By Maia Mathieu
Wading through the chaos of Friday evening in Temple Bar is an interesting prelude to the Gum Collective‘s one-night-only exhibition “Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area”.
The contrast between the cool quiet of the poured-concrete studio and the rowdy crowds has the same unsettling edge as the art itself, putting the viewer in the perfect mindset for the show. Going in with only the Facebook event page’s meditation on the commodification of culture and celebrity to prepare me, the shock-factor of some of the pieces certainly benefits from this. Gum’s work shows a punk glee in the grotesque, offering unsettling images of disembodied body-parts (sex-organs, eyelashes, textures that look like viscera) collaged into strange configurations.
The use of colour is both aggressive and striking: vivid pinks and electric blue, so much saturated red-and-black, which defied any antiquated notion that ‘art should be pretty’. Perhaps not a show for the fan of Thomas Kinkade or of soft-impressionist-pastels.
Given that the Gum Collective’s roots are in print-making, the digital quality to the work comes as a surprise. Distorted digital text and commercial media – like big format colour prints on office paper – give it this feel. The medium and message debate with one another, allowing the viewer to reflect on the value of art.
Is it art if photocopying, mass-production, digital-reproduction and found-imagery are so readily incorporated?
Any offered text is done digitally: the exhibition title itself and its contents. ‘click here to unsubscribe’ is tiled as a background on one image. Machines talk to you, which make the viewer feel distant from the work. It’s surrealistic and alienating. Furthermore, the small studio set-up offered no easy commentary, no tidy exhibition cards expressing the artist’s intentions: this, too, feels confrontational in a visceral sense.
There is no safety net, and that demands the viewer engage with the art directly, to interrogate a personal response and bring meaning to what one sees.