Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Dead Cat Bounce - Alice Woods' at Light Eye Mind, 14th November 2014


"Even a dead cat will bounce if it falls from a great enough height."  A quote from a creepy, morbid weirdo? Nope. It's from the world of finance, referring to stock prices briefly resurging during or following a severe decline.  

The world felt like an increasingly shitty place in the latter half of 2008.  Ashen faced financiers trooped from skyscrapers clutching boxes of their stuff, politicians uselessly flapped their mouths and public services everywhere had a slowly tightening noose slipped around their neck. But in 2014 the "green shoots of recovery" are apparently all around us.  

Headlines bleat "UK ECONOMY GROWS BY FASTEST RATE" and "UK GDP DATA TO SHOW RECOVERY CONTINUED".  Well that's a relief.  So we can exhale, smiling ruefully as we remember a difficult few years before sliding back into familiar old financial patterns. Or is this a dead cat ascendant? A lifeless, floppy feline body briefly arcing upwards from the ground before splatting back down in a crunched up boneheap?  

It's a thorny question, and one that Alice Woods is eager to explore.  Now, artists can be a solipsistic bunch; their work an echo of their internal preoccupations.  Not so here, Woods sets out to "address the UK's economic knowledge deficit and elucidate the relationships between cultural and economic decision-making".  Fuel for her fire comes from her participation in the Occupy movement and her personal observations of the recession on the North East.


The work takes the form of one room-sized piece supported by three more towards the back of the gallery.  All four share a four-object branding; a stylised bomb, tie, floppy disc and padlock, and all are rendered in pure slabs of bright primary colour.  

Most obviously eye-catching is the room sized installation.  Gigantic pieces of latex stretch across the room, gently curving under their own weight and spilling onto the floor.  The room is filled with the chemical tang of freshly cut plastic and this, coupled with the white gallery walls and tiled floor, brings to mind surgical sterility.  I am later to learn that this space was once the front window of a butchers, the heavy red plastic flush against the floor quietly recalls the flow of blood.

These gentle arcs echo the graphs of the financial sector, reducing information to minimalist lines and dots.  It's all too easy to take the peaks and troughs of these graphs for granted without considering the processes by which they're created.  Behind every point of data are infinitely granular analogue events; lorries speeding down motorways, container ships making their way through stormy seas, African miners chipping away at subterranean mineral seams or sunburnt peasant workers harvesting coffee crops.

Woods understands the process of collating this mountain of economic information into one place as a kind of X-Ray vision. You have to see through the human activity and convert the analogue to digital.  This makes the choice of materials particularly appropriate; the plastic sheeting gently reflective, super slick and utterly emotionless; or if you're prepared to stretch a little further, even a little erotically sadistic with BDSM-chic undertones.

As a statement it's a powerful in its simplicity and directness.  However, if it were presented in isolation I'd criticise it as lacking context and detail.  Fortunately, this is provided in the accompanying pieces, both of which are crammed with data.


My favourite of these was a deck of cards that take us through the companies, utilities and public services that have been privatised.  There's an instinctive sense of disappointment when you read in the paper that yet another slice of the state has been chopped up and parcelled off to private investors, but it happens so often that it's difficult to remember exactly what has been privatised and to whom.  These cards, taken as a whole, represent a dizzying dismemberment of the state.  Flicking them open you're confronted with, for example, London Buses or the National Engineering Laboratory or even something as innocuous sounding as The Stationary Office.  There's so many here that you marvel that we even have any part of the state still under public ownership.

Getting even further into the complexity that underlies all this are three small books; A Pocket Guide to the Euro.  Presented in the now familiar primary colours, these are exhaustively researched and annotated guides to the tangle of dead European currencies like the Franc or Drachma and the country's current relationship to the European single currency and European history in total.  This complex information neatly contrasts against the 'big' message of the central installation; giving the exhibition an almost fractal quality - the closer you examine it the more detail you discover.  


The final summary comes in a 'curtain' of Woods' interlocking symbols.  These bombs, discs, ties and locks are analogues for the suits in a deck of cards.  Taken straightforwardly they represent various aspects of institutionalism, anarchism, security and information, all which coalesces to some level around the City of London on any given day of the week (or, most powerfully, during the Occupy movement).  It's here that we see the binding together of philosophies, politics and emotion that form the unpredictable financial markets that, like it or not, control our lives.

Tackling a subject this complex is pretty damn brave, yet Woods has pulled it off.  She's had clear political, intellectual, aesthetic and intellectual hurdles, but she's done it in style.  It's a damn neat exhibition, one that rewards close attention and is fuelled by pragmatism and the desire to comprehend systems that often seem arcane to the point of mysticism.

Are we in the middle of a dead cat bounce?  No-one know.  And *shiver* that's scary.

Dead Cat Bounce is at Light Eye Mind, 176 Blackstock Road N5 1HA until 29th November, 11-6pm

Photos by Paul Clarke

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1 Responses to “'Dead Cat Bounce - Alice Woods' at Light Eye Mind, 14th November 2014”

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