Tuesday, 28 January 2020



Elephant West, 8 Jan - 2 Feb

Elephant West
62 Wood Lane
London W12 7RH  (50 yards from White City underground)
T 020 8614 0785
E fuel@elephant.art
Opening times

With Mauro Bonacina, Brian Bress, Jemima Burrill, Leah Capaldi,  Paul Cole, Emma Cousin, Liv Fontaine, Rosie Gibbens, Oona Grimes, Adam Hennessey, Andy Holden, Rand Jarallah, Karen Knorr, Ansel Krut, Dale Lewis, Ryan Mosley, Anna Perach, Katarina Rankovic with events programme on 8, 14, 22 and 31 Jan (see below at end)

Curated by Paul Carey-Kent



Installation shots by Oliver Holms

Ridiculous! presents - in exhibition, film and performance - my choice of 18 artists who are not afraid to look stupid. ‘The True Artist’, runs the statement famously caught in neon by Bruce Nauman in 1967, ‘Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths’. In the same spirit, the true artist is prepared to present the ridiculous, to work in an apparently ridiculous way, or to appear ridiculous themselves. They will run the risk that we’ll be laughing at them as much as with them, in order to get at surprising perspectives. Better to fall flat on your face than to play it safe. Questions their works might help you to answer include: 'Why was I so ridiculously embarrassed as a teenager?' , 'How can I turn my boyfriend into a washing machine?' and 'Who opposes Brexit on the grounds that freedom of movement is fundamental for a good fuck?' In case that sounds frivolous, underneath the show's witticisms you will find serious consideration of such matters as identity formation, epistemology, sexual attraction, class conflict and mental health. Below, I introduce each artist, concentrating on one work.

Rosie Gibbens: still from SeDUCKtion, 2019

For Side Eye Rosie Gibbens will be performing at the opening (8 Jan) with photographs of body parts printed onto fabric to create absurd collages on her body. She's also showing SeDUCKtion, which documents her pondside attempt to attract some ducks using a speculum with lipstick as a beak, washing-up gloves as webbed feet, and repetitive dance. In the voice-over, a child reads online discussions comparing the sexiness of Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse. Of course, it is an utterly ridiculous act - and an over-the-top pun. And yet it is paradoxically seductive viewing!




Mauro Bonacina: images from @MAUROBONACINA, 2014-20

Instagram can be bad for art, encouraging the immediate, flat and colourful over the subtle, textured and intimate. But can it be used as its material? Mauro Bonacina revisits the surrealist love of the found conjunction through the exhibition presentation of six years of his daily photostream at one second per image. You can only just keep up with the connections made between the 1,800 pointedly ridiculous images, sourced from the net using a sophisticated battery of search mechanisms. The title suggests that ‘@MAUROBONACINA’ acts as a self-portrait of sorts. If so, that's quite a mind we're looking into, one which takes the limited attention span to a limit which challenges us in turn.

Still from Andy HoldenLaws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, 2011-17

Andy Holden's hour-long animation is the centrepiece of the film evening on 14 Jan. Holden himself is the avatar who takes us through over 400 illustrative clips, drawing persuasive and witty analogies from a dizzying range of references – from cave painting to Futurism to Slavoj Žižek to quantum mechanics – to show how the apparently ridiculous rules followed in the golden age of cartoons can apply to us now. By way of a flavour, Law I states that ‘any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation’. That leads Holden to observe that ‘capitalism as a whole operates with nothing below it’ – and, as the 2009 collapse of the banking system showed, was ‘oblivious till it looked down’.  

Katarina Rankovic: still from the film (or performance) The Widow, 2015/20

Katarina Rankovic will be performing in a role she originally improvised in a coat she bought at TK Maxx and promptly returned after the recording. Her approach is to lure herself into 'becoming someone else' to the extent that she starts to have thoughts or come upon turns of phrase that wouldn't occur to her own 'personality'. The results are ludicrous, yet wittily smuggle in sub-texts about the construction of the self and the making of art. In this case 'the widow' describes with something touching on relish how her husband was not just cut in two but infinitely divided, eventually reaching a state she terms 'hyper-existence'. Might it be that if you go far enough away from being you come out where you began?

