One thing I have to remember when I watch plays or movies or go to art galleries is that everything is set up a certain way for a reason. People are paid just to set up these spaces and they have a particular idea in mind when they do so. Every scratch on a wall, every untamed piece of thread sticking out from a costume, even the spaces in between each piece of art, have been carefully curated and orchestrated to make a point or further establish the meaning of the art. In the Saatchi Gallery, I felt absolutely bombarded by art. Obviously, this was done very much intentionally because, you know, the exhibition is about absurdist and satirical art and acts as a commentary on our fast-paced consumerist society that incessantly pelts us with information, advertisements and tragedy. So, to have rooms filled to the brim with different bits of art made sense, even if it did agitate me because I couldn’t actually digest what it was that I had seen, and when I could digest it, I was propelled into another to dissect.
Gallery 2, featuring pieces by Jessica Craig-Martin and James Howard, gave me this instantaneous hit of nonsensical art. James Howard’s digital prints looked exactly like some of the memes I have on my phone. It was wild. My friend got out her phone to pull out similar photos and compare them to the prints on the walls and it was hilarious to see how alike they are. James Howard has posed a question to be answered: ‘What even is humour in 2018?’ After examining these photos and the memes on my phone, I actually started to wonder what makes memes so funny and how quickly they come and go. A few months ago, many of us were obsessed with moth memes, and a few months before that, we were obsessed with the FBI agent meme. What makes them funny? How are they so funny that we will dedicate them to memory over A-Level content needed for exams? Why are we so easily amused at an extreme zoom into someone’s face that is edited with distortion and over-exposure? The most basic images are what make us laugh the most and we don’t expect actual well-crafted jokes from creators to be satisfied, therefore they don’t have to put in that effort.
Memes are also a way to escape the heavy-hearted material of the world outside as highlighted extremely well through Jessica Craig-Martin’s photography of what looks like a dinner party. Her photos are intrusive and deliberately make the onlooker uncomfortable. It is no wonder why I, and many others in the room, turned their attention more so onto the work of James Howard. It was surreal, it was funny, and it was bizarre and offered a relief from the reality of the world. Craig-Martin’s photos were also very interesting in regards to the #MeToo movement and how the treatment of women in several spaces goes uncommented on for the sake of keeping up an image of glamour and respectability as we see the contrast between the outfits and smiles worn on the people within the photos juxtaposed with the discomfort emitted from the photos, like a lingering hand on the thigh or someone getting too close to you, taking advantage of how open and lively you are in the moment. It is much easier to ignore than it is to acknowledge, and this was definitely the case in Gallery 2. We turn to meme culture and social media for a quick laugh at the world and subsequently ourselves also, otherwise to constantly be faced with uneasiness, anger and pain would be too debilitating. Perhaps that is why memes are so popular. It’s a way to escape.
“Memes are also a way to escape the heavy-hearted material of the world outside as highlighted extremely well through Jessica Craig-Martin’s photography of what looks like a dinner party.”
Bedwyr Williams’ work, as much as I didn’t love it, was quite stimulating, and that’s the point, right? The whole premise was about judgement and ‘walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’. But that in itself doesn’t actually make any sense. Who writes these idioms and why do we adhere to them? Even if I walked 100 miles in somebody else’s shoes, I wouldn’t know them any better than before and I wouldn’t be more able to empathise with them and their experiences. I would just get an ache in my legs. It was also stimulating because I began to think about how swiftly we judge people. Immediately upon seeing an Adidas shoe I thought “Oh, okay, so this probably belongs to a young person, most likely working class. It’s not new and doesn’t look cleaned often so they probably don’t care that much about their appearance.” Then I saw fancy brogues and thought “Wow, okay, so they’re most likely middle class, they don’t seem that interesting and might live somewhere like Shoreditch.” Instantaneously, we judge people before they even have the chance to introduce themselves. On the shoes there were also notes giving the backstory to them. One tag reminisced of a time in which the owner was bullied, and their bully wore a similar shoe. They have a pair now for a sense of power and validation. Williams is saying – or at least that’s what I’m hearing – that there is more to somebody than their appearance. It was also pointed out to me later on that we could actually try on these shoes. I mean, I didn’t want to, but also it didn’t even feel as if I could. There was a certain air of prestige and pretentiousness in the Saatchi Gallery and I didn’t feel as if I could I just be without being perceived a certain way. I very much was allowed to pick up and feel the shoes on the shelves and even wear them, but I didn’t feel like I could because of how the space was.
“This brings me to another issue: The Saatchi Gallery felt pompous. As a gallery, I got a display of ostentatiousness, like okay! You want to impress! You want to show taste! but it was overdone.”
This brings me to another issue: The Saatchi Gallery felt pompous. As a gallery, I got a display of ostentatiousness, like okay! You want to impress! You want to show taste! but it was overdone. You could take photos and you could discuss the artwork, but it didn’t feel that way. A lot of rooms were almost silent as if what was on the walls was sacred and I just felt out of place often which isn’t what any creative space should make you feel like. The exhibition had a role in commenting on privilege and wealth, power and politics and it was just extremely ironic and meta that a place showcasing this could make its guests feel alienated on the premise of these notions. Satire serves to improve humanity through critiquing how bizarre humanity actually is and the Saatchi Gallery exists as a giant parallel to the improvement that it encourages. Galleries should want to expand their demographic but a lot about the Saatchi Gallery was too niche to accomplish this. You had to pay for a guide in order to have further explanation and analysis of the artwork but so much of the content within it was undecipherable due to the grandiose language that young people and adults alike would find difficult to understand. Creative spaces need to be more accessible. Trying to understand the utensil offered to understand the art in the first place was an extreme sport that I would decline participation in in the future. In spite of everything, I did enjoy the Saatchi Gallery and the exhibition. Could it be more accessible? Yes. Could it offer more insight to the artwork and artists’ comments without concessions? Yes. Could it promote a more relaxed and open space? Yes. However, did the art make me think? Yes. The artwork made me criticise the world and how it works and why we let it work that way. The pieces were funny and absurd and sarcastic and clever, and I did enjoy my time there.