I’m being shouted at. “I love you! I believe in you! Sweat!” I’m jumping up and down, counting my reps, a little breathless, laughing harder than I think I ever have in a gallery. And I’m a person prone to gallery giggles. This, if it is art, is by far the most enjoyable art I’ve ever encountered.
The “work” is that of artist duo Wright & Vandame, a young London-based pair currently showing their first solo exhibition at the ICA as part of its fig-2 50 week programme. For their week, the space is being reimagined as a working gym, with a programme of different classes led by different artists. These include yoga (yes, vogueing and yoga), hip-based mum-friendly workout Zumba, dance and aerobics, but tonight it’s the time of the “Insanity workout”, rather fittingly being led by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, the Turner Prize nominated performance artist.
She’s in a rather gorgeous unitard, and surrounded by a rag tag bunch of other performers – one with a blued-up face, one in a leopard print lycra all-in-one, others decorated with the artist’s deliberately amateurish costume style in what appear to be gold curtain tassels and white sportswear. The room is sparsely peppered with Wright & Vandame’s artworks – videos looping more than three hours of found exercise footage, hollow gym balls cast in concrete (“like a big Lindor chocolate,” as Guillaume Vandame helpfully points out), and tools like hammers and saws hung on the wall, each clad in garish lycra.
As Marvin explains why she chose Insanity for her class (something to do with a yoga documentary she saw on Al Jazeera TV, and the odd online community of the Insanity franchise) and we begin a rather intense warm up, the participants (myself included) are confused. There’s a lot of “is this art, or exercise” whispering. Some people are here because they’re fans of Marvin, others through press or ICA connections, the lovely middle aged gentleman in a tie-dye T-shirt next to me knew one of the performers through his “clown class”. The girl on my left is the sister of the beatboxer. Oh yeah, all the club music that you’d swear was off a NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL HIGH ENERGY 4 1999 CD was all made by one bafflingly talented Irish beatboxer. It’s all very surreal.
The class begins, Marvin seems baffled, Wright & Vandame are sweating and everyone’s yelling things that range from the Insanity doctrine (“JACK IT OUT”) to ironic facsimiles of the instructor packs (“CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN”) and it’s all utterly adorable. According to the artists, the project is about “coding a space for physical activity within a site for art,” with the performance drawing on ideas and works including “Claes Oldenburg’s soft hard sculptures as well as Carl Andre’s minimal aesthetic and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s collaborative, environmental and site specific approach.” There’s obviously a huge smattering of Allan Kaprow Happenings here too, and – I’m going out on a limb here – Mr Motivator, circa 1992, around the time Wright & Vandame were born.
Within moments of hurling myself around the gallery-cum-gym I don’t give a fuck if this is art or not, this is one of the best Thursday evenings I’ve ever had. And I’m doing jumping jacks. If doing them in an art gallery makes them fun, and elevates them beyond a workout, and makes you question how people relate to their bodies and to each other, then maybe that is art after all. Reappropriating the everyday, fostering new ideas and thoughts, staging moments that are so fleeting and brilliant you swear it could have all been a dream. Art can be a lot of things – technically skilled, challenging, thought-provoking, interactive – and it’s about time we stopped being so reticent to the idea that it can be silly and fun too.
Wright & Vandame are at the ICA as part of the fig 2 programme until Sunday 27 September.
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