Charlesworth, Lewandowski and Mann's solo show at The Sassoon Gallery takes its title from a sketch by the comedian Bill Hicks, whose work significantly and repeatedly questions the reality, which surrounds us.
CL&M's artwork asks the viewer to enter into a dialogue that spans the political; cult status; monumental; heroism; and failure as an initial departure point and lets them converge in materials indicative of the no-nonsense approach to production that CL&M have adopted throughout their practice.
'Protest message' typifies this characteristic, using the slogan 'United against injustice and oppression' and employing the mechanisms of Babelfish to decode the original syntax into other languages. Ranging from subtle manipulations to blatant mistranslations the words have been printed onto banners and rested against the gallery walls. The use of white goods, rachet straps, high visibility clothing and building material such as expanding foam typical of past works by the collective is repeated in the use of babelfish as the best/quickest fit solution to the problem of running multiple translations.
The potency of the message, whose meaning is only decipherable if one can read the certain language, is further obscured and comically immobilized.
'three amigos' is a series of three life-size sculptures whose attire comprises of a 'superhero' cape and 'detention style hood'. In comic books we see the superhero's mask as a way to hide the protagonists only weakness, which is their everyday persona. It simultaneously exemplifies their extraordinary characteristics: the ability to change the world and fight against evil. Always in a battle with their two sides, the fictional character is at once a superhero as much as they are a prisoner in many respects.
The figures in the 'three amigos', are modelled on the artists themselves and unlike the superhero the hood of their costume hides not only their identity but also their senses. The 'detention-style' covering typifies the controversial methods we are accustomed to seeing as dealing with terrorist violence. In contrast with the hero that 'saves the day', 'three amigos' demonstrates the futility with fighting something impossible, or even the concept of a 'war on something' in general. The hood ultimately affirms the symbol of the mask and we find ourselves looking at a hidden figure whose power lies in their actions and protests and which becomes the weight behind the message.
As part of the exhibition CL&M have invited writer Dan Sumners to commission a piece of performative text to accompany the show. Existentialist in his approach, Sumners conjures up a manifesto punctuated with statements that penetrate the fabric of writing. He speaks vehemently about the demonisation of the other and how the divisions we draw ultimately act as detractions forming a crisis in society's ontological thinking.
Like the 'three amigos' Sumners portrays the power in a figure such as a 'terrorist' or 'superhero' as a cipher in contemporary civilization. The battle between good vs. evil becomes a redundant notion and both Sumners and CL&M explore radical positions: how these operate, translate or stand the test of time within the paradigms of certain aspects of contemporary society questioning dissent, authority and doctrines as much as they do perspectives of organised conviction, principles and ideas.
'Flag for Evel Knievel' appears as the exhibition's showpiece. A 20ft stunt ramp with the American flag painted on the top of the ramp sits in the gallery courtyard and is visible from the train platform above. Monumental in its stature it should be labelled with the sign 'caution: approach with a sense of humour' (as should the whole exhibition) and in return to Bill Hicks who, reminded us not take life too seriously.
Charlesworth, Lewandowski & Mann first met as students at Goldmsiths College and graduated in 2005. Joining forces they came together with the intention of sharing ideas and developing group work from invdividual art practise in response to mutual interests and subject matters. They have exhibited throughout the UK, Germany, and U.S.A and were chosen as the Saatchi: Your gallery critic's choice for December 2006.