Critics’ Picks

View of “Jonathan Baldock and Emma Hart: Love Life: Act 1,” 2016–17.

London

Jonathan Baldock and Emma Hart

PEER
97 & 99 Hoxton Street
November 9 - January 28

“Love Life: Act 1,” Jonathan Baldock and Emma Hart’s new commission for PEER in conjunction with Grundy Art Gallery and the De La Warr Pavilion, will play out in three parts, the first beginning here. For this exhibition, the artists have refashioned the gallery as a surreal Punch-and-Judy set littered with bizarre handcrafted objects. The two conjoined rooms of the candy-striped space become a gigantic theater for Mr. Punch’s family to perform their cheerfully violent hijinks. Everything is suffused with an air of menace, as though Punch could pop out at any time and brutally beat you with his stick.

In the first room, Baldock has constructed a baby’s high chair out of sickly pink felt and thin metal rods (A Guiding Hand, all works 2016). In the chair sits a grotesque stuffed head, perhaps a child’s, carrying a digital screen that displays a single eye. The eye just stares, occasionally blinking and tearing up, as though it’s witnessed something terrible. On a nearby wall is Hart’s ceramic breasts with bright-red nipples, which seem to have been squeezed to resemble used-up tubes of toothpaste (BooHoo Boob Tube). Jon and Emma is a collaborative recording of the artists shrieking out each other’s names hysterically, orgasmically—a sound track for their sexually aggressive tableau. In the adjoining room, Hart’s trio of ceramic comic-book speech bubbles protrudes from a wall, their silhouettes imitating the aquiline profile of Punch (“You two-faced lying motherfucker”). Their texts yell out phrases such as “the way you use a knife” and “cross your legs”—evoking a feeling not too unlike like that of being trapped in the crossfire of a lovers’ quarrel. Through black humor and innuendo, Hart and Baldock create an engrossingly sad tale where the viewer can decide the finale.