PFFFT : SIMON LAWRENCE. 19 -29 April, 2006

"Levitate, suddenly disappear and reappear at will, control other people's actions from afar, alter your outward appearance and raise monsters to do your bidding "


Having misread the title when I first saw it, I thought Simon Lawrence's show was called PSSSST, and assumed there was some kind of clandestine, pass-it-on secret on the cards. Wrong as I was, it turns out that my misrepresentation wasn't too far from the truth. Having blocked out all natural light, Lawrence created a questionably foreboding space which lent a mysterious dull murk to the installed components of his exhibition. A large projected scene cycles on one of the gallery's end walls and a more diminutive TV replay of another closely related scene does the same from its spot on the floor nearby.

It quickly appears that PFFFFT is the sound that both heralds the execution and completes the process of the impressive act of disappearance as played out by Lawrence's on screen avatar or accomplice. Have no fear though, as there are no Alakazams or hubble-bubbles to be heard here, as Lawrence subtly magicks himself from his lounge to the hallway and back again. Yet, the entertaining cycle of fiery explosions, clouds of smoke, the apparition and dematerialization of Lawrence's seriously gifted doppelganger, eventually gives way to an array of questions if not outright suspicions.

With PFFFFT the seemingly inconsequential sorcery and occultism of Lawrence's work for the HSP Ampersand show (2004), in which a small screen TV played host to Lawrence 's look-deep-into-my-eyes antics as he attempted to convince a constructed paper dog to do his bidding, has intensified and seems to have come of age. Indeed the benign, sympathetic fragility of Lawrence's 2003 HSP exhibition, Leo will never get sick and die, also seems to be peculiarly absent from this convincingly clandestine synthesis of action and expression of a somewhat malignant intent.

Despite all this, the emotionally engaging and amusing display of PFFFFT's moving-image works attract and absorb their prey as we wait patiently as viewers to see more, or how, or for something to go ever-so-slightly, if not drastically, wrong. But rather than exercises in heady experimentation, these scenes appear more like a period of training or a series of treadmill tasks in which the onscreen figure, which may or may not be able to be read as Lawrence himself, hones his skills, powers of concentration and unusual demeanor.

With an earnestly impressive resolve, this contemporary conjurer is most certainly more accomplished than Mike TV in his transportation from one screen to the other and back again, seemingly intact. Such a comparison may seem simplistic, but if we consider for a moment the other artifacts proffered as associated elements of this peculiarly arcane or imaginative practice of Lawrence's we might get a little closer to the real cost or potential benefit of such supernatural experiments.

Away from the space of the larger gallery, as if already guilty of something, four exhibits are presented for all to see, nailed down and reassuringly spot-lit. Unlike the dark and potentially advancing mass in the other room, that is so easy to turn your back on in frustration at not being able to examine its contours more closely, we're supposed to have a good look at these four unusual artifacts on show.

The small painting of a night scene at first appears unusually void of action or content, populated as it is by a small house, interior lights on, and a barren tree. However, between these stark and unwelcoming motifs within the unusually well lit, central expanse of green grass, is a barely detectable suggestion of a figure that appears as if rushing across the space, arms outstretched, hands taut and fingers splayed. Friend or foe you might ask and who's to say?

And what of the ink-jet portrait, broken down into vectors and ridgelines, gradients and geometric tonal blocks. This is hardly the head of a convincing conjuror detached as it is from the rest of his body. A darker magic may well be at work. Indeed the frustration of being caught in a seemingly endless cycle of appearances and disappearances would probably drive even the most reasonable person to distraction and we can only wonder where precisely our esteemed traveller goes and what he gets up to in those moments between departure and re-arrival.

It's a cycle we both anticipate and learn to depend on much like the roll call of thunder that follows the illuminating flash of lightening. Habits are hard things to break but the artificiality of a belief in the permanence of things or any endless cycle is most often teamed with the melancholic despondency of duration. Thus Leo will never get sick and die's safety from illness and despair became a sentence of another kind altogether, as the promises filled by the abundance of post-industrial materials, channels and energy flows, themselves became a treacherous feedback loop that ensnared our sympathies and let them wallow in the candor and hopelessness of Leo's predicament - or more appropriately of our own. Thus the trust we learn to place in any system laid out before us is eventually eroded by the brooding threat of indeterminacy, and we are irrevocably changed by such knowledge.

So, we move from a simple fascination with the act of conjuring fire and brimstone to alter and transport oneself, to being all too aware of the reason why such a power may well become necessary. Add to this concoction the evidence laid out before us of the mutations and dangers of such advancement and surely we must pay even more attention to the creeping darkness growing forth from the corner of the once white gallery, and within which uncertainty so powerfully gestates.

Lawrence 's fictive space cleverly puts the logic of an ever-benign progress through its paces and consequently undermines the inevitability of the very human system that we are all trapped within. A reappraisal of the techniques, tropes and rhetorical devices of traditions that seem anathema to technological or social advancement cleverly serve to rattle the philosophical cage of even the most kind hearted or hopeful of idealists. Indeed, in a culture such as ours, so proud of its pragmatism and men of action, the primacy of certain trades and devalued skill sets are again coming to the fore within 'the knowledge economy' in ways we could only have dreamed might be true. Consequently, for good or for bad, we find our nation's biggest blockbuster exhibition to be a showcase of costumes and well-crafted artefacts from the reproduction of Tolkein's tableaux within our own familiar realms.

As Lawrence obviously appreciates, know how is everything in the face of the unknown and I'm sure I won't be the only person to be seduced by the occult beauty and escapism of Lawrence 's narrative twists which serve up an elegantly sinister reminder of the monstrous potential in us all, if ever it's given half the chance.