Small Mischiefs

Small Mischiefs” is a group show presenting playful, sometimes sinister, interventions combined with an air of almost sickly sweet sensibility. At times the effect is of entering a slightly disturbed child’s bedroom, or the set of comic horror movie Child’s Play, in which the evil Chucky doll comes alive.

For me it is Christian Newton who steals the show and encapsulates this convergence of adult menace and childlike playfulness. In the first room, you are greeted with an innocent-looking piece of a child’s cot, hung on the wall like a found painting. It’s a shabby piece of chipboard, with pictures of swans, flowers and ships stuck on to a black background (actually, that black is rather creepy). In the centre is a cheery, cartoon-style pink rabbit, flanked by two small fluffy yellow chicks. But there are holes cut into the eyes of the rabbit, and after a little investigation, I discover that red laser beams are supposed to project out of the eyes and on to the opposite wall of the gallery. A little unintended mischief is at play while I am here, as the laser beams are not functioning, but this doesn’t actually diminish the work’s sinister potential. In some ways it makes it more so. There is a disturbing banging sound coming from overhead, which I later discover is just a couple playing with Bedwyr Williams’s Table Tennis Table in the room above. I drag the gallery assistant out to switch on two video pieces. On one wall Colin Guillemet is dyeing a goldfish blue, and on the other Junebaum Park is building a dystopic-looking grey community, with row upon row of bland, concrete flats piled on top of each other, with playful, Blue Peter-ish hands.

Upstairs are Newton’s series of menacing, House of Wax-style melting skulls on metal spikes, made from meringue – like malevolent desserts at a child’s party, giving the evil eye to the sentimental toy monkeys in Peter Jones’s paintings on the adjacent wall. Also in this room is Debbie Lawson’s animatronic stool with articulated legs that appear to have buckled to the floor. Every so often it whirs into life, trying to struggle up off its knees – wobbling a little, it always fails, its fluffy seat collapsing back down to the floor. The evil skulls just stare silently.

On the very top floor, Mai Yamashita & Naoto Kobayashi are locked in a seemingly neverending process, attempting to reduce an enormous, football-sized gobstopper through months of sticky licking. Next to this video is a glass bowl containing the diminished, forlorn-looking piece of candy, licked down to the size of a marble. But in the video, day turns into night turns into day, seasons go by, and still the oversized sweet remains, defiantly. Sometimes the woman licks alone, cat-like, sometimes the man. At times they lick together, erotically (yet childishly). On the other side of the room, there are four issues of Depressing Comics, with soundtracks to listen to while reading. Whilst browsing issue 2, I read a description of teenage wanking (“When I first started, when I was about 12, I used to just use my right hand. Then that got boring so I switched to using my left. Eventually that got boring as well, so I began sitting on my hand to make it go numb”), while listening to Art hole’s electro/drum’n’bass remix of The Final Countdown. Andrew Bracey’s series of painted drawing pins on the other wall is like a Damien Hirst dot painting, but on closer inspection the miniature paintings on the pins are like homemade badges by a child with slightly disturbing sensibilities – a man hanging from a noose, a sperm, badly painted logos of Illy, Cobra, Rizla and Vimto.

On my way out, I linger in the stairwell, expectantly, waiting for Ben Woodcock’s promised Bluetooth transmission to my mobile. While I stand around and wait, it gives me time to finally spot Tim Machin’s sorry little pile of miniature, fake snow in a corner on the floor – from one of those children’s toys I imagine, those plastic domes that you shake and “snow” falls across the idyllic scene. Contemplating that, nothing appears on my phone, and I give up – more of the building’s own mischief perhaps.

Published in Contemporary magazine issue 86