Magazine article Artforum International

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd: Bonner Kunstverein

Magazine article Artforum International

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd: Bonner Kunstverein

Article excerpt

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd

BONNER KUNSTVEREIN

Some sights are unforgettable. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd's performance Camshafts in the Rain, 2016, produced several such sights, including beetle-like actors wearing enormous colorful paper turbans while stalking around the gallery with the mechanical motions of automatons and a seated Medusa whose head, fringed with giant snakes, rose as a handle was cranked, then collapsed back on her shoulders with a heavy thud. The action was punctuated by moments of silence when the turbaned figures stopped as though glued to the spot. The spectators present the production with the wide-eyed awe of children.

In fact, with its antique-looking painted-wood automata and the turban-wearers who turned their cranks, the scene recalled a circus or parish fair rather than a contemporary art institution. The comparison is not meant to be disparaging; on the contrary. Rather than looking down on this sort of popular entertainment, Chetwynd is positively fascinated by the grotesque, absurd, and carnivalesque aspects of demotic theatrical formats. As the Glasgow-based artist says, she is not afraid of bad taste and certainly not of the ridiculous--she embraces the liberating power of the laughter that her bizarre and ludicrous productions sometimes elicit.

That power is an idea she owes to the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. Prompted by the parodic aspects of the art of the Russian avant-garde--which still have not received the scholarly attention they merit--Bakhtin first highlighted the critical and emancipatory potential of the grotesque, of impersonation and carnival, in the 1930s. The laughter they called forth not only set people free, he argued, it also undermined authoritarian and hierarchical social structures. Reading Bakhtin inspired Chetwynd to explore popular rituals, street theater, and mythology with a view to those instants of mirthful release. …

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