Christopher Matthews’ ‘My Body’s an Exhibition’, the title inspired by Janet Jackson’s lyrics ‘my body’s an exhibition baby’, presents over 24 works by international performance makers and artists in the form of video, photography, collage, sound, text and live movement installations. The artists collaborate with the architecture of Sadler’s Wells exploring the role of the space and the spectator, the two elements that are entwined in a performance experience, along with the performer.
Sadler’s Wells Theatre is transformed into a maze that intimately invites the viewer to experience the potential movements that lie within each one of us. To quote the 20 REMIX (1993-2013) catalogue presented in the show, ‘the movement is always there in my body, in some tissue, in some muscle, somewhere’.
The visual art installations scattered around the Sadler’s Wells’ space consist of collaged A4 prints of black and white found images, polaroids, tape stick figure drawings, and handwritings on walls and windows. Images of bodies are cut up, glued together, and queered in repetitions. Referencing visual artist Bruce Nauman who constantly plays with the themes of life/death, love/hate, pleasure/pain in his multimedia installations, Amanda Prince-Lubawy’s ‘I heart Bruce Nauman’ (lipstick writings on mirrors), sets the exhibition in the context of established contemporary art practices while maintaining an honest and personal touch of generosity and humour.
The condition of being looked at is constantly investigated in the exhibition, especially in the live durational performances on the theatre stage. In these, there are two dancers on pedestals, looking at one another and moving their bodies correspondingly. This installation condensed the conception of staging and viewing by outlining the sharp division between the spectators and the performers, who do not look back in the simplicity of raised platforms. It is made apparent that stages can be of many kinds and are usually arbitrary. The spectators are made aware of their own performability in looking, approaching, taking photos, and being taken photos of.
The exhibition blurs the lines between the performers and spectators with its immersive set-up. Intimacy and hospitality are deployed as a queer method to challenge the existing barriers in space (To quote Matthews’ writing in the exhibition guide, ‘queer is about openness and relies more on questions than definitions.’) Reading ‘go upstairs sexy sexy’ or ‘this way hun’, viewers are encouraged to explore private and personal spaces that normally reject ‘unauthorised admittance’. Climbing up and down stairwells, pushing buttons that are accompanied with silver DIY posters reading ‘touch me like you mean it’’, navigating through corridors of recorded conversations playing behind closed doors, peeking into dressing rooms of flowing disco ball lights and retro music and showers decorated with celebratory curtains of plastic silver tassels, are intriguingly welcoming. Entering one of the dressing rooms with bouncing colourful lights, staff members are seen dancing to the music. They say the music is too good not to dance to it and get the guests to join in.
Christopher Mathews engages his audience in an interactive and immersive experience, pushing the boundaries of conventional presentation- an exploration that inspires dialogue between performing bodies and their audience in relation to the space that brings them together!
Review by Yifan He
Yifan He is an artist based in London, volunteering for Abundant Art as their arts reviewer. Yifan is doing a MA at The Slade School of Fine Art UCL and is a Shades of Noir Phase six content developer graduate
Image Credit: Camilla Greenwell