Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s subversive solo show

Published

Credit: Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Joan’s Dream - performance, 2016. Copyright courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Credit: Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (C), Joan’s Dream – performance, 2016. Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London

Rachel Boyd
Deputy Culture Editor – Art

Uptight Upright Upside Down is an exhibition dealing with the inversion of expectations. As a source, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd draws heavily on Baktin’s musings on performance as a locus for political decentralization; evoking a brief period of time in which lower classes can engage with and challenge any kind of behavioural rationale.

Gaye’s fictional detective, Joan Shipman, plays between three episodic films as you enter the space. Part of an ongoing series, Shipman encounters a new tribe of people, abandoned in the depths of the sea – the titular ‘Hermitos Children’ – whose god is revealed to be a sacred fish.

Scenes of the ocean and its coastal periphery feature incessant references to sexual acts. The costumes are audacious and entertaining; smeared with the make-do and mend mentality known in Chetwynd’s creative familiar, consisting of towel togas and odd rags that are reminiscent of childhood playdates with imaginary friends. On another screen – unconsciously connected – nude figures unfold as kaleidoscopes, their contours and particularities dividing, duplicating, and folding into one another. The scene changes, shapes and forms glisten on a boat adrift on the sea, parodying an orgy and teasing the viewer into comparing Chetwynd with other narrative epics, such as Homer’s Odyssey. The ocean harbours all gluttony, lust and illicit affairs – hinting at a more adult type of pretend.

Chetwynd has previously spoken about film as a way to counter comments that her work wasn’t durable enough, or as fit for purpose for exhibitions (like this one) whose run extended more than a few days, or endured beyond a single performance.

With this in mind, the main gallery can be seen as an active composition; beginning with the two dimensional and ending in the three dimensional – with performance, signified by the cardboard-and-paper mache costumes littered across the gallery floor. The walls are collaged with an eighteenth-century painting of Eden, somewhat oddly matched with two enlarged Shunga images (the name given to an ancient tradition of Japanese erotic art).

Women and men openly cavort with one another with swollen genitalia; acting in direct comparison to the untainted serenity posed by the painting of Eden, an icon of innocence lost. One of the Shunga harks back to the allure of the sea: Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a popular taboo print by the practitioner Hokusai. The many-tentacled, open-mouthed expressions of the Chetwynd’s masks and sculptures give them a doubled meaning. To the adult mind, they are symbols, tools, making a mockery out of acts of intimacy. The objects themselves are light and fragile enough to be manoeuvred or used and dealt with by children.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (Copyright), Hermitos Children, 2009, Hermitos Children, 2014, Hermitos Children 3 - The Ocarina Man, 2015. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (C), Hermitos Children, 2009, Hermitos Children, 2014, Hermitos Children 3 – The Ocarina Man, 2015.
Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London.

The third gallery is presented as a visual archive of Chetwynd’s zines and small-print publications. These objects feel like an odd and empty aside to Chetwynd’s lively and audacious films and the sculptural costumes and installations. Both encourage some idea of active participation, hinting at a story to be enacted.

Chetwynd’s work provokes you much in the same way that sexual education classes stir that mix of embarrassment, confusion and fits of giggles. You perhaps don’t want to enjoy it, to classify it as ‘art’. There’s something in all of us that jumps to defends our senses against the assault of crude sexuality partnered with a tumult of material, hastily made. Chetwynd’s latest exhibition certainly aims to turn our conceptions of what is upright and uptight upside-down.

You can view Chetwynd’s work at the CCA until Sunday, 8 January 2017