Angst andthe artist
Two new shows at the CCA tackle the problem of identity in a contemporary Britain which is revealed to be consumerist, sexist and unjust. Beatrice Colin investigates.
‘John Yeadon is a guerilla ofthe imagination.‘ proclaims the catalogue to his current show. The . Travails ofBlind BiffordJe/ly. In this ‘ series of narrative watercolours. prints and drawings. Yeadon maps } out the terrain and state of mind of his eponymous invention and anti-hero.
Conscripted to represent the outsider, the loner and the fool, BB Jelly is a ‘Blemmyae‘ — a head with legs and arms. a humpty dumpty with a young man‘s face. a torso with a grimace. Like Bunyan‘s Pilgrim '5 Progress. and other 18th century caricatures, Yeadon satirises the modern world and. in particular, contemporary British sexual and
The Travails of Blind Gifford Jelly
ethical mores. BB Jelly goes window
shopping. compares his grotesque
2 physique to Eros. loses an arm when
he sneezes. is condemmed to death
I by a kangaroo court and looks for
God in his living room with a torch. Yeadon mixes styles and techniques. using long lines of frame by frame pencil drawings and prints to show BB's adventures. and walls of portraits which describe his mental state. In the latter. BB‘s face is contorted and disfigured by bandages; subtitles read Will this ever end and Am I There Yet. Some of the prints are intricately detailed. some as bold and brash as a comic
Yet for all the variety of approach.
the show comes over as pretentious and hollow. Yeadon nods to past masters such as Courbet and Hogarth. but The Travails is far from revelationary. This is not the ambush one might expect of an artistic ‘guerilla'. but a frigid and cerebral exercise.
Next door. Rory Donaldson‘s crashing wave of photographic montage. Visibility is far more astute. Using over 2000 photographs, all taken in a week. his installation concerns identity and
- consciousness. It takes up one whole
wall ofthe gallery. where carefully placed prints have been drawn on with marking agent and then splashed with bleach.
Shots of Donaldson’s studio. which is painted in blue and green, form a subterranean swell. Above, the suggestion of the crest ofa wave is iridescent with images - glints of his life as a young gay Glaswegian.
Through a ragged white curtain you glimpse fragments of images — streets. buses, snapshots ofhis friends. Elvis Presley, a molecule of DNA. a David Hockney-style montage of a male nude. a penis and the front cover of the Daily Record headlined with the revalation the Nuryev has AIDS. On the opposite wall. a single frame of a close-up ofa piece of tattooed skin acts as a foil. The impression is of a turbulent, transient existence. Nevertheless, the artist reveals himself as a claustrophobically private person.
The Travails of Blind Bifford Jelly and Visibility are both at the Centre for Contemporary A rts until 5 Dec.
who give a
The guilt never goes away: wherever European colonists have swept aside the indigenous population, a wound
lingers in the national heart. In
Southern Crossings/Empty Land six Australian photographers try to make
sense of their country’s airbrushed, ; whiter-than-white mythology.
Australia is a lightning rod for Old
2 World fantasies about the frontier. Just
think of Crocodile Dundee: honest white man wrestles with nature and occasionally carries all a passive woman. Everything is rugged, pure and one-dimensional. Aboriginal don’t feature.
The artists featured here all tackle the outback myth, though not all with the same power or grace. Leah King-Smith’s collages are strangely deia vu: old photographs of defiant, leather-faced aboriginals are superimposed on dark images of the Australian wilderness. Somehow the . layer-game gets a fresher handling l from Ian North who smudges colourful ' paint on photographs of brown, dry ' landscape.
Whenever an artist locks horns with
, i’; "" . 3
Anne Zahalka: ‘Down on his Luck’. from the series Landscape Represented
history, there is a dangerthat the art will turn out as arid and earnest as the intellectual debate. Without playfulness, the works slide into right-on sermonising. That is why Anne Zahalka’s ironic recycling of last century’s nostalgic ‘bush‘ paintings stands out.
Painting Spring Frost is an engaging tussle with the notion of rewriting history: a rancher paints himself into a picture of his cattle and homestead. It is never abundantly clear where the line between photography and brushwork lies: what really happened? what do people want to imagine happened? Zahalka inserts women where you least expect them -
reclining skirt-clad on the forest floor or riding through a stampede of sheep. In Down on his Luck, the battle between myth and reality is at its sharpest. A lonely hobo hunches over the remains of a campfire, idly picking through the embers with a slick. Behind him, the Marlboro man, the quintessential frontiersman, is striding along on a billboard.
There is nothing life-changing here — but it is surely a relief to see someone take a poke at the Castlemaine xxxx caricature of Down Under. (Carl Honore)
Southern Crossings/Empty Land: Contemporary Photography from
'. Australia is at Stills until 21 Nov.
Besides being one of Italy‘s greatest abstract artists and one of the first artists to be employed in industry. Eugenio Carmi is a friend and collaborator of writer Umberto Eco. In honour of his current exhibition, The List presents an extract from his and Eco’s latest children’s book The Gnomes ofGnu. A powerful Emperor, in need of an ego-boost, has sent his space explorer — SE — to discover a new planet, inhabited by a community of very courteous. environmentally-friendly gnomes. (MF).
‘I,’ said SE, ‘am the Space Explorer ofthe Great Emperor of Earth. and I’ve come here to discover you!“Well, now isn’t that a coincidence?‘the chief gnome said. ‘We were convinced that we had just discovered you!’
‘No.‘ SE said. ‘I’m the one who‘s discovering you. because we Earth folk didn‘t know you existed. therefore I claim possession of this planet in the name of my Emperor. so we can bring you civilization.“'l‘o tell the truth.‘ the chiefgnome said. ‘we didn't know you people existed. either. But we won't quarrel over such a trifling matter. otherwise we‘ll spoil our day. Tell me now: what is this civilization you want to bring us. and how much does it cost‘."
‘Civilization.’ SE answered.‘is a whole lot ofwonderful things that Earth people have invented. and my Emperor is willing to give it all to you free ofcharge.“lfit‘s free.‘ the gnomes said happily. ‘we accept it right away. sir. But excuse us for insisting. . . we know it‘s wrong to look a gift horse in the mouth. . . all the same, we‘d like to have some idea ofwhat your civilization is like. You understand, ofcourse.‘
SE grumbled a bit. because in school he‘d been taught that in the old days, when explorers brought civilization to a new land, the natives accepted it without any ifs and buts. The Gnomes ofGnu ispublished by Stefanel. Eugenio Carmi ’5 recent works are on show at the Talbot Rice Gallery until 14 Nov. J
The List 6; 19 November 1992 55