In August 2017 we visited Benedict Drew‘s exhibition The Trickle-Down Syndrome at the Whitechapel Gallery with students on the Critical Theory in Contemporary Art Practice course. The exhibition was a sprawling interconnected array of objects, banners, screens, cables and digital components. What is the Trickle-Down Syndrome? How does it relate to the infamous laissez faire economic theory? What are the throbbing fleshy forms and knobbly knotted forms represented in videos, banners and roughly-hewn objects?
We spent a couple of hours viewing and discussing the exhibition and everyone was asked to write a 250-500 word review that evening for a workshop the next morning. Each review is written in a uniquely different style and approach, with a different interpretation of the exhibition. We were all very impressed by this outcome so we decided to share the results.
ALISON GILL Slush Economics and Other Symptoms
ARIELLE FRANCIS What is the point, Benedict Drew
DOROTHY HUNTER No Guts and No Glory
EMILY STAPLETON JEFFERIS Bendedict Drew: The Trickle Down System
IAN BIRKHEAD In the Synthetic Bowel
JUN ABE Undergoing the Trickle-Down Syndrome: Underneath Your Flesh
TAMMY SMITH A sensory journey through absurdly visualised bodily functions vs the state economy
ALISON GILL Slush Economics and Other Symptoms
The Trickle-Down Syndrome is a multimedia installation by Benedict Drew involving sculpture, music and video. The mesmerising and seductive impact of the work is immediate on entering the exhibition. Hand painted perspective lines cover the floor and wall fanning out in a black and white radial shape drawing viewers toward a screen showing an egg or cell dividing.This is the beginning of the Trickle-Down Syndrome. It sounds pathological, in fact, this title refers to trickle-down economics, a theory of wealth distribution which has, according to the International Monetary Fund been proven to not exist. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer. Here it is then, represented as a ‘syndrome’, a pathological collection of symptoms. Drew’s diagnosis is simple; the trickle down has turned to slush. So how does this manifest itself as an art exhibition? There are many references to the body. Around the corner are large colourful intestinal wall hoardings cable tied to galvanised steel rails, slick and street aesthetics combined. Electronic ambient bleeps and pops provide a sonic over-lay to the whole installation. And when Drew talks about escape being a potent form of resistance, I can’t help wondering if the alter-come-stage he has created with giant eyeballs hanging onto a waxy brain are the sci-fi signifiers to an altered reality. It’s not here though. The video murmurs on with bad news and more innards. Mirrors, repetition of eyes and cones, lots of signs of ritual and at the centre a golden gong. Around another corner ‘That Sinking Feeling’ blinks in pastel pink on a wall, down below a video monitor on a packing crate shows someone is stuck in the mud and momentarily, a muzzle of a mule appears. To the side old Lidl bags contain the speakers all shielded and contained by red welding screens. Confused? Me too, that’s the point.
The last little room uses symmetry again, a theme throughout and reference Drew says, to Busbey Berkley but could equally be the more colourful pop homages made by Michel Gondry such as Around the World (Daft Punk). Another influence sited is Max Ernst’s landscapes. I had to look hard for these: The gong perhaps as it features in ‘production image for The Trickle-Down Syndrome’? Piled up in the corner are free newspapers, Financial Times pink, blowing around. There is a grungy look to the digital photo-collaged drawings it contains. On one page there is a drawing of a mule with a thought bubble saying ‘I hate humans’. On another page there is a photo of a statue, arms in the air and branching out to red coral. Over this is drawn yellow radiating line, an aura of sorts. Is this Daphne when she transforms from human form into a tree, to return back to the earth? Is this at the heart of Drew’s desire for ‘ecstatic protest’, I wonder? We humans are better off ‘out of it’ he seems to be saying. If this is it, it is a nihilistic project indeed but he knows how to make this pill a sweet one to swallow.
ARIELLE FRANCIS What is the point, Benedict Drew
To descend into this particular piece of work, was frus-trating work. An environment difficult to enjoy, Benedict Drew does not make it an easy bodily experience.Large illustrations that impose upon your existence – their height and sheer width are admirable. I wondered how it came into the room for unlike any painting on a wall, it cannot simply be hung at eye level. These sheets of fabric hold high from ceiling to floor, detached from the wall, softly lit from behind. This glow lightly frames the supposedly hand drawn curves, the images existing in pairs of three, a face off if you will. Competing against each other on parallels planes there is nothing to compare, for all feel the same regardless. Nothing special exists within, other than curvy curvy wormy monotonous hollowness and their obvious ability to say “here I am. I take up space. Was probably installed via machine and scaffolding. Regardless, be fascinated with me”
Moving past these large scribble sisters, towards the far back of the exhibition space, we see The Box, on a box, within a box… Framing, framed, Frames. The words “SINKING THAT FEELING”, if viewed from the right angle, perfectly frames once more these boxes, taking this entrapment from the floor to the wall, this dead-end horizon providing a canvas to the words projected. They “hug” the installation, they -strangle- incompletely.
