The main room of this compact exhibition initially conjured a construction site, with a pile of rebars on the floor and wooden objects propped against the walls. What looked like a half-finished installation, however, was actually four separate works (all 2009) displaying a restrained, formal beauty as they dealt with issues of history and identity.
The Italian-born, London-based artist Seb Patane mainly combined manipulated photographs with sculptural elements in wood and metal. In A New Winter Plan, a fuzzy black-and-white photograph of what appears to be German soldiers from the early 20th century has been collaged over with bits of leather and flower petals and written on in pencil and ballpoint pen. These additions created a colorful explosion, as if in the wake of a bomb. The men’s eyes have been effaced, suggesting blindness or death. To this work and others, Patane added sculptural elements that are sometimes distracting, but the whole ensemble has an engaging theatricality.
The themes of alienation and identity loss became clearer in the next room, which featured a video loop called Chariot, Fool, Emperor, Force. In it, as two DJs blast techno music recorded by Patane and musician Giancarlo Trimarchi, four figures representing tarot codes enter the gallery room one by one. Their faces are completely obscured by headdresses that range from elaborate rope-and-hair wigs to an appliance box marked “Made in China.” The DJs’ faces are also hidden, by what appears to beekeepers’ hoods.
Because the identities of the figures here were uncertain, viewers felt removed from the activities — making music, making war, playing dress up — as well as the people engaged in them. It’s not clear what Patane was getting at by creating this environment, but he did so with style and dramatic flair.