Curiouser and Curiouser
hen we think of the Lake District we think of British classics like Swallows and Amazons, fell walking and daffodils. A host of them.
But a recent visit, had me thinking more along the lines of Powell and Pressburger’s “Peeping Tom”, Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Marcel Duchamp’s last work.
Mark Wood’s new show “Absorption” at Cross Lane projects in Windemere is at times disturbing, uncomfortable and challenging. And for those reasons, it is not to be missed!
To use a current expression bandied about the art world, this is an “immersive” experience, but unlike those commercial blockbusters doing the rounds now, this is not only a much more intimate experience, but it is also bonkers and brilliant.
The un-realness or theatricality is established at the very start. A curtain is opened, you are invited to step into a darkened space, and there’s no going back….
Despite a strong whiff of latex, and a slightly “Berlin in the 80’s” feeling, you just have to trust that you are in safe hands. After your eyes adjust, you make out shafts of light coming through peepholes. Not for the first time, I thought of David Lynch. The peepholes guide us, down a latex corridor, from one to the other, each revealing a new and disturbing diabolical tableau. Like all voyeurs, you are compelled to investigate them. Like looking at a car crash, we cannot help ourselves.
We live in a world where we are not only being “peeped” on morning noon and night via CCTV cameras, but we are also “peepers” ourselves with apps giving us instant access to our own surveillance fetish. We are rarely alone, unwatched or not watching.
Artists love a bit of voyeurism. Artists like Sophie Calle explore the artist’s voyeuristic nature and works like Bruce Nauman’s “Mapping the Studio” puts the viewer in the position of the voyeur. Warhol, as we know, was the ultimate voyeur, who observed without ever participating.
But the feeling we get from Mark Wood’s “Absorption” is more akin to Duchamp’s work “Étant donnés: 1º la chute d’eau, 2º le gaz d’éclairage”. Like that work, Absorption only allows us visual access to the scenes beyond, by way of peepholes, where the viewer’s gaze is strictly controlled by the artist.
The difference is that with Duchamp’s ‘assemblage’ it is pretty clear what we are seeing through the peepholes: a dead body in a landscape. With ‘Absorption’ we never really know what is beyond those latex holes. Disjointed image after disjointed image confronts us, as we struggle to figure out just what the hell we are looking at. Is that a human figure? A bondage scene? Or just an innocent image? Woods is aware of the frustration this may cause and sees it as part of the experience. It is as if we should complete the picture ourselves.
“A cabinet of curiosities” is an overused phrase but in this case, a totally apt description. Woods uses kaleidoscopes, mirrors and trickery to befuddle our senses. It is hard to focus in The endless hallway of mirrors, as bizarre creatures, strange dolls – lush material and beautifully crafted objects blur the boundaries between fine art and fetishism. Wood’s images are characterized by obsessive themes of eroticism, death, and decay. And we are compelled to confront our desires.