Apollo Magazine

The slippery charms of Sophie Jung

The artist’s weird, witty sculptures refuse to let us fix their meaning

'Come Fresh Hell or Fresh Hell Water', installation view at Blain|Southern, London, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern. Photo: Richard Eaton

'Come Fresh Hell or Fresh Hell Water', installation view at Blain|Southern, London, 2017. Courtesy of Sophie Jung and Blain|Southern. Photo: Richard Eaton

‘Come Fresh Hell or Fresh High Water’ exudes an anxious sense of rising damp. In the basement gallery of Blain|Southern, Sophie Jung has tiled the floor and parts of the walls with a makeshift patchwork of whitewashed newspaper. The folly of newsprint as a damp-proof course is one of many absurdist touches in Jung’s new sculptural installation.

This is the second in a series of exhibitions for Blain|Southern curated by Tom Morton, under the umbrella title ‘Lodger’. Despite the seemingly harried nature of her flood preparations, Jung has made herself at home. The show comprises a series of 13 discrete sculptures (all 2017) and a performance, which exists both as a series of live events and as a looped exhibition guide. Like a series of magpie-furnished nests, Jung’s sculptures are fastidious assemblages of found objects. The materials list takes in anything and everything, from ‘airplane door’ to ‘undesignated marble fruit’ and ‘golden bath foam’. If it isn’t nailed down, it’s fair game.

‘Come Fresh Hell or Fresh High Water’, 2017. Courtesy of Sophie Jung and Blain|Southern

Despite the wildly various collection of items, there is a formal rigour and associative wit to Jung’s compositions. In the centre of the room, a pair of oversized boots stand sentry. A scaffolding pole with papier-mâché horns juts out from the left boot, anchoring the melodrama. The work is titled with characteristic obscurity: From The f’n Dark Opening Of the f’n Worn Insides) EVER ICE. Eleven sculptures encircle the boots, while a further mobile sculpture hovers overhead. Recalling both a Renaissance fresco cycle and a quixotic tableau vivant, Jung’s narrative stumbles and splutters; things pile up on top of one another, not quite the sum of their parts.

Conversations sometimes strike up between sculptures. In Reserved for Helpers, a fox stole lies prostrate on a makeshift white table propped up by polystyrene heads. Newspaper tapers up the wall. Here, Jung gives us a bricolage riff on Freud’s couch. Next to it is Come to Grief, a totemic stack of blue mushroom trays which each contain Donald Trump’s charcoal drawing of the Empire State Building. A diminutive pile of Dick Francis novels sits meekly beside it. For all the ‘fragile male ego’ gags at play here, the brittle skeleton of the tower also sombrely evokes the horror of Grenfell. With such breadth of associations and references, a fixed meaning never settles.

‘Come Fresh Hell or Fresh Hell Water’, installation view at Blain|Southern, London, 2017. Courtesy of Sophie Jung and Blain|Southern. Photo: Peter Mallet

For Jung, each sculpture is a poem: they encode her ideas and texts are drawn from them. The exhibition’s publication includes a written companion to each sculpture, which Jung recites in her live performances. Presented to camera in one single take, Jung prevaricates, trips up, gets distracted, forgets things, thinks of a thousand others. Welcoming us into her temporary lodgings, she affects host anxiety. Her dizzying, at times impenetrable, prose is interspersed with bawdy gags, language play, metaphysical questions: ‘are animals sentient?’ But blink and you might miss them. ‘What? I didn’t say anything.’

It’s a lot to take in, and overkill is just one of Jung’s strategies for disputing her own authority. She is a captivating and slippery performer. Yet for all her artifice, there is a sense of genuine urgency to her voice. This charmingly unreliable narrator just wants to take us along for the ride, and perhaps along the way we might find wisdom in indeterminacy.

‘Come Fresh Hell or Fresh High Water’ is at Blain|Southern, London, until 13 January 2018.