The Shock of the Now Issue 6
Featured Exhibition Text
Billy Fraser & Mitch Vowles
Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix
25th August 2021

The ʻWishboneʼ analogy is a quintessentially British concept, the folkloric finale to a traditional Sunday chicken dinner. A performative event that requires two people, the accepted narrative being that the puller who receives the larger part after the break makes a wish. A completely collaborative event, however one resulting in a victor and a loser. On one hand, it can provide momentary loss and disappointment, however, this is outweighed by the hope, luck and optimism garnered by the winner. Superstition of this nature seeks a positive outcome, as the momentary, nonsensical, chance act is overlooked in favour of the far greater ambition and aspiration. Unbroken, therefore, the wishbone becomes the muse that embodies hope, potential, optimism, symmetry & togetherness.

‘Wishbone’ at Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix in Whitechapel features new work by Billy Fraser & Mitch Vowles, long-time friends, collaborators and fellow graduates of Chelsea College of Arts’ BA Fine Art course. All the fun of the fair is evident in Fraser’s subversive resin sculptures, with the awe and wonderment of childhood frozen in time, captured for prosperity. Trophy fish, rightly a thing of the past due to prolonged campaigning by animal welfare activists, are here suspended in resin for eternity, memorials to those alluring yet disposable prize pets. Elsewhere a barrel is primed for apple bobbing, inviting yet perpetually disappointing as the unattainable apples serve a more metaphorical purpose, allegories of their associated proverbs: ‘The Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree’; ‘One Bad Apple Spoils The Bunch’; ‘An Apple A Day…“ etc. Tablets containing primed fireworks and crystals preserve further infantile fascinations, the former both a melancholic monument to unfulfilled potential and a commemoration of their intended purpose of instantaneous celebration; the later, juxtaposing Fraser’s own treasured boyhood collection with that of an unknown and unnamed eBay seller, questioning the importance we often imbue into tantalising curios. 

Additionally, a large painting of a rocket navigating a densely populated space of stars and planets, though seemingly needlessly naive, is in fact a direct translation of Fraser’s earliest artistic aspirations and a commemoration to parental encouragement, with the pre-teen’s nascent artistic endeavours also on display within the gallery space, inherently compared and contrasted with their later progeny.

Much of Vowles’ work too deals with formative childhood experiences and familial influences, with his ongoing series of snooker table sculptures acting as self-portrait stand-ins and echoing an upbringing spent around working men’s clubs, pool halls and pubs. Levi 501 jeans, once the go-to workwear of the manual labourer, now fetishised by a vintage market keen to appropriate the practical and functional associations of distressed fashion, are immortalised both as ghostly sculptural standees and as keyrings that give permanence to the throw-away imagery often accompanying eBay listings. Fred Dibnah, the eccentric English steeplejack who was both a household name beloved by the bemused establishment and the last in a dying breed of industrial pioneers powered by steam and coal, has his name in flashing carnival lights.

Finally, Vowles’ video work, ‘Dutch Courage Makes A Man Fell Ten Feet Tall’, addresses a particularly formative memory from the artist’s juvenescence, namely the 1999 Solar Eclipse. At 11am on the 11th of August, 350 million spectators watched the moon crossed paths with the sun, plunging areas of the earth into complete darkness for the two-minute duration in what was perhaps one of the last events truly experienced collectively, before the advent of camera phones and social media oversharing. Predictably large corporations saw profit potential from the one-in-a-lifetime occurrence, with Stella Artois’ sponsorship of the Plymouth pop-up viewing park leaving a particular impression on the young Vowles. Therefore, through the touching video work accompanied in part by Lou Reed’s ballad of troubled romanticism Perfect Day, Vowles documents not only the Solar Eclipse but also the cultural touchstones of Britain’s alcohol-fueled adolescents.