The Verse’s Jake Francis reviews A King’s Appetite at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, exhibiting until 5th November 2017.
After learning of Laura Ford’s title for her exhibition – A King’s Appetite, you’d be right to expect a gargantuan body of works, exceeding in regality, quantity and scale in equal measure. This presumption is supported further when Ford’s works are gathered under this year’s Biennial theme: ‘Excess’ – organised by the arts group HOUSE.
If you enter the show with these ideas in mind, however, you may be initially disappointed – but that deflation is just that – initial, temporary. Although Ford may not offer a vast banquet of visual tidbits for you to gorge on, the reaction is still one that rewards. As you enter the gilded cell, you are greeted with figures of nightmarish quality, each resembling something that you feel oddly accustomed to; bean-bag contorted bodies, decrepit hands, and warped giraffes are all constructed in regal upholstery. Due to the anonymity of the room that these works reside in, it’s easy to feel that you have unknowingly stumbled into the warped toy room of a rich Victorian child.
With each piece, there is a disconcerting element of humour – the essence of which can be defined in one simple term: character. Whether it’s the horizontal giraffe clad in luxurious attire, nervous faces of wealth, or the bloated bodies of nobility – there is an undeniable charm and personality within each interaction.
The ‘guttering’ or parody of the superior classes for a ‘cheap laugh’ is certainly nothing new in art and it’s surrounding culture, but it is not as easy as it looks. Many artists, especially nowadays, decide to take the ‘low road’ when approaching this cathartic exercise – aiming for the bulged jugular in favour of cheap-gags and poor execution – examples of which can easily be found scrawled on the walls of most public toilets. Ford manages to avoid this common trap, instead offering her audience not only well-made sculptures but also the ability to participate. Yes, the material that Ford draws from may be from previous generations, but its spirit is more common than ever. With ‘baby-dick’ statues of politicians littering our streets and Banksy’s running wild, Ford reminds us that our activism towards displacement and injustice are not at all new. They are essential tools in fighting adversity.
Now it’s worth mentioning that there is a precursor to the works found within Ford’s exhibition, this being facilitated as a display of political cartoons. But personally, I’d recommend heading straight in with blissful ignorance. Now that’s not to say that the prints featured alongside the show remove anything from your experience, but there’s something to be said for enjoying these works out of any discernible context. Although the installations are very effective in their realisation of historical parody, they should be enjoyed for what they are: stylised, and deeply fun. If you choose to approach the exhibition in this way, you will regale in dissecting the cartoons with Ford’s real-life ghouls in mind, and how the show could have been even more grandiose. Despite its modest portion, Ford offers a wholesome course in crafted wit and infectious humour – I, however, am not quite full.
A King’s Appetite is on display until the 5th of November at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Entrance is free to local residents.