A Feast Of White Emulsion & Outright Chaos (SOBJECTS at OTS, Nov 2021)
“We spent a lot of time trying to work out what the fuck a SOBJECT is and just finished writing an intro, which we can send you with the films…also, if you don’t mind being roped into the ‘performance’ on 19 Nov, I mean, god only knows what that will be, but Monster Munch will be in there somewhere...& if you fancy writing something mad perhaps for the Feast, or whatever would be enjoyable, that would be totally amazing & we would love it. Anyway, we have all totally lost our minds and become SOBJECTS, but none of us really know what a SOBJECT is so we don’t know what we’ve become. I think I’m going to go rogue for the Feast event and make hands and orbs and wheels and more tie-dye ghost spirits and it’ll generally be a chaos party. Will start with your big Monster Munch sandwich hands and work outwards...”
[Chloe Langlois: Extremely Unofficial SOBJECTS Artist Statement, via text, 7 Nov 2021]
SOBJECTS was an exhibition that took place at One Thoresby Street, Nottingham, between 5th and 19th November 2021, and its closing event, entitled Feast despite being no such thing, was a ‘performance’ - the description given inverted commas by those who devised it - with no scheduled happenings, except in the loosest terms possible, and no fixed structure, except that it was always intended to involve a speech by a guy called Wolf, whose arrival by plane from Germany was always in doubt. It would conclude with the complete destruction of the exhibition itself at the hands of its own audience. Or something like that. I think those were the basics, but it was a long while ago now. I’m not entirely sure even the artists themselves could remember what the plan was or exactly how it unfolded on the night.
It starts with Monster Munch sandwiches, specifically Monster Munch sandwiches made using the Pickled Onion flavou version of the savoury snack, squished between two slices of the cheapest possible white bread. I think drunk snacks had come up as a topic in a pub conversation years before and the delights of the Pickled Onion Monster Munch sandwich had been mentioned, and that was pretty much all there was to it. It’s not clear how or why this long forgotten pub conversation resurfaced during the planning of the SOBJECTS Feast event, but it had, and now I was standing in front of a table laden with Monster Munch and white loaves wearing a pair of enormous hands made from purple foam, demonstrating the drunk snack recipe to all comers in the most absurd and ridiculous way possible.
Of course, the Monster Munch table is located in the One Thoresby Street attic space, so is what feels like several hundred steps upwardly removed from the ground floor bar and outdoor smoking area where 98% of the event’s audience is. Also in the attic space is a sound system and set of turntables, playing music to an empty room, and a banqueting table set with paper dishes, paintbrush cutlery and lit candles in empty wine bottles. There are no diners, and there will be no food, but this is the Feast at the heart of whatever it is that might be going to happen. We hang out in this upstairs space more as a kind of sanctuary or escape from the audience gathered at the bar downstairs, though in theory we are ‘performing’. Except that our performance is more like an escape from the Feast event rather than a part of it.
At this stage, the gallery remains intact and the three artists’ films, each screening inside its own installation, are available to view. Daniel Hopp’s Adrenochrom (2020) offers a quasi documentary portrait of three people in a flat under lockdown, debating conspiracy theories and the nature of truth, language and reality, albeit in ways more redolent of rambling stoner conversation than critical theory. A grey carpet offers somewhere to sit while watching it and Adrenochrom’s most vocal conspiracy theorist, Wolf, is rumoured to be on his way to Feast, by air, as we watch him in Hopp’s film and wonder if he means what he’s saying or acting a part scripted by Hopp.
Shinhoo Yhi’s baby, dog and Dog (2020) begins with stills then switches to moving image, and prominently features a man acting like a dog while a film crew film what look like dead or injured bodies – or actors pretending to be dead or injured bodies - outside a transport hub in Seoul, moving them around on wheeled trolleys in the intermittent rain. Whether by intention or accident, it often looks like a ‘behind the scenes’ DVD extra, one of those short documentary clips you might find on a K-Drama blu-ray, but shot in the style of post-structuralist cinema. Yhi has also built a‘dog hole’ where the entrance to the exhibition space would usually be, forcing every visitor to adopt the posture of the Dog-Man in her film just to get into the room where baby, dog and Dog is screening.
