Sacha Craddock - critic & curator

Richard Healy: Lubricants & Literature (published by Tenderbooks)

We are made to move, to pounding unrelenting sound, constantly past and through: glass, marble, generic structured ceiling, up and up, layer upon layer, floor upon floor. An American voice talks of architecture with apparent authority, suggesting an instant relationship to knowledge and understanding that is never just expressive. In a mirror, a little window or porthole, is a glimpse of pleasure, with movement that suggests a steady sense of effort and labour. Light is reflected, returned, prismatic, and diffuse. And then there is an aquarium, and you circle around, see the whole house, with body-building and layers of possible relief and relaxation – medicine, cleaning, and butt massage. With gothic script spelling Through the Water, the aquarium is red, the pale walls are forbidding. Fantasy and dream are handled with even pace, along with talk of tarot, tasting, trysting, and trading.

The fantasy, now so much more sophisticated that the game of Quake in 1999, makes a mock order, organisation, or place. The queer layers of dungeons and dragons reflect a political world within a world, where leisure and labour continuously collide, a virtual fair of chilling fakery where the fiction is familiar enough to be entered. This construction – with views of an exceptionally desirable, immediately recognisable Venice, for instance, with the great lagoon, or Manhattan looking out over the Hudson River – is matter of fact and fun. There are boxing gloves, and men, in a nonchalant semi aroused state, constantly touching themselves without really bothering. Further up on the tenth floor a Turkish bath, and talk of even more rubbing, massage, masculine beauty, matters turned medical, specific, but still. The colonic irrigation, anal douche, quick cleaning, divination, tarot, crystal and stars give way, on the twelfth floor, to a swimming pool at night. But this, with its beat, and insistent, even narrative, with all its promise in terms of time and logic, its social organisation, is as real as it is not.

Healy made his first invented place with digital animation some time ago, whilst studying at the Royal College of Art. What may have become familiar in art terms now was equally chilling and fascinating then. The digital model, a take-away reality, presents the ultimate place within a place; it bears the logic of the somewhat real, and all the charm – or lack of charm – of a virtual walk through an hotel imagined long enough to then stay away. A play of expectation and association, which disappears when the switch is turned off or the plug is pulled. With its semi classical plinths and columns, and light coming through floating curtains caught in the breeze, this new work is slightly scary. In artistic terms it still does the trick, while remaining as far away as possible, behind screens with the added time and authority of narrative.

Virtual shifting, transparent invention. Following the rules and conventions of illusory space in a way that contemporary art can, yet must not. The unreal has to be made to look real. So, rivers, between decks, and Big Sur, then ‘spirits’, white nylon and a ‘cubic cocoon’. The lettering reads out a strange back to the future; it’s an average, almost suburban sense of desire that edges still further away, onward and upward.

Healy has used architecture before. The last piece, on Fire Island’s particular, Modern beach houses, shows an estate agent’s overview: a shuffling, spying, apparent drone moving across and around a dreamy beachside shack. The narrative glides through the space, designed by Horace Gifford, across heavily patterned surfaces which, in the nature of such a get-away, are both soft and hard to unexpected heights. The cabin, with its wood covering, light and dark and sparkling, is in this case Gifford’s own, and in it he has known no limits. No limits then, before the slow beginning and sudden end of sexual liberty, as much as liberation.

The sense of place in Healy’s Fire Island is contained, almost actual, with the historical reference clear. However, in Lubricants & Literature, we find ourselves on an unrestrained tour made up of anecdote, expectation, association, sexual fantasy and function. A place for everything, and everything in its place, with sex in between. This is a parallel society, where the artist tries to understand a massive range of mystic, civic, personal and political principles. An installation of decorative elements accompanies the film, with books flapping over slender arms supporting metal candle-holders and lit candles. Bathed in pink light, it gestures to its equivalent, a much more generous collective construction, behind the screen downstairs.

© Sacha Craddock 2017


Instagram @sachacraddock


Executive Member - AICA
Member of Faculty - British School at Rome
Chair - New Contemporaries
Trustee - Shelagh Cluett Trust
Trustee - Braziers
Trustee - Art House Foundation
Arts Advisor - Royal Borough Kensington and Chelsea





- back to the top -