Hold A Baby, Eat An Egg And Get Naked: Art At Its Most Engaging

Jennifer Rubell: Not Alone, Stephen Friedman Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 34 months ago
Hold A Baby, Eat An Egg And Get Naked: Art At Its Most Engaging Jennifer Rubell: Not Alone, Stephen Friedman Gallery 4
All visitors will be entrusted with this glass baby. It's heavy and slippery so be careful. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery.

Interactive/participatory art tends to stick in our minds — most people are unlikely to forget entering the Carsten Holler exhibition through a darkened claustrophobic tunnel and exiting via a giant slide.

Jennifer Rubell's exhibition at Mayfair gallery Stephen Friedman may not have the fun factor of Holler but it feels a lot more challenging in its four segments across the two gallery spaces on opposite sides of the street.

Our first encounter is the piece that's likely to generate the most interest. Visitors are invited to enter a room one person at a time and lock the door behind them. They are then asked to disrobe while being reassured by a sign saying that they will not be recorded. This sets up the experience of watching a video of the artist naked astride a horse, as she's painted by a fellow artist. It's a remarkable experience that is both freeing and uncomfortable at the same time, requiring the audience to empathise with the artist but also question their level of comfort with their own body.

The paintings from the video are hanging in an adjacent room, and the two female artists present them under the name Brad Jones — highlighting how interpretation changes when you put a masculine name on something. To be honest this particular concept feels ineffectual. After all, would the paintings have looked any different created by a man? We'd be surprised if any viewer's perception changes based on whether the artist is male or female.

Across the street we're invited to hold a glass baby that is both heavy and slippery. It's a revelatory moment as we realise we've been entrusted with an artwork that may be worth thousands of pounds; what would happen if we dropped it? Are there replacement babies? It also triggers thoughts around whether the worth of art can ever be equated with human life; in truth it regularly is, as many companies and governments place a value on human lives in impact assessments. We imagine this is often less than the millions of pounds art can sell for.

The final two works also focus on the theme of babies and motherhood. Visitors are invited to pick up a hard boiled egg, crack it open and season it with kitschy salt and pepper shakers before consuming it. An inviting darkened room allowed us to sit on a bed with a protective gaze over a sculpture of a baby, placing us in the mind of the artist who created this work shortly after the birth of her second child.

The five works of art create an unforgettable experience and though not all of the messages hit the mark, it's still a spectacular exhibition filled with grand concepts, offering inventive ways for art to engage the viewer.

Jennifer Rubell: Not Alone is on at Stephen Friedman Gallery, 11& 25-28 Old Burlington Street, W1S until 2 October. Entrance is free.

For more art to visit in London see our top 10 autumn and September openings.

Last Updated 14 September 2015