Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Water water everywhere (in south London)

Visiting the South London Gallery is always a bit of a pilgrimage. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s a long way to South London and transport links only make it longer. But once you get there… sometimes… the trip is worthwhile. That big room with its ornamental detailing is a grand space and in the past there have been some great-looking shows such as Tracy Emin’s career-making retrospective, Anselm Keifer’s gargantuan White Cube-athon, Gilbert & George, & Joelle Tuerlinckx to name a few. Plus who can forget the 100 topless drummers, my word what an evening!

But German installation artist Daniel Roth is a damp squib of an idea. Following standard procedure, he has carried out some so called “research” into the lost rivers of London, and found that Peckham derives its name from the river Peck. This exhibition, then, is built around the conceit that the SLG is built upon an underground water source that threatens the fabric of the building itself. So far so routine. The gallery contains a cube of earth that is meant to contain a well, with a skeletal plumbing system coming out of it that runs up and around the huge walls, eventually disappearing into a bit of moulding on the ceiling. There are also some neat pencil drawings on the walls (to reassure is that Roth is a real artist capable of technical skill?) and a pointless obviously fake bit of skin supposedly with a rash on it from the “poisonous” liquid being pumped up from below.

Overall it’s just an unconvincing, unbelievable bit of engineering that pays lip service to the idea of installation art. It doesn’t transform the space or even our perception of the space in any meaningful way. It’s lazy cod-conceptual art by numbers, that perhaps aims at having the associative strength of Robert Gober (think of all those tubes, tunnels and concealed spaces that have real metaphorical substance) but ends up reading as nothing more than a dinky formal diagram. Roth must be a capable professional operator to convince galleries that he’s up to the challenge of tackling a big space. But content-wise this guy is about as deep as a slice of toast. With Nigel “ultra-negative dialectic” Cooke’s miserable paintings lined up for the next exhibition at the SLG, at least I won’t have to make the trip down there again in a hurry. Bring back local authority control!


Anonymous canvas art said...

Interesting read

3:27 pm  

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