Joan Cornelà hopeless dystopias at PUBLIC gallery

I’M GOOD THANKS is a solo exhibition by the renowned Catalan artist Joan Cornel which invites us to peer into his dystopic vision of contemporary life.

Paintings line the walls, surrounding a central sculpture – the artist’s trademark suited character, hanging from a noose and smiling psychopathically whilst posing for a selfie. Each work holds a mirror up to the depraved nature of society. They confront everything from our unnatural connection to social media and masturbatory selfie culture, to political topics such as abortion, addiction and gender issues – no subject is off limits.

Cornellà has by now achieved global acclaim, surely on the net, at least, with his over 7 million followers on social media. And this is not surprising, since his artworks create highly disturbing (…addictive) landscapes where familiar scenes metamorphose into unsettling nightmares. He exploits an instantly recognisable mix of pitch-black humour and deeply distressing imagery, creating uncanny scenes. In those, we all recognize familiar aspects, as two cartoon-mommies at the park. Yet, rather than watching their children play, they are actually playing with the child– as in launching him around as if he (it?) was a basketball. Incredibly, the child smiles.

At first glance, in fact, Cornellà’s work may seem lighthearted and playful. All of his figures, tortured and torturers, share a generic blank smile. Their fake, sickly sweet colour palette, reminiscent of 1950’s advertising or airline safety pamphlets, both creates an unsettling unity and an unreal sensation. Cornellà further twists these saccharine settings to dissect modern culture, projecting them to the darkest, most cynical conclusion. While some are affronted by his work, many connect over it, laughing whilst simultaneously feeling bad for laughing.

I think we all laugh at misery. We must start from the idea that when we laugh, we laugh at someone or something. With empathy or not, there is always some degree of cruelty. In spite of that, I am aware that if one of my cartoons happened in real life I would not laugh at all.

Satire has for a long time been one of humanity’s rare beacons of introspection. Through simplistic visual language, Cornellà satirizes the sinister and often bleak side of humanity within a myriad of bizarre and surreal scenarios. Despite suffering gunshot wounds, losing limbs and experiencing gruesome accidents with alarming regularity, the characters in Cornellà’s world keep on smiling.

A relevant part of his practice also deals with 21st century middle-class, human fears. ‘My life is pointless’ claims a yes-man. ‘Remember, your life sucks,’ seems the new working motto of a business worker who just started his day.

‘Nobody Loves You,’ substitute the classical happy birthday on a celebratory, sumptuous cake. Yet, the two children, presumably a girl and a boy albeit their pretty identical faces, keep on smiling. Is it a message of hope concealed behind it, like a ‘do not care about what people say, people are mean, especially now they can talk without been seen?’. Or is there, rather, a hopeless, crushed reality that simply and frankly surfaces?

‘You are a fat piece of shit,’ reveals the mirror on the wall to an oversized lady. I guess you are not the fairest of them all, at least not in our instagram/photoshop culture.

In sync with the growing feeling that the world is sinking further into depraved absurdity, Cornellà sheds some light onto ourselves, presenting human nature in his notoriously dark and disquieting manner.

Joan Cornelà, I’M GOOD THANKS

3rd April – 4th May PUBLIC Gallery, 17 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT

About Irene Machetti

Whenever there is an exhibition opening, expect to find me there, with a glass of wine in one hand, and my phone on the other, to take pictures and record my emotions. The rest of my life is spent studying art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and, especially, baking cakes and lasagne for my loved ones.