How do you like your art? Do you lean towards formality or chaos? Grown-up or plain silly? No judgement implied: there’s something glorious about wandering around an airy gallery where the setting is as structured and beautiful as the pictures on the wall. But if you like a bit of unpredictability and messy participation in your cultural life, Shunt is worth following.
We fronted up at the ICA on Friday night ready for diversion, and Shunt delivered a charming mix of experiences. The obligatory video installation, obviously – which rarely appeals to me, they so often seem so earnest and demand so much attention – but this one had a sense of humour and catered to those with short attention spans after long weeks at work. Also not too surprising was the singer songwriter in his skinny jeans, filling the room with just his guitar and his bad experiences with actresses. More unusual was the corner devoted to handicrafted two-person ‘video’ games – an asteroid game operated by hand crank and made of cardboard; a racing game pitting two sewing machines against each other around a paper track. We drew – 103 points each, mine scored mostly for speed, Cabe’s mostly for accuracy. (Who’d have thought?) We then visited the optician, where we had our eyes ‘tested’ and lenses issued for us to make our own spectacles from chopsticks, cardboard and glue. Channelling Warhol and Gaga, we sat at a trestle table determinedly cutting and sticking and giggling like 5 year olds. After that we could have opted for painted tattoos and other sundry experiences, but instead got lost in the ICA’s fabulous bookshop, where I bought a vintage copy of the pocket Observer’s Book of Music for £10. I think I had this as a child.
And that’s what Shunt is very good at. They tap into the little kid inside you, wrapping simple pleasures inside adult themes. Founded in 1998 by ten artists, the group has spent the last decade or so staging events that bring together diverse art forms – theatre, music, video, sculpture, performance – in surprising places. The ICA of course is a distinctly unsurprising venue – an almost 1:1 fit in audience base. But the previous two times we saw their efforts were at the Shunt Lounge, in the vaulted underbelly of London Bridge Station, and in the Bermondsey Street warehouse for an exhilarating performance of their ambulatory theatre piece called Money. I remember watching Sundance shorts in airline seats and pelting actors with rubber balls.
Now, all of this either sounds like fun to you, or not. If it does, look out for them. They’ve lost their extraordinary London Bridge venue to the refurb of the station, but still have occasional shows like this curated across London. If it doesn’t, that’s fine. But you might still get a Sharpie tattoo next time you visit us.