Residenz-Rückblick: Juli bis August 2013

Skinjobs (Adam Latham und Richard Wilson)

Since 2009, artists Adam Latham and Rich Wilson have been performing as Skinjobs in galleries in London and around Europe, accompanied by a supporting cast of artists and musicians. Skinjobs’ performances are by turns droll and plaintive, and strike a note of blithe ineptitude through their mimed songs, hastily-scrawled masks, and improvised props. Their freewheeling routines, which are recorded to form video works, resemble the Theatre of the Absurd, street busking, folk recitals, and the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. They also compress an eclectic range of cultural and historical allusions, from Rogers and Hammerstein to the Elephant Man. The duo’s latest work in progress, a stage musical titled A Short Play in Black & White, combines elements of the hit musical South Pacific (1949) with the anthropological observations of David Attenborough in his study of Papua New Guinea, Quest in Paradise (1960).

Concomitant with Skinjobs’ knowing artifice is a desire to court failure. Failure is played out in the form of irrational proposals such as Gutbusters Cafe, a two-day performancecum-shop in Dalston accompanied by a pop-up ‘Department Store’ selling items from their online shop. The cafe was open to members of the public, with Latham and Wilson serving a variety of nonsensical dishes whose ingredients combined real food with inedible objects. Amidst normal cafe fare, the menu listed such dishes as “Spinach & Computer Pie”, or segued from normal sounding suggestions (“Bacon Roll”) to bizarre ones (“Cheese on Book”).

The 2011 Elephant Man Tour is a telling instance of Skinjobs’ oscillation between seriousness and spoof. What was originally conceived of as a mock guided tour of London Streets became a bona fide commercial undertaking in which Latham and Wilson guided paying visitors in the footsteps of Joseph Merrick’. During a journey around the Royal London Hospital and Whitechapel Road, the group encountered a performer in an Elephant Man Costume lurking in an alleyway. The event culminated in a karaoke rendition of Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life, its tone slipping ever closer towards the farcical yet stopping just short of bathos.

Various layers of pretence surrounded the storyline and staging of the recent performance How Dee Doo, an extract from Latham and Wilson’s unfinished musical A Short Play in Black & White. It presented the character General Wearpaws, a US marine posted to a remote island, sitting at his desk in a red-tinted room morosely contemplating a photograph of a young woman. The stylised staging of How Dee Doo, with its conscious traces of the absurdist theatre of Eugène Ionesco, adds a further patina of artifice to the performance with Latham and Wilson stooped behind the desk, poking their fingers through the puppets’ masks to suggest fleshy lips. Skinjobs’ incorporation of such an eclectic range of art-historical, literary, and popular references has aspects in common with the agglomerative practices of contemporary artists including Spartacus Chetwynd and Goshka Macuga. But in contrast to both of these, Skinjobs shy away from direct identification with a given subject in favour of elusive polyphony.

Paraphrased from James Cahill’s text on Skinjobs