Walking into the first room of Benedict Drew’s new installation at Matt’s Gallery the flat screen monitor that confronts you somehow seems to sense your presence and, showing an image of some smart Sennheiser headphones, instructs “You Will Need These”. You dutifully pick up and don the equipment (we are so well trained) and are immediately immersed in the flow of images and sound. The glowing white space of this first room appears to be a direct reference to the arrivals lounge of the space station in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – the immaculate white walls and floor and the soft light diffused through translucent ceiling panels all produce the kind of antiseptic, textureless, featureless environment we associate with science fiction environments. As an opening gesture it is brilliant, lifting you instantly out of the grime of Mile End – a shift in the time/space continuum. It is difficult not to enjoy the theatricality; the film is completely mesmerising, switching between passages that resemble melting strawberry ice-cream, and shots of hairy knees, and a twitching disembodied hand that made me think of Thing in The Addams Family. Sounds distinctly odd when you write it down, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say how good this is.
Drew was doing his MA at the Slade at the same time as Ed Atkins and the shared concerns are unavoidable, though the differences equally apparent in Heads Will Roll. There are five separate screen-based works in the show, all different, all combining animated material with filmed material, and loud soundscapes. What is very different however, once you have moved through the Thomas Hirschhorn-like silver foil cave with towering speaker stacks like stalactites, is the physical staging of the third and largest space. Here two platforms each support arrangements of screens, speakers and microphones: some embedded in lumps of unfired clay, others nestled in to piles of coloured sand. The screen under the bigger platform shows a close-up of fingers manipulating wet clay. Numerous younger artists are using digital film for its facility in flattening the difference between found imagery, filmed live action and animation. The point is it’s all just stuff. Drew’s installation takes this emphasis on non-hierarchical materiality a stage further, and as you round the corner of the platform, hunched over a single snare drum is a voodoo figure, a creature from a psychedelic lagoon, dripping with multi-coloured party popper streamers, couching the stump of a drum stick. Your imagination supplies the sound this chimera might make. What is real, what is fictional, whether that is still a relevant question at all – this work is a brilliant response to the complexities of our technologically saturated world. If we rely on art to help us process the life we are living, then this is essential viewing.
Matt’s is also offering two very tempting limited edition works by Benedict Drew.
Spring is here people.
Benedict Drew, Heads May Roll, Matt’s Gallery, 42 – 44 Copperfield Road, London E3 4RR. Open Wednesday – Sunday 12.00 – 18.00, until 20 April. www.mattsgallery.org