Monday 29 October 2012

Review of Susie Hamilton & Inguna Gremzde: Vacant Lots at WW Gallery

Susie Hamilton & Inguna Gremzde: Vacant Lots
WW Gallery
10 October – 10 November 2012

Modern society is defined by consumerism and mass consumption of the commodity. The most visited destination is the supermarket, where the overwhelming array of choices between myriad near identical alternatives leads to what the American psychologist Barry Schwartz describes as the “paradox of choice”, and the incessant drone of background music, broken up by advertising bulletins for the latest deal, is the ubiquitous soundtrack to contemporary living. WW Gallery’s current exhibition, Vacant Lots, both celebrates and exposes this dystopian landscape, assaulting the viewer with the bright colours of Susie Hamilton’s shapeless and featureless shoppers, as they traverse the neon supermarket aisles, and with Inguna Gremzde’s repetitive and detailed “life through a lens” studies of shoppers and their trolleys, painstakingly painted on to plastic bottle tops and yoghurt pot lids.

Opening with Hamilton’s Shopper, a six minute long looped video made up of four small screens – one following shoppers as they trawl round outdoor market stalls; the others inside, with consumers inspecting and selecting goods, marching almost mechanically up and down the aisles, and standing listlessly at the check out – we immediately recognise our surroundings and, despite the anonymity of the store at hand, know exactly where we are. The gallery is eerily silent, however, countering our expectation of piped music, and thus keeping us cleverly at one remove, as we proceed, nevertheless, to potter along, looking at both artists’ repeated characters, pushing their trolleys through the banal environment.

Gremzde’s shoppers are clear victims of Schwartz’s malady, scratching their heads and chins, distractedly studying the endless rows of products, hands thrust deep in pockets, as they struggle to make their selections. The shelves on either side of the aisles recede to a distant vanishing point, swallowing the shoppers up in their vortex.

Confronting us both small- and large-scale, with characters pared down to basic shapes and bright colours, but easily recognisable, like logos from an advertising campaign, Hamilton’s canvases, displayed en masse in grid formations, capture the anonymity and “everyman” nature of the modern shopper. Their titles only serve to reinforce this dehumanising aspect, with examples such as: Red Shopper, Asda/9, Lidl/3, Yellow Freezer, and Mauve Aisle. In the latter, a grey-coloured woman is bent almost double over her trolley, demonic black eyes staring out from her otherwise featureless face, whilst in the oversized Shopper, a gloomy canvas in varying shades of brown, a depressed, stooping, and overladen woman steps out from the garish in-store lighting, back into the grim reality of a cold, hard outdoor world. The weight of her bags is tangible, and the monotony of her humdrum routine hangs equally as heavy. She may have escaped the store for now, but her return is imminent: an inescapable part of her weekly routine. What is saddest of all is that this short escape from the grey reality into the hyperreal aisles, full of what is both the shopper’s dream and her nightmare, might still be the highlight thereof.


Installation shots from Vacant Lots
Courtesy the artists and WW Gallery

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