VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: Nom Nom Collective at White Lady Art

Nom Nom Collective

White Lady Art Wellington Quay, Dublin
29 Nov – 23 Dec 2014

The Nom Nom Collective comprises eight artists who have worked together for around a decade, five of whom are included in their current exhibition ‘Nomstalgia’, at White Lady Art on Wellington Quay. Lints (Denmark), Poncho (Ireland), Dr Lamps & Mr Splink (Ireland), Loki (Ireland) and Jine (Ireland / Canada) have taken part. The other three – Askim (Brazil), DS (France / Ireland) and Met10 aka The Assistinator (Denmark) – are not in the show for various reasons. The collective members describe themselves as street and graffiti artists, supplementing their respective practices with jobs in graphic design, illustration, advertising and publishing.

Nom Nom gave themselves a brief for this exhibition, taking the theme of nostalgia as a starting point. Given their age profile, their inspiration stems from the 1980s and early to mid 1990s. Overall, popular media dominates and there is often overlap between artists whose formative years ran in parallel. They pay homage to cartoons, television drama, toys, video games and other iconic phenomena including the old Irish Punt coinage and obsolete technologies.

The White Lady Art Gallery is far from a white cube space. The exhibition literature describes how the work is hung ‘salon style’, which is funny given that a bank of shampoo chairs remains in the gallery, left over from its previous life as a hair salon. Coming from the fine art world, I had to swallow my white cube inclinations and embrace this whole other art culture, sinks and all.

Loki’s oeuvre in watercolour and ink is dominated by super-feminine female characters – sexy, self-possessed, sashaying – as well as male comic heroes that she has converted into wonderfully costumed, super-sexed heroines, including female versions of CP30 and R2D2, the Ninja Turtles, the Ghostbusters and the T101 (in an image created with Sarah Connor). These are exaggerated genotypes – over-styled, big hair, tiny wastes, luscious lips and big saucer eyes that are sometimes blanked out – casting them as them indifferent rather than oblivious. The dynamic of Loki’s characters is tempered by their small scale and delicate hand-made execution. The elegant fine lines, confectionary colours and just a tiny hint of bony fragility successfully camouflages their other worldly potency. The drawing skill and handling of watercolour and ink reveals an accomplished and restrained finesse.

'Lints', Who Killed Robin
‘Lints’, Who Killed Robin

Nintendo, Super Mario, Dungeons and Dragons and other icons of the 1980s occupy the memories of Poncho and Dr Lamp & Mr Splink. Poncho’s heavily outlined ‘portraits’ of power up items from Super Mario Bros in his Mario Slots series, titled Flower, Star and Mushroom, depict strangely misplaced and slightly perplexed looking characters trapped in opaque backgrounds of solid red, blue and green. Like Grandpa Simpson they have become wrinkled and sagging and are surreally melting off the page. Dress Up Arnie is a startled Arnie from Terminator 2 separated from his pants (and his genitals), still waiting it seems, a full generation later, to be reunited with his clothes. Poncho’s work is solid and distinguished, though of an acquired taste.

Dr Lamp & Mr Splink is one artist who switches between street art (Dr Lamp) and graffiti (Mr Splink or Splink). Of all the work in this show his is the most nostalgic in the traditional sense. He has crafted a series of weapons: daggers, swords and knives, all beautifully sculpted in MDF, a most unlikely material. They are touching mementos to the childhood fantasy world of adventure and play, replicating actual weapons from cartoons and toys, rendered trompe l’oeil with paint to appear realistic. Though they are too fragile to play with, they have a warmth and density that is distinctly sculptural. Duck Hunt is a wall-based work that takes on the ‘flying ducks’ ornaments, popular in living rooms throughout the late twentieth century, and featuring in the eponymous 1980s Nintendo game. The ducks are made of composite square MDF units, evoking the primitive pixelated appearance of early video game technology. It is a work of devotion, earnestness, excitement and joy.

Danish artist Lints brings the audience into faraway and unfamiliar worlds. As in Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who and other science fiction creations, these are depictions of strange and outlandish creatures in their own environment, faithfully observed according to the ‘prime directive’. The motivation for this work seems less playful and more abstract than works by either Loki, Splink or Poncho. There is a sense of a struggle for invention and a desire to become totally of itself rather than of the influences that clearly run through it. Like Loki, Lints also uses watercolour and the medium lends itself well to his imaginative and colourful compositions.

It is most difficult to pin-point the nostalgic influences in Jine’s dreamy and ephemeral works on paper. Hanging loosely on clips like pages from a sketchbook, the images reveal the process of invention and re-invention filtered through years of exposure to the same sources that appear in the other artists’ works. There is an experimental and fresh approach to mark-making, rendering various tangible textures to the characters and a three dimensional depth. They are stong pieces but could have benefitted from more work.

Nostalgia is a tricky theme to approach for any artist, with far too many opportunities to appear overly-derivative or hackneyed. On the whole the Nom Nom Collective manage to strike a balance between homage and their own personal critique of the material they are working with. ‘Nomstalgia’ is a full and enjoyable show with a lot to see, remember and think about.

Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin 

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