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Joe Drakeford: Being Present

28 March 2013 | Morgan Meaker

The group show at Maddox Gallery tackles a digital dystopia and the liquidity of our urban landscape

“YOU ARE CULTURALLY VIOLENT”

The words resonate in the soothing quiet of Maddox Gallery, buried behind quaint corners leading to Oxford Circus. Penned by three artists that form the Present Collective? (the question mark is part of the parcel) the letters leap from the silent screen of their collaborative video piece.

Jovial in its presentation, (think Powerpoint meets Reddit) the ideas the video touches upon are scathing of contemporary culture. The concept revolves around a group of “amateur mountaineers (who) attempt to scale the north-face of the A4020, passing through Acton”. However, their optimism soon morphs to horror as they encounter a population who have learnt to “love the projection over the present”.

Welcome to digital dystopia in a mirrored metropolis. This is “Being Present”, the group show exhibiting the work of Matthew Bennington, Mark Dillon and Joe Drakeford.

I meet the latter in the gallery one Friday afternoon and we perch on high stools looking out onto the cobbled street as he talks about home. Drakeford took his BA in Coventry whilst living at his parents’ house, using the decaying remains of the city’s industrial landscape for inspiration throughout his degree. With romantic notions of nature reclaiming its space, he recalls the way in which the grass would slither through splits in the concrete, surfacing for air.

After his move to London, he tells me how he became “lost in the transition”. In his first year of study at the Royal College of Art he searched the city for familiar sites of neglect, finding nothing he instead spent months travelling to and from Coventry; his practice static.

One day, as he walked along the Thames path near Tower Bridge, the reflection of the river caught his eye. In the buildings bordering the water, he noticed the way in which the panes of glass snared their surroundings; warping the water until the physicality of the world was lost.

In terms of London, Drakeford is seduced but suspicious. He tells me how he suspects the intentions of those shimmering surfaces; wary of the way they hint at a “see-through society”. He sees The Shard as a “villain’s tower… sharp and aggressive” and he notes the changing face of Liverpool Street which day by day edges closer to a screen in its appearance.

In his work, Drakeford tackles the “lack of friction” in our urban landscapes. His piece, ‘Liquid Landscapes’, contains fluid projections of the capital city. Disorientating in its abstraction, the images ripple across the installation’s four polished sides. Ageless and flawless, the glass walls are angular and alien. We see the glimmering Thames, interspersed with shafts of light.

Like a mirage the projections are mesmerizing but out of focus. Flickering lights dance across a surface-less screen. Trapped in a house of mirrors, the city’s kaleidoscopic portrait bounces from side to side, morphing from every angle so that the perspective of each passer-by is unique.

As the video plays on a loop in the background, Drakeford’s piece reminds us that “The present shifts, it is no longer solid, empty of texture, embodying the screen.”

The show as a whole is intensely perceptive but delightfully light-hearted. Perfectly in tune with the digital generation, its tone is slick with cultural reference and the nostalgia of innocence.

However, Drakeford is not alone in his talent and his collective comrades, Dillon and Bennington, are equally sharp. From the immersive experience of Bennington’s fort (beware: inside, all is not as it seems) to the issues of authority that Dillon deals with in his study of police horses, the show is impressively provocative.

It highlights the way we live now, drawing largely uncomfortable conclusions.

Being Present runs at the Maddox Gallery, London until April 6th 2013. For more information please click here.

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