The tangible quality of this installed work also happens to be the only piece that fully distances itself from all surrounding white walls. Instead, existing as four red fabric partitions giving the onlooker the ability to walk around the installation -as well as through it. Be daring and look at others through the red material, peak through the vast gaps of this broken cube, watch others as they watch the monitor, a man trapped within, and in, mud. Pulling one leg out drives the other leg in -exhaustion overworking self entrapment, an escape to where? A release to what? “That sinking feeling”, flashes alongside the work further reminding us of the inability to escape, how this cycle returns.
Discomfort is a word not misplaced in association to “Trickle Down Syndrome”, and perhaps these two pieces in discussion represent this concept justly. I would note however, that apart from this perhaps singular truth, Drew’s intentions are seemingly either accidentally into being or sometimes lost entirely. Inside the exhibition, I found myself more absorbed by my solipsism in that moment, attentions confused as I tried to rebalance basic comfort levels, ignoring the politics portrayed. An uneasy experience that is difficult to endure, if it were not for a moments rest and reflection away from that space, I would for sure not have this analysis. Perhaps a little too abstract an idea, I wouldn’t recommend the show, but on reflection I appreciate the fodder nonetheless.
DOROTHY HUNTER No Guts and No GloryThe Trickle-Down Syndrome parallels the limits of human bodies with the organisational and systemic ones that utilise them, reframing their place in their machinations at will. Organs blow up, extend out, condense down. They seem to revolt against their position of servitude to a unified whole, a body whose identity is unknown to them, means nothing to them but ongoing labour. In each corner of the main gallery an organised tangle of intestinal forms geometrically snakes across enormous wall hangings, weirdly evocative of William Morris, or as if cancer worked on an organ rather than cellular level. They flank dark nondescript organic forms on the hangings in between, printed on searing orange and green. One mass, seen on the rear wall hanging, is made of various shades of love-heart pink, more blatantly organic in the shaky network of striped tendrils that radiate outwards, obviously digitally and simply distended. Despite this, each print looks misleadingly relief-like in its spots and patterns of dark texture, with foregrounds crisply clipping backgrounds in the blankets of saturated colour. In contrast, the physically handmade pieces within the installation are faux-naive. On an alter-like arrangement on a wide white stage, fleshy plasticine borders are pressed around a painted mass of one-stroke ribs, cratered papier mache eyes sit on stalks metres long, or are dripping, primordial threats painted on drums. Hollow teeth-like forms are drawn on mirrors. On screens, a stuffed ream of 3d-rendered intestines slowly twirl, and hollow shapes move over the face of a female actor. This arrangement is symmetrically composed with some co-ordinating and mismatched layers of visual and sound, leaving her words and meaning indistinguishable. Technology clearly excels our ability to represent our own makeup. There’s a sterile opulence, the backlit hangings lording over the space like religious icons. The trickle-down effect sees each strata of class in a cycle of aspiration to, and definition against, the other, causing a cycle of capitalist activity. The digital and handmade seem complicit in a similar cycle. The trickle-down isn’t active; the apparatus is too divided. Seeing a face, digitally rendered, sculpted, painted, only ever seems unreal. The only bodily exteriors seen revel in this. With haptic detachment from our interior, all we have are illustrations, perhaps the odd x-ray or ultrasound scan. Alienation is our normal state; feeling small in the unseen power we are passive to. There is no gore, no viscerality, only looped unknowns. A man wades in mud, eventually reaches a sinking mule. Sound emanates from LIDL bags – one covertly painted with the words “DESIRE STUFF”. Such close shots make the actions hard to follow; red welding screens can be passed through or observed through – turning something a little scatological into something even more suggestive. It’s perhaps communistic, the red square exploded, overtly three dimensional in its symbol pulled back into real space. It sits as a counterpoint to the yellow-gelled adjacent box room, where graphic eyes radiate from palms, taking a landscape-like slow pan across uncanny fleshy valleys on either side. It feels suggestive of a state achieved going up someone’s anus, both transcendent and comedic. Against the first space’s religious impression I’m reminded of the power constructs around abstracted ritualistic culture, a kind of hypnotic indulgence of self via bodily manipulation.
