Zombie Surfers

By Barrett, David | Art Monthly, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Zombie Surfers


Barrett, David, Art Monthly


Zombie Surfers

Cell Project Space London May 2 to June 2

We've all been to over-curated exhibitions, where the organisers feel they are the most important artists in the show, all other contributors being there simply to illustrate the thesis. 'Zombie Surfers' brings these exhibitions to mind, not because it does the same, but because the curator is such a major presence within the show. Not only has the artist-curator, Richard Priestley, chosen to include his own work in this show, but he has also decided to fit the bulk of the exhibition actually within one of his artworks. However, while he has literally defined the exhibition space and absorbed others' artworks into his, it is not in a spirit of curatorial appropriation; this exhibition's ethos is more like, 'let's all go back to my place and hang out'.

Priestley's Surf Shack, 2008, involves turning most of the gallery space into a stage-set surf shack. Push through the driftwood door and you enter a wood-panelled room filled with surf paraphernalia that has been given equal status with the art that is also on display. Of course there is a 'Chill Zone', which has a couple of benches for chillaxing on, watching vintage surf movies (such as Bruce Brown's 1958 classic documentary, Slippery When Wet) on an iMac in the corner. There's a good spread of surf magazines, such as Drift, The Surfer's Path, Stranger, etc, and postcards and leaflets from groups like Surfers Against Sewage. The emphasis on Cornish surfing and environmental issues is clear.

There's also a bar area where you can peruse, with the aid of white cotton gloves, copies of Chris Duncan and Griffin McPartland's rare Hot & Cold Zine. And, if you crouch down and push through a small doorway at the back, you can reach the boardmaking workshop, which is filled with the appropriate tools and where the embryonic form of a styrofoam blank--the first stage in surfboard production--is propped up awaiting the skilled hands of a shaper.

Other artworks slip into this extraordinarily elaborate setup with ease, partly because many of these pieces fit into the well-rehearsed surfer subculture aesthetic. There are the crazy doodles, such as Matt Franks's imagined landscape, Mind Canyon, 2008, or Stephanie Davidson's disturbing portrait, Drone, 2008, where the subject's face has been replaced by spaghetti doodles. And there are psychedelic abstractions, such as Nina Bovasso's exuberant large-scale painting, The Stretch, 2008. And then there are the works that combine crazy doodles with psychedelic abstractions, such as Joshua Rickards's charming little portrait of The Velvet Underground's Sterling Morrison, 2007.

Most of the works are on wood or paper, and a few of the drawings really stand out, mostly those by Mike Pare. His slightly retro, figurative graphite drawings--with the addition of a little egg tempera abstraction--hint at a 1968 radical idealism and emphasise the liberation of the individual that was at the heart of some of that period's popular movements. His gentle work, guitar lesson, 2007, for example, depicts a young woman intently playing an acoustic guitar. Tremulous orange squares are overlaid across the image, emanating from the instrument's sound hole. What's more, the image itself has been drawn with alternating horizontal and vertical strokes that follow the same shapes, suggesting that the simple vibrations of a strumming guitar can both shape perception and then broadcast this new vision out into wider society. …

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