LONDON.- Continuing his exploration of the relationship between comedy and tragedy within contemporary popular culture, the exhibition And You Thought I Was Bad? finds Guy Oliver stepping back into the recent past. Central to the show is a new film that examines the perculiarities of individual and collective memory, the function of arts education, and the role of political protest within art.
Assuming the role of a television arts presenter, Oliver returns to an unrealised work from his time as an undergraduate student in the mid-2000s. The artist goes back to his former university to remake this long obsolete idea a T-shirt bearing an image of Richard Nixon that aimed to satirise George W Bush and the events surrounding the Iraq war. Along the way Oliver ruminates on American Presidential figures, the cultural significance of Johnny Cash as both renegade radical and mainstream blue-collar hero, and how the narrative of his own life intertwines with recent socio-political global events. As Olivers character states in the film, when there is something in the air, turbulent times call for archival video montages with contemporaneous music.
While British culture has predominantly been the artists focus in previous work, this exhibition addresses American culture, in particular its positioning of masculine identity and the division of the world into good guys and bad guys. On the walls of the gallery Oliver presents a series of collaged relief paintings, some made with found floorboards and another piece shaped like a now-defunct VHS display unit. They present various sampled imagery including: George Bushs painted portrait of Vladimir Putin from 2014, a courtroom photograph of OJ Simpson learning he had escaped conviction in 1995, and a reproduction of Norman Rockwells painting The Connoisseur of 1961, which gently lampooned the then cutting-edge drip work of Jackson Pollock. These images are physically disrupted and remixed by Oliver, charting surreal connections between visual culture and mainstream politics.
Specifically British elements do surface in the show however, in particular Olivers fascination with football terrace culture. In his view chants and banners can be appraised as a unique folk art-form, demonstrating remarkable inventiveness and spontaneous humour but a humour that often slides into poor taste and the highly offensive. But on occasion terraces can be the site of genuine and effective political protest. The OJ Simpson painting hangs on top of wall-sized print of Liverpool FC fans on The Kop holding up a banner reading Expose the lies before Thatcher dies in reference to the Hillsborough disaster. Such provocative and seemingly incongruous layering is symptomatic of Olivers approach of, as he describes it, mangled personal nostalgia.
And You Thought I Was Bad? is concerned with the circular nature of time, and what it meant to be obsolescent and essentially out of date. The exhibition ironically reflects on the efficacy and value of political protest in art, with the central film piece having a self-important and perhaps selfrighteous art student archetype at its centre. However, in a sincere way, Oliver is also trying to touch upon the expectations placed on artists to be conduits for cultural events, and the complex nature of political agency today.
Guy Oliver (b. 1982, Barnet, UK) lives and works in London. He graduated from The Royal College of Art (MA Painting) in 2015 and previously studied Fine Art BA at The University of East London. Recent solo and two-person shows include Live From San Quentin, Random Access Gallery, Syracuse, New York (2018); Zona Mista (with Robbie Howells), Westminster Waste, London (2017); Did You Think Id Leave You Dying?, Chalton Gallery, London (2017) and (I Wanna Give You) Devotion (with Kate Mackeson), Hockney Gallery, London (2015). Recent group exhibitions and screenings include Staging Series, Jerwood Space, London (2017); NAWKI, East Bristol Contemporary, Bristol (2017); LCN Showcase 2nd Edition, SPACE, London (2017); Edinburgh Artists Moving Image Festival, Filmhouse, Edinburgh (2016); Outpost Members Show 2016, OUTPOST, Norwich (2016); Guilt Complex, Bikini Wax, Mexico City, (2016); Two Hundred Acres, Pump House Gallery, London (2015) and Heckle, Bosse and Baum, London (2015).