In Laurence Figgis’ exhibition (After) After the white walls of the newly re-named Leeds Art University gallery have become a rich powder blue. In the exhibition Figgis’ representations of post modernism, as a perverse fairy-tale, are uneasily vibrant and richly deceptive. Like the wedding cakes that figure in his child-like yet all-too-all adult landscapes, they are sticky with icing, dense with decoration and treacherously pretty to step amongst.
Figgis’ visual narrative draws from Diego Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ (1656), Robert Rauschenberg’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno and Disney iconography. Text too plays its part. An extract from Figgis’ faux fairy tale ‘After the Mar’ge’ (2005) and a Ladybird edition of Sleeping Beauty lie entrapped in glass vitrines. The exhibition is also accompanied by an art historical essay by Dr. Susannah Thompson. Figgis clearly cares deeply about history, art history and post modernism. After (After) asks: what comes after post modernism? It does so by playing with art historical, social, cultural and political tropes as well as fables, myths and fairy tales.
Figgis references the edges of art history with moments of rupture and and sudden bridges between dark and light. We think of Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (1979) and the princess bride. We are invited to consider not only the bride and groom, the wedding guest and the wedding parade but what comes after — the dark night, the tyrannical dictator, the bride stripped bare, the machinations of ducal power and the sway of kingly might. We are asked to consider the fate of the glittery princess bride as she surveys the scene post-celebration. We wonder why the groom in is almost consumed by the wedding cake as he lays spread eagled across one of its tiers? Like the bride herself he is served up for afters, served up for dessert. Styrene – a familiar figure reprised here- is dressed in her wedding best, a wedding guest extraordinaire with a textured pink painted dress like nougat. She has liquorice allsorts buttons and crudely drawn breasts that she shows in place of knees. Also, her red handbag seems to be dripping something. Is it blood?
In ‘The Mar’ge’ (2017), the parade of power and beauty is divided into quarters, each separated by a dark, uncompromising line of paint. The crowd is pressed against what look like festival barriers. One of them stares to the side, eyes wide with shock. ‘The General’ (2017), part Star Wars figure, part upturned vessel, reminds us of the power of a tin pot dictator. In ‘Oh My Darling Have’ (2017), these four words are drawn in childish hand on one half of a blue canvas. The other half displays sections of lemon, blush pink and baby blue wedding cake against a dark striped background. What can my darling have? Is this a question or an answer? An entreaty or a warning? Oh my darling have a care because you too might become fodder to the fairy tale. Somewhere in the distance we are able to hear powerful voices shrieking ‘off with their heads.’
After (After), Leeds Arts University gallery, 11 August – 29 September 2017, with an artist talk on the 28 September 2017.
Karen Tobias-Green is a lecturer, researcher and writer at Leeds Arts University.