Before even having a chance to take in the small room, I find myself huddled close over a phone with two other people I don’t know, listening, shifting my weight from one foot to the other and looking around for a long five minutes. ‘The Romantics had at least been right about the feeling. The one thing the desert made you want to do was to stick something into it. All the empty space and hardly even a way to take a picture without it looking like something from a calendar for a half-passed year still shrink wrapped in the discount bin of a dollar store.’ A QR code provided on the only handout for Gabriele Beveridge’s ‘Newly Laundered Smile’ at Rod Barton leads to an audio file: a text by Paul Kneale read out by a woman describing a road trip, apparently to the Grand Canyon. It ends up defining the experience of the show: mentions of the desert, a Nikon camera and cigarettes in the audio find their physical correlations nestled among the faded colours of the four careful assemblages that make up the exhibitions. Close-up photos of female models’ faces, for hair or skin products or some such, are printed on perforated cloth that is frayed and peeling, with a few sad-looking potted cacti and chunks of amethyst propped underneath them. Their distant, hungry eyes follow us as we walk around, finding the magazine image of a rainbow stretching over the Grand Canyon, Gabrielle, 2012, held in a pastel rainbow frame, a lipstick box for Chanel Rouge shade ‘19 Gabrielle’ sitting on top. Beveridge’s skill is in hesitant photographic and sculptural collages that have the feel of a sort of bedroom-mantelpiece science; sun-faded salon advertisements sit alongside mementos and ephemera that might have been emptied out of a purse. The gathered surfaces create a set of anachronistic non-sequiturs, trawling up other times and places and letting them wax and wane uncertainly. Looking at a few concurrent, similarly sparse solo shows around London, they share this sense of understatement and evocation, but it is interesting to note what is needed to achieve that. ‘Newly Laundered Smile’ felt simultaneously too empty and overcrowded, the layers flattened and cancelled out by my experience of the other space of the accompanying audio text.
Checking his reflection. Leaning in towards the mirror, out, then in again. Walking away, looking back over his shoulder. Testing it. He hops, skips then jumps past, returns with a white hat. Leaning in again, he circles his reflection suspiciously, crossing the surface’s threshold and back again.
Harpo Marx’s bodily imitation of Groucho’s President Firefly in Duck Soup (1933) holds until a third impostor stumbles in on the scene, giving away the game. The infamous ‘mirror scene’ itself has its own doppelgangers pre- and pro-ceeding it – from Chaplin’s The Floorwalker (1916) to Harpo’s own re-enactment of the scene in a 1955 episode of I Love Lucy, to countless cartoons and on to the shattering mirrors of Inception (2010). The figure of the double has, since the Victorian psychoanalysts, been seen as a threat, a wayward other who threatens the self it mimics. But we don’t really need the advice of a literature scholar like Debra Walker King to point out, “the fictional double is always with us.”