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EXHIBITION REVIEW: The Sitting Room @ Phoenix Brighton, 17/02/2018 – 18/03/2018

The Verse’s Jake Francis tells us what he thought of The Sitting Room at Phoenix Brighton.

The concept of the chair is nothing new in art. Then again, neither are phalluses, foodstuffs, and still life – but they too still riddle our art galleries time and time again. Oddly enough, the marriage between the chair and this cadre of art clichés is not as obscure as you may think – the chair commonly used as not only the crutch to our tired behinds, but also as tool for metaphor. This is made abundantly clear by a vast array of practitioners, including the cleverly kitsch installation The Odd Couple (1991) by Sarah Lucas, the serial Fat Chair (1964-85) by Joseph Beuys, and Van Gogh’s Chair (1888-9), arguably the most famous example of vicarious autobiography and self-portrait. Popular theorists and ‘thinkers’ alike have not ignored this trend of assimilation either; Walter Benjamin himself stated that the home and its contents is a shell, carrying the imprint of its inhabitants. Let us not forget that even the entrepreneurial picked up on this fetishisation of our inanimate counterparts – Thomas Chippendale bestowing his chairs and sofas with a feminine kink to the leg. In short, the concept of domestic furniture as ‘self’ has not been under-utilised over the centuries of visual practice; unlike many ‘trends’ in art however, it still appears to have more to offer – The Sitting Room at Phoenix Studios adds truck to this claim. 

Comprising of works from three exhibitors: Anne Bean, Lewis Robinson, and Dave Stephens, The Sitting Room offers its audience a not-so-comforting invite to ‘take a seat.’ The chair in this case however, is obviously off limits in regards to its traditional means – the exhibition instead suggesting you ponder alone for a change, considering the chair as a third-person entity. On entry to the show you will come across the Tony Cragg-like ‘blockade’ of Two Chairs (2014) by Robinson, a deviously simple yet oddly soothing assemblage of chair-as-lego style proportions. Creeping behind this shin-high brick, Robinson’s Remnant II (2007) sits quietly by in a hauntingly crumbled sheath of plaster – it drawing the mind to the seductively naive processes of Lawrence Carroll. The room continues this fashion of flitting from one style to the other, the installation from Stephens titled Circle, Cycle, Cyclops (1992-1996) naturally drawing the eye in its sheer technical ability and amplified uneasiness. Stephens soon proves with his installation Reflection on Just another chair (1973-2017) that he is not merely a skilled practitioner, but also a worthy wit in simple gestures; the chair sits uncomfortably on a mirror – in it’s infinity, text projects itself to your inquisitive eye on the underside of the chair. Luckily for us, there is no cliche statement of Emin like non-poetry, merely the not so subtle pun of ‘Oh, but of course, it’s just another chair.’ This trend of visual juggling is yet again altered by Stephens within the back room of the show, the work Taking a Line for a Walk (1971-2017) alluding to the somewhat over-done, but always welcome, artistic trope of upholstering the cold and industrial with craft and monotonous care. It is within this dancing of classical ‘uplift’ to the existing object that Stephens ‘takes the biscuit’ as the best in show – he embodying the styles of Meret Oppenheim, Barbra Kruger, and Richard Wentworth with barely enough materials to host a reasonable dinner party. Bean is less present within the show in regards to quantity, but not in content. Despite a lack of technical awe that her counterparts provide in spades, her video installation/sound work allows the viewer to ‘pull up a pew’ and enjoy a slice of empathy whilst resting one’s weary feet. 

Overall, the exhibition may resemble an artsy-fartsy DFS showroom where much of the furniture is forbade to offer its comfort – but it is one that never ceases to grab your attention in its ambiguity.

Dali once stated that the best kind of chair is one of extreme discomfort and uselessness, thus inspiring its owner to, for lack of a better term, ‘get off their arse’. I imagine that Bean, Stephens, and Robinson would have served as keen examples of this aggressive energy. 

The Sitting Room is on display at The Phoenix Studios until the 18th of March, open 11am – 5pm Wednesday – Sunday. Admission to the show is free.


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