Rocky Horror Show

Candice Jacobs: Pleasure Voyage

12 October 13 words: Wayne Burrows
"The works play with ideas of femininity, capitalism, luxury, pop culture and a whole range of mundane or surprising codes"
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Candice Jacobs. Pikkinnini, 2013 (Cast bronze resin). Photo: James E. Smith

Walking through the front door of Syson Gallery into the first room of Candice Jacobs’ Pleasure Voyage exhibition, your first impression is likely to be something of a double-take. The floor is scattered with white plastic nail extensions, some broken, some intact, and leads us to imagine some kind of Russ Meyer catfight might have kicked off the night before. Double-takes prove to be something of a speciality here, as the works play with ideas of femininity, capitalism, luxury, pop culture and a whole range of mundane or surprising codes, notably the mysterious squiggles of secretarial shorthand.

Gregg Shorthand in particular is a recurring theme. In Thankyou, Thank-You, Thank You (the three variations on the almost identical phrase turn out to be represented by three different symbols in Gregg notation) a row of white nail-varnish bottles on a glass shelf are all inscribed in black with one of those variations on the words of the title, giving the labels an occult or vaguely Arabic look. The shape and colour of the bottles themselves echoes the once familiar form of Tipp-Ex correction fluid, another tool of the office secretary’s trade that, like nail varnish and cosmetics generally, hides flaws and conceals mistakes.

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Candice Jacobs. Thank You, 2013 (neon). Photo: James E. Smith

Those Gregg Shorthand Thank Yous turn up everywhere in Pleasure Voyage. Thank You, as a phrase, has been something of a staple in Jacobs’ work ever since she made copies of the gold-lettered corporate gratitude printed on a plastic tips tray at a chain restaurant a few years ago. Representing the artificial civility and forced gratitude of a system in which the actual rewards for service industry workers continue to decrease, Thank You appears here as an elegant neon sign and a series of digital prints that look like calligraphic brushstrokes from a distance but turn out to be laboriously typed in ASCII computer code when viewed close-up. There’s a variation on the theme in Have a Nice Day, a silent video constructed from sampled TV game show footage that scrolls across a fake marble background.

The links between femininity, sexual desire, aspiration and product design are neatly made by Pikinni, a resin cast of the scalloped shapes from a Breville Toasted Sandwich Maker arranged on the wall to suggest a bikini top. Taking its cues from works like Marcel Duchamp’s Female Fig Leaf and Sarah Lucas’s endlessly varied double-endres, Jacobs’ Pikinni seems to wonder how much of the Breville’s success as a product might be down to its hidden suggestiveness. In coding a scalloped bikini top into its design, the Breville plays on a long tradition of association between the Goddess of Love and the sea-shell that carries her from the sea to the human world in the mythologies surrounding the birth of Venus. 

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Candice Jacobs. MAN; MEN; MAN (2), 2013
(framed digital prints). Photo: James E. Smith

Golden Sunrise continues the theme with a video loop showing an athletic young woman in an electric-pink bikini swinging on a neon-pink hoop to a soundtrack of Ibiza Chill Out music, over and over again. It’s a hypnotic, exotic, but also strangely bland spectacle in which the repetitive sound and movement, the flesh and blue tones of the sky, bikini, body and sea, all gradually become unsettling, prompting a gradual recognition that the imagery and techniques used so seductively and apparently innocently here aren’t all that far removed from those patented Leni Riefenstal, whose fetishism of athleticism and idealised bodies in her propaganda films of the 1930s is reincarnated here with a Miami Vice gloss.

If the methods of propaganda remain constant, the uses made of them change. As writers like Noam Chomsky point out, the line between politics, entertainment and advertising is rarely as clear as we’d like to imagine. MAN; MEN; MAN plays obliquely on the idea of a hall of mirrors (shabby chic mirrors, according to Jacobs herself) as three large framed prints featuring after-shave packaging are scaled up to the six-foot height of ‘the perfect man’. They seem to lean casually against the walls and in odd corners of the room, looking a bit Bryan Ferry and eyeing up anyone who walks in like lotharios at a party. Their glass blankly reflects our own imperfect images back to us and once the reason for their scale is known we can’t help measuring ourselves against that arbitrary height deemed ‘perfect’.

The final room presents a series of nine minimal photographs, shot in the glossy, neutral style of advertising and arranged in a grid. Collectively titled 13 Fold, their subject is the odd similarity between the way people fold empty crisp packets into neat triangles as a kind of ‘pub origami’ in Britain, and the way that the relatives and colleagues of US servicemen ceremonially fold the American flag at the end of a military funeral. The coincidence of this shared technique hints that the symbolism of the folded flag, said to embody the deceased’s dedication to the highest ideals of their nation, might have some unacknowledged parallel relationship with the branded snacks whose names are visible on these folded crisp packets.

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Candice Jacobs. 13 fold, 2013  (Framed Lambda Photographic prints) Photo: James E. Smith

In playing with often subtle codes and connections, the works in Pleasure Voyage don’t always reveal their meanings at first glance. A willingness to do double-takes becomes not just an occasional occurrence but something of a necessity here. It also helps to know some of the background, as there are several links to slightly earlier pieces Jacobs has made that aren’t included here. A video using promotional footage for the ill-fated cruise liner, the Costa Concordia, was shown in the One Thoresby Street Attic this summer and certainly makes its presence felt in these new works, as do works like 2011’s Fylingdales, which recast the opening credits of Emmerdale as a military flight simulator. There’s also a programme of online works by other artists, curated by Jacobs as a digital extension of this show, which can be seen at Antenna and on the Sleeping Upright website until the exhibition closes on 23 November.

Candice Jacobs' Plasure Voyage, Syson Gallery, Beck Street, NG1 1EQ. Runs until Saturday 23 November

Syson Gallery website
Candice Jacobs' website

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