‘When someone paints a boat, it’s a painting of a boat – it only works on you if you suspend your disbelief that it’s a painting. If you watch Forrest Gump, you have to imagine Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump or you don’t believe it.’
Semple’s new show Suspend Disbelief looks to explore these ideas, marrying his new thematic concerns about ‘conjuring and illusion and magic and deception’ with his previous explorations about ‘life, death and entertainment’ in an immersive show spread throughout the Heritage Rooms at Victoria House, in Bloomsbury Square.
Each of the 14 rooms in the unusual venue will house work including paintings, sculptures and installations.
Semple says, ‘Suspension of disbelief doesn’t stop at entertainment. It extends to our whole lives, especially in the West. I think we’ve suspended disbelief in the fact that we’re all dying. That’s universal. We’re all mortal, but it’s not a bad thing.’
The joy of the exhibition is in the playfulness with which such potentially maudlin subject matter is delineated. Taking the idea of ‘suspension’ somewhat literally, one of the highlight pieces in the show looks set to be Bounce – a ‘giant bouncing-room’ where people can truly leap above their usual inhibitions.
‘I don’t bring any meaning to it – it’s just about the people that jump on it and bounce around’, Semple explains. ‘Once a couple of people are on it you have to give room to other people and you build a physical interaction with strangers’.
Other key works will be the Happycloud Room installation of – you guessed it – smiling clouds; and Bloom – a 360° projection of ‘thousands of brilliantly coloured flowers in perpetual bloom’.
Also on show will be a number of new large-scale paintings that have been eight years in the making that explore the notions of superstition, deception and illusion that the show as a whole looks to reflect on.
The works mark a new direction for Semple. ‘The paintings are a lot slower than they sued to be’, he explains. ‘There’s more layers and history – some of them go into the store room and then I revisit them six months later and change what they look like. They’re denser, but I’m also leaving a lot more space’.
Enhancing the experiential, immersive nature of the show, The Effect is a life-size hologram of Semple performing magic tricks, which he spent six months perfecting thanks to the discovery of a strange 1950s book, Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic.
‘It’s quite a lame trick, learning the sleight of hand was a real rigmarole’, says Semple. ‘I just think it’s really interesting that some people are wiling to suspend their disbelief and others aren’t. You can either think [the trick] is quite cool or a bit shit’.
Stuart Semple: Suspend Disbelief runs from 16 – 20 October at the Heritage Rooms at Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, London WC1B