The first time I saw Silvia Ziranek perform was in front of a garage behind some flats in Bethnal Green. She was clearly a cut above the rest: my conclusion was that she was brilliant and that "It's a difficult thing to look classy with a panettone balanced on your head, but she effortlessly manages it."
Now she's the subject of an exhibition in the lobby of One Canada Square. This monolithic skyscraper is one of the primary symbols of capitalist Britain: a giant glass and steel obelisk penetrating the docklands sky, capped by a glass pyramid with a blinking eye on top. The symbolism kinda writes itself. In and around it lie the lairs of big finance: Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Citi, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and so on. So how does Ziranek's playful, feminine and enigmatic perspective fit into this pin-striped world?
As it turns out, it doesn't. And that's why the exhibition works. The lobby of One Canada Square is a cavernous, marbled place designed to impress and intimidate - to instil in visitors the notion that this is where very important things happen.
IT IS IS IT subverts that. Most eye-catching are the selection of sloganeering badges ("ANYONE CAN APRON", "IT'S ME OR NEVER", "NOT UNDIRTY") that have been distributed throughout the years at her performances - blown up to fifty times their original size and pasted onto the walls. Seeing them festooned on the walls (and on Ziranek herself) makes the building (or at least its lobby) feel like an extension of the artist herself. Accompanying them are various messages, prose that agonisingly teeters on the edge of comprehension:
"ONLY POLITICS ARE REQUIRED TO MAKE THIS BEAUTIFUL BRICKWORK COMPLETE OR DID YOU WANT TO MARRY A BOOKEND? MARRY AN OAK: FOLK MAY ENJOY DEBATING YOUR NO-RUST POTENTIAL AS AN OCCASIONAL MUST-HAVE"
In addition to the badges, there are various paraphernalia from her archive: outfits, photographs, jewellery, leaflets and an extremely fetching collection of tiaras. There are also several life-size photographs pasted onto the walls. These show Ziranek in an appropriately regal-looking gold and purple outfit, hand on cocked hip, haughtily staring down the hordes of bankers that will pass by her each day.
The bits of the exhibition that emphasise the contrast between these two worlds are what made it fizz for me. I loved the austere white exhibition cases lined with pink fur, official-looking perspex boxes full of poppy and disposable stickers and sculptures made from children's lettering or safety scissors.
The biggest risk that this exhibition is running is that Ziranek's best work over the years is herself. Billed as "one of Britain's foremost Performance Artists", it'd be all too easy for this exhibition to lack a lodestar without the artist herself being present - how are you supposed to place this stuff in context without actually seeing her perform?
It's an impossible question for me to answer given that I'm familiar with her work, though there's such a strong sense of her personality in this art that any viewer should be able to quite accurately infer who Silvia Ziranek is and what she represents.
I can't quite get over how surreal it is to see an artist I'm familiar with in such intensely corporate surroundings. This is the kind of setting that would steamroller most artists into fine dust, but IT IS IS IT succeeds as a distillation of Ziranek's work to date and mischievously tweaks the nose of the patrician class this building caters for.
IT IS IS IT is at One Canada Square, Canary Wharf until 16 August.