The Monro pub on Duke Street has an atmosphere akin to the world of M.R James; a friendly and inviting place with just a hint of menace.  James often built this idea into his haunting short stories where ghosts became the ultimate unexpected guest to the antiquarian professors and scholars that were visited.  The three works of art housed in The Monro all display these elements of the gothic traditions of the romantic era and also a modern take on the presence of the ethereal.

Janine Antoni’s Umbilical (2000) has the feel of a Jamesian inorganic demon; an object that appears normal but is fact linked to the summoning of a creature or even able to house it.  Its antiquarian nature plays against its role in questioning the relationship between mother and child with the spoon being a family heirloom that has a cast of the artists’ mouth encasing one end.  This work is helped by its positioning in the room where it is housed on a dark, wooden table allowing natural light to be cast down on it through a beautiful Georgian window.  On the other end of the spoon, an impression of her mother’s hand is left, hinting of the caring nature expelled through parenthood while all the time remaining rather sinister.

Housed within the same wonderful space are Dane Mitchell’s Spectral Readings and Ghost Paper (2012).  The room is covered with said Ghost Paper, which is based around Marcel Duchamp’s idea of “A Guest + A Host= A Ghost”.  The paper is a subtle addition to the room and brings out the age of the building without disturbing it or trying to overtly change it.  This also means that it doesn’t detract from Antoni’s work as well as Mitchell’s other work Spectral Readings.  These sculptures consist of morphing glass shapes that change in appearance depending on the angle in which they’re viewed.  Within each one, a ghost story was told during its creation and is said to house each story.  This again plays into the inorganic element of the space and is an extremely Jamsian piece of work as well as an aesthetically pleasing one.

The combination of the three works in the room is a wonder of curating.  They not only work well together, but work well with the room itself.  A genuine safe is housed on the wall next to some of Mitchell’s sculpture yet both seem to have a natural place there.  This instantly gives the space an advantage over some of the modern gallery spaces which at times lack an atmosphere.  Walking in from the Georgian decorated corridor, nothing seems inconspicuous and that’s what makes the space and the work so special.

The final piece housed in The Monro is perhaps the most astonishing so far in the Biennial.  Markus Kåhre’s untitled installation sculpture is at once a subtle shock to the system.  Two rooms that at first seem perfectly normal hide a surprise for the viewer as they walk inside.  Both the rooms house mirrors and yet the viewers disappear and are unable to be seen in the reflection.  This is a wonderfully questioning piece of work that is enjoyable as well as thought-provoking.  The shock of realising the viewer isn’t there ironically addresses the idea of another presence being in the room.  It seems the lack of normality and presence leads one to wonder whether there is in fact another in the room with them.

The Monro houses some of the best works on show at this year’s Biennial.  Using the architecture around it to speak about the theme of hospitality, a space has been generated that is atmospheric, unnerving and beautiful all at once.  Gone are the over lit, overly modern spaces and instead we are left with space that aptly coincides with the haunting and sensorial nature of the work.

Adam Scovell

All photos by Adam Scovell.

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