‘Bedlam’ – which is sadly the third and final instalment in the Lazarides / Old Vic Tunnels shows – did not disappoint, but did it match the wow factor of ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ or ‘Minotaur’? Well it depends on what you’re looking for. Art of course, changes with the times, and now that we are firmly in the digital age of advanced technology, digital and interactive art, as well as moving image in art is ever more present. One thing’s for certain, the ‘bedlam’ theme of the show not only meets perfectly with Lazarides’ labeling of the art as ‘Outsider art’ (click here for a clearer understanding of Outsider art) but also means the artworks are all closely tied in to ideas concerning insanity, manic absurdity, mental hell and pure nut job-ness – which kept our adrenalin running amok.
Beautiful Crime had the pleasure of being shown round Bedlam by both a Lazarides director, and for part of it, by Steve Lazarides himself, who concurred after ten minutes that our expert guide and Lazarides director, “Ralph here, is much better at talking about the works than me.” Ralph indeed gave us a wealth of information about the artists and artworks, which certainly heightened our understanding of and engagement with the show.
Whilst there are some old Lazarides’ favourites in the deep (suitably atmospheric) horizontal chasms of the Old Vic Tunnels – Antony Micallef, Conor Harrington, Ian Francis, Kelsey Brookes, Lucy MacLauchlan – there are also some great new additions, including Tina Tsang. Her ice queen-like sculptures of women stood or lay frozen in time, a few with a transparent face behind which a video of flames played out. Whilst the impact was not as great as some other works in the exhibition, Tsang’s peices offer a unique and clever meshing of two art genres – moving image and film, and sculpture, and her works invite the viewer to stare at each one for several minutes.
Whilst on the subject of digital and interactive art, Doug Foster is one we’re keeping a close eye on; previously exhibiting at both ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ and ‘Minotaur’, Foster had been the token digital artist at Lazarides’ Old Vic Tunnels shows, and whilst this show has brought Nachev (who co-created the blinking eye with Foster) as well as Tsang, 3D and Artists Anonymous, Foster’s initially being set apart from the rest via his medium has been no bad thing. His work has managed to gather bemusement and attention of audiences at all three shows – a pretty good achievement considering the first of these shows was – as was Lazarides’ artists in general – perceived more as ‘urban’ and less as ‘contemporary’.
And haven’t things moved on since then… Whilst one of Foster’s works features a strap-in chair and a screen playing a video of running water (vertically) for a variation on water torture – giving the feeling of being trapped and forced to look, the other focuses on the opposite: a meditative type of mind control where the viewer’s free will is required to engage. The work offers a circle of kaleidoscopic shapes moving and intertwining (made by drips falling in to light-filled water) on the ceiling and a circular bed below with 12 person-sized sections to lie in and stare up at the moving shapes. The latter is certainly hypnotic, but invitingly so, and succeeds in fully immersing the viewer and reinforcing art as an experience, one which has a beginning, middle and end, – and whose length is decided by the viewer.
The Micallef works did not seem to differ much from his other works his audience know and love, (although his contribution to AKA Peace was particularly striking and the best there) and Harrington’s paintings impressed due to his shear talent with the paintbrush and in his imaginative execution of the theme of colonialism, but in a space such as the Old Vic Tunnels, it is the 3D works and installations that shine brighter and appear to be ‘at home.’
In particular the installation by Tessa Farmer featuring (via taxidermy, mind) real rats, mice, scorpians, cockroaches wasps and other previously live organisms, definitely achieves the desired effect: it is the stuff of horror films – the enjoyment of terror – achieved through getting as close up to a rat, a mouse or other once-diseased creatures as one has probably ever done or is going to do ever again. A mesmerising piece, frightening yet beautiful, it is another of the best pieces in the show, though not one I’d exhibit in my home, not even if I had the palatial space.
Bedlam’s achievement as a show lies in its creators’ seeming fascination with trying out the new, being experimental and taking risks with art that doesn’t bare much resemblance to winning formulas of the previous Lazarides shows at the Old Vic Tunnels. Brave also, to see such a big sweeping embrace of the digital and interactive artists too, and a far cry from the ‘urban art’ label once given to them.
Full list of exhibiting artists at Bedlam:
Antony Micallef, Artists Anonymous, ATMA, Conor Harrington, Dan Witz, Doug Foster, Ian Francis, Karim Zeriahen, Kelsey Brookes, Klaus Weiskopf, Lucy McLauchlan, Michael Najjar, Nachev, Tessa Farmer, Tina Tsang, Tobias Klein, War Boutique, 3D, Jane Fradgley.
Bedlam (ends 21st October)
Old Vic Tunnels, Station Approach Road, SE1 8SW
Opening times vary, entry is free but tickets must be booked.
by Ruthie Holloway