For the second in Blain|Southern’s new series of exhibitions, collectively titled Lodger, its curator Tom Morton has invited the artist Sophie Jung to develop a new sculptural installation, accompanied by a performance that exists as both a live event and a looping video work. For this exhibition, Come Fresh Hell or Fresh High Water, Jung will transform Blain|Southern’s lower gallery into an environment that recalls at once a bunker, an ice cellar, a Brechtian stage set, and a dressing room. Scale, here, is subject to sudden glitches, and the most mundane of objects – coffee mugs, shower curtains, hat stands – hum with histories, ironies, and a simmering sense of fury.
Jung is a storyteller. In her sculptural installations – and the performances and texts that attend them – she weaves free-wheeling, deeply idiosyncratic, and sharply funny narratives, which draw on everything from pop culture to philosophy, the idlest of thoughts to the most heartfelt of convictions. Both objects and language are prone to slippage in this work. Form and content is always shifting shape.
From one angle, Jung’s practice might be described as a skewed form of ‘show and tell’, in which she uses live monologues and audio and video soliloquies to introduce visitors to the objects she’s assembled in the gallery space. But if her performances begin life as a loose verbal (and gestural) commentary on the ideas embedded in her sculptures, then they very quickly grow into something else, like an annotation that has overrun the margin of the page, and spilled into the outside world.
The self that Jung presents in her monologues is chronically digressive, and given to making cavalier leaps of logic. By turns gawky and swaggering, sultry and manic, easily distracted and full of desperate focus, she seems driven by the need to link up her every stray thought, no matter how disparate, letting nothing go to waste, until her words begin to resemble a sprawling, eccentrically edited wiki. A partial inventory of what Jung terms the ‘things/concepts/objects/stuff’ that feed into Come Fresh Hell or Fresh High Water includes: Van Gogh’s 1886 painting Shoes (the most pondered over footwear in Western philosophy); the similarities between Winnie the Pooh and Voltaire’s Candide; the military bearing of many of Henry Moore’s busts; Brecht’s Mother Courage; Hélène Cixous’s notion that women ‘write in white ink’; her own grandmother’s long-hidden artistic practice; wheelie bins; aeroplane emergency doors; ice packs; permafrost; the layout of Sigmund Freud’s study; the DNA restriction enzyme known as NotI; and Billie Whitelaw’s 1973 performance of Samuel Beckett’s one-person play, Not I. From such material, Jung braids her narrative. We might think of her as a hybrid of a Google-enabled bricoleur and the Basler Schnitzelbänggler – a jester-figure who features in the carnival of Jung’s sometime-home town of Basel, and who holds up a mirror to the world’s hypocrisy, folly and vice.
Just as Jung destabilises her sculptures by treating them as something approaching props, she appears to frequently derail her performances, falling prey to hesitations, salty asides, bursts of song, Tommy Cooper-esque object gags, and groan-inducing puns. Storytelling, here, is not about authority, or beginnings, middles and endings, but about the contingency of knowledge, and of meaning. It is also about taking pleasure in the dexterity – and the multiplicity – of a single human voice.
A publication accompanying the exhibition, with texts by Sophie Jung and Tom Morton, will be available from 16 December, 2017.
Performances are scheduled at various point throughout the run of the exhibition. Dates will be announced shortly.