- Crypt, The
“Monsters of London!” the invitation proclaimed, like a 19th century penny dreadful.
Under the city's surface, strange things slither, slink and breed. Not only in the city's physical subterranean chambers such as crypts, tunnels and vaults, but also in dreams and nightmares. The shadowy world of myth exists still in the dark corners of the city, where the bright lights of shopping streets and window displays do not reach. And it exists still in the mind of the human; we retain the traces of stories and archetypal creatures that have haunted us over the millennia.
Industrial culture and the “modern” world have futilely sought to banish these age old shapes, expressions and fears, while at the same time, ironically, creating a plethora of new ones. Contemporary art (though not cinema) has sought to banish the image, denying the continuing power of symbols. All to no avail.
London based artist Tom Adriani felt sure that there were others who felt compelled to evoke these dark visions. He was right; soon he collected around him fifteen UK-based artists of striking diversity, working in different media, and with different backgrounds and place of residence. Tales from the electric forest is the result.
Mounted in the strange atmosphere of the Crypt Gallery at St Pancras Church, the show seems less an “exhibition” as an organic eruption from within the crypt itself. Familiar objects are détourned; familiar settings are made strange; dark corners are filled with the very things you dreaded they'd be filled with.
Sculpture, painting, printmaking, drawing, photography and a film/video screening room are all present. The show has been selected and hung expertly, a difficult task in this particular space.
Resisting the impulse to make the show site specific or installation based, Tales from the electric forest features strong painting work: expressive canvases from Jason Little, and huge murals on paper by Nazir Tanbouli. Tanbouli also contributes a nightmarish series of drawing-based prints. Drawing is also represented with fine work by Ruth Martindale and Tom Adriani. Adriani's drawings and storyboard-like narrative drawings offer a rich seam of storytelling, combining a sly, knowing sort of neo-Victoriana with an acutely contemporary sensibility. Emma Gregory's haunting prints are small, exquisite and powerfully disturbing, in a deliciously creepy way.
The show manages to achieve a fine balance between creep, shock and delicacy; the monstrous becoming beautiful – from the tender filigree of electric cables worked by Carrie Godsiff to The Backstreet Dentist and Other Stories a genuinely frightening installation of teeth-like things by Lucy Harvey.
It is not possible here to speak of all of the fifteen excellent artists featured in the show, and in my mind there is nothing to separate them on the criteria of skill and ideas. The show is one of the most cohesive I have seen recently; less a matter of “shared vision” than of complementary association. A mysterious visual dialogue has been taking place between artists the length and breadth of this island, embracing image, sensuality, mystery and symbol. Slowly, yet surely, something is happening in art, something is being reclaimed.
I have been waiting for a long time to see something like Tales from the electric forest in London. This is a show that rouses all of the senses and all of the emotions.