The labyrinth. Turning; coiling. An allegory of improbable human journeys. Physical; mental; spiritual. Beyond; behind; within. But underneath the mythos and symbolism labyrinths are simple structures. The maze is corners, mere corners. Unfurl them all and the labyrinth becomes a cul de sac; a doorless hallway; a vanishing point leading nowhere.
Browsing an MFA final show can feel like an endless hall. No matter how many artworks you peruse, how many studio spaces you violate, how many £3 lukewarm beers on which you ruminate there’s always another curtain asking you to draw it back. I don’t mean to begin this review on a downer, indeed, given a few more paragraphs I hope to have you cursing yourself for missing this year’s Goldsmiths Postgraduate Degree Show. What I do want to do is move you away from the grand figure, the thread of Ariadne convincing you with its singular lineage that degree shows tell you something about the institutions that house them. Goldsmiths’ reputation, were I to spend 1,000 words bullying and poking at it, might tell us more in fact about the figure of the labyrinth than it does about the artists who have scrawled its name all over their curriculum vitae.
Consonants and vowels featured highly in this year’s degree show; ‘Nada’ carved in giant, pink wooden lettering marked a studio of ‘Nonsensical objects I made with my neighbours’, with no indication as to the identity of the artist (or the neighbours). The admission “I was going to install a video piece here but I fucked up” is scrawled in black ink on the cupboard of an electrical circuit breaker. Located on its own floor this year, the Art Writing MFA showcased words and sounds in ways the Fine Art show could not manage alone.
Behind one particularly black curtain the text “This image has nothing to do with the video that shall begin imminently” overlays a freeze-frame of old age pensioners in a work by Liam Rogers. As the image finally ebbs away droll, haunting bass tones punctuate a narrative milieu: two black cats lounging in digital shadow; an extreme close-up of a flea, trapped between strands of human hair; a strutting chicken and the voice of Ayn Rand “I will not die, it’s the world that will die.”
In another recess of the Laurie Grove Bath studios Noam Edry’s politically anarchic sketches and suggestive graffiti were being photographed, constantly and throughout the opening event, by two neutral looking observers. Upon entering the room my bag was searched by a mock custodian. To one side, beside a massage therapist actively working on the spine of a fellow ‘member of the public’, an arrow on the wall labeled “Groovy Little War Mix” pointed to a monitor propped-up on chunks of rubble. On its screen the letters G-O-L-D-S and M exploded in successive puffs of computer enhanced tom-foolery. Clutching university issue headphones to my ears I watched a performer dressed as a giant date taunt one of the MFA’s directors into dancing with her. Before I could move on to the next room (an imaginary ICA show on comedian Andy Kauffman, compiled by the Curating MA) a team of volunteers enthused me into having a Turkish coffee.
Titles and scrawlings; etchings and subtitles continued to surround me. “Remember Taj Mahal, India” Johann Arens’ video work implored: “Close your eyes.” Caught between two HD flat-screen televisions (two eyes? two halves of the brain?) Arens’ work ‘Effect Rating’ engineers a confusion between the object and its representation. In this case, the object was the human brain, slowly conveyered into the centre of a donut-shaped MRI machine. The film blurs ‘actual’ footage and foam mock-ups of an MRI scan into a meditation on neuroscience and the art-object. Like the corpus callosum separating my cerebral hemispheres, I longed to be scalpelled in two, each half of me finally free to rove the rest of the show unhindered.
In the basement, hidden by shadow, I followed my ears to another series of video works, this time by Jill Vanepps. Horrific flesh-puppet-orifices attempted to penetrate one another with elongated, furry tendrils. Two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch) seemed to fight for recognition in these dark works meditating on the (dis)order of female puberty. A projector restricted with layers of tape and Vaseline punched me with its flickering half-light: “Witchlike” a woman’s voice said, “of low intelligence.” I listened, “Style…” alone, “comes out of conviction…” until other bodies came to linger with me in the dirge. This was an experience I wasn’t willing to share.
