Stuart Middleton

Tankini is rife with referents to the toe-curling awkwardness of growing up in the 1990s. The unflattering eenie meenie spandex tankini is nothing but cringeworthy – the modest beach outfit typical of a loner pubescent, stuck on holiday on Mum and Dad. Kitschy and sugary, its giddy name is loaded with the possibility of family-filled merry times to be had. Yet this is also a period of first deodorants, the exciting allure of the glitzy high street and the taciturn coming to grips with what’s not ‘boyish’ or ‘girly’ anymore, but suddenly ‘laddish’ or ‘feminine’. The centrally positioned bowl – ‘Jump!’ is filled with a rippling, stiflingly scented liquid; the cologne Homme by JOOP. A bold and striking scent, it is typical of a young, male, energetic phraseology – think Hilfiger Tommy Man, Yves Saint Laurent Jazz or Davidoff Cool Water. There is a boldness, if not crassness, invoked in this cheap, everyday cologne that wafts through the exhibition space. Yet displayed as a pool, contained by a blonde, smooth, magnolia wooden bowl, ‘Jump!’ is also irresistibly elegant and contrary to its signified cultural value – subtle. A similarly jarring relationship between form and content characterizes ‘Turbo’, incessantly audible throughout the exhibition. A rushing sound, ‘Turbo’ is actually a recording of the artist’s father, a fanatic cyclist, pedalling frantically whilst positioned stationary in the family garage.

But, a nostalgic emphasis on the fashion fads of pubescent ‘Spice Boys’ or the rights or wrongs of cultural hierarchies the relationship between folk and contemporary art or if ‘craft’ can be conceptual omits a crucial conversation. In conjunction with the fascination in cultural value systems and the way in which objects (and pastimes) are designated as enlightening or mindless, ‘Tankini’ is concerned with the romantic idea of a collective human race and its search, echoed generation after generation, for a way in which to deal with the ‘chattering mind’. The work reveals the meditative process of the stationary cyclist, the carving artist and the patient draftsmen. These repetitive and introspective acts lock their protagonists onto a course of slowing down the thought process and blocking out the world. The all-encompassing effect produced by ‘Fourth Wall’ a thin smoke-coloured film that tints the gallery’s windows emphasizes this sense of detached contemplation. Referencing in title the imaginary wall that divides the theatre audience from its perceived on stage sphere of activity, the work conceives of the exhibition space as tableau of the shifting relationships between what is seen, heard and smelled.

At first the fortune cookie ‘feng-shui’ aesthetic of ‘Tankini’ appears to hope that the viewer enters a similar meditative state. The half-light of this comforting, domestically portioned space and the undulating sounds of ‘Turbo’ muffles the sounds of the street, whilst the smell of ‘Jump!’ heightens the sense of smell, inviting a Narcissus-like contemplation of our reflection in its shallow pool. However, if we regard the elements within this exhibition as the notes of a musical scale; each one pertaining the robust and unadulterated simplicity of a single sound, then the presence of ‘Some time ago…’; a comic book of reproduced drawings and texts, disrupts the sequence, shifting the scale out of key. Harnessing the tropes of a visual language that is at odds with ‘Tankini’s’ reductive aesthetic, this pulped mash up of Euro Trance lyrics, American Dirty Realism and recalled personal experience sits alongside carefully rendered vignettes depicting Peckham nail salons, prehistoric flint and the modified dashboard of a ‘boy racer’. Unlike a traditional comic no narrative progresses. Any familiar story telling device has been replaced by a jumbled and seemingly random selection of anecdotes that swing between banal everyday and sensational fantasy. This collection mirrors our confused perception of the continuous information stream that confronts us in our daily lives. It also documents the effects of this over stimulation and the minds ability to merge memories of situations experienced with those collected from fiction and popular culture. ‘Some Time Ago…’ embodies the ‘chattering mind’ the other works attempt to subdue whilst simultaneously expressing the imaginative realm that can be accessed through such repetitive and inane practices.

Naomi Pearce and Pavel S. Pys