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What The Heck? Jesse Darling: The Ballad of Saint Jerome @ Tate Britain

Jesse Darling: The Ballad of Saint Jerome

What The Heck? 4/5 ★★★★☆


Tate Britain (More specifically, 'Art Now' space) 22 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 Art works by Jesse Darling. Curated by Elsa Coustou and Zuzana Flaskova.


I always enjoy viewing the Art Now space inside Tate Britain, purely due to the contrast it gives against the rest of the gallery. A dedicated area, specifically giving voice to the more 'energetic' and 'fringing' work, just next door to the usually more historic and weighted archival collections.


To be fair Tate Britain does, of course, offer contemporary works, but with Art Now, you know what you're getting. It's going to be something forward thinking. 'Art Now' is an ambitious yet achievable platform, maybe perfectly sized for a budding solo show.

Jesse Darling is known for a raw and frankly quite edgey vibe emitted from their practice. I was concerned that this DIY and punk aspect that I love might get totally washed out in an institutional titan like the Tate. I don't like corners getting rounded. Though, this wasn't the case... Typical 'gallery and archival' furniture was seemingly unsystematically placed around the edges of the room (monotonous wooden frames, glass panels, typical museum archival units). I felt like the mismatched framing and deconstructed displays served as a welcomed middle finger toward the institutional cliché, whilst giving this language an obnoxiously affirming nod of existence, perhaps satirically so. Quirky deconstruction methods were confidently applied to these sacred objects that are often untouchable.

My overall reaction to being in the space was relief, weirdly. Let me explain... I was lucky enough to have spent some of my BA (in Bristol) under Jesse Darling's tutorship in 2016. Honestly, we did not spend much time making one another's acquaintance. Brief is the word. Though, this was just enough to captivate my curiosities toward their practice. I quickly started hearing rumours around campus about Darling's taboo past and a quickly rising reputation, specifically about their inclusion in Frieze. With this in mind, I was of course more than happy to see that Darling had been allocated this reputable and significant space, though I did feel slightly anxious about what the show would look like. How selfish. I wanted it to be good. I'm aware this could come across as sounding patronising, but ultimately I wondered how this exhibition space would effect Darling and the works output. A tainting mindset to have adopted before experiencing an exhibition, agreed. Clearly based off of my limited encounters in brushing shoulders with notable contributors. Despite bringing pre-formulated interpretations with me through the door, I had not previously heard much of Darling's experience or perspective on the theme of disability, quite obviously a significant and focal issue in these works. This was something I could absorb and learn for myself within the space.



I enjoyed the visual narrative of Saint Jerome, despite his character being fairly bewildering to me. It felt playful and light in comparison to the more dominant concerns in the room. This narrative came across trivial at times in comparison to more pressing and important questions, though this undoubtably served as a vehicle for information delivery, accommodating a wide audience. Ultimately, my impression was that this middle finger I mentioned above, should be carried across and toward the 'institution' and its treatment or acknowledgement of disability. Something that is a rightfully trending theme that I feel is slowly growing in the arts and related fields. I feel that Jesse Darling contributes a number of valid and significant points to this area of conversation through humour. Highlighting the absurdity with issues in and around disability vs institution (The fact that I naturally used the term versus/vs in this sentence is maybe insightful). Let's not whisper and tiptoe around these topics. I will be quick to admit that these are not areas that I'm well read up on or have even allocated much time or energy toward. This realisation of mine alone leads me to believe that this show did something positive.

Some other artists and works who are somewhat tackling similar issues might include Ryan Gander, Angela Dela Cruz and Lisa Price (uncannily so!)

By working in many materials of all shapes and sizes Darling definitely challenges and demands full attention of the curators. I'm not sure if this is apparent to others, but the show in totality felt somewhat like a premature retrospective. I can appreciate the work being installed at various heights, I felt like I was really inside it, whatever it is, especially with the gesture of painting a counterfeit blue sky around the ceiling - But the room was absolutely full of stuff. Was this the effect of being let loose in such an esteemed space? Many artists in the same situation would too, throw their kitchen sink at the Tate and who can blame them? I will leave it totally up to you to decide if that's a subtle sign of panic or a power move. In any case, I will be keeping my ear canals readily peeled, filled with anticipation for Jesse Darling's next show. Frickin' cool pals!

Who the Heck wrote this? Mitchell Smith Artist & Writer www.msmith.art

Want a review? Nice one, get in touch: mitchellsmithart@gmail.com