Historically steeped in the work of the Mutoid Waste Company, the artist Giles Walker has produced something important and visionary in his jaw-dropping work “Monster”. After two years beating waste metal and sewing scrap material onto animatronic mannequins in his Brixton workshop, this hauntingly immersive experience is both disturbing and beautiful. The moving characters spout dialogues (sound managed by Orbital) that reveals the very worst about the health of this nation. Against the backdrop of these busy dialogues, comes the traffic noise and ambulance sirens of East London outside, making this the unholiest of galleries.
The work is utterly British, from the Silver Cross pram revealing the baby smoking (remember that image on all fag packets?) to the wimples of the war-time nurses pushing them, and the hundreds of books littering the floor, there is no mistaking which nation you are in. We are taking a look under a filthy blanket in the morgue. In the two-year period it took him to produce this immersive sculptural experience, he had no idea that we were going to be plunged into a pandemic at the end, but the extreme sickness is foretold within the body of this work, from the continual coughing to the lines of red string which are suspended between the characters – representing a virus spreading, before Covid had landed.
Now the cavernous, dark, disused Stable Block in the centre of a bustling Spitalfields, where the exhibition takes place, through a door in a boarded up wall – covered in graffiti –provides the perfect backdrop for this dystopian Narnia. It is a space to face your fears in, fears about the establishment, about cruelty in education, fears about treatment in this country of refugees, disability, paedophilia in the British monarchy, the deification of celebrity in Jimmy Saville, domestic abuse in countless households, gaslighting, and above it all – Religion. the subversion of Christ on a giant wooden cross, who comes alive at the end of the piece to lean forward and spout nonsensical lines about “Coca Cola” continues to be a symbol of hope, despite his bastardised appearance.
The guardians of this horror show are the Three Blind Mice who greet you at the start, tail-less naturally – towering some thirty feet over the cowering audience with their giant penises and blindfolded eyes. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. As you enter, they are a warning for what is to come, banging an empty bucket on the floor – no water to spill here, the coffers are empty. They start the show by forcing your mouth open in disbelief, as if you had walked onto the set of Mad Max – and there is no way out.
As the performance continues, you are taken from the giant to the miniscule as you become drawn into the stories of burning dolls houses, little vignettes of the tiny skeletons of birds’ heads on people, a throwback to Walker’s exhibition The Last Supper in 2017. Except this time we are peeking behind the closed doors of British substandard social housing. These creepy creatures are hanging with a rope around a neck, despair in tiny bottles of spilled wine and blood on the floor.
And then from the middle of all this horror, in front of the cross, appears a child singing the most beautiful of arias, as if you are suddenly in church. Birds’ wings in discarded shoes flap gently up and down as your assaulted senses are lifted up by this eerie child, appearing from a box with a hopeful song, utterly at odds with so much evil.
The result is a disturbing look under the covers of our collective psyche, the evil that lurks often in the corridors of power, whatever smiley face we choose to put on in life. For the hour given over to the exhibition, we are invited to confront it – to accept that it lurks within us, that we are all connected by this red string of the virus – however much we choose to shut ourselves away or put on a brave face. It can’t be ignored.
The Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Than wrote: “Do not turn yourself into a battlefield with good fighting against evil. Both sides belong to you, the good and the evil. Evil can be transformed into good, and vice versa”. Giles Walker’s utterly impressive “Monster” provokes us into accepting this truth. What we choose to do with it now, is up to us.
Giles Walker “Monster” from 3-13 December at 106 Commercial St, Spitalfields London E1 6LZ
Website: www.benoakleygallery.com . Images and video below by Kelvin O’Mard.