Speak at Serpentine Sackler GalleryCultureArt
Speak, the new exhibition at Serpentine Sackler, is presented as a counterpart to A World View: John Latham at the nearby Serpentine Gallery. It features work by Tania Bruguera, Douglas Gordon, Laure Prouvost and Cally Spooner, a disparate group of contemporary artists who, according to the exhibition’s blurb, “extend and update Latham’s radical view with their own sense of urgency”.
It’s a shame that the showcase has been hung on the peg of Latham’s output, since he himself is distinctly inaccessible. Inevitably, therefore, although these artists are supposed to be exploring Latham’s ideas, it’s unclear what these are and how this exploration manifests itself.
The secondary theme of the exhibition is “language as a medium for action, exchange and disruption”. This is a potentially fascinating concept and some of the works are indeed highly thought-provoking. With pieces such as Laure Prouvost’s We Will Multiply (2017), which features old tea bags sitting on top of a radiator, it’s hard to see a connection either to language or to Latham’s ideas.
On the other hand, many of the pieces in the show are both engaging and strangely beautiful (even the tea bags). Cally Spooner’s large composition Self Tracking (The Five Stages of Grief) (2016) encompasses the perimeter of the gallery to great effect. A barely-there line of self-tanning spray is traced along the wall at shoulder height, accompanied by pencil marks delineating the rising and falling of various criteria: data from the artist’s metabolism, data from the artist’s online ranking, and data measuring the value of the British Pound in relation to the Euro. It asks questions of the personal and the impersonal, the intimate and the distant, and how such information affects our daily lives.
Another brilliant piece can be found in the darkened central room of the gallery. Here, Laure Prouvost has created a bizarre but fascinating experience that blends the tropes of cinema, theatre and language. Carefully crafted glass objects are presented on stands in the pitch-dark room, and are suddenly lit by spotlights in time to a soundtrack, creating an intriguing narrative-based form of visual communication.
With interesting works such as these in the show, it’s unfortunate that the premise behind the exhibition may have visitors grasping after hard-to-reach conclusions and over-intellectualising pieces that often speak for themselves.
Speak is at Serpentine Sackler Gallery from 2nd March until 21st May 2017, for further information visit here.