Mark Wallinger, Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, review: Cerebral japery fails to stimulate

The Turner Prize-winning artist's new show, 'The Human Figure in Space', features a homage (of sorts) to Eadweard Muybridge 

Michael Glover
Tuesday 24 July 2018 14:55
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Competitors in fancy dress jump off Worthing Pier in West Sussex during the annual international birdman competition, a flight contest for human-powered flying machines
Competitors in fancy dress jump off Worthing Pier in West Sussex during the annual international birdman competition, a flight contest for human-powered flying machines

Mark Wallinger, the Turner Prize-winning artist whose multifarious gifts to the world of visual culture included a life-sized figure of Jesus Christ temporarily situated in Trafalgar Square, has taken his cerebral brand of japery off to the seaside this week. There he will compete with the coin-in-the-slot fortune teller along the promenade, fantastically colourful clouds of all that sweet nothingness which is candy floss, and the murderousness of low-wheeling seagulls.

And he has come with his technical team to the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, which nestles on the beach, pretending to be a giant black fishing hut amongst other fishing huts of more modest size. His work occupies three galleries. The largest, The Human Figure in Space, requires the spectator to do much – or little. It entirely depends upon our levels of energy. There is nothing on the floor. It is the walls which command our attention.

On three of these walls there is a grid pattern – white against black. The white is not painted or drawn. It is kite twine, stretched end to end and bottom to top. Flick it and it plinks. The fourth wall is a mirror against which we watch ourselves staring at the grid-patterned walls which hem us in on three sides.

The work, we are told, is a homage to Eadweard Muybridge, the Victorian photographer, inventor of the zoopraxiscope, whose goal it was to set photography in motion. He too photographed human beings against such a grid as this one.

We stand there, in front of this homage of sorts to Muybridge’s tongue-in-cheek successor, preparing to shock ourselves into life, to prove to each other that we are human beings who can gallop off like race horses. Should the need arise.

A second gallery shows a lighthearted scattering of poor-in-quality, quite small, cropped photographs of contestants in the annual Birdman competition (a local speciality), flung about the walls with all the freewheelingness of clouds. These plucky contestants are crazily costumed folk, all evidently bird-aspiring in temperament, leaping and floating to their hearts’ content.

Just beyond this display of aerial acrobatics, in an adjacent gallery, five small screens, facing us in a semi-circle, show off home movie footage. The film, on an ever-returning loop, and slowed down to creeping pace, is of yet more tragi-comic stunts: a man plunges into a bath of mud; another struggles to keep his balance as he crosses a wire over a stream; a man fights back against the yearnings of a giant kite to drag him skyward.

There is also, for those who might require even greater stimulation, beer in the pubs, and hefty chunks of battered haddock in the fish and chipperies.

Until 7 October (jerwoodgallery.org)

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