This year’s annual off-site Lazarides exhibition is brutal by name and by nature; hosted in a derelict modernist building in central London. The basement of 180 Strand has reached a state of dilapidation that requires navigating piles of rubble, holes in the floors and walls, and smashed up bathrooms. This space makes the previous underground location of choice—The Old Vic Tunnels—look positively luxurious with its solid brickwork and romantic railway arches.
It’s all right up curator and art dealer Steve Lazarides’ alley: "I got shown this building and I was like, 'Wow, we have to do the show here.' Then I got thinking about what we could do and I started riffing on the idea of ‘Brutal’ and brutalism.” In previous years Lazarides has located his group show in an identifiable place in our imaginations, such as 2010's Dante’s Inferno in Hell’s Half Acre; the Minotaur’s maze in 2011; and the insane asylum that was last year’s Bedlam.
This year is a more loosely curated affair: "Giving the arts a very free reign, it’s not so targeted on a theme. It’s more studied and grown up," he says. Lazarides wanted to give the artists a more open brief to work with, so they could respond to the atmosphere of contemporary London. As the show’s tagline spells out, this is "a brutal show for brutal times." The way the artists have interpreted the word and the space varies enormously, from Todd James’ exploding animations which bring a cartoonish humor to the show, to James Lavelle’s excruciating short film of a cabaret artist that pierces herself and swings from her own skin.
Other pieces are boldly direct, like Cleon Peterson’s enormous black and white mural of stylized—but still vicious—wrestlers, as well as Estevan Oriol’s black and white photographs of Mexican gangs. On opening night, both these works were offset to brilliant effect by a dramatic performance from The Bone Breakers, a dance troupe who wrestled, ran and biked around the space with baseball bats, their faces hidden by gas masks and bandanas.
Lazarides is particularly excited about having a live performance piece in the show. “It was great to be able to do that because I always wanted to bring a theatrical element in, but I didn’t want to make it look like I was trying to do a ‘Punchdrunk’. Rob Hylton—the choreographer—and I, we’ve known each other for about 25 years and we’ve been trying to find a way to work together. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
More subtly threatening was Ben Woodeson’s installation of glass panes suspended at angles by black ropes. The glass sheets have a beautiful minimalism to them, but appear so fragile and unstable you think they may come crashing down onto the concrete floor at any moment, to fatal effect.
There’s also wonderfully poetic work from Lucy McLauchlan and Doug Foster who both use their inimitable styles to great effect in the space. McLauchlan's mural-covered room is full of figures floating, swimming or sinking in the darkness. They are all connected across the space by a network of thick ropes, which might be saving them or pulling them further into the abyss.
Doug Foster impresses with another stunning video work entitled "Moonland." Covering a long wall are three invisibly joined projections with morphing images of water, rocks, seaweed and grasses, that twist and turn into each other like a spiraling natural disaster.
Lazarides is characteristically upbeat in his dark and brutal basement. He’s never happier than when surrounded by creative chaos and destruction. "I think we’ve got some of the best work out of some people that they’ve done in a long time," he chirps. "Of all the shows I’ve done, I think this is the one I like the best."
Brutal, presented by Lazarides and The Vinyl Factory, is on show at 180 The Strand until 27 October. Entrance is free, but it's recommended you book a slot in advance. Check out more artwork from the group show in the slideshow.
Images courtesy of Leonora Oppenheim