KEN TOWL takes a trip (not that kind) to London Bridge to experience an exhibition on addiction.
Sitting at the base of The Shard, opposite London Bridge Station on Great Maze Pond, is the recently opened Science Gallery.
Hooked is its current exhibition, on until the end of this month, on addiction in various forms. Here, mostly gambling, drugs and social media.
According to the exhibition’s poster, “Hooked explores the processes of addiction and recovery”, so it might appear to offer some light as well as darkness.
The wide range of exhibits are, of course, accompanied by the obligatory explanatory panels with the ubiquitous verbs of artspeak: this artist “explores” or “investigates”, that one “considers” or “reflects on”, while yet another “plays with” a concept.
But these often empty phrases are given a little gravitas by the addition of scientific data. That the blurb is sometimes more interesting than the art is perhaps the inevitable outcome if you let scientists curate an exhibition. Much of the work, is, however, able to stand up for itself.
The first exhibit is a black, ominous-looking amusement arcade machine. Bereft of its accustomed friendly bright colourful surface, it looks like what it is, a machine to prey on our compulsion to roll coins into it. Helpfully, the explanatory panel tells us that it “explores” our behaviour viz-a-viz gambling.
You can ask the attendants for ceramic coins to play the machine. They only give you two coins each, concerned, no doubt, that you will become addicted to exploring.
Olivia Locher’s “Another Day on Earth” is a striking, humorous image, a messy lolly on a stick in which the hundreds and thousands have become pins and the “naughty but nice” nature of food addiction is put to the test.
“Sugar Rush”, by Atelier 010, really does “echo” the cycle of addiction and recovery. Made of sugar (itself, of course, an addictive substance), this trio of tables have been damaged by the artists pouring coffee over them.
As they disintegrate, gradually, they mirror the decline of the addict. The sugar crystals can then be reconstituted into tables – recovery!
Here I should mention the Akvile, who runs free guided tours of the exhibition (check the poster at the entrance for times) and who pointed out that just as the reconstituted tables are still prone to collapse if coffee is poured on them again, so recovered addicts are capable of relapse.
It is a truism, I suppose, that art is a very subjective thing, so much of it in the eye of the beholder, that I was not going to like all of the exhibition. Film of a couple chopping up lines and laughing smugly just makes me think “tossers!”, while a close up of a backwards film of a boy appearing to suck smoke from the air into thick, almost palpable tendrils as it enters his scab-encrusted mouth, filled me with sadness. I see the addiction but not, here, the recovery. No light, only darkness.
Akvile points out to me a couple of highlights of the exhibition.
A curtain of wedding rings recovered from pawn shops heralds the entrance to Natasha Caruana’s film of herself dancing with her husband in Hastings’ Bottle Alley. Caruana discovered that divorce is highest in Britain’s seaside towns. There is a correlation, it seems, between high unemployment along the coast, drug addiction and relationship breakdown.
Just like the next sceptic, I am usually wary of interpretive dance but this one, performed behind a veil of real discarded wedding rings, had a poignancy to it.
The collaboration between designer Mark King and professor of addiction psychology Dr John Marsden is particularly interesting and indeed seems to encapsulate the marriage of art and science that the gallery represents.
There is something quite special, sometimes, when apparently different disciplines are brought together. King and Marsden discovered that they both, in their work with addicts, got the addicts to record their experiences with a camera. King would make designs based on their photos (see them here) and Marsden would encourage his subjects to take photos when they felt close to relapse. This helped them to identify potential triggers in order to avoid them in future.
I watched just a few minutes of Rachel Maclean’s film Feed Me, a trippy hyperrealist deconstruction of our growing reliance on personal validation through social media. Akvile helpfully informed me that it starts every hour, on the hour.
The exhibition is on until Sunday January 27. So I have three weeks to go back and watch it all.
I will. I am hooked.
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