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.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Mad Max: Story Time

As you may of noticed Mad Max: Fury Road has been released. Ending thirty years of toil and expectation. Released is a apt term as since the film hit the screens, it seems to have gain a momentum of its own.

Fury Road smashed into people's imaginations with many people going to repeat viewings. Its also generated many articles about the production and the nature of the film. Many of them concentrated on Fury Road's feminist subtext.

A lot of articles focus on the creativity gone into the film and we've been treated to great images from nearly thirty years of conceptual art. Including work from the films co-writier Brendan McCarthy a stalwart of 2000 AD.

This comic book element may of fuelled the creation of drawings from contemporary comic artists. Often of the films central character Furiosa. Add to this reproductions of the cast as cats and the recreation of the insane vehicles in Lego, it would appear we have a car welded into another car sized phenomena here.

Why? Is there anything within the film that could explain way Fury Road have supercharged creative juices.

If it has done or is it another case of the ehco chamber of social media. Many of the people I follow are creative types. Most of them can nearly remember a world before The Road Warrior and probably saw it at an age were it would of lodged in there forming mind.

There is a element of child like fascination in the imagination which has gone into the overall look of the film. Often the film feels like drawings animated. Not surprising given the involvement of McCarthy who like other 2000 AD artists (Kevin O'Neil, Brett Ewins,) brings a certain frantic senseability. These artists were adapt at creating a detailed world full of energy, something you wanted to examine and recreate.

Still how does this relate to Fury Road? Well there is the appeal of the visual, the stories that can be spun from the forms of the vehicles and characters that inhabit the stark and dusty land of Fury Road.

Again this may be stateing the obvious given that with the Mad Max series George Milliar uses to a choreography of stunts and editing to tell the story in purely visual terms. Giving a direct link to the early days of cinema. Its a pretty simple story of "Run Away!"

Well that's the bare bones of it, the skeleton that can be fleshed out. Does a simple story allow the viewer to read multiple meanings into that story? Is the villian of the piece, Immortan Joe, a representation of the 1% the super rich male in control living high above the plebs.

Are his 'War Boys' a critic on the nature of fanaticism, after all they are presented as a group of youths looking for a father figure, hopped up on the promise of Valhalla and a glance from Joe himself.

The 'War Boys' reminded me of a Armies need to recruit under 21's who are the most reckless and fearless. This then lead me to think about the images of soilders captured by Tim Herthetington.

Of course an element which has generated much attention is the character of Furiosa. The feminist heart of the film who assists The Wives to free themselves of the objectivity and captivity of Joe. The idea that the presence of Furiosa emasculates Max is nonsense, as it is plain that they enable Max. They help him change from feral survivor to human being. In fact it is the other men who emasculates Max, as they're the ones who want him only for his body.

Note also that this is the first Mad Max film were Max isn't left a broken shell.

Anyway this is Furiosa's story which is the universal story of the hero leaving the village gaining experience then SPOILER ALERT! returning to the village to impart that experience. This could be the reason why Fury Road has lodged in peoples imaginations, storytelling.

This is the generation of myths or mythopoeia, the creation of a world that parallels our own. A good story will organically allow the listener, viewer to become part of the story. To want to pass on that story in any form.

This is why Fury Road has gotten into many a persons head, as they want retell the story. It's a modern version of a ancient human activity.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Surreal Landscapes - Carrington & Wilkes

There is a word, Mythopoeia

It’s a word that relates to the idea of myth making, of creating alternative worlds. Ones that often echo pre-existing myths, or myths that echo the world that they are generated in.

It naturally prevails in the worlds of fantasy and sci-fi, think the Mad Max movie. The word itself was invented by the ultimate in fantasy writers Tolkien and despite depicting a world of fantastical creatures it can be argued that Middle Earth is a description of the changes that befell England during and after the Second World War.

Within this word we see are natural desire to make things up, to tell stories in order to explain our world. It happens on many scales for example the simple telling of a personal event becoming imbued with great import.

A certain type of mythopoeia appears to be central to the work of Lenora Carrington exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Here paintings and drawings are filled with images drawn from a collective mythological world. The figures that inhabit her work seem familiar but in the way that déjà vu is familiar.

Her paintings present a kind of parallel myth, one born of a parallel history.

This is more pronounced in her large tapestries with their strange symbols and animals definitely give the impression of belonging to another history. While her sketches and statues would seem to belong to some forgotten book of lore or book of monsters.

