Absolutely Fabulous

Catalyst Arts new exhibition looks at our obsession with celebrities, and Guinness world records. Click Play Video for an online exhibition

Rude, crude and full of celebrities, Absolutely Fabulous was an acquired taste that viewers either loved or hated. Apt, then, that an irreverent deconstruction of our fame obsessed culture currently on show in
Belfast's Catalyst Arts shares a name with the cult sitcom.

The stars of this Absolutely Fabulous are not Patsy and Eddie but Nika Oblak and Primoz Novak, an internationally exhibited Solvenian artist cooperative who use films, photographic manipulations and installations to explore the influence of mass media on our everyday life.

For Absolutely Fabulous, Oblak and Novak present a photographic and video series called 'We Did This And That' which reconstructs absurd Guinness world records with obviously apocryphal titles like 'We Spun Hula Hoops For 72 Hours For This Photo' and 'We Drank a Large Beer in 3 Sec While Standing On Our Heads For This Photo.'

'They use a combination of photographic methods, Photoshop and collaging techniques,' Fionnuala Doran, co-director of Catalyst Arts, explains. 'The captions included in the photos provide a narrative and a clear link to the Guinness records.'

The work, much of which was exhibited in Düsseldorf earlier this year, probes society's obsession with success and fame, and looks at how this is mediated by the modern mass communication. The carefully arranged photographs confront the viewer with constructed categories of fiction and reality – though not without a hefty dose of humour.

'It's very funny and irreverent,' Doran continues. 'All of the photos feature both Nika and Primoz so they become the stars of their own world.' In placing themselves at the centre of their work without revealing anything overtly about their personality Oblak and Novak's work resonates strongly with Cindy Sherman's staged photographs.

'It not so much a parody of the subject matter as a pastiche with the artists in it.' Oblak and Novak take this passion for pastiche further in a series of mock film posters and trailers that are also included in the exhibition.

In stills for Natural Born Murders, Stillness of the Lambs and others the artists keep faithfully to the original posters but play all the various actors' roles. 'This is a comment on the aura of celebrity, celebrity as the place where people desire to be. And they are putting themselves where people want to be,' Doran comments.

In a blacked out room at the back of the gallery movie trailers for Cab Driver and Shund run on a loop. Pastiches of Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction, respectively, the videos are scene for scene remakes of the original trailers, faithful in every respect save that Novak plays all the male roles and Oblak the female.

The effect of the booming, brash Hollywood voice over endlessly repeating 'Nika Oblak' and 'Primoz Novak' (the film's 'stars') while the artists act out stylised scenes and dialogue - 'You talking to me?' Novak asks in his best Travis Bickle impression - is simultaneously hilarious and affecting. There is much pop to the pair's art but also a genuine insight into society's construction of - and reverence for - celebrity culture.

Many of the videos and photographs were shot in their native Slovenia, and the artists' own foreignness brings another dimension to their work: this is a commentary on a globalised, consumerist society by people whose formative years were spent under a very different value system, that of communist Yugoslavia.

Doran also sees the influence of Slovenia in Oblak and Novak's work: 'For them it's where they work and where they continue to work. But when you bring it over here it's interesting on a different level because it's obviously a place not many people here are familiar with so you see both how it effects their work and gives you background to what they are doing.'

Peter Geoghegan

Absolutely Fabulous is on in Catalyst Arts Gallery, 2nd Floor, 5 College Court, Belfast until July 4. The gallery will be open late on July 2 as part of Late Night Art.