Sunday, 13 July 2014

Hazard 2014 Manchester

It’s warm and sticky; it must be time for Hazard. The biennial day out for performance artist in Manchester.
Through the mugginess, through the crowds to the area (ST Anne’s Sq) defined by A Boards and yellow Tees. My companions and I gravities towards one of the black marquees in the middle in the hopes of orientation and free badges! While we do this we bump into Top Joe a cheerful man in a hi-viz jacket who is here today to make contact we as many people as possible.

As Top Joe goes about his business it’s unclear whether he is very friendly or very lonely. No time to think as we fall into Le Bistroquet a chance for a bite to eat, but also a chance share. We each give a recipe and therefore a little about ourselves, in an oblique way.

We wonder around passing the spinning hammock boat of ICD and have a chat with Bingo Meg and Disco Jazz who are readying their spangly car boot disco. Somehow we get on board with Stephen Donnelly’s Driftmob, a socialist game of follow the leader.

Every member of the group gets to be leader and with very little inhibition everybody is soon crawling, jumping, rolling around on the floor (not me, not in my good trousers) and generally annoying shop staff.  I guess there is something about group dynamics and the removing of responsibilities; mostly it’s silly and fun.
We drift off to find Antje Hildebrant and are caught by a fox (Savages, Hidden Track) the fox gives us a brief story and enrols us in his struggle against the badgers by making the territory with balloons. A little bit of whimsy there.

We manage to find Antje Hildebrant’s You Make Me Want to Lose You, which consist of two boiler suited dancers both have box covered in black and yellow hazard tape. Blindly and gracefully they move through this public space as if from an overlapping universe at a pace that is meditative. Even the lady sat next to me on the bench on her lunch break agrees remarking on how relaxing it is.

When the two are taken away, I make my way to Nicola Canavan’s Milk set within the window of an empty shop. After a few moments of preparation Nicola appears glamourous in a red evening dress and with a bouquet for a head.  She takes her place on a gilded seat and takes out a breast pump and begins to milk herself.

At this point I become nervous, apprehensive about the reaction to this, will there be a extreme reaction. Reactions to similar acts have been, well mystifying. The reactions are varied some are surprised, some are offended. What they take offence at is unclear, is it the slight exposure of breast, a reaction to the vaguely mechanical nature of the breast pump. A few question whether if it’s a real person under the flowers connected to the pump.

One little girl gets very close, looking into the window with great curiosity. Curiosity (both negative and positive) seems to be the main reaction. What is it? Why would anyone do that? While not giving any answers MILK does ask those questions around the collective squeamishness regarding breastfeeding.
Is it a violation of a joint privacy? Is it the suggestion of society’s Oedipal issues? Its is an complex issues and Nicola Canavan has begun an elegant dialogue.

I leave Canavan, to join my friends who have been earning prizes with fanct footwork at the Car Boot Disco. This marks the end of my engagement with Hazard 2014, its felt brief but not unfulfilling, showing work that ranged from flippant to thoughtful.

I just hope our annoyance of shop and bank staff doesn’t affect Hazard 2016.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Mondrian and his Studios - Nasreen Mohamedi, Tate Liverpool

Within the recreation of Piet Mondrian’s studio there is an object from which can be expanded the concepts behind Tate Liverpool’s latest blockbuster exhibition as well as holding a key to the work of Mondrian. Within the set Mondrian’ studio is the model of a set, a version of a world drawn from the one that surrounds it, filtered through Mondrian’s experiences of the world into those famous, lines, grids and block colours.
Rather than being redundant reproduction both simulations point to the how Mondrian was world building. Recreating the movement and rhythm of the world he lived in, refining them, reforming them into a representation of what he called ‘dynamic equilibrium’. Through the use of those lines and block colours Mondrian painting create a sense that life is modular, a series of interchangeable pieces that can be fit together like Lego.

Like those colourful blocks the painting present a malleable world, his plastic world which is constantly rearranging, changing. Evidence of the near infinite possibilities that exist within this continuum. Sometimes the paintings appear to be like a series of architects drawings being constantly reworked and redrawn to match the ever changing whims of unknown inhabitants. I can also see a connection between Mondrian and Sol Le Witt’s Variations of Incomplete Cubes.

Mostly the paintings create a rhythm, a musicality Mondrian was influence by the modern sounds of Jazz and Boogie-Woogie. Though passing through the exhibition I have the sensation that they are pounding out the looser form of Free Jazz.  A piece like Composition in Colour B (1917) can also be read as a diagram about the movement of sound through a given space.

Being in this exhibition, being within the imaginative space of Mondrian’s work reminds us that there is still a relevance to his work, despite its near Mona Lisa like reproduction, especially within this increasing plastic world.

Moving from the familiar to the unknown (well at least to me) running in parallel to Mondrian and his Studio is an exhibition of work by Narseen Mohamedi. An artist who, like Mondrian was attempting to transcribe the world. This was conducted through a series of linear ink drawings that hover between abstraction and conceptualism.

