The The Things Is (For Three), Milton Keynes Gallery | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
The The Things Is (For Three), Milton Keynes Gallery
Giorgio Sadotti is a sort of missing link between John Cage and Tommy Cooper
It’s not often you find yourself in an art gallery with the business end of a bullwhip whizzing inches from your nose. Wielded by a disconcertingly slight, black-haired woman who can barely be half its length, the terrifying instrument defines the dimly lit space with its whirling undulations and earsplitting crack, sending the gaggle of spectators cowering into adjacent rooms. Why there is also a grand piano present is probably only entirely known to the unnamed artist who brought this trickily titled exhibition into being.
If there’s plenty to object to in the cult of the branded art figure, in which the names of artists have become more significant than what they produce (think Koons, Hirst, Emin et al), has the individual behind The The Things Is (For Three) chosen anonymity as a kind of protest, or as a double bluff that will increase interest in his or her brand? Or is this an act of pure suicidal perversity?
On arriving at the Milton Keynes Gallery you step onto what might be a parody of a red carpet or a builder’s protective sheet, but turns out to be a great band of denim that runs through the gallery and up over the top of the building, establishing the exhibition’s theme of circular space-defining flow – with a nod to good old rock’n’roll.
Referred to coyly in the publicity as "a London artist who emerged in the early 1990s", the "artist", as the gallery assistants will tell you, is Giorgio Sadotti, the deadpan gagman of British post-conceptualism, a sort of missing link between John Cage and Tommy Cooper. Born in 1955, of Italian parentage but Mancunian to the core, Sadotti injects a degree of geezerish drollery into gestures so fugitive they make the efforts of Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed – of lights-going-on-and-off notoriety – seem positively baroque in comparison.
For Went to America didn't say a word, Sadotti flew to New York, walked around for 24 hours with a tape recorder running, without speaking, and flew back. The tapes of virtually nothing happening were the work of art. In 1... 2 he exhibited a rock band’s equipment, giving the viewer the option to use it or not, while in 2008 he participated in a group show by having a French horsetrainer whip the spaces between the other artists’ works.
The lady horsetrainer is back in Milton Keynes, attempting to draw sound from the piano with her hissing strokes, bringing the lid down with a devastating crash, while the band’s equipment is becoming a magnet for every grunge-obsessed teenager in Milton Keynes. But alongside the horrendous racket are works of Zen-like quiet and inscrutability: pages of dismantled books and magazines form lines that run around the walls, over the doors, through glass cases, according to cryptic systems of Sadotti’s own devising.
A collection of apparently randomly selected mismatching magazine spreads are linked by the presence of balls – of the sporting variety. Two books of 1970s arty soft-porn – one entitled Men, the other Women – have been sliced in two and reassembled to create hermaphroditic images that don't quite fit together, and aren't supposed to. The pages from five copies of a book on a Swiss snowstorm are presented on a red-filtered light box around the perimeter of an otherwise darkened room, the light fusing the text on the two sides of the pages, dissolving the meaning of the text.
There’s a flinty elegance to the way the two aspects of the exhibition have been brought together. There’s no attempt to make them gel. Each element simply is what it is, remorselessly pursuing its own obtuse rationale: around, but not with the others. While Sadotti claims to draw on others’ efforts to allow himself the luxury of inertia, the ruthless clarity of this exhibition generates its own intensity. While the work refers knowingly back to iconic conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s from Cage to John Baldessari, its air of on-your-bike cool feels very much of now – invested with the kind of Northern orneriness that might inspire an artist to remove his name from his work on a whim.
- The The Things Is (For Three) at Milton Keynes Gallery until 12 September
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