (an open invitation to Manic Street Preachers fans to reinterpret and demonstrate the band’s contribution to art, and intellectual music), Jerusalem, and the impressively constructed Beyond the White Walls, one can find Valerie’s Snack Bar (where you can pop in for a quick cuppa), the amazing Acid Brass (where a traditional Brass Band plays Acid House) with it’s lateral counterpart History of the World (covering an entire wall with a simple but ingenious chart). You can see Exodus, a truly beautiful and strangely hypnotic 3D film that was the climax of his Turner Prize winning film Memory Bucket; American Travels; My Failures (with a number of unrealised projects); and Many Ways to Hurt you – the Life and Times of Andrian Street (the journey of a young man that dreamt of becoming a professional wrestler instead of following in the mining tradition of his town).
However, the two most powerful exhibits are just a wall away. The Battle of Orgreave – an injury to one is an injury to all covers a room with the still raw history of the miner’s strike and the implications it had on the social landscape. There is a timeline (that is impossible to read without getting goosebumps), videos (police training for riots control), and an hour long film (including a restaging of the event with more that 1000 participants) on the confrontation that took place near the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire, something that he had witnessed through his television screen and marked him as a scene of war, instead of a labour dispute. This lead to The Battle of Orgreave, and his ‘The English Civil War Part II’.
The second exhibit that really touched me was the It Is What It Is. That part of the gallery is turned to a discussion forum, with a burned-out corpse of a bombed car in the middle of the room (dubbed ‘the conversation piece from hell’) that brought death and havoc on the 5th of May, 2007 in Central Baghdad. I can not describe the sadness that you feel by looking at what remained from the car, the violence that is carved on every inch of the lifeless object. The forum centres around members of the public and expert witnesses, people from both sides and people from no side. Regardless of the political position, the room holds such a heavy moment that you feel like the air was drained from it. It is quite powerful, and quite poignant.
Deller’s work creates some very powerful emotions, deep and raw, sometimes painful. So it felt slightly strange walking in the Shringley exhibition. As surprised as I was to enter in Deller’s room, I was equally dumbfounded when I was greeted by a headless ostrich. You see, Shringley endeavours to create equally strong reactions to his work; but of a different kind. He is aiming for ‘laughter, intrigued confusion, and disquiet’; and I can assure you, he is getting all three. His work gives birth to more questions than answers: where did the ostrich’s head go? Who is wearing these giant boots? Who deformed this ladder? And why is there a little stick man locked outside in the roof terrace?
His work seems often surreal and paradoxical, with a door painted on a wall, or a ball full of 5 year’s worth of toe nails, or even a headless drummer banging on his drums even after death (as a headless chicken would). His work is full of cheeky winks to other artists, from the hand that tirelessly turns on and off the Light Switch (a reference to Martin Creed‘s Turner Prize winning Work 227: the Lights Go On and Off); to Sleep (referencing Warhol‘s Sleep, one of my favourite experimental films), with an animation of a man experiencing sleep for 8 minutes, instead of the 8 hours.
Shringley is also brushing on the subject of death in many of his pieces, notably on the Gravestone (with a shopping list on it), or the Jack Russell Terrier that is holding a sign exclaiming its death.
It is truly fascinating to see people’s reactions to the pieces. A girl in front of me had tears strolling down her eyes when she was sitting in front of the (admittedly hilarious) drawings room. A man was laughing in increasing bursts in front of a 30 second animation on a loop, his laughter intensifying every time the loop started again. A group of older visitors were standing in front of the Stick Figures having Sex in the Hood of a Car, smiling knowingly when a group of teenagers was wondering if this was art. Two girls (and 3 guys) jumping when they spotted the Dead Rat in the corner of the room.
Shringley evokes strong emotions, but they are the ones that are usually not associated with art. His work is a cross between conceptual, graphic and humorous, and I can genuinely say that it is simultaneously amusing and thought-provocative on so many levels.
However, the exhibitions finish at the end of this week, so if I were you, I would put my shoes on, turn the screen off, and walk, run, or cycle to the Hayward as fast as I could. If however you can not see it, Hayward Press has printed two catalogs that are sold in their online shop that will provide you with all the wonderful strangeness that falls under the Shringley/ Deller exhibitions.
I am off now. But I will see you later,