France-Lise McGurn's latest exhibition, created especially for Tate Britain, explores the physical intensity and close proximity of living in the city - an intimacy that can be seen as inherently sexual with the way she portrays it.
Her work is painted directly onto the walls; spilling out from eight canvases are bodies intertwined and tangled with each other in vibrant outlines. But also limbs... Too many limbs; shoes stepping on each other and hands reaching up to find some space. There is a face painted in the curvature of another's bodies, lips randomly everywhere, with brush marks of colour hurried and desperate. In a conversation with Tate Britain France-Lise McGurn said "I've always been interested in other artist's sketches and notes, or in anybody's personal notes... And I think I've always wanted my work to look like that. Like stationary... As if the work is caught somewhere between notation and a memo, like something that I'm jotting down." This style adds to the impulsive and unsustainable intimacy her work is trying to portray.
The wash of blue paint on the walls over intertwined bodies makes one think of the underground when it's raining. Bodies all soaking wet, squeezed into a small space and the windows misting - the sort of intimacy I feel she is trying to talk about. The close proximity of bodies feeling intimate, yet there is nothing intimate about it. The same as small apartments - living on top of each other - living with people you have never met before as roommates to save money; the city can force an closeness with people without ever getting to know them; "we have this whole planet and yet we all live in such close quarters. You're in a small flat and there's someone next door to you moving round in their bed..."
This exhibition also shows the casual nature of dating and 'mingling'; the energy of being young in the city. With apps such as Tinder it can feel like there is this tangled, carnal mess, that can be liberating but also alienating. The exhibition shows intimacy in a very removed way - such as the physical rather than the emotional or personal.
The title 'Sleepless' references the 1993 romantic comedy 'Sleepless in Seattle' and suggests the feeling of being half awake and half dreaming - like dancing at night clubs. The frenzy of her work certainly makes it feel that way with the bodies in an 'out of body' experience. She reflects in the conversation with Tate Britain about how "you realise that really strange surreal feeing of being at a party all night long, of feeling high, is actually to do with lack of sleep." The tangle of bodies is also the tangle of dreams and desires that have to do with the subconscious, that our brains cannot separate and organise.
When looking at this work, there is a sense of intimacy, but also a sense of distance. A great distance - between yourself and who you really are. This work shows closeness that can feel casual and invasive whilst showing a chaotic and complicated city life. But, it also shows the lack of sincerity and honest connection between people, which can be felt by many in such a modern and fast moving world. Being psychically so close to so many people - but so removed from them in many ways.
This exhibition is such an interesting one to explore, and with sketches covering the skirting boards and overlapping the ceiling, there is much to absorb when standing in this gallery space.
On until 8th September 2019
All images - Installation view of Art Now: France-Lise MuGurn: Sleepless at Tate Britain, 2019. Photo: Tate Photography.
Written by Caroline Louise Hamar.