Sunday, 30 July 2017

Some stuff

The New Observatory, FACT
Trying to formulate what I thought about this exhibition. I can’t really. It felt too much going on, too many audio elements mixing together, too much to read. A head scratcher and not in a good way. More like reading a complex instruction manual while waiting for the penny to drop.

Which has me wondering “has contemporary art stopped being intuitive?”

Coming Out, The Walker
This exhibition featuring art from the art councils collection which explores sex, gender and identity. Has familiarity working for it and against it. To a degree, being work taken from a single collection you’re bound to have seen some of the work, somewhere before. It never hurts to see it again.

For me the highlight was Steve McQueen’s film Bear. Projected in what appeared to be a infinite raven, two naked male figures grapple. There movements go from aggressive to tender in a mesmerising fashion. It is something to behold. If you don’t mind the giggling at willies.

Abacus, The Bluecoat
Those sculptures look fun, but I’m too big for them. Same for the little barrister wigs.
Though this is exhibition aimed for children it doesn’t mean it can’t be approached like any other exhibition. One thing that strikes me, especially when looking over a mini courtroom, is how many playsets are steeped in historical references.
We probably overlook this, perhaps due a certain ubiquity or just to the idea that it’s all 'just for kids'.

Maybe we forget that play is a remix of the systems that control and are controlled by 'grown ups'. This naturally includes history. Whether directly or indirectly. Every child at some point creates a microcosm of historical events. How many times have I lived out the Second World War, with pillows become pillboxes or foxholes?
The idea of building a gift or a den, or even inhabiting the space behind the sofa, is about the child creating a world in which they have control. To experiment with ways of navigating the wider world. Or to have a space apart from that other world where a different set of rules apply.

Do we actually abandon these ideas when we enter adulthood? Or do we merely encase them in ideas call architecture, home ownership, money. You can only speculate what the world would be like if left these concepts behind and began to play again.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Franko B, Milk and Blood - The Bluecoat

if I’m honest I’m not excited about this. Not as excited as you might think, seeing as one of the major figures of performance art has come to Liverpool. Franko B, is here to premier his Milk and Blood piece.  So far everything around the event feels low key. Not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe this lack of hype is feeding into my sense of underwhelment, a suspicion that somehow where not getting the 'real deal’.

As they say the proof is in the pudding or the performance.

It feels subdued as we are let into the performance space, where we are greeted by a ring formed out of chairs. Within the centre of this arena hangs a punching bag. Golden it glistens in the dark of the performance space.

Once we are all seated, we wait, in tense silence. It’s a small space, dim but light enough to see the other members of the audience. We wait, as does the punching bag. Are we expecting violence to break the silence?

Soon Franko B appears, with his second who places a golden stool into the arena. Franko, dripping in gold, his vest his shirts, boxing gloves shine like the sky in a painting of a saint. He takes his place in front of the punching bag. That sense of expectation again.

A cold metallic bell rings out. Franko B stands and sets about the punching bag. As he does so the bag begins to swing, threatening to invade the audiences space. Drag them into the arena. Where close to Franko B, as he clobbers the bag and milk begins to leak from the bottom of the bag.

All along he gasps out sayings like “Artists, insignificant” or “love, significant”
the sound of the bell, means the first round is over. Franko returns to the stool. In this pause the bag swings. Which makes me think about that law of Newtonian physics.
Every action has an equal and positive reaction.
The bag swings because of the actions of Franko. I also consider Franko's words, throughout the the piece he chants, speaks, mumbles phrases. They cover everything fro war to love, family and art. They are massive subjects, insurmountable subjects. Yet passive, like the punching bag.

It would be impossible to pinpoint which punch had an effect on the bag. Like trying to quantify your effect on the whole of humanity.  Leaving you to ponder how helpless you feel in the face of everything.

Yet you still keep punching, still you resist.

Like that Newtonian law, things can only happen if you act. Perhaps this is the ‘moral’ of the piece. To do, to act in the face of the immoveable, in the face of a huge and indifferent Universe. Maybe that’s why at the end Franko takes a lap around the audience. Taking stock, perhaps, as he looks into the faces of the people gathered here it would seem as he is offering a challenge.