Oona Grimes: still from u.e u. , 2018 -  9.28 min. iPhone film.

Oona Grimes is a lover of film who has typically absorbed that into other media – the clown drawings are an example. That changed recently in the series of shorts which she shows on iPads. In the six films of ‘Hail the New Etruscan’, Oona reinvents classic scenes from Italian Neorealist cinema in their original Roman settings. She makes a virtue of her lack of training: ‘I wasn’t acting,’ she says, ‘I was physically drawing the moment’. ‘u.e.u.’, for example, refers to Pier Paolo Pasolini's Uccellacci e Uccellini (1966) – ‘big and small birds’. That turned on Franciscan monks communing with avian life. Grimes mimics their imitation of a sparrow’s hopping, and lets the birds do her talking. It’s endearingly daft, but with a dark hawk-on-sparrow conclusion, and also carries messages about communication and empathy which are pertinent to how people place themselves in the natural world. 


Liv Fontaine: The darker days of me and him from The Chronicle of Chronic Sickness 2019
Glasgow-based Liv Fontaine imposes her sharply feminist perspective on audiences through anger-driven performances: expect a manic vocal style, cutting sarcasm and confrontational bodily exposure. Her uncomfortably hilarious material, though filtered through various personae, is evidently personal as well as political — and recently she has confronted a challenge rather different from patriarchy: illnessYet in a typically positive manner, being bedridden facilitated a new expansion into drawings that carry her character-led diatribes into a blitz of images, slogans and challenges. The darker days of me and him sees her appear, defying a nasty skin condition, as a lizard prostitute.  The men still pursue her. 'They see me' says a linked short story 'as the ultimate trophy - my ugliness now so curious it's confused with sexiness'. And now Liv's better and back performing, too - come along on 31 January to find out How long does it take to eat yourself to death with a teaspoon?

Jemima Burrill: still from The New Model, 2013 - film, 7.51 mins

'The New Model' might be described as a feminist parody via the car industry - combining the stereotypical male fixation on having the latest marque, with the hopes of a woman seeking to escape a conventional role. Burrill herself emerges from a car boot with scarlet lipstick, pinafore and rubber gloves, ready to be given a thorough cleansing-come-makeover in a car wash. Cue the slapstick of her being vacuumed, hosed and dried until she emerges clean and natural, smiling in the sunshine of a fresh start without the lipstick, pinafore and gloves. It doesn't last. The carwash attendant reapplies the lipstick and replaces the pinafore and gloves: the 'new model' is ready to return to the boot. That might also, says Jemima, be read as questioning the worth of  
the torture that woman put themselves though to feel younger. Her performance on 31 January will also home in on inappropriate norms: as Megaphone Woman she'll tackle how women get to speak less and get interrupted more than men. 

Anna Perach: Alkonost, shown above during a performance at Mimosa House, London 2019

Anna Perach uses hand-tufting to make carpet textiles which she transforms into sculptures that are - a little ridiculously - wearable for performance. The private domestic carpet, she says, 'becomes an external masquerade, and elements associated with the domestic sphere operate as an extension of the self'. Perach synthesises female mythic characters and retells their stories as a means of reflecting on our societal heritage and current gender roles. She will present a new sculpture, Pretty lady, that - together with Alkonost - will be activated on 31 January by the performance Travel between worlds. Anna aims to explore the dynamic between personal and cultural myths, and 'how our private narratives are deeply rooted in ancient storytelling and folklore and conversely how folklore has the ability to tell us intimate, confidential stories about ourselves'.

Brian Bress: still from Rabbi Larry (on pastel macaroni), 2018

25 minute video in wall-mounted monitor

American artist Brian Bress makes films in which canvas and screen innovatively converge to make the production process directly visible. Sometimes, we see the artist cutting through a painting so that the reverse side hangs down. Sometimes - as here - Bress becomes a 'character' who makes realtime drawings, so we can guess what they'll turn out to be. Six drawings are made and erased over a 25-minute loop in front of a pastel abstraction of pasta shapes. The rather ridiculous teacher moves from trampoline to snail-eyed surreal head to underwater world and concludes with a self-portrait over the top of himself. Is that what he was searching for? Do the other drawings portray other aspects of himself?  We move from guessing 'what?' to wondering 'why?'  

