I don’t know what the going rate for a ventriloquist’s dummy is, but John Beagles and Graham Ramsay, two young artists from Scotland, are asking £10,000 for a pair that they have made for their first London exhibition. Cast in plastic resin and hand painted with wigs, eyebrows and lashes, the dummies are self-portraits – doppelgangers down to the prescription glasses – and come with satin lined presentation boxes.
Since they began working together as students in 1996, Beagles and Ramsay have portrayed themselves in a variety of situations which play on the borderline between the comic and the macabre. Their exhibition is called ‘Dead Of Night’ and is inspired by Michael Redgrave’s performance in the 1945 film of the same title. It is, says Ramsay, a look at “the darker side of entertainment”. For the exhibition, the artists are transforming the Gasworks Gallery into a Victorian music hall. In the main room, gilt framed photographs hang like publicity posters for the production. Footlit on stage are the two dummies. Although the dummies lips do not move, their mocking, whining voices are heard, relayed from the soundtrack of a video playing in an adjacent room. The video was filmed in an abandoned 19th century music hall in Glasgow where Stan Laurel and Cary Grant made their theatrical debuts. Once home also to a freak show and menagarie, it’s ghosts haunt the artists and their dummies.
Since Beagles and Ramsay are independent artists, without a dealer, prices for their work pretty much relates to cost. Construction of the dummies was made after extensive research in America. The gilt framed photographs are priced between £700 and £1000, and the video at £250. But Beagles and Ramsay are on their way up. After this show, they will take part in the first exhibition of contemporary Scottish art to be held at the prestigious Venice Biennale. Here they will use their own blood to make a black pudding. “Not something,” says Ramsay, “to be served at the opening party.”