Clegg and Guttmann

16 Oct - 16 Nov 2008

© Clegg and Guttmann
The Chain Gang
Mixed media interactive installation
107 x 700 x 400 cm
"The Age Of Syncopation"

Wilkinson Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition by artists Clegg & Guttmann.

In western classical music the composer creates a score traditionally held together by following a standard beat. The orchestra merely needs to follow this for the great symphonies and concertos of the given day to follow. The 18th Century forced migration of African people, from their homelands, to American slavery, was to change all this. It's no exaggeration to say that just about all the popular music that has ever came out of America, or has been in turn influenced by it, has its roots in Africa, where rhythms are more complex and the emphasis strays from the standard beat, to follow the syncopated beat, that is, placing the emphasis on the space between the standard beat. From this musicians are able to follow their separate individual aural paths, whilst staying with the syncopated beat allows them to remain within the greater whole, the band.

Clegg & Guttmann present a show that investigates the organization of the social groups and their incumbent interactions, with five installations that demand visitor participation. Just as the syncopated beat ties a song together; and, as the analogy will be made, society and its insistent social interaction ties individuals together; the exhibition allows visitors, through the participatory elements, to take the work off in different directions, with differing results, allowing for expressions individuality; whilst still operating within the confines of artist's intent. Clegg & Guttmann are rejecting the predetermination of the traditional gallery experience, echoing the freeform aural narrative created by rhythm and blues music.

When invited to exhibit, the duo regularly look to the social history of the venue inhabits. In this case they became interested in the east London's relationship with teddy boys. In the 1950s, Bethnal Green, the area of London area in which Wilkinson lies, became the smartly dressed outsiders antidote to Saville Row with a growing number of tailors catering for the teddy boy outfits. Tracing this fashion's blues influenced rock n' roll soundtrack back to its natural Afro-American (via Edwardian ragtime) routes led the artists to syncopation. These themes are clearly expressed in Cognitive Exercise I: The Chain-Gang (2008), a new work. Ragtime tunes from Edwardian period are played from a mechanical piano, the instrument is in the centre of an elliptic course, overlaid with a framework of rods, chains and leather straps, designed to entice visitors into a 'chain-gang'. The visitors are then coerced by the physical, formal restraints to move simultaneously, creating a secondary, physical, beat with every step.

Just as the teddy boys were the result of the populisation of syncopated beat music in the UK; they also brought another expression of individuality contained within a collected form to the post-war country, the youth movement. Clegg & Guttmann's championing of this expression of freedom (noting the irony of its roots in slavery) can be seen throughout the works, particularly in their strong rejection of tradition in Cognitive Exercise II: The Constrained Brahms Quartet (which is perhaps formally reminiscent to Matthew Barney and Rebecca Horn's investigations into constrained painting). The constraints of the standard beat are broken by the inability to play properly due to their physical counterparts.

The notion of the co-operating collective group; be they band, orchestra or chain-gang, runs through the exhibition. Clegg & Guttmann's sculptural version of the surrealist's favourite game, exquisite corpse, in Cognitive Exercise III: Continuous drawing / Exquisite Corpse provides comment on how individuals bring elements to a group whole; and in Cognitive Exercise IV: The Toast in which visitors are invited to create a continuous resonating sound using wine glasses (with attached microphones), the theme reoccurs with the added discussion of why and how we develop social ritual.

Clegg & Guttmann have produced a show that not only testifies to the explosions of cognitive associations that can be brought from a lost starting point but also have created a stage for the visitor to weave their own experience, adding to the work's pre-existing narratives.

Tags: Matthew Barney, Li Gang, Clegg & Guttmann, Rebecca Horn