OSCAR MURILLO: VIOLENT AMNESIA AT KETTLES YARD
What is Oscar Murillo up to? A visit to his exhibition at Kettles’ Yard was an unsettling experience .The violence is extreme with more action promised and would that there was amnesia as these images are hard to forget.
The loosely hung canvases hanging two tiers high had all the careless aggression of an abandoned and gutted house. The painting was just that, mostly black and red paint poured on to saturate the canvas and then covered with another canvas 'using a broom handle to transfer paint in a mark-making process that involves the artist’s whole body”. Then there’s another phase of creation where the painting is left on the studio floor and ‘deliberately allowed to subsume diret, dust and other accidental substances’ This, eerily reminiscent of my teenage son’s bedroom carpet. Interleaved in the vastness of this chaos were a few bird shapes. Were they to offer some kind of apology for the unforgiving ugliness of the work? They were welcome at any rate . In the same large gallery the floor was the most striking ‘exhibit.’ Strewn thickly with fragile-looking black sheets of fabric it was nowhere anyone would willingly tread and for a final irreverent flourish the walls were smeared with the charcoal effluent from the flooring. Interpreation of this ‘automatic painting’ is precarious– the presentation of a hell hole of alienation, the reconstruction of destruction in a world of darkness perhaps? But on leaving I spotted one of Kettle Yard’s carefully designed windows strung across with a dun- cultured pre-ripped cloth as if a desperate attempt to keep out the light.
Now rewarded for this very show by a nomination for the Turner Award, he is already a recognized artist well traveled in Europe. Berlin was his last show. He may be an exile from Columbia, his father’s recordings of how he left that place, in different languages, form part of the show on the first floor, but Oscar Murillo has nothing of hope to to offer in his exhibition. His is a didactic message, a version of the artistic life, drawing attention to the plight of refugees. This has a long tradition in art. Goya’s violent paintings of executions and death sit as a testimony to the darker side of glorious battle triumphs , squalid and frightened, men are shot terrified not in noble conflict. And what of the sufferings of the martyrs or of Christ himself? But surely these paintings and sculptures show us more than simply agony of death, they look deeper than that, showing us a complex picture of what suffering is, the goodness of those persecuted, the futility of evil. Desolation was the only theme to emerge from this artist and it is a darkness with no hope or light.
But it was in the chapel where I fell out with Oscar.M. In his own native continent the Church is persecuted., Archbishop Oscar Romero died at his altar like Thomas a Becket, as he stayed on to challenge the right-wing gangs that offer nothing but destruction to his people. To find then in St.Peter’s Church next to Kettles Yard,, English oak pews desecrated and hammered out by the artist himself with a chain saw is depressing A, dedicated group of local Christians use the Chapel and have done for decades, particularly for their Easter service. Usually they sit on a collection of caned chairs. Latterly these appear to have vanished and the artist has substituted some sturdy oak pews - stuffed with strange life sized figures. These have been equipped with a non-human funnel about a bucket diameter, through their middles. They refer to the Colombian black magic practice of burning effigies to keep out evil spirits. These pews are companion pieces to the ones in the main exhibition room - already hacked about by the artist. It is part of a statement about aggression and destruction. He promises to attack the pews again armed with a chain saw as part of the exhibition. No doubt this conveys a terrifying analogy for the violence in his own country, a re-enactment of the suffering there. But to act out, in the peaceful setting of a small centuries old church does not convey any hope or redemption beyond the banality of violence common to all savage conflicts. Doubtless it is meaning to literally cut into complacency and somehow shake up the community which uses it. But to pursue this brutality, even unto the desecration of church symbols for me makes the opposite point the artist , I hope, intends.
I for one will not be in the audience.
OSCAR MURILLO: Violent Amnesia is at Kettle’s Yard until 23 June