by Roxman Gatt at Harlesden High Street, London
What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me
No more What is love? Yeah
These opening lines of emotional pain from Haddaway’s iconic 1993 song What is Love? may be read as a prelude to Roxman Gatt’s first solo exhibition Perfiction, where the complexities of contemporary human experience are articulated through an installation of sculpture, film, painting, poetry and performance.
The exhibition is centred around the image of the car, a symbol of male, macho, consumerist, capitalist culture. The vehicle represented in Roxman’s work has however been completely dismantled, its decimated parts scattered across the space, within
the installation. In his 1973 sci-fi thriller Crash!, a novel which itself focuses on the image of the car crash, JG Ballard writes: ‘We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind…We live inside an enormous novel… The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality’1. Roxman’s installation arguably continues the task set out for the post-war writer described in Crash!. The exhibition’s multi-layered visual language takes on the form of a set in which a brutal collision is played out between the fiction that permeates our contemporary hyper-networked, hyper-consumerist, hyper-capitalist lives, and the reality of intimate, raw, experience. The burning debris left in its aftermath, the installation itself, becomes a symbol for an embattled contemporary experience, that of a tragic love story. As the exhibition’s title suggests, it reveals itself a ‘perfiction’, hovering between the fictional and the real and marked by the complex feelings of love, loneliness and pain.2
Found objects and imagery associated with consumerist, macho, culture, are deconstructed, repurposed and reassembled within the installation. Contrasting symbols and materials are brought into dialogue as a tool towards this strategy of deconstruction. The work Warrior Heart Gear for instance presents us with a silicone cast of a hockey protection gear, now resembling a human torso. The delicate surface of the skin is laid bare, revealing the subtle details of nipples and bodily hair. A symbol of strength and force is playfully overturned to reveal the human body in all its vulnerability. Other such suggestions where the body is formed out of the ashes of hard-edged capitalist consumerism are also invoked in works such as Dead Like Tinky Winky. Here, a purple car bonnet is adorned with tribal wings, a triangle instrument and red hand bag. This frontispiece-like sculpture invokes the Teletubby character Tinky Winky, considered, arguably, a symbol of queer identity. With the sudden death of the actor who played the character in the TV series, the sculpture takes on angel-like qualities. The work acts a totem for the celebration of queerness.
Language holds a central place in Roxman’s work. The playful use of text (‘Perfiction’, ‘Pain(ting)’, ‘Neverlast’, ‘Filling me empty’) found both in the works’ titles or inscribed onto the hard surfaces of found items (from the mirror, lights, bonnet, gas-tank hole or seatbelt of a car to a boxing glove), further emphasises the complexities of contemporary experience. Together, these expressions form a poem, letter, or diary entry, destined for a long-lost lover or indeed society as a whole. Each part, strewn across the installation, reveals itself as fragmented and broken as the feeling of emotional pain.
Borrowing from and emulating the seductive power of affect found in advertisement, this poetic language acts as a slogan. Brand inscriptions are even at times directly replaced by the artist’s own words. In the work Defender/Protector, expressions such as ‘letting go’, ‘giving up’, ‘Neverlast’ are emblazoned onto the straps of a sports car harness. Suspended to a grey and forest green painting, this symbol of protection and strength is further abstracted, and thus undermined. Consumer culture is here playfully manipulated and overturned to form the basis for Roxman’s elegiac soliloquy of dark humour.
Through a careful play of language and form, Roxman forces us to consider our own equivocal relation to the world, by bringing emotions back to the centrefold. Perfiction serves as a portrait of human, queer, contemporary experience in all its raw complexities. As stated by Lacan ‘loving is to give what one does not have, to someone who does not want it’.3 This double negative twist where the desire for the other is based in emptiness, offers a possible epilogue for Roxman’s tale of ‘perfiction’; one which serves as a call for resistance to the greed embodied by contemporary capitalism.
1 JG Ballard, Crash!, (London: Fouth Estate, 1973/2014), p.vii.
2 ‘Language must be as broken and fragmented as social pain in order to measure resistant incorporation in the vicious tautology’, in John Cunningham, The Vicious Tautology’ in On
Violence, eds. Rebecca Jagoe andSharon Kivland (London: Ma Bibliotheque, 2018), p. 22.
3 Jacques Lacan, Seminar XII, 23rd June, 1965.
— Juliette Desorgues, December 2018