Powerful figures: Geoffrey Farmer’s Let’s Make the Water Turn Black at Nottingham Contemporary

geoff2Walking into a gallery filled with classical sculptures can be somewhat unnerving. Forms that suggest strength and power stand static while the cold, white marble is strangely death-like.

As with Frankenstein’s monster, it is easy to imagine a bolt of electricity reanimating these frozen figures. It’s an idea that played on my mind when I went to see Canadian sculptor Geoffrey Farmer’s latest installation, Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, which opened at Nottingham Contemporary earlier this month.

Inside, the figures that greet you are indeed white and motionless. Created from salvaged objects and old movie props, some playfully reference traditional sculpture. One even has the muscular limbs and noble face typical of the art form but it has been deconstructed: its body is made up of a mechanical-looking frame, a horn has been placed in its ear and a carrot has been stuffed into its mouth. Seemingly disparate, the sculptures spring to life as different coloured lights flash across them, animating even the cabbages that appear to grow from the solid, white gallery floor. Other characters, created with mop hair and light bulbs for eyes, suddenly come alive in a way that is both playful and sinister.

As well as the transformative lighting, a soundtrack made up of field recordings and Foley sounds perpetually changes the mood in the gallery and abstract electronic soundscapes contrast with the cheerful, half-remembered 1940s radio ditties.

The exhibition takes its name from Frank Zappa’s 1968 song Let’s Make the Water Turn Black which follows the story of pair of young brothers who lock themselves up in the garage and amuse themselves with all sorts of revolting games. The childish humour shifts to something darker as we learn that one of the brothers is in the army while the other is ‘taking pills’. During a recent visit to the Contemporary, Farmer said that he was interested in 1960s LA and his installation perfectly captures the dichotomy of this era (free love and peace versus war, drug casualties and the horrors of Altamont and the Charles Manson murders).

Let’s Make the Water Turn Black runs until 5th January. For details on the exhibition, and the events that have been organised around it, visit the Contemporary’s website.

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