'You Were High When I Was Doomed' at IMT Gallery, London

Artists: Thorbjørn Anderson, Daniel Davies, Benedict Drew, Kristina Kragelund, Lindsey Mendick, Flore Nové-Josserand, Gordon Shirgley 

Gallery: Image Music Text, Unit 2, 210 Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 9NQ

Dates: 13 January – 5 March 2017

Website: www.imagemusictext.com/exhibitions/you-were-high-when-i-was-doomed

Review by William Davie

A peculiar and unsettling atmosphere surrounds the viewer as they enter the main gallery space of London’s IMT Gallery. An oil slick like spill permeates across the walls of the current group exhibition, You Were High When I Was Doomed, helping to inextricably bind the works together as visual metaphor for the present. The exhibition displays works in various mediums by Daniel Davies, Benedict Drew, Kristian Kragelund, Lindsey Mendick, Thorbjørn Andersen & Flore Nové – Josserand and Gordon Shrigley and takes its premise from a group skype call where each artist was told to take a walk and note down what they see. In doing so, director, Lindsey Friend enables the bricolage, albeit abstractly, of what could be a seminal moment in history.

There can be no avoiding the effects from the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, but not because the works in the exhibition are overtly political, but because each artist’s work seems in one way or another to be overtly susceptible to the current state of uneasiness. This is particularly evident in Benedict Drews’ Not Happy (2014) where brash, psychedelic colourings and strobe like flashes are combined with confrontational text – we are paralysed, it’s like staring at a car crash and have you read the newspapers lately –  take on a new lease of interpretation. The underlying beat that accompanies the film pulsates rapidly and subtly like an accelerated heart rate further adding to the work’s pent up intensity and ability to be easily re-contextualized to the present.

Opposite, as if hypnotized by Drew’s video, is Lindsey Mendick’s Simply Divine (2016) – a cut-out of an illustration of a naked woman coyly posing with a hand over one breast and the other pulling her long flowing yellow hair down covering her crotch. A denim jacket is slung over her right shoulder with a handstitched emblem – a white cross with fake jewels and the back of the cut-out is decorated with brightly coloured illustrations of flowers giving the allure of counter-culture coolness. Her lips, pursed and thin, are rendered in bright red but it is the eyes which the viewer is drawn to. Glassey eyed, she stares absently towards Drew’s video. It’s an absurd scene that spills over into countless humorous interpretations and is perhaps the closest the viewer comes to seeing the exhibition title - You Were High When I Was Doomed – played out but these are never long lasting. Drew’s video seems to pummel any optimism or even nativity that Mendick’s work provides leaving only a foreboding pessimism.

Behind this, six works from Gordon Shrigley’s Heaven’s Gate series (2014), consisting of chalk drawings on painted MDF boards, loom over the viewer at the far end of the gallery with all the anonymity and potential for narrative that one gets when looking at all the lit windows of a tower block. Consisting of downwards gestural dabs of white chalk organised into rows and columns with only the occasional half swipe to break the monotony, Shrigley’s work is quietly intense. An intensity at odds with that cultivated by Drew and one that festers and simmers just below the surface of the work; frustratingly so. You empathize with his laborious and repetitive undertaking but the work’s ambiguity leaves the viewer crying out for the why and for who; questions only time may tell. Adjacent, Daniel Davies’ Pick up, put down (2016) and Just what you are looking for, just what you need (2016) seemingly offer a quick pictorial antidote. Davies’ canvases appear stark, consisting of thin segments of explosive black scribbles and larger areas of hazy whites layered over each other. The toing and froing extending from the titles, it seems, are being played out over the pictorial surface and evoke an almost physical release to the viewer. 

It’s about “endings and after endings” but it feels like much more than that. It seems to be more concerned by the now and the audience’s awareness of what’s going on socially and culturally and how this implicitly affects the relationships the works have with each other and the viewer. Again, drawn in by the pulsating beat and flashing imagery of Drew’s video, the final work to be scene before the viewer steps back out into the world, you can’t help but wonder how differently it would convey its abrasive slogans if, for example, Hilary Clinton was elected as president. It is perhaps a historical rootlessness then, which binds these works together.

William Davie is a curator and writer based in London.