HOME open their exhibitions programme with The heart is deceitful above all things, a group show examining love and heartbreak, inspired by Kasimir and Karoline, which was also adapted into The Funfair, HOME’s opening theatrical production. This is the beginning of an ongoing programme of exhibitions relating to the theatre and film programmes, which on the one hand, seems like the ideal way to appeal to HOME’s general audience, ensuring that the art programme is not isolated. On the other hand, when art takes its lead from film and theatre it doesn’t exist on its own terms, but as an added bonus.
Unmissable as you enter the exhibition, Ragnar Kjartansson assumes the archetypal role of the suffering artist with his 11-metre neon piece Scandinavian Pain. Kjartansson takes on this self-absorbed stereotype with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, delivering it in over-sized pink letters to make it a theatrical, overblown statement.
Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Eaten by the Heart: The Installation shows a series of black and mixed-race couples kissing, shot in a close-up that only reveals the performers heads and shoulders, forcing the viewer into the role of the voyeur. Saro-Wiwa’s film also demonstrates how the use of sound affects how we react to visual stimulation. As one couple is shown, the sound is clinical, heightening the feeling of intrusion and voyeurism and making the act of kissing appear false and staged. While another couple is soundtracked by a traditionally romantic song, making for a much more comfortable and pleasant viewing experience.
At the heart of the exhibition, Jessey Tsang’s film breathe in / breathe out provides a few minutes of genuine sincerity. Two dancers, one male and one female, move in response to one another throughout a romance and subsequent breakup. Small details help to sell the powerfully physical nature of the film, from toes clenching in the dirt to fingers just breaking the surface tension of water, an action that is almost painfully delicate and sensual. Tsang’s film is truly absorbing and holds the viewer’s attention even when surrounded by clashing sound from other film pieces throughout the exhibition.
Acting as an ironic counter-part to Jessey Tsang’s sincerity is Jeremy Bailey’s inLoop, where the Apple Store meets the art gallery in order to demonstrate Bailey’s iPhone game. The game sees two players co-operate/compete, with one player as a hammer and the other as a sickle, both performing manual labour in a game with no end and no winner. By reducing the nature of gaming to an absurd situation where points are simply accrued endlessly Bailey highlights the way in which gaming brings out Pavlovian responses from the players, where buttons are pressed for an artificial reward. Distracting from this genuinely interesting examination of the nature of gaming, Bailey attaches literal hammers and sickles to the iPhones on display, bringing to mind pointless gaming accessories such as the Nintendo Power Glove, making the piece seem dated.
Douglas Coupland also looks at irony with his collection of works Slogans for the 21st Century, a series of phrases and statements that attempt to understand and articulate the 21st Century mindset, and the differences between the 21st and 20th Centuries. Primarily, this seems to mean engaging with internet and social media culture, with statements such as ‘Epic Fail’ and ‘Haters Gonna Hate’ forming part of the display. It’s an embarrassing, insincere work, with Coupland reacting to memes in the exact way that you would expect a 53 year old man to.
As a beginning to the contemporary art programme at HOME, this is a mixed start. The amount of new commissions is an extremely encouraging sign, with Gemma Parker, Declan Clarke, Basim Magdy, Jeremy Bailey and Jessey Tsang all contributing new work to the show. However, there is also a lack of care on display with some of the install; there is the aforementioned clashing of sound, particularly distracting when trying to watch Magdy’s film, and also jarring is that every framed piece has a heavy line of shadow covering the top few inches, which happens to be where the text is placed in Flaka Haliti’s series of prints. If there is ever a time for attention to detail, it’s when opening a £25 million arts centre.
Tom Emery is curator and writer based in Manchester.
Image courtesy of HOME.
The heart Is deceitful above all things, HOME, Manchester.
22 May – 26 July 2015.