64-66 Redchurch Street
Nearest underground stations
Liverpool Street (0.7m)
Old Street (0.9m)
Bethnal Green (0.7m)
+44 (0)772 675 0762
Open Wednesday to Saturday 12:00'18:00
Open Sunday to Tuesday by appointment only
Zoe Walker & Neil Bromwich
Group Exhibition curated by the young independent Russian curator: Anny Baranova
VEGAS is pleased to present 'Polari', a group project curated by the young Russian curator Anny Baranova, which brings together nine artists. Moreover Vegas is happy to announce that this will be the last exhibition taking place at its original premises in Redchurch Street. The show comprises a celebratory closing party gesture in itself.
Exploring notions of creative synthetic language and implications of the worlds of the media, cinema, criminality, ambivalence, of self-defined and undefined identity and sexuality, the Polari project presents a collection of works that are directed into the cause and effect of a certain stance of campness and dandyism, in terms of their realisation.
Ever since the gay liberation movements of the 1970's, visual codes and aesthetics displayed in public space have changed radically. Before this outpouring of a political demand for liberation, images alluding to homosexuality tended to be shrouded in occult codes not readily understood by the larger public; a secret language for only those 'in the family' to understand. But, in the hands of gay artists demanding liberation 'or the generations immediately following them- a new public visual language emerged side-by-side with the demand for the universal acceptance of homosexuality. Whether in confrontational images of sex or more subtle attempts to develop logos to stand for a new gay identity ' for example the Rainbow flag- within decades there would emerge a new gay visual culture and, most importantly, one that was not only seen and understood by minority sexualities, but the whole world.
Within the thirty or so years within which the sense of a gay visual culture developed and moved into the public domain, we have seen more recent developments in which, arguably, artists using or drawing on a gay visual language are no longer limited to artists making 'gay' political statements: 'gay' art cannot no longer be understood only in terms of an autobiographical statement of sexuality on the part of the artist.
Of course, many gay artists still build on the history of gay visual culture to make all kinds of statements ranging from the more traditionally political to critiques of gay culture and its lifestyles. But, in parallel, we also find artists who do not identify their sexuality as gay or lesbian also drawing on gay visual culture to initiate discussions ranging from those about taste through to complex statements of identification with traditionally oppressed sexual minorities; new oblique types of identity politics. This is particularly evident in the work of a number of women artists who do not identify as lesbian, for example.
In a world in which 'straight acting' gay men coexist with pretty-boy celebrities who openly collude with presenting themselves as both heterosexual and homosexual objects of desire in the most mainstream of media, it is perhaps timely that we reconsider the idea of 'gay' as a visual language deployed in contemporary art. When we do ' encountering straight men and women who use it in their work alongside the more expected use by gay men- it becomes clear that 'gay' is no longer entirely linked with what either the artist ' or the audience- gets up to between the sheets. And, perhaps, it might even prompt us to consider its relationship to other tangents of the gay liberation movement, such as the Queer movement of the 1990's. Whilst the work of some artists shows a kind of fusion of a gay visual language and a queer political sensibility, in other cases we might even find an implicit rejection of the notion of Queer, a sense of disappointment at its failure to develop more effective artistic languages than it originally promised.
The work of Philip Jones fuses eccentric characteristics, dandyism, mythological and almost fairy tale-like symbolism. In series of works such as 'Dandies', he brings the viewer back into the epoch of Oscar Wilde a time when aesthetics, effeminacy and sexuality swirled around in a rather undefined cloud, distinctly sexually suspect, but never really daring to speak its name. Such extravagant mixes of symbols, hints of kitsch and ostentation are echoed in the paintings of Will Tuck or are also portrayed in works by Brian Morrissey, who uses a playful, toy-like and rather ironic approach in his photographs. Will Tuck's considered color choice and glossy finish provide another dimension to the painting, allowing the audience to indulge in its pure beauty. Whether we are looking at an object of heterosexual desire or a ladyboy's secret aspiration, we're not entirely sure.
Zoe Walker & Neil Bromwich originally made a phallic sculptural object as part of a processional performance referencing the bawdy ' and heterosexual- rituals of the rural location in which they undertook an artists' residency in France. But, the viewer might equally perceive it as if it had been developed as rude prop on a Gay Pride parade float. Their work is frequently noted for its playful touch and social interaction, often taking the form of games or sculptural works that seem to invite interaction from the viewer.
Sarah Baker's video work portrays the famous writer Jackie Collins, a celebrated gay icon. This work is inspired by artist's fascination with the character and pride stemming from an opportunity to interview her idol. And another manifestation of a gay icon, American actress and singer Judie Garland, appears in a painting by Kate Mayne. Yet in these works, two heterosexual woman artists make use of the appeal of visual eccentricity and excessiveness associated with gay culture and lifestyle to intrinsically different ends. In doing so, for example, they coincidentally raise questions about personas and identities that appeal to contemporary heterosexual woman having, in part, originated within the homosexual fantasies and projections of gay men onto the opposite sex.
By contrast, the works of Caron Geary embrace a mix of brutality, viciousness of sexual expression and fetishism, prevailing in more overtly sexualized gay visual language. Geary' experimental and slightly aggressive practice hints at the darker and dirtier side of gay lifestyles to the audience whilst simultaneously throwing 'politically correct' notions of identity ' whether about gender, sexuality and perhaps even race- into disarray.
A work on paper by Simon Willems touches on society's perception of macho-men, which in this case is a cowboy, the symbol of coolness and self-confidence. However the style of a cowboy is also somewhat camp, vulgar and naughty; something that has given this American hero something of a dubious and double meaning for a long time. The subject of little boys' hero worship who can turn into an object of desire for gay men and even an ideal role model for lesbians. The subject of male identity is also addressed in works by Roy Mordechay. In the works of this Israeli artist, drawing on the subculture of Arab bodybuilders, their longing to be macho through working out their muscles becomes a motif for certain dichotomies. Apocryphal or quasi-naturalistic representations, the images are arresting since they simultaneously question stereotypical assumptions about traditional Arab culture and focus an irreverent humour on a world in which the visual codes standing for ultimate 'and traditionally homophobic- machismo and the epitome of gay body culture are, essentially, identical.