13 February – 28 March 2004
PRADAL is Gail Pickering’s first solo exhibition in London. For Matt’s Gallery she has constructed a large-scale sculptural installation incorporating a continuous live performance by a group of male actors. Referencing the language of Muscle Beach and the detritus of labour history, she merges her interests in durational performance, sculpture and drawing into a contemporary form of tableaux vivant (living picture).
Entering the gallery space the viewer is confronted by a huge, implausible abstract shape: a mountainous pile of matter poured onto a pristine architectural structure that falls somewhere between a stage and jetty. Closer inspection reveals the pile to consist of lentils, and the sheer mass of dried pulses helps to explain the collapse of parts of the structure underneath. Further into the gallery the extent of the spillage, reminiscent of Robert Smithson’s Asphalt Rundown, becomes apparent. Extending into a mock beach landscape, it forms the backdrop to a group of male actors, muscular in physique, basking in the radiance of industrial heaters and construction-site lighting.
To one side of the gallery, a second, scaled-down version of the larger pile consists of custom-made colour-coded tracksuits – some worn by the actors – adorned with a proxy trade union emblem on the back. These uniforms or team kits are mirrored across the space in the identical fabric of a row of changing rooms, whose structure partially merges with that of the stage. This mimicking and fusing of structures and forms, this corrosion of functional boundaries, is reßected in the live element: voided of its potential productivity, it is condemned to its own externalised display of toil and exertion.
The seemingly random and un-eventful behaviour of the actors is based on a series of instructions issued by the artist. They act as if caught on hold, anticipating a performance forever delayed. They re-apply ‘Dream Tan’ – a crucial fake tanning accessory to bodybuilding posing competitions – which eventually smudges anything they touch or wear throughout the day. The explicit eagerness of bare muscles waiting to flex a posing routine becomes submerged in idle wasting away somewhat like an industrial production-line consigned to history. This rehearsed nature of their apparently impromptu performance in many ways acts out a particularly claustrophobic perspective on the history of performance and participatory art of the 1960s and 70s reduced to its surface.