Artists Anonymous

Artists Anonymous

Immediately upon entering the site-specific installation Alice Straight to Video, 2007, at the collective Artists Anonymous’s eponymous project space, one was plunged down the rabbit hole. Almost the entire front space of this two-room gallery was filled to the rafters with debris—wooden crates, old fencing, plywood. At one side of this pile of rubbish was a small opening; crouching and mystified, one entered a long tunnel lined with white faux fur, beginning a claustrophobic journey through the innards of the junk heap. Along the way were tiny, colored video screens showing dark, indecipherable images of lights and figures, embedded in the fur; one met the occasional fur-lined dead end before finding the right path through the labyrinth. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel came when one emerged into the other room: a low-ceilinged, windowless space, completely surfaced in silvery paper, a cross between Yayoi Kusama’s Peep Show: Endless Love Show, 1966, and a miniature Factory, with leftover traces of a party (empty bottles and cups sitting on a makeshift bar). A video loop showed a fiercely energetic young woman wearing a blond braided wig, a cat mask, and huge inflated breasts (is this Alice?) performing an infuriated monologue from behind a puppet theater. (It was broadcast live from a tiny space off the tunnel on the night of the opening.) Occasionally using an empty bottle to whack the camera, she begins by discussing childhood rape and the legal limitations under German law of bringing the perpetrator to justice. She then continues in a ceaseless complaint about the hypocrisies and banalities of bourgeois existence, particularly its pathetic delusions about love and sex. Hell hath no fury like a scorned performance artist letting off steam in a cluttered, closet-size room. She is too large for this little space—like the overgrown Alice in Lewis Carroll’s book.

The two rooms of Alice Straight to Video in effect stage architecture’s dialectic of solid and void. We expect the second room—the void in which we can finally stand upright and move about freely—to be the more hospitable, but this space pushes us away with its reflective surface and suffocating anger. The solid—the labyrinthine, furry cocoon—is more comforting, if not comfortable, yet we can never stop and enjoy it, forced as we are, by curiosity if nothing else, down its airless path. Similarly, childhood themes of escape and make-believe (the silver room is furnished with mushroom-shaped stools and what look like empty toy boxes with mirrored interiors) contrast with the harsh monologue, full of seething grown-up accusation. Nothing is straight in Alice Straight to Video: the path is twisted, the makeshift walls uneven, the mirror images distorted.

Working in painting, sculpture, performance, installation, photography, and video, Artists Anonymous is a five-member collaborative group from London and Berlin. This is the second exhibition in their space on Vyner Street, the East End’s most gallery-ridden street. They seem to have a parasitical relationship to the neighborhood: While the other galleries traffic in relatively comestible art presented in refurbished white spaces, Artists Anonymous feels reckless, filled with a sort of adolescent energy that makes the other hot new galleries suddenly look tame and middle-aged. Retracing one’s steps and stumbling out from the tunnel, one sensed a final contradiction: Alice has welcomed us intimately inside the gallery’s very depths, but then treated us with unexpected hostility. I actually gasped for air before heading back to the reassuring avant-garde of Vyner Street.

Gilda Williams