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Is it Fun, Is it Art, or Is it Fun Art?
by Char Jansen

This year, an interactive strand has been emphasised in London's end-of-the-year exhibitions, reflected on a larger scale by the summer’s blockbusters. From the Hayward’s current show, The Edges of The World, to The Surreal House at the Barbican, art galleries are turning themselves into theme parks for the holidays.

Edward Fornieles and Samuel Williams have cottoned on with their three-storey installation, Paintingscultuptureland, at the Hilary Crisp London gallery. Initially, the two artists set out to create a kind of ‘Disneyland.’ They have spent the past month drilling, duelling and painting in the gallery located in a Dickensian alleyway in London’s Soho; in other words, their studio practice has moved into the gallery space.

Fornieles and Williams met at the prestigious Royal College of Art. Though still young, both artists have already had significant output within the professional sphere, and are familiar with the commodification of art for the lucrative masses at London’s main stage art venues. Fornieles has performed previously at the Barbican and has worked as an assistant to Anish Kapoor, and Williams’ video-installation New Music Action was selected by Phyllida Barlow and shown at the Serpentine as part of events Barlow curated during her own recent blockbuster show there. Despite rubbing shoulders with the artistic elite, Fornieles and Williams have remained fervently experimental in their practice. Remuneration for their work is not a priority.

Paintingsculptureland weaves together influences drawn from mythic figures and moments in literature, cinema and art (they quote ‘Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Matthew Barney, Bruce Willis, Lily Cole’) the collaboration uses a mixture of performance-based videos, sculpture and painting, to chart the physical and psychological journey of a nameless, faceless Knight figure – a symbol, amongst other things, of the artist.

The viewer participates in the Knight’s journey, from pastoral beginnings on the ground floor (‘anticipation’) – a miniature village, camp fires, straw and den-like structures – to the battleground, an artist’s studio (‘confrontation’), to the conclusion of the quest on the top floor (‘resolution’).

Bamboozled with sounds, sights and structures, we climb the spiral staircase through to the upper floors, which are littered with medieval helmets, tools, and artist’s materials, up to a tiny chamber at the summit.  Here, the humour and playful innocence of the boyhood dream below crumble to reveal what the artists describe as a ‘millionaire collector’s’ living room: corrupting aspiration bleakly visualised. A dimly lit and claustrophobic room awaits the viewer-voyager; a solitary throne lies ominously empty and faces a television blaring scenes of annihilation. Vestiges of boyhood dreams are hung clinically on the walls – weapons and paintings of maidens are suddenly static, contrasting with the messiness and untidiness of the floors below - the room is pregnant with austerity and loneliness. With the windows all but blocked out, it feels more like a prison that a kingdom. It’s here that the romanticism of the quest is tainted by the reality of adult greed, ambition.

‘It is a lot more accessible than a lot of art out there,’ Fornieles points out. Certainly, though the works individually are not the most accomplished, the visitor will enjoy Paintingsculptureland’s meticulous symbolic structure, wandering in its tangle of narratives. In an innovative reversal of the usual relationship between viewing and creating a work of art, the viewer comes to ‘see artwork through the story’, as Fornieles puts it.

It’s a work that questions public expectations of what art should be. ‘Where is the real interest in a work of art?’ asks Williams, ‘Is it the story? If so, is it escapism?’

What Fornieles and Williams have in fact created in Paintingsculptureland, at the heart of the capital’s media district, is an anti-Disneyland, gently parodying the commercialism of the present day gallery, and exploring the desire for art as entertainment.

--Charlotte Jansen, writer living in London

(Images courtesy of the artists and Crisp Gallery, London)

Posted by Char Jansen on 8/9/10

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