Open Frequency 2008: Tim Bailey selected by Andrew Hunt

Open Frequency 2008: Tim Bailey selected by Andrew Hunt Tim Bailey, doubledadadeath, 2007. Still from performance. Credit: Tim Bailey

Andrew Hunt profiles the work of Tim Bailey

Over the last few years Tim Bailey has created a diverse and convincing body of work, and most recently he has concentrated on producing a parallel practice based on performance and painting. Creating a fictional scenario, where cracked actors play out surreal and multiple roles in an uncanny way, one could say that his work deals with various reanimated historical and cultural moments that have gained a giddy momentum way beyond control.

On the afternoon of Sunday 21 October 2007, for his action in Mablethorpe as part of 990: General History of Other Areas for The Beacon Art Project curated by Sally O'Reilly, (an event that used the Dewey Decimal library system as its starting point, and O'Reilly's reference to the library category '990', which pointed to a history of foreign locations), Bailey hired two tap dancers to perform a random dérive around the town. Inspired by the obscure performance 'Dada Death' (1918) by the artist George Grosz, this action seeked to re-site the original work within a contemporary context. Strangely, the only evidence of its former incarnation is a photograph of Grosz wearing a skull mask, and substantiation that the performance took place on the 'foreign location' of Kurfuerstendamm, Berlin's famous shopping boulevard. At the time of Grosz' performance, the street was a symbol of Berlin's power and prosperity and coincidentally, where the revolutionary Andreas Baader lived in the early 1960s, before he became the leader of The Red Army Faction. Apart from this, little other information is available as to the content or aim of the original work, and Bailey's intention can be seen to reinterpret this lost moment in Dada's history. Rather than deal with a concern for appropriation and scrambling of art history, one could say that this work theatrically critiques this currently fashionable tendency within a radically regional environment. Bailey's performers were witnessed by confused and bemused local people and art audiences in the central shopping area of Mablethorpe, who were under the impression that there were a whole troupe of dancers, due to the constant and surreal regularity of their appearance.

If this work also re-sites historical events within a parallel commercial environment, we could say that a concern for celebrity as a theoretical construct is also at the heart of Bailey's practice. In 'Sustainable Forest II' from 2004, he produced a deliberately dog-eared and ancient faux-manumission document relating to Britney Spears' breakdown and attempted retirement from her duties as a pop singer. This certificate (surreally and absurdly signed and authenticated by Colonel Saunders in Kentucky), effectively situates the star's role as a slave within contemporary culture, and attempts to emancipate Spears from her duties within the entertainment industry. Similarly, another work entitled 'Sustainable Forest I' from 2001, which was produced as a poster edition for my own imprint Slimvolume, reproduces Marc Bolan's death certificate as a multiple artwork. This edition relates to an ongoing project by Bailey on Bolan's life, which previously manifested itself in the exhibition Near in Sharjah, curated by Peter Lewis in 1998, together with a number of other subsequent projects. Again the notion of the 'multiple' is important here; Bailey's concern for Bolan's legacy spreads to fandom, and part of his project involved visiting and taking a cutting from the roadside tree involved in the pop icon's fatal car accident. Propagated and planted in a desert in the United Arab Emirates, this sapling speaks of an equally irreverent and incongruous dissemination of culture in a foreign environment.

Another similar work from 2002 speaks of the irrational and the normative experience of advertising in an everyday urban situation. After Bailey had found a publication containing ancient spells in a cut-price bookshop on London's Charing Cross Road, he used a single entry within the book for a poster announcement, which was situated as a large-scale backlit bill on London's Rivington Street for the duration of a week. The content of the text contained a spell or hex to invoke invisibility; while the first day of the week-long stint was the occasion of a full-moon, the work not only spoke of advertising's sometimes natural and almost unnoticeable position in the street, but also of the tradition of de-materialisation within conceptual art, and the dangers of magic in contemporary art, politics and culture – perhaps Wagner, fascism and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books all come to mind here.

In a similar manner, Bailey's recent paintings mix various historical and contemporary associations and languages – such as those represented by Rene Magritte, George Condo, and Sean Landers – this time through tropes of portraiture, and the history of French and Spanish painting, set against an overtly photographic ontology. Among other things, these works are also influenced by Magritte's 'vache' paintings; this series of twelve unusual works made for the artist's first exhibition in Paris were panned at the time, and, as a form of representation, they were subsequently abandoned by the artist.

Bailey's gang of portraits, which are designed to form part of an ever-expanding variable installation, are also somewhat similar to Jim Shaw's thrift store paintings; again, through this, the artist is interested in a meshing of multiple personalities or meta-fictional characters. In various images we see hints of Marlon Brando as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979) (the film based on Joseph Conrad's 1902 Heart of Darkness), Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000) (based on Brett Easton Ellis' book from 1991), and other players such as Captain Ahab from Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851).

Like the character in Richard Linklater's Waking Life (2001), who describes the essential duality of Hollywood actors who present and transmit a wide-ranging humanity through their portrayal of various characters, yet who paradoxically also achieve an God-like status through the unavoidable specificity attached to their own unique image and identity, Bailey's work both celebrates and disrupts the importance attached to celebrity and mainstream media consciousness through an irreverent and sensitive form of iconoclasm. As a fan of J.G. Ballard's writing, and novels such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and short stories such as A Guide to Virtual Death (1992), Bailey's work also acts as a rearrangement of the body in painting; essentially through a meditation on eclectic image making, his works become psychic portraits, that present us with a different reality.

Bailey's performers not only attempt to provide a fresh viewpoint or semi-fictional perspective on literature and film history, but also point towards the problems inherent in reducing identity to a single image. Much like Matisse, Landers and Condo's portraits, the eclectic salon-style nature of the artist's paintings, together with his amorphic use of paint, celebrates an almost abandoned area of practice, where different styles mix and correspond with each other in an unexpected manner. What will be interesting is to see how the multiple aspect of Bailey's practice reveals itself in the future.

Andrew Hunt, October 2008

View Tim Bailey's profile >  

About Andrew Hunt

Andrew Hunt is Director of the Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, UK. He was previously curator of International Project Space, Birmingham, UK and assistant curator at Norwich Gallery, UK. He regularly organises independent projects.

Freelance exhibitions include The Affirmation, Chelsea Space, (2007), Writing in Strobe, Dicksmith Gallery (2006) and Like Beads on an Abacus Designed to Calculate Infinity, Rockwell (2004).

Publishing activities include the imprint Slimvolume, produced on a yearly basis since 2001. He is also reviews editor at Untitled, a regular contributor to Frieze, Art Monthly and a number of other journals.

Hunt is currently editing three books about contemporary art criticism collectively titled Laboratory of Synthesis with the critic Robert Garnett, to be published by Book Works during 2008 and 2009.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.