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Doug Foster: The Naughty Chair

Art inspired by CIA mind-control experiments

Doug Foster – The Naughty Chair

Doug Foster – The Naughty Chair
Photo: Ian Cox. Courtesy the artist and Lazarides Inc

Two of the three exhibitions the Fortean Times has sent me to have involved me sitting in a dark room having a light flashed into my eyes, and I’m getting suspicious. The most recent ‘session’ was at Doug Foster’s exhibition at the Lazarides Gallery, London, sitting in ‘The Naughty Chair’, watching ‘Brainwasher’. ‘The Naughty Chair’ is inspired by the secret mind control programmes run by the CIA during the Cold War and is Doug Foster’s newest work.

A new exhibit from an artist like Foster is quite a rare thing - you can’t churn out a “four-channel high-definition stereoscopic video installation” with “35mm colour, stereo sound, 35-second seamless loop, computer, high-definition LCD screens and mirrors housed in a rusted steelplate box (223 x 102 x 102 cm)” just like that. It is only Foster’s second show in London and half of the work is brand new, although the rest dates back to 2006/2007.

‘The Naughty Chair’ is definitely a fine thing, thick metal pipes and leather restraints bolted to the floor, and combined with the rippling patterns of ‘Brainwasher’ it feels like the real thing.

‘Breather’ has an awesome presence. It is a two-meter-high rusted steel box that appears, through stereoscopic illusion, to contain the most surprising thing. I am reluctant to give away the ending because the gradual realisation was for me a big part of the piece.

A very bizarre exhibit is ‘The Heretic’s Gate,’ a digital film installation inspired by Dante’s vision of the Inferno. It’s a “more domestic-sized version” of a huge vertically and horizontally mirrored visualisation Foster created for an exhibition in the cavernous Old Vic tunnels. Foster will hopefully understand if I say that a version of Hell’s inner gates resized to fit a potential purchaser’s living room will be a tough sell indeed.

But the Lazarides Gallery doesn’t really house Foster’s work very comfortably; his video piece ‘Frozen’ is pushed into a corner, and ‘Breather’ certainly wasn’t made to sit in a shop window. This wacky student flat-style gallery does not meet Foster’s ritzy demands.

My lasting impression of the show is that Foster’s work is polished to a fault. Still, and despite its awkward fit in this exhibition space, there is a strong touch of Hollywood to his work, and ‘The Naughty Chair’/’Brainwasher’, ‘The Heretic’s Gate’ (domesticated) and ‘Breather’ put you into a position where the showbiz illusion becomes real, and to great effect.

Doug Foster, The Naughty Chair will run at the Lazarides Gallery, Rathbone Place, London W1T 1HR, until 17 February. Opening hours are 11am-7pm Tuesday - Saturday. Entry Free

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