In recent times, most things have been considered an art. There is, for instance, the art of baking, the art of conversation, and, for sociopaths everywhere, the art of the deal.
But at J Hammond Projects in North London, one applied art form is proving to have enough legs to endure for the foreseeable future, and even outlive contemporary obsessions with artisanal crafts.
Painted onto the post of a metre square boxing rink are the three words that could unlock this show for you. Boxing is ‘The Noble Art”. Perhaps more noble, in terms of sacrifice, than art itself.
Next to the ring is a screen on which two crude hand puppets trade blows. The right hand stalks the left. The left guards its knuckled face. And the artist, to whom the hands belong, looks on.
Here, as elsewhere within the prison-like confines of this extensive installation, Christopher Gray is in the shadows. So this dogged contest between two puppets is something of a paranoid fantasy.
One hopes for autonomy in the choice of one’s enemies, but perhaps our creator has other ideas. In another film, in another arena, Gray looks on while an artist struggles to paint his muse.
All curves and pneumatic breasts, this is one sexualised model. Her painter on the other hand is tortured, grave, and as two-fisted as a twelfth round slugger. It ends very badly for him.
His scream echoes around the gloomy complex of tableaux, puppets and films. It brings us back to perhaps the core subject of the Dumas Complex, pain, hurt, suffering, call it what you will.
We have long expected artists to suffer. But Gray’s dimly lit structure feels like a torture chamber, cranking up the stakes to reveal that art and organised agony have plenty in common.