Review/Interview: MJ Colegate’s ‘Repeat After Me’

MJ Colegate

MJ Colegate’s installation ‘Repeat After Me’ is displayed in a temporary window directly facing the Whitechapel Gallery. The project seeks to address audiences directly, singling people out of the dense East London crowd and promote a positive mindset through repeated imagery.

The project was curated in collaboration with Comma Collective who have been given the window space to exhibit work as the building is soon to be knocked down.  The window of the soon to be demolished building is covered entirely by 200 posters of a digitalised motif of the artist’s face with the mantra ‘I AM WELL. I AM HAPPY’ screen-printed over the top.

Colegate, who is building his practice around digital, interactive work began the project by first discussing the limitations of the window space which he describes as an ‘understandably flat surface that has great depth’. He wanted to highlight the polarity of the space being both 3D and 2D as you can only view it from one angle. In reaction to this exploration he transferred the sentences ‘I know you can see me.’ And ‘I can see you too’ onto the glass of the window which provides the installation with immense depth; the audience is initially met by this bold statement that addresses them directly and are then overwhelmed by the repeated digital images behind the pane of glass.

Whilst graphic design evidently informs the art style of the installation, Colegate is not graphically trained and never worked with digital art until after university. He explains how graphics play a large role in how media cultivate products in advertising and in turn aims to explore how the audience is able to cultivate product in his installation. ‘Repeat After Me’ seeks to engage with the individual amidst London’s backdrop of urban chaos.

The installation is lit up by pink fluorescent lights which makes it stand out against the usual colours of shop fronts after dark. This again intentionally acts as a magnet drawing the city dweller away from the isolation of the night.

The mantra ‘I AM WELL. I AM HAPPY’ along with the repeated imagery act as positive reinforcement through repetition. The repetition intends to cause an inflection within the audience member; slowly ‘transposing the message onto their mindset’ by constantly reading it. In the run up to his installation, Colegate delved into the world of guerilla art for the first time putting up the same posters around the Whitechapel area. Whilst the artist admits that taking on this style of anonymous art distribution was not intentional at the start of the project he felt it helped with the installation’s overall aim taking inspiration from Shepard Fairey’s plethora of successful art distribution campaign’s such as his ‘Andre the Giant Has a Posse’ sticker campaign.

Colegate wanted his posters and consequent installation to enable his message of ‘I AM WELL. I AM HAPPY’ to take on the same effect as the forming of a habit. The more you are confronted with it the easier it becomes to convince yourself that this is in fact the truth.

MJ Colegate
MJ Colegate

The artist does however recognise an element of irony in this as the message was not intended on acting as propaganda but has arguably taken on its form. Whilst his message is a highly positive one and the term propaganda holds connotations of negativity and a misleading nature, the mantra can come across as forceful particularly through the fact that it is entirely in capital letters and as it covers every inch of the interior of the window display is very confrontational.

I highly recommend a visit to the window display, both during the day and under the cover of darkness and maybe keep an eye out for a few of his posters on the way.

MJ Colegate’s piece can be found until the 2nd October at Window Space, CASS Faculty of Art, London Metropolitan University, Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7PF.

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