Artists Anonymous at Riflemaker

Published on Culture 24

Artists Anonymous – Lucifer Over London, Riflemaker, London, until November 21 2009

David was apparently hewn from a 27-stone block of marble after which Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel single-handed. Would he not, by the end of it, have looked something like Arnold Schwarzenegger?

The question is asked on camera by a sock puppet in this London show by Berlin-based Artists Anonymous. The footwear not only has good comic timing, but also conceals the group’s identity. Art, they say, should matter more than ego.

Instead, consider their fresh approach to picture making, called the after image. Most works here feature twice: the first painted in negative, putting dark shades and new features where the eye sees light. The second  is a photograph in which colours have been inverted to produce a recognizable yet twice-removed scene.

So Pan Dreaming is a murky composition of a child in a push chair, a pensive adult form, the reflection of a figure on the floor and a collection of balloons. But one look at the after image, Pan’s Prison, confirms that all those elements are there and the whole thing is every bit as nightmarish as you expected.

The technique produces a highly distinctive palette. The colours are either sickly, muddy or bleached out. They call to mind another non-realist school of German painting, Expressionism, and blur into one another, bringing a surreal vagueness to the subject matter.

The paintings are augmented by some found sculpture and a basement screening room straight from one of the neighbourhood’s sleazier establishments (we are, after all, in Soho). On screen a very blonde woman in a gimp costume harangues the audience from behind a Punch and Judy stand.

The sock puppets describe the after image as a world of pure imagination, a retinal memory containing an infinity of possibilities when presented with any given scene. And to view the world this way, they argue, is to enter the sock dimension, which incidentally is where all those missing socks actually go.

Who said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

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