The sinister sanctuary of Jock Mooney’s ‘Who Are You and What Do You Want?’ presents viewers with an intense struggle between sensual pleasure and the resultant feelings of guilt. The directional works encourage the viewer to dive into a paradoxically nonsensical yet ritualistic experience. Unnervingly yet excitingly, Mooney transforms the space into an all-consuming mix up of personality with the use of sculptures, drawings and music.

A hostess trolley is a base for deliciously appetising sculptures made to appear as cakes and chocolate that catch the viewer’s eye on first entrance to the space. The sculptures are quite obviously constructed of artificial material but are still tempting, surrounded by heaps of fabric, flower-like pompoms in popping pink colours. After an initial glance, there is something peculiar about these sculptures, on the bottom shelf is a tree trunk on which sits an incongruous fried egg. On the upper shelf is what appears to be an elaborately decorated chocolate cake. This cake sculpture is garnished with the bust of a Buddha-like creature. There is an element of randomness at this stage and it is unclear what exactly we are looking at and why these sculptures are placed together in such a way. It seems initially that these are quite innocent and colourful temptations. However, as we then journey around the walls of this first room, looking at the series of intricate drawings, it becomes clear that what we have here is not as innocuous as may have initially been thought. What appeared simply to be beautiful and intricate, are actually full of grotesque imagery: skulls under trees that look like explosions, eyeballs intertwined in vines, threatening masked characters and naked writhing bodies. The fusion of these beautifully odd drawings and the temptations of the sculptural elements begin to hint at undertones of sin and pleasure being put in the same category.

As we explore this first space in the exhibition we can hear in the distance a faint musical chanting, slow and slightly unnerving. As we move closer to the second room of the exhibition the music becomes louder and directs us to the end of the room as we subconsciously follow the hypnotic rhythms. The music is ritualistic, almost religious, especially when we consider repeated lines such as “set your spirit free”. This creates a whole different context for the work in relation to the ideas of guilty pleasures previously been hinted at. These undertones are furthered by the sculptural works in the room. The rainbow snake of pompoms which directs us in an undulating exploration of the space is aesthetically and well as navigationally pleasurable; this leads us to a mirror which reflects a sculpted head. As well as mixing something sinful and grotesque with something pleasurable (especially due to the ‘chocolatey’ appearance) the mirror here also suggests an element of self-reflection for both the sculptural head and the viewer. To one side of the flowery pompom snake there is a small occasional table covered in a variety of tiny sculptures that look like cookies in assorted shapes such as animals and palm trees that on closer inspection are disturbingly sexualised. At one end of the table, these are towered over by a large two-faced cat head, which appears to be made from melting chocolate. The positioning of this cat head on the end of the table changes the whole into a sphinx-like creature, although one strangely comical.

Most interesting about this space is the way that all of the components fuse together to create an otherworldly space. Taking into consideration the directional works – the convoluted drawings, almost like wall hangings or icons in a church, layered with hidden messages, the hauntingly ritualistic music, the printed fabrics that could be seen as similar to prayer mats, the element of self-reflection, and the undertones of transgression and pleasure – we could consider the space as some sort of religious sanctuary. As we get lured further into the exhibition, and even though the music and oddly grotesque content of some of the drawings and sculptures may be quite unnerving, the space is also oddly comforting with a strange peacefulness. The grotesque or ‘sinful’ implications are sugar coated with colour and the iconography of a superficially happy and joyful nature with palm trees, animals, cakes and pompoms.

This atmosphere places the viewer in the realm of the unknown and elevates them to almost a level of transcendence. It is easy to get carried away with the rhythmic chanting and attention-seeking sculptures such as the fabric hanging octopus, putting the viewer into a trance that is absurd yet powerful. Whether this may be seen by some as irrational, or indeed intimidating, or in the realms of spirituality, there is no doubt that most will remember this experience as one of the strangest yet most satisfying struggles between guilt and hedonism, strangeness and clarity.

Michaela Hall is a painter and writer and at the time of writing is studying for a BA Hons Fine Art degree at Newcastle University.