Bull & Bear

"...when I got back home tonight, I stepped through the door and over my messes; I fell on to the couch and into a sleep and then into a dream, and I dreamed that I was back in Minneapolis, back next to the corn fields. I dreamed I had taken a glass elevator to the top of one of the city's green glass skyscrapers, to the very top floor, and I was running around that floor from one face of the skyscraper to another, frantic, looking through those big sheets of glass - trying to find a way to protect Superman."¹

Whilst I am averse to quotation, this paragraph, taken from Douglas Coupland's excellent 1994 novel, Life after God, came to mind when asked to write a second text about the work of Richard Robinson & Rob Bermingham. The first text had served as an introduction as they made their collaborative practice public through large billboard posters, scruffy studio assemblages and humorous open house invitations to see what seemed like their spewing forth on a range of subjects from in-house jokes, music, celebrity and their daily routine of being an artist.

This waste disposal method of working had created a space where the pair hoped to work in a slightly more tender way, whilst still commenting on their daily lives and the 'complexities of soul searching for a generation without God'. The above quotation evokes that space, in its melancholic reference to a lonesome, tiresome life; the wishful think of somewhere else, somewhere of your childhood. There is an aching juxtaposition of nature and modern technology and the frantic realisation of being lost somewhere in the middle. Finally, and most tenderly, there is the futile masculine attempt to do the right thing by protecting Superman, the one person out there who should be saving the day. Coupland, like Robinson & Bermingham seem to be asking if he can't save us then who will? That this question is asked simultaneously from the perspective of an adolescent boy, with his superhero worship, a utopian dreamlike state and that of a miserable 30-something man makes it all the more longing.

For anyone who has seen their previous shambolic outpourings, Robinson & Bermingham's new work may come as something as a surprise and perhaps, a little disappointment. Gone are the random scrawled notes to each other, the perverse references to something that happened the night before. The humour that was so apparent previously has been replaced with an almost remorseful air. Instead of being witness to camaraderie and rowdiness, the viewer is now party (sic) to the morning after, the sickly paranoia that creeps up on you after a particularly long weekend.

This temporary remorse displays itself through a series of almost tombstone-like displays. Two different sized tabletops are up ended, perhaps representing that school is definitely out; a sly self-portrait and a bleak nod to the World Trade centre. These themes are continued elsewhere with a repeated motif of a school chair tumbling across the room alluding to the haunting image of the Falling Man.²  This repeat to fade tactic is employed again through a series of cross-stitch panels of the videogame Space Invaders. Again, a wasted but much missed youth is cross-referenced with the artists poking fun at their boy's own image, along with the fears of an unknown attacker.

Finally a dingy basement contains another potential self-portrait in the form of two coats hung casually. This perhaps acts as a knowing signature in a similar way we have become accustomed to the suits of Beuys and the hat and coat of Kounellis, with their ability to create both a fictional identity and also act as a mark of authenticity.

This apparent shift is not a wholesale shift in focus, rather a more black humoured edit and intentionally serious stopgap. This seriousness is deployed by Robinson & Birmingham almost as a misleading tactic. It acts as a bookend to their previous work in that it provides parameters between the carefree summer days of their youth, where fears of a nuclear strike, although frightening, seemed a million years away, and the day to day drudgery of modern, soon to be middle aged life where all those apocalyptic fears are real, but you just cant be bothered to get out of bed to worry about them all.

Robinson & Bermingham are, in their own futile way, trying to help Superman save the world. Their work offers the bleak hope to people 'That they should try to hold on the best they can, he hasn't dropped them, forgot them, or anything. It's just too heavy for Superman to lift.' ³

¹ Life after God. Douglas Coupland. Published by Simon & Schuster 1994

² The Falling Man refers a photograph by Richard Drew of  a man believed to be Jonathan Briley falling from the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 attacks. The image was only printed once in American newspapers following public outcry.  Drew commented about the varying reactions, saying, "This is how it affected people's lives at that time, and I think that is why it's an important picture. I didn't capture this person's death. I captured part of his life. This is what he decided to do, and I think I preserved that" http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0110/drew.htm

³ Waiting for Superman, written and performed by The Flaming Lips. From the album The Soft Bulletin, Warner Bros. Records, 1999

Gordon Dalton is an artist, critic and curator based in Cardiff, Wales.