The Pleasure Principle @hoxtonart gallery

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Steven Dickie, Great Leap Forward

I’m always interested in presentation of art. Both from a contextual and psychological perspective and from an aesthetic stance, I can’t escape the fact that my response to art is profoundly affected by its context and presentation format.

Maybe it’s an aspect of the consumerist culture engulfing me and the rest of the world: I’m a victim of looks over substance, although of course it’s not as simple as that.

But in a show exploring 21st century consumerism through the eyes of four artists at Hoxton Art Gallery this month, I felt there was a nice irony in my reflecting on this aspect of my personal response to art.

In fact, The Pleasure Principle curated by Matthew Nickerson looks rather more deeply at society’s desire for instant gratification at the expense of its deeper fulfillment, and the works on show raise some thought-provoking issues ranging from technological and digital influences through to pornography.

Reverting for a moment to form and presentation, the piece I had in mind when I wandered off on this train of thought was a multi-media work by Steven Dickie, Great Leap Forward, pictured above. Examining the point at which humans begin to display cultural creativity and establish cultural structures, the piece comprises three small digital displays scrolling through a series of strong and brightly colored imagery. My attention was immediately grabbed by the immaculate coated display stands in three colours I have been addicted to (for mixing purposes) for a few years. I call them printers’ magenta, cyan and yellow, and from a painter’s perspective they have the wonderful characteristic of never giving rise to “mud” however much you mix. But in this context, they stand stridently for modernity. The digital displays themselves were stencilled and sprayed to frame the images in a very focussed way.

I loved this attention to detail on the presentation of the piece. I liked the way it all worked even observed from a distance by someone with short sight and no glasses. The combination of sculptural form, painting and digital imagery gave a multi-layered dimension to the work which a straight triptych screening would have perhaps lacked.

All the work in the exhibition was worth seeing though. I was particularly taken with the disturbing drawings of Tom Gallant which incorporated Watteau-esque delicate bistre wash and ink landscapes with Japanese Hentai (weird/perverted) porn genre. The sort of drawing where you end up gazing at some puzzling or ambiguous detail only to suddenly realise it is not actually something you want to be looking at. Except it’s then too late and you are caught up in the visual double-entendre game and drawn ever closer into the imagery.

Gallant follows a worthy tradition in this unsettling playfulness. I mentioned in a post last year an intriguing exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2009 One Image May Hide Another) which examines the use by artists through the centuries from Arcimboldo onwards of ambiguous imagery and double images.

The capacity of art to prompt reflection is always there, but never more so than through use of visual puzzles.

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