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'Honey-Suckle Company: Omnibus' Review - ICA

2nd October 2019 – 12th January 2020

Exhibition ticket: £5

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As you might expect from the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Honey-Suckle Company’s exhibition Omnibus doesn’t follow a linear structure. People file clockwise past paintings framed on the walls, waiting (im)patiently for the couple in front to finally finish inspecting the brushwork. You quite literally get to traverse over sands, undulating across the main exhibition space, mirroring your mind trying to find its feet throughout the exhibition. In this initial desert expanse, a huge plastic sphere is inflated, almost balancing atop a roll of tape, as it flattens the sand beneath it. A piece of art in its own right, it also seems to act as a lens—you can look through it into the pink room with a striking checkerboard floor in the far side of the gallery, and see the lights on the screens in that room reflect softly on the outer precipice of the plastic. Encompassing Honey-Suckle Company’s ‘holistic healing method’, there seem to be very few boundaries between the artworks. Each installation, photo or mannequin is merely a fragment of the entire collective not worth looking at in isolation, but to be enjoyed and experienced as a whole. The project began in 1994 and blurs boundaries between art and how to experience a gallery exhibition; this is refreshing and ahead of its time.

Honey-Suckle Company, Real Time Spasm – Fuck the Sugar System (It’s Easier to Make a Hole Than to Build a Pole), 1998. Performance view at the 1st Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, 1998. Image courtesy of ICA.

It cannot be forgotten that Honey-Suckle Company existed initially as a pre-Internet phenomenon. Collages of their work include sketches and film photographs, excerpts from magazines, wiring on circuit boards, and the template of an unsewn, unfinished t-shirt, emblazoned with the band name SYNTHETIC. Yet the very reasoning for the collective’s name shines through in their unfazed approach to the future of technology. The Berlin collective derived their name from Dr Edward Bach’s ethos on the honeysuckle, in that its properties can simultaneously help to learn from the past, and also create a sense of trust in the future. The intertwining of many different art forms, including videos or styled mannequins, show this comfort with the familiar and the unfamiliar. It’s unsettling to see a child’s play area in the corner of the pink room, with dolls and cushions piled up on a blanket taped up with duct tape, placed opposite a cacophony of towering televisions by the collective’s collaborator, Captain Space Sex. Unsettling, but irresistible.

Honey-Suckle Company, Tape Your Own Identity, collection, 1995. Performance view of Fashion is Dead!, noise happening with performance and concert by Captain Space Sex and toy-instrument band Batterie ON/OFF at Suicide Club, Berlin-Mitte. Image courtesy of ICA.

Traipsing upstairs, past the gallery staff on constant sweeping duty in a futile attempt to stop the spread of sand, you come face to face with a room of drapery cascading down. This piece is entitled Ohn End (2005), almost like the sandy expanse downstairs has been rotated on its axis, signified by billows of material, not mounds of earth. I found myself peeking through the drapes to see a large photograph on the far wall, as though the installation was entering a different realm of art—yet another example of its holistic nature. One of the centrepieces of material especially looks like it has a hole for the head sewn into it, and in the photos surrounding the walls of this room you can see people adorning these shapeless sheets. It is as though they are indeed meant to be worn, almost enticing the viewer to climb up into the installation itself. The array of photographs show contorted bodies out of focus, paired with melancholic displays of nature, including diving naked into abandoned crops in a run-down greenhouse. All of this is soundtracked by mechanical squeaking: at first I thought it was feedback from one of the gallery staff's walkie talkies, the static adding notably to another uncomfortable, unsettling collection of pieces.

Honey-Suckle Company, So Last Season, collection, 2003. Procession on the occasion of ESWERDE at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, 2003. Image courtesy of ICA.

The only spot where the sand is banished is in an indelibly white room, Materia Prima (2007), where you are required to take off your shoes before entering, and pad around in your socks. It feels very much that a sense of status is removed, reverting back to childhood. Once more, there is a great deal of uncertainty created in the installation, since you’re unsure of where the boundaries of the white room are until you look upwards and see the ICA’s ornate ceiling and strips of white lights. Until then, it simply looks like haze, as though caught in a technological, futuristic snowstorm. When you lift your hands up and focus your eyes on your skin, the background somehow gets hazier. This nostalgic reversion seems almost embryonic, finding yourself in a small, yet edgeless space is unsettling, and this time, confrontational. You feel compelled to go back to the other exhibits and observe them again, after this kind of renaissance in a room of nothing.

As unsettled as this exhibition makes you feel throughout, it’s not fear that stays with you; it’s those damn grains of sand, and above all, an inquisitive demeanour, looking into the future.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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