The promo shot for Mr. & Mrs. Philip Cath and lovers pictures a bare back ‘Phil’ laying over a naked canvas, photo taken by his wife Khloe —both of married artist duo known as the titular Mr. & Mrs. Philip Cath. The pair, who routinely display and inject their relationship (and children) into their practice, present various aspects of their personal life fluidly across a variety of media. For their latest exhibition at London’s Almanac, running September 2 to 24, the focus shifts toward a holistic understanding of their work; a warm acknowledgement of the messy and multi-directional web of ‘lovers’ that provide a lifeline to their practice.
A series of oil-on-linen paintings hang on the walls of the Almanac space. Circled around the room; each one is distinct in aesthetic and content. A hyperrealist portrait of curator, collector and friend to the couple, ‘Maria do Carmo Matosinho Peres de Pontes’ (2016) hangs ominously over a makeshift stage. The traditional-style portrait is painted with such a high level of sophistication it feels like it belongs to an 18th Century exhibition Salon. The couple, who paint skilfull depictions like these for a living, describe the process as “down to earth, very human” when I ask them about their day job and the effect it has on their practice.
It is an element of their work that Almanac co-director Jeremy Waterfield is also particularly attracted to, chuckling over a conversation at one of their events about how refreshing and “un-contemporary” some of it feels. Their tongue-in-cheek relationship to classicism and bourgeois culture is complicated and malleable. Playing aspiring artists, Mr. & Mrs. Philip Cath’s is a humorous acknowledgement of the impossibility of removing themselves from art history and also a tender display of inserting themselves into that canon. Continuing around the room; a book about romanticism. A book by Manet. The visitors book. A portrait of a window in their studio. An energy-saving lightbulb. A lamp. Familiar site of British power in a landscape that looks like a William Turner. An anthropomorphic balloon figure. The seemingly unrelated paintings stand as parts; splinters of their life that make visible the threads of network responsible for what has come to be respected as the final product.
Occupying only part of a larger whole, the paintings become accessories, a backdrop for the site of multiple performances and talks that would interrupt Almanac space over the course of the exhibition. The opening was host to an evening of DJs, cocktails and art-goers, continuing through the week with ‘Performing a talk’ by Daniel Shanken and Benjamin Orlow and an intimate meal prepared by the couple for ‘Lovers’ Dinner’. With the gaining momentum of events, Khloe described Friday night’s ‘Evensong’ as “the lovers’ climax, the conception and birth of itself.”
The pair opened the evening with a reading of a text written by Nina Wakeford. “Imagine another story for the community of loves…” Khloe reads out the words from ‘Dedication’ (2016) alongside Wakeford’s accompanying video, followed by a long apologetic voicemail from their friend, Jean Baptsiste Garrone, that plays through speakers. Maria do Carmo Matosinho Peres de Pontes’ portrait is then taken down to make room for multi-media artist and composer Hannah Catherine Jones to perform ‘Owed to Bussa’ (about a man from Africa taken to Barbados as a slave in the 18th Century) and ‘Owed to Senzani’ (a Zulu phrase meaning ‘what have we done’).
A layering of melodic vocals and musical effects provide a seductive and haunting soundtrack to the video projected alongside: quick cuts and layers of footage related to Black identity move to an urgent rhythm of the artists’ internet search through time and content. “What have we done but also what can we do?”, asks Jones at the end of her performance. The question, that ultimately calls attention to the whole, is manifested through the lengthy programme, each work contributing to different frequencies of togetherness that both receive and provide support from the others. After Jones, the lights come on and Mr. & Mrs. Philip Cath sing a cover of Duran Duran’s 1983 pop hit ‘The Reflex’ to each other over an acoustic guitar.
“We pray for those artists who labour in obscurity”: The evening concludes with an oral reading of ‘Prayer IV Contemporary art’, a rewritten version from a Church of England service, tailored to soothe and support the individual anxieties of artists everywhere. “We pray for the parents of artists who struggle to understand the precarious mission of their sons and daughters.” Both funny and raw, it is a sincere dedication to Lovers: to the viewer, the curator, the space, the peers, the late nights, the collector, the practice, the project life, the research, the materials. The celebratory, the critical, the anxious, the precious. Falling into the same fractal of lived experience, the fragments and bi-products of Mr. & Mrs. Philip Cath and lovers undermines the isolated; the thing that gets remembered.**