The weather outside may be frightful but artist, Sandy Smith, has five warmer, and far more appealing propositions for you. Smith’s exhibition at Space in Between, Five Propositions for the Tourist, doesn’t merely make a performance out of transporting the viewer to sunnier climes: the installation literally radiates heat.
The sauna-style decking, ‘Take your time, embrace your misunderstanding’, boasts a grid of white-hot bulbs, while ‘Sometimes it goes deeper than you think’ warms the skin with the burnt orange of reptile lamps. The sea-blue printed wallpaper of this, our retreat, reflects the ambient glow and forgets the grey it faces outside the gallery window.
A seeming mash-up of existential philosophy, popular psychology and obscure poetry; the names of the works in the show might have already revealed that there is far more to this exhibition than the simple reptilian pleasure of basking in the artificial heat.
Five Propositions for the Tourist grapples with two underlying grand influences: a photograph taken in 1934 showing the façade of the Fascist Party’s headquarters, wrapped in a banner repeating the word SI over and over, and a story about Ludwig Wittgenstein who, for most of his later life, lectured in a room unfurnished bar a safe containing his notes; those invited to the lecture brought deck chairs to bask in the attempted murder of philosophy by a vortex of logic.
It is not instantly clear how Smith has rationalised these two big ideas and it’s easy to be sceptical of the feat, but it’s also possible to see these distilled into two harmonious elements. The repetition of IS, an inversion of the Fascist slogan, is described by Smith as “simultaneously an affirmation and a questioning, a churning out of meaningless language and an overstimulated form of zen meditation.”
As language plays at being more complex (expanding in the poem which accompanies the show and the poetic fragments of the works list) this overstimulation radiates through the breezy slogans which Wittgenstein might very well see as a fresh assault on philosophy.
Smith explains that, “for a long time I’ve been fascinated with self-help and other pop-psychology texts, I’ve used slogans and mantras from these for some time, such as ‘every day in every way I’m getting better and better’ by Emile Coué, to name a familiar one. I think a lot about texts (and materials) which hover between intent, or vibrate between positive and negative interpretations.”
Thus, depending on our mood, we might find our own solace or menace in A hyperactive field of indecision is not without form or Stretch your legs, interact, and remember.
Perhaps the most incredible thing about the show is the wallpaper, the only element which was created off-site in New York and transported to London in Smith’s hand-luggage. Three hundred foot of paper was printed in just three hours after Smith had spent 6 months building and perfecting his own rotary printing press. By turning everything together the press allows for “a continuous stream of printed text”.
“I prefer to make quite a rigid environment that contains the possibility for free movement within it, my thinking being that it is much more genuinely generous than the space that pretends to be lax and laissez-faire but actually has quite specific intentions laid out for you in how you interact with it.”
The repetitive formula of ‘IS’ from that vinyl wallpaper will burn on in your retina, along with the respite of those grids of heated lamps; there’s certainly plenty to keep you thinking even after you’ve left the remit of Five Propositions for the Tourist’s warm aura.