If you want to simultaneously exhaust and stimulate yourself to the maximum, try attending nine art fairs in one city and five in another within seven days. Seeing hundreds of art pieces, especially in such commercial environments, yields a certain type of fatigue and tends to reduce art to its monetary or aesthetic value. Once in a while, something—a satellite fair, an artist, a piece, a performance, or a lecture—stands out and restores your faith in provocative, meaningful work that knocks you off your feet. For me, that was seeing the group exhibition by Lazarides Gallery and The Vinyl Factory at 180 The Strand in London (their sixth annual satellite show during Frieze Week) titled BRUTAL.
BRUTAL came and went just as Frieze did. Its disappearance and temporality plays a part in its magic. A two-storey abandoned-looking creative space, complete with dripping water, rubble, and near-complete darkness, held site-specific works by Todd James, Conor Harrington, Cleon Peterson, Pose, Boogie, Katrin Fredriks, Mark Jenkins, Brad Downey, and others. In the space, you were as likely to find a mesmerizing three-screen video about self-reliance and mortality as you were to find a multi-wall war mural or even, perhaps, a few abandoned toilets next to a film showing a girl piercing hooks into her back.
It's called BRUTAL for a reason. Darkness, destruction, brutality, violence, and savagery were being discussed between artists, between the two floors, and even perhaps between the exhibition and the rest of the city's art happenings that week. Frieze had a number of dilapidated works, but compared to what was shown at BRUTAL (and certainly in the context of a decaying space), those pieces could be considered soft and subtle. BRUTAL made sure to not only bring the right work by the right artists together, it did so with the backdrop of 180 The Strand, to bring viewers into a world they wouldn't want to leave, no matter the impulse to turn away and go back into the light.
DALeast's three-part mural invited viewers into the upstairs part of BRUTAL, which resembled more of a formal gallery exhibition, despite the rubble and decaying walls. After browsing works by FAILE, Oliver Jeffers, Todd James, Know Hope, and more before they headed downstairs into the dark, cold underground. Pieces like Cleon Peterson's anxious war mural, Ben Woodeson's frightening, suspended glass pieces, Conor Harrington's The Savages, and Todd James' pop, violent Brutal Animation spoke of literal brutality by confrontation and scale. Others like Mark Jenkins' convincing human tape sculptures, Boogie's Photographs From the Demon Series, and James Lavelle's tattoo, body art, and fetish film Standing on the Other Side of the River examined brutality through identity, loss, and mortality. The overwhelming, brilliant projected films by Karim Zeriahen (Survivor) and Doug Foster (Moonland) engulfed the viewer in shrapnel, animation, sound, and, in the case of Zeriahen, a monologue about death, self-reliance, and hope. As one, the pieces defined brutality as action, effect, trauma, and ubiquity. They reminded viewers that exploring the depths of humanity and art, as dark as they may get, will only help one appreciate and understand the light that much more.
With the proliferation and popularization of art fairs in recent years, it's important to consider what happens around them. Many of these fairs generate the profit that sustains and revives art galleries, but they don't always make relevant commentary or do their job of exposing new or exceptionally talented artists. BRUTAL was a beacon of hope for the future of not only satellite exhibitions during art fair week, but also for the potential of talking about art that depicts pain, warfare, suffering, public behavior, and death. It may be gone now, and it may be advantageous to call it the best exhibition of the year before it's over, but there's no doubt that BRUTAL's unapologetic impact will be felt, and likely imitated, in future discussions and exhibitions.
Todd James Brutal Animation
Karim Zeriahen Survivor
Doug Foster Moonland