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William S Burroughs: Animals in the Wall Exhibition

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
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You look at the street art in the more Nathan Barley areas of London and it looks indistinguishable from the graffiti of a local street gang, but you can be forgiven for thinking this. The key difference, aside from cultural appropriation, is the influence of William S Burroughs. His influence is on everything from Lady Gaga to Throbbing Gristle, The Beatles, Cyberpunk, The Klaxons, and many more at the exhibition of Burroughs paintings, along with art inspired by the man and his cut up aesthetic.

Beyond his writing, the cut up aesthetic is exemplified by his collages and mixed media paintings. The best way to explain it is that his art is not figurative, rather, it is based on disfiguring tangible shapes and reassembling them to reveal something of the unconscious to be deciphered anew. Effectively, Burroughs deconstructs consensus reality to show the unformed archetypes and the unconscious in its fluid state.

Also, there is a social commentary with defaced gay porn and images of Ronald Regan used to show how repressive structures such as law or art, prevent us from reaching the unconscious, whether it manifests itself as sexual desire or political power. The inverted photo of Ronald and Nancy Regan in "Untitled ( How Regan Changed America)" evokes the inverted flag as sign of resistance. Even the graffiti-esque use of spray paint seems to point the way to Jean Michel Basquiat as well as Banksy or Chris Morris.

The legacy of Burroughs cut up aesthetic is explored sonically with a Throbbing Gristle like demonstration of how he influenced music. An iPad with an app (cut up or newspeak?) that allows you to mix cut up if his voice with beats and other sounds, then you can upload it to Soundcloud for all to hear. You're reassembling what was cut up beforehand and no two are alike. TG often used cut up in songs like "Hamburger Lady", inspired by the story of a burns victim, where an ambulance two tone horn is distorted to create a sinister ambient soundscape.

Genesis Breyer P. Orridge mentioned that you can achieve trance like States of consciousness with a toilet roll and a comb while looking at a light bulb though the toilet roll. One exhibit is a machine that is exactly this, albeit scaled up. You stand at arms length and close your eyes. Let the light shine through your eyelids and wait until the images firm in your mind. I saw abstract shapes and lilac colours of the filament. Only then did I see what he was getting at.

This exhibition is a pretty powerful showcase of a facet of an artist I never saw before. Sure, I've heard of The Naked Lunch, I never saw this before. Ok, you can argue that there are the same tropes of cod anti-Americanism that inspired Banksy, which permeate his work, but this is quintessentially American, but one which asks you this: "punch a hole in the big lie. Punch a hole for me."
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When: 28th Aug - 7th Sep
Where: Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street Shoreditch London E2 7DP
Cost: Free
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