Emma CousinDouble Garage, 2019

Oil on linen, 200 x 190 cm

Ansel Krut, Dale Lewis, Ryan Mosley and Emma Cousin fill the central space with figurative paintings as big as they are ridiculous. Krut says he likes it if viewers drift back and forth between the absurdity of the image and the colour and paintwork and internal rhythms, flicking on and off between the contradictions. That could apply to all four. Cousin's people act out what she calls 'the comedy of how the body works' through groupings which might fail. The implicit danger is evident in Double Garage, in which the figures try to use one another as a ladder to climb out of the canvas. 'It is funny and sad', she says, 'that even if the figures manage it some will be left behind with no one to climb on to reach the top'. Moreover, the canvas has been turned to crank up the absurdity. All of which could stand for the aggressive way in which the ambitious may seek to use others as they climb to the top of the corporate ladder.

Dale LewisThe Great Day, 2019

Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2m x 4m

Dale Lewis paints his signature super-cinematically wide pictures at speed, straight from the tube while the paint can be moved around. That keeps a sense of urgency and semi-accidental discovery, but his seemingly chaotic multi-figure tableaux order the quick-fire notations he makes around the streets according to classical principles: this composition is loosely based on the skeleton-heavy 1518 Allegory of Death and Fame by Agostino Veneziano. Dale homes in on the comically absurd, yet 'The Great Day' depicts, he says, 'one of the first scenes I see every morning when I leave the flat in Leytonstone to walk to the studio in Bow. The title comes from Hitchcock’s first film of the same name, as I live a stone's throw from where his childhood home once stood'.

Ryan MosleyTo compete is to finish, 2015

Oil on canvas 230 x 185cm 

A curious carnivalesque past merges with art history in Ryan Mosley's distinctively odd world. A staircase scene echoes Oskar Schlemmer. Its hyper-bearded characters are seemingly dressed in paintings, mostly abstract but one with a pink-shoed leg on his back. Perhaps that belongs to the pink-hatted man on the canvas propped upfront. The men look in turn at abstract paintings, unexpected presences in what look to be Victorian times with souped-up colours. What of the notion that 'to compete' - rather than complete, in the definition we might have expected - 'is to finish'? I like the thought that the word 'complete' is itself unfinished, is missing the letter 'l'. Ryan says that when a painting goes wrong 'it would be easier to quit and start again. So by competing and finishing the stubbornness has led to the characters climbing the final flight of stairs looking at the art, wearing the art and being the art'. 


Ansel Krut: Bearded Anemones, 2011.

Oil on canvas, 150 x 110 cm

Ansel Krut’s firm black outlines, crisp colour zones and zesty suggestion of movement flirt with the language of cartoons. And his subjects can have a pretty direct comedy – take ‘Arse Flowers in Bloom’ 2010 or a ‘portrait’ of Napoleon formed from three toilet rolls and a turd. That last is a typical move, finding comic figures in surreal conjunctions of still-life elements. ‘Bearded Anemones’ works somewhat differently, through an anthropomorphism which takes me back some decades via some sort of rock pool confusion to the schoolboy snigger-term ‘bearded clam’ as slang for the vagina. These don’t look like any anemones I’ve seen. But are those purple shoulders at the front? Yes, this could also be a child's view of heads with all-around beards.  

Paul Cole: In my Shoes VII, 2019

Oil on cotton bedsheets, wood, cement, plaster bandage, Denim, socks and sandals

There can be something inherently ridiculous about failure, the more so if you keep at your task in the spirit of Beckett's injunction to 'fail better'. How do you know if it's time to give up? But Paul Cole makes the most of it through his series of sculptures made from his own rejected wall-based paintings, propped up on legs shod in his old paint-splattered shoes. The paintings are already a literal exposure of Cole's dirty linen: abstract-tending self-portraits using his family’s old bedsheets as low value grounds that encourage guilt-free spontaneity and enable paint to be applied on both sides.  The absurd shortcomings of the artist and his product are turned into entertaining work which feels a lot like a success. 

