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'The Fool'

Exhibition dates: 31 July - 19 Sept 2009
Preview: Thursday 30 July, 6:00pm - 8:00pm

"More than an amusing diversion, the fool, with his bursts of cautionary homespun wisdom, had a very real function. The clown has been a staple subject in Western art for hundreds of years; a prime vehicle through which to ask fundamental questions." Iain Gale on Alex Pollard, 2007

'The Fool' re-imagines the figure of the clown, the jester and the dandy for the twenty-first century, where the role of the Shakespearean 'fool' has a new relevance in contemporary art. Following the examples of predecessors like Bruce Nauman and Paul McCarthy, artists here, repeatedly portrayed comic or tragic fool-like figures to articulate their ideas.

For the artists the figure of 'the fool' is a way of taking a 'vantage point' - we might say a disadvantage point - from which to view society's rituals and codes of conduct. For painters like Moyna Flannigan and Alex Pollard, their images almost resemble those of fairground mirrors, in which everything is distorted, and yet we recognise something new about ourselves. For filmmakers like Nicolas Osborn, drawing on the theatre of Antonin Artaud and Samuel Beckett, 'the fool' is the only figure able to discuss those subjects forbidden in polite society. For photographer Michael Gardiner, the age-old tradition of the 'carnivalesque' in which the rules of our ordinary life are upended, is alive and well - and to be found in the most unexpected places. 'The fool' makes strange our relations to one another: he can tell uncomfortable truths when everyone around is bowing to received wisdom.

Natasha Caruana: Stills from the film: 'Slap-stick and Slaughter', 2009

Nicolas Osborn's film 'Nerve Harness' reveals a bedraggled but hyper-literate 'pavement drinker'. Though surrounded by a constant stream of passers by Osborn's leading character speaks only to himself.  A lonely figure he recounts his inner most thoughts about the fates and fortunes of the world, and how we picture our place in it. From his place at the very bottom of society, the character can see our pretensions, flaws and foibles with perfect clarity.
Glasgow-based Alex Pollard shows a suite of dazzling but cryptic paintings which present a cast of strange, dandyish male figures. Pollard's figures all stand outside mainstream society, and range from jesters in medieval costume to legendary Victorian criminals. His work queries how we come to glamorise such outsiders, or elevate those who break our taboos into mythical personae.
Alex Pollard: Murder Committed in Fine Tailoring, 2009. Courtesy of Sorcha Dallas.
Clare Stephenson's collages create a parade of characters from the commedia dell'arte. Their hyper-theatrical and elaborate costumes and make-up are drawn from a range of sources from medieval sculpture to high fashion.
Clare Stephenson: 'She-who-is the Unguarded Moment', 2008. Courtesy of Sorcha Dallas.
Moyna Flannigan's delicate, pastel-tinted paintings create a 'theatre of the absurd' in which peculiar events take shape and strange characters confront us. Flannigan's characters sport the red nose of a clown, as though condemned to inhabit their tragi-comic roles. 'While You Were Sleeping (Cradle)' reveals an oversized baby stood up in its cot, cheerfully holding aloft the scalps of its parents.
Moyna Flannigan: 'While you were sleeping', 2008.Courtesy of doggerfisher.
Natasha Caruana's new videos document the fortunes of the 'clown's union', Clowns International, and of its members.  She reveals one of the most bizarre group portraits ever made, and held by the organisation: an archive of hundreds of painted eggs, each with a member's trademark face make-up. 
Natasha Caruana: Stills from the film: 'Slap-stick and Slaughter', 2009
Brazilian artist Marcos Chaves acts out three short plays in the spirit of the 'theatre of the absurd'. 'Smiling mask' and 'Laughing mask' both picture the artist's face half-concealed by a home-made clown's mask. Chaves acts out a politician's range of expressions with only his eyes, from dignified gravitas to easy charm, whilst the mask's fixed grimace suggests a more sinister agenda .
Marcos Chaves: 'Laugthing Mask', 2005. Couresty Galeria Nara Roesler.
Michael Gardiner's photographic series 'Spree Park' reveals one of Berlin's strangest sights. In a sequence of almost dream like scenes Gardiner documents a disused funfair in the centre of the city. Encountering the ruins of these once popular amusements, we are left to question whether the monuments of our own times will, equally, fall into decay.
Michael Gardiner: From 'Spree Park', 2008.
Alexander Heim's short video 'Dog' follows the fortunes of a stray dog living in Beijing who seems oblivious to the 17 million human citydwellers or their dangers. The dog is a kind of holy fool: an innocent in one of the world's most chaotic cities. He acts out what feel like Buster Keaton-style stunts, coming within a whisker of disaster at every turn.
Alexander Heim: stills from film 'Untitled (Dog)', 2006. Courtesy of doggerfisher.
Jim Hollands presents the film 'Barenzirkus' - composed from found footage of a bear circus in the Soviet Union. Here the animals are forced to 'play the fool' for an audience's entertainment; the 'Russian bear' is becomes an allegorical figure laid low and humiliated by his masters.

Jim Hollands: still from short film 'Barenzirkus', 2007.