Thursday evening, Vyner Street. I'm in a gallery clutching a bottle, it all feels disappointingly familiar. There are some pink paintings, which are small - somehow claustrophobic-looking. I try to engage with them but they don't seem to want me to. There's a performance in the corner that, despite my best efforts, remains inaudible.
I could go on, lamenting this lack of excitement, this failure (the work's, the curators' my own?). I could, but then I stop to read Adam Parkinson's two text-pieces, Telephone conversation with a clairvoyant 3 and 8. What I take at first to be a rather disingenuous one liner, a conceptual joke of the art-about-being-unable-to-make-art variety, proves to have unexpected nuances.
The works consist of wall-based transcriptions of the eponymous phone calls: Parkinson explains he is an artist, is feeling stuck, and asks for signs as to which direction his work should take next. The psychics' suggestions / visions range from the stereotypically 'new age' to the hilariously bland. One advises a focus on "nature mythology", suggesting, quite wonderfully, "airbrush painting" as a possible medium. The other envisages "exotic places" such as Hawaii or Fiji, and foretells of "palm trees, white sands, coconut trees, lovely clear blue waters".
There is something both hilarious and tragic in glibness of this image, proffered as inspiration for the confused (and broke) artist.
The psychics' supposed ability to 'see' is stretched to its limit by the request that they envisage and communicate a work of contemporary art. They seem to struggle for original material, not to mention appropriate vocabulary ("you know, photography..very clear, very crisp, that sort of thing").
The laughter this provokes amongst us artworld types could be construed as smug mockery. And yes, there is an element of slyness here. But there is also something perversely innocent. I mean, who is the greater phony in these exchanges - the artist covertly gathering 'material', or the clairvoyant trading on 'powers of vision' which fail to surpass the most hackneyed cliche?
And yet, in this instance the failure of 'vision' makes way for the birth of a compromised sort of inventiveness. Just as the stuck artist activates his Plan B, opts for a conceptual work-about-the-failure-of-work; the clairvoyants seem to be doing their very best to approximate a work of art. One even seems to get carried away with her own creation when she suggests 'pineapples and coconuts.arranging a still life of them' before impulsively adding 'a few hibiscus flowers among the fruits'.
I find this unexpectedly touching. After all, don't the artist and the clairvoyant have a surprising amount in common? Both rely on a certain degree of bluster to maintain their credibility. Each, in their way, risks being 'exposed'. And each tends to come across as rather ridiculous when taken out of context.
Bilateria at Five Hundred Dollars is a group show by emerging London-based artists Leah Lovett, Philip Ewe, Mary Ramsden, Adam Parkinson and the collective Charlesworth, Lewandowski and Mann. The show runs from 14 August-6th September 2009.