Caught by the River


2nd March 2011

An Exhibition of Drawings by Jason Butler, A Collection of Poems by Will Burns
A review by John Andrews

The artist Jason Butler and the writer Will Burns’ new exhibition of drawings and poetry is on now in the upstairs bar at The Social on Little Portland Street in the West End of London. The collaboration between Butler and Burns is a paean to the marginalised and freaks, to the people who have been pushed to edge of our society.

The title of the exhibition harks back to a form of tented entertainment that was once commonplace on village greens and town squares on folk holidays and at seasonal celebrations. The presentation of a fairground entourage of dwarves in aspic, double headed simpletons, tall horrors, three nippled ladies, the tongue twisted and deformed, the depraved and the reformed, Anglo- Cantonese contortionists swallowing cannonballs and crazies being straight. Presented for the price of penny for gasps and laughs and as a warning as to what might happen if you did not listen to the sermon on a Sunday and fall into line when it was time to get the harvest in. A living recreation of hell, a visitation by the damned, an unwanted blessing by the broken hearted, a roadshow of the washed up and the forgotten. A warning too of what might happen if you drank too much and got fresh with your sister behind the coconut shy.

Butler’s delicate portraits are of the subjects of such shows, outsiders updated for a new century, presented to a new audience, stripped of their context and presented alone on paper, often naked but for feather boas, combed over hair, full beards and bad underwear. Their stories are told with truth and beauty by the tender and sparse metre of Burns, a Larkin for the service station generation, a gifted interpreter of lost souls, giving each subject a unique voice as if in a final written plea for personal survival.

In a small world where nine million television viewers gawp at ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, failed service industry workers prowl the streets peddling places on ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ and A-listers queue up to drink champagne at ‘The Box’, Butler and Burns’ ‘Sideshow’ is no penny gaff bandwagon, it is bare knuckle vanguard art that challenges the way our society is developing in this new century of ours. It is a profound and deeply moving vision of ‘country’ as though you’d shared a barrel with Cainy Ball himself behind the bouncy castle at the Denham Whitsun Bank Holiday Car Boot Sale. It lifts up the dirty skirts of the suburbs and pulls back the curtains of the out of town off plan quick build housing estate exposing the empty space beyond, a parkland of echoes and exclusion, populated by those running away from regulation and registration, where Twitter is switched off, where the camera can’t go, an openly wounded underbelly dancing to the hum and whine of generators in air thick with the smell of candyfloss and fires fed by plastic pallets. It is a summary of second hand Dyson salesmens’ deals done in abandoned containers and a record of scrap metal wars on waste recycling tips, of fighting cocks kept in cages and of families at large in rag bin hand me downs. It is a 21st Century House of Mirrors centrefold held up to a Middle England that dare not look.

Sideshow runs at The Social until March 15th and is then touring the country throughout the summer. You will be able to experience it in the Caught by the River Field at Port Eliot. For more information:
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