For Cabin Pressure Jenkin van Zyl reconfigures Amanda Wilkinson Gallery into a fortified crate that alludes to van Zyl's forthcoming film: In Vitro. Partially filmed on an abandoned film set on a frozen shore in Iceland, and reflecting the artist's interest in narratives that tap dance on the borderline between hellscape and paradise, In Vitro unfurls in a subterranean office constructed out of the husks of chartered aircrafts. Enticed here by the promise of a good fantasy, a sextet of ghouls enact obscure libidinal rituals in a lottery of reproduction. A central motif in the film, whose core concerns are physical mutability and the rotation and plasticity of roles, is that of the body double.
Adjacent to the universe of In Vitro, Cabin Pressure locates us in the lair of a singular character from the film: Number 97, a Nosferatu-cum-Velma Kelly personage performed by Alex Margo Arden. In this exhibition sections of boarded-up modular fuselage host an array of elements: a glittering lavatory, Curtain Call; a film screened through blinking aircraft windows, Sorry-go-round; a large graphite drawing, I have abandoned my search for truth, and am now looking for a Good Fantasy; and a narrative text on the character of Number 97 by Brittany Newell, The Machines of Love.
The drawing at the centre of the installation depicts a bewildering trust-building exercise negotiated by a herd of Number 97's doppelgängers. Gridlocked in a constellation of anticipation, melancholia and possibility, on a hallucinatory aircraft runway, Number 97's multiples pivot on the pressure point at which barriers between the original and the copy, between self and other, collapse. Facing off against the drawing, the monitors that make up Sorry-go-round mimic coin-operated arcade machines and perform the interminable and risky process of rolling the dice.
Jenkin van Zyl (B. 1993, UK) lives and works in London and has a multidisciplinary practice comprising film, performance, drawing and sculpture. Recent solo and group presentations include Kiss my Genders, The Hayward Gallery, London (2019); Hors Pistes, Pompidou Centre, Paris (2020); Oblivion Industry, The Horse Hospital, London (2019); Kiss my Genders: live, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (2019); the Royal Academy as part of their postgraduate degree, and will premiere a new immersive film installation In Vitro at Tramway as part of the Director's Programme of the postponed Glasgow International in 2021.
Machines of Love
My offices are hard to find. There are several ways of getting here, one of which involves a vehicle with tinted windows and a fishing boat. I have heard that there are people you can hire, grubby little agencies, to help plan your trip. Soon you'll be able to lease a whole package: Journey to the End of the Rainbow, etc.
I won't ask how your trip was. The clock starts as soon as I open the door; there is no time for pleasantries. I will ask if you are well, and if you say yes, I will let you inside. I won't take your bathrobe. It can be left with your towel in a heap on the floor. The animals like to bed down in your robe. While you and I are in session, they will come in from outside and make themselves comfortable.
We go downstairs. It might take some time for your eyes to adjust. I've been told that my offices are remarkably dim, but this is how I like it. I'm not interested in seeing you clearly, your pores and tattoos. I'd rather pretend. I'd rather get a whiff of you and make up the rest. In the wreckage of my offices, I take fantasy seriously. I go at it with a scalpel and map--mind your step. You've hired me to open you up like an orange. I know you, not through chatter, but through the shape of your anticipation and the things that you dream about. The latter, gooey and dear, are all over your face.
You will sit on the carpet, thick, jam-red. Your body will sink imperceptibly into the floor as I stand beside you. I will tell you to look down: address my heels, not my face. I give you two pairs of dice. Of course you know what to do. It's Vegas, it's Hades. It's just you and me and the stories you brought with you bunched in your pants. The time has come to test out your luck. Will you be the starlet or the staff this time? The rat or trap? The winner or the chicken dinner, laid out wetly on a tray? Roll the dice, baby. Tonight I might be your wife.
6. I give you a wig. You put it on carefully, perhaps recognizing how fragile it is. You don't yet know that it's not made from my hair, though it's the same color and length. I myself could not name which animal it came from. For tonight, it's all yours. Roll again, pet.
23. The Fainting Game, a high school classic. Put the soft white rope around your neck; I will stand behind you, ready, my posture like the Jesus of Rio de Janeiro. You can buy trips there too. We are both panting, ravenous. I can see your whiskers quivering. We both want to see how far you can go. I'm reminded of a song we used to hear on the radio: I will catch you when you fall... oh, the bewitching propaganda of the Lovemaking Machine. Roll again.
12. I empty the wastebasket. This is a treat. Regard all the intimate dross of my life: laddered stockings, hairballs yanked from the drain, napkins blotted with lipstick (all those kisses for no one). You get to pick one of them. You consider your options quietly, solemnly, as a child at Christmas. Which gift will make you most whole? Finally you pick out a napkin. I tell you to eat it. You look at me, heartbroken. "But please," you will stammer. "I'm not hungry right now." Merciful me, I let you save it for later, for the long journey home.
37. I hand you the crook. We both rise, lightheaded. I fold myself over the wooden desk chair. I lower my pants and aim my ass at you, spotlight-colored. You tremble with importance. "Go ahead," I say sweetly, my voice muffled by hair. It streams into my face, reminding you to adjust your dumb wig. It sits askance on your head like a bird. You step forward, crook raised. "I didn't mean it," you whisper before we've even begun.
38. We both kneel on the floor. Blindfolded, we move like new babies. We feel things with our hands, careful, fretful, slowed by wonder. The objective is to find the other. But, alas, the room is full of junk. There are potted plants, ex-lovers, rat traps, trophies in our likeness. There are wooden chairs we might topple, Peeping Toms we might frisk. If we stray from the thick red carpet-hot lava! If we pick the wrong object, the whole game is forfeited and The Machines of Love win. I have faith. You will know me by my dirty hair; I will know you by your dirty hair. When at last we touch, depleted by seeking, I will say in a soft, special voice that I hardly ever have occasion to use anymore, "You know what? I've never met anyone quite like you before. You're so very..." Then the alarm clock will ring, cutting me off. It plays Frère Jacques. Our time together is now complete.
I will walk you upstairs, a hand on your elbow. I will give you a beverage. My freezer is broken so I don't have any ice. I will give you your bathrobe, scarcely recognizable now. I will stand in the doorway and bid you adieu. Then I'll go to my bedroom and sit in my chair, pushed close to the hatch. I'll watch you go away from me, treading lightly on the frozen shore, a nervous fleck against the ice. I'll feel tired, so tired. I'll open the window and address the animals, gathered neatly at my feet: my love must be a kind of blind love...I can't see anyone but you..sha-bop sha-bop...They watch me, still as props, and never sing along.
-Brittany Newell, 2020.
Brittany Newell is the San Francisco-based author of Oola, published in 2017 by HarperCollins (UK) and Henry Holt (US), recently translated to German and published by b2b of Random House in 2020.