The Rhubarb Society

There are two things in this world that we can be sure of: one is that Rock will never die, and the other is that The Goon Show will live for ever. Both immortals were in the house in ‘The Rhubarb Society’ at Tracey Lawrence this autumn, which took is title from a 1956 Goon Show skit where a group murmuring, ‘rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb’ over and over again in order to create a ‘realistic’ crowd sound are called to order as The Rhubarb Society. The show’s curators, John Pilson and Kathy Slade, brought together five international artists to create a rather eccentric club of practitioners interested in popular culture, visual art and language’s intrinsic relationship to them.

Jonathan Middleton’s Record of the Undead (2006) is a 12-inch vinyl record (which visitors listened to via the intimacy of earphones), presenting an unholy coupling of two of horror’s most favoured tropes – the vampire and the zombie. Side (Vampire) is a stereo recording of the standard 4/4 Rock drum beat. Familiar in its simplicity, secure in its repetition, the beat’s appearance here lulls us into a false sense of security through its steady rhythm. Side (Zombie) is a mono recording of a digitally produced 60 Hz sine wave, the same frequency and shape of wave as common AC electricity used in North America. The odd comfort of ambient electricity here is used to good effect to simulate the insistent presence of zombies: undead, unsleeping, always on.

New York-based artist Anne Collier’s sparsely elegant 2005 C-type print of a cassette tape is strangely soothing, despite being labelled ‘Side 1: Problems’. This evocative pop referent is instantly recognizable to anyone born before 1984, and Collier has transformed its once quotidian physicality as everyday object into a bronzed icon of a time now past by isolating its flawed materialism (that is, as the once preferred method of recording music from the radio, among other uses). The presence of this cultural relic is sad but proud, for even though cassettes have been largely superseded as a means of distribution, Problems demonstrates that through iconography old habits sometimes die hard.

Seven British actresses perform a polyphonic version of the opening monologue of David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) in The London Cast (2005), by John Pilson. Their performance appears impromptu, almost for fun, as they slouch on a sofa, drinking booze, and reading from their scripts. Through careful editing the actresses’ voices jar but somehow blend to render their own competing version of a monologue that is itself saturated with the highly competitive, macho vernacular of American property dealers. Interpretation is an obvious concern here, both from the performers’ perspective and from the viewer’s. ‘Always be closing’ is Glengarry Glen Ross’ motto and leitmotiv; however, The London Cast is an aggregate of stylistic mannerisms, and such a cyclical enterprise makes for dense reading.

‘Set List Samplers’ is an ongoing series of stitched works embroidered on canvas, which mutates the private set lists of bands into public works though a recognizable mode of mass production. Kathy Slade regularly employs machine-stitching as a technique in her work, to reflect on, and to respond to, contemporary notions of the handmade and its relationship to pop culture. The authorial voice of the musicians is quite distinct in these works; the sampler entitled Destroyer (Daniel Bejar) (2006) reads simply enough in form, but with a distinct timbre of impending danger. One song, ‘Rabies’, has been scored out and written in again after ‘Airplane’, leaving the singer’s audience (both when he is performing the song in its original context and here as viewers in a gallery) to decipher why he as ‘author’ thinks they should go together in that particular order. Similarly Rodney Graham’s set (entitled Rodney Graham Band (Rodney Graham), 2006) has much of the artist’s hand about it: laid out graphically, numbered in fact, with the title – Mexico – at the top. Of course, looking at the set lists is quite a different experience from hearing them, but some of the phonological residues remain in the reading.

If, as Ezra Pound suggested, ‘Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing’, then ‘The Rhubarb Society’ was just about as moral as they come. Its Minimalist attention to detail, tailored within a diversity of presentation, combined to pull into focus the experiential meaning of language within a gallery context.

Issue 104

First published in Issue 104

Jan - Feb 2007

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018