Creators/Directors: Gob Squad
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
British/German art collective Gob Squad’s latest offering, which premiered at this year’s Brighton Festival, claims to be inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Such parallels as there are actually distract from a much larger, ruminatory work, which contemplates the inevitability of the passage of time while also exploring the relationship between artist, art and audience.
A central trio of Gob Squad members – who, after 25 years of producing art together, are now firmly in middle age – are joined by a sextet of guest performers: three from a generation below, drama students with a lifetime of art ahead of them, and three from a generation above, whose professional lives are mostly behind them.
Initially posing their subjects, the collective try to form installation pieces that reflect their own perspective on art and aging. Along the way, some pretty fundamental questions about what we should expect from our art, and whether those expectations differ if we are the artist, or the audience. Do we as an audience need to see ourselves reflected in art in order to connect with it? How much of an artist’s presence in a work is enough, or too much?
Using half-mirrored screens, picture frames and video cameras, a series of tableaux ponder these questions. But gradually a stronger theme emerges: a contemplation of the ageing process, and how the relationship with our past and future selves impacts our relationship with our present self.
The most powerful evocation of this theme sees collective member Bastian Trost, sitting inside a triangle of two-way mirrors, interview a younger and older guest performer about what elements of their life they would choose to erase. As the screens reflect their images back to them, the guests get visibly emotional – and it becomes impossible not to empathise.
For this is a work which encourages us to do the same: to see ourselves reflected back, to consider ourselves in the triple role of artist, art and audience. As collective member Sharon Smith fully disrobes to celebrate her own, middle-aged body, this is the complete opposite of Dorian Gray: whereas the fictional character denied the passage of time at the cost of his soul, we are encouraged to accept it, for the wellbeing of our own.
A theme introduced at the start of the show, of the Japanese flower-arranging art of Ikebana, initially emphasises the importance of mixing life in three stages: budding flowers sit alongside those at the end of their life and others in full flower. But a more subtle reference exists: for, as Smith says, it is the act of arrangement, the therapeutic qualities of the process, that is more important.
And so it is for Creation (Pictures for Dorian). As a reaffirmation that Gob Squad are, 25 years on, still in full bloom, it is evocative: but that is not the point.
Continues until June 7 | Image: Contributed