Mark Aerial Waller
Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, UK
As you enter Mark Aerial Waller’s exhibition, ‘The Cassiopeia Plan’, at Wysing Arts Centre, you are confronted with a large silver tent, made from loft insulation, which contains a monitor screening a yoga video and a number of cult books. These range from The Coming Insurrection (2009) by The Invisible Committee, to The Function of the Orgasm (1974) by Wilhelm Reich, though only one – Nausea (1938) by Jean-Paul Sartre – has Waller’s name written in the front and is filled with comments in the same hand. An annotated book is like a peephole into the reader’s mind; you become privy to their thoughts via marginalia, an underlined passage or an exclamation mark. Sartre writes, ‘You have to have energy, generosity, blindness […] There is even a moment right at the start, where you have to jump across an abyss: if you think about it you don’t do it. I know that I shall never jump again’; in the margin, Waller scribbles ‘Too right!’ Like these annotations, the exhibition itself is an enjoyable trip through Waller’s mind – imagine a deadpan Greek tragedy with a sci-fi twist, set in a yoga class and filmed for The Open University in the mid-1980s – which leaves the viewer to traverse his complex and eclectic range of interests.
A lonely, white plastic stag stands beside his fallen antler, overlooking a landscape of potted chipboard and vertical cigarette butts, with a grape stem passing for a tree, beside which the film White Stag (2009) is projected. White Stag is a contemporary interpretation of the myth of Diana and Actaeon (as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses), in which Diana catches Acteaon spying on her bathing and promptly transforms him into a stag. In Waller’s version the two protagonists, Diana and Daggers, meet at a Modernist swimming pool to track down the elusive stag, in what feels like a made-for-TV detective drama – although clearly a comic stylistic choice. The sculptural landscape is also represented in a pencil drawing opposite; an overly Romantic gesture, in stark contrast to the sculpture’s grubby melancholy.
Projected behind the tent is The Cassiopeia Plan (2009), a new commission filmed locally by Waller whilst undertaking a three month residency at the arts centre (starring " "[sic] Tim Goldie and using volunteer residents as actors – a regular motif of Waller’s, intended to rupture the boundary between authenticity and performance). The Cassiopeia Plan (presumably named after the constellation of stars) is based upon the so-called satirical paradox, imagined by G.K. Chesterton in The Man who was Thursday (1908), whereby a poet confronts the conflict between structure and anarchy. Wilfully absurd, this looped film is purposefully devoid of linear narrative; it flips between seemingly unrelated situations – including a surreal yoga class and an am-dram rehearsal – interspersed with scenic moments of the surrounding Cambridgeshire landscape.
Overall, ‘The Cassiopeia Plan’ offers no definitive interpretation of the ideas that Waller addresses, and is one of numerous recent shows deploying a carpet bomb of references. Yet Waller has subtly interwoven his experiences at Wysing with his ongoing intellectual and artistic concerns, leaving viewers to find their own path. Perhaps soon, ‘reference’ will reach the status of ‘material’ and will be included on museum wall labels alongside paper, plastic, cigarette butts, chip-board, grape stem, video… or whatever else the work happens to be made from.