Under the stewardship of Karen Di Franco, Chelsea Space has in recent years staged an ambitious exhibition programme that belies the gallery’s modest size. Its discursive and speculative approach, informed by its proximity to Chelsea Art School and an archival sensibility, is reflected in the group show ORGASMIC STREAMING ORGANIC GARDENING ELECTROCULTURE, which takes its flamboyant title from Carolee Schneemann’s Parts of a Body House (1968–72).
Schneemann’s often overlooked conceptual text unfurls as a large scroll from the gallery wall, beside which stands Annea Lockwood’s 1966 prepared piano, once believed lost and now replete with its plastic honkers and painted hammers. This is the first of her ongoing series of Piano Transplants, through which the composer rethinks the act of musical performance, and the role of the instrument, by burning and burying pianos. The compelling photographs and scores of these ‘transplants’, also exhibited here, emphasise the connections between written text, spoken language and bodily action that run through all works in the exhibition.
Schneemann’s texts and Lockwood’s provocative scores, along with those of other Fluxus pioneers such as Alison Knowles and the Japanese composer Mieko Shiomi, whose Spatial Poems (1965–76) dot the walls, are placed in dialogue with contemporary explorations of what the curators (Di Franco and Irene Revell) described to me as “the space between reading and performance”. Films, scores and actions by Ghislaine Leung, Charlotte Prodger, Beatrice Gibson, Claire Potter and Tai Shani (the last three of whom were commissioned to create work for this show) generate compelling intergenerational relationships. For instance, Schneemann’s visceral invitation to the reader to enter imaginary rooms defined by bodily organs (the Liver Room, the Genitals Play-Erotica Meat Room) finds embodied echoes in the fleshy kingdom of Shani’s virtual-reality narrative The Old Haunted House of Terrifying Terror (2018).
The visual score finds a more covert register in the texts, hidden between the folds of a translucent dust sheet hanging from a single pin in the wall, that await activation in the performance of Claire Potter’s Playhouse (2018). The gallery’s large plate-glass window, rendered opaque by a coating of yoghurt, attests to a score already followed in Leung’s intervention Colour Hides the Canvas, Moulding Hides the Frame (2013). This play on what is spoken and heard, and how ideas are transmitted, also informs Gibson’s filmed recitals by the influential queer poets Eileen Myles and CAConrad. The quiet female narrator of Prodger’s looped video Compression Fern Face (2014) evokes another artist from an earlier generation, through her intensely detailed descriptions of Dennis Oppenheimer’s 1970s eponymous videowork.
In its combination of archival evocations and contemporary actions, this dense play of different voices could easily have been disorientating. But the idea of the score was, for Knowles, Shiomi, Lockwood and Schneemann, open to interpretation and experiment, and in their generous spirit this exhibition invites free movement and unexpected reflections.
ORGASMIC STREAMING ORGANIC GARDENING ELECTROCULTURE, Chelsea Space, London, 25 April – 25 May 2018
From the Summer 2018 issue of ArtReview