The Verse’s Jake Francis reviews Common Threads at Phoenix Brighton from 30th September to 5th November.
Subtlety is not a word that springs to mind in Common Threads and, subsequently, neither is the phrase that usually accompanies it: ‘less is more’. Now if you’re a follower of contemporary art, you may naturally read into this statement with a sigh, self-declaring it as a round-the-houses criticism. Usually, you’d be right – but on this occasion, there’s a little more to it.
Though the exhibition may be lacking in the camouflage that many practitioners douse themselves in, it more than makes up for it in overt expression and narrative; and thus, we have a reviewers problem. Being apologetically British, it is hard for me to write on these subjects without appearing glib or pained – so you’ll have to take the following with a big ol’ grain of salt – you have been warned.
On first entering the exhibition, the inevitable eye-catchers are the oddly familiar structures of Andrew Omoding, resembling the shelters you may have made once upon a time in some anonymous spout of half-term freedom with other optimistic eleven-year-olds. This experience does not hover for long, however, as the natural reaction is to then turn towards the naively charming quilt-tapestries of Anthony Stevens. Again, something uncannily similar to those endless piles of ancient duvets and pictures you’d glaze over during a dismal afternoon at grans stumbles around in your mind.
Sounds pleasant enough so far, doesn’t it? But it is in these slabs of repurposed textiles that you find something a little less nostalgic, and a little more uneasy. Balaclavas, cuss words, and firearms are littered amongst the expected staples of birds, wonky houses and faces – all of which resemble those grotesque illustrations from your 1996 class tea towel that your mum still refuses to throw out (even if you are now 25 years old). With no time to gather your thoughts, you are introduced to sardonic visions of consumer culture, drugs, and venerations of historical figures with necks agape from execution. As I said, not so subtle. After seeing a few of these (and there are more than a few), you cannot help but secretly thank publishers for refusing to release those baby-plush fabric books of Grimm fairy tales.
But within this harsh shift from Omoding’s explorative craft into the dotingly cynical visions of Stevens, you can find a glossy analogy of childhood, and where it may have ‘all gone wrong’. Most people can recollect the first time their mate brought in a weather-beaten page torn from a porn mag, and the conflicting reaction of horror and fascination at the content withheld on that rag (and why on earth were they sticky?); that temperament is one that echoes through this exhibition. Again, you may read that as a criticism, but I don’t mean it to be. If anything, it’s an oddly warm experience; it creates a clear division between what ‘was’ and what ‘is’. The innocence of pretending to be a knight on his horse or a lone traveller in his den paralleled with the growing consciousness of the violence on TV or obsessions with pubic hair growth. In short, the exhibition is a veiled image of adolescent asphyxia – each piece signifying the home-made go-kart, or the first teenage cigarette.
The artists may not have intended this reading of their works – in fact, I’m sure of it. But I cannot help seeing an AK47 made out of PVA covered macaroni – and who wouldn’t want to experience that?
Common Threads is on display at Phoenix Brighton until the 5th of November, and is open from Wednesday – Sunday 11am-5pm. Entry is free.