The State of Us: Exhibition Review

Group exhibition, ‘The State of Us’ at The Lowry

I like how dark it is, no white walls in sight. I like how on the approach, the doors are covered in branded vinyl so you can’t see inside. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know whether it is closed. Am I allowed in? It’s only a small change, not having a glass door, but these small things make a big difference when you are curating an exhibition. It’s these changes that make an exhibition stand out, make it different to the others. That, and the utterly creepy artwork that lurks inside!

I’m all for weird. The world would be boring if it wasn’t for the weird! Some of the artwork in ‘The State of Us’ at The Lowry did totally creep me out, one of them even made me heave. I like that! It’s been a long time since I have reacted so much to artwork. This exhibition houses a mix of video art, installations, sculptures and digital art. Within the time I was at the gallery, I went from being grossed out, to being amazed, to being really confused. And for that, The Lowry, you have made me one happy art blogger!

‘Human Study #1 RNP’ by Patrick Tresset, got a lot of attention. It answers that age old question, can computers make art? Well, watching this interactive, computer piece go, the answer is yes! The human subject sits on the model chair, the computer observes said human and draws their portrait. It holds a pencil, its arm moves around the empty piece of paper, and then it draws! Lines appear, shapes appear, features come through, and the image starts to look like the subject! I was pretty impressed. I hate it though, it takes artists so long to practice drawing the human form, the idea of taking the talent out of art just infuriates me. Then I find out more about this magic, crazy, robot and how it actually works. The computer takes a photograph of the human, and repeats that photograph on the paper, using light and shade as its guide to where to draw the marks. I hear that the computer is actually 10 years old, so that made me more impressed that it is still so accurate and shocking to watch. I wonder now, with today’s technology, how much better these drawings could be. But I also don’t want to know the answer. Art is one of the few industries left that I think computers can’t take over – but I could be very wrong.

‘Embodiments’ by Charlie Murphy was unusual, it was fascinating and also creepy. These sculptures were casts of human body parts – I think. Some I recognised, some I didn’t. They looked like scientific experiments, yet also beautiful like ornaments you’d have on your mantelpiece, like an antique you’d find on Bargain Hunt. The only body part I could confidently recognise, I’m sorry to say, was the penis. These casts managed to capture all the tiny wrinkles and the texture of the skin. As a human race I think we do have a fascination with the male genitalia. Males definitely do! I explore this more in my review a few months back at The Weavers Factory – but that is a whole other story!

Another piece that totally weirded me out (my mouth was agape for a while before I realised I must have looked like I was trying to catch flies) was ‘A Generative Adversarial Network’ by Matthew Biederman. You know when you go through security at an airport and you go through one of those body scanners – this artwork looked like the results of that. Without reading about the piece, I wonder if this is a study following those body scans or just fake ones? Arms are above the head and feet are hip width apart, and you can see everything! Every lump and every bump. Us ladies are OK, our vitals are tucked up, but the gentleman, not so much. I felt kind of awkward looking at this, like these people are vulnerable, like I shouldn’t have access to see their bodies in such detail. Now, when I go through those scanners again, I’m going to be so self conscious of what I look like, as this video piece was not flattering and not pretty! If you read my reviews often, you may know that I don’t like to read the description of the work until after I have written the review. If you want to know whether these are actually the images from the body scanner or not, let me know and we can chat about it. Or better still – got to the exhibition yourself!

‘Art of Deception’ by Isaac Monte made me feel like I had walked into a scientific lab. There were these clear, glass cases on display, and within each one, a heart. Not real – I’m pretty sure of that, although some were made from questionable looking materials. Each heart was different, some were utterly delicate, like the woven fabric one, or the teeny tiny one you could only see through a microscope. Others were ornamental, I loved the concrete heart with gold, wire veins. Others were creepy, made from skin-looking material and which looked squishy. They looked like creatures from the deep, like those on Blue Planet or something! I overheard other people in the room giving each heart a saying, ‘broken heart, stone heart’ etc. These hearts were displayed like experiments, observations, yet the heart carries so many metaphors, I could chat about these for hours if I delved too deep.

I literally had to look away and hold me mouth as I watched ‘Until I Die’ by vtol. The work is of an installation and video piece. I walked up slowly to the installation, these huge hanging jars of red, in these robot contraptions, like something out of Saw (am I showing my age with these film and TV references?). In my head I’m already worried that I know what is in these jars, but I don’t want to believe it. I go over to watch the video, and then I see it, blood dripping from a tube out of the artists arm – heave! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not actually that squeamish, I actually do give blood on a regular basis! So this whole process doesn’t both me. What did bother me, was the sight of someone else’s blood, and then knowing that I just put my face right to it. Knowing that his blood is filling all these jars, there’s about 30 plus I reckon! That is kind gross and a little controversial. He talks about the idea of life, blood being a vital component, yet it is something we can share and use to give life, and can we live forever in our blood? It was a sound piece, he talked about the blood creating sound, yet this competed with a video installation directly opposite and I failed to differentiate the two noises. However, I think that is only a minor element to this totally bonkers and totally creepy installation. vtol really did put his blood (sweat and tears) into his work – puke!

I do like The Lowry sometimes. On a few occasions this year I have been surprised by the work that they house. ‘The State of Us’ may not be for everyone, it isn’t your usual ‘art.’ But that’s what I like about it. I see so much art doing this job, pretty paintings, photographs and sculptures etc – and there is nothing wrong with that, I do love that! But it is great that places like The Lowry bring us something totally weird every now and then. This exhibition explores our relationship with science and technology, playing on the theme of ‘Frankenstein’ and the re-creation of the body using technology and other un-human elements. It was pretty gross and totally fascinating. I saw blood and I almost saw sick – what a great way to spend the day!

The State of Us‘ is on at The Lowry from 9th November to 23rd February.


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