Lila de Magalhaes and Michael White
31 July–21 August 2010, SWG3, Glasgow
Brutal yet absurd, Insert Tiara is an exhibition of shamanic subjects undercut by inadequacy. Gleeful anarchy transforms characterisations of historic and everyday artefacts that populate this exhibition of new work by Lila de Magalhaes and Michael White. Produced during a rare collaborative period, each artist’s work remains individually authored; a series of large stages are used as a collaborative device around which the exhibition is formed, expanding the plinth to theatrical proportions.
White’s sculptures, pitted and roughly rendered, irreverently appropriate ‘primitive arts’ and tribal iconographies. Placed in uncompromising, antithetic relationships, the artist interrogates hierarchies of representation. ‘Idol’, 2010, is graffitied in a kitsch and tawdry gold, appearing as much a leering god of pawnbrokers as a gilded deity. White’s monolithic works of amassed plaster and paint, lampoon the statuary conceits of the monument as the artist actively vandalises his own works. The petulant face carelessly scrawled onto the bottom of ‘Homme Tetarol’, 2010, precludes easy demarcation of its form by turning figurative convention on its head.
By refusing classifications of the symbolic or abstract, sacred or obscene, White successfully critiques the politics of canonical representation, particularly of the exotic ‘other’. The artist’s lack of formal elegance allows him to circumvent pastiche in works such as ‘An innovative local response to a perceived demand for ethnographia’, 2010. When viewed alongside the only painting exhibited—de Magalhaes’s ‘Mask’, 2010, a small and quietly maudlin image—White’s sculpture appraises both aestheticised iconographies, simulating cultural origin within the decontextualised museum and the mawkish, romanticised exotic of tourist souvenirs and gap-year travels.
Meanwhile, De Magalhaes’ ‘Heart’, 2010, is a small sculpture formed entirely from glacé cherries, which works to both seduce and repulse, and generates a cloying viscerality alongside its synthetic, lucent exterior. Here is a sticky, slatternly sexuality. Her iconography consists of a perverted suburban vernacular: it betrays the mysticism and defeat in the everyday.
The video installation ‘Garden of the Yellow Emperor’, 2010, displayed on domestic television sets, takes the mediocrity of a still life with flowers as its source. The ubiquity of this conservative image is disrupted by de Magalhaes’s neurotic, stuttering cuts between frames and monitors. The central ‘flower’ character is surreal: his face painted daisy yellow, he is surrounded by expedient cardboard petals. As he parrots stereotypical maxims, his initial machismo (‘I like fast cars… I’m in security, but I can’t talk about it much’) is left impotent by the garlanded environment. His cackling punctuates the suffocating domesticity with an exorcism of laughter. If White’s stimuli are primal vestiges, then de Magalhaes’s work delivers an underlying, atavistic hysteria beneath what she exposes as regulating behaviours, authored by prevailing societal demands.
For both de Magalhaes and White, a discursive concern with ‘failure’ dictates the modes of production within the exhibition. As with earlier works, White’s ‘Poker Face’, 2010, makes use of rough wooden props and gaffer tape bandages which admit to the inherent imperfection of the works assembly. His contaminated aesthetic is intrinsically self-critical, contingent to the artists’ physical act of making, and his depiction of idols and totems is rendered corrupt. Equally, de Magalhaes’s video works use amateurish assemblages comprising humble readymades. By exploiting her material’s limitations she reconstructs narratives via suggestion—her characters are made all the more evocative by their provisional nature.
Ostensibly, the sculptures, paintings and videos appear as a series of props that, staged on, within and around the platforms, together form the context for a one-off performance—an immersive, collaborative installation.
The histrionic event, orchestrated by de Magalhaes, featured a small cast of artists, caricatures, 18th century whores and courtiers in a scene of DIY bacchanalia. Throughout the opera (with its chanting, unrehearsed laughter, fruit-throwing and wine-swilling) there is a refreshing absence of reverence regarding the surrounding artworks. The players rollick dangerously around them with the same abandon that seems integral to the spirit of de Magalhaes and White’s provisional, risky production methods. The event, however, fails to move beyond the established tropes of the revelous subject matter to challenge its own deliberate clichés. But while De Magalhaes and White’s strategy of positioning the artworks theatrically within the exhibition seems fatigued by the performance, at its best, the event confirms de Magalhaes’s ability to elicit peripheral behaviours from those she works with.
Much of the success of this collaboration is rooted in the consequences of a lasting studio dialogue. Thoughtfully conceived, it is the discursive relationship between de Magalhaes and White’s practices, which is compelling. Together they force the co-habitation of antagonistic realities and improvise visual associations to distort typical modes of distinction. Their collaboration contends to ‘do more’ in the context of a two-person show and, theatrics aside, the resulting objects prevail as the protagonists of their environment.
Nicola Celia Wright is a writer based in Glasgow and London