Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Unfinished Realities, Hannah Barry Gallery

Review: Unfinished Realities, Hannah Barry Gallery

Written for Culture Wars, 06.10.2008

Welsh-German collaborators Awst & Walther are clearly concerned for humanity. Unfinished Realities, their first solo-exhibition in London, is an exploration of potential and consequences. Setting the material in conflict with the human, it presents oppositional reactions towards our role in the world, at once celebrating and berating our impulse of exploration and enquiry. Combining installation and performance, it is a densely complex work that struggles to fully engage its audience.

On entering the sparse warehouse of the Hannah Barry gallery one is confronted by Temptation: an apple and a grenade on a single plinth, both glistering in gold. Seductive and celebratory, the one seems the culmination of the other, mapping out the history of human sin. Inside, a bell made of ice is illuminated, weighty and perilous, above a heavy-set ashtray-like vessel collecting its drips. Dramatic in its beauty, I’ll Be Your Mirror stands as warning and accusation about our gradual destruction of the world.

Nothing, however, is merely as it seems. Each piece holds unnoticed potential that only becomes apparent once Awst & Walther interact with their works. The apple and grenade of Temptation are gold-plated plaster. The dark-grey basin – like the barrier over which we have stepped – is not the solid we expect, but rather a semi-fluid wobble of gelatine.

Over ninety minutes, the pair carve up a bisected rectangle with bell and basin acting as centre circle. Walther scrawls white chalky lines with the plaster grenade; Awst plucks feathers from her dress with which to mark her space. Using rods of frosted glass as tools, they tap, bang and prod at the ice and gelatine, testing – and slowly breaking – its limits. By turns, the artists resemble primitive beings, methodological scientists and the nymphs of the Narcissus myth.

The attraction here is in the process: from the sides, we will their destruction on. The final mess of unctuous matter – chaotic and irrevocably spoilt – is a hollow reward for which we are equally culpable.

Unfinished Realities is the sort of work that begs the question of being pretentious. While it is packed with enough conflicting substance to avoid the term, its minimalist and achingly slow style makes for a frustrating experience. The pair enact their demolition with ponderous deliberation and protracted curiosity, forgetting about the audience along the way; the diminishing numbers testifying to the long stretches of boredom.

While, by the end, they have hit their target, the event could do with shortening, tightening and defining. The rules by which they play are always unclear and their actions are dragged from neatly ritualistic to unduly repetitive.

Awst and Walther are clearly promising artists, but Unfinished Realities is too sluggishly self-indulgent to convert its strong vocabulary and firm message into something spectacular.

Photograph: Awst & Walther

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