“The titles are super, super important”, Harry Meadley says as an instruction to viewing his work, “without the titles, (the exhibits) are just objects –it’s the title that makes them artworks”. So far, so-so; any seasoned visitor to a contemporary (or, indeed, any) art gallery can pretty much take this as a given. But here, in the Basement of London’s Paradise Row where Meadley’s LEVEL 1 exhibition has recently opened, the statement starts to make sense in a way that is both intellectually watertight and embarrassingly funny. Take ‘Still Stuck on Stage 2… (Not so clever now, are you Harry!) No, that’s the problem, I’m still being too clever’ as an example. The work is a large, red comic book arrow, mounted on the wall pointing down at the floor. It’s a typically deadpan riff on the disparity between form and implied meaning, the title serving as an almost Dadaist running commentary on the actual worth of such bourgeois-bohème theoretical investigations.
If there is a theme to Level 1, then this is the key to interpreting it. One minute the visitor can be tricked into believing that Meadley has become a victim of his own mercurial intellect, drunk on navel-gazing artspeak. The next, they find themselves staring at a framed questionnaire onto which randomly-selected members of the public have been invited to rant about what one such disgruntled candidate describes as the art world’s championing of “speculative associations without facts”. A contemporary artist willing to directly question the ‘point’ of contemporary art –can this be for real? If you can hear a rumbling in the distance, it’s the sound of the Chapman Brothers quaking in their boots.
The laughs continue with a photograph of Rihanna wearing a beanie on which the letters ‘LWC’ are written backwards. An identical bonnet is half pulled over the frame leaving one wondering, ‘what form of post-Warholian comment on mass production (etc etc) will it turn out to be?’ None, as it turns out. The title explains the hat is a symbol of something called the ‘Leeds Weirdo Club’. Parochial? Perhaps. But so what?
The lists of materials break from conformity with a lot of panache, too. The likelihood of seeing any other young artist (Meadley graduated from Leeds School of Art in 2009) listing, amongst other things a “JD Wetherspoon tombola ticket”, a “copy of the Metro” and the “DVD case for series 1 of Case Histories”, as he does in ‘Bad Day #1: Letter Rack with Self-Portrait’, is somewhat unlikely.
This very valid –and, it’s fair to state, rather brave –line of interrogation is not all there is to it. Meadley has developed a captivating and extremely distinctive visual lexicon, a mise-en-scène that neatly covers his tracks as he gleefully runs rings around art-world pomposity. The title work is a huge vinyl print of the walls of the 1992 first-person shooter videogame, Wolfenstein 3D, that covers the entirety of the exhibition space, providing an immediately unusual and arresting backdrop. It’s a fascinating vortex of illusion; Wolfenstein’s walls -immediately recognisable to any viewer past a certain age –are an impression of a 3D structure meant to be seen through a 2D screen. Except here they’ve been brought into a three-dimensional environment (which is a rather po-faced way of saying ‘the physical, tangible, real world’) and are printed flat –that is to say, two-dimensionally.
Triangles, squares and circles in bold primary colours are another recurring theme of Level 1– this is the iconography of early computer games stripped bare, wrenched away from its implied and accepted symbolism. Meadley could have titled the exhibition ‘Keep it Real’ without losing any of its intellectually startling but genuinely hilarious élan. He wants it all, and to this reviewer’s mind, he’s made an absolutely excellent fist of getting it. **