“what about you? What will you do?”

Franko B leaves. A new tension builds broken by the first to leave the performance space.

What I’ve written here probably doesn’t reflect the actual intent of Franko B. But what he has given up, here tonight. Though the relatively simple action of punching a punch bag, has enabled me to consider ideas. Released me from, the day to day and pushed me to consider something beyond myself.

Which is the mark of great performance art and art in general. I leave with whatever gauge misgivings I had hours ago, quashed.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Katie Paterson SYZYGY - The Lowry, Manchester

Time is a factor.

That is time as a measurement, time as a way of arranging, time as a way of shaping meaning.

This that is also interwoven with space, the time it takes to walk from there to here. To travel from town to city. The time it takes to arrive from the impossible destinations of the Universe.

The time who’s functional ubiquity provides a unique paradox, that keeping it is simultaneously mundane and yet offers up a infinity of beautiful opportunities.

The essence of earth’s  revolving around the Sun and of the moon’s encircling of us under the dictates of gravity. Despite this having been going on for eons upon eons, it still generates an amount of imagination. Whether that be poetic of a desperate need to measure, to calculate, to observe.

Is this need inherent within the human race? As products of nature we have existed in the rhythms of a turning world. Responded to the growth of the world. Was it a increase in satisfaction of the methods we used in response to natural patterns that prompted us to name and differentiate in indiferentiate?

To place import into ephemeral things, to give meaning to spontaneous events that occur around us. Then is this just in order to create a level of comfort or to convince ourselves we understand the world.

All these thoughts come from my experience of Katie Paterson’s Lowry show SYZYGY and in particular her Totality piece. This is a mirrored ball which has images of past eclipses. Watching these points of light run from my hand and then fly down the wall I think about spending more time here. Spending my time in this exhibition. Then it occurs to me the similarity of looking at the stars and looking at art.

You don’t have to spend hours gazing upon the night sky in order to gain to understanding of it. Your appreciation of it can flash across your mind, allowing you the sensation of understanding, setting of a cascade of associations.

A sensation of being at once separate and a part of a great whole. A sensation of the sublime, not the sublime that will overwhelm and consume you, rather a sublime that forms part of you. That your presence is adding to it.

The is evident through out Paterson’s work. Be it a recording of the space between stars, a direct line to a melting glacier. Or the letters written to mark the death of stars which have a beauty of their own and also disprove cLOUDDEAD there is a search party for stars gone dim.

I find something affirming in Paterson’s work, even if it’s a solipsistic idea, that this is your time to exist and your time to witness the Universe.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival 2: The Return

This is my return to Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival using the excuse of the ‘Encounters’ live art/performance event. On arriving on or near the location of the event looking for a indication of what’s happening. I spot a figure laying leafs along the edge of the Golden Square covered market thing.

“Would you like to turn over a new leaf?”

Ask the chirpy invigilator, I do, is that it? Well kind of I ask the in invigilator who informs my that many of the artists have pulled out due to illness or in response to the weather. Hmmmm, at least it gives me the chance to look at the stuff that was unavailable to me on my first visit.

Starting with the Birmingham Pavilion and the Shaun Ryder Beer Mat Show. Which I don’t know what to make of, I try to enter the spirit of the thing. Which I think is fun, though as the majority of the beermats are locked on the other side of a cashier counter.

Next is the Middlesbrough/Newcastle Pavilion. Which maybe my favourite. After meeting another cheery invigilator I head up to the third floor. Where I’m greeted by a grid of White squares. In the centre of each square is the guts of a electronic clock, the hands of these clocks have been transformed into a different kind of measurement device.

This is Nick Kennedy’s Timecaster from each hand hangs pieces of graphite which make marks on the white squares, a record of the passage of the hands and graphite. There’s a strange hypnotic satisfaction in watching these clocks undertake their measurements. In seeing the process and the result in one go.
On the floor below there is the work of three artists, though it took me a few moments to figure the out, the artist being Narbi Price, Michael Mulvihill and Alison Unsworth.

