Alicia Rodriguez visits Leicester's Two Queens where their show Too Much combines kitchen-sink drama, social media, dance music and an eminently decipherable Rorschach blot test.
Too Much deals with excess and overflow. The joined-up nature of internet browsing and the digestion of technology provide a starting point for the gushy, the viscous and the emotional throughout Two Queens’ most recent output.
The group show is in part a response to the re-launch of the city’s collection of German Expressionist paintings alongside a Georg Baselitz exhibition at the New Walk Museum; the show satisfies a hunger for work laden with feelings, informed by critical theory and contemporary political culture.
Rósza Farkas’s handwritten text appears, in fact, to have been scrawled on the back of a used Georg Baselitz poster, and quotes his now infamous, if somewhat delusional, claim that 'women don’t paint very well.'
The text itself consists of a series of notes that are thoughtful and angry, written in black marker with an urgency that almost betrays its articulacy. Confessional snapshots ('being half stoned and in a constant state of UTI had more ups than downs') are slotted between analytical observations ('Patriarchy is bio power. So-called "masculine" is "neutral"'), alluding to ideas of semi-autobiography and the use of history to mediate one’s own chaotic experience. This untitled piece is eloquent and sharp, and an effective introduction to the sprawling openness of the exhibition.
A careful selection of sounds draws the viewer around the space, and the gallery emits a muffled hum. In The King and I, a radio play by Jaakko Pallasvuo, stage directions are read by a number of voices accompanied by English translations in white type against a black screen. In addition to this, the sound of husky dogs and almost unbearably saccharine club music interjects occasionally.
As another monologue begins, the stage directions continue aloud. The second voice pauses to ‘um’ and clear its throat, struggling to continue as the viewer struggles to keep up with both voices and both threads. The narrative appears to be a nightmarish fantasy, an exploration of self-representation: Pallasvuo, whose internet presence is so fragmented that he appears to genuinely exist in many places at once, is puzzling but tender. Much of his work has an irreverence that reflects contemporary anxieties; The King and I is subtler than this.
|Melika Ngombe Kolongo|
Melika Ngombe Kolongo’s Conditioned Humans, comprises of four audio pieces and a menacing black stretcher, and pervades the gallery from a small corner with a mixture of ambient noise and repetitive dance music. Meanwhile Jennifer Chan’s work, appropriating early noughties amateur internet aesthetics, that era which is continually so freely adapted that it almost feels completely contemporary, can be uncomfortable viewing. Her short film Important Objects explores themes of love, hunger and fatigue with the kind of self-awareness and precociousness often associated with a gendered adolescence, despite the reality that these concerns are carried well into adulthood.
There is a knowing crassness or confidence to the work on show. Phoebe Collings-James’s Dicpic is crudely daubed onto canvas like a dirty phallic smudge. Its vague boundary recalls an overt Rorschach test and its title suggests something invasive and persistent. Dicpic contains an expressiveness that is minimal but volatile. It is a loaded piece: simultaneously candid and oblique, I find it difficult to reconcile. However, the fluidity of the painting, arguably an appropriate representation of emotional ‘excess’ and the concept of ‘too much’, makes an interesting companion to Farkas’s text.
The spaces in which expression is awkward and tight, where revelations are balanced treacherously upon a knife-edge, are particularly fascinating. While Chan, Pallasvuo and Collings-James draw from the alienating yet comforting language of social media via critical thought, Alice Theobald assigns the gestures of a kitchen-sink drama to her fraught, sincere rituals.
I’ll finally lose the plot… takes found phrases, repeatedly recycling a few generic fragments of conversation, while never finding a natural rhythm in which to settle. It is enthralling. This three-channel video installed inside a white padded room communicates almost hilarious levels of tension through two actors, including Theobald herself, inelegantly reciting stock sentences. The dialogue is suggestive of a therapy workshop or drama class, in which every possible delivery of a line is exhausted. Coughing and spluttering accompanies the synthesiser soundtrack, which is reminiscent of a low-budget funeral organ. The relationship between the two actors is blank but familiar, investigated further as they slowly perform a series of minutely choreographed actions. In this piece, emotion is fabricated, second-hand and indecipherable.
Theobald’s installation sits well amongst the work in ‘Too Much’, but I find that this piece sets itself apart through its measured response to apprehension and cultural anxiety. It employs a pointy, blustering awkwardness where other artists approach love, anger and fear explicitly, seductively.
Two Queens offer a necessary space for the artists to malleably communicate these ideas. A varied project, some works in the exhibition are perhaps less effective, while others deserve pages of analysis. The show, however, responds to its environment well, with a discerning understanding and rejection of the proposed formal history: that of German Expressionism, and the ‘hyper-masculine conditions’ of neo-expressionism. Bravely acknowledging a shift towards emotional overflow within contemporary art, ‘Too Much’ repudiates the boundaries of such context.
Too Much was on show at Two Queens, Leicester (Le1) from 3-25 October.