jesse darling: from batman to empire, from gender to war

We look inside the artist's new show at Arcadia Missa as it closes this weekend.

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May 7 2016, 10:05am

For Jesse Darling's latest solo exhibition at Arcadia Missa, South London, entitled The Great Near, the press release for the exhibition is edited verbatim from the Wikipedia definition of modernity:

the prioritization of individualism, freedom and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific n technological progress/human perfectibility; rationalization professionalization; industrialization, urbanization, secularization; the development of the nation-state n its constituent institutions eg representative democracy,public education, modern bureaucracy; forms of surveillance

It can be read as an index to the works, in large part legibly assembled from equally legible low- and no- cost material: steel, cloth, clay. Barbed wire and plastic cherries gird Temps de Cerises I; plastic ivy the cruciform of Saint Batman, face of pink expanding foam; body of printed binliner. Temps de Cerises II rests on wood stilts and trolley wheels; a hot pink matte, flat, tall rectangle with bare branch that blossoms pink expanding foam (while a red flashing bike light bears signal or alarm). Colonel Shanks flat, tall, rectangular body rests on the A-frame of an aluminium mobility crutch and bent steel legs (shy or broken); its rear bearing bike chain and grosgrain ribbon; its front a white styrofoam staghead. Cavalry of sculpted clay horseheads rests on stems of bent steel mounted on a cheap shelf. On the walls, mounted burnt eyes or faces of dishcloth flags, hoisted by steel frames whose arrows point nowhere, in opposite directions: these named Domestic Terror, 1 2 and 3. Halos, horns or crowns of thorns; these spectres of good and evil of the secular, discredited Christianity of white, western nation-states. The hubris and detritus of Empire is what The Great Near draws from and builds on.

What it means to be constructed and deconstructed as a subject in an ongoing area of enquiry for Jesse Darling, whose work thus far has spanned sculpture, painting, drawing, writing, video, digital and live performance. Jesse is concerned with how human subjects are formed and deformed in the radically fragmentary, partial and unequal conditions of modernity and postmodernity we have inherited and live in; with alterity in an expanded and reflexive sense, the latent alterity of the potential sickness and disability and the certainty of decline and death, that which encompasses the human, animal and material world whether 'manmade' or 'natural.' That the aftermath of war may not look, feel or be meaningfully different from the aftermath of disaster, whether as a human or an object.

Equally, masculinity, no less than femininity, could be a drag - costume, joke or nightmare. The single painting in the exhibition depicts a head-in-hand Batman, streaming blood from the lower abdomen; Batman being, as Darling emphasises, a self-appointed hero, hubristic and with no particular powers. There are moments of dark humour in The Great Near, a palpable faith in the work of hands and palpable pleasure in vivid colour and a light touch. These brighten an essentially dark landscape. As Darling put in a recent Facebook status update: 'The apocalypse has already happened its jus not evenly distributed.'