The pieces gathered for this show, all of which are grounded in the ethos of duende (a heightened excitation of expression, a gesture of spirit as embodied in the magical elf-like or goblin creature from which the word derives) shares a charged synergy with its venue, located on the lower level of a derelict, abandoned section of Croydon’s Whitgift shopping arcade, an attempt by local artists to revive and recharge a moribund space. Any suggestion or rumination upon the death impulse in the curated work is far afield from the sober or sedate: it is determinably, kinetically present, throbbing, tearing and fulsome, announcing itself with rude colour and vigour. David Harrison’s folkloric, sexually forthright phantasmagorias evoke liquid sepulchral netherworlds bubbling up, colonising the surface, with rhythms of repeated patterns and objects providing formal visual balance. His magnificently trashy glory hole masks, perched on plinths just inside the entrance, are the work of a supremely sublime provocateur. Ben Westley Clarke’s Mare Street is modern Hogarth, an askew avenue scene illustrating a dense nest of vice, corruption, indolence, debauchery-but also seething life (including curious London tourist Vincent Van Gogh, if I’m not hallucinating, nattily urinating on the pavement).In Vanessa Mitter’s Painting by Memory, a hollow-eyed, corpse like figure is in the process of being reclaimed (in aesthetic floral exaltation) by the earth. Interior dream worlds break through the canvas in Melissa Kime’s Gone Baby Gone, troubling a surface already queasy with unsettling entanglements and uncertain stabilities, insistent that the unconscious, with all its keening anxieties, is continually present. Measure by Measure, by Grant Foster, looks beyond mortal concerns, addressing the dire circumstance of stamping out a life of word, heralding a death of expression-the sinister tropes of censorship (paging Fahrenheit 451). Babette Semmer’s Cecilia stares out at the viewer with a composed, slightly daring gaze, flanked by disembodied industrial broom head and sports shoes-not until you notice the disarmingly shaded feet is there any cause for alarm or disquiet, something of rot intimated (in her other entries to this exhibition, women struggle mightily to wrest control over precarious circumstances, and one gentleman has gloriously stage-managed his final repose). The night I attended, three performance art pieces were included, of which Jack Catling’s Mechanism was a short, sharp visual literalisation of the phrase“moth to the flame”, but also possibly spoke to a particular male sadness surrounding the ebb and exhaustion of the libido (as a cluster of moths was released climatically from the region of his groin), and co-curator Vanessa Mitter’s Pieta (the Italian word for pity, generally used to describe a sculpture or picture of the Virgin Mary holding the dead Christ on her lap or in her arms) was a tour-de-force that somehow managed to contain both a sense of self-erasure and self-empowerment simultaneously, as her body became canvas for eggs, flour, butter, a baking exercise exploded. Although there were motes of masochism, there was mostly a sense of play, the ingredients used those of nourishment and provision-it reminded me of 1980s American performance artist Karen Finley’s work, only less overtly confrontational. Frivolous only in name, the works here reward studied reflection. Croydon may not be on the immediate radar, but it’s worth a journey (by train, by Tube) to experience both vibrant show and space-while there, pop over to Boxpark for a meal before the commute home (much more of a spacious food hall feel than the concise Shoreditch original).
For clips of Vanessa’s performance piece, please visit this blog’s Instagram
* January may be dry in regards to alcohol consumption, but this certainly does not apply to the cultural agenda. Both Winter Lights (around Canary Wharf) and London Lumiere (in several neighbourhoods and areas around Central London for just four nights) open this week, as does the annual Condo gallery programme, with the Vault Festival (of underground theatre and performance) close at heel, and the London Mime Festival already in progress, continuing through early February. I will be reporting from many of these events in the coming weeks, but please have a look at their official websites to plan ventures of your own. Enjoy!