Roxana Halls' Tingle - Tangle was exhibited at the Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London in 2009
Long fascinated by cabaret, winning the prestigious Villiers David prize in 2004 enabled Roxana Halls to undertake research on the topic. This series grew out of that opportunity. Alongside historical materials, the artist was influenced by time spent in Berlin and her own remarkable studio - the saloon bar of a defunct 1930s London theatre, now a Bingo Hall. This miscellany of inspirations is imaginatively combined in the Tingle Tangle to produce a compelling narrative spectacle: an evenings cabaret from curtain up to finale.
The shows name derives from the German tingel-tangel, the name given to a kind of third rate theatrical variety show. The artist was drawn to this form because its improvisatory spirit linked with her practice of constructing her own sets, costumes and props. Also, tingel-tangel shows were often disconcertingly intimate. These paintings are equally personal and many of them similarly discomfiting. In this show each viewer of the paintings is the cabarets sole audience member and this viewer engages with a visual spectacle and a mysterious narrative about women in performance: initially, the women on canvas are only curvaceous legs waiting to be revealed to the punters, then they are caught in the full glare of the spotlight, seemingly ambivalent about their roles, later a female persona splits in two, later still the possibilities of artistry and autonomy are suggested. This is one arc that can be described but it is only one of many: the artist prefers showing to telling. She offers us one frozen moment of each performance and the viewer must conjure up the story. While the paintings seem to invite the viewer to reflect on notions of gender, sexuality, identity and spectatorship, there is no didactic agenda here. Dark fantasy and sinister humour sidestep the conceptual.
In these economically embattled times, the Tingle Tangle pictures defiantly suggest how, through the alchemy of paint, an inventive aesthetic can transform the mundane - cardboard sets and charity shop costumes - into extraordinary spectacle. They also demonstrate the enduring capacity of painting to fascinate and beguile. Enjoy the show.