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Tate St Ives, St Ives
18 January - 7 May 2012
Reviewed by: Dan Green »
'Bit penisy' is what my first thoughts were, something echoed by the (tactful) guide; 'do you think these are a bit phallic? I think Simon might be a little obsessed, don't you?' Yes.
Four giant, cartoon-like sculptures of lighthouses fill the first room, surrounded by a selection of Alfred Wallis paintings. Each references the lighthouse in one of the paintings, shape and colour cleverly matched; an Alfred Wallis Land at Disneyland would feel like this. Simon remembers the light from one of the lighthouses playing on the walls of his bedroom in Carbis Bay, and the joyous naivety of Wallis' paintings echo the young Fujiwara's exploration of his own identity. Both are perhaps not as naïve as they seem on the surface.
The second room is a reconstruction of Fujiwara's parents' bar in Spain, complete with all manner of phallic sausages, cacti and cleverly placed nuts. There is a frame containing a text about General Franco only having one testicle, and a solitary walnut on a nearby counter. The hams hanging above the bar are made of pornographic papier-mache with a selection of homosexual porn reflected in a mirror above the bar. This room, effectively a stage, is set on the day that Franco died, a watershed for liberation. The bar is recreated as Simon remembers it, or so he says.
'The Mirror Stage' is set with a bed, a Patrick Heron painting, a Francis Bacon, an ironing board and a video playing a performance of the work. The 29 year old Fujiwara interviews the 12 year old Fujiwara about the day he discovered both abstract expressionism and that he was gay. The 12 year old Simon is played by an actor who is then asked to perform the play Simon has written about his experience of the day Tate St. Ives opened. He recalls ironing his shirt that morning as he knew the day would be significant and ends the vignette by climbing into a bed made with Ikea sheets adorned with the very same coloured stripes as Heron's painting.
The problem with all of these recollections is that they are not necessarily true. Simon was too young to remember the bar and his mother swears that the light from the lighthouse didn't enter the room. She is convinced that Simon never ironed anything, and research has shown that Ikea never bought the colour rights to Heron's painting. These things, therefore, are memories altered by time, by the tricks that your mind can play on your memories; a muddled interpretation made richer and more interesting by the unintentional combining of personal experience and that which you have been subsequently told.
This meddling with the accuracy of history and the trust that the viewer puts in what they are presented as accurate is prevalent alongside Fujiwara's consideration of his own identity and history through the mixing of east and west cultures. We see him act out the his reuniting with his father in Japan, in the process destroying a set of Leach pottery having decided instead to save a replica set that they made together during his trip. The Leach pottery is an example of how east and west can mix to create something beautiful whilst also being a further reference to St Ives.
The last room is a look back at a trip Simon made to Mexico. Previously, we had seen him as St Simeon of Mexico, their manifestation of Judas to whom gifts of sin (alcohol and cigarettes for example) are presented. In this room he shows us a series of letters based on the writings of a Conquistador which he had dictated, in English, to a Mexican speaking notetaker. The resulting words are phonetic interpretations of the English written from the perspective of a conquering hero sending his stories home. A hero who's initial sense of wonderment with the Mexican culture gradually turns to despairing encounters with poverty and inequality.
In between is a more problematic room. 'Mothers, Of Invention' consists of separate vignettes each dealing with different figures from Fujiwara's adolesence. Barbara Hepworth is central to the room with a lifesize figurine echoing a photograph of her, but with a hole in her abdomen reflecting her work standing on a step ladder. Artifacts borrowed from her studio are placed around the space alongside other vignettes describing other women. A work by Sarah Lucas depicting her eating phallic foods is shown in front of a part exposed wall. A blackboard accompanied by minerals in bottles represents one of his school teachers whilst a deconstructed cello being played by plaster hands in homage to his cello teacher. An Andrea Fraser work, showing her interacting with the walls of the Guggenheim in Bilbao sits at the other end of the room. These are all women exploring feminism in their work and there is a sense that Fujiwara sees them as mothers of his invention, collectively managing to instill in him the confidence in his ability to create. Otherwise it all feels a bit disconnected, difficult to understand. It's also the least fun of all the works, but the view of the sea from the window is spectacular.
The guide said that 'people are talking about Simon the way they did about Damien Hirst'. I can only assume that he refers to Fujiwara's invention, the originality of what he is doing and the ease of audacity to insist this show is in St Ives rather than London. The location is fitting for this hybrid production of fact and fiction, of theatre and installation and of local and international referencing. It's a big show, not in size but in ambition and demonstrates Fujiwara's ability to trick you into believing a truth that is false. Might make you laugh too.
Brighton based artist, curator and writer. Member of Sixes & Sevens.
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