The Onsie Cycle – Benedict Drew – 2Queens/The Phoenix, Leicester; Review

Let’s face it, contemporary reality is much more the feeling of fully enclosed terry cloth and cheap-24hr meat products (processed food), than it is the slick dreams of digital high definition.
In a continuation (or as Drew calls it, a “VIP” – variation in production) of an earlier version of Onesie Cycle, shown at Rhubaba gallery in Edinburgh, Benedict Drew continues to draw out the non-sensicle experience of contemporary postmodern consumption. Speaking to one its curators Gino Attwood, Ben isn’t one to give much away, but what is there to get beyond what we are experiencing in the exhibition as much as the walk to gallery? If we’re going to try and encapsulate this, the commodity-form stretches thin over the mass-produced, the immaterial and the performance of an identity formed by the relations between other self-identifying consumers. These things don’t make sense in isolation, instead it is a mushy, lived reality, but what is behind or amongst this reality is still of importance, which is if anything a way into the Onsie Cycle.

Chicken land. Returning to Leicester I remember just how many options a chicken lover has, here then Benedict Drew’s Onesie Cycle feels totally appropriate. The Onesie cycle streches over two venues — In the main space at 2Queens a video dominates and a dual-channel video and tinfoil installation occupies the space and around the corner the new Phoenix Venue hosts an accompanying installation — with two main thematic refrains: Southern fried chicken and Primark Onesies.

Upstairs at 2 queens a huge video is the first thing you see after your sight returns, having been briefly obliterated by a bank of spotlights directed at the entrance. After telling us to watch the self-stated (looping) projection a barely human mask, grey and white latex – covered in sweat – is poked in the eye by a very human looking finger. The mask continues to vibrate-gyrate-oscillate among stereoscopic spirals and subtitled neuroses. The projection screen is huge, taking up the entire field of view in the cavernously black 2Queens exhibition space. This scale of total peripheral absorbsion dislocates your relation to the video as a separate, narrative, space while Drew’s belligerently womping sound-scape continues to induce neurosis, paranoia and terror (all ticking over each other in the centre of the screen).

It is here, in folding you the viewer into the work, that Drew’s particularly sensuous use of digital and CGI is clearest. It is entirely dependent on the material presence of the work and yet is neither didactically self-aware, in the Ed Atkins sense, nor at the service of digital indexes of reality or contemporaneity such as the quality of HD an artist can wield. In a particularly absurdist moment of this, an oozing CGI Meteorite drags itself across the screen as colour strobes, with no other explanation other than nothing else makes much more sense.

Self help Self help Self help is the final textual refrain of the video. This written in KFC brand ID-script-font seems like the last and first thing you want to see: the familiarity of poultry-Americana, lost in a billion burnt-oil translations is weirdly soothing though. Maybe this is because its my home-town. Self-help, animated inanimate object self-referential projection speaks: “This is a projection it loops, it can’t relate, but I wants to.” Me, the viewer, is trapped between talking to an object or image and being completely embodied by this fabricated, distorted sensation. You are inside it, not outside or distanced but inculcated in the mask’s misery. While less connected to the show’s main refrains, this more immediately conversational work, brings the viewer into the space or at least surface of the work, something essential for what follows.

Downstairs at 2Queens, in a regularly flooded basement the show continues. On two screens, oversized chicken drumstick videos wack a Onesie spread eagled on a giant tinfoil bed. Primark wrap. You can’t see much else, it would be difficult to take much more in at this point, beyond the overriding dankness. It’s like the underbelly of the HD CGI video upstairs, the meaning wrapped up in self-consciousness of the desperately fleshy blobs on screen. But it is a onsie being metaphorically, and repeatedly struck by 2 chicken drumsticks – so it’s probably not the point to interpolate too much.

Down the road, in the black-box enclosure of the Phoenix’s arts space, Drew moves beyond the now familiar immersion of digital-art instead using the installation, like the basement  space at 2Queens, creating the sense that we are inside the surface of the works at 2Queens. The interation at the Phoenix foregrounds the sculptural experience of being in something baroque, not like the visually folded work of someone like Ben Wheele, but more like wearing the Onesie, so to speak.

The mask from Two Queens is repeated on three high-legged monitors – familiar from Drew’s other work such as Gliss at Cell Projects – intermittently screeching something indecipherable. Another Onsie, splayed like a chicken carcass, incessantly rotates on the wall next. Opposite tinfoil wraps across the wall either side of a glowing pink latex ‘thing’ protruding from the wall. Glossy brochures of mechanically recovered meat at the Phoenix again mirror the chicken drumsticks at 2Queens.

It is clear having seen both venues, that like the web of relations that extend from the shows two main refrains, this reciprocation operates to both flatten and make turgid its ‘logic’. As a sort of front end to the black box at the Phoenix, the main video at 2Queens, with its mask, stereoscopic effect on the viewer it’s grossness and embodiedness enacting the realities of its own production – begins to take us beyond the surface of this consumption towards the bodies of digital production, to the bitterly bodily means of production of a touch-screen totality.

HD video’s inherent high contrast and apparently self-generaterative CGI in the blackness of the exhibition space is what removed (and generally always will) the human from the production of that image. Here chicken, MRM and XXXL Baby-grows are Drew’s Realism of the real, the distortion of the real of the onesie and chicken through the logic of digital narrative and materiality. In Drew’s exhibition, you’re wearing the Onesie, you’re suckered suckling sucker punched by a chicken drumstick in Primark: you’re talking to, eating, being things. This is Chicken Land, but at least here the absurdities begin to break apart some of the flatness we normally experience Globalised commodity and digital production through. This is the opposite Self help’s logic: self-help helps you forget the relations – all there is you – but here the twisted reality of the things we want to believe facilitate this beats it apart with a chicken drumstick. This is realism but also realism in its metaphorical capacity. There is no truth behind the image. It is in the chicken onise thing.