Price presents us with painted images of memorial flowers on barriers and empty spaces. Similar to the work of George Shaw. They touch on a certain sense of entropy the difference between the experience of the now and the knowledge of the passage of time. With these paintings there are also the drawings of Michael Mulvihill they are sketches of mushroom clouds, philosophers and cosmonauts. Thumbnail sketches of places all look like a attempt to come to terms with the 20th century in purely visual terms.

As if the act of physical, artist reproduction will render history a sense of tangibility.

The third artist on the floor is Alison Unsworth, who is showing drawings and ‘sculptures’. The sculptures are in fact those Pudding Lane ornaments, only they have appeared to have suffered some kind of cultural apocalypse. Developers have moved in a stripped and sheared everything away the only evidence of life are a skip or a cordoned off monument.

These are funny depictions of the English attitude to landscape and architecture. Somewhere in the remains of these signs of a unremembered England there is something about the fallacy of the idea that are culture is forever.

The mistaken belief that another generation won’t smash your buildings down or mark a monument with graffiti. The only real sense of eternity comes from the cycle of life as presented in her Pedestal drawing featuring a Seagull using a lamppost as stage and toilet. The biological winning over the cultural.

Then onto the second Leeds Pavilion, situated in Hatter’s Row a strange collection of shops and salons mostly empty now used by artists.

I lot of the stuff in there I find difficult to like. In the first room I find a disembodied head on the floor from which spews out what sounds like free jazz, this is surrounded by large banners featuring arrow heads.

On the second floor there are more artists whose work I find hard to decode or to different one artist from another. The artists use materials, images in a way that doesn’t quite solidify into something. I can speculate that it is something about the relationship between material, form and experience.
I have to speculate as there’s no further imagination of how to navigate my way through these pieces.

While I was in the space of Hatter’s Row I wondered why it hadn’t been used as a alternative venue or main venue for the performance event. Or why the other spaces hadn’t been employed or fully exploited.

Which is how I feel about the WCAF in general. In this form it feels like its not truly taking advantage of the North West art scene or the locations it’s secured. The festival feels like it’s not aware of its potential. Or where it fits in, whether it is a extra to the Liverpool and Manchester or its equal. This will become clear as the festival grows in confidence and scale.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival Part 1?

I would like to offer you a review of the Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival but I can't not really. As when I got there I discovered that most of the pavilions where shut.

Which is disappointing, having made a admittedly short journey to see it. Still.

Anyway I can tell you about what I did see. Which was some quite difficult work that left me feeling like a dog being shown the plans to CERN.

For example the Manchester Pavilion, where the work is presented without context. Nor with any information regarding which art is which or who is taking credit for it. Nothing about their process or why should I care at all.

Similar for the Leeds Pavilion, though I was able to see that is was some form of residency. Maybe I was in a bad mood but it felt like the research that should have been done before getting to Warrington.

Though I was attracted to the two model buildings by the window.

Then there is the 'blockbuster' exhibition of the festival at the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery. A group show based around the ubiquitous and sinister presence of IKEA. Basically a touring exhibition it is interesting, smart and funny.

To damn it with faint praise it has works by Ryan Gander I don't hate. Though within its location in the gallery to felt odd to be there. As if it was straining against its physical restrictions.

This might be an metaphor for the WCAF in general in its current form. That its ambitions are constricted by itself, by being able to take full advantage of its locations. Or knowing exactly what it is and who its for.

Given that this festival is still relatively young (5 years?) it still needs to develop a identy. Still I don't know if it's worth spending another £5.20 on another visit.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Ripe (With Decay)

I used to have this friend who argued that we (in the UK) used the wrong name for autumn. Preferring the Americanism Fall, because that described the great falling of leaves. Fair enough but I’ll stick with Autumn which for me is the better, more poetic, more enigmatic name. I don’t know the exact meaning of the word, what I do know it’s a word that somehow covers the feelings that get stirred up as summer ends and winter comes.

