Whatever your thoughts are on London’s Frieze Art Fair – arguably the pinnacle of the capital’s art diary – this infamous week, which is dedicated to international art, unquestionably provides wonderful spectacles in abundance. Cynics will attest that the event has mutated into a millionaire’s playground where the currency of celebrity dinner table-talk commands the estimated 1 billion pounds of artwork that was up for sale across auction houses and satellite fairs. If you’re like me and simply enjoy the visual stimulation of art world dynamics then there is no place like London in October.
For the 358 days when this cultural circus is not in town, the publishing art platform Other Criteria provides an accessible exhibition programme of artworks by both British and established international artists. On the eve of Frieze I went along to the opening of Brit duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Their latest ‘body’ of work made up the exhibition ‘Portraits from the Bottom Up’ situated at Other Criteria’s New Bond Street outpost.
Noble and Webster have carved a celebrated practice of transformative art since 1996 with fanciful assemblages and projected light shadow installations akin to sideshows from a bygone era. They combine form and anti-form to create unexpected visuals around themes of portraiture, psychology and humour. Meticulous and dramatic in their execution, the contradictory aesthetics of mounds of waste, sex toys or mummified animals fused together to produce self-portraits in silhouette (revealed by a beam of light) are perversely stunning. The new series of work showcased in ‘Portraits from the Bottom Up’ is the result of a residency the artists undertook in the Caribbean. Webster confesses, ‘Unfortunately this idyll rendered us impotent and we retracted back into our darkened room and turned to our bodies for inspiration.’
The collection of monoprints (‘Black Bottoms’) and bronzes on display, from which the exhibition takes its name, lie firmly in connotative waters, with the artists casting their own shadows; using their bodies as human printing presses. They print their bottoms (cue full moon innuendo) and cast their nipples and arseholes, repositioning them to resemble a face with eyes and a mouth (remarkably charming). Tribal in their making yet ironic in their innocence, Noble and Webster successfully explore notions of intimacy, identity, consumerism, perception and science – this is where the Rorschach technique meets rumpology. The exhibition is one of pairings: Noble and Webster; man and woman; the playful and the obscene.
I figured the artists must have felt the exhibition would not be complete without toilet humour. On sale are ‘Wipe That Grin Off Your Face’ toilet paper rolls designed with a portrait of the collaborators grinning affectionately on every sheet. Perhaps a printed umbrella would have also been a welcome addition from the torrent of puns flying around the gallery. Who was the butt of the joke on? The shrewd and subversive Noble and Webster? The hungry consumer trading in cultural currency via the guest toilet? Or both? What is certain is this sort of debate makes for exemplary dinner table talk and I’d happily drink to that. Bottoms up!
Jonathan Velardi is an arts, culture and lifestyle writer and one of the latest Ohh Deer bloggers. His background as a conceptual visual artist forms the basis of his editorial interest around global creative activity – visit jonathanvelardi.com/writing for a selection of his published work.
Images: Portraits From The Bottom Up, 2013 – Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Black Bottoms, 2013 – Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Wipe That Grin Off Your Face, 2013 – Tim Noble & Sue Webster