Avatar is a noun that used to denote in Hinduism the embodiment of a deity in many potential forms. In the more modern sense its what represents a person digitally. The ambiguity around whether Imhof is tapping into the former, latter or both only serves to strengthen the exhibit. This seems deliberate given that former works like “Angst” and “Faust” also explore how technology impinges on self and identity.
In the large ground floor window the first image you see is an oil painting called “Jester” in which 3d sinister clown and audience looking back at the viewer, to the extent that it flips the idea of just who is on display. It captures a moment where collaborator Eliza Douglas pulled a clown t shirt over her face at Imhof’s “Natures Mortes”. It’s also partially obscured by lockers. These lockers, some empty and some with breeze blocks filling them, form a path through the entire exhibit. Reminiscent of a school or changing room, as you follow this maze round with uncertainty. Some leading to the next space and some hemming you into a private area with old pin up style posters taped to the locker. It feels voyeuristic.
As well as the lockers following you around there is a flow of what looks like scratched metal all around too (actually acrylic on aluminium) with a reflective surface that the audience can see themselves in. Reminiscent of desk scrawls at school, when you used to etch your own designs into tables. Seeming to tap into that idea of identity and how it is formed. The relationship of space and how the lockers overlap them makes the viewer wonder what is really on display. With functional items amidst art. This uncertainty is is mirrored when Imhof reveals weights equipment and a punchbag. With an oil of a teen in basketball gear but instead of being a conventional team it has the name of the Hardcore legends “Suicidal Tendencies”. This subverts the clean cut nature of gym equipment and all its associations. This equipment further blurs the divide between the work, the space and the audience. This is emphasised by the jagged and dripping spray-paint outlines that frame the picture and overlap irreverently over the fireplace it sits above.
Downstairs there are more lockers and the scratch images become more distinct. They go from waves (the initial series literally called “Pacific”) to more skull like (the “Monster” series . Hints of Basquiat and also Munch’s Scream. An identity emerging and becoming more confident in itself. The room where it leads to features a film with Eliza Douglas. Any notion of using the couch is quickly dispelled as it is covered in the same breeze blocks that are in the lockers. Their presence here makes it look like they represent our baggage. There are bongs and energy drinks too. Again, blurring the lines as the energy drinks strewn through the room appear like real littering. Imhof enjoys this layering and this motif was also in “Faust”. The movie features a striking performance from Eliza Douglas in which she stands bare in the snow with just jeans and boots on sitting on a bench in the foreground next to those lockers – again.
She utters a silent scream. Then her eyes fix upon you. Crouched in the snow screaming again with collarbone protruding. The scream now audible. Gutteral and sustained. Back to a blank mask. She moves her arms as if they were wings capable of flight. They don’t. The arms go down in disappointment. She stands with purpose and screams for longer. Licking the skin whilst eyes gaze blankly. She is then on the bench in the background but strides forward with purpose. Arms akimbo she raises her hand to slap her own face. Slowly but repeatedly. In wiping the blood with the arm there is a half smile – as if some new truth has been learned. She no longer screams. She has had the time to explore her own form.
This piece seems to represent the heart of this exhibit and the questions it raises about identity, it’s formation and it’s expression. The drawings in the next room feel like the conception of this piece, as they look to mirror a lot of Douglas’ shape. This makes sense as Imhof has often expressed how important pencil is in capturing her initial ideas. So this shows you the genesis of her ideas in this direction. Even the Avatar t shirts are like classic metal tee’s from a time when people used them to signify musical taste, sympathies and identity in general. They are like the final product after the embryonic sketches which have then been given physical form and layered into the space and made flesh by Douglas. They are the step after this. Imhof’s world is compelling and addictive and does not give itself up all at once. Step in.