Originally published on The Upcoming on 22nd August
Despite recent scientific and theoretical refutations of the notion, the mind/body dichotomy remains culturally embedded in the Western psyche; like an ethereal residue from centuries of philosophical, religious and psychiatric traditions. The body is often seen a mere vessel for the soul: weak, fallible and imperfect.
Historically, art, culture and literature were the primary means to break free from the cloistered confines of the body via escapism; transporting us to new worlds or altering our perception reality.
But the (post)modern era offers more avenues than ever to escape, augment or transcend our fleshy prisons: whether it’s through the use of psychoactive drugs taking us to a higher plane; cosmetic surgery helping us achieve aesthetic perfection; or, taking on multiple new identities in the digital terrain. Metamorph brings this swirling vortex of bodily obsessions into a single multi-artist exhibition.
James Beatham’s Convo features a projection of a disconcerting web-chat which quickly descends into a strange sexual encounter. The unglamorous container stuffed with cheese puffs located nearby reminds us that the reality at the other end of a computer screen rarely lives up to the fantasies played out online. In a similar vein, David Teather’s beautifully textured pencil drawings evoke the squeaky leather of clandestine, fetish play.
Veronika Neukirch and Jake Biggin’s pieces seem to touch on the very modern obsession with superheroes. Perhaps this stems from imagining ourselves as superhuman as a way to escape the mundane drudgery of our wage-slave existence. Biggin’s film installation places the spectator in an enclosed black overhang, engulfing their field of view. Hypnotic, almost psychedelic visuals take the viewer on a bizarre journey, narrated by an audio clip from an early Superman film, placing them as the protagonist from Krypton.
Annesah Al Harbi’s installation of a suited figure up to the waist with a fish tank atop reminds us exactly why people still wish to escape. It alludes to the goldfish-bowl reality of modern life and the suit pants feel oppressive.
Valentin Dommanget’s diminutive perspex pieces, with their geometric lines and bright colours encourage the viewer to find their own patterns, shapes and forms; reminiscent of the visuals induced by hallucinogenic drugs, only too perfect and precise for that.
Victoria Erdelevskaya’s photography and Tupac El Diabolo’s live performance illustrate some simpler ways to enhance the body, via camera trickery and theatrical feats, respectively.
Taken separately, none of the works at Metamorph are particularly earth-shattering, but the curation weaves the themes together in such a way as to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.