Ramsay have possessed the Gasworks gallery, turning it into a miniature,
music hall theme-park: a Dead of Night Experience. Two small
rooms are contrived to stand for front of house and back stage. A third
room has a video, in which the exhibits come to life. The stars of the
show are two ventriloquists dummies, altered so that one resembles
John Beagles and the other Graham Ramsay.
Dead of Night is the title of an old British horror film
in which a ventriloquists dummy torments its ventriloquist and
ends up possessing his body. This show is a rude collision of horror
film suspense and heritage theme-park display. It is full of things
stolen, faked or mimicked. Everything, though, is immaculately made.
Nevertheless the show is a kind of impostor and Beagles & Ramsay
are impostors in their own show. The impostor is someone who has to
lie in order to be included: through deceit, the impostor is a carrier
of truth about exclusion.
The show is artificial, melodramatic and very funny. On the one hand,
it is an assault on the impoverished ways in which art is made, displayed
and consumed. The show can be read as a satire. But on the other hand,
serious claims about this work might be undercut by the histories of
its constituent parts: by the transparency of immediate pleasures. Sophisticated
interpretation might be disarmed by the works artificiality, melodrama
and humour. This is an irresolvable dilemma: the conflict between the
ways Beagles & Ramsays aesthetically irredeemable loot is
transformed by being made into art and the ways in which it persists
The first room is ruby red. It is dominated by a small, raised stage.
The curtains are open. The two ventriloquists dummies sit on stools,
centre stage. The ventriloquists dummy is always disquieting:
an approximation of humanity at once uncannily similar and amusingly
The dummy is an inadequate form for any normal portraiture: not only
does it lack detail but the dominant form of the dummy will absorb the
element of portraiture. These are ludicrous, monstrous, anti-self-portraits.
The dummies mock artistic aggrandisement. In identifying themselves
with the inanimate, impoverished dummy, the artists are an empty presence,
who only come to life as crazed performers.
On the walls are three large photographs in vulgar gilded frames: a
formal portrait of John Beagles and his dummy wearing matching red shirts;
Graham Ramsay and his dummy wearing blue shirts; and a more sinister
portrait of the two dummies together.
Sounds leak into the room. Distorted voices says hello or
how are you? There is eerie laughter.
The second room, backstage, is green. On the carpeted floor, the dummies
two coffin-like carrying cases lie open. There are two chairs with red
and blue shirts hanging over their backs. There is a make up table with
theatrical and personal paraphernalia. The dummies child sized
socks are scattered about. A copy of Hamlet lies open on one of the
chairs. All these bits and pieces seem to be clues: the scene invites
a forensic gaze. This is a familiar scene of filmic melodrama.
On a small monitor, above head height, a video plays clips of the artists
and dummies performing. Scenes fade in and out as if memories or flashbacks.
In the final, dark room is a video projection. The three sections of
the video were shot in a grand music hall, now disused and in disrepair.
It is spookily lit and eerie music plays throughout.
In the first section, the camera moves through empty corridors and down
dusty staircases. A large wooden door swings open. The dummies are revealed,
backs to us, sitting inside.
In the second section, low spotlights pick out the two dummies sitting
in an empty, gloomy auditorium. Their heads move. We cut to a closer
view. They look at each other; they talk; they laugh.
The third shows the dummies up close. They are animated and demonic.
Heads spin round; jaws chatter; they laugh hysterically. The artists
now appear, mimicking the dummies excessive displays. It is as
if the dummies are now operating the artists: as if the artists are
possessed by their portraits.
Dead of Night is radically entertaining. As much as this
work assaults complacent habits of art making and display, Beagles &
Ramsay obviously love the sources they plunder and mimic. This is the
work of fans. The love of the amateur sits uneasily with the cynical
reason of professionalism. The show is a riot.
Mark Hutchinson is an artist