Andro Semeiko: The Fabulator
Andro Semeiko tells tall tales: a secret society of knights, a rocket that has been under construction since the seventeenth century. Buried under Berwick-upon-Tweed, there stands a chimney that is in reality the nose-cone of this rocket which, in mock-Tudor style (well, what else would you expect from seventeenth century knights?), will soon blast off, into the Northumbrian skies. Its mission? A journey to Mars. Its purpose? Who can tell? The knights will not reveal their secret...
Why does Semeiko tell these preposterous stories, these improbable accounts? It is a very silly place, Semeiko's world, but like listening to a stand-up comedian, we enjoy being taken for the ride. His recent paintings are populated by knights – knights whose black armour always squeaks, however much they polish it; knights who like to eat ice cream, who like to sunbathe or take a dip in the pool; knights who wander through lush landscapes, or try to cut away at abstract painting with a chainsaw, or look out from their front door at their well-tended front gardens, or work at desks and are surprised to see a UFO outside, or surfboard, or hang-glide, or paddle canoes or swim in the water while galleons set sail on Turner-esque seas. In other words, knights who do all the things that knights are not supposed to do, that they could not possibly do, and who do these things as if they themselves were lost in time, torn from their usual epoch, and set adrift through history, washing up in our own time, a little awkward, a bit embarrassed, and really not very sure what to do with themselves. And their armour still squeaks.
There's a pathos to Semeiko's knights. They may look ridiculous, but it's not their fault, and we feel a little sad for them. We're glad they have things to do, that often they seem to be enjoying themselves, that their project to travel to Mars seems to be progressing well. They are people who did not ask to be where they are, but try to enjoy their existence when they can. They are sometimes thoughtful, preoccupied, touched with melancholy when the sun sets outside their window, filled with hope when they see the sunrise.
Semeiko's world, then, is one where the usual relations of time and space start to unravel, and the normal order of things is upended, by a logic of wistful, tragic-comic absurdity. History turns back on itself: knights torn from their medieval past, flung into the future, or into the contemporary day-to-day, sipping cocktails. Scale and size become warped: Semeiko builds little spaceships into the insides of improbable objects – a champagne cork, a comedic human nose – or else installs little landscapes within the confines of motorcycle crash-helmets. Are these spaceships and knight-populated scenes themselves miniature, or is it instead the rest of the world that has become gigantic? It's impossible to tell.
Throughout his work, Semeiko points us to a world where the usual rules no longer apply. If it's a world that mixes comedy and melancholy, wonder and pathos, this is because it directs us to the point at which reality and imagination come into conflict. Semeiko's work isn't a pure fantasy, safely sealed away from our normal reality. It is instead a messing-up of the orthodox divisions of experience – history and the present, big and small, inside and outside, modernity and antiquity. By telling tales that mix these up, Semeiko offers us a place where the division between what is actual and what is possible are put into tension. This is the function of the wandering story-teller, who comes with unbelievable tales from far away.
Do we believe him? It doesn't matter. What matters is not so much that the stories told are real, or have happened, or are possible. What matters is that these stories encourage us to think that things have the potential to be different, to change. Semeiko's improbable knights wander quizzically through an improbable world in which reality is forever in flux. That they find themselves sometimes sad, a little lonely, is the price they pay for abandoning the safety of their normal world, to discover the pleasures of a more unusual universe. Life, for these knights, is not so bad.
A rocket from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Mars? Why not? What have we to lose?
JJ Charlesworth is a writer and art critic, an editor of ArtReview magazine.