THERES a clever trick con-cealed in the title of the Hay-ward Gallerys Laughing in a Foreign Language, which presents humorous work by international contemporary artists. If you dont laugh at the artists jokes, it implies, its because you dont share their culture. The problem, however, is that in the age of The Simpsons, which broadcasts to more than 200 countries, and Monty Python, a British brand which is almost as familiar as the Beat-les, no one is going to buy the idea that its a good joke but they dont get it because they come from another country. Theyre more likely to think: Thats not funny.
So how funny, really, is this show? Well, that depends if the following work of art would make you laugh: just as you leave this exhibition you glance at a duffed-up cardboard box leaning against a wall. You think to yourself: Oh, the packers have forgotten to tidy up after the instal-lation. A split second later you hear a plaintive voice, speaking English with a thick Japanese accent, saying: Hello & hello. I am a cardboard box. I like being a cardboard box because I get to travel all over the world.
Well, I thought that was hilarious but I love stupid jokes, and this exhibi-tion is full of them. The New York video artist Candice Breitz has got some of her friends to enact a Japanese TV drama but using only internationally known Japanese words Kimono Udon Honda Kamikaze, one of them says, talking gibberish but in the hurt tone of an offended parent. Another Japanese artist has created a comfortable padded stool in the very realistic form of a crouching man. As you sit on it, you can hear it reciting the names of Tube stops on the Central line. If only Ikea were sell-ing this one.
A pair of Danish artists have taken one old mans stamp collection and piled every stamp very neatly on top of each other, to build a 10-centimetre tower in the shape of a monument. The (male) Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman, a previ-ous Turner Prize nominee, puts on a glittering bikini and dances a surpris-ingly elaborate and sustained belly-dancer routine.
Meanwhile, the black American artist Kalup Linzy has made side- splitting videos in which he parodies the plots of the worst black American soap operas but transforms them into rude story-lines about gay love.
If your sense of humour is broad enough, then you will find this exhibition is like an art gallery version of The Fast Show.
There are, though, some real turkeys here, too. This exhibition does a nauseating line in politically correct jokes about cultural difference. These, the inverse of racist jokes, are rather unfortunately clus-tered around the first rooms and may put off many visitors. Thus Chinese artist Jun Yang has produced a set of street signs with pic-tograms which illustrate appropriate codes of Western behaviour for foreigners such as Get a Formal Haircut, or Dont Wear a Headscarf. The normally rather good Swiss artist Olaf Breuning must have been having a bad day when he shot his appallingly self- indulgent video Home 2 (2007) in which, in one scene in an African rubbish dump, he provokes a scrum among the child workers by giving away a wedge of $10 bills. Thats really not funny, Olaf.
Still, alongside the bad jokes, there are some complicated and original ones, which, like all the best jokes, challenge authority or cross the line of the politically correct. Doug Fishbone has reversioned a childs elec-tronic toy which tells a joke every time a but-ton is pressed so that it recites a litany of politically incorrect and offensive quips. The Cameroonian Barthelemy Toguo plays a series of pranks on the immigration offi-cials at airports. He was so fed up about hav-ing his luggage searched every time he went through customs that he made himself a set of suitcases out of solid wood, which, of course, could not be opened.
Unfortunately, being funny is only half the challenge the curators of this exhibition have given themselves. …