Before I moved on to the more official looking Ben Pimlott building, I paused to consider the physics of Hirofumi Isoya’s sculptural works. Like computer generated frames, suspended in real space, Isoya’s works ‘After brick slips’ and ‘Test on a mimic facade of an experimental house’ monumentalise the equal-and-opposite-reaction. Made-up of a bed of smashed tiles with a wire mesh extended in a peak above it, each work isolates the physics of destruction in single, free-standing, art objects. Being a child of the freeze-frame, of time-lapse photography and ultra-high-speed video I had little trouble figuring the events that created these fragmented craters of tile and cement. Had I not the technical grammar I might well have seen in these works the splash of a hailstorm on the surface of a lake, or the arching curvature of a daphodil: each inverted wire trumpet spoke of wrecking-balls and flower petals just the same.
Making sure the Goldsmiths brand still adorned its roof (they were CGI explosions weren’t they?) I entered the Ben Pimlott building. Winding its concrete staircase to the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th floors the second labyrinth of the evening seemed to offer its secrets more readily than the first. Spaces felt more open, corners more isolated, free-standing structures more free to stand. My beer was icy cold.
Jie Hye Yeom’s works were the first to grab my attention. Video pieces projected on or nearby a series of awkward objects: a red ball with a 5-foot circumference; a grey plastic sheet quivering in the projector fan; a giant brain made out of builder’s insulation foam. From inside a long metal cylinder ‘The ffond’ coughed and spluttered from its projector, heating up the surrounding air that was then blasted into my face. A synthetic voice with a strong American accent narrates as the artist’s journey through the ffond, an imaginary engineering marvel connecting two distinct points on the Earth’s surface. The words “Where is here?” flash up, written in both Korean and English. A stooping old woman guides her through foreign wreckage, “Can you help me get to Korea?” In another work, ‘Solmier’, partially blinded by headgear made of baguettes, Jie Hye Yeom is guided through an African village by a giggling group of children. At the edge of the forest the artist stops, her mission accomplished. With glee the children gather around to eat her mask.
On the floor above a cartoon tapestry welcomes me into a two-tiered space shared by Soheila Sokhanvari and Hans Diernberger. Parodying the work of Jeff Koons a taxidermied pony rests, snug, in a sculptural figure of a beanbag, or perhaps a balloon. As I nervously turned on my heels to leave a well dressed woman urges her children, in hushed tones, to leave the thing’s backside alone. In the centre of Diernberger’s space a rectangular recess sweeps the floor. Within it, prefigured on a video loop, we can see the head of a trampolinist directly from above. Bouncing carefully (presumably so as not to knock the camera mounted above her) she taunts us with a warm-up, the final elastic bound never arriving.
On the top floor of the Ben Pimlott building the tone of the show takes a swerve as I reach the Art Writing MFA Postgraduate Show. A text by Tone Gellein asks me to unfold it in 4-dimensions. Sealed in a pretty glass cabinet are a series of etchings, like some blueprint for machines from other, equally improbable worlds. ‘Catalogue for Detecting Mystery Riders’ the wall exclaims, a work by Emily Whitebread. In another darkened video room (perhaps the 20th of the day) I wait for the loop of Jennifer Jarmen’s work to repeat. A dual-screen conversation ensues between Jennifer and a voiceless friend; between a ventriloquist and his dummy. The unmistakable voice of scientist V.S. Ramachandran ponders the role of the mirror in phantom limb patient therapy. As one video interrupts the other I feel the severed halves of my cerebellum stitch back into place once again.
As the crowd began to trickle from the studios the night came closing in. On Tuesday morning the deconstruction will begin. Temporary walls will be torn down. A hundred projectors will be taken back to their dusty cupboards to lie forgotten for another season. Fragile sculptures will be dismantled and lugged home, piece by piece, on the number 21 bus. Perhaps amongst everything I’ve seen, every studio I’ve poked my head into or artist-contact-card I’ve stuffed into my wallet, a few works will make it into private galleries, or be mentioned in articles and essays like this one. In the pub someone asks me which works I think they’ll be. I shrug nonchalantly, “That’s up to the market, not you or me.” As I finish speaking a laugh erupts behind me. From my pocket, and trailing along the pub floor, comes a long reel of string. “Silly me,” I say to no-one in particular, as I begin to follow it back out of the pub, back through the grey South London streets, back to the labyrinth of the Goldsmiths’ Postgraduate Degree Show.