That sense of change in the air and the shift of the Earth’s axis. It’s a season which throws up complex associations between life and death, given that this is the season which nature gives us a fruitful bounty  before essentially dying. I have, maybe pretentiously and before this privately called this time of year as the glorious suicide of nature.

No surprise then this season of mellow fruitfulness attracts artistic interests with its unique mix of beauty and melancholia. Autumn is at the heart of this current Art Assembly’s Saisonscape tour which has stopped at the Kazimier. Subtitled DECAY it promises the exploration through sonic arts of the ideas of death and rebirth conjured by this time of year. Headlining this event is the prime exponent of these ethereal notions the composer William Basinski.

This is what I’m waiting for in the gold tinged blue of the dying light, a chill clinging to my skin. Myself and the handful of people hanging around are let in, where we suffer the curse of the punctual. That is being greeted by a empty place. Soon others will arrive the atmosphere will change, though I was hoping something more immersive.

Anyway I get a drink, get a table and subdue the urge to shout AMIBENT YEAH! While making a devil horn salute. Instead I turn my attention to the stage and the collection of equipment on it. You have laptops, things that have cables sprouting from them and reel to reel tape machines. There’s even magnetic tape stretched from the stage to the Kazimier's mezzanine.

That tape is soon to be set into motion by Howlround. Whose reel to reel machines are his instruments, from them he produces strangely familiar sounds. You have the sound of a locomotives whistle making a connection to musiqe concrete. Also you have noises that sound like the howl of the ID created by Louis and Bebe Barron for Forbidden Planet. There is a hint of Sci-Fi within the whole set, at times there are Radiophonic sweeps and wooshes. While the bass sounds make me think of the Ray Bradbury story The Foghorn.

After Howlround has finished he is swiftly replaced by Kepla. If Howlround is a direct connection to the history of contemporary music, then Kepla is a connection to its current forms. Whereas Howlround is manipulation of the physical Kepla is the manipulation of the digital. The difference or similarities between hard and software. His improvisational set produces sounds which are like the crunching and crashing of a hundred PlayStation games.

Comparing the two performances you could see in them something about the issues people have about transitioning from analogue to digital, the fear of working of loss. Interesting to note that Kepla is occasionally accompanied by textured videos, which made me recall artist Russell Mill's collaborations with Nine Inch Nails. Whether these films are there to provide a ‘bridge’ between two worlds or add a sense of unease and sense that technology itself is as equally open to decay as the organic. Soon Kepla finishes and disappears into the dark.

After a fifteen minute break, its headliner time. Basinski takes to the stage in a jovial manner, springing on the stage promising to start once he sets up his ‘girls’ (his tape machines). During this time there’s a problem with the mixer which sees Basinski break out into a rendition of If I Didn’t Care by The Ink Spots??
This is not what I expect from a contemporary composer.
Though it’s welcome.

The set begins proper and he begins to play The Deluge. It opens with a piano refine, one that is nearly familiar but soon it is lost in watery echoes like a dream on waking. Through subtle control of mixer and laptop the sound recycles, repeats, grows like organic matter.

If there is some kind of truth in Basinski's music it is that it reflects the part of nature which is about the transformation of one form to another. To become part of a ongoing cycle, and our place within it. From our human perspective the ongoing natural changes the world goes through are embedded with our ideas of beauty.

It’s a way of describing our relationship with the sublime, in a very human way. Like knowing that the green leaves will turn yellow, fall then rot, in a beautiful process.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Oculist Witnesses: According to Duchamp, The Harris, Preston

Often when writing I attempt to frame my interpretation of the event or exhibition within a context. Whether that is the journey to or the actual venue itself, sometimes it can be an element of the conceptual underpinnings. In this case I wonder if any of that is relevant as I’m purposely heading to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery to review Oculist Witnesses: According to Duchamp.

Already I’m mentally there, it is my focus today. To the point there is a strange sense of surprise to see that the larger of the spaces used to display contemporary art is given over to Lucy Beech’s video installations. I quickly pass the large white box after spotting a liquid black surface jutting out from behind an open doorway.