This exhibition makes my own materiality feel totally separate from my conscious self; my cellular intelligences seem to fall through. These systems don’t work if they’re closely observed, and indeed, don’t seem to invite this. I’m discomforted, hypnotised yet rejected by the work in the repellent combination of recorded, altered and synthetic space.
EMILY STAPLETON JEFFERIS Bendedict Drew: The Trickle Down SystemIs it a beating brain? Pulsating, pumping, streaming strands of black black lines. Or wait perhaps it is an embryo: dividing, spreading, evolving, mutating. A quivering uncomfortable mass of what we may become. This relentless throb thumping into my eyes, a hypnotic act of the digital spilling out of the screen into the reality of those black black hand painted lines which spread across the walls, across the floor.
They push me on, into the main space where I am surrounded, dwarfed by the bodily. Banners of intestinal patterns hang from the walls, intestines through which shit is channelled. Shit which trickles down, not money as was promised in that 80’s economic model. These banners mirror one another, create a reflection within the space. A reflection of the reflection present already within the work. Multiple layering and repeat adding to a sense of dislocation, a double take, a feeling of being overwhelmed. And with these intestinal forms are more banners. Squiggly black twisty messes of marks on punchy colour. Red. Red within the space adding to this sense of the visceral. Building upon the bodily sections present, which are only sections. What does this imply? Are these snapshots of the body suggesting that we are in a time in which we are no longer whole? A time beyond now, a dystopian future where we simply worship the wealthy, the rich, those with the money. This stage before me hints at this. It seems to act as an altar: a gong as a centrepiece, drums and screens surrounding, again arranged in a symmetrical manner, channelling thoughts of shamanism, hypnotism, of being sucked in and powerless, now incapable of making decisions. Even incapable of understanding: a woman on the screen is speaking and yet, I can only grasp one word or two. What is she talking about? And why do marks cross across the screen? They overlap her and themselves, create even more layers within this space. They seem to act to obscure, whilst also bringing a hand-drawn aesthetic into the digital, whilst the digital wires which mass from the screens seem to bring the digital into reality. There is cross over of what is real and what is unreal and a mess, it must be an intentional mess, as a result.
This mess, this confusion, forces me on around the corner into another room. And here there is more red. The red of welding screens arranged in a square within which a video of a muddy muddy quagmire plays. Are we about to become that man struggling within the mud? Are we already that man struggling within the mud? Is that donkey’s nose a premonition of the animals we have returned to being? The man slips and slides and scrambles. It appears existence is hopeless.
Moving on to the final room, a glowing yellow room which entices me in with the yellow of hope. Although there is no hope in there. More symmetry, more mirroring, more confusion. Dismembered hands channelling energy on the screen before me, and digital eyes collaged on top projecting outwards, reaching towards me. Other screens as bearers of flesh, gooey and soft, and yet not actually flesh. I cannot really gain the message, grasp this work, make many connections, and yet I like it. Aesthetically I am drawn to the bold, hand-drawn, hand-made pieces which contrast the slick digital effects. I relish this demonstration of the overwhelming world that we now inhabit, as it comforts me that I am not the only one to find it so. And I am also intrigued by this vision of the dystopian world that we may unconsciously wander into…
IAN BIRKHEAD In the Synthetic BowelOne of the firsts themes you’ll notice walking around the exhibition is the artists use of symmetry. The artist has used it in his previous work and obviously it helps with compositional balance, but I think in this case kind of suggests a cyclical nature to the journey he takes you on. For me at least it demonstrates the successful splitting of the cell at the start of the show, and also these hands that perhaps advertise products and they’re trying to hypnotise you while the video screens that are on either side of the room surround you in the synthetic bowel. Maybe after this you’ll be pooped out as a consumer crossed with a product. I also wonder if his work is in some way talking about the commodification of the self. The main theme that showed its self to me and what I personally found quite interesting about the show was the combination of the synthetic and organic. Or perhaps more accurately the synthetic posing as the organic. This is first described in the wall hangings which are in a material reminiscent of a shower curtain or a table cloth with organic forms painted or printed onto them. The organic forms remind me of intestines but also roots and veins in there winding, connecting disorder, these are recurrent in the work. The central stage or alter holds two eyes and a that lead to a brain and at first glance they seem very organic but that might be due to the contrast of them against the backdrop of screens and wires and other very machined looking objects. On closer inspection the eyes are made of painted tinfoil. A manufactured material masquerading as something organic. Much like the relationship between social media influencers and there audience could be perceived as a (falsely) honest connection between brands and consumers when in reality its just another avenue for advertisement and consumption. In the last room there is a film playing on two screens that shows an ambiguous, at first glance fleshy, form that appears to be made form expanding foam an-other example of the artificial posing as the organic. As a whole this is representative to me of the human morphing into there consumer products. Or maybe it becoming less clear what the distinction between the consumer and the advertiser is. As well as highlighting consumer goods being en-trenched in the contemporary human experience. The way things come out the screens and become physical is probably a direct reference to the trickle down theory and the new norm for consumer items to be replicated and produced and consumed quicker than ever, aided by social media and celebrity endorsement. This is why towards the end of the journey we watch a man bogged down by all the crap, that instead of trickling has pretty much flooded down underneath him to the point where he can barely walk.