These beautiful and often delicate drawings produce a sense of the rhythms of life. Of the movement of tides, patterns that seem chaotic and yet ordered. Though they are composed by simple lines they are hard to describe, they are of a nature observed and transcribed. It’s no wonder that she recorded through photography the natural action of the ripples marked in the sand after the sea has shrunk from the land.
It’s as if these drawings are her attempt to document the ephemeral nature of our passage through time and space. Though use of lines and pressure Mohamedi creates image that apprear diagrammatic and yet give of a sense of energy and for this viewer a synaesthesia like feeling. Each drawing fizzes, buzzes, no surprise when I read in the booklet ‘Extensions of vibrations and sensitive cross vibrations’.

These almost musical sensations giving off by both artists’ works also strengthens the connections between Mohamedi and Mondrian and makes the exhibition feel dynamic. You may of guessed that I have enjoyed this exhibition, even been excited by it, it is an exhibition that you can experience and discover and rediscover a duo of artists whose work is alive and relevant.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Jamie Shovlin Hiker Meat, Cornerhouse Manchester

If you are of a certain age, you’ll probably remember the terrorising thrill of discovering the lurid covers of many a VHS in a local video shop. These covers in turns horrifying and exciting, they often presented a ménage of screaming faces and shining weapons. Or the hero grimacing as things explode around them and as this was the early 80’s a quasi-medieval figure on a motorbike smashing through some recognisable (American) landmark in a post-nuclear landscape.

Or that’s how I remember it.

Of course the imagery that adorned the packets these films came in often bared no, or little, relation to anything in the film. Though those airbrushed images influenced a generation of film makers, as much as the films themselves. The imagery, the tropes of these films (young girls, backwaters, weird locals etc.) all filtered into the popular imagination. They were even parodied by one of instigators of the genre, Wes Craven and his Scream series.

All this sort of filters through my mind as I look around Jamie Shovlin’s Hiker Meat at the Cornerhouse, an exhibition about the recreation of a film that didn’t or doesn’t exist. On entering the gallery we enter a false history, an alternative time line detailing the production history of this thing called ‘Hiker Meat’. It’s very complex featuring as it does an imaginary band producing a soundtrack for an imaginary film, this level of fiction is supported by a collection of memorabilia. A kind of meta mythology of special created props, costumes, posters, video covers and lobby cards, a very good detail.

It’s all great fun. I lot of attention has gone into this it reflects that fanboy interest in things like the difference between international cuts. As a follower of cult films, and having seen the various cuts of Blade Runner, I see the strange magic where in these pragmatic alterations become mythologised and fetishized. Where the myth of what wasn’t made becomes bigger then what existed.

An example of that could be Jodorowsky’s Dune.

This is where the power of this exhibition lies, as I progress through the exhibition I become less enamoured with the material. The stuff about the making of the film makes it feel more solid, pricks the mythology makes it real. I want to have more, or should of stopped at the point where that spoke more about the production of the myth surrounding a film, how the fans create a fiction around another fiction.

Throughout my time in Hiker Meat I’ve been thinking about Boards of Canada last album ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’. I think about this because the music was influenced by the electronic soundtracks of the era that Hike Meat is supposed to come from. In essence Tomorrow’s Harvest offered a narrative and soundtrack for a non-existent film. What Tomorrow’s Harvest offers that I feel that Hiker Meat doesn’t is an I guess a space to be filled by the viewer’s imagination.

That may be unfair I’ve spent more time with Tomorrow’s Harvest then I have with Hiker Meat.

The fictional film at the Hiker Meat is most successful when it is fictional. When its promise lies within the salacious (and quite beautiful posters) and within the details the goes into creating the ephemera that supports the myth. Maybe like the exploitation films that inspired it the film that is Hiker Meat can’t live up to its promise. Which, maybe paradoxically, makes its absolutely right.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Ira Brand - A Cure for Ageing, Z-Arts Manchester

The strange thing is that age has been lurking at the back of my mind lately. Just pieces of coincidence being shown old photos, school reports, seeing someone from 20 years ago, which doesn’t seem right somehow. I’ve spoken about it with friends and we don’t get this concept of ageing, what is it based on is it solely based on your birthday or related to your achievements, the landmarks of marriage, jobs and children.

All this is bubbling away in the mush of my mind when I go to see Ira Brand’s ‘A Cure for Ageing’ it’s all there as a place myself in front of a lightly dressed stage. On the left is a mic’ed up table and chair to the right there stands another mic stand decorated with a solitary sparkly balloon emblazoned with the number 100. Quickly and as if from nowhere Ira appears carrying two buckets, placing them down she approaches the mic and says 50. There’s a pause a projection of a jellyfish springs to life like somekind of screensaver.

Time passes, people shift, giggles, Ira breaks the silence with the number 49 then pauses again. She then proceeds to informs us that we are two minutes closer to death. Two minutes older, two minutes where unable to regain, but what would of I done with those moments and anyway I have already agreed to give those moments to Ira. An old voice gives a brief statement about old age Ira introduces herself, she 30 years old and she has been thinking about ageing. Of what it means to be young, to be old if this liminal events have any meaning or if it’s all a case of perspective.

