Olivia Plender @ CCA
Showing at CCA, the third and final installment of Olivia Plender’s show Rise Early, Be Industrious, utilises drawing, installation and historical research in an exploration of, well, everything. It is an impressive survey of the history of education, economics and society in Britain, from feudalism through to modernism. Unsurprisingly, the notion of reviewing a show of this scale in a snappy 300 words may be bordering on silliness. It is the overwhelming volume of work that, unfortunately, at times seems to inhibit the audience’s ability to digest it.
You get the feeling this isn’t necessarily Plender’s doing, however. While sprawling scale may be an ongoing feature in her work (see Google Office or her incredible hand drawn comic book, The Masterpiece), it seems more the curating that hits a strange note – there is simply too much stuff, appearing as if a cupboard has been converted into an exhibition space. The curator’s creative use of space does command some admiration but it can be difficult to interpret the show as several different works in a series rather than one baffling installation.
Curatorial quibbles aside, Plender’s work does shine through. The board game Set Sail for the Levant, which winds up with participants driving themselves into tremendous amounts of debt, provides a succinct and darkly funny survey of the culture of debt in British society. And when set alongside representations of mighty institutional power, it brilliantly highlights how our culture props up the pillars of social elitism.
In the main room, the piece Open Forum presents a participatory vision of modernism that explores the birth of the contemporary ideal of education for all. While the exhibition superficially presents a fun, tongue-in-cheek look at British society through colourful parodies, the sharp wit from which they are derived leaves one feeling a powerful sense of disquiet at the issues that lie beneath the surface.