Spotlight on MemePlex™ group show at Seventeen Gallery, London.

Spotlight on MemePlex a group show by 12-artist collective Omsk Social Club and Joey Holder by Jessica Todd. Part film set, part hospital, part art gallery: MemePlex suffers from narrative excess, in a good way. Chris Krauss’s I Love Dick describes a state of schizophrenic porousness that is ‘creamy like a library’ – the show felt a bit like that. On show at London’s Seventeen Gallery until February 19, 2022.

There are two rooms to the exhibition – the operating room and the recovery room. In the operating room there is a hospital bed whose mattress is wipeable plastic. There are small hairy objects in kidney trays beside it. Mandrake root and Eraserhead. A sticker on a machine at the bed’s base advises against smoking: ‘a lit cigarette on the mattress surface can cause leakage of the pumped air’. A small light indicates inflation is set to ‘mid’ between ‘soft’ and ‘firm’. Something is not right. Nearby on the floor, a ritual or ‘scientific’ area is demarcated by multiple reams of kitchen roll, unravelled from the centre to form a circle. The paper is grubby and there are household items on it such as you might find in a garage. It appears as if someone abandoned the DIY esoteric YouTube instructional video halfway through. This eery apocalypse lobby feel is supported in the next room by a film playing on mute, a tarot spread left out on a bed, headphones narrating the operating procedure like a demented intercom, disembodied.  

Back to the first room. The body is not just imagined in terms of medical procedure, albeit one that involves inserting a meme directing into the patient’s brain – an ode to pre-CGI body-horror – but becomes a lucid dream of technology and nature in Kinke Kooi’s day-bright hallucination Growing the Seeds of Love, which radiates with the conviction of epiphany against the infirmary green of the gallery walls. Sweetpeas, pearls, tassels and napkin-like lilies map with plush chambers, glowing crevices, a tiny in-set drawing room and, nested at its centre, a contraceptive pill blister pack, the pills themselves pearl-like – part of the gang. It’s Big Pharma reimagined by Angela Carter. Meanwhile, Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto haunts Minjeong An’s intricately diagrammatic Self-Portrait and Six-Membered Family Portrait.

Next to Kinke Kooi’s work is that of aLifveForms WÄCHTERIN (I) and WÄCHTERIN (II) in which deconstructed buggies are splayed on the walls in shonky rune formations. Sections of these rune-buggies have a glancing resemblance to symbols for fertility and divine protection. They have a writing-on-the-wall urgency, inflected with a pink-wheeled bodega buggy charisma. From birth onto death. Katya Novitskova’s Death Times is a thick pock-marked work, featuring a mummified skeleton in fetal position, hands to skull in mock horror, as if from a Pompeii of the future. At its base the words ‘death times’ are printed droll sans serif. The artist has carefully filled in the work’s dents with pearlescent nail polish – a low-fi kintsugi, or, self-care/gussying up the end times. Jack Jubb’s Denim Dreams is a vaseline-lens flannel postcard of mutant wraparound sunglasses (hyper-ergonomic design featuring amphibian fins), all dissolving in clouds. Tumblr floating on bennies. Like the scenario it describes, MemePlex has been inserted with a narrative artifact from an earlier Omsk Social Club piece The Wet Alter. Therefore, MemePlexis preoccupied with ideas of determinism and free will. 

It considers questions of belief – about the practice, and who might be benefiting from, an economy of belief manipulation. The show also contains traces of Cordyceps fungi, the so-called ‘zombie fungus’, which takes over the brain of host ants, impels the ant individual to leave its clan in a kamikaze mission to further the fungus’s propagation. The fungus takes the ant to a suitable location and climate for its growth, kills it and uses its corpse as a launching pad for a fruiting body, which sprouts directly out of the ant’s head and explodes spores to infect more ants.

Furthering this theme, in the Baker-Miller pink ‘recovery room’, David Cronenberg’s 1999 gamer body-horror eXistenZ plays on mute. In eXistenZ game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and ‘total PR nerd’ Ted Pikul (Jude Law) enter the game that Allegra designed via anus-like ‘bio-ports’ connected (this is before bluetooth) via ‘umby-cords’ to ‘meta-flesh pods’ that contain the game and writhe into life when you flick them. Inside, Allegra and Ted are both themselves and their game avatars who want to fuck, say lines and shoot people. In a restaurant in a forest in the game, Ted asks for the chef’s ‘special’, which arrives and sees him noisily shuck and slurp at the flesh of a platter full of ‘mutant reptiles and amphibians’. This clearly repulses him. Allegra: ‘Pikul, what are you doing?’ Ted: ‘I don’t know. I find this disgusting, but I can’t help myself.’ Allegra, ever the game designer, is pleased, and calls this a ‘genuine game urge’ – ‘something your character was born to do’.

The game has its kinks. At times an auxiliary character gets stuck in a ‘game loop’ and Ted and Allegra need to repeat their line and address the character by name to snap them out of it, to progress the play. There is no ostensible way to win the game, rather the characters’ desires, as they emerge through gameplay, dictate the conditions of ‘winning’. This choose-your-own, non-climactic format feels similar to that of MemePlex. Also, Ursula K. le Guin’s The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. In it, Le Guin outlines a science fiction, thereby technology and science, that ‘avoids the linear, progressive, Time’s-(killing)-arrow mode of the Techno-Heroic’ and is ‘primarily cultural carrier bag rather than weapon of domination’. MemePlextoo sidesteps the big stick, preferring an accumulation. If we’re talking about determinism, we’re also talking about desire. MemePlexexplores themes of contamination and bleeding-into, belief and free will. But it also nudges into the tyranny of delight, loving the meme and the liberating possibilities of desire. To quell a quaking Ted, Allegra tells him ‘You’re going to do it anyway, you may as well enjoy it.’

MemePlex is on show at London’s Seventeen Gallery until February 19, 2022

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