'people sometimes, die' curated by Jesse Hlebo, critics' pick in This is Tomorrow Magazine

'people sometimes, die Edel Assanti' by Theo Turpin

Standing in the entrance of Edel Assanti to see their new group show ‘people sometimes, die’, I pause blinking, adjusting to the darkness of the interior. Slowly I am confronted with a void, a chasm, some kind of great black hole. As I stand there I gradually feel as if the exhibition space is drifting away and what I’m actually surrounded by is more of a theatre set. In front of me, immediately to my left and right, are strips of white LEDs taped to the floor. These lights act as guides, pointing my way like the safety lights on the floor of an airplane and begin to set up the uneasy narrative of the exhibition curated by gallery artist Jesse Hlebo.


The first works encountered, softly illuminated by the cold light of the LEDs, are by Trinidadian-American artist Denzel Russell. The two pieces are made of extruded glass shaped into the form of semi-automatic weapons, one filled with blood, the other with oil. They have an overt violence to them, born out in their titles ‘The Legislator’ and ‘Birth Right’; they also have a kind of drug-fuelled counter cultural reference. In this context they feel extremely American, our geographic distance causes them to evoke more a filmic image and less a discussion around the possible socio-political concerns. These cultural motifs are also highly present in the film ‘Anonymous Interview With J’ by Devin Kenny which plays on a LCD screen in the darkness at the back of the room. The work sees a silhouetted protagonist on a soft pink background, talking in a dubbed and distorted voice about being a Hip-Hop decision maker in the 90s. During the monologue he recalls a meeting he attended in which some key players in the music industry offered a lucrative business opportunity, to encourage the growth of Gangster Rap. Their aim was to encourage cultural assimilation amongst disaffected youth resulting in greater prison numbers and more money for the business men (those making the proposition) who owned the privatized prisons in which these newly forged criminals would be housed. As with the rest of the show, this piece acts as an example of an attitude, a thought in relation to the whole. The whole is a dark and conspiratorial place, one of memories, half-truths and no small amount of apocalypse. Sometimes the apocalypse turns out to be funny, as in Gregory Kalliche’s video ‘Last Chance’ which features a computer animated lizard creature sinking in a landscape of burning trees and lava before the tag line appears: “Last chance to evacuate planet earth before it’s recycled”.


The darkness at the back of the gallery is actually as D.I.Y as the rest of the mise en scène: it’s made from thick black plastic and gaffer tape. The projections which adorn the black wall are almost unreadable, as if they too have been lost in the cultural rift between the material and the immaterial, the real and the fake. In Yulan Grant’s ‘DIS/PLACE’ we see dancehall footage with eerie, echoing, dislocated audio full of air horns and police sirens. It’s an experience of distortion and removal, a hand-filmed aesthetic with its slowed down pace acting as a piece of slightly poignant nostalgia combined with an uneasy sense of aggression. If it is a remembrance it’s a dark one, yet if it is a cultural reflection then we’re uncertain of what it tells us.


Lastly there are three works by Ryan Foerster. The first is a piece of folded metal, like the waste product of industry or the flattened remains of some Modernist sculpture. The next two are on paper. The only such works in the show, the surfaces are full of material and detritus, from human hair to crab shell, all slathered in varnish and pigment. There is something almost grotesque about the overt materiality of these works, the coagulation of animal matter with these components makes for a disturbing experience in its sheer actuality. Yet the whole show is like this, a kind of unmediated riff on consumption, materiality and the human. It is full of a kind of late 90s early 2000s nostalgia, a reflective more than depressive rumination which encapsulates dark memories as well as future apocalypses, all wrapped in a post-digital paranoia. It feels like the curator’s stitching together a narrative of his own experience, visualised through the language of installation, resulting in a surprisingly personal exhibition.

16 February 2016