Please pay attention motherfucker

Please pay attention motherfucker is the title of Cerith Wyn Evans’ stuffed magpie, perched on a branch in the concourse leading to the ICA bar. Some people are having a hard time dealing with its intimations of bad luck; the magpie is oblivious, its wings fully flung as if about to leap into flight, its beak dark and glittery, unaware it’s an omen of any kind. It’s hard to get a photograph with any detail against the bright white walls and ceiling.

Staff have the usual morning bar talk on the day of opening, and Cerith turns up to apologise for his work if it embarrasses us. He’s dapper in a grey suit, a band of transparent beads around his left wrist and a grey soup-straining moustache. He asks for a light. When he starts talking, his voice at first sounds odd, foreign, until the cadences fall into place as properly Welsh. He doesn’t say much at first, and so Jens tells us a joke that Cerith has told him.

Cerith interrupts a film crew and leads us all into the lower gallery, which has been stripped bare for the most controversial work in the show, Décor, named after Marcel Broodthaers’ 1975 exhibition (a formative experience for Cerith) and the centrepiece of a show that’s essentially a homage to the ICA itself. The work itself consists of the lower gallery with its stud wall removed to reveal the original arched Nash windows, allowing natural light to flood in, and making Westminster visible outside. As if on cue, as Cerith is talking, the Queen’s Life Guard go by on their horses, all feathers and funny helmets, quite an odd and beautiful sight. I ask Cerith what he thinks of the view itself, because I hate this part of London. He says it’s all human, that the guards aren’t actors, they all have their inner lives.

Upstairs, Cerith takes us into the first gallery, in which motorised venetian blinds spell out in morse code an academic text discussing errors in early astronomical photographs of the southern hemisphere caused by imperfections in the photographic plates and process. How, as Cerith says, ‘a scrap of dandruff became a galaxy’. He points to where Marcel Broodthaers had arranged cannons pointing at the sites of power and tradition in Whitehall. The whole exhibition is a love letter he says ‘a love letter to Marcel Broodthaers’.

In the other upper gallery is the show’s title work, take my eyes and through them see you. It’s a big projector running a continuous loop of fully-exposed film. Throughout the course of the exhibition, the film will pick up dust, scratches and tramlines, gradually adding to the projection of monotonous black with green scratches and white sparkles. It’s both direct film without the artist’s agency, and a film work that it’s impossible to preserve. It reminds me at first of Malcom LeGrice’s White Field Duration, but in the gallery, it seems to be about the projector as much anything else: rather than being hidden away behind another wall, it obtrudes itself on you with its fat cakestand and inky loop of film. It has a mirrored plinth, something Cerith seems particuarly happy with. If a film projector has ever looked sightly camp, it’s this projector.

Later I hear second-hand that at the members’ talk the same evening some were outraged with Décor, and someone called it ‘degenerate art’. It made me laugh. Richter and Grosz are company anyone can be proud of keeping. Some were less amused.

And why the magpie? Because, says Cerith, when you head to the bar at the ICA, it’s always one for sorrow.

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