Clowns. You just have to say the word and hundreds of images and associations come flooding into the imagination. It, Saw, House of 1000 Corpses, Dark Knight – Ok, so I watch too many horror films, but clowns are still as terrifying and disturbing as ever. So why do so many artists employ them in their artwork? They play a major part in Shari Hatt’s exhibition at newly-relocated Space Station 65. As have many other artists from Paul McCarthey to Cindy Sherman, Shari has recruited and donned the performance style of our funny friends in this first UK showcase.
I Just Want to be Taken Seriously as an Artist…etc, the title piece of the show, goes about being taken seriously by making itself as unserious as possible. The video piece is played in a darkened room surrounded by clown portraits – their eyes scan the room and make for an extremely uncomfortable viewing experience. It’s an intense space that gave rise to the myriad fears I have of the clown – which was most certainly not quelled by their paused, crazed, gleeful expressions. The video plays out a series of joke-telling performances by each clown, the delivery of which is never quite right: either failing to amuse or changing the tone at the ending and resisting a climax.
Shari Hatt may not be the first artist to employ the use of clowning to get our attention, and she probably won’t be the last. What were her reasons for going along this route? Since most of the exhibition’s gags are told at the art world’s expense, the works serve as a reminder of the regular pretentious drivel too often bandied around the gallery space. The artist and the clown play a similar role within society – speaking the truth, or causing trouble are all roles artists take up too – and this is perhaps where the attraction lies.
The Visit, the second video in the exhibition, features Hatt herself performing as a clown. The video works with language, humour and the audience’s own expectations to communicate the trials of an artist’s life. What first appears funny and caricatured soon develops into a tale of sorrow about the emotional crosses an artist must bear.
The exhibition is by no means big, consisting of 2 video installations, a series of photographic clown portraits and a few paintings in a series called ‘Disappointing’. The clowning element of the show is accompanied by a selection of Hatt’s Dog Portraits, which have gained much acclaim – particularly from celebrities wanting to honour their pooches.
Whilst Hatt may be dealing with issues of identity and viewer expectation, the works are still genuinely funny – so much so that you may want to borrow a few of her jokes for your next private view visit. My particular favourite was: “How many gallery visitors does it take to change a light bulb? Two, one to change the bulb and the other to say a ten year old could have done that”.
The new SS65 is a great space, stuck in a bit of an unusual location – but that’s their idea: taking art away from expected areas to engage an unexpected audience. And even on an evening of torrential rain and thunder, I wasn’t disappointed I had made the journey. My only gripe – there was not enough in it!
This exhibition by Canadian artist, Shari Hatt features the photographic series Clown Portraits (2006) and adjunct video I just want to be taken seriously as an artist… (2007). Also presented is Hatt's latest video in The Studio Visit (2011) and corresponding watercolour series Disappointing Paintings(2011). In these works Hatt uses humour and ‘clowning around’ to draw the viewer into the process of their reception. As the jokes fall flat, and they often do in Hatt’s work, the viewer is put into an uncomfortable place in which one is confronted with one’s own expectations and the work’s unwillingness to comply
Space Station 65373 Kennington Road
London Greater London United Kingdom SE114PS