Mel Brimfield: Between Genius and Desire

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Mel Brimfield: Between Genius and Desire
'Untitled (after House of Wax)' by Mel Brimfield, 2012

The performances by Mel Brimfield in her twin videos, 'Between Genius and Desire', are extremely funny – in a demented, hysterical, troubling sort of way. Channeling the personae of Jackson Pollock and Vincent Van Gogh, complete with comical balding hairpiece and rust-red beard – or, more accurately, channeling the actors Ed Harris and Kirk Douglas, who portrayed those artists in biopics – Brimfield mouths along to the movies' most climactic, plaintive monologues. Despite the over-the-top humour, the point is serious: to puncture the romantic myth of tortured, typically male artistic genius. It's a notion which relates not just to artists, but also to the wildly emoting actors; and to the idea that character is something stable and inhabitable – a way of claiming authority and authenticity. As her spluttering Pollock/Harris caricature furiously repeats, like a mantra: 'I'm not da phony; you're da phony!'

The theme shifts from idealised masculinity to femininity – again, though, as determined by men. The Greek myth of Pygmalion, in which a sculptor's female figure comes alive, is the backdrop to the downstairs installation: an archetypal recreation of the studio, with details suggesting Van Gogh, Picasso and Bacon. There is still humour – from mock-ups of pulp magazines and movie posters to an '80s-style music video pastiche – but overall the tone is disturbing. Creepy mannequins suggest fetishisation and male dominion. Most sinister is a video in which Lee Krasner, Pollock's lover and an artist in her own right, is portrayed as a put-upon, Home Counties housewife. Yet her oppressor isn't Pollock, but the famous, fawning critic Clement Greenberg, and by extension the entire apparatus of art history itself.


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