If there is one image you come away with after a quick round of the inner sanctum of Saatchi Gallery, it is fat. Lots of it. Nicolas Deshayes’ Soho Fats greet you immediately, referring to the congealed human compounds found in London sewers. Skewered on industrial poles, the surfaces of five enormous white polystyrene (plastic) panels are ridged and rippled into motionless, organic waves. Our easily disposed-of waste no longer remains a hidden secret – a more revealing self-portrait than we might care to admit.
The Prince Regent stretched savagely like taffy across the canvas of Charlie Billingham’s A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion, similar to Amanda Doran’s grotesque Tatooed Lady (a circus freak of a child whose bodily bulges distort the surrounding space), parodies the habits of a mass-consumerist society stuffing itself to death. Voluptuary’s gross historic body also symbolises the fate of an empire that has overreached its capacity through a kind of excessive global greed; bloated, corrupted, falling into decline and decay.
Lewd, crude, and anything but sexy, the world is transformed into flesh, appetite. This pornographic vision is epitomised by Guy Rusha’s Royal Wedding 2012, a close-up of his girlfriend´s vagina in response to the media’s obsession with Pippa Middleton’s private parts, as he “thought it (his girlfriend’s) was better than Pippa’s”; history-making reduced to tabloid gossip. Even King Henry’s features appear commercially cheapened in Nathan Cash Davidson’s So It Is Decreed And So It Shall Be Done, his sloppy caricature based on an actual wax dummy from Madame Tussaud’s.
As illustrated in Billingham’s cartoon-like Bum & Bonnet series, the past is distant, impersonal, costume-ish, as bits of body parts and 18th century fashions are interchangeably reversed, and reproduced in sorbet-shaded wallpaper patterns that fail to fit together. Individuality is swallowed up by ridiculously huge wigs, echoing the empty pomp and artifice of another age. Such fragmented narratives are like the half-remembered dates, names, and facts regularly regurgitated in school classrooms: gestures and rituals devoid of any real meaning.
James Balmforth’s Myth Interrupted and Exchange 3/10 mimic the kitschy failure of heraldic objects. His Myth of an iron griffin is not so much interrupted, as mutilated (missing a wing and covered in red prophylactic), while the gallium blade of Exchange’s dagger--which melts upon contact with human skin--proves not only powerless, but totally useless. The redundancy of heavy industrial machinery also resonates in James Capper’s work. His cutting blades and ploughs, used in Nipper (Long Reach) and Ripper Teeth respectively, are rendered ineffectual through de-contextualisation: isolated as art toys, they have nothing to chew or work on. Yet despite their antiquated, clumsy aspect, they still carve up the air with massive dinosaur claws; a dormant menace.
Not above dealing with classic motifs like the destructive drive of time, the ephemerality of human life, and existential loneliness in the show, the signifiers of death, dismemberment, and disintegration are everywhere. We witness vultures ripping a vanitas-like banquet to shreds in Greta Alfaro’s apocalyptic short film, In Ictu Oculi (“in the blink of an eye”), as the tattooed torso-clumps of Amanda Doran’s Semen melt helplessly like popsicles by the seashore, on an otherwise cheerful summer’s day. Even the holy are not spared visceral ruin, as Rafal Zawistowski’s ferociously slashed and clotted popes are disfigured beyond the limits of recognition, their halos radiating with the neon pinks and florescent greens of toxic waste.
As individual artists, Steven Allan and Dominic from Luton self-experiment and trade in banal guises and skins to remake for themselves fiercely authentic identities. Allan’s banana men strike various stances as they play self-masturbatory games of creative virility and fertility. But they fail to transcend the imprisoning interiors of their own fantasy, as an alarm clock mocks their demise and their bowl of fruit rots away: they are left dancing with themselves in the dark. Dominic from Luton tends to undergo “rebirths” that are more directly confrontational to the viewer: but his dressing-up as Margaret Thatcher stuck in a wheelchair is no less disturbing, if not subversive. Dealing head-on with the national identity crisis, Dominic reflects an uneasy portrait of modern day Britain, desperate to move forward, yet unsure how to advance.
Also worth noting are Tereza Zelenkova’s challenging black-and-white photographs, which do not easily adapt themselves to a group show, but deserve a second study, emanating a surreal, darkly authoritative reality of their own.
Gleefully self-ironic, diverse as the UK’s own inhabitants, whose restless code is rooted in a relentlessly material world, Saatchi’s freshly-recruited team of young talent definitely delivers the new order with old-school bite.
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