Alice Theobold and Atomik Architecture

The Baltic Centre, Newcastle, 11 December 2015 – 10 April 2016

On the second level of The Baltic in Newcastle, Alice Theobold’s exhibition is at first a sliver of black tucked inside a vast white wall, as though somebody has cut away at the external blankness to reveal a space which has been there all along. Four cylindrical rooms covered in duvets and pillows are segmented into a raised platform on which sits a single velvet red chair, a coffee table and several studio lights. Through co-mingling familiar household items with the more stage-oriented props, Theobold elevates the intimate into the public and opens up questions of space and structure, of perception and projection, in an all-encompassing exhibition that defies generic definition.

There is something disturbingly subversive about Theobold’s collaborative creation. The makeshift structures make no effort to disguise themselves as anything but constructs; duvet covers loosely fastened to wooden beams, gritty whitewashed windows act as furtive screens. It must be lovely to have walls made for dreaming on, where limitations and boundaries are mentioned only in a minor key. But the writing scrawled on the walls turns you round and round, perpetuating a movement of disorientation and confusion, and the padded exterior also evokes the psychiatric wards made to contain insanity, bringing the subconscious to the surface. Turning circles in circles in a circle, Theobold gives a whole new dimension to the concept of cyclical. Like the gears on a bike, or the running of a movie reel, Theobold seeks to question the functions and interactions of the singular within the greater whole and reminds us that many actions require more than one take.

Alongside the motif of repetition, which exerts itself in performance, structure and song, Theobold’s fascination with the cinematic also provokes one to address questions of the self-consciousness and self-awareness. What is it that makes us perceive others the way that we do? Why do we care? And then, in turn, how is it that we see ourselves? We are simultaneously spectators and voyeurs, watching the performance of the everyday at eye-level, on projected screens, and through little peepholes. However, the greatest climax of Theobold’s exhibition-cum-performance occurs when I look up, in-between the second and third ‘room’, and see that it is no longer the performer whom I am watching projected on the windows, but me. It’s a shock to see myself, to see my navy sweater and black fringed eyes projected onto a dirtied screen in the manner of a furtive CCTV recording, side-profile sullen and still in surprise. By turning the outward inward, Theobold makes me wonder if perhaps the person whom I saw in the split second before recognition is the person whom everybody else sees too, and if that is possibly as close as I’ll ever get to witnessing the external ‘me’. The scripted score builds up into a choral harmony which repeats uncomfortably the very philosophy that is at the crux of Theobold’s exhibition: it’snotwhoyouareitshowyouarehowarethey? And I look away, camera shy.

In Godard’s film Le Mepris, a sultry Bridgette Bardot and her husband, played by the exasperated Michel Piccoli, are unable to save their marriage through an inability to truly communicate their own desires to each other behind the theatrical façade of expected mannerisms. Theobold’s ambitious exhibition is not only an homage to the difficulties and “slippage of language” and communication, but also addresses the notion of interaction between artistic mediums, between the physical and the conceptual. In an age where celebrity culture has taken storm, Theobold questions just how far the limits of the stage may go in regards to our own personal actions and preconceptions, and upon leaving I am left wondering if I have ever done a good deed without expecting an audience. After all, it is not who we are, but how we are.

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