Bjorn Melhus - Primetime
Reviewed by Adam Ford
Though quite a big name on the continent, Melhus’ brand of disturbing art is virtually unknown on these shores. Liverpool therefore has the honour of introducing his grotesque parodies of American trash TV to a UK audience.
The exhibition is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Each of his three pieces is a devastating assault on the senses and emotions, leaving viewers either scared, disgusted, or – in some cases – plain confused.
The title piece makes the viewer centre-stage on a Springer-style talk show. Emerging from a dark corridor onto a raised ‘stage’, you quickly become disorientated as a bewildering barrage of strobe effects, disembodied voices and emotionally fraught phrases wrenched out of all context besiege each ‘guest’.
If you survive, That Oral Thing awaits. A figure in white descends a staircase to lecture two androgynous figures in baby clothes. “It’s a bit bizarre”, he admits.
Finally, Weeping provides the climax to the experience. Two stern, almost identical faces launch into meaningless tirades against the cowed viewer. “There is a dark, empty place with power”, they chide, working themselves up into greater and greater frenzy with frequent warnings that “I want you to know that we have seen”.
Melhus takes the 'confession culture', boils it down to its basic elements, and then dresses it in sinister symbolism. He shows that the exposures serve no purpose other than to entertain, as viewers smugly tell each other that at least their lives aren’t that bad. It’s a scary world out there in TV land, and it’s more than a bit bizarre.