Exhibition review – Grand Union by Prem Sahib curated by Kim McAleese.
Working alongside various collaborators and curator Kim McAleese, the London based artist brought installation works that reacted with the gallery and its spectators. Grand Union is not your typical gallery; the programme is constantly evolving.
Each time you go to the space, it’s completely transformed by the concept. Grand Union was no exception to this; here the noun became a verb and related to the union of bodies, surfaces and materials moulding and coming together.
Prem had created an environment where inhibitions were lowered and interactions occurred, all linking back to his personal experiences of club culture and gay venues. Speaking at the recent artist and curator talk at Grand Union, Prem notes that the Queer world is a niche world, and for many, his work would be their only experience of the scene; “I don’t want the works to become titillating for those who have not been to these queer spaces”. Prem allowed us a glimpse into the interaction, space play and voyeurism of these gay hotspots, making it impossible not to interact emotionally and physically with the forms he had created. Initially appearing minimal, smooth and almost simplistic, the works developed like Polaroids when topped with the allegorical meanings, detail and stories behind the pieces.
At Grand Union’s artist talk Prem said he was struck by the two opposing windows of the space; working in collaboration with Xavier Llarch Font he constructed benches (similar to those found in gay saunas) around the walls of the gallery, focussing “the attention of the viewer back into the room and to each other.” It’s hard to imagine the viewers focus would be elsewhere when the room is filled with Prem’s curiosities.
Prem described the behemoth work Beast II (the massive cock ring hanging as you walked into the gallery) as the “brutal elephant in the room”. He’s played with size in this work, blowing the dimensions and hanging the piece at eye level in the gallery space, beckoning viewers to look through or reach out and touch it. His sweat paintings, Alex and Rene hanging on the large tiled wall, Faceless with Arms Stretched, appeared to have an invisible surface inviting the viewer to in to see the detail of the work. Prem had meticulously painted each droplet in resin to resemble sweat, water, piss, depending on the coloured background. There were visible smear marks across the works that give an account of activity occurring in these paintings.
The ‘piss’ theme was continued with a light installation that could only be seen when the gallery was closed; Liquid Gold basked the upper windows in a golden glow, pouring out onto the street below. The same goes for Glory, a relic of a visit to a Berlin club basement where Prem viewed “men crouching on beer crates being pissed on”. The yellow hue of the resin (again giving us the clue) cementing the object like a fly caught in amber.
Prem himself is a versatile character; he runs a club night with friends (Eddie Peake and George Henry Longly) called Anal House Meltdown often held at Vogue Fabrics in Dalston, London. I even bumped into him (amidst drag queens and jagerbombs) at The Village after his closing party at the gallery, where he had just hosted a screening of the film Bijou.
Grand Union was a collection of seemingly inanimate objects that were actually full of action, debauchery and sequence. Narratives are added to Prem’s works based on our own experiences and understanding, which for me developed as I delved deeper into this world.
The exhibition is now over but you can pick up a special risograph edition titled Grand Union in the gallery shop or online. For more information and news on upcoming shows, head to http://grand-union.org.uk/