Art Review: Michael Landy

LANDY: SAINTS ALIVE
National Gallery | Joseph Funnell
Four stars

CONTEMPORARY art interventions in historic collections are now so common-place that they rarely gain the attention that they intend to. Perhaps this is why back in 2009 the National Gallery decided to take a gamble and employ the services of Michael Landy, an artist with an attention-grabbing penchant for destruction. Perhaps this is also why one of the first objects you now see (or hear) when entering the National Gallery through Trafalgar Square is a 10 ft high fiberglass statue of a woman, cogs and machinery for cleavage, ramming a pair of pliers into her face.

Landy is best known for his 2001 performance piece, Breakdown, in which a production line systematically destroyed all of his possessions. Now, after two years at the National Gallery, Landy has unveiled Saints Alive; a set of large-scale kinetic sculptures formed of disembodied parts of Saints from the renaissance collection, focusing on the most recognisable and violent moments in their lives. We see St Appolina practicing some ad-hoc dentistry, a decapitated St Jerome beats his chest with a rock, and a coin operated St Francis repeatedly happy-slaps himself with a crucifix to celebrate his stigmata.

Landy wants the Saints to “come alive for a different audience” and takes inspiration from the kinetic sculptures by Jean Tinguely shown at the Tate in 1982: “it was the first time I saw people laugh and smile in an art gallery.” Of course, playful humour is a key part of the interactive puppetry, as are the array of fantastical collages that also share the space. But with each slam of a sword on St Peter Martyr’s head we find ourselves both laughing and wincing. Let’s face it, Christian iconography is inherently bloody and although Landy’s presentation is ludicrously kitsch, these stories are centuries old. His interpretation is surprisingly literal and far from irreverent, and maybe this is where the show is most disappointing. Nevertheless, having been sanitized of their goriness under the label of art, maybe there is something to “giving the saints back their suffering”. And anyway – who doesn’t want to push a button and see a giant hand poke holes into an equally giant torso attached to a spring?

FILM
THE HANGOVER PART III
Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
One star

THE ANNALS of movie history are littered with misjudged sequels. It's rare, however, that part II prompts a widespread reappraisal of part I. The Hangover II did exactly that: “this seems like a real step down,” people thought, “but wait a minute, was the original even that good?” And many realised – or admitted – that no, no it wasn't very good at all. The first Hangover movie was like a school bully, making loud, stooopid jokes at at the expense of others, and we were the rest of the class, too scared not laugh.

The Hangover Part III repeats the formula, minus the jokes. The humour stems solely from the idiosyncrasies of two characters: Zach Galifianakis's Alan – the developmentally challenged younger brother of Doug, the groom of the first movie – and Leslie Chow, the camp chinese gangster. Three films in, neither Alan's stupidity nor Chow's lunacy are funny any more. Director Todd Philips fills the hole left by the absence of any actual comedy with a more thrusting, plot-driven narrative. The result is a film with all the contrivance and absurdity of a farce, but none of the laughter that makes it all okay. The Hangover propelled Bradley Cooper (pictured) into the big league but here he's weirdly invisible. It's honestly difficult to think of a single significant thing that happens to his character for the entire film.

Anyway: Mr Chow has stolen some money off a gangster and the gangster threatens to kill Doug if Phil (Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan aren't able to retrieve it. In a barely veiled act of desperation from writer-director Todd Phillips, the group embark on a trip back to Las Vegas where we are reacquainted with the hooker, hotel and baby of the first film. It's like wandering around your old school, trying to recapture those youthful carefree days while attempting to keep at bay the creeping realisation that those days weren't so golden after all.

THEATRE
LIMBO
London Wonderground | By Alex Dymoke
Three stars

ACCORDING to Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne, “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”. If this new circus show is anything to go by, limbo is a place where everything happens, in no particular order, and at a thunderous volume.

From the creators of last year’s smash hit Cantina comes Limbo, the all-singing, all-contorting centrepiece of the Southbank centre’s London Wonderground season.

What it lacks in coherence it makes up for in jaw-dropping physical feats. Limbo opens with a suited contortionist slinking around the stage on just his forearms. He circles, feet hanging over his head like a scorpion primed to attack, before leaving the stage with a revolting lick of his patent leather shoes. Other highlights include a sword-ingesting, fire-exhaling woman and a man who uses only his arms to leap upside-down from wooden pole to wooden pole. The backing band provides excellent accompaniment throughout, and during the fire breathing segment they kick up a crashing, doom-laden soundtrack of organs, placing us near the borderlands of limbo where the warmth of hell can be felt

Every act of the show pushes the human body to extremes, but some are more imaginatively choreographed than others. Less successful is the woman undressing on a chain swing. The dancing between acts also underwhelms with its faltering synchronisation.

It’s a mad racket that will make you gasp, wince and wonder what on earth their idea of Limbo actually is.