London

Edward Lipski

Entwistle Gallery

The first work I ever saw by Edward Lipski consisted of two orange chairs placed on either side of an orange table, itself surmounted by a circular orange light. This could have been the setting for a romantic tryst, were it not for the fact that the elements in the tableau had been reduced to childlike scale. As in Howard Hodgkin’s tiny erotic tondos, emotion had been heralded, only to be contained and compressed.

This compartmentalization of the senses continued in Lipski’s first solo show in London. Crying Child, 1996, was a brown-haired mannequin of uncertain gender, standing naked and at attention in a plastic tub. A continuous stream of tears poured from the child’s eyes, partially filling the tub. Only this wasn’t naked emotion; the tears were channeled through clear plastic tubes snaking elegantly down his body, only to be pumped up again to the head through another tube running up his back. Even emotion can be marshaled into an efficient ecosystem.

Nature was signed, sealed, and delivered in Today is Thursday (Learning Text), 1996. Each of nine oak-framed light-boxes contained a single word, and each box was illuminated in turn. The whole sequence formed a day-check and weather report, for example, “Today—is—Thursday—and—it—is—warm—and—sunny.” This bureaucratic, rather pedantic method of presenting cheerful, even sensuous news made me think of David Hockney’s Fourth Love Painting, 1961, which he inscribed with the inimitable declaration, “I will love you at 8pm next wednesday.” For both artists, an apparent objectivity serves as an alibi for all manner of emotional cruelty.

Animals were given a thorough makeover in two of Lipski’s most unnerving pieces. Bird, 1994, consisted of a brooding, crowlike creature suspended from the ceiling by a black rope. This was a bird, however, that lacked eyes, orifices and legs, and its body was hermetically sealed by a sleek layer of black feathers. Pig, 1996, consisted of a pigskin stretched drum-tight over a fiberglass frame. The creature had been streamlined and lacked the usual appendages—head, feet, teats, and tail. Its rear end seamlessly revamped to resemble human buttocks, the “pig” stood on a table, bathed in colored light. Pneumatic and squeaky clean, it might easily have stepped out of a painting of a prize pig by a naïve artist.

Plenty of contemporary artists have made work that revolves around genetic engineering and cybernetics, but what I like about Lipski’s work is the way he makes you believe his own manipulations are rooted in everyday etiquette. One senses that the tears in Crying Child, and the words in Today is Thursday, for example, are shaped by strict, but credible social codes. Bird and Pig seem not so much monsters as examples of exquisitely careful breeding—Lipski’s art panders to the control freak in us all.

James Hall