Straight from work yesterday evening to the Lisson Gallery for two exhibition previews. Canadian artist Rodney Graham has new and recent work on show at 29 Bell Street. Striking photographic tableaux are mounted in large lightboxes, the colours rich and intense, the images hyperreal. And also very witty. A scientist in his lab stares pensively at a cactus, to which five brightly cooured helium balloons have been tethered (Cactus Fan). In a sunlit, Mediterranean studio, an artist knits pipe cleaners into a modernist sculpture (Pipe Cleaner Artist, Amalfi, ’61). A plasterer on metal stilts pauses, fag in hand, in front of a partially plastered wall (Smoke Break 2 (Drywaller)). The richness of these images comes not just from the colours but the painstaking details – the battered double cassette player on the floor of the room the plasterer is working in; a bunch of narcissus in a terracotta jug on a cabinet in the artist’s studio. There’s a narrative element, too, and underlying references to film or other artworks, which brings another layer to the works. And of course, you can find your own resonances, as I did for instance with The Avid Reader 1949, a Woolworths shop front, its windows covered with old newspapers. My first thought was that this was a comment on the current economic crisis, the demise of the high street etc.; my first aesthetic pull was to the deep maroon tones of the shop’s paint work, reminding me of old chocolate wrappers. But the scene is set in Vancouver in 1949, and the passerby stopping in the doorway, unable to resist the impulse to read, is poring over news from 1945. These are pieces that draw you in, and draw you back again, for their saturated colours and intriguing stories.
Down the road at 52-54 Bell Street, the vibe was buzzy and the punters quite a mix of arty types and hardcore electro music fans. Haroon Mirza‘s sound installations more than matched that sense of excitement. Sitting in a Chamber consists of a curve of five modified turntables playing handmade records, or on one a triangular piece of wood, the needles sticking, veering, scratching; amplifiers and speakers; a video screen showing a music application while a distorted voice repeats (I think) ‘Speech’; it consists of bleeps, bass-rich wobbles, electronic squiggles, those weird and wonderful amplified sounds that make my ears grin. On the first floor, you enter a heavily soundproofed space, all four walls covered in zigzags of grey foam, the floor softened with grey carpet, apart from a central circle of pulsating speakers, at its middle a glass vessel topped by a small circuit and flashing LEDs connected to a web of cables. This is Adam, Eve, others and a UFO and the sound element is urKraftwerk. Minimal, deep electronic pulses, a rhythm building, intense pounding uncompromising, a whole-body experience. There was a long queue for Pavilion for a Beautiful Nuisance, which can only be seen (and heard) by one person at a time, so we decided to save it up until we go again. Which we will, soon, another evening after work, to transport me into an entirely different headspace.