Review: Left Hand to Back of Head, Object Held Against Right Thigh & Melissa Gordon: Fallible Space at Bluecoat

Bluecoat: Left Hand to Back of Head, Object Held Against Right Thigh
Bluecoat: Left Hand to Back of Head, Object Held Against Right Thigh

Left Hand to Back of Head, Object Held Against Right Thigh & Melissa Gordon: Fallible Space
at Bluecoat until 28 March and 13 March 2016

Words and photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith

Bluecoat’s first exhibitions of 2016 launched on 22 January, and what a stark contrast they are to the last exhibitions of 2015. Glasshouse, which closed to the public in December, was a meditative experience of space, shape, form, light and view; it was brilliantly calming and struck the right chord with nearly everybody. Left Hand to Back of Head is a disorientating experience that shakes up even those who are expecting the shakeup. That’s not to form negatives though, it’s a very clever exhibition, just perhaps not one for the stressed lunch timer.

Melissa Gordon’s Fallible Space is an exciting post-performance left over that sounds like it’s going to be reshaped throughout the course of the month, so I’ll not say too much on that until it’s had a chance to develop and show us what it can do. If you want to be there when it does it though, there are various performances and theatre events in The Vide space all this week listed on Bluecoat’s website.

The big show though, Left Hand to Back of Head, which dominates the main galleries and floods upstairs to replace The Serving Library is where it all gets a little bit uncomfortable. It’s loud, and filled with noises to make you cringe, with a film that requires its viewers to be in a strong frame of mind. That’s what this show is trying to do though, it’s a collection of examples of sensory experience and a series of questions regarding how we interpret them. To explain in simple terms: Recall any classic horror film and think of the sounds. Its common knowledge now that some of the worst sounds on film were a watermelon, or a recording of a cow chewing grass.

This exhibition reverses the deception of sound effects. It gives us the visuals too; sometimes it’s cringe worthy, sometimes it’s funny, but whatever happens it absolutely serves the purpose it sets out to. It questions perception and causes physical responses from its audience. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, get a physical response. It causes its audience to make very direct decisions. In the main gallery, the installation requests that we step in. Do we? Don’t we?

Well I did, and I couldn’t help but delve deeper, twist around, look behind everything, wait for the next flash of film, tense up at every bass note from the audio. It’s an experience that fills the entire body wanted or not, and that’s what art is meant to do right? Affect us?

It continues in the next few rooms, flashing lights, crouching to see the work close up. One piece, by Rowena Harris, is actually mounted on a plug socket as part of her I am the things in my pockets, but much in the same way I could be those things in yours. It gives its viewer the option to engage, an option which is taken away again upstairs. It is a line of ups and downs, which puts the audience on alert. Blue Roses is probably the summative piece here, throwing us into a world no one ever wanted to be part of: the hypochondriac’s mind on finding out they have varicose veins. It’s disturbing, it’s funny, it’s affecting, and it sticks with you for a while after you leave.

Left Hand to Back of Head, Object Held Against Right Thigh does a lot of things at the same time, and each and every one of them was done with intent. Larger installation force us inwards, and others politely hope that we notice them and choose to crouch down to their level. It offends the senses, and delights them. It aggravates us, and compliments us on our perceptiveness. This is a huge step in the other direction from Niamh O’Malley’s Glasshouse, and one that assures us that Bluecoat is always going to keep us on our toes one way or another.