Emii Alrai: The High Dam @ the Tetley, Leeds

16/2/2020 ZM

emoji summary:  ✨ 🔲 🏺

I miss the old white pube, the 2016/7 white pube, where we’d write long rambling, not-politically-specific essays. I miss turning myself inside out: writing about love and my stomach and the grit you find under your nails after you’ve been on the tube. I don’t know what happened to that writer - maybe she got preoccupied with providing something of value to the people reading this, or the people making or positioning the works, maybe it was fear of all these people seeing her insides and then weighing its value. I miss writing through myself. I feel like I haven’t done it in a long time; I’ve been too caught up in affect and criticality, and I feel like it’s not enough to just say ‘i liked this bc reasons & feelings’ any more. I have to have a larger backdrop to situate, or a critical position; and in that I think I have lost a part of me. Maybe the part that is connected to the Deep Body (like the Deep State or the Deep Web - Deep Body as guts and astral-self both), higher conscious, or maybe it’s just the part of me that is Moved by art? Does art even move me anymore!? Do I just cry because something is close or personal? I used to be moved by aesthetic wave, not just by intimacy in proximity. I just don’t care any more. Gab does her 1000-word reviews, I want a return to my super-internal reviews. 

I am so fucking sensitive to the feel and flow of rooms and galleries; I think most, maybe 80% of galleries, need some lessons in like Feng shui or maybe j a seminar in what bad vibes are. The Tetley, in Leeds, has bad vibes - like ur posh childhood friend’s house, there are just too many rooms. It’s creepy, I don’t like it, with too many rooms comes too many doors, IT JUST STRESSES ME OUT. Get Kevin McCloud in to sort it out, bc I can’t deal with it it’s a nightmare. But across one room and a hallway/annex is Emii Alrai’s The High Dam. In the room is a collection of objects, splodged together, some small and coloured to look like they’re made of oxidised copper // some large and stretched out like slabs, hung on stands like they’re those enormous kebab house naans that come to the table on hooks. Objects feels like the closest descriptor, because there’s no overwhelming or unifying word to describe them (other than gubbins, but that’s j what my Mum calls the collection of my clutter that builds up in any room I spend more than 4 hours in). Some like wobbly bowls, talismans, statues and jugs; relief and patina. They’re made purposefully to mimic these museological gubbins, the detritus of life long ago. I think if anyone from Ancient Phoenicia knew that we’d saved their jugs and gubbins they’d laugh at us - can u imagine a future museum full of those enormous ASDA dog mugs? 

Against the medium wood-panelled rooms at the Tetley, I feel like they passed a visual test though. It was convincing, I bought it. I managed to cock up and miss Emii Alrai’s show at Vitrine last year - the idea of schlepping all the way to Bermondsey to look at a window from the outside was just never going to happen for me - but the premise of the backdrop feels a similar level of convincing. This then feels like a nice joke that I’m in on; we r playing Museums, let’s all look at the play-artefacts, play out an exercise in setting ourselves up to Look. But forgery aside, they are quite beautiful. Against a stark white backdrop, or a marble slab, they’d be beautiful odd-bobs in an influencer’s flatlay // look better on a mantlepiece // put em on a plinth w a concrete floor in a small gallery in continental Europe I bet they’d be taken very seriously. These are adept objects, deft and nimble in their liquidity; and against these Bad Vibey Tetley rooms, they feel like they tell me more about the set-up that’s being staged than themselves. 

Out in the hallway/annex, there’s a large boat hoisted up onto props. I have to tiptoe to see into it at eye-level, and as I teeter over the rim of its gooey side, there’s a little landscape of more of these objects arranged across it, with little decorational wheat wisps poking out of some of the black and red clay pots. The walls around this sticky black boat are covered in a whitewashed cardboard, large slabs of them layered up onto the walls. I have always said that the act of peering makes me feel like a horrible pervert; I am shy around some objects, keen to protect their modesty. I don’t know what that’s about? Maybe I’m personifying them subconsciously, but I feel like these objects wanted me to look at them in a specific way - from the set up and their fabrication/fashioning. It seemed to me like the staging was half the fun; something I really appreciate, I’m a fan of that fall backwards into fantasy and narrative, the full-scale commitment and theatre of it. The only thing I remember vividly about playing as a child was that me and my friends would use aggressively American TV voices the whole time. The objects were malleable, transient, beautiful but there’s so much more to this show than just the consideration of beauty and aesthetic/makerly satisfaction. I liked it for that commitment, I liked it for its knowing smile and I liked this show bc reasons. 

Emii Alrai's The High Dam is on at the Tetley in Leeds until 10th May. 

{ the only reason The White Pube can still exist is because some of our readers choose to support us each month via Patreon. We sometimes do talks n other jobs but Patreon is how we get paid for the actual writing here - the reviews, art thoughts and so on. it’s important to us to stay independent critics without ties to big funders or institutions, public or private. thank you for being our old timey patrons - we’ll do our best to produce quality output; write stuff that is thoughtful and sincere }

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