Tucked away between a newly opened restaurant and some new-built studio apartments in a block of flats in Hackney, Galerie 8 is situated in the lobby of the building, struggling to mask the fact it is a transitory space with the unappealing characteristics of an airport or a doctor’s waiting room.
It is difficult not to let this geographical discomfort affect one’s experience of the exhibition, especially because the concept and the setting of the show are in many ways each other’s polar opposites.
The exhibition, based on a quote from the one-act, post-apocalyptic Endgame (1957) by Samuel Beckett, explores the cyclical and senseless nature of human existence – a painful journey dragged out relentlessly despite the inevitable outcome and the pointless ending of it all. On stage, this idea is usually visualised by a dark and derelict décor, with the main guy’s parents residing in rubbish bins.
The gallery space, au contraire, is modern and bright with a shiny white floor, patrolled by a security guard and surrounded by successful creatives in their mid-thirties. The contrast really couldn’t be more striking.
The curatorial efforts and works on show, however, are impressive. Asgar/Gabriel’s centrepiece ‘Oh and Ah’ (2012) has the breathtaking qualities of a Renaissance painting with the uncannily relevant political comments by Noam Chomsky graffitied in pink all over the canvas.
Chris Jones, Car; Courtesy of the artist.
More interestingly, references to the London riots seem to have found a place here. Chris Jones’ ‘Triumph and Obstacle’ (2012) – an imposing papier-mâché cast of the Mazda set ablaze in Hackney last year – and Alexis Milne & Tom Bresolin’s ‘Riot Act SE6’ (2012) – a video installation/ performance piece exploring the eerie impact of CCTV – are neither irrelevant or blasé. Linked to Beckett’s existentialism and post-apocalyptic views, the riot works justly to emphasise the sometimes too easily brushed aside decline of our current empire, as well as the seemingly endless repetition in human evolution.
Escapism, one of the other themes briefly touched on in the show, is evident in Daniele Villa’s series ‘Dreams of Escape’ (2012), a set of photographic collages including self-portraits, exploring the desperate yearning for a better life and a way out of this cyclical hell – even if what’s on the other side is not necessarily idyllic.
Daniele Villa, Dreams of Escape, Posthumous self-portrait, 2009-2012, 23,5 x 30 x 1cm; Courtesy of the artist.
Having left the exhibition I thought of Lazarides’ Hell’s Half Acre, the epically dark show set in the dungeons of the Old Vic Tunnels. Even though there is definitely something to say for bringing opposites together, the overall impression of an exhibition does determine whether something will have a lasting impact. Hell’s Half Acre is something I will remember for quite some time, because of the physicality of the dark tunnels, the dripping ceilings as well as the works on show. With The Impossible Heap I am not so sure if I will – and this has nothing to do with either the curatorial efforts or the art. It definitely has to do with the – sorry, I have to say it – pretty forgettable space.
(Image on top: Daniele Villa, Dreams of Escape, Beyond, 2009-2012, 20x16,2x1,2cm; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 8)