Fittingly enough, in another chamber of the recently refurbished Whitechapel Gallery, Bloomberg happen to be hosting their annual awards. After all, without them, we wouldn’t be here. In fact, as Tim Crouch’s densely thoughtful text insists on reminding us, there are a lot of people to thank for our presence here. Not only those that have made the Whitechapel’s renovation possible, but a broad network of humanity on which our own continued existence depends.
With this reliance established, England becomes a meditation on value. It examines the value of existence itself and those with which we fill it; those values held by our culture and those of others; monetary value and something more intrinsic - beauty, perhaps, or love. Again, the trickle of financiers’ applause seeps through the walls.
Crouch’s text is a single narrative voice split between two performers, Crouch himself and Shunt’s Hannah Ringham. They talk of an absent boyfriend – an international art-dealer – and a breaking heart, gradually failing and awaiting transplantation. They talk of taking art out of galleries and into people’s lives. They have a William de Koening on the wall of their converted jam-factory home in Southwark. They implore us to look, but never define quite how or at what we should be looking.
England’s two halves, like the beating of the diseased heart, function at very different rhythms. The first weaves around an exhibition – here, Isa Genzken’s Open Seasame – with the genial manner of smiling tour-guides; the second, in the gallery’s lecture hall, is sterner and more confrontational, as the transplant at the centre of the story is revealed to be a deal of its own.
By relying so heavily on words, England’s content has a tendency to disappear before you’ve fully grasped the ideas contained within. The result is a misty muddle of thoughts, all intriguingly ponderous, but often outweighed by questions. At times, Crouch and Ringham seem a touch too serious, lacking the playfulness to engage with us as people rather than idea-recipients.
For all that, England remains a quietly touching and intensely thought-provoking sermon. If anything, with the art market teetering towards total collapse alongside the rest of us, Crouch’s piece has gained urgency and pertinency since its inception at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery two years ago. Its call for a complete re-evaluation need heeding now more than ever.
- Matt Trueman (reviewed at the Whitechapel Gallery)