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Laugh at Gravity
MOLOTOV cocktails, lights, lamps, rope, fans, fins and fluffy clouds all feature in Manchester-born and based photo-artist Benji Reid’s first solo show at London’s October Gallery.
The exhibition, part of Photo London 2021, comprises a series of mainly self-portraits in a hyper-stylised form that combine everyday objects — some kitsch, some common — and the artist centre stage, to showcase set-ups that seem real, yet are somehow otherworldly.
The common theme, and focus, is gravity — or the lack of — with most of the pictures either featuring Reid in the air or in flight.
The deep orange glow of Light Bike is instantly arresting, particularly with Reid floating amid a triangle of fluorescent tubes, but look closer and hidden depths appear.
Whether the reference to Black British on the pallet, itself crossed out, to the number 54 and even the fez and cyberpunk-style shades.
This is also one of the few where the subject — primarily Reid himself — actually gazes direct at the viewer.
In many he is either masked or facing sideways, his gaze directing us away from the subject or hiding its true self. That lets the image and idea jump out.
Drunken Matters II juxtaposes a glowing red star or light and a similarly celestial-like head, but the view is driven towards the rope that binds the figure and metaphorical chains that remain.
And constraint is a key theme — Light Bearer shows the subject again, looking away, eyes closed, but bound, while Inconsolable features the aforementioned petrol bomb, but it is being held rather than thrown and the subject is cut out in part like a jigsaw.
That’s not to say there aren’t points of levity. We Are Magic looks like a skateboard trick without said board featuring the artist descending steps in a highly unusual way.
And Going Home adds an element of whimsy and wonder, with the artist coming across as a witch or warlock flying back home on a fluffy cloud while clutching a wand, or sparkler, to lead the way.
The detailed composition and energy in these pictures bring the physical to the fore, but masks it in multiple ways.
There’s a depth not just in the colour, but the concept, whether subtle hints to other artists — are the sketches of crowns in a couple of pieces a nod to Basquiat — to the flow and form which surely come from Reid’s background as a performer.
Overall, like the sparkler leading the way, this is a collection of illuminating, yet quirky works that elevate everyday objects that are agile, strong but also fragile and show we have freedom that is often restricted.
Time to not just defy gravity, but co-opt it, seize it, and use it — Reid’s works are showing the way.
Laugh at Gravity is at the October Gallery, London, WC1N 3AL until October 9 2021. Free.
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