Pale Carnage: Group Show
DCA, Dundee, until Sun 2 Sep
Pale Carnage takes its title from Ezra Pound's poem 'April', written in 1915. Michael Bracewell's catalogue essay places Pound as the product of an Axial Age, 'a time of great transition; of cosmic cynicism … of spiritual restlessness and the search for new Gods'. The exhibition puts forward our own queasy era of dissolution, expressed through the work of some 12 contemporary artists, as belonging to a similar moment. This means declaring itself from the outset as being prepared to tackle big themes. Modernism, fascism, sadism, voyeurism, destruction - an ambitious undertaking, to shoehorn all these unruly ideas into a pair of medium-sized galleries. What comes across is a mood, a jaded elegance dressed up for the most part in slinky, shiny, black patent leather finery. This is no season of summery colours, which are best left to beautify the furnishings of our parents' dinner parties. While we sneer at their bourgeois comforts, though, another tyranny of good taste begins to exert itself over us wannabe Axial seers. In the meticulous arrangements of 'cool' minimal sculpture, the monochrome and the black gloss, such a carefully choreographed parade can itself settle into a style just as readily, only now overly eager to observe the etiquette of a more sceptical milieu.
The display becomes compulsive where the show forgets its manners. Aida Ruilova's DVD performance 'Beat and Perv', a jarringly-edited, lurid crash of repetition, pounds the viewer into dumb supplication. Another highlight is the inspired pairing of two Araki photographs with Tom Burr's collapsed structures. Burr's boards and hinges, 'This Drinking Alone (The Deep Intoxication Series)' rests with a few sorry props of emptied bottles and torn fabric. They lie prostrate before the bondage scenes, appearing shamefacedly complicit in their own humiliation.
The catalogue includes an extended 'picture essay' collecting together around 170 images, persuasively arguing the case for history repeating itself: Abu Ghraib atrocities, a dapper Wyndham Lewis, Crowley scowling and Throbbing Gristle at ease in the Death Factory. Who could ever doubt the gravity of the task here, the quest for a truthful expression of the contradictions of our age.