Known for their subversive, comedic range of exhibitions and projects in video, performance and installation, Glasgow-based artists John Beagles and Graham Ramsay have worked collaboratively since 1996, often under their collective alter ego New Heads on the Block (NHOTB) and Rope-a-Dope (RAD) productions. These pseudo-corporate entities form the title and conceptual framework for the artists’ major exhibition at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art which takes the form of a showcase for new sports-workwear fashion lines.

Three capsule collections, rendered in sculpture and moving image works, are modelled by fifty life-size mannequin sculptures composed of recycled office furniture and reclaimed display materials. Described by the artists as ‘battered, flatpack bodies’, this uncanny mob trawls the physical and digital space of the show, as though the artists had returned to earlier preoccupations. In their 2003 adaptation of the 1945 Michael Redgrave chiller Dead of Night, for instance, in which a malevolent ventriloquist’s dummy drives his owner insane, the artists created ventriloquist dummy self-portraits for installation and video. In other works, the artists have posed as other ‘divided selves’: corpses, elderly sages, burger restaurant workers and others. Here, in what was once an opulent 17th century Palladian mansion house, the artists’ army of abstracted figurative sculptures could be the resurrected, reanimated silent companions and dummy boards of a former owner, an accumulative Tobacco Lord intent on launching an ath-leisure collection for his workers.

The moving image works spanning the exhibition are embedded within temporary walls that mimic shop floor sub-divisions, as though to usher consumers from franchise to franchise. Beyond the flat screens that house them, the five films take on further architectural and sculptural qualities, flanking and bookending the central ‘catwalk’ and functioning as intermittent sources of light in the enveloping darkness of the gallery, whose light levels are dimmed to an almost black box minimum. The five works unfold in sequence: the first is a formal introduction to the showcase. The second and third works assume the form of slick, fashion show footage. In the final two films, the artists hint at an unravelling or dismantling of the corporate or consumerist veneer they have constructed. In the fourth work, the bodies are both mechanised and primordial as they perform rituals around the central ball-gowned figure in a kind of austere, choreographed rebellion, as though Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet had been sponsored by Dash.

Each film is populated by the digital doppelgangers of their ‘real life’ sculptural counterparts. Some echo the uncanny absurdity of Surrealist design, where quotidian objects, reduced to their absolute minimum, become strangely anthropomorphised: wheeled office chairs become the legs or torsos of the figures, for example, and the effect is to emphasise a recurrent theme in the artists’ work: what happens when the established order begins to fracture? If modular systems become mismatched and cannibalised, do things literally fall apart? In an economy that insists on emotional as well as physical and intellectual labour from its workers, what happens when once-smiling, compliant employees dissent? In the adoption of utilitarian clothing and ‘street’ sportswear by elite brands, what might unfold if these haunted garments adopt the rituals and mores of their origin demographic? Through the moving image works, Beagles and Ramsay have fun with these speculative scenarios: with each film the figures become more colourful, unruly and energised. In the final film the models are no longer passive objects upon which viewers might project their fashion fantasies: almost faceless and reduced to their signifying essentials as humanoid figures, they break the fourth wall and stare back at the viewer.

In the world of work and beyond, the artists’ continual return to class politics, hierarchies and agency through the activation of dead or inanimate objects ultimately explore how dehumanisation and managerial culture creeps into every aspect of our lives. In their resistance to the pervasive logic of capitalism, Beagles and Ramsay clad their flatpack heroes in Cipher Hoodies and Null Sweat Tracksuits. Through their movements, soundtracks, and behind-the-scenes disarray, the artists suggest that beneath the models’ immaculate clothing and synchronicity of movement is a growing unrest and refusal to perform.