Monday, 19 November 2012

Cedey Codray - Harvest

Cedey Codray is not a name that springs to mind when confronted with a room full of art whose primary material is that which can be harvested from the human body.  But perhaps his previous diatribes, railing against the art establishment as well as his view that most artists are lazy and unimaginative, can give us a clue as to the reasons for his latest exhibition 'Harvest'.

One might imagine, on reading the press release for this show which states "Codray enjoys the gathering of materials to make his work almost as much as making the work itself, cultivating his crops with great care and attention to detail to ensure the perfect outcome for his art..." that we might be looking at some kind of vegetable sculptures, or maybe grass weaving or an examination of different soils that kill crops or enliven them, causing famine in some parts of the world, and feast in others.  But no.  That is not his style.

The central piece in the show is mounted on a plinth in the middle of the gallery.  Two glass cases stand next to each other, separated by about an inch of clear space.  Inside each case is a cast of Codray's head, but each has a slightly different colour, a subtle variant of off-white, and on closer inspection, they also have a slightly different texture.  One of them is a little yellowish, and perhaps crumbling a bit, its surface pocked marked with the signs of deterioration giving the impression that if you were only to touch its surface that away would come the detail of Codray's skin; the other, is whiter, and harder, at least in the places where it is not stained by the transgression of the pollutant that has been incorporated into the material.  At their closest point, the facing sides of the cases are open, leaving clear space between the two heads, facing each other, nose to nose, as if each is inviting the other in to their domain, but neither is willing to make the first move.  It isn't a challenge, it isn't violent, their glass cubicles are open, their expressions ambivalent, though slightly different, since it is clear that the casts are not duplicates, but from different moulds.

So as I look at this piece, and briefly read the title 'Dirty Twins', I wonder about the dirt.  They do both look dirty, it is true, but in different ways.  Then, all of a sudden, the title of the exhibition itself combines with the title of the work, and the faint whiff of latrine, and I look again at the label to try and find out a little more.  And there it is.  The subtitle is "Piss-Head:Shit-Head" and the materials used read... well you can guess that they entail an incorporation of Codray's waste products.  But despite ones immediate reaction to such a juvenile approach to art creation, I could not help wondering about that gap between the two cases, and the sub title.

Codray's reputation as a drinker and, to put it politely, his lack of interest in the niceties of normal discourse when a sufficiency of alcohol is in his system, I was already aware of having met an old friend (or more accurately an ex- old friend) of his at an unrelated show a couple of months ago.  And so the concept of dualism, the Jekyll and Hyde complex, the loving friend and hated drunk, is brought into the foreground and I quickly realise that what I am looking at is not some facile attempt at re-imagining Marc Quinn's poetic, if overdone, blood head, but is in fact a self portrait.  He takes a drink, he takes another, and another, and another, he is a piss-head, for want of a more literary phrase, he can't help himself, he likes to drink.  And then the transformation begins, he becomes loud and abusive, revealing secrets of his friends, cursing his lover, rounding on anyone who doesn't let his ego rampage across the room; he becomes the shit-head.  The two heads are inextricably linked: the one is the cause of the other.  And what better way to demonstrate the literality of these states of mind than with his own waste, his urine mixed in with the plaster for one, causing the texture to alter from that of the usual hard casting one would otherwise expect, and the “mashed up faeces” as described by the title label, to exemplify the result of his addiction, leaving dirty, stained streaks of shit across the surface of his face, a well as our imagination seeing the pollutant cast in seams of filth through the whole head.

It is quite a disgusting piece once you realise what you are looking at, but powerful, and accurate, and by far the best piece in the show.  There is really only one other work worth any real consideration.  But first we walk past 'Can', another replica object, but this time of a drinks can, and not cast out of plaster, but made of papier-mâché forced into a mould made of the can of a well known soft drink manufacturer, papier-mâché that was made with wallpaper paste, and, you've guessed it, toilet paper, and yes, you're right again, used toilet paper.  One's mind boggles at the processes he must have gone through to create such a piece, and then moves on quickly realising that to dwell on such a revolting series of processes would certainly put me off my lunch.  But the use to which the toilet paper was put is obvious for all to see, and I am sure there was a slight taint in the air as I moved on to 'Blood Bank'.

'Blood Bank' is a wall-mounted piece.  No waste products were used in its creation, but instead he uses his blood.  "The extracted blood," the label alongside informs us, "is mixed with gelatine and poured into square moulds before leaving in the fridge to set overnight."  It's jelly then.  "The result is a form of lightly elastic blood red movement which brings to the possibility of coagulation during storage," it's jelly, right? "and defines anew the notion of blood as food-stuff."  Right.  It is jelly.  Blood jelly.  Now, I like the idea of blood jelly.  Not to eat necessarily, but to wobble.  Blood is a good colour, a deep dark red, one of the best colours, and always gets a reaction.  And jelly?  Well, jelly's fun, it wobbles, that's always fun!  But on this occasion, it's not so fun.  You don't get to wobble the jelly.  The 170 blood-jelly cubes are mounted on a white board that is framed and hung on the wall, like a painting.  They are arranged very neatly in a square, 13 by 13, with the central space missing.  But by now, you will have got the impression of beautiful blood red cubes arranged neatly on the wall, drawing you attention to the role blood is meant to play when exposed to the air, to coagulate and stop the flow of any more blood from a cut on your body, so you don't die from loss of blood.  But no.  These cubes aren't the hard beautiful blood red sculptures you imagine, but sag slightly, under their own weight.  And on top of top of that, just to destroy and possible beauty they may have had once upon a time, they have clearly been left out of the fridge for quite a while, and have been encouraged to grow a thick garden of moulds.  The coverage of mould on the cubes is uneven, but green and white, as one would imagine, a little hairy, and quite unappetising.  But is does make for a more interesting piece than simply displaying perfect dark red squares would have been.  Indeed, one is left with the impression of the impermanence of the bloods use once it has left the owners body.  Blood, where it should not be, is not much use, other that as food for moulds, or animals.  And I think of the blood banks as a network of depositories across the country, all reliant on the fridges and freezers that keep them usable and safe from deterioration.  What would happen if the lights went out, the fridges turned off, how long would it be before the only use any of that blood could be put to is as art, or food?  How long do we have?  Weeks?  Days?  Hours?

We live by a thread in our comfortable western palace of convenience, where gathering food means walking to the end of the road to the nearest shop, where diseases are cured as easily they kill in other parts of the world, where an accident, that had the ambulance arrived only ten minutes later, would have seen Cedey Codray dead from blood loss, but instead he survived, thanks to the paramedics skill and the blood they carried with them, which inspired the creation of this piece of mouldy art.

I will pass on describing the piss paintings, and semen stained adverts culled from magazines and newspapers to draw attention to the overt sexuality employed to sell... almost anything.  They are not that interesting, or artistic in my view.  But 'Piss-head:Shit-Head' stays with me as I leave the gallery, and the thought of the black pudding I had in a café that morning leaves me feeling a little uneasy as I head off for lunch.

Roundhouse Gallery, Coventry, till December 13th.