Artist Rachal Bradley has turned Gasworks into a negative ion. Not to fret—this is a good thing, or so we are told. Negative ions, produced by nature in the way of waterfalls and thunderstorms, are positive forces that are said to improve health. Sans the name, the things themselves don’t actually look all that threatening. That is, if you are not intimidated by the 150 meters of blood-red cable veining Gasworks’s walls, or the alien-looking, purpose-built units (shells to the negative ion generators) that are affixed as architectural additions to the building’s exterior, making up ‘Interlocutor’ (all works 2018). If you missed the units on your way in, you are invited to check them out in the back of the building. You can take the stairs, walk through the kitchen into the patio, where the line of quasi-futuristic, minimally-designed aluminium shells is waiting. Presumably they are not waiting at all, as one assumes them to be fully in motion, trying to keep everyone happy. On the way there, you might bump into one of Gasworks’ studio artists or members of staff. It is tempting not to judge the interaction as a test of the effect of Bradley’s intervention on people’s moods; my exchange was brief, but pleasant.
If this reads as somewhat agnostic, it is not because of a lack of commitment to this exhibition, because I absolutely love it. It is more to do with an unavoidable sense of hesitance towards something that I don’t quite understand: how these cables and metal boxes are supposed to benefit mine or anyone else’s wellbeing. Growing up in what some would define as a hardcore Christian community, one of my favourite stories in the New Testament was that of Thomas the Apostle asking to touch Jesus’ wound to prove himself of his resurrection. Aside from the gore, and the erotic gesture of ‘fingering’, my fascination with the image ultimately speaks more broadly about my inability to believe in the things that I am told. This is of course my personal issue, not Bradley’s; but to be fair, she is asking for more than a mustard seed of faith with this show. Perhaps that is also why it is so compelling, even if conflicting. Bradley makes you want to believe that what she professes is actually possible. Aside from Doubtful Thomas, Peter Pan was my second favourite childhood story.
Bradley doesn’t ask us to put our faith in technology alone, or at least in the ways through which technology can replicate what nature is already doing by itself. She complicates simple devotion by probing ways in which this exhibition might benefit its visitors and Gasworks’ staff. Upon entry to the gallery, and without your shoes, you step onto a thick layer of congealed resin which takes up the entire floor surface. Its texture is deceivingly viscous, and its colour pleasantly akin to condensed milk. Stained and infused with a special mix of herbal remedies concocted by the artist’s sister based on the gallery staff’s physical and emotional needs, ‘Infinite Resistance™’ provides an alternative, seemingly more ‘natural’ approach to the professed curative powers of ‘Interlocutor’, even if they both seem cunningly New Age. The clean, shiny and otherwise empty first gallery undoubtedly feels spiritual, yet importantly un-reverential. Here I throw myself on the floor in hopes of absorbing it all. I have no trouble believing in the power of herbs.
In the second room, sitting on top of the resin floor, ‘Untitled’ is a floor-to-ceiling washing-machine-come-projector-booth whose interior displays a strange photograph of professional skateboarder Jason Dill. With arms crossed and a perplexed expression, Dill poses with New York’s Twin Towers in the background, which are still standing and emitting clouds of smoke. I say the image is strange to avoid calling it ‘wrong’. Dill comes across as unconcerned, but for all we know he may just not fully understand what is happening. Here it is not a question of faith, but of a refusal to believe in what we now know––whereas Dill at the time of the photograph did not––turned out be one of the most important events in the turn of the century, one which would change the world as we knew it, and indeed how we know it today.
That Dill is confined to the inside of the washing machine is complicated in relation to what I know is––but some visitors may not, and Bradley does not make explicit––a Faraday cage; a metal carcass used in home appliances to block external electromagnetic fields emanating from the objects and affecting its users (also the case with microwaves, for example). Following that logic, Bradley is either preventing Dill from benefitting from the effects of the negative ions, or only partially doing so, as, after all, the washing machine is made out of wood, not metal. Either of these choices elude a single clear interpretation, another example of Bradley’s lure to engage with mystery, but one so materially and conceptually coercive as to keep you involved. She does, however, promise to talk more about 9/11 and her love for this photograph, or perhaps for Dill himself: on March 17 she will present ‘Jason Dill’, a text of ‘epic form’ and the last work in the show. Placebo or not, one cannot deny the need for healing, and Bradley has more than the usual share in this exhibition. I encourage you to take all that she has to give.
Eliel Jones is a writer and curator based in London