Patrick Furness’s live intervention at the Food Face artspace presents itself like a freeze frame from a science fiction film which the viewer is invited to step into and wander about. A trail of viscous blue goo leads from the loosely-curtained entrance into the gallery space. Following this stream of azure slime through Food Face’s angular confines, we discover the artist himself, lying on his back in a full-body puffa suit, covered from neck to toe in this same sludgy substance.
From his feet, the goo extends further, ending in a puddle beneath a vertical bank of five TV monitors – like those used by a film director on set. Bar the occasional flicker, each monitor displays a static frame of the same blue monochrome.
It’s almost as if our protagonist was surprised, while watching Derek Jarman’s Blue, to find the colour leaking out of the screen, overcoming and engulfing him, pinning him down to the floor. But absent are the voices of Jarman and his co-narrators; instead we hear waves of electronic sound flowing from concealed speakers. Resonant synth pads cycle through a loop of a dozen-odd unequally-lengthed chords (a twelve-bar blues?), alternately bright with subdued technological optimism and seething with barely suppressed foreboding.
It was as a sound artist – albeit of a peculiarly playful sort – that I first encountered Furness. At the Royal Festival Hall in 2010, Furness covered the Clore Ballroom in boards of MDF and laminated them with 7.9km of magnetic audio tape. Visitors were invited to drive remote controlled cars with playback heads under their chassis over the tape race tracks, picking up the electronic sounds recorded thereon as they went. Around the same time, his band Nine Owls in a Baguette performed with extravagant costumes and homemade synthesizers at a little cabaret evening I used to put on at a jazz club in Greenwich.
Several years later, and Furness is now focusing (so Food Face’s press release tells me) on “humour, conspiracy, and his place in the universe.” The present show, R- - -Retrograde reflects his “ongoing research around cosmology” with an oblique look at retrograde motions and inverse evolutions.
There is a pervading sense of excess about the piece – why five screens? Why so much goop? Like the old biotech spook story of grey goo overtaking the planet, we seem to be witnessing someone literally flattened and surrendered by a massive superfluity of information, of mucilaginous media flow, or of aesthetics, even. Think of modern art’s long love affair with the cerulean, from Picasso to Barnett Newman. He could have been bludgeoned to the floor by art itself, like an Yves Klein happening gone horribly wrong.
But there has been another, rather more practical use of ultramarine gunk recently. Over the last few years hazardous materials crews in Japan have been liberally applying a gelatinous blue goo in and around the exclusion zone surrounding the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Apparently this stuff, called DeconGel, can clean up anything – dirt, toxic contaminants, radiation, you name it – and then just peels off like a latex skin.
In true comic-book-super-hero-origin-story style, the stuff was only discovered after an accident in a chemistry lab, but with 72 new nuclear reactors currently under construction (according to the IAEA), and weird weather on the rise globally raising the spectre of more uncontrollable and unforeseeable accidents, perhaps this strange blue goo will become an increasingly common sight in cities and rural areas around the world. Patrick Furness’s Retrograde, then, becomes less a step back, more a look ahead.