Simon Periton

Bipasha Ghosh

Simon Periton’s collections of anecdotes have always seemed seriously to question the viable limits of the idea of inconsequentiality, inconsistency, and gracelessness as an important way forward for art in England. The esthetic is more about terms of endearment than qualities of engrossment. For example, one is confronted with the little arty-thing, unrelentingly coy and opaque (Untitled; Eggs, size I; all works 1992); the frosty prop in the theater of stupefaction (Can’t see the wood for the trees); and the souvenir of an enfeebled dandyism (Don’t you ever get the feeling you’re going round in circles). An initial response might be disinterest in these representations of epochal fatigue and neo-Fluxian optimism—these pathetic bits of knickknackery. But if we consider how Periton converses with the concerns of other English artists similarly inclined, such as Adam Chodzko, Georgie Hopton, Bob Smith (the pseudonym of Patrick Brill), and Jane and Louise Wilson, we quickly realize how poor our esthetic vocabulary is with regard to the experience of rehearsed insipidity and incoherence.

We can rehearse the complaint about the contemporary spectator whose habits and resources of engagement with art are thought to be nearly identical to those employed while shopping, watching TV, and so on. And then go on to say that Periton’s work in its apparent shallowness fits that situation perfectly, is just what they deserve, is all that we can hope for, etc. What this sort of cliched encounter with gloom does not do is attend to the experience of viewing the work completely unironically. To say of Periton’s work that it is resistant to the unmindful categories of stereotypical post-Modernist art criticism would be an understatement. His outlook is Blakeanevangelical, even. But how does the post-“Ecstasy” crowd embrace a belief that the inconsequential, the minute, the trash of the physical world, has within it a power of revelation equal to, if not greater than, that of the famous epiphany of a “world in a grain of sand”? Ignore the sacred cornucopia of Nature and look instead to the rubbish tip, the housing estate, the littered squat. Madness has often been the name for the revelation that “God” is everywhere. Periton shows us this madness in the image of a playground jungle gym flashed in Day-Glo red. It is an epiphany. Two eggs photographically printed with the image of an eye seem to represent the Trinity; and a crude marker drawing of Z’s against a lurid magenta ground, Evil incarnate. These works are ritual objects for a new and heterodox religion that confers on the discarded 45-rpm single a meaning equal to that of any symbol in the Karl Jungian lexicon.

This sort of project certainly needs highly sympathetic installation. The charm of the raw, the fragile, the raucous, and the uncouth must be teased from Periton’s art; its installation should not be coy or “modern” or his art comes off as puerile surrealism. The indifference and politesse of gracious gallery spaces effectively works against Periton and the message of his work: that politesse is no bulwark against spiritual despair and disorder. Social grace can never lead to Grace, and piety must always be clothed in poverty. The best situation for Periton’s work is in his claustrophobic studio in a London squat. This is not necessarily a rebuke. But clearly something went wrong between the.conception and realization of these works and their eventual gallery installation. The gallery untouched and unacknowledged as such could only be like a “whited sepulcher” (Matthew 23:27).

Michael Corris