At a time in art when beauty is venerated at the expense of the ugly, it seems apt that ugliness be given its own little space to exist. Global protests are only one of a myriad of examples demonstrating existing social ugliness, and it appears that the artists presented at Embassy’s Ugly Clean Up seek to express such unsightliness using equally unpleasant material.
There is nothing pretty about John Russell’s 2010 film, Vermillion Vortex. Infinite, immediate, ecstatic, perhaps: he integrates these adjectives into the film through the presence of bulging and fluorescent pop-typeface of an adolescent. Flashing red imagery goes alongside Christ on the crucifix, which is all set to an unsettling cacophony of unnerving voices and interrupted music that infiltrates beyond the small cinema into the rest of the Embassy space. It is, to use Jonathan Jones’s description, an ‘hyperbolic overactive pop monstrosity’.
Alexis Milne tackles the topical - the riots. Protestors in his video Deep Undercover (2011) display signs stating that ‘underneath every policeman lies an activist’ – a reference to his performance pieces (Arbitrary Kettle, 2011) in which activists sported cardboard masks of policemen and police dogs. Such re-enactment engages with the intimidation and, frankly, ugliness encountered on our streets.
These artists consider ugliness far more relevant than the seemingly natural affirmation of beauty, and their materials reiterate this. Hasty compositions, glue marks on the walls and unsteady hands bear no reference to high art. These works are as transient and corroding as the society they object to.