The Vagaries and Misconceptions of the Modern Man, Vane Gallery

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Not Really Understanding Stuff: A Reptile Reliquary (2017)

One of the most powerful and vibrant exhibitions I have seen in a long time is The Vagaries and Misconceptions of the Modern Man, a three-man show recently concluded at Vane Gallery. Featuring the work of Ralph Darbyshire, Richard Hollinshead and Kenneth Ross, the exhibition focuses on the conditions of modern man; paying close attention to themes of politics, sexuality and violence. Upon entering the gallery visitors are greeted by an enormous sculptural crocodile, heavily embellished with decorative textures and written prose. Initially the vibrant gems and beaded decorations appear to be delightful and colourful compositions, yet upon closer inspection a deeply sinister component becomes evident; most prominently with a deflated blow up doll occupying the crocodile’s mouth. Alongside this, dispersed across the colourful décor are horrifyingly gruesome images taken from the internet. A sinister challenge to the delight one feels when initially greeted with the reptile, the crocodile sculpture poses a stark conflict for the viewer. Yet what is most concerning as one inspects the dark images, is the calmness with which the viewing process occurs. Subsequently, comes the disturbing reminder of the extent to which the internet has desensitised society to representations of violence. As artist and theorist Hito Steyerl notes, we live ‘in an age of unrepresentable people and an overpopulation of images’ [1].

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Not Knowing (2011)

Not Knowing (2011) further explores this concept, with a portrait of the artists head occupying the circular disc atop the sculpture, alongside post-it notes stating his lack of emotion at viewing an execution. Through the grotesque and Guernica-like composition of Not Knowing, with horse heads protruding from both the mouth and rear ends of the sculpture, as well as the machine guns and post-it notes which litter the body; Darbyshire encourages the viewer to confront the brutality featured within his work. With the increasing circulation of imagery in our digitally rampant world, it is hardly surprising violent images have become desensitised, yet it is equally disturbing. By recontextualising such imagery within a sculptural format, Ralph Darbyshire forces viewers to examine their individual position in relation to the broader scope of violent documents.

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Not Knowing Details (2011)

Alongside the sculptures of Darbyshire, sits the work of Richard Hollinshead. Taking inspiration from classical Greek sculpture, Hollinshead reinterprets the male figure within a contemporary context. Dependable Bodies (2016) is one in a series of etchings depicting a muscular body with exposed tendons and bodily deformities. Alongside the figure sits a skeletal form, crouched and subtly present against a back drop of foliage.  Accompanying this work, Hollinshead presents a reclining figure perfectly sculpted in mixed media. This figure sits upon a piece of gym equipment, with a towel draping across the back of the apparatus he appears to be utilising. Both works utilise a highly muscular masculine body, perfectly toned in the abdominal region with accompanying bulging leg muscles. The idealised representation of these figures is highly suggestive of gym culture and body-building; activities which are becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s image-orientated society.

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Sanit Forma (2018)

According to Jacqueline Rose, artists engaged in sexual representation ‘draw on tendencies they also seek to displace’ [2]. This can be seen within the work of Kenneth Ross, who’s sculptures confront themes lined with misogynistic tendencies, racism, and sexual fantasies. In his address of racial prejudice, Ross presents two images of the ‘golliwog’; originally a children’s toy which later became a representation of racism throughout Western culture. Alongside this sits The Hands of God (2017), a cartoonish sculpture covered in tattoo-like symbols, hung by its neck and alluding to erotic asphyxiation. Alongside fellow works occupying the space, Fucked Either Way (2017) and Bukakke Angel (2017), Ross develops an enquiry into the semblance between sex and violence rampant throughout pornographic culture. According to Eleanor Heartney, pornographic images appear due to the fact they are inherently a part of us; ‘they burble up out of our repressed desires for extreme states of consciousness, for social transgression…and sexual expression’ [3]. Similarly, Susan Sontag suggests that pornography offers the only outlet to the human ‘appetite for exalted self-transcending modes of concentration and seriousness’ [4]. Through his challenging approach to such ulterior themes, Ross conveys a thought-provoking reflection on male sexual depravity.

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Installation view

Collectively, the works within The Vagaries and Misconceptions of the Modern Man present a nonconformist representation of current masculine culture. Drawing on the pornographic, the fetisiation of gym culture encapsulated through the desire for the idealised male body; and the politics of violence, the works within the exhibition traverse complexities of the everyday and phallocentric culture.

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The Hands of God (2017)

References:

[1] Hito Steyerl, The Wretch of The Screen, e-flux, p.171

[2] Jacqueline Rose, ‘Sexuality in the Field of Vision’ (1984), Documents of Contemporary Art: Sexuality, p.80

[3] Eleanor Heartney, ‘In Defence of Pornography: A Necessary Transgression’ (1988), Documents of Contemporary Art: Sexuality, p.149

[4] Sontag, Susan, ‘The Pornographic Imagination’, reprinted in Georges Bataille, Story of The Eye (1928)

 

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