30 March – 25 May 2012

a-n Magazine

Reviewed by: Maru Rojas Cuahonte

It’s not often you get to see, and write about, an exhibition before it’s even been hung.

It’s also not often that a new artist-run space opens its doors, far away from East London or the new go-to place for the cool art scene, Peckham.

Even less often, you get the chance to speak to the artist in the midst of hanging an exhibition, dealing with the stress of ‘things that could’ve gone wrong, have gone wrong’.

Visiting Space Station 65’s new space last week gave me the opportunity to experience a series of ‘not-oftens’: meeting Shari Hatt before the exhibition opened in this imposing new space in Kennington.

Shari Hatt is, in her own words, terrible at talking about her work. Luckily, she doesn’t need to – the few words she says summarise what’s so brilliant about the images she creates. Her photographs speak for themselves and her body of work has the coherence and unity that many more renowned artists are lacking.

There is something unmistakably intriguing about the work she is showing at SS65. Although it is easy to get lost in the technical complexity and skill involved, like the difficulty of photographing dogs with their mouths closed, looking straight at the camera (all 30-odd of them), or the captivating amount of detail present in the series of clown portraits, it is their unheimlich (uncanny) quality that makes the work so strangely compelling.

Based on Freud’s definition, the uncanny is found when things that ought to have remained hidden come to light. The Clown Portraits series is the embodiment of the uncanny. This group of entertainers, with their drastic features, their diamond-shaped eyes and oversized eyebrows, with their oversized shoes and overwhelming manners, their identities concealed behind layers of white makeup and blush, can only be described as creepy. In Hatt’s work they’ve become the depiction of a portrait of terror more than harbingers of mirth. These clowns are a reminder of the fragility of the navigational tools we spend a lifetime constructing and refining.

Central to Hatt’s work is the idea of humour as a tool for critical methodology, whether in the aforementioned clown portraits, the Dog Portraits or her videos I Just Want to Be Taken Seriously As An Artist… and The Studio Visit, where the overacted clownish actions are rendered un-funny by the unintelligible mumbling. As quoted by Freud, a joke is ‘the arbitrary connecting or linking, usually by means of verbal association, of two ideas which in some way contrast with each other.[i]’ Joke making is usually an expression of impertinence towards society, where laugther indicates a slight revolt on the surface of social life. In her work, what should be funny is instead perceived as scary, the jokes fall flat, and the mumbling sounds too similar to speech to be ignored by the human mind, which automatically tries to understand it as language. Laughter, if it comes, is awkward and anxious.

Hatt’s work is being shown from the 30th March at SS65’s still officially unfinished new space. Currently on their 10th year running, this space founded by artists Jo David and Rachael House has moved from the original site in East Dulwich to a former office space on Kennington Road.

Humorous and self-aware, Jo begins quite a few sentences with ‘everyone says this, but’’ Everyone says this, but SS65 is one of the few galleries with a different agenda, refusing to ‘follow fashion or the vagaries of the art market’. SS65 works neither as a commercial gallery nor as a public space and thus they can afford themselves and the artists, quite a few more risks. ‘The artists that show there (at SS65) are truly different and individual and the curatorial pairing of Jo and Rachael give artists the licence to experiment and take chances.[ii]’

As a curatorial team, they also work on external projects, such as Peckham Experiment, a project inspired by the ground-breaking health and wellbeing study at The Pioneer Health Centre.

They abide by their motto that art can be life-changing. Hence the move to the new and bigger location, a space that will house artists studios, gallery, project space, cafe and bookshop. Everyone says this, but SS65 will truly be an all-inclusive space for the arts.

For now the space is a work in progress, a blank canvas awaiting a radical transformation that will be adorned with 3 ‘preview’ exhibitions, showing work before the space is finished.

If their word and enthusiasm is anything to go by, I will be waiting impatiently for the masterpiece to be completed.

[i] Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905, in The Artist’s Joke edited by Jennifer Higgie, 2007, p.26

[ii] Stephen Nelson, artist, SE11