Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cheshire Grim

I have just jumped up on the bed of a lorry, walked along the back trailer and climbed down through an unexpected hole in the floor. I'm now in a very low ceilinged room with what look like some sort of indian carpets on the floor, or prayer mats or somesuch, and then I'm in the next room which is just a few plastic chairs and the walls covered with newspaper pages featuring naked women.
It isn't nice. It's claustrophobic, clammy, dirty, unsavory, scary and grim.
I'm in one small part of the vast installation that Christoph Büchel has produced for the Hauser and Wirth space in Coppermill in Cheshire Street off Brick Lane.
I bump into someone who has been working on this thing for the last month. Yes, the last month. It's taken a whole month to install all this - the hundred or so fridges piled up, the containers leading to dirty, rank eating areas, beds, a freezer that you can climb through to an even more claustrophobic and dirtier area and a sort of archeological dig (I don't do this - the queue is too slow moving, there's a promise only of more discomfort and dirt - and suddenly I'm just not that interested); there's a caravan almost buried beneath hundreds of old, mashed up computers and dvd players; there's the whole scrangy hotel set up you have to walk thru when you arrive...
I don't think 'scrangy' is actually a word, but it summed up the hotel rooms for me. And I think you can probably get what I'm meaning.
So, what else?
Well, not much really.
It's a bit like walking round a film set. It's wonderfully done, the attention to detail, the effect of a just deserted blackmarket workcamp extremely well executed. But....
Well, it's art, innit? There weren't really people here running this whole thing like it was some sort of illegal work place. Those people were never really here. I can't stop thiking that this is so well done, that I don't actually believe any of it. And if I don't believe it, I don't really know what it's here for.
(Other than to go down in art history as a monumental installation, of course.)
Coppermill is a big building in which to make your mark - a sort of anti-turbine hall. It's huge and daunting and a real challenge.
Sometimes, I think, do we need another space this big?
(Then again, sometimes I also think, do we really need any more art? But that's for another day, maybe)
Since Paul McCarthy inaugerated it last year with the Whitechapel show Hauser and Wirth have followed with the Dieter Roth/Kippenberger show and now this. I can't help thinking that Büchel's show really isn't helped by following these two previous shows - both of them teeming with rancid material and chaotic order one way or another. This now looks like one more variation on a theme.
And this piece also feels too close to the surrounding environment - weren't there sweatshops and black market factories all round this area? And isn't it still possible to find areas where a pile of fridges or broken computers is just daily life? Why would I go to Hauser and Wirth to see this when it's happening all round me anyway?
And, finally, isn't this all a bit Mike Nelson?
I meet up with Ben Woodeson there. He goes off round it sniffing like a tracker dog, looking to find the really good bits. He takes about 10 minutes. He comes and finds me, shakes his head.
I know what you mean, I say.
Woodeson has seen Büchel's stuff before, he says, and it was a much better piece that he saw.
We head off out, back into the street, bumping into Nooza, Lucy Harrison and others, then heading up to Fred's on Vyner Street. We take a quick look at Simon English's big scratchy drawings. These are quite nice after the nightmare of Cheshire Street. And surprisingly detailed. Just when you think you've looked at every bit, another little scenario appears, offering up another little avenue of thought...
Woodeson says, 'check out David Risley, next door. See what you think.'
I do check it out and I like it a lot. There are four paintings by Jonathan Wateridge. Big, bold, thick paintings depicting plane crashes and shipwrecks. And all of them painted on about eight or ten sheets of perspex hung one in front of the other, so that when you look at them up close and from an angle you can see that he has painted different parts of the picture on different levels. Stand a little distance away, straight on, and they look like normal 2D paintings. I'm not convinced that the added depths provide added depth, but I really like them. As I'm standing there (probably nodding to myself like an idiot) Charlie Danby comes up and says hello. Charlie is a writer and a curator and an artist and he writes really well on artists for magazines like i-D. Anyway, I know him because of stuff he has written and curated and we are standing looking at Wateridge's works and I say I like these because of the colours: I say I like that one because it's really blue, and I like that one because it's really green. I'm not sure Charlie was ready for quite such insightful criticism and appreciation of this painters work, but that's what he gets. Charlie's got his doubts about the whole perspex depth thing too. We chat for a bit then we head off.
Wateridge's paintings stay in my head. They have tapped on the shoulder of a memory and it is only a few days later that the memory turns and faces me. Of course. They remind me of the cover paintings on the trashy paperbacks I read when I was growing up: adventure stories, Willard Price books, Leo Kessler, Sven Hassel books. I always loved those covers. I used to sit and look at them. Or look at them while I took a breather from the actual reading. And his paintings took me back to all that. A plane, crashed in the jungle, the survivors fighting for their lives, trying to get back to civilisation.
I can almost see the strapline:
'Lost in the rainforest, desperate and a long way from home - how long before they start eating each other??'

cheshire cheese pics


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