Arts: Visual Arts Review

ROOT, CHISENHALE GALLERY, LONDON
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The Independent Culture
CONSIDERING ROCK'S uneasy relationship with visual art down the years, it's to the benefit of this show that the music used as the spur to the various exhibits - guitar noise by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore - is about as far from the mainstream as rock gets.

Packaged in vacuum-cleaner bags, these pieces were sent out as cassettes to a variety of artists and musicians, whose responses comprise the exhibition and its accompanying CD. At their most basic, some of the pieces simply illustrate the difficulty many visual artists experience dealing with a form as amorphous and intangible as music. Perhaps each of those who just sent back the vacuum-cleaner bag, painted over or otherwise treated, thought their item a tartly minimalist comment on the proceedings; but together, they speak more loudly of artistic impotence. Only the more inspired - Bruce Gilbert's Untitled, featuring a DAT tape cocooned in the bag's padding like a gift from Joseph Beuys; and Tim Head's Deep Frozen/Defrosted, in which the package was frozen until its return - have a resonance beyond the purely rhetorical.

Those exhibits which make scatalogical musical jokes - Keith Ball's chamber- pot of plaster ears; Alexei Politov & Lilya Orlova's out-sized model of the cassette as toilet-paper dispenser - are wounded by their punch-line status. The music's shit - so what? More impressive is Martin Fletcher's Sound Master, an oddly troubling sculpture of personal-stereo headphones rendered in gigantic Claes Oldenburg scale. There's an indefinable magic, too, to Phil Holmes's Parallel Dustbin, a galvanised dustbin with a pool of mercury in the bottom, set atop an amplifier so that the sounds send patterns rippling through the mercury.

Meanwhile, David Bowie attempts to fulfil the exercise with a measured equation of wit and style, with an image of joke chattering dentures topped with deeley-bopper eyes. Echoing Jasper Johns's The Critic Smiles and Richard Hamilton's The Critic Laughs, it's called D&B, and if it's intended as a self-portrait, it carries seriousness and ironic self-deprecation in an equilibrial balance that few others here can equal.

Andy Gill

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