- George and Jorgen
“His is the art of whimsy,” says Professor Alexander García Düttmann (Professor of Philosophy and Visual Culture at Goldsmiths, and Visiting Professor of Photography at the RCA), describing the capricious and solipsistic photographic and video works of Tom Pope. Indeed, one cannot help but crack an almost wry, if also partly complicit smile, upon viewing Pope’s current exhibition, So It Goes, at George and Jørgen’s Bermondsey gallery. His comic interventions create a sense of anticipation, as we, the gallery viewers, watch as passer bys inadvertently become caught up in his pranks.
And yet there is an innocence to his misdemeanours, which Pope himself describes as “weakly anarchic”. Breaking branches off a tree, he explains with reference to the video work Scrumping in Monaco, would be wrong, but shaking it until all the oranges fall off is “ok”. This short piece is given heightened intrigue by the involvement of a woman, passing by, who stops to talk to Pope as he gathers the fallen fruits, in a voice too low for us to hear. We expect, perhaps, for her to scold him, but, when she moves on her way, and nothing further happens, the viewer is left wondering what was said. Actually, Pope discloses in a video interview carried out for FAD, she stopped to tell him that he could take as many oranges as he wanted, since the owners of the private garden were not at home. His boyish cheek and charm no doubt helped endear her then, as much as they do us now.
A further scene of play, in which a bystander becomes involved, is Monsieur, in which Pope climbs into a fountain in a square in Marseilles, and sticks his fingers into the tap, making the water squirt out in all directions. A small girl comes bounding over to watch, perplexed. He doesn’t react at all to his audience, and, after a while, she runs away again, bored, only to return and watch the water, quietly and innocently, once Pope has left. Another example of simply watching the world go by is found in Me and You, in which a cockerel stands almost motionless, as a hen approaches, pecks about for a bit, and leaves. The viewer is fixed to the spot watching and waiting, like with reality TV. Will something happen? Will it be worth the wait? Nothing does, but strangely there is no sense of disappointment.
The works in this show were all made during a rather circuitous journey which Pope and his crew (who film him all the time, thus capturing some works in a more random and spontaneous manner, whilst others are pre-planned and carefully choreographed) undertook, via eight countries, en route to CERN, Geneva, in a hearse, carrying a grandfather clock. Yes, you did read that right! Pope recently won the Deutsche Bank Artist Award for his proposed project, Time Bound, a performance piece in which he would destroy the clock in the Large Hadron Collider, and question people along the way as to whether or not man can live without measured time. Unfortunately he was not given access to the Collider, but, with this show as its outcome, the journey was certainly not a waste of time – measured or not.
As well as the oranges, which reoccur in the photograph Another Splash, where Pope has cavalierly thrown one over the fence into a private pool, and in Currently Unemployed Potential, a dried exemplar brought back as a souvenir, making reference to the sun, and thus, albeit indirectly, to time and the universe, another recurring motif in Pope’s works is the balloon. In Caged Air, Pope is captured squeezing one between two stone Ionic columns, whilst in Oh Fuck, he runs and jumps on a cluster of three in a street, bursting them and setting off a car alarm in the process. This siren, along with a soundtrack of voices, traffic, and the typing of George and Jørgen’s director as she sits at her desk, form a cacophony of noises which permeate the rooms and follow the visitor round throughout the show. The overall effect is to create a sense of being out there yourself, visiting these many places along with Pope and his crew, and witnessing the goings on. The open question which draws you in most, however, is whether you are left feeling more like a gallery viewer, seeing the completed works post hoc, or one of the many passers by, caught up and involved in the works as they were being made. If the progression of time is, after all, not an issue, would it not be possible to be both at once?