Paint just one more bodily function in Tala Madani survey at Nottingham Contemporary

By Mark Sheerin | 30 January 2014

Exhibition review: Tala Madani, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, until March 23 2014

Colour photo of a black and white painting of a man climbing into a balloon and bursting it
Tala Madani, exhibition view, Nottingham Contemporary© David Sillitoe
When painting bowel movements, it surely helps to have a loose style. Nottingham Contemporary have taken a risk with an artist who teases out the equivalence between oil paint and bodily waste. As such, Tala Madani occupies a strange limbo: not suitable for children but very, very childlike.

You would not want, for example, to field juvenile questions about the three men who are shitting out a Christmas tree, beneath which are Yuletide ‘logs’ with bows on (Brown Christmas). And you would not want your little ones to meet the bespectacled man who pulls a turd from a hole in his stomach and makes as if to eat it (The Whole).

But since when has contemporary art been a game for children? This is an artist who uses her incontinent cast to stage allegories about the human condition. And these quick, gestural paintings, which push the thematic boundaries of figurative art, do require a degree of maturity to understand.

If you’ve never had a career, you won’t relate so strongly to the ladder in descriptively titled work, Enema up the Ladder. And if you’ve never imagined a board meeting, you  won’t find nearby Sun Worship to be quite as sordid. This features ten middle aged men wetting themselves.

Colour photo of loose figurative paintings on a gallery wall
Tala Madani, exhibition view, Nottingham Contemporary© David Sillitoe
Having said all that, childhood is well represented here, since Madani has commissioned a realist painter from China to reproduce the boy and girl from the now historic Peter and Jane books. But she takes the results and adds an array of smeary black and white men who ejaculate, vomit and excrete their way into the action.

So these works are the most liable to cause offence, thanks to the respectability and innocence of the Ladybird book role models. They remind you that kids relate to the body in guileless ways and make you wonder just what kind of threshold we must have crossed to become grown up people.

What makes Madani so interesting is that she pulls you back and forth across this border, offering infantile pleasure and intellectual rewards by turns. There is, for example, plenty of art history on display here. So her corpulent characters arrange themselves in doubtful homage to the likes of Dan Flavin (Neon Toes) Morris Louis (Morris Men with Piss Stain), Daniel Buren (Red Stripes with Stain) and Jackson Pollock (Action Painting Room).

You might even mention Jasper Johns via the Viz-like cartoonery of Chinballs with Flag. Along with the formalist bands of a red pennant, this features two men with pendulous testicles where you would expect to find a chin. It is grotesque, in the way that no amount of abstract art can prepare you for or exempt you from.

The allegorical aspect of Madani’s work at its strongest in her animations and two large paintings which tell stories in a number of borderless panels. Both these feature men who turn themselves inside out, with bad results (Ding, Boom!; Spiral Suicide).

The animations benefit from the artist’s easy way with a brush as figures shimmer and morph their way through self-annihilating scenarios from frame to improvised frame.

But while her work often looks messy, at the level of individual brushstrokes Madani is deft to the point of being calligraphic. This is most in evidence in a large work entitled Everyone Wants to Be Chinese.

Here, the painter uses economic means to show about a dozen of her beardy men using fingertips and masks to orientalise themselves. And this seems every bit as perverse as the rest of the show. Madani’s is a world where, once you get your hands dirty, anything goes.

  • Open 10am-7pm (6pm Saturday, 11am-5pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @Nottm_Contemp

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Visit Mark Sheerin’s contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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