Lady of the Lamp, by Joe Rush (Mutoid Waste Co.)
A monster of a street art show, cheekily dubbed MuTATE Britain, ran amok through December in London, leaving thousands of gobsmacked visitors in its aftermath. Billed as an “interactive multimedia pile-up”, this free, non-corporate extravaganza didn’t disappoint. In a city where more conventional art exhibitions are as commonplace as rats in biology labs, the work featured here leapt out like some orgiastic post-apocalyptic cybernetic experiment.
Held at Behind the Shutters Gallery, a multi-storey warehouse space in Shoreditch, MuTATE Britain showcased a gargantuan collection of cutting-edge contemporary art, including live performances, video art and 3D installations.
Mutoid Waste Co. installation
“It really worked and didn’t feel random or disjointed like so many group exhibitions do. It was edgy without being freaky. I mean this show could have been really scary.” Eva Branscome, Photographer
Phenomenal specimens of sculpture were built using recycled objects such as vehicle parts and scrap metal, and some of the works were brought to life via robotics. Great graffiti art was also on show, and various artists – Inkie and Eelus to namedrop but two – were invited to do all kinds of aerosol, airbrush, acrylic and other pieces on titanium aircraft panels salvaged following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here, as throughout the exhibition, a wry take on war came to the fore, and sex was never far from the picture.
Red Angel, by Wreckage International (Mutoid Waste Co.)
MuTATE Britain was the brainchild of the Mutoid Waste Company, a travelling art collective spawned in the 1980s. They kick-started their career throwing illegal parties, where they transformed disused spaces like bus depots into other worldly environments with the sculptures and costumes they created. Influenced by sci-fi culture like the 2000AD comics and Mad Max films, Mutoid Waste became legendary for having the mettle to meddle with metal and other materials in ways that embodied brilliantly twisted imaginations.
Oopsy Daisy, by Eelus
One of the founders of Mutoid Waste, Joe Rush is no stranger to retrieving and reusing all conceivable discarded bits and pieces so that they take on outlandish new personas. The valkyrie-like Lady of the Lamp is a reworked tailors dummy of steel and cloth. Its name is a clear allusion to famous wartime nurse Florence Nightingale, but with its corseted hourglass figure it’s immediately sexualised. The headlamp face of this surreal mannequin stares down at you – and stares you down – in a piece that plays on power.
Triumph Heart, by Joe Rush
Another piece by Joe Rush, Triumph Heart exposes the vein of quirky humour as well as rare beauty behind the mechanical madness of his work. Assembled out of lipstick red steel and chrome Triumph motorcycle parts, “it’s this classic image taken from Catholic kitsch iconography – the sacred heart of Jesus – and transposed to be literally triumphant,” Eva Branscome pointed out.
Rush’s sculptures have been cast is bronze and collected by such luminaries as Damien Hirst and Ted Baker – testimony to the fact that his underground credentials have kicked down the door for more widespread critical success.
Pole Dancers, by Giles Walker (Mutoid Waste Co.)
Another member of Mutoid Waste, Giles Walker is a whiz in animatronics – the use of electronics to make mechanised puppets seem alive. Like Joe Rush, Walker is now also an internationally recognised artist and exhibits worldwide. His robotic Pole Dancers, which he tours with, caused a sensation at MuTATE Britain.
A megaphone-headed DJ flanks two pole-dancing girl robots watched by a heckling drunk in the audience, purported to be a self-portrait of the artist. The automatons are animated with 12-volt windscreen wiper motors and controlled via a PC – yet they move just like humans.
“The pole dancers moved smoothly, seductively gyrating,“ observed Eva Branscome. “The fact that the heads are like a cross between CCTV cameras and search lights is also a reference to the illegal street art culture.” A comment, too, on the way everyone is caught up in some kind of surveillance game, as the artist himself explains:
“We are now all living in a peepshow. Continually being watched by mechanical peeping toms. With this in mind, I wondered if it was possible to literally make a CCTV camera sexy using simple mechanics…and by using the imagery of a pole dancer question the roles played in voyeurism.” Giles Walker
Tamara Pt 3, by Part2ism
Taking off with themes parallel to other artists exhibiting at Mutate Britain, came acclaimed graffiti artist and music producer Part2ism with Tamara Pt 3. Not just a single aircraft panel but a whole section of aluminium aircraft wing was used for this giant aerosol and acrylic piece, which spanned two floors of the exhibition space. But let Eva Branscome, who collaborated on this article, have the last word – almost:
“The gasmask is a reference to the gear of the street artist – where it’s used to protect against spray can fumes – but has highly sexualised overtones in the context Part2ism chooses. He is painting on an airplane wing, a reused but otherwise useless object. This gives the grit back to this ‘for-sale’ piece of street art that other such works on canvas just loose in my opinion.”
Street art from the outer reaches done good in this dirty great beast of an exhibition.
All images by: Emodern
We’ll even throw in a free album.