His air-gooses are measured, Bronowskian. His pauses are clipped. He knows where to look, how to stand, when to inhale. Gallery curators are the Eve Harringtons of the art world. Skittish and demure, but vocal little darlings at heart. This one – David Thorp – is currently doing a bad job of controlling his inner ham. He is betrayed by his opium panto-frames, by his brazen, blueberry jeans. He is the product of a filmography of videoed introductions, of exhibitions of his own curation and otherwise, and of his Turner Prize jury duty in 2004. He may feign insouciance, but he certainly knows a camera when one sees him.
The free-beer, early-vulture special at the John Hansard this month hosts three female artists: Taus Makhacheva, Eva Kotatkova and Neha Choksi. The first of the three women to be interviewed by David is Taus. Despite the language gap, Taus is eloquent as she evaluates her work. Occasionally she moues and flip-flops her hands, summoning lost words. Her major artwork is The Fast and the Furious. It’s a Jeep wearing a wardrobeful of fur coats, photographed in repose in a Russian meadow, then filmed discreetly as it roadhogs around an anonymous Russian city. She explains to David, and to us, the standing audience, that the work is an attempt to show the animal nature of big cars, and the big animal egos we exhibit when we drive them. Well, we do and it does, so Taus’ work is a success.
As we watch Taus, the second artist, Eva Kotatkova, appears out of the audience like an advent. In her nudewood wedges she is taller than David. We rustle and slide our eyes, wondering if the third artist is hidden among us also. Eva is less confident in her English, or her artwork, than Taus. She stances awkwardly, jet-lagged, with thumbs in pockets, and answers David’s questions with nervous humility. Of the three artists, Eva’s work has the most unified style. Untitled Drawings display a kind of schematic, wire-frame geometry that the artist has collaged with photographs of animals, some of them humans. They are precise and snappy, with just a groan of Victoriana. The drawings have been backed, glassed, and collaged themselves, arranged overlapping on a shelf. Her sculpture series, Work of Nature, are gawky, garden-tough 3D projections of the same style.
Neha Choksi, in her strict mustard blouse, is the most articulate of the three artists. Perhaps she should be. She is incredibly qualified. She has studied Fine Arts, Classics and Indo-European Philology at three different universities, yet she still looks the better side of twenty-five. As she talks to David, her answers are philosophical and friendly. She tells us that her artwork is about things that exist that also don’t exist, and things that exist in two different states. Poise II is a pea-colour mattress that reclines on nine glass vases, stuffed with what look like rhododendrons. Burst I, II, III are ceramics of burst balloons. Mind to Lose is a confessional verse in the voice of Schrodinger’s cat. Neha’s works are pristine and academic, but reserved. Heady, but a little heartless.
You have probably already googled ‘Quarantania’. But it isn’t what you think it is. It’s the second result down, a whistle to the 1981 Louise Bourgeois sculpture of the same name. During the exhibition, the Judean Mount of Temptation isn’t even mentioned. But that isn’t surprising. Religion is the ex-girlfriend of modern art. Quarantania is the John Hansard’s last exhibition of this term. Which means that this is your last chance to see internationally-applauded artists at a campus you’d be visiting anyway. If it still sounds like a boring, embarrassing, churchy way to spend a lunchtime, then there is another reason to take a look. It’s May. Exams dot the horizon like a horde. Take shelter. The Hansard is free procrastination.