Surfing with the Attractor


The South London Gallery again tries to come to terms with living next to poor people, this time by considering the hallucinatory nature of reality.

Among the South London Gallery's major recurring obsessions are the Sceaux Gardens housing estate and its residents. The vast complex begins just a few doors down the Peckham Road from the Gallery's own cafe. With some justification, one might suspect that the patrons of the cafe and the residents of the Sceaux Estate quite different sorts of people. Yet, the proximity of the estate provides the South London Gallery with a basis for recontextualizing its exhibitions and for getting its hands on lots of lovely money, courtesy of the lottery. If one imagines that the Sceaux residents are more likely to actually play the lottery than the average SLG patron, then you might start to feel that the Gallery is like a weird growth on the top of the Sceaux Estate. This feeling is compounded when one considers that it is the Gallery that dictates the terms under which the residents are allowed to participate in the Gallery's various projects.

And so we come to Stephen Willats, exhibiting at the South London Gallery. Willats is an artist who is ostensibly interested with the relationship between art and society. This is conceptual art, and so it eschews most aesthetic considerations. Instead there are some old diagrams which look like the product of someone trying to make the most of a poor grasp of critical theory. As this is the South London Gallery, there are some videos shot in Sceaux Gardens in the 1990s - one can imagine the residents' joy as yet another artist wielding a camera surfs through their home.

Finally, there is a big wall with some pictures on it, laid out in a grid of "channels". As a means of examining reality as a kind of shared hallucination, it works to an extent. However, it would also make a better website than gallery exhibition - and aren't Facebook walls a more elegant implementation of exactly this already?

There are lots of intriguing ways of investigating the relationship between art and society, and in particular the relationship between the South London Gallery and Sceaux Gardens. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them.

Stephen Willats: Surfing with the Attractor runs from the 1st of June until the 15th of July, 2012.

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