To many members of the Facebook generation a meme is a series of cartoons, often using the same picture with different captions and dealing with amusing topics such as cats, ginger hair and mass murder.
However the broader definition given by biologist and arch-atheist Professor Richard Dawkins is “a unit of cultural transmission or unit of imitation”, i.e. a structure or body passing on cultural archetypes through time.
It is also the title given to the latest exhibition by Nottingham-based sculpture artist Kashif Nadim Chaudry, who occupies Djanogly gallery with a continuation of his work exploring the holy trinity of modern day sculpture; religion, sex and nice fabric.
To provide a little context behind the artwork, Chaudry is a British-born gay Muslim of Pakistani origins, a graduate of Goldsmith's and someone seemingly positioned between a dozen different traditions and aesthetics.
‘Memes’ is divided into three large pieces; Kinetic, Chicken Balls and Redemption Claw. The latter was unfortunately unavailable at the time of my visit, as there was apparently trouble with the Claw in itself. I was reliably informed however that it consists of a large ‘grabber’ like those found at a seaside arcade, descending into a pile of hair which it moves to a nearby cube. The conceit I suppose is that sometimes you get redemption, sometimes it slips from your grasp and I’m sure it’s an impressive sight.
Of the two pieces available the first is Kinetic, a waterfall of blended colour fabrics. Through from dark green to bright gold and red, a cascade of material beginning high above the viewer's head falls gracefully to the floor. Beyond this initial façade however, is a distorted and uneasy structure propping it all up, covered with a murky sludge and dripping silently behind the front-facing burst of colour.
The Djanogly gallery has only one narrow entrance and the artist has been very deliberate in the placement of both the pieces on display and the order in which it’s seen. Past the first two connected pieces is a horizontal red cone fabric sturcutre, on the far side of which is a weaving of organic 3D wicker shapes decorated with a veiled face mask, embroidered with gold string and artificial flowers. The piece flows through the space with a discernible beginning, middle and end, a narrative which make the art an experience through time as well as space.
The second piece is the gloriously named ‘Chicken Balls’. It consists of a trellised ‘blessing cross’ frontispiece, dried chicken skulls attached to the front, decorated by dark blue, organic-looking ornamentation. A caged chicken holds an Arabian nights-style mouth veil which it hangs seductively from its dry, curved beak.
The piece not only catches the viewer's eye but it smells authentically decaying, although I cannot be sure whether this is deliberate or just bad refrigeration. Behind this anti-altar are three ascending testicles, woven from the same coarse material as parts of Kinetic. They’re a little darker, with small piles of fuzz, like pubic hair discarded on the floor. Each “ball” is connected via thick blue veins and the trailing one of the trio is followed by three red ropes as if ripped from its place on a larger body. The furthest forward is dusted with blue glitter, more tiny detail against the large, imposing main feature.
If this sounds confusing it’s perhaps in part to the sheer mesmeric, body horror quality of this show making it hard to put into, well, conjugant English. The experience is strangely ethereal and organic and does it a disservice to talk of it using hokum description.
Essentially, Memes is a show that will split audiences in half, those who find themselves responding to the brash immediacy and thought behind the pieces and those who feel some of the humour is too often and the targets too easy. However there is a surreal intelligence behind it all. Both in the placement of the artworks within the space and the artist’s natural eye for colour and comment. It makes Memes one of the more interesting art events available in Nottingham this summer.