Penelope Benton & Alex Clapham (& Guests)
Une Fete dans le Papier
The Paper Mill: January 11- 15th 2011
The first show in a gallery's calendar always carries with it a certain degree of expectation, setting a precident for the year to come. Une Fete dans le Papier at The Paper Mill opens their 2011 schedule and is wihtout a doubt the most interesting show I've seen for a long time- definately the most exceptional I've encounter since returning to Sydney eight months ago. Part performance, part spectacle, part circus, Le Papier is a collaboration between Penelope Benton and Alex Clapham in which they transform the entire gallery space into a Versaille- inspired ballroom constructed entirely from cardboard.
Everything from the walls to the chess set and even the tiled floor are completely constructed and serve to create this 'other-worldy' quality. For the viewer the first fifteen minutes of the exhibition is spent as the vouyeur, forced to watch behind the glass of the gallery front as the characters in Benton and Clapham's world feast on an abundance of food layed out on the elaborate table before them. The viewer is then invited in for a closer look. One can't help but feel as if it's feeding time at the zoo as you circle this table of misfits, watching them consume and indulge. References to the materiality and wastefulness of society are a given but perhaps as well inferences as to our obssession with watching this greediness as it is played out in front of us.
The brilliance of this work, after the exceptional costumes, is the attention to detail. The black Fleur de Lys which line the white walls are perfectly aligned, the book shelf that accompanies a desk has two cameras resting on it, lovingly assembled, the plant in the corner, the images framed on the walls- each so carefully constructed from cardboard it is difficult to stop yourself from sitting in the cardboard chair at the cardboard desk and write a cardboard letter.
While there is always pressure on the first show of the year, The Paper Mill have nothing to be concerned about. Une Fete dans le Papier was not only a visual feast but an intellectual one as well. I now empathise with how Alice in Wonderland must have felt when she fell down that rabbit hole.