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From: ALEX MICHON Category: Art Date: 13 December 2009 Time: 01:02 PM
Review: THE IMPOSSIBLE ROOM Paintings by Olly Beck Sartorial Contemporary Art (The Project Space)
27 November to 19 December 2009

“at each detour, with a kind of nausea, men discover their solitude in empty night. The universal night in which everything finds itself – and soon looses itself” (Georges Bataille – Visions of Excess) A theatrical triptych of three other worldly mutants greet the visitor to Olly Beck's Impossible Room. The figures on either side resemble floating astronauts supported by tentative lines resembling crutches or wires. Headless, with unconnected limbs they indicate a disabled state of statis. A central red figure disrupts his two companions. This archetypal trickster hangs upside down from a trapeze like structure and with his jester like hat appears to be mocking his fellow travellers' ‘severely accepted malady of being'. (ibid) These paintings exist in an indefinable science fictional terra incoginta which Beck himself has written about “Did the first moon walker so abruptly sent into space return from the ultimate summit a broken man without any regard to his personal journey?...`Perhaps he found something unknowable, unspeakable, that can only reveal itself through dreams, electric shock treatment or hypnosis? Or perhaps it was just nothing, just nothing in nowhere?...” (Soft issue one Somnabulist metaphors abound throughout this exhibition. The avant-garde experimental film maker Stan Brackage described hypnagogic visions as “what you see through your eyes closed – at first a field of grainy, shifting, multi-coloured sands that gradually assume various shapes…a streaming of shapes that are not nameable – a vast song of the cells expressing their internal life” This description aptly relates to another series of Beck's paintings which invoke hallucinatory images wrought from the edges of sleep where the titles further underline this presomnal connection. In “These Visions” an amorphous mutation, half helmet half strange creature's head floats in the corner of a vaguely suggested room. The head itself appears to be gouged out of the painting surface, thick and encrusted with paint it oozes stuff (blood?) as it glides silently against its flat surface. In “A Deep Coma” an amoeba like sea creature continues its shape shifting journey along another set of walls. Both these paintings along with “Expressway to Your Skull' with its more representational image of a ram's skull are rendered in varying tones of dark purple or green akin to Eigengrau or intrinsic grey which is the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness and as such these paintings must be a bugger to photograph! However these apparitions shimmering on a futuristic horizon somewhere between a mirage or an opium inducted stupor invite labyrinthine readings. These mutants and shape shifters exist as metaphors for what the artist calls “contemporary life's implosion of meaning from a theatrical and semiological perspective” Beck has taken his title The Impossible Room from JG Ballard's seminal book The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). The works on show here are an poetic response to his reading of Ballard's notion of a room or a space with its “psychotic apparitions” which he has melded with his own feelings of ‘silent rage and unattended loss” at our current post millennial crisis. Whereas Ballard came out of a time when resistance appeared cohesive taking in the mass street protest movements of Paris 1968 and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations – current resistance movements appear more illusionary. Beck's paintings exist in and define a fragmentary, unknowing hinterland bereft of either political or psychological certainties. In Three Spheres Brackets and Icon a gun suspended on supports hovers over three dark moons or as Beck calls them “burnt out carbon howling pock marked spheres” The fragile brackets appear to render the gun useless, it appears only as a meta-weapon, the kind of thing boys draw all over their jotters at school but by calling it an icon he appears to be alluding to the continuing potency and seductiveness of the image, to the dark stupid fetish that makes guns and war seem sexy. Interestingly when Beck was interviewed about this show on a programe for Sky TV, the interviewers attempted to see it ostensibly as the artist's response to the ‘war on terror'. But by doing this they missed the many readings present in this complex and layered show. As a political being, someone who is engaged with and aware of contemporary issues Beck has utilised his painting to explore his own internal ambiguities not just with the fucked up state we are in externally but with how this rage impacts on a psychological level. Its an ambitious show where Beck, who is a known writer manages to make an authentic relationship between his words and philosophical musings and the mess up medium of paint.

Alex Michon See Olly Beck interviewed about this show



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