Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Back to the Future

My review of the Arnolfini's latest exhibition 'Sequelism Part 3: Possible, Probable or Preferable Futures via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Even before entering the Arnolfini’s whitewashed innards, I’d already discovered that this exhibition’s title alone required a hefty amount of brainwork. Sequelism is a made-up term that has been constructed to mimic the recent phenomenon for moulding new words from hybrid mutants of already existing and quite sensible terms – think ‘synergy’ – to represent emerging concepts and movements. In this case, the title is intentionally void of a concrete meaning and anticipates definition in the future. It might seem a little odd to name an exhibition with a seemingly meaningless moniker but for a show that is all about what our visualisation of the future say about present social identity and fears, it makes a certain amount of sense for a future date to allow us to define a current exhibition. Lost yet?

As often happens when an exhibition is dictated by a concept rather than a particular artist or movement, Sequelism is a motley crew of very different pieces. Immediately visible is Haegue Yang’s Holiday For Tomorrow, whose rainbow coloured blinds and lattice panels give the impression of forming an intimate chamber within the gallery space. Light and not entirely solid, it houses a film featuring images of Seoul during the Korean harvest holiday Chuseok. Using a rather miserable sounding female voice, the piece explores both the emotional anticipation of holidays and the oddness of experiencing socially contrived days of rest.

On the opposite wall, Graham Gussin’s Hypnotic/Dystopic/Optic is a kaleidoscope of whirling science fiction novels where – the original cover indecipherable – the books form hypnotic blurs of colour. The way that the artwork has been supplied with power means that each sunflower-like head has an electric stem, which all join on the floor in a tangle of cable and socket roots. For me the strongest work of the show, it almost acts as traditional landscape painting made from modern technology and unidentifiable fictions of the future.

In the second room a taxidermy fox head stares blankly at the viewer, suspended by wrought iron supports. Somewhere between a voodoo fetish and a mechanical altar, it seems to hark back to the primeval animal deities and yet draws on present day controversy over the hunting ban. Another piece by Romanian Victor Man sees patent black text on wall reading “we die,” crossed out with wiggly neon cross. The use of a comma rather than full stop anticipates future syntax, and perhaps the afterlife, but is instantly negated by the gaudy neon tubing.

Sequelism is a challenging exhibition that was at times thought provoking but often alienating. Although this is often an intentional feature of both sci-fi and futurology, much of the work felt cold and introverted rather than awe-inspiring. It’s important, however, for galleries to put on difficult shows like this to avoid becoming crowd-pleasing, art-for-postcards merchandise factories and even if this one wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, I’ll definitely be back to see what boundaries the Arnolfini are crossing next time.

Exhibiting between Saturday 8th July until Sunday 20th September 2009 @ Arnolfini, Bristol

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