What Fresh Hell is This
blank projects is currently presenting; What Fresh Hell is This, a solo show by James Webb. James Webb is a conceptual artist, known for his site-specific interventions and installations. His practice often involves sound, found objects and text, invoking a visual reference to the minimalist traditions. By shifting objects, techniques and forms beyond their original contexts and introducing them to new environments, Webb creates new spaces of tension. These spaces bind Webb’s background in religion, theatre and advertising, offering an inquiry into the economies of belief and dynamics of communication in our contemporary world.
The exhibition gathers new conceptual, visual and sonic concerns in a constellation of works relating to obfuscation, disruption, and perception.
In this exhibition, Webb investigates our ability to see, hear and become aware through sensing. Known objects, methods and mythologies are put under a microscope and given a new arena on which to reveal themselves —what can we extract from the psychology of Nigerian delta oil? How do we relate to laughter as a form of medicine and as a weapon? What can a statue of the Buddha, three rusted, wrought-iron statues of the Virgin Mary, a French bottle dryer and a piece of coral teach us about faith and connection in a time of disorientation and confusion?
Fragments of metaphors, aphorism, epigraphs and references (and the further assemblage of such fragments) compress, contract and expand depending on the viewer’s vantage point. Plurality interferes with how singular stories are regarded, interpreted and understood. The story of the Nossa Senhora Dos Milagro is among Webb’s assemblage of curiosities. In 1686 a Portuguese vessel en route from Goa to Lisboa shipwrecked on the Cape Agulhas coast. Among the many people on board were three French Catholic priests from the court of King Louis XIV sent to South East Asia to study the astronomy of the region, a group of Siamese Buddist monks and an ambassador to the King Narai of the Ayutthaya Kingdom as well as a group of guests to the king of Portugal, Dom Pedro II. The tale is filled with bizarre stories of confusion and disorientation—an attempt to cook and eat a leather hat and the Ambassador’s shoe. Distress walks alongside hope and faith.
Webb’s approach suggests fluidity, transitory configuration and multiplicity, all of which offer inspiration and function as a palimpsest upon which a collection of ideas, inquiries and provocations gather in a more robust sense. Throughout the exhibition, Webb uses an ellipsis as a tool to further fragment narrative, interrupting himself and the viewer—slight pauses, hesitations and outbursts all work together in this multisensory experience.
The omission of a question mark within the title; What Fresh Hell is This, points us to a world of the unanswerable; who else was among the passengers of the Nossa Senhora Dos Milagro? Does treasure lie in the underbelly of the Agulhas? How can we fully enter into the beauty of a gallon of crude oil? How else could history have been written?
Through this exhibition, James Webb does not offer up a complete and coherent narrative; the viewer is merely provided with a pattern that functions as a searchlight in the fog— the disconnection is the connection, the incoherence is the coherence and the discontinuity is the continuity.