Jesse Darling’s art is hard to describe in words. Perhaps it’s because the artist is already so generous with them, saying so much as an ever-present voice on both real and virtual planes: performative talks, poetry, social media. Darling carries one of the barest voices of London’s current art scene, and for better or worse, their persona always surrounds the work.
The Great Near, running at London’s Arcadia Missa from March 19 to May 7 comes accompanied by an unconventional exhibition text blending ideas and fragments of socio-political processes. The artist releases a chain of interlaced thoughts which rephrase and (re-)create a life’s circumstances. The mechanism of a post-industrial society of singularity are processed and questioned. Handwritten, photocopied words that could be read as a tale of recent modern history or the human condition —its meaning and appearance —is one of many materials processed by Darling’s rugged and playful practice. Led by a subject position that privileges artistic process over final product, Darling’s attitude becomes form, and words, and then it expands.
The Great Near is a new series of works, including three floor pieces and six wall pieces, which each actualise the artist’s ability to give form to abject bodies as a way of questioning social conventions. Painfully direct and yet light and with humour, at first the exhibition seems like a gathering in an interior yet urban, public yet private, ritualistic, religious space. Three body totem shapes are scattered across the gallery floor. They’re assembled from various materials and encased by an outer skeleton, a welded steel architectural frame. Walking around these figures, poetic moments of amalgamated materials take form.
Placed with their back toward the gallery’s entrance, a body made from welded steel, wood, chain, castor called ‘Colonel Shanks’ is supported by an aluminium crutch. It could be its tail, a mutated phallus or a third leg. The object, designed to support injured humans, becomes a disfigured organ of power, pride and stability in this figurative animal-headed character. Its foam head looks as if it was torn into shape and has two steel horns sticking out of it. Placed on one of them is a bunch of plastic cherries, a kitsch remnant of mass production taking the place of nature in Darling’s world.
‘Temps de Cerises II’ bears a blossom made out of steel branches and foam flowers. Rising above its a pink board with its flora is a flashing safety light. The sculpture carries a sign saying ‘Private’ on its back, and the bottom is supported by two trolley wheels. This static piece projects a general feeling of instability and movement that is somehow in between ecstatic and frozen, or trapped. The body itself is unset, it refuses to be determined.
Around the periphery, materials and gestures repeat. Taking a central position, the wall sculpture ‘Saint Batman’ is a superhero in metamorphosis. The icon is crucified on a steel welded cross and decorated with a halo. His body is made out of a black bin bag with a leaf pattern and plastic foliage arching around his masked face. Mass-produced nature morphs between two and three dimensions. Here, low and high culture hang out, religion and capitalism are friends, again. In this assemblage, the desire to be saved meets human limitation in the form of a black lollipop stuck to a mask covered by pink foam. Hidden in one of the gallery’s corners is ‘What’s the hole in u Batman’, a painted C-type print mounted on a post. In the flat version the character seems as if his candy is transmuted to a hand-painted hole in his beatific body. Batman is transformed into a vulnerable, pathetic, superhero-saint.
Darling’s urban living creatures are planted in the context of our own haunted history. They tell us who we are, what we are composed of, how we turned out like this and what we wished to be. Their personal and political tone takes pleasurable form, capturing transformations while letting things be what they are.
What seems to be the most personal piece in the show, ‘Cavalry’, is a group of horse heads made of clay and sugar. The horse, a symbol of power, is made in the most organic material. The herd has lost one of its members to a higher position on top of the gallery’s wall. Their escape reveals a history of wealth, domination and detachment. The rest of Darling’s steeds almost seem like a field of flowers, a crowd of individuals waiting to be picked.
The Great Near gives fragmented form to a fragmented being, ending with what has become part of the the Jesse Darling signature. When leaving the gallery, one faces Arcadia Missa’s glass door covered in whitewash paint. It’s a reference to the city’s ‘Under Construction’ spaces or small businesses in foreclosure. The viewer is left with the feeling of abject bodies under transformation, thinking about the social lives of now and constant change as a process of construction and destruction.**