Long live the king
Alexander Kennedy trips over a pipe, bangs his head and temporarily goes to magic America with Alexandre Perigot
The memory of a pathetic fat man in a tight, spangled costume walking aimlessly in his little castle is invoked by Alexandre Perigot, but it’s the gallery-goer’s inner Elvis that is expressed as you rattle about the life-sized mock-up of his home at the Tramway like a ‘real life’ rat on constant view. Famous people look smaller in reality (the ego doesn’t fit the body), and our idea of the White House-like home of The King towers above the mock-up that the Paris-based artist has constructed in the main gallery space. This is a monument to celebrity, the shell of a grim but rhinestone-punctured reality that hovers over Western culture where the sky should be.
Perceptions are immediately questioned as you walk through the back door of the celebrity home. It’s facing the wrong way for a start. We want our art and our culture straight on please, flattened out, signposted, giving us the full frontal. Why isn’t this silver scaffolding version of the real thing behaving? It should be up the back of the space, looking down benignly at us with a wide open smiling mouth for a doorway. As you navigate your way through the rat-maze, looking for the cheesy truth, ‘Elvis lite’ questions rise up in the mind: ‘Where’s the Jungle Room?’, ‘Where’s the toilet he died on?’ But the building has been stripped - nothing interferes with our piercing gaze and inane questions. You’re a cultural tourist of the highest order.
It’s difficult not to over-sentimentalise a ruin, a memory, a monument. And art that exploits this is best avoided. But Perigot uses this need for cheap, easily accessible emotion as subject matter, rather than simply relying on it as some kind of quasi sublime filling for his work. For him it is quickly dissolving candy floss rather than ever expanding marshmallow. The relationship between superficiality and genuine affect is critiqued. The political aspect of this kind of empty expression (rhetoric) is also here: the relationship between America and Britain being at the forefront of all of our minds just now. This is a monument to The King (monarchy, imperialism), to American culture and our relationship with it. Perigot reminds us in the gallery text that Elvis only ever visited Britain once, when he touched down in Scotland (Prestwick) on his way home from Germany as a GI. The sculpture becomes an empty symbol for the ‘hands across the water’ Blairite cant that will now hopefully cease. They should put this sculpture where terminal one used to be at Glasgow Airport.
As a structure to be interacted with and the dwelling of a performer, ‘Elvis Home’ acted as the stage set for three performances on the opening night. Glasgow’s very own Parsonage (fresh from supporting Rod Stuart, no less) made an appearance, with the glorious techno racket of Simon Fisher Turner and punk posturing of Agaskodo Teliverik following on. As you walk backwards to get a better view of this construction (or to see the acts) try not to trip over the pipes that fill the second half of the space. A tennis ball (Elvis’ last stool?) is shot through the zigzagging construction. Two traumas make a trauma so don’t fall twice or break open the pipes. The King’s sewage could enter the building like the return of the traumatic Real.
Alexandre Perigot, Pipedream, Tramway, Glasgow, until Sun 5 Aug