Mouths, tongues, nipples and assholes populate l’étrangère gallery as Emma Hart and Jonathon Baldock present Suckerz, an ordered disorder of their corporeal sculptural work.
Hart and Baldock have transformed the gallery into something that resembles a Bacchanian feast with the exhibition centered around a banquet table playing stage to silhouette structures of wine bottles and glasses; piles of potatoes and fererro rochers (the universal symbol of the feast) and dismembered heads spilling with pearls from facial orifices. The table is set out for one to dine from breast shaped plates with napkins wrapped in textural tongues; a feast of the body, on the body. It’s a foul and titilating prospect.
The exhibition is evidently informed by the theories of the grotesque body, mostly Bahktin’s study of Rabelais’ work. The grotesque is the distortion and transgression of boundaries and in Suckerz the boundaries of what we consider the interior and the exterior of the body are questioned; our corporeal passageways are set out to be explored, the entrances and exits of the body- the sexual and the functional. As spaghetti like hair forms cascade from hair scrunchies attached to a wall and a strand of white hair, curled at the bottom hangs from a small sculpted arse, the grotesque’s preoccupation with the lower bodily stratum (the anus) is evidently referenced.
Baldock’s ‘Orifice Painting No 4’ is a screen peppered with hand sewn holes all over with two feet set at the bottom; one cannot pass without thinking of the glory hole, an entrance and an exit of the seedily sexual; a fragmentation of the body into one sexual part, devoid of character but its penetrative presence through a constructed passageway.
Suckerz alludes to the body that we never confront, the estranged world to that we are too familiar with. We spoke to the artists, Emma Hart and Jonathon Baldock about the preoccupation with the body and the grotesque in their work and the presentation of the exhibition.
How did your collaboration and the exhibition come about?
Emma and I met on a residency at Wysing Arts Centre in 2012. I knew Emma’s work before meeting her and really loved it, but what was really magic is that we also got on really well. I identified with her as a person, and could relate to so much of what she said. Up until then I had never had that with another artist, and I found it quite profound. During the residency we quickly became friends, hanging out in the ceramic studio; making together and talking and having a good time. Until Wysing Emma had not made work in clay, but from that point on ceramic quickly became a common medium in both our works. I had some experience with it before, but I would say that now Emma has definitely become somewhat of an expert in it. I started off showing her how to do things, and now she shows me…
The idea for the show had originally been to place some of our older works together in one show just to see what sort of conversation arose between the works. So it wasn’t actually going to be very collaborative at all. Just a dialogue amongst our two practises. As we sat down and started to select works for the show however it soon became clear that in addition to our many our shared themes, there were also lots of works dealing with the bodily acts and social scenerios of eating. We decided to make a large dinner table to display both our works, and then started making the additional elements that we thought were missing in order to make it a proper dinner party… Or at least what we thought could constitute a dinner party. For me, one of things that make working collaboratively so exciting is that it is an opportunity to work outside of my usual trajectory. I no longer have to justify what I make against my past works. This is totally liberating and opens up opportunities for my practise to be informed by so much more.
As I said already Emma and I have wanted to work together on exhibition for some time. We recently got an exciting commission through PEER gallery, and the De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill to work on an ambitious new work together. This was prior to our show at L’Etrangere, so when Emma got invited to show at the gallery she invited me to get involved too as an opportunity to test run how we work together and see if it in any way contributes to our forthcoming projects. For me it has been a real pleasure. During the install we agreed on all the decisions about the placement of objects and the arrangements of the show. Perhaps because at the core of if we love each others work so it was exciting to see each others work next to each other. The show has definitely proved that we make a great team and I’m really exciting about starting work together on our next project.
Why title the show ‘Suckerz’?
In the show are loads of holes, or points where things come in and out, holes, bums, mouths, arm pits, – these are suckers, sucking in and spitting out. Also it strikes us that art is a lot about control – who is in control when you look at an artwork? the viewer, the artist, or the art and then more politically – who is in control? the artist, the gallery, the collector, the critic -sadly, the competitive structure set up by the contemporary art world means someone somewhere always thinks that someone somewhere else is a sucker.
The focus on bodily passageways, the feasting presentation and your preoccupations with a transgressive body are in line with the theory of the grotesque, in what ways did this theory inform your work?
We both share a driving force, namely the grotesque. We are particularly interested in gargoyles; imagine carving a cathedral from stone, doing crucifix after crucifix and a load of Marys, each time you had to work to a strict plan of what it should look like, and then you got to do a gargoyle – a practical water management device, a warning about evil spirits but most of all loads of fun to actually make, you can freestyle it, a body of an dog, mixed with maybe a monkey, a human tongue – you choose – what a relief to spend a couple of months on that. We see the grotesque as a freedom, freedom to do what you want rather than what is conventional, freedom to upset people, offend people and not be so superficially polite. The grotesque allows us to tell you how it really is.
The exhibition and the works appear to be quite fetishistic, for example that of a hair fetish or a food fetish. Did you have this in mind?
Our understanding of a fetish is that, it is not the object which is a fetish, but that a fetish is applied to the object – the fetish belongs to the relationship between the person and the object. Someone fetishises an object. We don’t think we set out to make fetish objects, but if people apply their fetishes to it all then that seems an exciting provocation. We are dealing with the body, body fluids, and food so we suppose there must be a fetish or two knocking about.
What body is present in your works, and how do you want the audiences’ body to respond to these works and this representation?
Through the use of disembodied body parts a physical sensation or equivalence in the viewer can be set off – when looking at a tongue you might experience your own, or when looking at a boob you might wish you had one. Also through the fact we normally touch things on a table, plates and napkins etc a sensual experience, beginning with touch, is offered. You can’t touch the work, but hopefully you can feel it. Hopefully a physcialy experience is triggered as the work reminds you of your own body.
Suckerz is on at l’étrangère Gallery, London until the 1st August
More information can be found here.