Public Image @ The Cooper Gallery

Article by Ben Robinson | 16 Feb 2010
  • Public Image

The Cooper Gallery’s new group show Public Image takes as its theme the ambiguous relationship between ‘us’ and images. Even the greenest of first-year art students knows not to trust a photo, but rather than being a dry exercise lifted from a semiotics textbook the exhibition succeeds through its wit and by a careful selection of source material.

The darkened space serves as the stage for DVD projections whose voiceovers comment on the presentation of pictures. Patricia Esquivias’ film Folklore II gives us a lecture that traces correspondences between the reign of King Phillip II of Spain and the ascent of Iberian crooner Julio Iglesias. While the talk is engaging enough, the provenance soon seems a bit shaky; “…and the inside, this is not the picture, but they said that it was full of flowers… and very, very nice…” The viewer starts to question what is being told, taking her words as either occult conspiracy or shaggy dog story. Elsewhere in the room Eric Baudelaire screens [sic], a video showing a Japanese book shop assistant delicately scraping away the pubic hair from a nude photograph, then adding other visual elements such as abstract patterns. Liu Wei next door shows the iconic image of the Tiananmen Square protestor to present-day Beijing students who either do not recognise the image or would prefer to keep quiet.

As if to prove the show’s thesis, Philip Braham’s subdued photos of suicide locations have gone on to attract frenzy from the local tabloid press, a manufactured storm in a teacup showing that art is always prey to be undermined by cruel media spin. [Ben Robinson]