Eclectrc Panoptic, now coming to its last few days at Talbot Rice Gallery, comes exceptionally close to being mind-blowing.
Upon entering the gallery the walls are decorated with colourful, geometric drawings on paper produced by the New Zealand-born artist, along with a mural of vulvic alien gods and somersaulting disembodied nudes.
There’s a lot going on, and it’s hard to decide whether it is a colourful ecstasy or an eye-sore (owing significantly to the floor-grid necessary for the virtual reality technology ‘Ixian Gate’ to operate). However once the Oculus Rift headset is on and you begin journeying through the psychedelic trip none of your psychological baggage matters.
Hybrid architecture of classical temples, sci-fi-esque landscapes and a garishly patterned rollercoaster ride (later developing into a looming, dystopian skyscraper) provides a hypnotic backdrop to your encounters in the adventure. It adopts the same clever formula of layering different patterns and motifs together that makes video-gaming so addictive, yet Johnson’s processing of much of this stuff into her signature drawing style reaches its climax here. It quickly becomes obvious that we are swimming within the brainchild of one of the most unique and relevant new artistic imaginations to cruise into the UK art scene.
There seems to be a deeper motive within the piece beyond simply providing an aesthetically stimulating joyride through an alternative reality. The nude human figures (seemingly androgynous, though I believe that Johnson intended them to be regarded as male), stack and stretch in towers around you. As you float down a walled passageway, more vulva-gods are revealed; it’s increasingly clear that she has lured you into a feminist temple, and she is demanding you to act accordingly by joining the nudes in their worship of female energy.
More commentary on the multifaceted notion of perception exists within the video piece next to the VR area. The piece is partially disrupted by the unnecessary opening shot of the expanding iris which detracts from the beautiful abstraction of the remaining shots. Suddenly the visuals become a construction from ingested drugs rather than our brain’s powerful, unaltered imagination. The literality of the filmed footage combined with computer-generated imagery feels disjointed. Perhaps it’s there to remind us that these utopian immersions are only temporary.
Johnson’s drawings are at their most current and enriching in this exhibition. Her layering of iconography demonstrates a cool balance, particularly in its ability to appropriate aspects of rave-culture whilst side-stepping the lamely direct references to it adopted by many contemporary artists. Eclectic Panoptic demonstrates a perfect collision between the traditional craft of drawing and more future-oriented video game technology. Together Ward and Johnson have proven that drawing still has a secure stand even in this digital age.
At Talbot Rice Gallery, run ended