Art can be like a wedding cake, full of jam and sponge and sugar on top. It's tasty, once in a while, but won't blow you away.
You can spend a lot of money on it, but it won't really inspire you. It appears to be multi-layered too, but as you take a slice you find each layer's the same. And on top are two figures. An ideal: the happily married death-do-us-part couple. They balance precariously on the top tier. But this is only half the story, and you know it. There is an antidote. There's panic.
Panic takes the wedding cake and throws a stillborn goose-spliced-with-a-lamb's-hoof on top, pukes on the rest and rams a cigarette-burnt-Barbie-with-broken-legs into the sponge. This is Modern Panic, a new exhibition of surreal artists curated by London's Guerilla Zoo. And I'm really not exaggerating.
The Old Abattoir is the fitting venue for this exhibition. Once a prison, then an abattoir, now a gallery and performance space, it has retained the jarring and penetrating spirit that once housed murderers and murdered animals. And it revels in it.
There is an antidote. There's panic.
A miasma pervades the space. On entering, I was met by “The Fate of the World is in the Hands of One Beautiful Girl”: a series of withered breasts stabbed with syringes, broken dolls' heads, candy sticks and a My Little Pony on top delicately contorted into a demented shrine.
Descending a narrow staircase, a girl in bandages writhed in a wheelchair. I stood back as she silently screamed and shuddered. In another context I'd be by her side offering help. Here, I had to stand back and watch – or walk on. Either way, I couldn't help. I was forced to hold my own feelings of powerlessness; feel my discomfort.
Elsewhere, a room studied with totems decorated with bottle tops formed a hill of crosses. Their pained faces cried, screamed and wept. Almost every face and figure I saw, whether photographed, painted, videoed, sculpted – for all the arts are on display – were torn, dejected and expressing some unease with life.
An hour or so later, having weaved through a labyrinth of bondage, death, mutation, pain and sex, I passed the writhing girl again, and still she was screaming silently. I stood and watched her a second time. But I couldn't stay. As I walked on, it struck me that Modern Panic is a celebration of everything we avoid: the other side of the wedding cake. It forces the blood, bones and malformed into your face, for life is not always as we would wish it.
Modern Panic takes its inspiration from the Panic Movement (Mouvement panique), a collective formed by Fernando Arrabal, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor.
An hour or so later, having weaved through a labyrinth of bondage, death, mutation, pain and sex, I passed the writhing girl again
in Paris, 1962. Inspired by and named after the god Pan, and influenced by Luis Buñuel and Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, the group concentrated on chaotic happenings containing performance art and surreal imagery. Designed to be shocking, their work was a response to surrealism becoming petite bourgeoisie and pushed to release destructive energies in search of peace and beauty.
For at the heart of panic is Pan, the Greek God famous for his sexual prowess and his music, capable of rousing inspiration, sexuality or panic. And this is the driving principle of Modern Panic. The panic, the fear is that we are mortal, we are sexual, and we are all creative. While we fear our nature, Modern Panic reminds us of what we deny within us. What we might label as horror is only what we bury, and once unearthed and embraced it's beauty becomes apparent, if only we allow it.
It forces the blood, bones and malformed into your face, for life is not always as we would wish it.
I'm not saying I loved every piece, and many a time I wondered if this was a exhibition of the grotesque for its own sake, as artful as a child chasing a friend with a stick daubed in shit. But amidst its many works, at heart is something far more arresting than what is on display at most modern galleries.
Where technique may be lacking, there is a passion to look within, to embrace confusion, longing, fear, the underbelly of the wedding cake we all know is not complete. While panic can be taken to an extreme, turning the user into an adrenaline junkie, Modern Panic is necessary, if only to remind us of what we avoid.
Modern Panic is open from Saturday 4th – Sunday 12th June in central London.
Masumi Saito (butoh dancer in chair) – Photo by Natasha Xavier – hastemalaise.com
Celia Arias (doll) – Natasha Xavier – hastemalaise.com
Nick Elphick (face and wings) – Photo by Denise Felkin – denisedenise.co.uk
George Triggs (Falling Man) – RJ Fernandez – shootrj.com
Syban V infront of enjoykaos (spiral mandala) – Photo by Ridjet Briley – denisedenise.co.uk
Iris Schieferstein Dog – Photo by Denise Felkin – denisedenise.co.uk
“There are too many Andrew Southerns in the world. I’ve checked. There’s a whole bunch of us. It’s kind of annoying. In an over-populated world it’s humbling to realise there are multiple versions of you. Maitland, on the other hand, is a name you don’t see.
Like any writer, I need to make my mark. So I can sink into the Andrew Southern soup or go the Maitland way. It’s a name my ego loves and humility shies away from. I can’t sink into the soup. It’s not my style. So grandiosity it is. You can call me Andrew, though. Not Andy. There are too many of those too.