This month, a hidden gallery in an unsuspecting building on Lexington St. hosts the collaborative work of actor James Franco and 1996 Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon. Guised as a Hollywood film set, the sounds of Psycho Nacirema can be heard beyond the dimensions of Pace, silencing voyeurs when approaching the closed door of the gallery.
Upon opening the uninviting square door, muffled thrums reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s droning soundtracks – orchestrated by composer Bernard Herrmann – reverberate around us. As with most contemporary galleries, two gallerists distance themselves behind an unnecessarily large desk, briefly addressing my company before seemingly effortlessly continuing with work.
The graffitied landscape immediately left to the space, barricades the exhibition from the now non-existent reality of everyday London life, blocking all daylight with it. The audience are expected to become voyeurs of the exhibition, and are invited into Norman Bates’ Motel – a realist film set inhabited within an entire motel-like architecture. An overly big guest book opened to the present date, awaits visitors and their hand in recording their presence in the Psycho Motel reception. A morbid Norman Bates portrait glares at me from behind the reception desk as I sign the guest book.
The carpeted, wallpapered interior and the heat of set-lighting crowd the space; they function to disguise the routine white cube as a house of theatrics that mocks clinicality with an uncanny chaos. This atmosphere is further enhanced when we encounter James Franco dressed to the nines as Marion Crane. His portraits – a mixture of paintings, photographs and slow-motion films – situate a specific perspective to voyeurs in the space. This perspective toys with conflicting feelings of fear and humour: although influenced by a horror, the neon red of the paint (not near to the colour of human blood) splattered across the rooms and the Cindy Sherman-esque transformation of James Franco, cannot help but make me smile, amongst other gallery-goers who appear to be experiencing the same contradictory sensation.
Amongst the screeching soundtrack repeated within the exhibition, footsteps from above offer voyeurs another curiosity: is this part of the soundtrack, or just office workers coming back from lunch upstairs? The latter is the conclusion I come to, a fitting coincidence for the artwork exhibited.
Bloody arrows direct voyeurs through the space, not that this is needed as each room clearly leads into one another, another of Franco and Gordon’s efforts toward the mis-en-scene of Psycho. Coming to what I believe the last room, I encounter a dressing table appropriately ‘dressed’ in blood. The angled mirror facing me presents the scratched words ‘Psycho’. I am the psycho. I am meeting my own gaze, the gaze of a voyeur, announced as ‘Psycho’ to the surrounding space. This promptly encourages my own thoughts of Psycho Nacirema’s ability to form a participatory mis-en-scene. Voyeurs question their sanity within the Psycho Motel solely as a consequence of Franco and Gordon’s feng shui; the audience become extras in this fictional film set of black comedy.
The frenzied atmosphere of the exhibition prompts me to expect James Franco himself to jump out of hiding, covered in blood with wig and makeup perfectly projected onto his Marion Crane alter ego. This wouldn’t be so absurd; after all he is an actor…
As the disorientating décor of each space finally becomes vaguely manageable to the voyeur, a white cube room is thrown in front of our gaze – the bathroom scene. Being the most clinical setting of Psycho Nacirema, this room merely functions to unsettle us more; desperate handprints of blood and a heightened volume of screeching violins ensure this as we come to the finale of the theatrics.
Despite its somewhat predictable alchemy, Psycho Nacirema exists as an alternate collaboration to much of what resides in contemporary art this year. The secretive location and lack of media advertising ensure that the exhibition is not just something one might come across. It is an entertaining work of art that functions to project conflicting feelings a humour, fear and finally self-doubt and self-consciousness, placing voyeurs in the shoes of Norman Bates. It leaves me questioning, could I be the psycho?