Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Saatchi Gallery: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Well I never - I, the King of the Killers of Time, the Man Who Stares at Walls - was dawdling down the Kings Road today in search of an impecunious way of passing the time, when I saw the Saatchi Gallery. In several years it's never occurred to me to go in there. It must cost the earth, I reasoned, as I settled in to yet another five minutes thumbing through identical shirts in Reiss which I had no intention of buying (despite the weirdly bearded sales assistant's insistence).

Little did I know - it's free! Yes, absolutely free. Walking in there is like walking into some mad person's house - the exhibits stand alone, all but unguarded, waiting for you to come upon them serendipitously. The first things I saw were Jonathan Wateridge's enormous paintings - groups of astronauts, sandinistas, and one that particularly struck me - 'Jungle Scene with Plane Wreck' - which, for some reason, reminded me of Werner Herzog's diaries, and of the romance of the world in ruins.

But then I turned to my left and saw what I at first thought was a glass case full of flies. My initial reaction was - and so? I remembered Damien Hirst's new exhibit, thought it might have something to do with that, and was about to pass on when I looked closer. I saw a whole world. Little tiny skeletal warriors perching on insects and bees, in bellicose poses: one in the act of carrying a butterfly's wing for some nefarious purpose; another skateboarded on the back of something. They hung from almost invisible wires, locked into some strange and extraordinary battle, petrified in time and space: as if in reaction to this, everybody I saw who looked at it immediately reached for their cameras to petrify the petrification.

What was most interesting was that the narrative of the piece was so open to interpretation. What was the purpose of the five little figures, sitting in wait on a dragonfly? Were they reinforcements? Spectators? Generals? Was there any purpose in the swarm at all, or was it, as the name implied, merely chaos? In literary terms, it was a Kelly Link story come alive. The piece was Tessa Farmer's Swarm. Go and see it, now, and be frightened and charmed.

Other things that caught my eye were a large steel balloon; Steven Bishop's stuffed mountain goat; and a large sculpture made out of fans and bins that throbbed menacingly in a corner, called 'All My Exes Live in Tescos'. Most intriguing, too, was Anna Barriball's Door and Black Wardrobe - portals into other worlds if ever I saw ones.

So next time you've got time to kill on the King's Road, step into the Saatchi Gallery - you may find Narnia. Or, at the very least, something that isn't Reiss.

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