Unlike its neighbour France, or more recently the heroic peoples of the Middle East, Britain has never had a revolution. Well not in the strictest people-out-in-the-streets sense of the term. Commoner Cromwell wrestled power in the middle ages and then in the power vacuum left by his death, the more flamboyant and fun caveliers who were perhaps more open in their corruption and meglomania, popped the monarchy and Charles II back on the throne.
Instead of revolting, Great Britain's working population has a proclivity to queuing, complaining and soap operas and a creative subculture that increasingly delights in the personification of rebellion. This started with Punk as a movement that personified rebellious youth in its fashion, anti-skills, anti-craft and general kicking off against the system then turned into a tourist attraction with shops entire souvenir shops dedicated to the Mohican, the safety pin and the stud belt. That playful rebellion has continued through the contemporary art movement with the world leading anarchic anti-establishment nation of artists who are now all feted with honours and accolades. The establishment embraces the rebel and coaches them in the accoutrements of success as the social inequalities and hypocrisies prevail.
"Jack Shit !", the title of this exhibition by leading British contemporary artist Gavin Turk is an English slang phrase meaning worth nothing. A meaningless worthless gesture. It plays on words as a name with Jack referring to the Jolly Jack Tar – the English sailor exploring the oceans bravely venturing forth from his little island perhaps flying the Union Jack flag from his mainsail. Shit obviously refers to waste: that which is no longer needed. The excrement. This self effacing title belies the humour and pathos in the lovingly crafted pieces full of wit and references - playful toys in the artists studio as Turk examines his persona as a British artist working in the 21st century. With the ground floor wallpapered with turkey foil imagery the show begins its camouflage of the artists intentions. His bright humourous packaging referencing American culture and Warhol. But hang on, perhaps this is a decoy to confuse the scent and 'foil' the preditor or is it to shed light on the true nature of the artist like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote. The images of images, steeped in recycling and rhetoric the work plays with the tragedy and abject nihilism of a culture in search of an identity. The UK's once proud island of sailors, warriors, farmers and traders reduced to 'whitevanman' and wannabe revolutionary radical. British heritage objectified to cliché and caricature by the residual tourism industry, deconstructed by Punk and subsumed by the American cultural tsunami surfed so adeptly by Warhol.
Figure is a human scale maquette of a major art commission currently being installed amongst the glass cathedrals of the city of London, nailed whimsically and elegantly into the ground behind the religious iconography of St Pauls this rusty punk antique mourns the demise of the English working man as much as the crashed transitvan in the screenprint, whilst also examining the pathos of religion in the consumer culture of our time. Missile is a bronze cast of a brick painted to look real. The bricks and morter of the British establishment deconstructed to be hurled through the metaphorical plate glass art window of High Art.
Upstairs are two installations revealing the artist in performance. Each a theatrical tableau more like ephemeral museum objet than art. The film The Mechanical Turk is a reinactment of this decoy, an 18th century elaborate hoax which had the most illustrious courts of Europe fooled for over a decade. Here the artist disguised as a turban wearing Turk is replaying the Knights Move - is a clever and yet pointless and circular ritual taking the Knight precisely and technically correctly through every square on the chess board. Upstairs the installation 'Waiting for Gavo' reveals four sinister and creepy puppets. Ventriloquist dummies lying silent and deadly as they channel the supernatural. These are relics of a play performed by these puppets in 2 acts. The script, written, directed and produced by the Turk studio is loosely adapted (like its title) from the Samuel Beckett play and created for a public performance in 2005. This production, like its namesake, skirts between humour and pathos. The central theme of the original play is around control and the absurd nature of Man, which lends itself perfectly to the traditional genre of puppetry on a life sized stage. The hand-made puppets are based on an amalgam of the art persona of Gavin Turk and some likely characters from Art History. Vladimir - Marcel (Duchamp), Estragon - Joseph (Beuys), Pozzo – Scratchy (a reference to an infamous art dealer), Lucky – Andy (Warhol) The labyrinth of history and art history, meaning and meaninglessness, reality and unreality is underscored by the paradoxical role of the artist as uncanny puppet. First performed in July 2005 at the Port Eliot Literary Festival, this production has since been performed in Austria for the opening of Gavin Turk's exhibition at the Schloss Eggenberg, Graz (June 2006) and at the Spice Festival, Hackney Empire in London (July 2006), and the Teatergarasjen theatre festival in Norway.
These playful characters bring colour and absurdity to a show full of hope and hopelessness as we hypnotise ourselves towards our species profligation.