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I Am a Camera! (London)

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Currently on at the Saatchi Gallery (18 January - 25 March), collecting contemporary works by artists including Duane Hanson, Nan Goldin, Tierney Gearon and Kristin Calabrese, loosely connected by the theme of photography.

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      28.03.2001 23:47
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      Don’t be intimidated by the old man sitting there. He’s not real. Just moulded out of rubber and painted and posed. His sorrowful face and wrinkled features don’t really reflect the rest of the place, except in being brutally honest. He sits on a bench clutching a paper bag. By the looks of him these are his just-dead wife’s last possessions. Cheer up old man! There’s a whole gallery of exciting things to look forward to. He sits opposite a photo, ignoring the vibrant youngsters playing in the garden, too caught up in his own world to see that people are looking at him and at the children opposite. Surely he must realise that this photo is by Tierney Gearon?! the controversial American photographer who takes pictures of her kids on holiday, pissing in the snow, having fun being innocent. Obviously not. His plastic acquaintance in the next room got stopped in time, as she was doing her shopping, and picked up and put in the middle of the Saatchi Gallery. Too busy thinking about pork sausages and bin bags, she hasn’t noticed the art work that surrounds her, the people staring at her plump body, drab clothes and beaten face. No time for that. If she just looked around her she’d see more Tierney Gearon photographs with kids on a beach wearing masks, watching over dead rabbits, sharing baths - reflecting the joy of being a child, innocent, while grown-ups watched them with horror. She might stop and ask herself why these beautiful children looked sexual, threatening, threatened. They probably didn’t realise, but the grown-ups do. Perhaps that’s why they want to take the photos away from this big white space that smells of oil. The children are too absorbed in having fun to see that they have been sat next to some paintings by Kristin Calabrese. They look a little amateurish, showing intimate surroundings of a domestic interior. Kristin has left lists and photos on her fridge, forgot ten to replaster her walls before she studied them and turned them into paintings for us. Just like Kristin, Richard Billingham has been untidy. He wants to show us a story of his home life. Can THIS be his home life? Surely nobody lives like this? His obese mum reclines on a stained worn sofa like a blancmange, his dad lies next to the discoloured toilet having drunk himself unconscious again. The cat flies through the air, frightening its owners, probably releasing a few more fleas into the air. Mum and dad beat each other, ruin each others things, draw blood, and are as in love as they ever were. Even when mum tears meat off a bone with her teeth like a carnivorous animal, fat sticking in globules round her chin. People really live like this. The black cleaning lady can’t see these photos. Her name is 'Queenie II', and she’s stuck to the floor in another room, ignoring the other photos in this ‘I AM A CAMERA’ exhibition. She too was stopped in time and placed here with her cleaning trolley and equipment bulging from her pockets. Actually so was everybody. Even those who are confined in frames and photographs were stopped in time by these people claiming to BE cameras. The cleaner is surrounded by Jessica Craig-Martins’ photos that show the strange world of New York’s high society, with their expensive clothes, money and lecherous tendencies. Jessica Craig-Martin is the daughter of Michael - Mr YBA daddy - but Jessica didn’t like the YBA and became a UK expat. by moving to New York, where she works for American Vogue. Not that the cleaning lady cares. Far too many surfaces to wipe. She also isn’t particularly interested when people stand round her and stare at her skin and her eyes. She certainly isn’t bothered by Nan Goldins’ pictures of her New York friends having sex, laughing, crying, shooting up and generally living. Not that she would be able to see them v ery well as the lighting and framing of these photos is so awful. I think she would be perplexed, however, if she walked through the slanty opening in the wall to see Richard Wilson’s permanent installation ‘20/50’. “Take your coats and bags off and leave them here please. Two at a time”. The plain-clothed security man is keen to ensure everything happens properly as you walk out onto a kind of tapered mid-air jetty surrounded by light and empty space - no wait, or is it all trick of the eyes? Oh my god! I don’t believe it! But if I told you what it was it would ruin the surprise. You’ll have to go and see it. It’s alright, they won’t get rid of this in a hurry. It’s been around since 1987 and Saatchi had it specially transferred and installed. Far away from this in a separate room Andy Warhols’ multiple black and white photos hang, sewn together, and are less ubiquitous than old ‘Marilyn’. These are of chairs and shoes. They can’t gaze back at you quite like the huge photo portraits opposite. Oh hang on - they’re not photos - they’re paintings - strike a light!! How deceptive of them, and how clever of Jason Brooks. He won a NatWest Prize dontcha know. Is that good then? One last room kids! And it’s Hiroshi Sugimoto. Aaaaagh - those women are looking pretty unnerving. Perhaps they are apprehensive themselves - after all they were divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded ... survived!! That’s right - remember your history lessons? It’s Henry VIII’s waxen wives photographed straight out of Madame Tussauds. I think they must be trembling in their itchy white bloomers as their master Henry stares around the room with his life-like bulging eyes and grossly fat face. Frightening! Duane Hanson was the American artist responsible for the mannequins. His super-realist sculptures were direct casts of pe ople he found, but their characters were designed to create representations of a 'slice-of-life' - people whos' internal attitudes and experiences were put on show. He wanted to glorify his characters by making them art, creating strong emotional responses in the viewer. You may have also seen some of his work as you were queueing to get into the Body Zone at the Dome. 'Lunch Break (Three Workers with Scaffold)' showed a scene where time had stopped and left various objects hanging in the air, defying gravity, while the workers stood by and watched. Go and visit all of these splendid characters. They are waiting, and not afraid of your patronising gaze. The Saatchi isn’t that easy to find. The nearest train station is South Hampstead, tube St Johns Wood. This exhibition is open from 8th January to 15th April and costs £5 to get in £3 for concessions. There’s a discount for groups of 30+ people and student and school groups get in free. It’s through a kind of white garage entrance on Boundary Rd, just off Abbey Rd, so you can go and look Beatles-esque while you are crossing the road to get there. I wouldn’t advise the bare foot thing though.

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