“Tales of Ordinary Madness,” Charles Bukowski’s much-discussed collection of short stories, reveals the thoughts and feelings of archetypal antiheroes: alcoholics, criminals, perverts and deserters, living their daily lives in a chaotic world.
In turn, “Songs of Ordinary Madness,” the latest group exhibition at Karantina’s Running Horse Gallery, attempts a similar exploration of the daily lives and habits of nine artists, which may appear normal to some, but mad to others. The artists hail from six different countries, crossing cultural boundaries to highlight how perceptions of normalcy vary from one place to another.
“[It’s] very much about subjectivity – really looking at what artists are doing and what they have to say,” says gallery owner and curator Lea Sednaoui. “We approached the artists by telling them about the show – that it was a close-up look at their daily lives – but we constrained them with a rule, saying ‘You have to produce a piece that should fit into a 50x50x50 cm dimension.”
These loose guidelines have resulted in a series of artworks that are widely varied, though the size restriction does link them somewhat visually. Each of the artists created a single piece, each intended to suggest the extraordinary within the everyday.
The exhibition is predictably weird. It is also rather wonderful – even if it is sometimes hard to find the way in which a piece relates to the theme.
Sednaoui has divided the space into a series of “rooms” using semi-translucent curtains. “It allows the viewers to focus on each piece,” she explains. “It adds a bit of a dreamy aspect to the room.
“It turns out that a lot of [the artists] worked on self-portraits, very naturally,” she continues. “You have two kinds of works that came out. You have works that are very linked to the body and to emotions that people can relate to and you have another series of works where a state of mind is really conceptualized to the point where you have an abstract piece.”
Entering the show, you encounter a piece by German artist David Siepert, titled “Lucid Dream.” Though termed a self-portrait, the sculpture, made from Ricola Bonbons (a kind of Swiss cough sweet), is not a human figure but a clawfoot bathtub.
“The bonbons make the bathtub three dimensionally interesting because you smell it. You feel like licking it. You can touch it,” Sednaoui observes. “It really calls to your senses the way a human does and that’s what he wanted to evoke. Now it’s melting down but that doesn’t matter because it’s degrading like a human.”
Siepert’s piece is among the most successful in sticking to the theme of the exhibition. The bathtub – considered relaxing and cleansing in some cultures and unhygienic in others – is an unremarkable object, rendered mad by Siepert’s sugary medium, which obligingly melts on contact with water.
Another particularly successful piece – though perhaps less obviously linked to the theme of daily life – is Reid Peppard’s “Untitled.” A dead pigeon, dyed a funky shocking pink lies on its back on a little plinth, head lolling, wings askew, talons clutching impotently at the air. A black wire runs up and into its rear end, while a swath of fiber optic cables, twinkling merrily like a miniature galaxy, tumbles to the ground from its open beak.
The U.K. artist has replaced the former pigeon’s eyes with polished hematite – a stone which the Native Americans believe could make a warrior invincible. “For her this is a super cool, super heroic pigeon,” says Sednaoui, nodding to the bird’s body. “It is almost spitting out or flashing all of his power with these fiber optic tubes coming down.”
Other pieces are somewhat more opaque. “Blue Mist Collection,” by Lebanese artist Laura Pharaon, is an abstract, mixed-media-on-canvas work that bears a strong likeness to a collage left out in the rain for several days to melt. It is chaotic, certainly, but seems out of place among the other pieces, whose unifying concepts are more readily accessible.
Japanese artist Emi Miyashita’s delicate pencil drawings are a surreal take on sexual politics, featuring male genitalia (bereft of bodies) surrounded by tiny naked women. In one drawing, the male members have been lassoed and set ablaze. In another, they’re sprouting out of a garden like fleshy plants. In what may be a reference to the forbidden fruit, original sin and so forth, each has an apple balanced on the end.
Four magnifying glasses, hung from chains on the ceiling, provide a way to better appreciate Miyashita’s painstakingly detailed work.
The exhibition also features work by Lebanese artist Youmna Habbouche, who explores insomnia and the concept of sleep as a daily death and rebirth.
The slowly twirling canvas of Armenian artist Carlo Keshishian features a nicely rendered self-portrait, about which is spiralling a barely decipherable diary entry.
An impressionist landscape by Lebanon’s Talar Aghbashian, a sculpture of colored layers of Perspex representing the human form by the U.K.’s Robert Story and a photograph of a naked bottom by China’s Yijun Liao (aka “Blood Pixie”) make up the rest of the exhibition.
“Songs of Ordinary Madness” is as schizophrenic as its title suggests. The sheer variety in style, form and subject matter guarantees that nearly anyone could find something to intrigue themselves. You may find something to hate as well.
From / Daily Star