Why have I left home to look at ebay? Why does that snake have it in for me? Just two questions that popped into my head during a stint in Camille Henrot’s installation ‘The Pale Fox’. Henrot is big news. The French artist arrives in London clutching a Silver Lion (best newcomer award) from the 2013 Venice Biennale for 'Grosse Fatigue', a vastly ambitious film that attempts to tell the story of the universe through interweaving video images and stills of objects from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. ‘The Pale Fox’ reads as its sculptural sibling. Shrinking the cavernous Chisenhale, Henrot has painted the walls deep blue and fitted a carpet to match. Slinking round the floor is a self-propelling toy (carpet) snake. Running round the space is a vaulting metal shelf that, like a 3D stream of consciousness, contains objects and images that take you from primordial ooze to online shopping.
One minute you’re looking at a still image of flames through a magnifying glass, the next you’re considering a snap of the Olsen twins for sale on ebay via digital picture frames (Henrot would have us believe she purchased the image; it appears on the wall a few feet away). Briefly, a poster-size image of a baby holds your attention. Then, you’re on to images about water pollution, war and the Manhattan Project. No wonder the baby looks alarmed.
There’s no over-arching narrative here, rather a running buffet of overlapping themes and elements – references to fire, water, earth and air are prevalent. The whole thing hinges on rhythmic suggestions of order and disorder, of being graspable then intangible.
This is very much the look of art in 2014. Artists no longer try to make sense of the world; instead they present equivalents of the multiple realities we simultaneously inhabit. The danger, of course, is that other people’s multiple realities, their streams of consciousness, can be a lot like other’s people’s dreams. ‘The Pale Fox’ certainly requires a degree of submission on the part of the viewer. But it is, in the end, as much a treat for the eye as the mind, successful as a sensory trigger. Which is quite old fashioned when you think about it.