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Sohoitis VI: A Stain Upon the Silence

A Stain Upon the Silence is different.

Let’s face it: most exhibitions are the same. OK, there might be different art involved but there is nothing different about them. They are white walls with either:
A) things in them or,
B) things on the wall,
C) occasionally when they are being a little bit Tate Modern risqué, a mixture of the two.


A Stain Upon the Silence curated by Group Show, a motley crew of ex St Martin’s students have taken the bottom of the college in Charing Cross Road and turned it into a gallery that feels like its subject — Samuel Beckett and his philosophical questions and meaning of the void, nihilism and the necessity to create. Things are revealed to you around corners and behind curtains under light and dark and a fair bit of shadow. Like the yellow brick road, you’re not quite sure what will be revealed of yourself.
Welcome to the void. The gallery is curtained and black, and plenty of space is given to everything. Nothing then needs to fight to be noticed, each piece stands happily recognised. The first thing you are faced with is a light directed onto an old-fashioned hanging microphone: whoever takes the stage to read or sing becomes part of the piece. Either go left at this point and be entranced with the 19th century prints of John Martin, spiritual apocalyptical revelations, see the Dadaist objects by Daniel c Wallis, the one-keyed grand piano by Tom Badley that when pressed says, ‘one’, or his spliced video of cats and dogs falling into mutilation to become whole again. Or pass instead onto Ryan Gosling‘s large, Waiting For Godot painting that seems to depict the idiot disposed characters floating in a hinterland. But it is when you get around the corner that the tiny drawn back curtain reveals, like the labia of a vagina, to show the first of Sam Jackson‘s tiny immaculate erotic paintings that some might call pornographic, but they are more poetic than clinical, and more magical than rude.

Whether its Larry Clark’s black and white photograph of naked teenagers shooting up, or the stilted hyper-reality of a set made and then photographed and destroyed by Anne Hardy of a room I’d never want to be in, or looking at Ross Chisholm’s tiny distorted portrait Discrepancy, where the face has been delicately obliterated, all of it adds together to bring you questioning and wondering, what on earth?

Questions are only the interesting things in life, as Cartier-Bresson so wisely stated. And as I walked out onto the pavement and looked at two little girls squealing with delight at the window display for the show, I leant over and saw that it was a window full of earth, and all the creepy crawly things that come with it were escaping from its brown grey weight and into the light. Ah, so maybe there is a chance that we will escape, I thought, as I happily skipped off down the road.

I don’t often get excited by exhibitions, but this one did what it said on the packet or in the excellent catalogue and when we are so often in this world promised so much and given so little, my doesn’t that feel different!

At St Martin’s College of Art Charing Cross Rd. London. On until Mon 7 July 2008.


Sophie Parkin has written seven published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry ed. Michael Horovitz. Her new book, Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites (Piccadilly Press), a teenage novel set in Tangiers and London, is out now.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, July 3rd, 2008.