’Engagement’ by Jennifer Rubell, London
Our fixation with the royal engagement was never going to be placated with some souvenir mugs and a bunch of commemorative memorabilia. As if to answer to an unspoken call, artist Jennifer Rubell is exhibiting a thought-provoking body of work in response to the official announcement, marking her first UK solo exhibition.
Rubell (of Rubell Family Collection fame) is known for her participatory artwork that sits somewhere between installation and performance art. ’All the work I create has to do with interactivity between the viewer and an object of some kind, whether that be durable, like the material in this exhibition, or consumable like food,’ she explains. Back in 2009, at a New York gallery, she even had visitors feasting on a pile of ribs mounted on a plinth, onto which honey dripped from the roof.
The centrepiece of this exhibition at London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery is a life-sized wax model of Prince William standing on a low plinth in the exact stance seen in the engagement announcement photograph. He holds a replica of the famous sapphire and diamond ring, but this time, sans Kate Middleton. Rubell invites the public to step up onto the plinth and slide their finger through the ring. Anyone can play the role of fiancé, making the experience part formal, part seaside entertainment.
’When I first saw the official announcement picture, what struck me was that Prince William’s position felt very sculptural,’ says Rubell. ’I immediately understood that there could be an opportunity for people to engage with this sculptural element.’
But the work has a strong dose of fantasy to it too. ’As a woman, I look at that photograph, and wonder what it would be like to be in that position. I’m the last person in the world to look for "prince charming", but I’m still curious. It’s an instinct that’s in all women, and the interaction gives you a chance to validate that instinct, rather than to judge it.’
The exhibition’s title, Engagement, speaks about more than just the impending nuptials - it also points to the viewer’s interaction with the sculptures on display. Taking the latter further is a second series of ’drinking paintings’, which Rubell has mounted to the exact scale of the portrait of William IV that hangs behind the real posing couple in the photograph. A tap protrudes from each canvas, from which visitors can poor themselves a drink.
Gradually the works become more and more splashed with alcohol - art in motion, if you like. And, as an added bonus, each tap offers a different tipple, including sloe gin, Irish whiskey, rum or Madeira, so there’s something for every taste.