Oliver Clegg: “I hope we never die. So do I”
In a disused locksmith’s, a hop skip and a jump from the throng of Frieze Art Fair activity, is Oliver Clegg’s latest exhibition, “I hope we never die.” “So do I.” “Do you think there’s any chance of it?” Artist Samantha Sweeting took some time away from the lure of Frieze to check out the young artist’s work, which is being presented by Berlin’s Nolan Judin Gallery.
From the onset, we know this is a show about mortality. The title, taken from the final dialogue between Henry II and his wife Eleanor in the 1968 film, ‘The Lion in Winter’, is displayed across the glass shop front mimicking the lettering of an old fashioned movie theatre. Cinematic history runs as a thread throughout Oliver’s work, highlighting the fantastic ability of film as a means of achieving immortality.
As I walk through the door, I am struck by how quiet it is; a potent mix of sadness and sanctity lie heavy in the air. Standing on the floor in front of me are five rows of wooden cinema seats that Oliver salvaged in France, each with a single letter carved in reverse on its back. On taking a moment to decipher the back to front words, I read ‘Everything Should be OK’. It’s a small and hesitant reassurance against the starkness of death.
Instead of a projection screen, the facing wall is covered by a crematorium-esque grid of framed birth certificates, each with an end title taken from a film of the same year lazer cut out of them; a clear reminder that the moment we are born we are also marked by the inevitability of our demise. We hope we will never die, but we know we will. “Death is failure,” Oliver says… our hope is futile.
The 81 certificates are alternately mounted on red, green and blue backings – the three primary colours of light. Obtained from a variety of sources around the world, they span a lifetime of births from 1894 to 1980. As such, the corresponding end titles track the evolution of cinema from early animation through experimental film to Hollywood classics. Melancholia aside, the grid is an impressive display of typography.
Alongside the installation, and demonstrating the obvious diversity of Oliver’s craftsmanship, are two of his trademark style paintings. ‘That’s All Folks’ and ‘Pluto’ show immaculately depicted portraits of Disney characters as marionettes, collapsed on the floor, despairing and redundant. Painted in oil on reclaimed floorboards from a demolished church and an old art school drawing board respectively, the works are typical examples of the recycling of histories and influences that Oliver makes use of.
Also on exhibit in the basement is Andy Cooke’s ‘Andromeda Strain’. Transmitted via a radio signal onto a tiny 2″ LCD television, a short animation of the Eadward Muybridge stop motion ‘Galloping Horse’ plays on loop. As an intervention to this iconic image, Andy has added a winged Pegasus in place of the rider; myth and truth intertwine and the airborne horse is given flight.
Originally photographed in 1878, the magic of film has given the horse eternal life. He continues to run and we continue to hope.
“I hope we never die.” “So do I.” “Do you think there’s any chance of it?“ by Oliver Clegg with Andy Cooke continues at 43 Compton Close, Camden until Friday 21 October.
All images are courtesy of Samantha Sweeting