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Bermingham and Robinson, ‘The Future Will Be Little Different from the Past’, 2006, cross-stitch panels

Robert Bermingham and Richard Robinson profess a certain frustration with contemporary life. In contrast to the optimistic and futuristic expectations of their childhood, there is no solve-all Blue Peter food pill or Tomorrow’s World jet pack; just the same problems, anxieties and difficult relationships—war, famine and tragedy. Yet we are still being peddled the same impossible dreams by car adverts and TV property shows.

In direct contrast to the high-budget car advert fantasies, it is the garages of a particular group of British men—places for working, tinkering and hiding from wives— that provide inspiration for the first work in Bermingham and Robinson’s show Bull and Bear at g39 in Cardiff. Upended workbenches lean against the walls on the ground floor, meticulously covered in line drawings of a car pile-up, outlined in the style of a Haynes manual. The paint-splashed surfaces almost obscure tyres and bonnets, but do not hide the implied intensive labour. A parallel is drawn between hobbyist and artist, garage and studio, where a certain kind of hard graft is expected and valued.

By working collaboratively, Bermingham and Robinson seem to put themselves through a deliberate process of self examination. They frequently make thought and development processes explicit in their presentation and working methods, almost involuntarily creating symbolic self-portraits as they seek to define who they are and what they are doing. Eschewing an egotistical outlook, they choose instead to freeze-frame everyday symbols of work, play, and masculinity. But there is an undercurrent of destruction and chaos in each of their chosen snap-shots.

In ‘The Future Will Be Little Different From the Past’, a game of ‘Space Invaders ’ is depicted on what appear to be five canvases. On closer inspection they prove to be handsewn embroideries, each pixel now a cross-stitch. Bringing a nostalgic smile to the face of anyone for whom a BBC computer was once the cutting edge of technology, the embroideries are transformed into considered objects by the repetitive action of sewing—not feminised somehow; just a more affectionate and gentler breaking-down of masculinity. ‘Studies of a Chair in Motion’ shows a plastic chair spinning in stop-frame animation across a series of graphite rubbings on A4 paper. It resonates with mundanity, but also with an adolescent fantasy of throwing a chair across a classroom in frustration. This closely controlled violence is depicted in an impassive, non-expressive style that gives nothing away about the hand of the maker.

The work seems to undermine the aggressive connotations of stock market stereotypes Bull and Bear through careful craftsmanship and simplicity. These devices are used instead to express uncertainty, and rein in the chaos and destruction of market and world forces for closer scrutiny and consideration.

Ruth Beale is a London-based artist, and curator of Aurora Projects