Werther Love Buzz, Elastic Gallery, Stockholm, 2014
by Will Bradley
Our culture enfolds us and shapes us; it traps us, but it can also save us. Dave Allen’s new show WERTHER LOVE BUZZ at ELASTIC Gallery concerns the highs and lows of the two-way traffic between the ideals of art and the realities of everyday life. Allen’s work has often invoked the coincidences between the canonical strategies of conceptual art or modernist composition, and the undying quotidian practice of rock and roll, as a way both to affirm and to satirise art’s love affair with the everyday. He has always also questioned the line between contemporary art and those parts of everyday life that also belong to music, and rock music in particular. Here he pushes the question one step further, and focuses on moments in the relationship when things might have changed, moments when things might have been done differently, and wonders what might have been.
Allen’s installation “Werther – Love Buzz” is a retrospective attempt to avert a double tragedy. Taking a throwaway remark by Damon Albarn* as his starting point – “if Kurt Cobain had played football, he’d probably be alive today” – Allen has staged a notional 5-a-side football game between imagined representatives of Cobain’s 1990s hip ennui and representatives of their historical precursor, Goethe’s suicidal Young Werther. Hoping to offer both Cobain and Werther a worthwhile diversion, Allen’s carefully deployed and costumed mannequins leave us to imagine how the beautiful game might have looked, if it had been played only by hopeless romantics.
Allen’s “Drum Stacks” are a series of elegaic images of drum kits that their owners want to get rid of. Life-size prints are made from drums-for-sale ads, a perhaps unwanted amplification of a moment in a musician’s life when they realise that the money, or the space, that they need for a new fridge-freezer, or children’s bunk-bed, or simple rent payment, becomes more important than their awkward and bulky instrument. These are images of a dream at the moment of its disappearance, but images of a dream nonetheless.
Images that also describe, in negative outline at least, the heartbreaking dimensions of our everyday lives, and our ultimate accommodation with their unfolding power.
Of course, if your life has come to a crossroads and you have had to sell your drum kit, perhaps you might find solace in the group consciousness of a drum circle, sharing rhythm and getting in sync with the primal collective voice. Or, better still, you could swap instruments and join the “Guitar Circle” that Dave Allen’s hand-sewn banner proposes. An untried proposition from a parallel timeline, the guitar circle offers to exchange the faux-tribal consolations of primitive percussion for a specifically modern emotional catharsis forged from the unchained riffs of the collective unconscious; it promises to be as abject as it is transcendent. Don’t tell me you won’t be there.
* Damon Albarn in NME, sept 16, 1995