JUN ABE Undergoing the Trickle-Down Syndrome: Underneath Your FleshFrom the first work, I’m already dragged into the Drew’s art world. The first work is the pig skin-like surfaced lump with brain figured digital design collage in blue, which slightly expands and contracts with repeating heart-beat like sound. It looks my brain of having an epilepsy attack. Then next, on the right and left wall, there are three-set brain-look photo based tapestries: red one on the right wall, and green one on the left as if they are right and left brain. Trickles of nerves literally down over the tapestries.
On the centre stage, there is a collaborative work:Eye catching one is head-from-the-eye balls object surrounded by panels of road corns-ish figures. On each sides of the object, there are TV screens on which a woman is repeating unclear words with clacking noise of stones, and sometimes just a wasted land is projected. Black cables trickle down all over the floor.
Everything is scattered, noisy, occupied: there is no empty place. It is like our daily world where there are too much information and noise, never sleep, never stop.
On the left corner, the pile of newspapers is flowing nostalgically.
At the end, old-fashioned TV is, as if, left on the wooden box. On the screen, a man is stuck in the mud. The contrast of black and white TV screen and four red partitions around it don’t look vivid, rather the work seems to represent autism: shutting down oneself from the loud society and being stuck in black muddy inner silent world.
The works constitute what he calls submersion in social and environmental despair.
Though there is no real photo or video of human body, you can still “feel” it. You may feel as if your brain, body and mind are scanned, examined and exposed. At least I felt so.
TAMMY SMITH A sensory journey through absurdly visualised bodily functions vs the state economy
I’m divided by what I’ve seen to how I feel. Upon entering Benedict Drew’s The Trickle-Down Syndrome exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery you’re greeted by a variety of visuals and sound. Drew uses a variety of materials, from animation, video, 2D
images, sculpture, installation and mixes both old and new technology. There’s a play with scale and his inspirations range from 1930’s stage sets to surrealist landscapes. He also references the human body and there are suggestions that it’s bodily functions that are hinted to rather than references to money or some material wealth.
The message seems to border on the absurd and there’s this play between crude and refined. Did he run out of materials or budget when making some of his installations? Or is he making a bigger point? Likewise, having the cables and technology that enables him to visualise his films, does that somehow enhance his meanings? The absurd is also visualised with Drew’s powerful use of bright neon colours, clashes of random shapes and bizarre sounds such as the noise two pebbles make against each other.
Is it still classed as art if I don’t value or identify with it? Can I respect it even if I do not like it and find the ‘emotional sensory journey’ uncomfortable? Would I like this exhibition more if it wasn’t so in your face? Is it performance art if it’s about the viewer’s journey around the 1 artwork scattered throughout the one direction curated room? The experience of the journey is just as important? So the concept is stronger than the actual art? Would changing the way it’s curated change are feelings to the work?
The merits would be that it’s bold as his subject matter is niche and he’s clearly passionate about his work, it’s not necessarily going to be to everyone’s taste. How he chooses to exhibition his final pieces is intriguing, if indeed he gets much say.
In summary, it’s big, brash and bold, it’s an insight into the artist as much as it’s about the work. The journey you take is certainly an experience and it’s vagueness is cleverly left up to you to judge whether it’s brave or annoying. Is the concept better than the outcome? Do I appreciate what I’ve seen? Is this art?
I would argue that it’s not sophisticated, it lacks the multi layers of depth and meaning and is so niche that it’s like Marmite, you’re either going to love it or hate it. Which in one way it great to get such extremely responses out from his audience, but for me it just falls short, it doesn’t push the boundaries, it doesn’t use shock tactics and it doesn’t connect.
The fact that it makes me the viewer question this means that on some level maybe it deserves a little more of my respect and like Marmite only you can decide by taking the journey with the artist yourself.