The Artist with Two Brains

Curated by Chris Hammond, “The Artist with Two Brains” was a wide-ranging group show aiming to celebrate the concept of the creative duo through the work of established and emerging artists. As a backdrop to the show, St Paul’s Church created some interesting dualities of its own; from the leaflets advertising upcoming carol-singing sessions competing for space and attention with the slightly sparse exhibition information, to the earnest church volunteer invigilating the show, who encapsulated the inherent dualities of contemporary art versus a religious venue: “I’m getting it in the neck from both sides”.

Many of the artists’ work challenged the setting in a visually visceral way. Corruption, putrification and sins of the flesh abounded. Paulmart’s ATM (2005) and Colin Lowe and Roddy Thomson’s Drink Demon (Two Faced Lying Little Fucker) (2003) displayed double trouble with booze and butts. Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkácová’s Porn Video (2004) showed two women, fully dressed in pastel-coloured, children’s TV-style outfits, simulating with gusto a classic, groan-sound-tracked porn film. Allsopp and Weir explored another kind of simulation in their film work, in which a young Western woman attempts to mimic a male voice singing an Islamic call to prayer. Again and again she replaces the needle on the record, but her highly-trained operatic vocals repeatedly miss the notes. Like the “porn” girls on the other side of the aisle, the protagonist’s repeated failure to fully deliver her attempted performance displayed a captivating futility, devoid of any actual religious, or ecstatic, fervour.

Fischli & Weiss’s seminal The Way Things Go (1981), origin of the Honda ad (their film of an implausibly long, uninterrupted chain of chemical and mechanical reactions), resonated both visually and conceptually with Paul Harrison & John Wood’s equally controlled The Only Other Point (2005), a film of objects reacting with or bumping against other objects, appearing to have a momentum all of their own. Both works were displayed on large screens, at right angles to each other, with Harrison & Wood placed in the holy of holies, before the altar. Physical forces pitched against each other to create a seemingly neverending chain of events, echoing and reverberating around the church.

So, in the mass of stuff that made up this brief show, could I say that two brains are better than one? Did the works explore or expose their dual origins? Fittingly, I would say, yes and no.

Published in Contemporary magazine issue 81