ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWERS: ELAINE WILSON @ ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION 

In Eye-to-Claw-toBeak, formidible clay sculptures, set high atop steel platforms, loom with hawkish menace over the heads of gallery spectators, in form suggestions of both domiciles and possible armament housings, omniscient and unknowable bunkers-the intention, ill or beneficent, is withheld. Most are conceived with identifiable apertures-windows, doors-that soften threat, but even these reveal little beyond themselves (in the extremest case, Wilson offers a monolithic block, solid except for a single, covered opening-it could be the trigger for, or the promise of, a lethal event). In architectural appearance, the towers vary in cultural and ethnic intimation, as the themes of surveillance and domination echo out to a global net statement. Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon is referenced, the 360 degree centrally located  “control tower” within a prison that proposes an omnipresent gaze and the nefarious simplicity of its uses for order, containment and subjugation in a population. The domination, the slow erosion of perception of self, the victimisation, works across all borders-gender, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious-no one of us safe from ensnarement and entrapment in systems of institutionalised scrutiny. An occasional ladder offers a chance of apprehension, but the scale stops well short of comprehension or mastery. Gender conflict is more explicitly addressed in Wilson’s Don’t Touch! series of porcelain figurines that playfully subvert the gestural traditions of the demure, delicate, recessive beauty in favour of gun-toting, assertive “Charlie’s Angels” stances, female figures in full autonomy, authors of their own agency, not enrobed in fragility, a common encumbrance of the male gaze; a lone female figure, ascendant on a pedestal, proudly and defiantly defines her physical presence in space and time, surveying the environment, throwing back the gaze, seizing a new one for herself. Wilson’s first video work, Knowing You Are Near, opens with a murky (almost dystopian) image the viewer struggles to decipher , which eventually coalesces into the figure of an advancing fencer, soon to spar with a partner, all the while an amplified soundtrack of industrial clang and crash swirls about the encounter.

Credit a-n

The epees themselves are mostly obscured in shadow so that a viewer’s concentration remains on the thrust and parry of body, the tension of behavioural movement, a pair locked in a cycle of conflict, a failure of communication, an inability to see. The conflict ends, no clear victor, the figures once again claimed by the murk (the refrain from an innocuous 60’s musical takes on sinister implications as the film closes). This is a show stripped-down in the most powerful ways-lack of embellishment reveals with merciless transparency the embedded core of privilege and position that underlies how the whole of history is structured, mostly for the benefit of those in power, and how best to redress the balance (and conversation) with the possibilities that recent movements and shifts in the cultural landscape provide.  Corps-a-Corps runs through 2 December 

http://www.arthouse1.co.uk/current.html

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