CAFÉ MORTE meets at the Saatchi Gallery. The exhibition is Dead – literally. A sculptural pile of dead mice greets the audience on entering the space. Artist David Falconer titled the work Vermin Death Stack, which is exactly what it was: a floor to ceiling stack of dead mice. As a child I would have been enchanted by finding a multitude of death piled so high. My adult mind however finds it only mildly entertaining and I require so much more from art. Nothing is left to the imagination, nothing to contemplate and certainly no space for the viewer to enter the work. It’s all very literal. Titled Dead – a celebration of mortality, a question is raised as to what if anything Charles Saatchi would like the audience to consider when viewing the works in this exhibition?
Jordan Baseman’s skinned cat and dog (The Cat and The Dog) hang on the wall like hunting trophies. The trophies of death collected by artists. Meaningless conversations emerge between the works. We wonder how the artists felt to have their work presented in this context? If Saatchi had wanted to curate a powerful dialogue around the tabooed subject of death he could have selected any number of poetic works from his collection that address ideas relating to mortality such as Belinde De Bruyckere, The Black Horse, or Marianne Vitale sunken gravestones made from reclaimed wood or perhaps Sun Yuan and Peng Yu Angel. I have had numerous encounters with death at the Saatchi Gallery that have, left an impact on me emotionally. I felt I was able to question the deeper issues of mortality in the midst life while in the presence of these powerful works. Instead we encounter the somewhat humorous Littlewhitehead’s It all Depends on Ones Fantasies as a Child, a pile of corpses emerging from black rubbish sacks.
Many of the works seem to reference a sinister desire, a dark place of the imagined horrors of death, a place perhaps reminiscent of childhood anxieties. I am reminded of the experience of riding on a ghost train and the delight in knowing that the gory exhibits were not real. The pleasure to be found in dark fantasy can be seen in Daniel Brajn’s black melting dripping figure clinging to the floor. We know it is not real. It occupies the space of the nightmare. The associations with Gothic narratives in literature, the darker side of human nature are present if you are searching for a context, though somewhat limited.
In the heat of a summer day in the city we left feeling cold, unmoved, unchanged, untroubled and a little disappointed.
Hoping it would reveal something I had missed or not understood, a deeper level to the exhibition perhaps, I bought the book. However it was lighter than the exhibits- Presented in the shape of a slab of marble, gimmicky and full of entertaining stories, such as the story of James Campbell who was run over by his pet dog. Apparently he left the car running and jumped out to open the garage door when at that moment his pet dog jumped into the front of the car and sat on the accelerator. He was killed outright. His wife was unable to do anything, surely must have laughed a little? The book illustrates this point with a photo of a dog sitting behind a steering wheel in case we missed the content in the text. I wonder if the words have been generated by stories of death found in the Sun newspaper? I laughed a lot when reading the book. This must be the point. The unspoken language of death brought to us in a coffee table style book, light and entertaining, perfect in fact for our CAFÉ MORTE discussion over tea and biscuits. We were genuinely able to avoid any serious questions relating to mortality. Not sure if this kitsch and humorous exhibition is in fact a ‘celebration of mortality’ or could have more appropriately been tilled ‘a celebration of the obvious’. It certainly did make the often, heavy subject of death light and entertaining.