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reviewS SheilA Pye & niCholAS Pye
SheilA Pye & NicholAS Pye
AlexiA Goethe GAllery, london
14 novem ber – 2 JAnuAry
Married life is a dark and dingy institutional corner
that contemporary art doesn’t often shine a light
on, though it’s the chosen subject of husband and
wife Nicholas and Sheila Pye, who investigate the
intimacies and intricacies of their relationship in
film, performance and video. The shabby rooms
– specifically created sets for the photographic
works and 16mm film triptych Paper Wall (2004),
A Life of Errors (2006) and Loudly, Death Unties
(2007) – are dense with texture and symbolism:
an empty birdcage and an iron bed are prisons,
fraying ropes and ribbons are the ties that bind. Pale
chinks of light make for a heavy and suffocating
palette of rotting fecund browns and dove-greys.
The Pyes investigate the psychological traps that
couples fall into – secrecy, obsession, hurt, harm
and slow-burn boredom as they erase one another’s
identities in codependency. Sheila leads Nicholas
over broken china until his feet bleed, and he in turn
forces her to jump a rope blindfolded in a ring of fire.
Similar imagery is explored in the accompanying
photographs: drowning in milky opaque water,
watching a small fire as a bedroom burns; images
much enhanced by the narrative of the filmwork.
Even in a state of decay, however, the scenes
are incredibly pretty, and often stray too close to
resembling a vintage Victoriana fashion shoot.
The stuff of the classical nineteenth-century fairy
or woodland folk tales is here too: wolves at the
door, barefoot children wandering in a darkened
wood, candles and floating bodies, which have the
unfortunate effect of heavily romanticising the films, contrary to their apparent intentions.
Romance, 2007,
c-print, 107 x 213 cm.
Much of the work concerns boundaries, actual and abstract, including sexual, mortal Courtesy Alexia Goethe, london
and bodily, and as readers of anthropologists Mary Douglas or Claude Lévi-Strauss will
know, the most carefully guarded kinship boundary is the incest taboo. Paper Wall suffers
least from the effect of a whimsical uncanny, perhaps because here the Pyes play the roles
of brother and sister. Separated by a paper wall, the siblings sit in individually decorated
rooms and explore the boundaries of their own and each other’s bodies in a teenage lust-
confused fit. We see the siblings spitting, licking one another’s eyeballs, pissing and kissing.
This familial exploration of boundaries physical, bodily and imaginative is akin to the episode
in Jim Crace’s novel The Devil’s Larder (2001), in which a mother and daughter eat food
from one another’s mouths: ‘Our lips and noses rubbed, we breathed into each other’s lungs,
our hair was tangled at our chins. I tasted sauce and toothpaste, I tasted sleep and giggling, I
tasted disbelief and love that knows no fear. My daughter tasted just the same as me.’ These
actions are both heavily incestuous, and not at all: a delicate balance struck by the couple
who claim that they are as much like brother and sister as they are lovers. This, perhaps, is the
most common and dangerous trapdoor for married life, which, for the Pyes, is a dark series
of dangerous games worth looking into. Laura McLean-Ferris
119 Artreview
FEB_REVIEWS.indd 119 7/1/08 11:43:39
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