Reviews Performance Published 13 January 2014

A Slight Nausea

South London Gallery ⋄ 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 January 2014

A bare interior.

Lewis Church

Becky Beasley’s interior at the South London Gallery is a curious concept, not fully functioning as an installation or environmental artwork but simply existing, another room in a gallery not starved of quiet places to sit. Interior is an apt description (and the artist’s own term), as it implies that the energies of the artist have gone into creating a backdrop for what the audience brings into the space, rather than an ambitious artistic agenda to shape the experience of its visitors. A Slight Nausea runs for four weeks, marked in the exhibition materials as ‘chapters’, the room very subtly changing in lighting from weekend to weekend, when it is open to the public. Even with this in mind, it’s surprising to enter the room only to see virtually nothing, to the extent of wondering if this was the right place at all.

In the Clore studio, South London Gallery’s live event space, Beasley has placed 5 tables, 3 revolving magazine racks and some uncomfortable chairs on what is marked as a bespoke linoleum floor. Gallery staff occupied one of the tables, absently clicking visitors in, and one or two other visitors sat at others reading the exhibition materials or the newspaper. The magazine racks are filled with the weekend newspapers, binders filled with scrapbook articles from Beasley’s personal archive and a freshly translated version of Carlo Mollino’s 1949 essay Utopia and Interiors, the inspiration and basis for the exhibition. The room feels like nothing as much as an institutional waiting room, sterile and silent. Visitors are invited to spend ‘extended time in the space’, reading the papers and materials under the fluorescent strip lights that surround a large skylight in the ceiling. It is these lights that change throughout the run of the exhibition, a drab yellow during this, the second weekend (‘chapter 2’), after what had been the colder light of chapter 1 and with a more amber light for chapter 3, coming next weekend. For the final two days, the fourth chapter, visitors will also be allowed to smoke freely in the space, the gallery warning visitors to visit on a prior occasion if they disapprove. Whilst this novelty may appeal to some in the land of the smoking ban, it is perhaps unlikely to make the room a more appealing place in which to spend ‘extended time’ for most.

Seated at one of the tables, and reading Utopia and Interiors, the room feels even barer. Mollino, whose essay surveys the evolution of taste in interiors from the Baroque to the traditional Japanese home, writes with vivid descriptions of furniture, decoration, feel and societal taste. This room, as architectural dead space, the white cube of the modern gallery, feels all the more lifeless.

The furniture of Beasley’s interior is so familiar that it barely registers; the floor, designed by the artist, is just a floor, like any other. Beasley has created linoleum designs for her installations before, notably Spring Rain (2013) and P.A.N.O.R.A.M.A (2010), and the same geometric shapes against a block colour are used again, each table sitting in its own circle of pale yellow on the black floor. But where those exhibitions were unmistakably designed, with odd shapes cut into the floor to compliment the art on the walls, the simplicity of this installation, the symmetry and familiarity of the colours and shapes here leaves it all too easy to overlook and ignore. Nothing is here; it is a background in front of which we move every day. This interior is characterised as a live work that explores the limits of the live event, but in pushing so hard against the conventions of an installation it has rendered itself redundant.

The exhibition is aggressively subtle, the hand of Beasley all too absent and any authorial intent lost completely. Instead of spending ‘extended time’ in the space during, most visitors instead appear mystified by the lack of anything at all to redeem the space as a site of artistic engagement. In exploring the limits A Slight Nausea has gone beyond, into nothingness.