Carpeted Bathroom, an Exhibition Review of ‘Sex Club’
Featuring Erika Silverman, Raymond Strachan, and Debbie Young
40 Fox Street, Glasgow, Scotland
Sex Club at 40 Fox Street, Glasgow—down an alley-like street behind the St. Enoch Centre shopping mall—felt like it was making fun of the site-responsive artwork/exhibition. Intentionally or not. I’m not the one to ask. One might have to ask one of the three artists showing work; Erika Silverman, Raymond Strachan, or Debbie Young. All works are made between this year and the last and are featured in three rooms that snake away from a central hallway, which for a brief time in the early 2010s served as that of a bisexual sex club. The club dissolved in 2015.
Each member of the group show writes that their work was made in response to the exhibition building. Silverman’s enlarged, cross-stitched condom wrappers; one reading Trojan Magnum, Durex, Pasante; are hung on the wall—their quality blurred in pixelated wool. In another room, a collection of staged white PVC clad worms, or piping bags (phalluses), make-up Pile o’ Sperm by the same artist—in the middle of the room, ejaculated like its bin day into a heap by some gigantic penis above.
In some of the rooms, bar that with Pile o’ Sperm, on the floor is royal blue carpet. Like carpeting in a bathroom, I’m alarmed by carpeting in both a gallery and a sex club. An uneasiness lurks throughout the space. A that’s-not-quite-right feeling that is transported from the floor, to the space, to the artworks. A full-body convulsion beginning at the base of the foot that ends on the retina.
Debbie Young’s work Nan Sextet is in a room all to itself. Six ceramic figures, their body parts held together with metal armatures, their limbs sometimes missing, their hair made from the likes of coiled metal, or modelling clay spaghetti, rest uneasily in the space. On their knees, slumped and tacked against walls. The windows are covered in a beige fabric, dulling the sun, and a robotic spotlight mounted above the frame of the door rotates a light beam from one figure to the next. There’s a St. Sebastian one, ceramic chest pierced with arrows, and there’s one with a tap for a cock pissing a brassy chain. A red strip-light colours the room. I walked to the entrance, the spotlight whirred and whiplashed, it steadied. Lit up in front of me, a figure appears, serving Patti LuPone performing As If We Never Said Goodbye at the Adelphi Theatre in London. Ceramic arms and chest scribbled with hair, black horns, a concerned expression, a cylinder for a penis and holding a wine glass. I burst out laughing. Scared in the dark by Disney’s It’s a Small World production of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).
I turn around. There’s a CRT television playing CCTV footage from the front of the building. The television is positioned in front of two haunted, beige bucket chairs. Nothing could make me sit there. There are two other material exposures of the building’s past; a numbered locker-key board sans keys and the revealing of a small mural beneath white paint. Objects presented to give credibility to the project, to showcase the authenticity of the space. An authentically debased space.
The exhibition straddles the line between sincerity and irony. Raymond Strachan appears to be making work in earnest. Canvases adorned with an abstract composition on black, laboured with messy paint drippings, textiles, chunky jewellery and the lenses from a pair of polarised sunglasses, all in a cyber-goth palette. The two works described, at night, are accompanied by inflated, woollen condom wrappers and hand towels printed with erotic close up photographs by Silverman. I experienced whiplash like that of a rotating spotlight. I struggled to engage in what I perceived to be a more sober body of work.
Imagine being a building. One that used to be a sex club. Imagine all that would have happened there. The sex, the sweat, the bad music, the smell, the carpets. Imagine being the same building with three artists making work in response to your past inside of you. One ruminates on fun-ness; enlarging sperm and wrappers, and hand towels. The other on debauchery; with a horrendous cast of erotic dolls on their way to hell. The last, translation; illustrating in abstract the imagined feeling of a space. Carpet in a bathroom, in a gallery, in a sex club. I left smiling, thinking that’s-not-quite-right. Yet, I had fun. A lack of cohesion between the works, along with a high camp failure, has made Sex Club a surprising, ironic favourite of the festival.