- Tether Studios
- East Midlands
What would it be to see the world through the eyes of Anthony Peskine? Disillusioned, bored, certainly witty. The UK based art collective Tether showcased the first solo exhibition of this Parisian artist, entitled ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ at their Wasp Room gallery on Huntington Street, Nottingham. On show a varied collection of works including ‘photography’, ‘sculpture’ and ‘film’. Inverted commas at this point are quite necessary as upon closer inspection all is not as it first appears. The ambiguity within Peskine’s practice arises from his choice of subject matter, which borrows heavily, as its mode of expression from the world of TV and advertising. It is fair to say that Peskine’s visual style is certainly unambiguous, his photography is clear and crisp, his prints are sharp and focused. However the promise and allure of slick marketing campaigns and the synthetic worlds of the Hollywood blockbuster are subverted, turned onto their heads and spat out in outrageous and absurd outcomes.
The world of consumerism, by its very nature has much to offer. We are bombarded in the everyday with endless avenues of choice. What we eat, what we wear, how we live, how we die; all of the above come to us wrapped in the false promise of belonging. Wading through such abundance and variety and choosing to identify will ultimately answer the question: who do I think I am? Or so we are led to believe. Peskine however, does not choose to consume in such a manner but takes a more tangential approach. Glancing at the world from a wry angle, his vision offers a playful, surreal and somewhat idiotic survey of the times in which we live. His 2009 installation ‘My Weight in Potato Crisps’ for example, a mound of unopened crisp packets, keenly ridicules the adage ’you are what you eat’ but hints also at a darker meaning; of an unbound consumerism of gluttony and excess. Similarly Peskine’s large scale digitally printed banner entitled: ‘Synonymous Declaration of Human Rights’ (2009) satirises the visual language of rigid canonical systems. Mimicking the pedagogical rhetoric and assertions of transnational organisations such as the United Nations, Peskine’s alternative ‘commandments’ make us aware of the constructed narrative of society at the highest level. Although his banner is very formal in its presentation, this piece also brings to mind the more humble banners of public demonstrations and homemade street placards, were integrity and conviction are no less apparent but equally constructed.
The sacred cow of Religion is also not exempt from this iconoclast’s gaze. In Peskine’s 2009 piece ‘Emergency’ a bible is enclosed behind glass and within a wall mounted, red box frame. Attached is a small metal hammer, its obvious function to break glass in emergency and offer instant spiritual salvation for those in need. Even religion it seems is no longer sacrosanct and has become yet another piece in a giant post-modern puzzle, to be bandied around at will. The dramatic storylines of Hollywood blockbusters are ridiculed in the large lambda print ‘Poisson’ of 2007. A typical urban street scene is radically transformed by a few digitally manipulated individuals who appear several times and in numerous melodramatic poses, giving the illusion of a terrified mass of people. The object of their terror, usually a seething alien or dinosaur, in this instance is made a mockery of by being substituted for a giant fish. Peskine’s dead pan humour is glaringly apparent and reaches perhaps its most acute expression in his short video piece ‘Avant / Après’ (Before / After) of 2006. Originally on display for the opening night only, this most humble and yet sensational of video pieces was not unfortunately on show as part of this current exhibition. The film simply consisted of a drive-by-view of an uncharacteristic roadside embankment, complete with parked cars and typical vegetation, outlined against a strip of blue sky. Dividing the frame equally in half is a vertical white line and each segment is respectively labelled Before and After. The everyday hasn’t looked so exciting. For a tantalizing brief moment the promise of a miraculous ‘Changing Rooms’ moment is hoped for as we are transported through this banal street and across the all important white line. We are however, left deliciously disappointed; what comes after is identical to what came before and in Pekine’s own words we are left with ‘unfulfilled promises’.
The slick and highly polished execution of these works arguably reveal very little of the craft of the artist. There are for example no painterly marks or impasto moments of pure expressionism, but then this isn’t what Peskine’s practice is about. We are not led to explore the depths of identity politics either, as the title of the show would suggest nor, one could argue, is Peskine’s own position made visible. In this instance ‘the artist becomes a manipulator of signs more than a producer of art objects, and the viewer an active reader of messages rather than a passive contemplator of the aesthetic or consumer of the spectacular.’ Do not come to this show expecting a transcendental experience, for here there is none. We glide instead effortlessly across the slippery and shallow surface of all things. For surely this is the whole point, isn’t it?
 Hal Foster, ‘Subversive Signs’ in Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics. Seattle, 1985