In Jesus and Barabbas (Odd Man Out 2011) 2018 a cluster of small puppets, originally used in Chetwynd’s performance Jesus and Barabbas Puppet Show 2011, cling to the surface of a grossly enlarged photocopy reproduction of a detail from the nineteenth-century artist Richard Dadd’s (1817–1886) painting Bacchanalian Scene 1862 (Tate L01705). The puppets have clay heads and makeshift fabric robes in a range of colours. Some are attached to the centre of the work behind and some dangle from strings in two groups near the bottom of the composition, so that they touch the floor. Jesus and Barabbas Puppet Show was first enacted at Sadie Coles HQ, London as part of the exhibition Odd Man Out in 2011, hence the subtitle of this work. The performance dramatised the Biblical story of Jesus and Barabbas being brought before the crowd. The tale is one of the earliest recorded examples of a ‘rent-a-mob’, with threatened authorities paying members of the crowd to clamour for Barabbas’s release (and thereby for Christ’s crucifixion). The closely packed groups of puppets at the bottom of Jesus and Barabbas (Odd Man Out 2011) suggest this mob atmosphere. Chetwynd’s interest in the story lies in the semblance of a democratic choice belied by bribery and corruption: embedded within the Biblical narrative is an emphatically contemporary theme. The reproduction of Dadd’s Victorian-era painting extends this combination of historic subject matter and contemporary relevance. Dadd’s life and work have featured in various performances by Chetwynd, principally Richard Dadd & the Dance of Death at Tate Britain in 2003, in which Chetwynd and a troupe of performers ‘burst through’ a reproduction of Dadd’s painting The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke 1855–64 (Tate T00598). Chetwynd’s Jesus and Barabbas painting expresses a similar idea of breaking through the surface of a picture through its exaggerated ‘figure-ground’ opposition and combination of two-dimensional image and relief elements. The image of Dadd’s central reveller, who looks out to confront the viewer, extends the theme of spectatorship that appears in the tale of Jesus and Barabbas, drawing the viewer into the scene.
The structure of the work is similar to that of I Want to Be an Insect Protein Entrepreneur 2018 (Tate T15105) in the juxtaposition of a flat surface with sculptural elements adhered to the picture plane. Both works reference a previous performance and combine historic imagery with reference to contemporary issues. Chetwynd was christened Alalia Chetwynd and raised as Lali Chetwynd, but has adopted a series of artistic names; from 2006 to September 2013 she worked under the name Spartacus Chetwynd, followed by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd from September 2013 to April 2018, before adopting the moniker Monster Chetwynd in April 2018.Working in film, performance and sculpture, she draws on the history of folk plays and carnival, referencing – often in an irreverent manner – critical moments in cultural history. Chetwynd often works collaboratively with a group of artists and performers; as well as performing together, they will make props, costumes and film sets, some of which are later reused in works such as Jesus and Barabbas (Odd Man Out 2011).
Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, Cologne 2014.
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