Half of Egor Kraft’s The New Colour (started 2011) consists of a smooth website announcing the creation of a new colour by ACI, Inc. Scientific Developments, and a video of testimonials from people who have seen the new colour. They all take an aesthetic point of view – the colour is revelatory, it is ‘supernatural, even divine… I became replete and entire as if I was a child’; ‘It is difficult to understand and accept, and then you start thinking of how many different things can be hidden from our eyes, and even from our minds.’ The other half is a book of printed emails to the fictitious chemical company requesting to use the new colour, usually for hard-headed commercial purposes. Kraft’s online intervention is a fiendishly clever way to get people to respond to the idea of pure aesthetic value – the contemplation of a new colour – outside of the pressures of Art, a kind of Trojan Horse on behalf of ‘art for art’s sake’. Kraft’s results are overwhelming: a colour, say his viewers, must be put to use, have a function.
In this way Kraft nails what seems to be the central concern of Playroom, a new curatorial project by Olga Mackenzie and Sasha Galizine featuring 15 artists ‘ undermining the apparent functionality and value of seemingly ordinary domestic objects or experiences’. It is a show that wants to look at the mechanisms of how we value things and what we value in things, yet with a subtle, welcome shift. Mostly the phrase ‘apparent value’ is used to tear down false appearances, to suggest we look behind perceived or inherited values for some greater, higher or newer ones. ‘Values’ are a mask: respectable, daytime Jekyll hides the base, and we somehow assume truer, Hyde. Yet Playroom doesn’t seem to be interested in such iconoclasm by rote, and neither does Kraft. They know that to speak about ‘apparent value’ is subtly double-edged: apparent values are not just values that are only skin-deep, they are also values that are obvious, easily visible. In Playroom ‘apparent values’ are undermined not to seek more values (which could just as easily be merely ‘apparent’), but to look at the values we notice as clear and obvious. Why are these particular values the ones that are apparent to us? In this way, Playroom doesn’t look for the face behind the mask but asks why, out of all the possible masks, this mask is the one we currently use. And, as indicated by the research of The New Colour, the current values are those of practical uses, of commercial applications, of function.
The best pieces in Playroom, like Kraft’s, are those that manage to poke fun at the idea of having a function to them, that joyfully play at having a raison d’être. They visibly pretend to be serious, which in turn becomes satirical of the forces that ask them to be serious in the first place, yet remain full of fun. Works like Imogen Lloyd’s Seasonal Peeping Screen (2016) – a dressing screen painted in bright, illustration-style colours, intricate with characters and incorporating small, drilled holes to peep through – or Jonathan McCree’s Flat Room Flat Pack (2016) – a large oilstick-and-collage on paper with colourful, nearly-Cubist use of pasted and painted-on textures, displayed as nightmarish instructions for the ‘flat pack’ of wildly coloured and patterned plywood panels next to it – make this playfulness a serious business. A 1972 Bang & Olufsen TV rigged to switch between a series of deep, intense pure colours in Adam Barker-Mill’s ColourBlast (2016), looks like a past age’s concern with TV as hollow distractor, as homewrecker, as pied piper. There is even this ethos to Playroom as an event – it occupies the first and second floors of 49 Greek Street only until its owner resumes its transformation into a private members club. The building is prime real estate – 49 Greek Street must have a purpose beyond the playground of art, and when Playroom closes the adults will move back in to make their money
These ideas are put tenderly, albeit less playfully, in the highlight of Playroom, Hans Rosenstrom’s Seen From the 2nd Floor. Looking out the window, down onto Greek Street, Soho, Rosenstrom speaks to you lullingly, poetically, about the change in our understanding of how the eye works, guiding and influencing your roaming people watching. Initially people saw sight as a sense of touch; a beam of light shining out that handled what it saw, ‘touching, caressing’ the awnings of shops in the street below, whereas now we know the eye is a receptor of millions of different miniscule impressions, our sight coordinated and constructed by a brain that can never quite incorporate them all in time. Even the eye itself is considered a tool, an invention to give the brain raw materials. It no longer wanders freely, sensuously. It has been put in its place. The only thing to do is have fun with it.
Playroom ran from 1-6 March along London’s Greek Street.
1. Installation views of Playroom, photographed by Daniel Alfonzo Thomas.