There is a sense of magic in these paintings and I associate then with the ‘rule of name’ a tenet of magic wherein if you have the real name of a thing or person you can have real control over them. That there is a fundamental reality under the one we can see.

Like the wizards in Ursula K leGuin’s Earthsea saga.

Perhaps within this idea of a true name of a fundamental truth we can see or read Carrington’s work as an attempt to find that name. That the adaptation of myths will somehow create a way to discover something new about the world or some basic truth.

Myth making doesn’t solely apply to an otherworld it can also be applied to the world of the mundane. To the objects we gather around us and brush with a light fetish.

Heirlooms can sit on shelves and produce of soft mythology, a contemporary and active archology. This is present in the work of Cathy Wilkes who has a parallel exhibition with Carrington.

The moving between exhibitions provides an unusual sensation as if you are stepping into some kind of mirror world. Of stepping into a landscape like Carrington’s and yet not being wholly present within that world.

This is a landscape inhabited by figures that refuse to acknowledge your presence. As if we, the visitors, were sprits gliding through this world. Things aren’t concrete here some figures melt into the floor filling the space with a sinister dream like quality.

The people that inhabit Wilkes landscape stare blankly or intensely (its difficult to tell) at recognisable objects. They stare in a way that is alien they stare at comics; ceramics wallpaper as if looking at an unknowable past. Pieces of furniture wrecked and broken broadcast a strange worth.

This is a surreal landscape.

Though everything is recognisable it becomes alien. Like walking in a familiar place in thick fog. It disconcerting.

If there is myth here it is one that stems from the present, a present whose flitting nature nudges us into attempt to create meaning from the places and object, which we inhabit and use. The production of experience into memory calls for the need for mythology.

To sure up fragile memories and to keep us telling stories.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Social Behaviors

When the video camera become available and fell into the hands of artists. Some of the first things they did was to record relatively simple actions. Snapping tree branches, mooching around their studios and so on.

These actions carried on and the camera became smaller and cheaper and the camcorder became the means for artists to record things like trekking through their bedroom (Lucy Gunning) dancing in the street (Gillian Wearing) or autobiographies (Tracey Emin.)

What the camcorder seemed to offer was a certain type of freedom, allowing artists to catch phenomena or actions. A new spontaneity was offered, have camera will art.

Didn’t it?

Trying to think of recent video works which didn’t show either documentation of actions or wasn’t plonked down and let run. Maybe I need to see better video work.

This thinking was trigged by seeing the work of Li Binyuan at the CFCCA Manchester. His exhibition Social Behaviours features a number of performative actions captured by smartphone.

Simple actions simply captured.  

While I understand everything is more complex then it appears. Some of the actions presented, cartwheeling across a bridge, jumping in time to the rhythm of a passing train, flicking a lighter, remind me of those early video works. Press record and go.

It’s probably a falsehood but I can’t help but imagine Binyuan reaching into his pocket. Pulling out his phone putting it on a steady surface and getting on with it. I guess it appeals to the sense that art is a spontaneous reaction to the world.

Also it’s not just the videos, it is also how the videos have been curated. The videos are displayed in ways which complement the actions within them. For example Signal where the artist attempts to light a lighter in time with the flashing lights of a tower block is projected across two screens. Thereby creating a sense of distance. Similarly in Exercise 47mins featuring the artist apparently making trees sway by blowing on them, this is partly projected on a cloth which itself sways in sympathetic motion.

It’s a sympathetic curation which allows the themes and playfulness of the videos to come through.

It’s what the videos show and the way that they have been curated that prompted these thoughts on video art. That a certain expectation of what video art is and how it could be shown has been set. That for the last thirty of more years a convention of video work being shown on monitor or wall.

Echoing the tradition modes of cinema and television. Which was often used by artists to promote a sense of familiarity and pulling the viewer in.

The biggest change in galleries seems to be the move from monitors to flat screens.
Theirs is also the question of why there hasn’t been a ‘second wave’ of video artists. Given the availability of the technology and the changes of that technology it’s a wonder we haven’t seen artists embrace it to make and show art in new ways. Janet Cardiff has employed this tech in this piece.

Maybe it just hasn't gotten into the gallery space, maybe it’s up on YouTube. Maybe it’s a technology that artist are just understanding the possibilities in their hands.