Jimmy Robert’s restrained yet expanded use of photography, movement, text and subtle architectural intervention discreetly interrogates ideas of inclusion and exclusion, belonging and identity, intimacy and distance. For PEER, Robert presents a new performance work and gallery installation in response to issues that have emerged from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Robert’s new commission, European Portraits, is timed to mark the first anniversary of the Brexit vote, and obliquely probes some of the complexities and consequences of this result – both personal and political – that have emerged in the past year.
Robert’s project begins with three consecutive evenings of performance in the gallery space, the focal point of which is the substantial doorway and entry/exit point that conjoins the two rooms. Both vertical sides of the opening have been clad in mirrors creating a mise-en-abyme – or literally, ‘to place into abyss’. The audience is split between the two spaces, enabling a multiplicity of viewing angles and positions. Robert moves within and through this constricted space of both transience and infinity while handling the drapes and folds of a large-scale fabric-printed image from a 16th century Bronzino portrait. Both divided groups view the performance from different perspectives – not visible to one another yet witnessing the same event. On the walls of the two galleries are a series of short text works, written by the artist over a number of years as intimate portraits of eight individuals.
These elements are brought together with a sound work, composed by artist Ain Bailey, with whom Robert has previously collaborated. Her composition will be structured around voice recordings of the wall texts, but focusing on the moments of breathing between the words, ‘giving materiality to absence’. This recorded element will be layered by Robert’s ‘live’ breathing, as a kind of call-and-response arrangement often used in the French West-Indian tradition of dancer and drummer in dialogue, and culminating in just the artist’s breath manifest in the space. Following the performances, the audio and visual elements of European Portraits will be presented as a gallery installation, while a film of the live event is available to view on PEER’s website from early July.
This exhibition is a product of Robert’s multidisciplinary practice that combines a range of lens-based media with other elements such as drawing, choreography and text. Robert breaks down divisions between two and three dimensions, as well as image and object through the manipulation of material. Robert will also show a work that has evolved from found photographs that have been torn, collaged and then scanned before presented as a work that oscillates between image and object.
Key to this specific presentation at PEER is Robert’s interest in exploring the potential to present public-facing projects via the large glass façade onto the high street. The economic, social and cultural diversity of the local area is in many ways representative of the kind of society that Brexit is determined to eliminate. And it is with those incidental passers-by, as well as with gallery visitors, that Robert’s project aims to communicate.
Jimmy Robert (Guadeloupe FR 1975) is a Bucharest-based artist who has exhibited and performed extensively in Europe and North America since the early 2000s including Art Now, Tate Britain, London (with Ian White) (2004); Figure de Style, Cubitt, London (2008); Vis-à-vis, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, USA (2012); A Clean Line that Starts from the Shoulder, Museum M, Leuven, Belgium (2015); Descendances du nu, CAC – La Synagogue De Delme, France (2016) and most recently, Wanna talk about reading? at Western Front, Vancouver, Canada (2017). Jimmy Robert is represented by Tanya Leighton, Berlin and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam.
Ain Bailey is a London-based sound artist, DJ and PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. Her current practice involves an exploration of sonic autobiographies and architectural acoustics, as well as collaborations with performance, visual and sound artists. Recent work includes Congregation, a performance as part of ‘Two Steps To The Left’ at Wysing Arts Centre (2016) and a co-commission by Tate Britain to create a Sonic Trail in response to the gallery's acquisition of William Stott’s La Passeur (2017).
This exhibition is supported by The Elephant Trust and with thanks to Omni Colour and The Cable Street Inn. PEER is supported by The Paul and Louise Cooke Endowment and Arts Council England. Still photography: Ollie Hammick.