Somewhere in the heart of Fitzrovia lies a gallery that has been given a psychedelic makeover. Neon signs, fluorescent lighting and 90s style box-televisions have taken over the traditional gallery environment so that not an inch of white wall space at Josh Lilley remains in sight. This surreal utopia is what makes up BAD LAND, American-Venezuelan artist Alex Da Corte’s first exhibition in the UK.
Within four gallery spaces – which have all had a complete architectural overhaul – Da Corte places himself under the guise of Eminem. This self re-characterization is supposed to be a comment on a ‘sliding scale of sovereignty, self-sufficiency and desire.’ This performative aspect of the show – displayed on videos via television screens dotted around the gallery space – is almost secondary to the surreal world he has created. Transported into a realm that is once bright pink, the viewer is then plunged into yellow after taking a few steps around the corner. It feels as though your eyes are playing tricks on you. You may have taken something you shouldn’t have at a part last night. Maybe you are suffering from a hangover, this strange place does not seem real. The atmosphere Da Corte has generated would make for the perfect party venue. It is both outrageous in colour and feel, yet cosy and small, with the softest carpets. That said, everything is still and silent. One would expect there to be music, especially given that the artist has fashioned himself after one of the world’s most recognizable rappers, yet any hint of an exhibition soundtrack is missing.
Why Eminem? A friend of Da Corte once confused the rapper with the artist when bumping in to him in Paris. The discovery of his celebrity lookalike caused Da Corte to question what lies beneath the surface of the American musician. In fact, BAD LAND is the third exhibition in which the artist has put himself in the position of Slim Shady. In three films, all titled Bad Land, the artist smokes cannabis from home-made bongs, fiddles with games consoles and pours mustard over himself. It is not quite certain what Da Corte is trying to get out of these performances, but in the very nature of their obscurity, they force the viewer to ponder about their intention. Of the three notions the artist is trying to explore – sovereignty, self-sufficiency and desire – it seems as though some strange desires are being enacted here.
These videos – while paramount to the exhibition concept – almost seem to blend into the background. It is the neon signs illuminating Da Corte’s surreal real-life hallucinations that transfix the viewer. Before being plunged into a state of fluorescence below street level, the exhibition begins above ground within a space that looks like a retail outlet. What is different about this ‘shop’ however is that there doesn’t appear to be anything for sale. The floors are covered in a large diamond checkerboard pattern of green and pink upon which bright yellow feathers are spread about. On the wall is a somewhat terrifying rendering of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. In Haymaker, 2017, she has been placed not on the yellow brick road, but on a yellow slat wall, complete with an updated plastic broom, a miniature Halloween toy pumpkin and the new additions of a bar sign, a lemon zester and an energy drink. On the adjacent wall Bad Break, is a broken neon sign encased in the same yellow slats of wood that the witch has been placed in front of. Perhaps it is she who has broken in and brought the feathers with her.
Downstairs the weirdness continues into three even more peculiar worlds. The first is a pink space in which a giant white trainer takes centre stage on top of a plush pink carpet. The viewer then moves into another universe, where lies The Whale, 2017, a large installation that comprises a table of bongs constructed out of drink cans, shoes and the packaging of cleaning products. Following this is a pitch-black alcove where Bad Crown, 2017 illuminates the darkness. The neon crown sign is apparently a reference to a famous cheesesteak restaurant in Philadelphia.
All of this transfixing yet peculiar work has been titled BAD. Bad Shoe, Bad Break, Bad Sign. In an imagined environment that is loud, bright, big and glows in the dark, the inclusion of BAD might be a question or a comment on taste. Throughout each portion of the exhibition dreamt up settings have been brought to life and populated by familiar objects from advertising and pop culture. These objects have then been subverted by enlarging them, turning them into vessels from which to take drugs and subjecting them to harsh light. It is as though Da Corte is trying to criticize consumerism.
Whatever BAD LAND is, this immersive exhibition must be visited before it dissolves. The sheer absurdity of Eminem smoking cannabis from bottles of bleach under pink lights with the Wicked Witch of the West hanging out upstairs simply should not be missed.
Alex Da Corte: BAD LAND is on display at Josh Lilley until 3rd February 2018