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Last week I managed to find 10 minutes to poke my head into the Maddox Arts gallery near Bond Street, as they were hosting the first UK exhibition of Argentinean enfants terrible Mondongo.

Seems like the things you need to know about Mondongo (who are 3 young collaborators) are as follows:

  1. their name refers to a type of Latin American stew made from tripe
  2. they employ unusual media, particularly plasticine and fur, to create their striking images
  3. they are favourites of Comme des Garcons owner Rei Kawakubo

I have to say that while I enjoyed my whistlestop tour, I didn’t leave feeling particularly bowled over.

There is definitely enjoyment to be gleaned from seeing what are huge, technicolour images break up into many hundreds of squiggly lumps and clumps of string, matted hair and plasticine as you move closer toward them.

I like the idea put forward in their manifesto that through mixing up a ‘cauldron’ (as they call it) of commonplace, lowest-common-denominator products as their medium, Mondongo are trying to somehow capture or distil the rudeness, cheapness and lurid texture of everyday life in a ‘medium = message’ kind of way.

And let’s not be churlish- they demonstrate some real virtuoso skills in just compliling these things. This cat’s face (a detail from a huge ‘painting’) is just brilliant:

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from Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani (2008)

You can see how engaging with the medium itself is essential to the experience of viewing one of these works by looking at the different levels of detail in the massive diptych Alone Again.

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From a distance, this image depicts an apparently decomposing corpse lying face down on the grass in an imaginary European landscape, complete with an oil pipe-line and thickly-rendered Van-Gogh trees.

When you move in closer, you can see that the individual ‘pixels’ making up the rich tapestry of the image have their own figurative function. The photo below shows the area in the bottom left of the image, just to the right of the oil pipe-line:

detail from Alone, Again (2008)

detail from Alone Again (2008)

The earth itself is a character in the narrative of this tableaux- a seething sea of disembodied heads with bared teeth and ghoulish expressions make up the ground on which the subject lays, appearing to be complicit in whatever tragedy occurred here.

Whilst I enjoyed all this, the exhibition never seemed to move out of second gear for me. The images were undoubtedly striking, and the skill with which the artists had composed them was truly impressive; it just felt a little lightweight.

This may be unfair (because I saw the images used in promotional material for Comme des Garcons before I actually made it to the exhibition) but the works felt to me like they were made for advertising. They felt a bit contrived to me – designed to be ‘edgy’ and transgressive without really breaking any really meaningful rules or having anything much to say. The twisted-fairytale idea (libidinous red riding hood flashing a leering wolf) felt perfect for a Diesel campaign or a Vice magazine spread. Sex, pornography and images of death are not exactly new subjects to bring into a gallery, and whilst Mondongo have definitely found a unique voice they don’t seem to have an awful lot to express with it at the moment.

Also, for some reason it bothered me that whilst the figures in Eloi Eloi… and the mass of breasts making up a young girls face in Mamman were provocative and sexualised, a huge image of floating infants was very careful to structure it’s composition so that no rude baby bits were exposed. It seemed to strike a false note, undermining the rest of the exhibition, as if the artists had second-guessed themselves or suddenly gone all prudish.

Anyway, I would heartly reccomend a look at their website because the images there really are impressive, and beautifully photographed (unlike those posted here).

Here’s an example:

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I’ll take a proper camera next time 😦

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