Benedict Drew & Nicholas Brooks

Pro Numb, London, UK

benedict_drew_and_nicholas_brooks_sump_2016_video_still._all_images_courtesy_the_artists_and_pro_numb_london

Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, Sump, 2016, video still. All images courtesy the artists and Pro Numb, London

Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, Sump, 2016, video still. All images courtesy the artists and Pro Numb, London

The world is ending. Is the world ending? It certainly looks like it. Or could it be, as the philosopher Michael Marder has recently suggested, that we are already living after the end of the world? ‘The world has ended, is ending in innumerable ways, and will keep ending for some time to come,’ he writes in The Chernobyl Herbarium: Fragments of an Exploded Consciousness (2016), which I read, coincidentally, having just visited ‘Sump’, the first collaboration between Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks. 

The centrepiece of this small, immersive exhibition is a 15-minute projected video that pulls the viewer into a messy stream of images and text that recall, if not the apocalypse, an ecological or biological disaster (or a psychedelic geology lesson). We pass through oozing, bubbling and miry landscapes set to the electrical crackling, burps and buzz of synthesized, headachy sounds; we come across ambiguous objects dripping with an oily, sci-fi metallic substance; we see shimmering colours melt into each other like a botched screensaver; we are dropped into what appears to be a petri dish, suddenly tracking micro-organisms; we hover over swamplands that look like out-takes from B-grade horror films (see: Swamp Thing, 1982). It is a bemusing experience, with the video ending abruptly when a spotlight suddenly throws an orange light on a speaker positioned in the centre of the room, which plays an incomprehensible, though audibly urgent, announcement. 

benedict_drew_and_nicholas_brooks_sump_2016_video_still

Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, Sump, 2016, video still

Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, Sump, 2016, video still

What is a sump? The dictionary gives two definitions: a cavity or depression where liquid collects, such as in a mine or cave; or a reservoir for undesirable liquids, such as at the bottom of an engine where spent lubricant pools. But the word has a history in cosmology, too. In medieval times, before Nicolaus Copernicus proposed that the planets circle the sun, a competitive theory was that the earth sat in a ‘cosmic sump’. In other words, it was believed that our little planet was submerged in the slop bucket of the universe. 

Sitting in the dark, I found myself thinking about nature or, rather, its corruption. On either side of the video were two screens, one propped up with Jesmonite, displaying abstract images that looked like waterfalls seen through the cracked screen of a smart phone. There was something impressionistic about the experience, as though the artists were imagining Claude Monet’s waterlilies after a radioactive spill. Later, the compulsive and scratchy surrealism of European abstraction came to mind – the art of Wols or Jean Fautrier, where the gestural mark takes on a biological or germ-like quality. But here, instead of paint or ink suggesting decay, video and sound was doing the job. 

benedict_drew_and_nicholas_brooks_sump_2016_exhibition_view

Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, 'Sump', 2016, exhibition view

Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, 'Sump', 2016, exhibition view

If nature as it has been conceived does not exist, or indeed gets in the way of serious ecological action (as Timothy Morton, Slavoj Žižek and others have proposed), perhaps Drew and Brooks are suggesting we revisit this idea of a cosmic sump. Not in the sense of returning to pre-Copernican times, but by admitting that there is no such thing as a pure, unsullied natural world. The river is a sump and we are in up to our necks.  

In The Chernobyl Herbarium, Marder reflects on the 1986 nuclear disaster. Accompanied by Anaïs Tondeur’s ghostly photograms of plants taken from the exclusion zone, his text explores how the collective psyche is deeply entwined with or, rather, defined by its ecological context. And who, today, can look at nature without noticing contamination? I wonder: if the body returned to art as damaged, sick or abject in the late 1980s in response to, among other things, the AIDS crisis, can we expect nature to revisit art today as pilfered, polluted and irrevocably disturbed?

Issue 180

First published in Issue 180

Jun - Aug 2016

Most Read

Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018