Patrick Staff: On Venus review

4 out of 5 stars
Patrick Staff: On Venus review
© 2019 Photo: Hugo Glenndinning

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Life is a mess of toxic, corrosive, acidic substances and ideas in Patrick Staff’s work.
The young English artist has filled the Serpentine with barrels collecting steady drips of acid from leaking overhead pipes. The ground is a perfectly reflective sickly green, dragging you into a mirror world of grim gunge.

And things only get nastier. Acid etchings in one space reproduce newspaper articles, and their half-arsed retractions, about child-killer Ian Huntley coming out as trans – a story that was fake, with the idea of transitioning being used by the media as a mocking, degrading weapon against both the government and Huntley.

The other space is given over to a horrifying film featuring found footage of animal abuse on industrial farms. It’s stomach-turningly unwatchable seeing these creatures – pumped full of growth hormones, harvested for their skin, fur and meat – being violently abused in grainy, shocking recordings.

At first, the show feels a little slight, a little empty, a little unintelligible, but taken as a whole, Staff’s intention becomes crystal clear. This is art about transformation and gender, but it’s not a celebration. It revels in the brutality of day-to-day queer existence, in the crushing pressure of a society that’s constantly bearing down on you, in the destructive power of negative ideas, of forced conformation, of having to figure yourself out in a world that doesn’t want you.

The artist is dunking the viewer in these barrels of acid and forcing us to watch this harrowing abuse. This isn’t Staff saying ‘accept me’, this is Staff saying ‘understand me’, and that’s pretty damn powerful.


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