Some art makes you laugh. Some art makes you cry. Some art makes your skin crawl off your body so you have to chase the fleshy sheet across the foyer of Tate Britain to put it back on again.
Joanna Piotrowska’s photography and video works are on display at Tate Britain as the latest instalment of the gallery’s Art Now series, and you just might leave feeling fleshily exposed.
The one-room exhibition brings together several projects by the Polish artist. There’s one where she asks adults to build forts in their own homes out of household debris, one where she gets teenage girls to act out poses from self-defence manuals and one made up entirely of two hands continuously rubbing and touching each other.
It’s the last of these that makes your skin do a runner across the room. There’s something deeply unsettling about these hands getting, well, handsy. Fingers caressing forearms, pinkies bumping against wrists: it should all be lovely, a tender memento of humans expressing care for each other. But somehow it’s not, somehow it’s enough to put you off holding hands ever again.
This unbalancing note of discomfort represents the very best quality of Piotrowska’s work. It’s also there in the photos of grown-ups huddled under duvets and tottering furniture, this unheimlich eeriness making you wonder if the people have just been informed the four horsemen are fast approaching.
But at points in this exhibition it’s easy to feel a little lost. The accompanying fold-out sheet of small-print info details some fascinating background research into, for example, the psychology of teenage girls suppressing their desires. It’s hard, however, to honestly say whether the resulting artwork would be interesting without the blurb. Take away the crib notes and you’re left wondering why you’re watching a young woman striking awkward poses.
Those hands – on the other hand – are well worth the visit.