Cubitt Gallery:The Shape of a Right Statement (until 25th May 2014)
Wu Tsang's video piece, which is also the namesake of Cubitt's exhibition, addresses identity and autonomy, and whether the latter is a real concept. As the 'reality' that we find in the media is nothing but an idealised pipe dream, we are increasingly likely to feel marginalised or oppressed in some way, for being different to how we aspire to be. Tsang's five-minute film depicts the artist addressing the camera directly, seeking the minds of his audience. However this is not a speech from artist to viewer; Tsang lip-syncs a speech made by Amanda Baggs, who is an activist for the rights of autism sufferers. Donning a type of hair net, which disguises his hair but not enough for him to be made anonymous, the artist is able to channel the voice of the minority, while showing his support by using not only Baggs' words but also voice. From this highly underrepresented viewpoint, we are reminded of how we are comprised of more than language, but holistically we identify that the five senses which connect us all are somehow forgotten in favour of discrimination. Tsang's partial disguise in the video makes the viewer consider how we perceive people.
Embracing film, artist Cynthia Maughan features in the next segment of the exhibition, with her short videos spanning from 1973 to 1980, in which we are offered personal insight and thoughts which (sorry to repeat myself) certainly put fly-on-the-wall reality television of today to complete shame. She expresses each message with an artfully simple, almost subliminal style. Despite each film being mere minutes long, her narrative is cinematic and truly compelling. As the gallery has not stated Maughan's films in chronological order, it takes some deciphering to match each clip with its correct title, but alas I found 'Scar/Scarf' poignant in a subtle, domestic way. Documenting the endeavour of the artist as a young woman, we see how she attempts to choose a scarf that will cover the scar on her neck effectively. Although there is clearly some trauma affiliated with the scar, there is not a single rushed action within 'Scar/Scarf'. As a result of this, there is a sinister sensation that does not follow through but certainly keeps the viewer engrossed.
This sinister foundation continues in the other videos being shown at the Cubitt Gallery. Even from its title, 'Coffin from Toothpicks' evokes a dark message, especially from the artist's dialogue, as she discusses her progress in creating the small coffin figurines during a stay in hospital; however it is the denouement of the video which strikes the viewer as Maughan says that she will be able to make more of these coffins, "since I'll probably be here for a while". The statement evoked by the sort of 'toy' coffin is dark beyond the playful tone of the artist's voice and, of course, suggests a metaphor of 'playing with death'.
As twenty of Maughan's films are currently on loop in the gallery, the viewer is able to reflect on them personally due to their direct and candid nature, considering both the insight into the artist's salient issues and our own. Many of the qualms that the films address are transferable to her audience today, thirty years after they were made. An impending sense of tragedy, or at least darkness, is provoked from the moment the viewer begins to watch Maughan's series, as the gallery have listed her 1973 feature, 'Suicide', first. Cleverly, 'Groovy Kind of Love' shows the artist dividing her pills and subsequently moving them in order to create a pattern, to the lift-music sensation of the song which echoes the video's title. This reminds me, personally, of the stigma attached to mental health issues, especially Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, something that will sadly require much education before it is changed. Maughan has left many aspects of her subject matter open, leaving the viewer to be inquisitive as to what caused the scar, why she is in hospital etc.
As you can see, despite her videos only lasting a few minutes each, there is much to interpret and learn from her artistic work; the films seem wholly uncontrived and the viewer's ability to position themselves within her work is conducive to a positive viewing experience. Shown separately to the series of looped videos, 'The Way Underpants Really Are' is reminiscent of contemporary feminist work; however this film has a message which utilises a small element of exposure but still manages to be tasteful and humourous. It seems clear that 'The Way Underpants Really Are' is a satire on the lengths women go to in order to impress men. While this 'reality' is exaggerated, with evident stains and tears in the underwear, its narrative is clear without a single word of dialogue. After offering the viewer a thorough sight of the undergarment, Maughan pulls her silky white dress back over; it is possible that this refers to the dream of the idealised, hyper-sexualised woman, which inevitably dies after marriage.
Finally, when arriving and leaving the Cubitt Gallery, we are faced with two pieces by North American artist, Ben Kinmont. The second of which, pictured below, is something that forces the viewer to halt and contemplate on what they have just seen and what they will continue to see and think about. Its single sentence makes the viewer consider how consequential the artworks they have seen are. Collaborations such as Wu Tsang's video piece highlighting the cause of the minority mental health sufferer of course appear as if they are spreading their message further and more effectively, however the personal insight that the likes of Cynthia Maughan offers allows internal thought and reflection.