From the exhibition catalogue ‘When Humour Becomes Painful’ pages 36 – 37 Migros Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Zurich
Theatrical convention is exploited thoroughly by the artist duo Beagles & Ramsay. Their video performances of a pair of ventriloquist dummy self-portraits mimic British music hall entertainment, in which burlesque, slapstick, melodrama and the grotesque were encouraged. Both absurd and sinister, the ventriloquist artists and their doppelganger puppets echo the demonic theatricality of the dolls used in works by artists such as Paul McCarthy and Tony Oursler, similarly exploiting their semi-supernatural creations to break taboos; “the raw energy of the performer and doll act, the mask afforded to the performer by the doll and the blatant absurdity of the situation opens up a space where anything can be considered and expressed, permissible by virtue of its comical and apparently nonsensical nature”.*
Having used various morally ambiguous duplicates of themselves in earlier work to explore the distasteful and tragic aspects of daily life – from the notoriously unhealthy Scottish diet to child criminality, from political disenfranchisement to the cult of celebrity – New Meat (2004), satirises the current conventions around the production and consumption of art. This derision reflects their interest in the literary tradition of dark philosophical and political satire in the work of Swift, Sterne and Rabelais, whilst also echoing the contemporary fascination with the supernatural in films such as The Exorcist or the Chucky series. Like all the work discussed here, however, Beagles & Ramsay’s performances involve rather than alienate the viewer, disturbing us with their wit but always inviting participation in the themes they explore. As Bergson remarked, comedy has a human touch and needs to be shared in order to have an effect.
*Francis McKee ‘The World of Wooden People’ in Beagles & Ramsay 1996-2003 published by Gasworks Gallery, London 2003 p.43