London

Angus Fairhurst/Sarah Lucas

Sadie Coles HQ | Balfour Mews

In addition to sharing a studio in London’s Clerkenwell neighborhood, Angus Fairhurst and Sarah Lucas have collaborated on a number of artistic projects. Their recent show, which was suggestively titled “Odd-bod Photography,” toyed with their respective identities so much that it blurred the boundary between them. This was no small achievement, since an artistic persona as pronounced as Lucas’ is not readily effaced, while Fairhurst’s more subdued approach tends to be easily swept away by the bluster of YBA art.

The show included a series of seemingly straightforward documentary images jointly photographed by the artists during a recent trip to India. One of the most striking was Good Cow/Bad Cow, 1998, a diptych showing two cows—which, if they weren’t real, might easily be advertising a bar or a restaurant in the American West—standing on the roof of what seems to be a shed. The animals face in opposite directions, unifying the composition, while on the left-hand panel a man with his back to the camera gives the piece an anthropological feel. The work’s subtle irony can be traced to a sign emblazoned on a wall below one of the cows, announcing a group exhibition at a regional cultural center (a detail that might well lead viewers to mistakenly believe the image was staged).

The artists bring a degree of irreverent humor to images of the cow—a creature revered in India—in impoverished settings. Silly Moos, 1998, for example, depicts a bovine herd gathered around a pile of trash at night. Chickens and Fish, both 1998, continue the animal theme, but in a more abject vein: in the former, bloody birds are piled on the ground next to someone’s feet (perhaps the slaughterer’s), while the latter depicts a large fish with entrails hanging out of its open mouth. After viewing countless works by British and American artists indebted to superficial readings of Julia Kristeva and Georges Bataille, both of these images come across as rather innocuous. There is, however, another dimension to the artists’ Indian voyage—landscape. Desert Toilet, 1998, depicts a rickety urinal in the middle of a rocky terrain; and Desert Blue, 1998, shows a square monolith bordered by a white stripe orphaned in an expanse of desert. These desolate images led one to wonder whether the trip may also have been a spiritual journey for the couple.

Suggesting that the new photographs embark on a different path while maintaining a dialogue with their earlier work, the artists hung new and old pieces together, overlapping some and joining them with thumbtacks. This strategy, however, only called attention to the contrast between Lucas’ sparkling but aggressive earlier work questioning gender stereotypes and the photos she conceived with Fairhurst, which often feel conceptually flaccid. “Odd-bod Photography” was intended to serve as a celebration of the artists’ joint experiences, but Lucas’ fresh, irreverent language seemed weakened when combined with Fairhurst’s more delicate and reserved approach. This time at least, it seems that two heads weren’t better than one.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Vincent Martin.