One standing on the threshold, picking up an info sheet which feels like card, I see that the exhibition is scarce. That despite the presence of Sovay Berriman’s sculpture ‘Entertainment Suite’ there feels like there’s a lot of space, even in this relatively small gallery space.

This space might be a result to the conceptual aspects of the exhibition. Given the subtitle is According to Duchamp that indicates that there is more to what meets the eye. I’m assuming you are aware of Duchamp (I know we weren’t all taught art by a Duchamp obsessive like I was) and that you know that he wanted to rearrange not only the language of art, but the perception of it.

Becoming the Year Zero of all what people love and hate about contemporary art. Though he isn’t technically represented by one of his own works. At least not directly. He is here in the form of a piece of work by Richard Hamilton, which provides the exhibition with its title and serves as a reference point, a point of focus.

Physically the piece is a screenprint on glass of a number of graphically pleasing circular and radiating lines. It sits there fetishisticly displayed like a relic within a plastic box.  It does resonate a certain mystic power or at least a knowingness about its own place within art history. For this is detail created during Hamilton’s recreation of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelor’s, Even (also known as The Large Glass).

The Large Glass is full of religious and sexual symbols came with body of notes intended to be read in conjunction with its viewing. Though Duchamp and his interest in perception knew that due to the transparent nature of the piece it would ‘resist interpretation’.  That the conditions in which it were viewed would effect that interpretation and the interpretation of the works that surrounded it.

Something which was exploited by artists like Hannah Wilke
It feels like I’ve moved away from the actually exhibition itself, there is a weight of art history contained in that sparse gallery space. Despite the presence of Berriman and the Hamilton piece it does feel strangely empty. There are other works in the exhibition but the main dialogue appears to be between Berriman and Hamilton/Duchamp.

These pieces appear to be conversation, this maybe be a simplistic connection between geometric shapes. Spending some time in that space it does occur to me that the sculpture is reacting in some way to the Oculist Witnesses in a sense trying to mimic them. Entertainment Suite appears to be in state of flux, angles and surfaces stick out at different angles. The whole thing feels like a scale model, perhaps of a broken stealth bomber, though whether it is being scaled up or down is unclear.

Both screenprint and sculpture suggest movement, The Oculist Witnesses spin while Entertainment Suite grows like a crystal.
In comparison the other works seem static almost not part of the exhibition. Flanking the Oculist Witnesses are two gloppy paintings of forlorn, jaded people. These are paintings by Lindsey Bull one Statues (2015) sees two figures stare mournfully into the middle distance. While in Bow Tie (2015) the single figure has its eyes closed refusing to bear witness. They radiate a sense of misplacement almost to the point of being embarrassed in being here.

Nearby are a number of postcards which have been manipulated by Ruth Caxton. The postcards that appear to depict religious(ish) imagery seem to have been affected by some form of mediumship. Lines etched within the cards flow to and fro into the eyes of an identical image, or form a cage of psychic energy around the heads of two piano playing ladies. It might be that these images are more connected to Oculist Witnesses did I first think.

Within them perhaps we can see the idea of artist as medium held by Duchamp. Of channelling the pre-existing elements of the world into the production of art.

As a whole what do I make of this exhibition? This room of art. Underpinned by not one but two curatorial concepts, the first being the relationship between the works, the second being the broader and overarching ideas of the Dance First, Think Later programme, delivers exhibitions and programmes which are ambitious in their curatorial scope.

That might lead to you questioning whether such exhibitions with such heavy conceptually underpinnings run the risk of a more casual art audience. Well possibly, but there is still a pleasure to be had in Berriman’s sculpture, Caxton’s curious postcards and even Bull’s painting has a certain seedy charisma. Along with the chance to see work by a ‘name’.

There is also the sense of these being a test, of pushing the boundaries of what is expected from our ‘provisional’ museums and galleries and in turn what is expected from the visitors to places like the Harris. That sounds a little patronising, but Oculist Witnesses, is part of a drive which seems to offer a challenge not only to the viewer but to other galleries.