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Superman and Telepathy Meet in King's Cross

Posted: 20/09/11 01:00

Not since Christian Marclay's The Clock has art been such a cinematic experience as it is with Artangel's latest project, Audio Obscura in St Pancras station by poet Lavinia Greenlaw.

Sound art is notoriously difficult for the viewer/listener as it is so hard to shut off the outside world along with your own inner thoughts. Greenlaw's piece has succeeded by not shutting off the outside world but embracing it.

In the bustling interior of St Pancras station you are given headphones that block out all external sounds, and for 30 minutes you listen to a series of stories narrated by actors, as you walk around the station. Inconclusive stories, inner thoughts and the occasional train announcements (which confuses the hell out of you). Essentially it is a montage of fragments, the briefest of brief encounters, but what makes this work extraordinary is the train station setting.

It is the anonymous travellers that unintentionally bring the drama as if choreographed to Greenlaw's dialogue. Audio Obscura transforms Brunel's masterpiece into a proscenium arch and everyone into performers as the rhythm of the crowd matches the rhythm of the sound, slowing down and speeding up in unison (or so it seems). The effect is surreal and unsettling, as you are convinced that along with being the puppet master you are also confidante to a thousand inner thoughts whispered in your ear.

At one point a young red-haired woman walked past me in tears and the illusion of invisibility dropped for a second and I felt embarrassed, as I appeared to be endowed with telepathy.
Like great poetry, this work communicates ideas and thoughts through a love of language. It took me a good hour to shake off this powerful work, along with a feeling of melancholia, or what Robert Frost described as: 'a sense of wrong'.

Artangel: Audio Obscura. Lavinia Greenlaw. St Pancras Station, London. Until 23 October 2011.

Mike Kelly, whose work was once perfectly described as 'clusterfuck aesthetics' by art critic Jerry Saltz, has a new show at the Gagosian gallery in King's Cross.

It is called Exploded Fortress of Solitude and depicts Superman's arctic hideout as a ruined bunker containing Kandor, Superman's home city, that was miniaturized by his enemy Braniac and kept in a bell-jar. If I remember my 1970s DC Freudian metaphors, this represents Superman's psychological entrapment by his traumatic alien past.

Mike Kelly and his team have recast various versions of the sci-fi city in illuminated resin. As the look of Kandor changed over decades in the comic books, so Kelly's Kryptonian capital too has multiple versions. The centerpiece Kandor 10b is a massive abandoned grotto made with fake volcanic rock, a material used throughout the show as a textural contrast to highly polished and brightly coloured surfaces, along with the standard Kelly-ist mix of high production values and low-rent kitsch figurines. One of the absolute joys of this show is the artist's complete mastery of his materials.

The inconsistency of memory is a popular theme of Kelly's whether it's collective or personal and the other work in the gallery also addresses these issues. Vice Anglais is a film based on a high-school drama class photo, but also features cave dwelling Kandor perverts. Made in England is another video, which re-enacts the script of Vice Anglais using teapots and Toby Jugs. Oh yes.

The invigilators or Gagosianettes who wander around Armani-ed up like FBI agents unintentionally add to the comic book atmosphere but would be more at home in Gotham city rather than Kandor, as the Superman depicted (or rather not depicted) in Kelly's Exploded Fortress of Solitude is most definitely the pants-over-tights superhero of the silver age.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's just one of the best shows in London.

Mike Kelly, Exploded Fortress of Solitude, Gagosian Gallery, 8 September - 22 October

Lucy Wood's Vicini Lontani/Distant Neighbours is on at PayneShurvell, London until 22 October.

 

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