Wednesday, 28 July 2010
I got a bootie call last night. I'm fairly sure that's what it was although I haven't had one before so I'm not quite up to speed. I didn't know what to do. Answer it? Not answer it? Rather embarrassing to admit but I was freaking out slightly. So I let it go to answer machine and then pretended it hadn't happened. Didn't mention a word about it to the person and neither did he. Was that totally yellow or have I suddenly developed a sagacious streak?
Perhaps it's me with only one thing on the brain? Perhaps he was just calling to say hello. At ten o'clock at night, when he'd only seen me half and hour earlier. Well, if it is me, it's certainly not just me, as I discovered on a visit to Pilar Corrias' super-sexy Koolhaus gallery. Pilar Corrias is one of my favourite London art spots, but you can't win 'em all and whilst Purity is a Myth was an ok show it didn't really light my fire that much. There's only so excited I can get about yet another abstract canvas in 2010 I'm afraid.
What was quite interesting though was the stuff lying on the floor in the downstairs gallery. If anybody's not afraid to admit he's got one thing on the brain, it's this man. What turned out to be a bunch of Leigh Ledare photographs was propped up on storage rugs, presumably not selected for his current show at the uber-hip GuidoCosta Projects, Turin – the solo exhibition brilliantly titled Le Tit. I've spent a lot of time coming up with exhibition titles and let me tell you Le Tit takes some beating.
So what was it that drew me in? Well, first off, it's probably fair to say that Leigh Ledare's work is transgressive and I like someone who's not afraid to stick their neck out. He ventures where most would not. But that, in itself, isn't enough. There's far more going on here than plain vanilla over stepping the mark.
Ledare is grappling with the complexities of the mother son relationship, or perhaps any parent child relationship, which, by its very nature, is fraught stuff. What I love is that he gets stuck in there without the slightest regard for socially acceptable bite sized notions of what this minefield of a relationship might be or where its boundaries should lie. To suggest that he's presenting us with shock material just for the sake of it is to approach the work either too literally, or with a lack of honesty and imagination. The viewer needs to give otherwise they will get nothing back. As in life, so in art. It's not a passive journey.
Human relationships are profoundly complex, so much more so than people care to admit. We love to see things as one thing or the other. Black or white. Good relationships or bad relationships. Good mothers or bad mothers. But it's not like that in real life and Ledare doesn't spare the horses on that front. Murky, inexplicable, usually bizarre and often disturbing - that's what Ledare presents. Precisely the mess of things as they really are. Precisely the mess we don't want to acknowledge.
The cream on the cake is that he conducts this terrifyingly frank and raw investigation with a sense of humour. You can't start messing around with stuff like this if you're going to insist on taking it all seriously. I can't bear the self-important idea that in order to take life seriously we've somehow got to take ourselves seriously. Being serious is not about being serious.
The work that was lying on the floor in Eastcastle Street was from the series Personal Commissions, for which Ledare answered ads posted by women whose desires echoed those of his mother in her personal ads. He then paid these women to photograph him in their apartments in scenarios of their choosing. The result was, amongst other things: Leigh in the buff on a chintzy sofa; Leigh posing in a shower; Leigh naked on a bed with a red fishnet stocking pulled over his head, hands tied behind his back and a dog lead lashed to his throat. In all these photographs he sports the prodigious Village People moustache that seems to set the tone for a lot of his oeuvre. The whole thing reminds me of the Mel Brookes' quote: 'tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.'
The Personal Commissions series though is possibly overshadowed by the gut wrenching body of work Pretend You're Actually Alive that forms a very broad portrait of his mother. From pornographic images of her having sex with her young lover Catch 22, to beautifully still and unrefined shots of her sitting alone in her house. Of course the pictures of her with her clothes on are far more revealing than those without her clothes. It's all part of the paradox.
So what about my bootie call? Maybe I should have answered it. You want and yet you don't want. You crave and yet you're repulsed. Frightened of the pain and also drawn to it. Why are relationships so complicated? Why can't they come in simple boxes marked up good or bad, then we'd all know what to do. But it's not like that. It's a mess and there's no getting away from it. And there in lies the richness. What a dull world it would be if it really were how we like to pretend it is.