Review by Jacob Powell
Being a fan of anything which acts as a social commentary or high-lights some sort of social, hierarchical or political issue is a winner in my books and Tiff's 'exclusive private party' really focuses on some of my favourite points regarding the aforementioned subjects.
Oben's installation consisted of a nineteen fifties style speak-easy bar being built into a spare room in the gallery. A number of people had been told that they were invited to this party and that they were on the list, however were turned down entry by the door-men who had decided that these guests were not exclusive enough. However some lucky people walking past this club were granted access purely for the way they look.
I, along with my sister and mother were allowed in as we were dressed smartly in the eyes of the doormen however my brother-in-law was made to wait outside. The three of us felt very privileged as we brushed past the suited security and through the velvet rope. The room took us back in time to an era where the importance of aristocracy and class was shown as more prominent particularly in films, which is why I think we as guests felt a greater impact having been let in. the sense of gratification was powerful but short-lived as I soon reminded myself that I wasn't a crowd person. Also I wasn't drinking which is a serious issue when free Champagne is offered. I refreshed my new found social status by throwing a couple of insults through the door at my now somewhat livid brother-in-law who stood there in jeans and T-shirt watching us suited and booted walking between this new found subculture of high class.
Looking back I almost feel ashamed for feeling like such a snob for ten minutes. I mean, I was in a room that only certain people could get into, was that such a big deal? It happens every day, especially if you're in work but I don't see that anyone would stand in the storeroom and look out at customers and gloat about their high class power status because they can go through 'the door'.
And then I got thinking, what makes a social status? It can't be money because I'm broke. However I felt comfortable that if I spoke to the other guests in a certain way I could probably at least 'seem' wealthy. As someone who sleeps on a pile of cushions in the box room of my mother's council house I knew that my history and circumstances don't represent anything to that of someone from the higher class. Yet as I stood there, in that room surrounded by all of these exclusive people, watching all of the unexclusive people wander around outside and wish that they had what I had I felt like a King.
I was suddenly aware of my newfound status and I was aware of the effect that it was having on me. I instantly thought less of those who were not able to step into the room, but why? What difference did it really make? As soon as I stood out of the bar surely I would be the same as them? And what would happen if I left and wasn't allowed back in? I shuddered at the thought of being trapped out there with 'them'.
This was about the time that I had to remind myself that I was in an art gallery and that this installation was what was affecting me. I also took the time to appreciate what I'd consider to be a rather fitting irony in that the bar which I found myself to be stood in with all of these people was nothing more than an old office about two weeks ago. The power of wallpaper! Seriously, it makes you wonder…
Anyway, I decided to brave my social fears and step out of the bar. I didn't try and get back in because I was worried that I would be declined. Scary thought!