The Magic Sign (2020) by Chloe Langlois is a series of short skits, songs and anecdotes with a revolving cast of amateur actors in vaguely cult-ish costumes and masks ritually re-enacting stories about the failed pursuit of attempted bag-snatchers, the significance of the “little red pens” in betting shops and, for some reason, the inherent hilarity of the word ‘Shakira’, among other things. The films are all named after old pagan festivals – Imbolc, Lammas, Beltane and so on – and activated by hitting a big green quiz-show style button, so it’s hit and miss as to whether you’ll ever see a particular film at all, and you’ll occasionally get the same one you just watched again. The TV screen is faced by chairs and surrounded by roughly tie-dyed hardened cloth megaliths that double up as ghosts.
At one point during the evening the comedian JB Carter has just arrived and changed into a Hawaiian shirt and purple shorts and is trying to establish what his role will be. Langlois and Yhi either genuinely don’t know, or just don’t want to pin things down that much. Carter suggests he might do a routine at some point and everyone agrees, he could do that, but there isn’t a fixed time or place where that might happen. For the rest of the night Carter wanders around, stands chatting to people at the bar, observes other things going on, and occasionally explains that he’s been invited to perform but has no idea whatsoever what kind of performance he’s supposed to be doing. He never does perform, unless his hanging around in a Hawaiian shirt and purple shorts is his performance.
Daniel Hopp spends most of the evening on his mobile, tracking the progress of Wolf from Germany to East Midlands Airport, and thence by road to Nottingham, and finally One Thoresby Street and whatever his role at Feast might turn out to be. After hours of doubts he’d make it at all, updates that he was on his flight, and excited reports that he was at last on UK soil and on the road towartds Nottingham, news of Wolf’s actual arrival circulates through the building. It’s late, but he’s here, and it seems the performance is now going to start, several hours after it did start, except that when Wolf breezes in, delivers his short speech about ‘making some art’, he then immediately disappears. Later reports suggest he went out clubbing. But it doesn’t much matter because this is the cue for the destruction of the SOBJECTS exhibition to enter its final phase.
Before Wolf gets here, there’s been a lot of low-key activity. The carpet in the exhibition space has been carefully rolled up and removed. Polythene sheeting has been taped over the floor. The screens and projectors have been removed and taken to safety. All that remains when Wolf arrives are the black walls. Meanwhile, the audience has been trying out the big hands and making its own Monster Munch sandwiches. A grey drink dispensed from a disconcertingly weird container that keeps breaking is being sampled. White paint is being carefully decanted into the paper dishes on the Feast banqueting table. The audience are constructing outfits for themselves out of multiple black bin liners, an activity that some seem to use as an opportunity for competitive fashion.
And with that, Wolf delivers his heartfelt but mostly incomprehensible motivational speech that ends with the line “let’s make some art”, then marches back downstairs carrying a paper dish full of emulsion paint and a paintbrush, enters the now empty black box gallery space and paints a white line on one wall. The audience follows suit, scrawling spirals, squares, words, patterns and – somewhere – the words ‘Total Fucking Chaos’ on every available black surface. There’s a debate among the three artists – Langlois, Yhi and Hopp – about whether they need to do an undercoat immediately to make the necessary repainting easier, but in the end they just hang out and drink with the rest of us until 5am.
The next day I hear reports of the three of them being at One Thoresby Street all day repainting the desecrated exhibition space while experiencing hallucination-levels of hangover and exhaustion. Later still we chat about what happened online, but nobody seems to remember very clearly what did, or whether that now-fuzzy memory of Feast had any real relationship to whatever had been planned. I don’t remember much about those conversations either, having failed to take notes at the time, though I do remember that Yhi talked while enveloped in a Zoom star-field effect, Hopp while in a kitchen, and Langlois got disconnected several times due to flaky WiFi connections and the battery on my tablet running down to zero halfway through a conversation.
One thing that everyone seemed agreed on, though, is that nobody involved still has any idea what a SOBJECT is, or how that title related to the exhibition. A merging of subject and object? Except that the works were films, not objects, and none of the films had much to do with subjects or objects, as each did pretty much its own thing. SOBJECTs as things that cause mental breakdowns, like trying to make a collaborative exhibition with no money or time, was suggested as a more appropriate interpretation, maybe. An emblem of the way the art world works now, perhaps: a platform for a Feast that offers no food whatsoever or a performance platform that offers no performance and so isn’t really a Feast or a performance at all. Who knows? The email from the artists that arrived a day or two after the event was headed “SOBJECTS – WHAT HAPPENED?”
(Feast took place as the closing event of SOBJECTS by Shinhoo Yhi, Chloe Langlois & Daniel Hopp at One Thoresby Street, Nottingham on 19 November 2021)