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Review: AS DIM AS at Supercollider

Upon walking into Supercollider on Friday evening to attend the preview for As Dim As, I felt slightly disorientated and a little bit confused as I was greeted by surreal constellations of bobbing heads. Faces belonging to Art Review’s annual Power 100 take up the majority of the space, hanging from the ceiling by slithers of wire. In each corner of the room sits a fish bowl, filled with the lurid colours of the alcopops, WKD. Preoccupied with the visual chaos of the room, it took me a while to notice the smell – the sweet and heavy stench of liquor emanating from a plastic, plug in fountain on the floor at the back of the room. On the wall above the fountain there is a video piece of a man making a drink known as Dirty Sprite, which is the liquid sloshing through the fountain. To top off the sensory assault, Cascada’s Every Time We Touch plays on repeat, sound tracking a second video montage of seedy clips ranging from call girls to adverts for batteries. To the right of the door as you walk in there is a Nokia 3310, plugged into a power socket, on which you can play the game Snake.

As Dim As is a comedic and scathing exploration of popular culture, the role of taste makers and the visual language of the every day. The exhibition brings together two artists, Calum Crawford and Laura O’Neill, who ‘share a relationship through sculptural and often comical re-articulations of familiar representational forms…’ That relationship isn’t immediately apparent. There is a lack of dialogue between the artists’ work, with no discernible conceptual or visual correlations. The two bodies of works occupy the space as singular entities and both contributions could quite comfortably and effectively exist in the space without the other. It’s not always necessary, or even the intention, that artists’ works co-exist peacefully within the same show, but for this particular exhibition – where the agenda is ambiguous and the mode challenging – it would have been beneficial.

The exhibition was co-curated by the artists, with a portion of the work being made on site in response to the immediate environment or in relation to Supercollider’s wider programme. Crawford’s work, especially, appears to be deliberately pointed in its referencing of binge culture, trash aesthetics and popular culture. His video montage piece, Every Time We Touch, includes clips of call girls, bikini clad women strolling down palm tree lined strips, and adverts for pizzas, batteries and trainers. The video is purposefully shallow, cynical and fleeting, and it interrogates the aspirational but flawed language of consumerism and advertising. The saturated colours of the fast moving video, coupled with the accompanying Cascada track on repeat, soon becomes irritating, which is perhaps the intention. You begin to feel bombarded by Crawford’s work as he takes command of your primary senses. If art is a language, Crawford’s work is as pervasive, incessant and aggressive as the forms of discourse he is interrogating.

The most rewarding aspect of As Dim As, for me, is O’Neills Power 100 work. The suspended heads are comical as intended, but they’re also knowing. The longer you’re in the space the more interactive the work becomes – one hundred heads populate the entire gallery; navigating your way around begins to feel like a Crystal Maze task. You are forced to confront the heads and deal with their pervasive presence. There’s a nice relationship between that aspect of O’Neill’s work and the idea of cultural expectations; we are bombarded with cultural norms and values in the same way, all the time. The frustration and claustrophobia one might feel at being boxed in socially and culturally is mirrored in the enforced physical interaction with the suspended heads.

I have two criticisms of As Dim As. Firstly, the exhibition is insular and for that reason difficult to penetrate. Art doesn’t have to dumb itself down to be accessible, and being accessible doesn’t mean that a show is any less valid. There is a bizarre and unhelpful mentality in contemporary art that the more abstract and difficult the show, the more valid it is. Art that isolates is redundant. O’Neill’s work is focused entirely on the art world; she has made work about art for artists. If you enjoy art and visiting galleries but have no real knowledge of prominent curators, you’re not necessarily going to engage with her work as fully.ย  My second criticism is related to this point, and will likely provoke sighs and eye rolls from contemporary artists throughout the land. I’d like to see more making and less placing.

One of Supercollider’s aims as a gallery is to explore the role that art and culture plays in Blackpool. Director, Tom Ireland, sets out to challenge audiences and so it is with an open mind that one should walk through his door. Supercollider exhibitions pose more questions than they answer, and that’s Ireland’s intention; he is concerned with generating discussion. As I looked around the packed out room on Friday night, there was plenty of discussion happening. The show brought people together in the space, it made people laugh and it generated conversation – it achieved what it set out to do. In anybody’s book, that’s a success story, whether you like the work or not.

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