Gerry Bibby: Combination Boiler

This review of Gerry Bibby’s Combination Boiler at The Showroom appeared (in Dutch translation) in Metropolis M:

© Gerry Bibby

For the inaugural show at its new gallery space, which had recently moved from Vyner Street in East London to a more central location, Nettie Horn let the Danish collective A Kassen wreck its freshly done up façade and make an artwork using the resulting materials, every scrap of them in fact. With its front door and windowpanes turned into an ‘architectonic sculpture’ inside, for the duration of the show the gallery literally became an open house.

Nothing quite so drastic by way of self-imposed Institutional Critique was in store for The Showroom – which, like Nettie Horn, had relocated to its spacious new home in the Edgware Road area from East London about five years ago – at the hands of its current ‘resident’ artist Gerry Bibby. Whereas A Kassen’s intervention had left the fledgling gallery at the mercy of the elements, Bibby’s own proposal to double-glaze the upstairs windows at The Showroom in the aptly named ‘Combination Boiler’, commissioned by The Showroom together with Chisenhale Gallery and Studio Voltaire as part of its How to Work Together program, stemmed from the opposite impulse. Rather than to destroy and make vulnerable, the artist aimed to fix and improve the lot of The Showroom’s staff.

Bibby’s initial diagnosis, following a visit in the depths of English winter, had to be revised after several meetings with the plumber, who eventually impressed upon the Berlin-based Australian artist that the upstairs radiators were in no need of repair; the glass windows all around the room were what made it freezing cold. Be that as it may, one of the nine radiators ended up stranded downstairs on a bed of oriental rugs (possibly a remnant of a carpet fair held at The Showroom prior to the show), propped up by books and cushions, its murky contents bled and drained into a glass vase displayed on a nearby plinth titled Wishing Well (in a bid to encourage patron donations to raise the not inconsiderable funds needed for the double-glazing). The radiator had been replaced by a copper pipe, signalling its absence, in the sole artwork located upstairs, gleefully named Radiant.

Freed from its official function, not unlike the amputated table leg in Bibby’s 2010 5 Stages Liberation Project, the radiator could take on the role of the artist’s Muse. More prosaically, Bibby found a use for it as a paper rack on the cushy carpet island called Him, thus designated as the artist’s space. When he is around, this is where the artist-in-residence tends to hang out with his laptop, do his writing, and hold the occasional work meeting with his London editor, the curators of If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, visiting from Amsterdam, or designer Will Holder with whom he is working on the design for his novel: a work-in-progress, of which there is evidence all around the room, in the shape of prints outs on A4 or overhead projection sheets, crossed out and highlighted here and there, cut out and crumpled.

Rather than strewn on the floor, these are glued or attached with tape or red, white and black magnets to overlapping aluminium and blue printing sheets of varying sizes pasted on white window shutters-cum-blackout blinds that the artist pulled out of storage and transformed into makeshift canvases with tell-tale bolts attached to them. Five such collaged canvases, which are referred to as ‘documents’, each duly numbered and subtitled, are mounted onto the walls in the exhibition space. Quoting from the texts posted on each canvas, their parenthetical subtitles – ‘Opening Night’; ‘Sliced like an eyeball’; ‘Under pressure’; ‘Derange’; and ‘Shipwrecked’ – hint at a narrative progression of some sort.

There is method in this madness. All geometrically blue, silver and white with the odd splash of red in the form of a rounded magnet, the five collaged Documents impart a pleasing visual unity to the room. As do the six glass sheets in the Disclosure Dramas series, propped up on silicon rubber whale-shaped ‘feet’ (apparently cast in shoe boxes, though the resemblance with feet stops here) and made to lean against white-painted wood pillars (sourced from the gallery, naturally) in the centre of the room. ‘Sheets of Glass can be hazardous… but perhaps not when they speculate a composition of intersecting lines’, a poetic legend of sorts printed at the back of the exhibition map helpfully suggests. Together they make up Bibby’s ‘modest proposal’ – at close quarters each reveals a set of grisly index fingers cast in rubber gloves, clasping the top edge of the glass to balance the ‘little feet’ – for double-glazed windows.

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