You would think the more we disappear into screens, the more we would forget about our bodies. Judging by the shows on this summer in London, the opposite seems to be the case. Whether it is the right sort of attention is another question, but it was filled with floating heads, phantom limbs and more 3D-printed objects than you can shake your e-cigarette at. Artist Will Benedict’s ‘Nuclear War: What’s in it for you?’ at Vilma Gold began with bodies on the streets of Berlin. Encountering the figurative, heavily allegorical public sculptures of Czech artist Ludmilla Seefried-Matějková from 1984-85 found in places like the facade of the criminal court, it’s as if Benedict gathered these six artists to retrospectively recreate the laden Cold War atmosphere which led to their creation. The title comes from a 1982 book informing readers about the facts of the impending fallout, and a bomb alarm echoes from a bunker built in the middle of the gallery. Inside, Seefried-Matějková’s On the Edge (1976-77) is a full-size polyester sculpture of a half-naked woman sitting on a bed, looking dejectedly into infinity. The sound comes from a small television in the corner playing KP Brehmer’s short black-and-white video Madame Butterfly (1969) reimagining Puccini’s opera as a raucous essay on transgression: at its close, we see a bottle of Coca-Cola on the ground and a communist star flashing intermittently on the screen. A naked woman walks over the bottle, squats, and begins moving up and down on top of it. This desolate bunker is surrounded by four of Brehmer’s large matter-of-fact statistic-based geographic paintings. Geography 3 Colours Localisation of Yellow/Red (1970) is a simplified map of South America with countries coloured pink, red, yellow and orange under the typeface heading ‘Investment Climate’. An adjacent key explains that Brazil in pink means ‘uncertain’, while Chile in red is ‘troubled’; Argentina and Colombia in orange, it seems, are ‘best’.
‘No one has ever tried to establish chaos as a system, or to let it come,’ claimed sound artist Henri Chopin in his 1967 polemic against the hegemony of the intelligible word, ‘Why I am the author of Sound Poetry and Free Poetry’. ‘Undoubtedly there would be more alive beings and fewer dead beings, such as employees, bureaucrats, business and government executives, who are all dead and who forget the essential thing: to be alive.’ Talking sense, writing sense – to him it was all making us ignore the strange and wonderful sounds and irrational ways of communicating we have at our disposal. While Chopin’s work is currently on view in Colchester’s Firstsite, his anti-sensible, divergent-sensory spirit could be found zipping around London, albeitin the guise of plastic bags, tree leaves and green goo. The small group show ‘Flow’ at Peles Empire perhaps spoke most directly of the lives of the bureaucrats and executives Chopin derides, making use of the generic advertising imagery and stiflingly managed environments these ‘dead’ people might inhabit. Eric Bell and Kristoffer Frick’s Generator (front), 2014, is a sterile portrait of a small, egg-shaped machine that claims to be an ‘Ozone Generator’. On Not Yet Untitled, 2014, one of the small mechanisms is mounted on a blank sheet of white polyurethane foam, whirring away, supposedly pumping ozone into the gallery. The gizmo is sold as an air purifier for stuffy office environments; it doesn’t smell any different (I find out afterwards direct inhalation is harmful) and the sound of its rush is the type of white noise that is initially calming but soon becomes disconcerting. Crammed in the corner are two PCs set on a cheap chipboard table; complete with flimsy fold-out chairs, rough lino on the floor and crappy headphones, the means of presentation for Lloyd Corporation’s video Form follows feeling, 2014, is a scarily accurate recreation of the cramped, rushed constructions of an internet cafe. The two flatscreen monitors alternate in flashing up unconnected, well-composed images of mountains, a rocking chair and several scenes of electronics being assembled. In one section, we see in close-up a cigarette lit by a heated filament, hearing the low crackle of the burn but no other movement or breath as nobody is there to smoke it. Between the works, it feels like a place not just abandoned but creepingly hinting at designed spaces that are actually working against us. ‘Flow’ holds a compact mirror to the corporate atmosphere, and finds that it is slowly pushing us out of the picture, or killing us off altogether.