Review of The Averard Hotel Cybernetic Meadow Group Show; Slate Projects, London

Slate Projects is a nomadic curatorial project conceived by Alex Meurice that recently took up residence at The Averard Hotel, an abandoned hotel in Lancaster Gate, London. The current exhibitions within the hotel are a series of satellite solo presentations aided by the architecture within the receptions rooms, including a group exhibition titled Cybernetic Meadow, which took place in the once-grandiose ballroom.

Ishai Rimmer shows three new large scale paintings as one of the solo presentations. In Walking (2015) a man is seen trekking through an undisclosed mountainous area. Rimmer’s sensory deployment of colour and pseudo-expressive mark-making recalls a synergy between Lucien Freud and Peter Doig. Yet his narratives are intimate and decidedly isolated, and are never fully understood by the viewer. In Backyard (2015) a man stands, half naked, with his back to the viewer as a woman faces him, propping herself up comfortably in a moment of amorous reflection. The viewer can only see the woman’s face and must guess at what the male character is feeling, keeping them locked into the relationship from the position of voyeur.

Cybernetic Meadow takes its concept and title from Richard Brautigan’s poem All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (1967) in which he imagines a world where “mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony.” Here, the featured artists question the pitfalls and darker trappings that have arisen through the digital age. This is a fete that is visualised by Gordon Cheung’s Hans Bollongier II (New Order) (2014), which shows a digitally manipulated image of Hans Bollongier’s tulip still-life – a symbol of the Dutch Golden era, born out of a then unknown natural phenomena of ‘broken tulips’, exploited to the point of the first economic crash in history. Here, Cheung renders the image into a dripping and broken disaster through a free to download algorithm. In this context, he is drawing suspicion to the manner in which computers are used in speculative markets, and the vast amounts of money being traded. The same can be said of The City of Palaces (2014) in which Cheung uses a backdrop of Financial Times newspapers upon which a dystopian city lays at the foot of a barren mountainous landscape. This could be read as a future prediction for the area being traversed by Ishai Rimmer’s lone walker.

In Lee Marshall’s Midnight I (2015), motifs hark back to a time of industrial might. Upon a black canvas, outlines of machines and mechanical structures slam and twist into one another, burning brightly as if born out of the act of smelting.  Again, given the curatorial concept, the painting takes on a nostalgic aspect, addressing the way in which industrial labour – that Brautigan, in his poem wishes we could be “free of” in order to be “joined back to nature” – has instead been forced to cheaper, less-regulated areas of the world in the wake of the digital era.

But what is so gripping about this series of exhibitions is the breadth of style and influence that so naturally inhabit the dilapidated hotel. This is most compellingly captured in Rory Menage’s solo presentation, where a series of three busts oscillate with an imagined history of the building. Upon the three black plinths are Bust of a Man I (2015), Bust of a Man II (2015) – both cast iron – and Seeing the Rock Drill (2015), which is painted bronze. The figures in these sculptures are blackened, their faces weathered and carved deeply by modernist sculptors of art history, Giacometti in particular. This earmark of history merges with one’s perceived imaginings of the hotel’s former life. And, in doing so, the remnants of gold detailing and scratched walls amalgamate with the physicality of the busts, alluding to a romantic vision and racing narrative that is never quite solidified.

William Davies

Cybernetic Meadow9 – 31 January, The Averard Hotel, Slate Projects, London. 

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1. Shiraz Bayjoo, Ile de France, 2015. HD Film. Courtesy of the artist and Slate Projects.