As I stood mesmerised by the phantasms emanating from the cornucopia of objects, drawings, videos and audio in Darren Banks and Oonagh Hegarty’s exhibitions at Sierra Metro, it struck me, that it is not God, but the devil who resides in the detail. In the chill ambience of the cavernous space, the spirits that hide in the subterranean recesses of ‘popular culture’ and ‘domestic banality’ can be glimpsed and heard. Both artists are soothsayers and alchemists, expertly attuned to channelling these malignant ghosts in our culture. In their reanimation of discarded crap and tat, some of the dark magick that transfixes us in our consumerist-entertainment-network is captured and laid bare.
Darren Banks’ sculptural collages of found, ‘inconsequential’ domestic materials, are intoxicating and visceral in their transmogrification of the familiar into the malevolent. In the freestanding sculpture ‘Soothsayers’, 2010, the flickering light culled from a section of a 1970s cannibal film, turns a rotating washing hanger, a large rubber band ball and a child’s nightie into an object of unbridled menace. Held in the insidious glow of the cathode tube rays, the hanger’s cold spikes of steel are turned into objects of medieval, ritualistic torture.
In the exhibition’s centrepiece ‘Where Everything is Mixed’, an imposing mutant, moaning body is conjured from the synthesis of the quotidian and the hallucinogenic. Banks is a skilled sculptural surgeon, expertly conjoining the most maligned pieces of British domestic furniture (a wooden TV tray, a bottle green upholstered armchair) with iconic signs of 1970s middle class respectability (paper lampshade, cheese plant) with a barrage of looped video clips (Eyes without a Face, Italian horror, porn and He-Man’s nemesis Skeletor).
This looming, poltergeistian mound is a mesmerising montage of domestic, cultural and psychic matter. As you listen to and stare at Skeletor’s demonic cackle on a TV monitor, fixed on top of a child’s Halloween skeleton costume, it is difficult to shake the sense of being in the presence of a monstrous, contemporary Golem. Walking around this creature soon becomes a disturbing experience; the bulbous light shades become intestinal chords, plastic wires veins, chairs and cushions muscle and tissue. Visually and audibly assaulted by the transfixing looped video clips you find yourself enveloped, rather like the clip of an actress screaming as she is sucked into a desert of gold glitter, into a symbiotic feedback loop with this ‘creature’. This golem speaks in tongues, and after a while you start to understand what it says. And frankly, it’s not a positive message about our past or our future it has chosen to pass on from the other side.
In Sierra Metro’s smaller gallery space Oonagh Hegarty’s quieter aesthetic teases out a similar sense of latent dread in its transformation of appropriated ‘trivial’ material. In a series of wall-based drawings, referred to as ‘Geometric Dollies’, Hegarty uses forgotten super toy of the 1970s the Spirograph. Children who were obsessed with the Spirograph always disturbed me; their somnambulistic immersion in the ritualistic labour of producing monotonously repeated patterns, seemed a sign of some unspoken horror. In several of Hegarty’s drawings a white stigmata silhouette hovers, like a spectral vision, punctuating the innocent doodling of the spirals. These silhouettes, lifted from the tabloids, stain the innocuous doodles. Their white space voids suggesting blanked out memories and erased traumas.
Hegarty’s standout work in the show is ‘Star Britney’. After meticulously unravelling a small roll of cellotape, she supplanted an image of Britney Spears onto the inner core of the roll. Painstakingly, she then rewound the clear tape over the image, in the process burying Britney behind coils of translucent sticky plastic. By putting the uncanny image (Britney’s mascara-caked eye, appears petrified like a mosquito in amber) in a gold rimmed, plastic gem jewellery box, Hegarty makes strange and alien this powerful iconic image. Captured in its container, this voodoo keepsake seems to freeze Britney’s ‘power’.
Its been calculated that in the last 50 years humanity has produced more information, more cultural matter, than the entire previous 5,000 years of existence. This matter has penetrated every corner of our lives, filling the physical and mental spaces of our day-to-day existence and our private dreams. How we consume and batch process this beguiling, seductive material is central for artist and audiences today. Banks and Hegarty, entertainingly and thoughtfully, break the transfixing spell of this magick. Using a dark light to illuminate, they focus on the possibilities and pathologies of this culture, its memories and its nightmares. They are a new breed of counter intuitive soothsayers and alchemists.
John Beagles is an artist and lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art