Exhibitions: In the Galleries: Reviews - Stone Shoes; Strange Texts; Another Bed
McLaren, Duncan, The Independent (London, England)
Lie of the Land
John Hansard Gallery, Southampton
The human body and the material world as metaphor for each other is the promising theme of this show. It presents photography, video and drawings by 13 artists from the US and Europe, made in the past 30 years. Unfortunately, it's not the exhibition it could have been.
The earlier work strikes the contemporary eye as technically simple and conceptually naive. Usually naked, always earnest, these artists (Ana Mendieta, Dennis Oppenheim, Gina Pane, Charles Simonds and Alan Sonfist) filmed or photographed themselves in conjunction with nature. According to the blurb, the multiple-photo sets of Sonfist - Tiger Chants, Leopard Viewing Death and Sleeping Lion - record the artist's "empathic bodily and psychic engagement with the experience of animals in their natural habitats". Either that or they show a bearded bare-arsed man moving around the undergrowth looking about as feline as a pork pie.
The limitations of this early work - produced during the development of feminism and environmentalism - could have been interesting if juxtaposed against more sophisticated contemporary work. But, for example, Alexa Wright's digitally manipulated photographs from the 1990s which picture semi-precious stones within bodies apparently opened up for medical inspection, are as crass as the work representing the 1970s.
Throughout, there seems to be a tedious insistence that both the human body and the natural world needs to be literally foregrounded in each artist's work. So instead of seeing the way artists have advanced the way the body and the world are separately perceived - perhaps bringing the two closer together - you keep getting presented with a traditional view of the world (earth and rocks and water) and an over-familiar rendering of the body. An exception is Claudia Matzko's paper stacks which have been cut by lasers to the contours of the inner ear, so presenting a little-known landscape.
But the real failing of the show overall is in not making the visitor more conscious of his or her own body. Perhaps Marina Abramovic's Shoes for Departure comes nearest to doing this when you imagine slipping into the scooped out lumps of polished amethyst and sadly clumping out of the gallery.
`Lie of the Land': John Hansard Gallery, Southampton (01703 594192) to 27 November
Bob and Roberta Smith
Anthony Wilkinson, London
It's just Bob Smith, actually. So in the text painting, I BELIEVE IN MEL RAMOS, presumably it's Bob who believes in the American Pop painter. Other brightly-coloured texts in the show ostensibly state in similar terms the artist's unconditional belief in Mel C, Durer and The Fall.
In the upstairs gallery are some longer text paintings. In several, misspellings and strange dialects give rise to double meanings and uncertainty. In another, you learn that Sir Christopher Wren boasted that his house was called The Old Oak because he'd had to chop down a 200-year-old oak tree to build it. …