Erik van Lieshout: Three Social Works

Art Free
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Erik Van Lieshout’s show feels like watching a foreign soap opera when you’re on holiday. That surreality, that sense of getting a peek into something brash, gruesome, mainstream yet totally alien emanates from every pore in this exhibition. The Dutch artist is showing three films in a maze-like wooden environment that fills the gallery space. It’s a dissection of Dutch life, filled with countless odd little twists.

One film, which you watch from a too-steep carpeted slope, finds Van Lieshout interviewing his family members about their careers in social work. Voices get raised, zooms slide in too close. It’s intimate and sweet, but tense too. The piece asks what social work’s role is, wondering if art does something similar, but also functions as a bit of veil-lifting on the artist’s life.

Shown at the end of a long corridor covered in political slogans and cat photos, ‘The Basement’ follows Van Lieshout as he improves living conditions for cats in Russia’s State Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg. The final piece – ‘Janus’, shown in amongst a whirl of net curtains – finds Van Lieshout trying to sell a dead man’s bric-a-brac collection to a Dutch art museum. It’s the preservation of one man’s passion, reinvented as an art project.

Everything here works on all these different levels – it’s art, sure, but it’s also documentary, and it’s social enterprise. The whole thing is ugly, messy, sometimes unwatchable and even a little naff – but like all the best soap operas, it’s a special glimpse into how other lives are lived.

@eddyfrankel

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