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TRCH - Caitlin Moran

Review: Here, the Gold Ones Meet at Bonington Gallery

25 May 21 words: Alex Stubbs

The re-opening of Bonington Gallery on Monday 17 May saw the launch of Here, the Gold Ones Meet, the result of Nottingham-based collective Reactor’s six-year-long The Gold Ones project...

Set in The Cosmic Care Home, a place “cut off from a wider community” where The Gold Ones - a group of higher spiritual beings with undisclosed powers - exist, the latest exhibition from Reactor is a visually-disorienting spectacle of sculptural detritus, unconventional video work, and everything in between.

Reactor is the brainchild of artists Susie Henderson and Niki Russell who, along with  an undisclosed number of artists and performers, explore the lives and (mis)adventures of a multitude of “proto-characters.” In their latest exhibition, Reactor’s characters deal with concepts of care, affirmation, and rest, their various activities taking place within the ambiguous boundaries of The Cosmic Care Home. It’s a world Reactor has developed throughout the years, and one that at times can feel disorienting.

Stepping into their world requires us to leave our ideas of reality at the gallery door. We must forget for a moment what is real and what is merely a construct we’ve bought into. Existing within The Gold Ones’ realm is jarring, especially for those of us experiencing Reactor’s work for the first time. It’s a world of ambiguous icons and objects, a place where anything is likely to occur and where authority is a dying idea. Their video work flows between trippy psychedelic patterns and bizarre character performances. Everything can be considered a sculptural object, from the towering mass of paint pots and polystyrene to the wet paint floor sign hidden at the back of the gallery.

All of this ambiguity reveals itself through how Reactor defines themselves. “Performance-fiction”: It’s a way, according to Niki and Susie, of remaining flexible in their performance and placing narrative at the forefront of their work. Tom Godfrey, curator at Bonington Gallery, sees this as a way of exploring the limitations of performance. “Performance-fiction,” he says, “is not about educating or exploring existing ideas and themes through the mode of performance.” According to Tom, the idea of performance-fiction is “about presenting, inhabiting and serving a reality that is imagined and specific to the practitioner(s)” and then continuing to explore the potential that reality offers.

Reactor’s Gold Ones project is a fluid and ever-changing process. But, with Covid-19 and the resulting periods of national lockdown, their usual way of working was challenged. REACTOR’s performances often happen in one room. With social distancing guidelines in place, however, communication had to be processed remotely, leading to a series of online performances and videos leading up to Here, The Gold Ones Meet.

Through these online video performances, the artists were able to tell both new and old stories, stories which are intimately tied to the collective’s history. The Cosmic Care Home - which Niki and Susie refer to as “ambiguous in and of itself” - is the space where these ideas of ambiguous meaning and narrative can be explored. As the viewer we aren’t exactly sure which character is in charge, but then neither are the performers who take on these roles. It’s a wacky premise, sure. It’s also one that makes sense when we consider the way in which Reactor works. Characters are interchangeable, and often collaborating artists will improvise without much of an idea about what they’re meant to be doing.

The exhibition reflects this ambiguity. It’s not a particularly big space in the gallery, but Reactor has still been able to create what feels like an expansive world. As you move through the gallery, peering around hidden corners and casting your eye upon any one of the screens that hang high on the walls, the world you explore is one far removed from that outside of the gallery.

By far and away the highlight of the exhibition lies in its use of objects. What would otherwise be viewed as detritus or litter has been transformed into sacred objects, things that hold within them stories about Reactor’s history. Props that appear in past performances are scattered across the gallery - a totemic sculpture of Peeza Peel stands guard in the centre of the gallery - while the broadcasting setup from The Gold Ones’ Dummies live stream remains tucked away at the back of the gallery, simultaneously on view and yet feeling as if it has been left behind.

It’s important to remember when viewing Here, The Gold Ones Meet that everything in the gallery space is intentional. Reactor are not afraid to rip away the mask of the gallery wall and expose what lies behind it. Wooden beams and metal scaffolding are as much a part of the exhibition as the paint pots and glass jars scattered across the room are, and that’s important in an art world that is too often afraid to step outside of the white cube.

Here, The Gold Ones Meet is at Bonington Gallery until Saturday 29 May. 

Bonington Gallery website

Reactor website

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