Space Station 65: Expect clowns, expect dogs, but don’t expect them to comply with your expectations. In Shari Hatt’s exhibition, the title of her work, “I just want to be taken seriously as an artist,” says it all – this cliché phrase, repeated by so many aspiring artists, is the object of ridicule in this quirky installation.
If it weren’t for the friendly doorman to guide me in the right direction, I would have walked right past the gallery. Situated behind giant metal gates on Kennington Road, Space Station Sixty-Five is a small gallery with a friendly staff, currently hosting a series of Shari Hatt’s photographic, video, and watercolor works.
The first series you encounter upon entering is a collection of dog portraits, each with the same emerald green background. The general effect is comedic, yet it has a hint of intimacy, as the dogs look directly into the camera and at the viewer. It is definitely not what you would expect upon entering an ordinary art exhibit, but neither is the rest of her collection. After another series of dog portraits, featuring different breeds of black-haired dogs on black backgrounds, you enter a room showcasing Hatt’s film, “The Studio Visit.”
“The Studio Visit” depicts a clown who alternates from expressing angst and frustration, to painting with determined concentration upon an imaginary canvas. It is difficult to understand what is happening when you first begin to watch. You expect the clown to perform typical comedic clown acts, but instead you are forced to watch a clown-as-artist act out the drama, the cliché angst, that goes along with “being an artist” in her studio; the only kind of typical clown antics she performs are her exaggerated, melodramatic expressions of emotion and body language.
Later, another clown enters the studio and mimics a typical pretentious art critic – he stares at her work of art for a while as the artist anxiously awaits his approval, then he leaves the studio unimpressed, while the artist is left in a state of suppressed joy. Why would she be happy about this? Again, Hatt fiddles with our reception as the work fails to deliver the expected outcome.
The work satirizes the lives of aspiring artists and the pretention of art critics in the cutthroat art world. The clown, a figure of joke and ridicule, is used as a medium to transmit the feeling of a crossing of boundaries – boundaries of spectacle, art, and reality. Like the dog portraits, there is also a hint of intimacy in this work, in the sense that the viewer is thrust into the uncomfortable scene of a clown in a state of distress rather than an expected scene of humorous foolery. However, reality is depicted through this medium of foolery, thus fusing the two poles into one satirical work of art.
In the next room, you will find another video installation titled, “I Just Want to be Taken Seriously as an Artist,” which features a series of clowns performing jokes with punch lines that fall flat. To compliment this video, Hatt also features several watercolor paintings of written jokes with anticlimactic punch lines, such as “Knock! Knock! Come in,” and “Your momma’s so fat. She eats too much and doesn’t get enough exercise.”
In these works, Shari Hatt places the viewer in an uncomfortable place where expectations are not met – they are instead met with a blatant rejection of compliance. The works assure unexpected reactions by the viewer, which in essence, is the whole point of Hatt’s collection of works. She simultaneously satirizes the art world while creating art, and this paradox leaves her audience ruminating at the end of the exhibition.
Be sure to check out this quirky exhibit at Space Station 65 before it ends on 25 May 2012!