Kate Dunn: The Tabernacle – Welcome to Pharmakon (TJ Boulting, June 3rd to July 3rd 2021)

Downstairs in the TJ Boulting building, three of Dunn’s large arches are lined up against a wall with candy-bright acrylic curtains marking out the theatrical space – the performance is about to begin.

The music begins, and under the studio lights the arches appear to be shades of pink and yellow. With Act II, the lights are switched to ultra-violet, illuminating the arches into neon fuscia, oranges, blues, and an acid green that ties the three works together. This lighting change reveals the painted layers that are harder to differentiate under the studio lights. Suddenly these doorways open out and become portals with real depth. The final light change plunges us into darkness, and the arches’ UV paint – now ‘charged’ – glow of their own accord in ghostly, more earthy tones. The music builds but never to the precipice of anxiety – I’m tapping my foot inside my shoe and if I were alone I might even dance.

It must be a great joy to find a fellow creative you can collaborate with, who understands and elevates your creative vision as brilliantly as Shoobz Darg does with his musical contribution to ‘The Tabernacle’.

The gothic arch shape that runs through Dunn’s collection is historically loaded with references to devotional architecture and altarpieces. The show’s title declares its religious goals: united in the performance of other-worldly colour and building gammer music, we the audience become a congregation in front of this UV altar to rave.

If we hadn’t been told the length of the performance, it would have been hard to say how long it had lasted. Time was suspended in the dark, and I would have guessed anything from 1 minute to 20. I wanted to stay in that everlasting moment.

Once the lights were back on, we were invited into the second space and each given a UV torch. Further arches were hung on the walls, some small-scale and low down, others more obviously altar-referential. This room had a crypt-like feel, playing cleverly into the over-arching tabernacle theme.  Dunn’s work goes beyond simply pairing modern abstract painting with an archaic shape, “clever because it’s a contrast”; in this show the artist has created two distinctive environments and curated them intuitively to create fully unified experience. A well curated show has the power to make you sad at the thought of what it would be like if each work were simply hung side by side at the same level – we would miss out on so much if it weren’t for Dunn’s astute vision.

I highly recommend this show, and for visitors to give themselves in fully to its hypnotic allure.

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