Critical Decor: A Short Organum for Exhibition, Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock, Coventry: Lanchester Gallery Projects, 2014


So I get this art book thing through the post at work and, you know, I’m faux annoyed because I can’t reject it with the rest of that moment’s unsolicited bumph. It grabs me slackly and tickles. ‘Critical Decor’ is the name of the thing, and it’s like all yellowy and blacky like: it’s all that koolkunst graphicky shit. It’s that disavowal thing this time isn’t it, is it?, koz I’m tutored to know that such a thing shouldn’t grab me, should it?, but it does, and now I’m complicit, is that it? The pretty thing won’t undo its uninvitedness. Prittycritticallity – all dense and light. High impact marketeerery, knowingy, a yellowy and blacky smugbug bobbing on the now of the market. So I sit down because the thing has got me looking at it and in it, and I’m enjoying the tickles.

Warning – the conventional-informational! Singular duo, Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock has staged ‘Critical Decor: What Works’ with Sadie Kerr at Coventry University’s Lanchester Gallery Projects from January to March 2014. A Short Organum for Exhibition was compiled before, during and after the run of the ‘What Works’ show, comprises a pictorial inventory of the exhibition and assorted input from show-run speakers and others and extras and props.

This publication is quickly readable as the very thing these JCHP guys are poking. The heavy industry of art lightly manufactures container loads of (in the words of LGP curator and researcher, Sadie Kerr) ‘complicit guff’, and this graphicky objet seems no exception. Except, it is anything but. Or at least, it is but that by deliberately ‘falling short’ of being that, but it is still somehow willingly falling for being that within the criticary-industrio complex of contemporary art. Tricky. And this tricky balancing act, or falling over act, or falling shortish act, or cataract, or cataphract is what JCHP practise with commitment. And they do it all very very well, taking creative pains to not do it all too well: JCHP – the last word, nearly, in nearly.


On this tactic of artfully ‘failing’ at the finalities of artworld convention, when prompted to explain the evasion of a straightforward exhibition format for ‘What Works’, JCHP offer:

…we haven’t done that. We do make work…which we pretty much consider to be artwork but that’s not in the exhibition. Here the idea is to withhold showing artwork. Everything here is supposed to be understood on the level of secondary, peripheral objects…like decor.

JCHP at LGP have exhibited the intellectual formation of an antithesis or, at least, an interruptus to exhibitionary practice. In doing so, ‘What Works’ and A Short Organum for Exhibition challenge contemporary art’s seamless transition from production to distribution, with all the power dynamics that that entails (for all the practices that enjoy fluid movement across platforms of production and distribution and for all the practices that stay stillborn as uncapitalisable anachronistic mere making). JCHP with LGP in moral support are also examining both contemporary art’s excessiveness-as-evidenced-through-too-much-public-guffery and the contemporary artist’s weddedness to an exhibitionary practice coextensive with career practice.

You see, JCHP dislike the career drive behind exhibitionary-cum-exhibitionist gallery presentations. Or, at least, they are tired of seeing the decorative asinine guff that capitalises on gallery platforms and fixes a piton in the cliff-face of career practice. JCHP seem especially tired of critique as but decor, that contemporary art gambit of stylising and professionalising criticality, a gambity spleen of poorly digested tropes that you might puke into public space and smear onto public walls after bingeing on the bland sweetmeats of career onanism.


Both nearly-exhibition and nearly-publication present at times humorous and at all times effective critical readings of art exhibition and art publication. But to this innocent, tickled bystander, JCHP’s conceits of falling short of conventional display and deferring the delivery of the substantive are less easy to confirm when you take their practice as representative of, if not a master code of interpretative practice for contemporary art, then at least a dominant practice in respect of what is (still) a Marxist interpretative inquiry at the heart of what is (now) a familiar family of (still?) progressive contemporary art practices.

This is not to cap off illicitly an incomplete and contingent practice, or to deny the intelligently disruptive dimensions of ‘What Works’ and A Short Organum for Exhibition, but it is to register that JCHP are committed to revealing aspects of the modes of production at work in cultural work, and also to intimating the complexities of the contingencies and social realities of making any art practice at all. The exhibitionist exhibition gets it in the neck for being (often but not always) the decorative wallpaper for that improbable but actual crossing of innumerable social vectors and individual motivations, as well as for being the (often but not always) flagrant punting of the best ever aesthetic app, until the dopy market is fondled by the next one.

To hold off the exhibitionary, JCHP tempt us to imagine that the not nearly but finished artwork is metaphorically even literally in their unopened plan-chest. But the gaze of contemporary art might not be in that direction, nor informed by that invited longing. Contemporary art has done well in shaping itself around the form of the unfinished, the flayed, the exploded but not disappeared, the dead but not interred, the anatomy of surgery, around the swinging moods and varied props of hyper-reflexiveness, at least since 20thC artistic analyses of strategies of containment within art practice and within its and our surrounding structures, and certainly with increasing emphasis since the type of academicisation of reflexiveness encouraged by the evidence-mongers of Higher Education…

…now to upload this fucking guff and puff the circulation of prittycritti accretions.