Friday, 22 February 2013

'Monkey Information Centre' - Mimei Thompson & Urara Tsuchiya

Co-Respondent at Transition Gallery - Part 1

At the far end of the Transition Gallery space is a set of three shelves. An assortment of objects covers their surfaces. On the top shelf is a modest stack of books, amongst them: The Great Apes, Animal Philosophy, Monkey, and The Woman & the Ape. The shelf below holds little trinket statues and stuffed toys, all monkeys, some Gordons gin, and some Schweppes tonic. The bottom shelf has 3 DVDs and a scattering of what look like M&Ms. On closer inspection, they are meticulously modelled from Plasticine.

The wall behind the shelves is covered in symbols, loose line drawings painted directly onto the white wall in washy colours, like children’s wallpaper. The meaning of the symbols is no secret; a definition is painted below each one in plain English. ‘Yes’ is a capital ‘Y’ painted in lilac. ‘Bite’ is a squiggly violet line, not unlike a row of cartoon teeth. ‘Coffee’ in green, is formed of two concentric circles, intersected by a line, a coffee cup and saucer. ‘Hotdog’ is composed of orangey-brown perpendicular lines, the vertical one hanging down from the other, ending in a hook. It doesn’t in any sense look like a hotdog. The pattern of representation and non-representation continues across the wall. The characters are lexigrams from Yerkish; an artificial language developed for use by non-human primates.

The piece continues on the walls perpendicular to the shelves. Upon each is hung two images, an oil painting on canvas and a white framed photograph. Composed of few brushstrokes, the paintings portray complex images. It is hard to imagine that the paint is dry; their surfaces still seem unstable. Next to them the stark, frozen quality of the photographs is amplified.

The painting on the right hand wall depicts a hulking grey gorilla outlined against a turquoise backdrop. His shoulders extend beyond the edge of the canvas, and he frowns out into the gallery space. Beside him, in the photograph, is a woman wearing a red dress, face metamorphosed by a pale green gorilla mask and framed by a mess of black hair. She seems sullen. The mask reflects the turquoise of the canvas.

The painting on the left wall shows a more coiffured, urbane gorilla on a mauve canvas. His photographic counterpart is a seated lady in a green summer dress. She has a mop of fair hair and a flesh tone monkey mask to mirror the pink canvas. Hands in lap with painted nails, she appears prudent and unperturbed by this strange scene. The paintings are by Mimei Thompson, and the photographs Urara Tsuchiya. I ask Thompson about this particular pairing of monkeys.

[the painted gorilla] is a European linguistic philosopher, fond of black coffee and too many cigarettes. He is a great thinker (or thinks he is, in any case). His companion, in the photo next to him, is very supportive, and dotes on him. Well - that's how I see it.

In its entirety, the work is titled Monkey Information Centre. In the name is the implication of an archive-like selection, but upon seeing the work it becomes clear that it does not resemble a tradition museum. Its material appears unmethodical and notably selective yet with no immediate agenda. The impetus behind the particular assortment of objects and works is not coded like the words on the walls, but more akin to a neighbourhood historical society, a joyous archive of everything that comes through its doors. Many of the knick-knacks have an immediate relation to well-known monkeys from science. Lucy, (1964­1987) a chimpanzee owned by the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma was fond of a gin & tonic, and Kanzi the bonobo is known for learning lexigrams at Georgia State University and enjoys M&Ms.

As well as its textural juxtapositions - the mercurial gorilla paintings play against the static photographs and inexact wall paintings handsomely – the work holds another pleasing disparity; the distinction between informational and curated content, and content that has been created. The culmination of the found factual material, books and DVDs on the shelves, with the interpretive material, representative paintings and performative photographs, is what gives the work its title. It’s hard to imagine now what else a Monkey Information Centre could be.

On the weekend of the 2-3 March, Tsuchiya and Thompson will be hosting a Monkey Weekend. With films, readings, discussions, activities, performance, and a recommended reading list, the event promises to activate the installation, bringing the Monkey Information Centre to life for two days.

Travis Riley

16 February - 3 March 2013
Unit 25a Regent Studios
8 Andrews Road
London E8 4QN

This is the first of four texts about Co-Respondent, a show about collaboration which foreshadows the upcoming issue of Garageland 15: Collaboration which will be launched on 19 April 2013. 

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