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Upon entering gallery three at Soapbox to view Charles Robb's recent exhibition, I was greeted by the sight of a flayed human figure, on a hospital bed, with legs spread and sick grey genitals sadly stating a 'maleness' without defence. This life-size, realistically painted sculpture which had been meticulously crafted in clay and then cast in fibreglass, lay next to a generically white computer, a cursor flashing patiently on the otherwise empty screen. With every muscle tense, the figure 's 'agony' immediately vanquished any thought that this was a 'corpse', thus making the work even more uncomfortable-here we were witnessing not the aftermath but the event of death itself.
Alongside the obvious discomfort (read: shock) invoked by the figure, the viewer was also aware of the uncomfortable meeting of figurative sculpture and the readymade. The fact that the bed upon which the sculpture lay was a real hospital bed confused the nature of the work and made the figure 'monstrously lifelike'. 1 Through this collision of genres Robb's work spoke not only of the alienation of the senses in a world of technological communication, but also of the continuing sensual distancing of visual art, post minimalism. 'Sculpture' experienced eternal death-throes on the bed of the readymade, while we, the audience, stood at a safe distance to observe the spectacle.
This drama (or, tableau, as Robb refers to it) took place on a raised, square platform, covered with anonymous grey tiles which were reminiscent of a hospital floor. A sign instructed us not to walk on this platform, drawing attention to its function as a stage. The theatricality of the work was reinforced by the pitiful clenching of the figure's hands and its straining away from inevitable contact with the clean white sheets of the bed. The temporality inferred by the apparent movement of the figure was left painfully unresolved by the work's stillness. And what we had, this verb without a destination, was death. To die, to die, to die ... As the flashing cursor quietly, patiently (with the patience that only a machine can have) reminded us, it mocked our death. The serial pulse of technology, this 'one thing after another' is transcendent of the flesh, its beat is regular, precise and undying. This reference to serial minimalism was reinforced by the square 'stage' upon which the work was set, the reference to the grid. The fact that this drama is repeated infinitely, in all directions, spoke of the physical alienation of a multitude that is supposedly joined by the information web.
The shock of Robb's tableau, the discomfort with which it occupied the space as neither sculpture nor installation, but rather calling to mind the museum display and the shop window manikin (surely the most common contemporary experience of figurative 'sculpture') enabled it very effectively to capture the viewer's attention, and to provoke discussion and debate.
I. See William Tucker's description of Degas' bronze, Petit Danseuse. The sculpture is clothed with a real tutu, in The Language of Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, London 1974