Karen KnorrPeers of the Realm, 2015

'What amazing control of animals!' might be your first ridiculous thought, but ludicrous lifestyles are more to the point.  Karen Knorr's 1980's satirical documentary series of upper-class mores has often been shown recently. Those were disrupted by parallel texts, whereas her current wonderfully fastidious digital insertions of wildlife into architecture allow the animals to disrupt scenes of luxury - even as they rather strikingly complement them. This is from a series depicting 'The Lanesborough' in Belgravia,   one of the most expensive hotels in the world. What species of people can afford to live in such a fantasy palace, we might ask? And should they really be better protected than the fauna faced with extinction?

Rand Jarallah performs Compartmentalise

Rand Jarallah’s performance at the opening explores what can be defined as ‘putting your feelings in a box in the back of your mind to be forgotten’ and ‘a subconscious psychological defence mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance’. She will seek to generate both observation and an act of internal performance by the audience – so they unconsciously compartmentalise their thoughts about what they see happen. Rand will pull the fabric of thoughts from her head and put them in a black box. Ludicrously enough, her lips will appear to have migrated to her forehead, emphasising the internality of the thoughts and emotions she is performing (above is a previous face transformation by Jarallah). The point is to reflect on the problems which compartmentalisation can cause to our mental health: the danger that we become so skilled at the process, we alienate ourselves from the basic elements of what it means to be a human being. How ridiculous would that be?

Adam Hennessey: Robbie, 2019

Adam Hennessey's drawing-filled 'zine Tank tells the teen story of discovering what attracted him, realising he is gay, and wondering how to tell who else is. Looking back, it can seem ridiculous to think of what worried us so disproportionately at that age, and Adam is no exception - though the underlying issues of understanding your self and your place in society are serious enough. The image here shows one of his fantasy figures - Robbie Williams -  drawn naked onto a rug, but covered by a rather comical attempt to dress him in the clothes worn by Dan, a straight boy whom the young Hennessey fancied just as hopelessly. A nice touch in the visual language is the recurring use of a small wedge of wood to apply slim rectangles of paint - covering much of Robbie but more sparingly used in the accompanying painting Frisbee

Leah CapaldiStill Stock, 2020

What would you rather be – object, body, animal or sculpture? And how would each feel? Late viewing of the show on 22 January is supplemented by Leah Capaldi's hybrid work in which  a performer lies - static for two hours -  under a cast silicone rubber sheet, their leg poking through a hole in the surface. Various action films are  projected onto the sheet, including a dog shaking and several animals in states of hypnotic trance. Putting someone in such a patently ridiculous position is typical of Leah: she loves to disrupt the usual conditions of gallery viewing – doing so previously through scent and intrusive coughing, for example, as well as by  drawing viewers into an awkwardly voyeuristic relationship with a passive body. Capaldi's performance sculpture will  heighten viewers' own self-awareness, explore how human and animal self-consciousness differ, and probe the point at which a person becomes an object or a subject.  


8 Jan: Opening

6.45 Katarina Rankovic: ‘20%’ 3 mins

7.00 Rand Jarallah: ‘Compartmentalise’ 5 mins

7.25 Katarina Rankovic: ‘Long Term Ethics’ 5 mins

7.45 Rosie Gibbens: ‘Side Eye’ 15 mins

8.15 Katarina Rankovic: ‘The Widow’ 7 mins

14 Jan: Film Evening

6.30-7.30 Andy Holden: Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape

7.50- 8.15:

Rosie Gibbens: ‘Professional Body’ 4 mins

Oona Grimes: ‘mozzarella in carrozza’ 2 mins

Katarina Rankovic: ‘The Widow’ and ‘20%’ 9 mins

Jemima Burrill: ‘Mouthwash’ 4 mins

22 Jan: late viewing

with Leah Capaldi: performance sculpture 6.30 – 8.30

31 Jan: Performance evening

6.30 Anna Perach: ‘Travel Between Worlds’ 30 mins

7.30 Liv Fontaine: ‘How long does it take to eat yourself to death with a teaspoon?’ 20 mins

8.00 Jemima Burrill: ‘Megaphone Woman’ 20 mins

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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.