Aspex Gallery, The Vulcan, PO1 3BF
Monday 01 October 2018 – Thursday 31 October 2019
Image credit: Simon Bayliss, Meditations in an Emergency at Plymouth College of Art. Photo: Andy Ford
Eva Szwarc sends us a postcard from Simon Bayliss' solo exhibition Meditations in an Emergency, part of the South West Showcase, which took place at Plymouth College of Art from 11 October – Saturday 17 November 2018.
Meditations in an Emergency is an exhibition of multitudes, crossing from pottery and electronic music to landscape watercolours, poetry and performative film. The show by Simon Bayliss is a marriage of the seemingly incongruous, such as the neon sign alternating SIMON BAYLISS / SIN ON GAY BLISS reflecting off the glaze of hand-built pottery. It is a joining, as the words inscribed on the pot reads, of ‘high and low with one another’.
There is an anti-clockwise direction implied by the arrangement of work, beginning with the music video Meditations. Accompanied by a dance track through remote headsets, the film joins together online clips of air marshals dancing flamboyantly, which lend themselves to the wider viral phenomenon. Interspersed alongside these is the artist’s own footage of a performer in a unicorn mask cavorting around an abandoned aircraft field. On one level the video, caste in a lurid fuchsia hue, appears both absurd and fun. It works in layers of imitation – both the domino effect of the online trend and Bayliss’ own contribution – which feed into a wider dialogue. As the digital age seems to usher in a democracy of self-representation, Meditations instead takes focus on the extremities of stereotype and parody which can play out and proliferate online.
The experience of the exhibition as a whole moves between being both immense and intimate. From inflated pasties covered with instinctive swathes of coloured glaze to the intricate details and text of smaller ceramics, there is a sense of the private and personal intermingling with grandiose, playful statements. The very placement of Citizens of Nowhere, for instance, indicates intimacy; the work hangs away from the surrounding counterparts, inviting you to uncover the poetry on the other side. Glowing in ultraviolet light and suspended like a Japanese scroll, the text moves between personal, political and witty in many subtle shades, alluding to the lost confidence of consumers, citizenship, a tongue-in-cheek aspiration to become #homowners and mentions to sucking and being blown.
Across the lines of Citizens to Nowhere are recurring references to the South West and Cornwall, where the artist was raised. There are mentions of St Ives and the Tamar; ‘this Peninsular is narrow’, the text tells us. This formative place, and the artist’s complex relationship with it, inserts itself in the other works. Bayliss’ en plein air Cornish landscapes are modestly ripped from sketchbooks, yet placed almost reverentially within a glass case. Pots sit atop, one referencing the traditional symbol of a shrimp, the other ringed with the pattern of sperm. His clay moulds of pasties, a keen symbol of the region, are enlarged to an extent more humorous than deferential. An undoubtably influential, Cornish tradition is both respected and rebelled against in the artist’s wide-ranging practice; at points, the exhibition seems to function in an external teasing-out of the artist’s own ongoing and unresolved position.
More specifically, Meditations in an Emergency is a visual unravelling of identity itself, from the performative assumptions of gender and sexuality in Meditations to the personable and romantic nuances of poetry. In his pursuit Simon Bayliss is unafraid to tread wide-ranging territory, crossing and unifying a variety of mediums and imagery. This approach makes Meditations in an Emergency both refreshing and unpredictable, measured yet eclectic, and true to the multitudes of which identity consists.
– Eva Szwarc, November 2018
This review was first published by thisistomorrow.
Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.
Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network