Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'I'm Never Shopping Here Again' by Black Rat Projects, 1st December 2013

With a name that conjures up images of a pathetic consumer desperately trying to assert their importance to an uncaring corporate God I'm Never Shopping Here Again feels rather timely.  The run-up to Christmas turns much of London into a hellish, sweaty, fevered cattle pen -  what feels like the whole world descending on the city with the aim of making each other as miserable as possible.  Navigating this is like being shoved into a fleshy blender, jostled this way and that, yelled at by knock-off perfume sellers and stalked by invisible, sharklike pickpockets.  

So this new exhibition by Black Rat Projects, stuffed into some stygian Victorian industrial hellhole and populated by dead things and shuffling mechanical ghosts feels rather appropriate.  This is a showcase of two artists; Giles Walker and Candice Tripp.  I've written about Giles Walker a few times here, first encountering him at The Museum of Curiosity and then again at POP MODERN back in August.  In both those exhibitions Walker was merely a piece of a larger puzzle, his work impressive, though always a touch out of sync with whatever's around it.  Not here.  Working in collaboration with the appropriately named Candice Tripp, the two are free to spiral off down a rabbit hole of creepiness, plumbing entertainingly disturbing depths.

There's something intrinsically illicit about crawling underneath the skin of London and poking around its hidden innards.  Even the illusion of being somewhere you shouldn't is a powerful one, so heading into the dank, cool brickwork of the arches under Waterloo Station induces a faintly mystical sensation, the parabola of the ceiling throwing out the same vibes as a church crypt.  

The gallery space is clean as a whistle, but just beyond there's the whiff of centuries of accumulated dust, geological fag-end strata, beer cans with last decade's design peeling off the front and everywhere the blood poisoning potential of rusted metal and rat shit. My kinda vibe. The psychogeographic sensations are so strong that fighting against it would be like King Canute beating back the ocean.  Fortunately, Walker, Tripp and accreted history work super well together, the crafty hand-made quality of the work snugly growing out of the brickwork.  

Walking through the thick curtain of the entrance you're confronted by an army of clanking, disembodied jackets.  Headless and legless they wriggle and writhe in a janky, juddering stasis. Spooksome ambient sound fills the air - unseen things rustle and quiver under a candle halflight.  It's seeing the ghosts of soldiers coming home from war; humanity burned away to leave piles of shuffling brown rags disconsolately rambling towards some unknown destination.  After all, the travelling dead are not strangers to these arches; we're stood directly adjacent to the abandoned terminus of the London Necropolis Railway; the very arches we're standing in used for the storage of rotting choleric corpses that awaited their reservations on special 'coffin trains' to Brookwood where they'd be burnt and buried.

So, perhaps unwittingly, Walker and Tripp have reverted these arches to their original purpose; death's waiting room.  The metaphor continues as you round the corner into the gallery proper - where you're faced with a view that'd bring a cheeky grin to the face of Hieronymous Bosch.  The floor and walls are populated by an army of Lilliputian figures; Walker's signature bird-skulled humanoid figurines meeting some smaller, fairylike dainty homonculi.  The two mingle around a giant cage in the corner of the room, tended by person-sized dolls; looking a lot like the android toys that march around J.F. Sebastian's house in Blade Runner.

This is a joint piece, though sprinkled around the space are great examples of each artist's solo works. Walker's birdmen are often confined; placed in jars, behind bars or in bondage. We seem to capture them at emotional breaking points, hammering on the unconscious chest of the figure next to them, clutching their groins in agony or pleading with bare beaks to a God that clearly couldn't give less of a fuck.  Tripp's paintings are slightly less effective; though  intricate and beautifully designed, they seem to revolve around creepy young doll-girls with mangled faces.  The aesthetic is warped Alice in Wonderland, which is to my eyes just a touch played out.

Fortunately the show more than picks up the slack when it comes to the big, dramatic centrepiece sculptures.  A tiny army clambers up the white plastic sides of a child mannequin, decapitating her for reasons unknown; a robo-Mum with a lamp for a head and scissors in her hands gently rocks a pram with a British flag on top; hanging burlap bags wriggle obscenely - who can say what's inside? Whatever it is, it's alive and it's in pain.

The best of these are the hanging kinetic mannequin sculptures.  Recalling the hell-bondage-chic of Clive Barker's Hellraiser and the iconic Nurse baddies of Konami's Silent Hill they jerkily thrash about in their suspension, arching their backs in agony, contorting themselves with an animatronic grinding of servos and gears.  Lit from below they look like emaciated, mutilated angels tossed out of heaven, wings and heads brutally hacked off, manacled in neverending, barbarous oubliette.

.....Merry Christmas everyone! 

I'm Never Shopping Here Again was a psychic brillo pad that scrubbed my brain clean of the blizzard of enforced cheeriness that pervades every damn thing out there in December. So brave the bastards of Oxford Street; elbow some old duffer in the guts for that last perfect present; fruitlessly ponder whether Dad prefers the Family Guy or Simpsons soap set; glare at the checked-out checkout operator as you endlessly queue to toss away your pounds on junk, and then, finally - when your volcano of misery frustration reaches critical levels - get your ass down underneath Waterloo and give your brain a freakshow sensory massage.  Yum.

I’m Never Shopping Here Again by Black Rat Projects is on at 137-139 Lower Marsh, SE1 7AE until 12 December. Free Entry.

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