What do you look for in an exhibition?
A series of vibrant paintings. A multi-media representation of an abstract concept. Or perhaps the rebounding spittle of a hipster dribbling into a plastic cup?
Visits to the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey are often accompanied by facing something new. Hoards of artists including Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Anthony Gormley have exhibited there in just the past few years. It’s a dream considering there’s no entrance fee.
The combination of an incredible feat of architecture that means the interior walls can be dismantled and reassembled, and the sheer variety of artists who have used the space, means that it’s often difficult to know what to expect. It can be engineered to suit the exhibitors and present the viewer with an alternative way of looking at their work.
This particular foray was an entirely new experience. My previous knowledge of Christian Marclay was close to none – I like it that way. I like having no idea what I am about to find.
‘Diverse’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. The variety of methods and materials that he uses in his work is vast - paintings, film and graphic installations, musical performances, even a vinyl machine and printing press.
His paintings are what one might expect if Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein sat down and decided to make a comic book together. Walking down the corridor was like following Marclay on his journey around the east London streets on a Saturday morning, kicking bottles aside, scuffling around broken glass. Projections lined the walls and each one was a different length, so every walk was accompanied by a unique combination of scenes.
One room is filled with screens showing the noises that liquids make in their various forms. I sat down in the middle of the room and watched the walls for longer than I realised. Drawn in by the visually onomatopoeic graphics, it was as if I could hear all the sounds that flashed up around the walls.
It’s even a treat for the nostrils - well, not so much a treat as a test of will. The smells from the vinyl machine and printing press mix and spread throughout the gallery creating something similar to Copydex. Flash back to year four.
The largest room is perhaps the most daunting. The walls are lined with beer glasses. I tried to count them all but was interrupted and lost my number. It was somewhere in the three figures, I’m certain.
I’m glad I left this part of the exhibition until the end.
A young man entered and began lining up glasses on the floor. I believe he is an art student at Central Saint Martins or somewhere similar. He took bottles of prosecco and began to pour it from a great height into one of the row. Kneeling down and taking a drink, he began to simultaneously gargle and knee-shuffle along the ground, holding the thread in front of him, towards the plastic cup. When at last he reached the cup, he stood, stopped gargling and started to dribble very slowly into it. Mingled saliva and prosecco hit the plastic with a sound like a drunk man missing the bowl...I imagine.
My interest in the performance as ‘art’ rapidly transposed into a mixture of sympathy and incredulity for the poor boy and the lengths to which a student will go to get a foot in the door. Fascinating as it was to see, I have to admit that I could not watch him go through each of the glasses.
I’m afraid to say I only made it to three before I needed the loo. I can only imagine how he must have felt by the final glass.