At one point she asks members their ages, people volunteer this information freely. She asks me, and then with that information figures out the year that I’ll die, the statistics written pragmatically on her arm aren’t disturbing. Nor is the fact that Ira will outlive me by 12 years, even when she lists the things she’ll see and I’ll miss doesn’t bother me. Until she mentions that we’ll both miss the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11, that piques something I mean I always assumed that I’ll see it and probably from the Moon itself.

Within this information, the death dates written on her forearms indicate a form of pragmatism that’s inbuilt when thinking about ageing, that it’s simply a case of measurement, of counting. Perhaps this is all a way of dealing with the complex nature of ageing, turning it a packet of data, putting it behind a screen of banal numbers. Ira carries on crunching numbers, being a smoker she works out that each cigarette takes 11 minutes of a person’s live and its takes the equivalent of a balloon full of air to smoke a cigarette. A projection show Ira smoking a cigarette and filling the shiny balloon with that breath, live she begins to transfer that breath into a clear plastic bag.

If I remember my GCSE biology right, living things output stuff (BIOMASS?) and as the metallic celebratory balloon beings to shrink and wrinkles it seems to me that somehow, we don’t have the evidence of ageing. For the individual the subtle changes may not be noticeable or rather be easy to ignore, if you could catch your breath in a series of bags you’d have to rethink the way you live. After all were all travelling into the future at 1 second per second. Yet we don’t know what this means, what it means get old to be older. There is a moment in the performance which re-enforces this, when Ira recounts a time on seeing an old man on the tube and the need to know what old age is, what it felt like leads to her yelling her demands on stage. I say her demands, these are our demands. This is the fate that awaits us, a fate that some form of evolutionary amnesia that lets us get on with everyday life.

Even though it’s on Ira’s mind it’s on everyone’s collective minds and she has collected these vague notions inter weaved them with the personal effects the passing on time has had on her life. It all adds to a poetic, elegant and meditative show that is about life. What we do with it what makes is worthwhile, the difference between being alive and just being. I’ve missed out quite a lot of the show, one reason time is moving on. I will mention Ira’s delicate and elegant movements in describing an immortal, regenerating jellyfish along with her joyful dancing on earth (it was in the buckets brought on at the beginning) as if dancing on her own grave in the denial of any idea of final resting places.

The second’s count down and the lights go out, we maybe closer to death, but were here and we have these moments to do with what we want. As The Flaming Lips say All We Have is Now.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Art Turning Left, Tate Liverpool

If you’re expecting a detailed-ish account of the works which feature in this exhibition, well I don’t think I’m up to it! As the Tate’s Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making (to give it its full title) is a pretty exhaustive attempt to document the influence of left-wing politics on the arts.  It also features many artist from a spread of two hundred years, so a lot to chew on.

The exhibition space itself is split into different sections which set out to address a single question relating to the overall theme. The questions go along the lines of ‘can art affect politics?’, what does interactivity mean? Can the art world be democratic? I’m not sure if these questions are answered within the exhibition, and of course looking for a definite answer in a art gallery might be a hiding to nowhere. Rather it works on a common gallery experience , that being you as viewer are given the information, given the thought processes and you can dentine the answer for yourself.

As a viewer you are given a lot of work to consider, and there was a point where I felt I was concentrating on the interpretation on the wall. No bad thing as that means I’m trying to engage with the exhibitions theme. Though it’s a bit of a task for me, I mean l’m still trying to figure out a lecture about the relationship between Marxist theory and a painting by Van Gogh of some boots from five years ago.

My lack of politic knowledge aside, I focus on the use of imagery from the simple, crude banners used by French protesters to some of more graphical pieces that distils highly complex ideas into a single image, making it universally assessable.  I also recognise the drive to democratise art, or at lease free it from the confines of the dictates of the galleries and critics, which lead to the dematerialisation of the art object. A line that can be traced from the Dadaist through Fluxus, Conceptual Art and up to today.

There are also moments of unexpected beauty, one piece (sorry I didn’t take a note) is the record of a workers emotional state through there working year. One person’s emotional life carefully recorded as delicately painted blocks on graph paper. It’s has a strange effect its attempt to dispassionately make a record of a humans emotion state, somehow heightens the sense of the human within these great systems.

There’s something that might be missing, the human, the person, the individual. It sounds contradictory to say that these works which attempt to address the welfare of the individual lack a sense of the human; there is a strange paradox at the heart of the politic ideas that fuel many of the works. This paradox is evident in Palle Nielsen’s The Model, which part of a Stockholm gallery was given over to children, in the interpretation on the wall Nielsen talks about how he was surprised that the children failed to ‘use’ the materials in the way he would.

For me this point to an interesting point, no matter what system we attempt to put in place, whether that be socialism, Marxism or capitalism, it will probably fail or at the least go very wonky mainly because people are people, and will do what they want. So in a strange way this is what Art Turning Left is about people’s attempts to make perfect systems out of imperfect materials.

Of course you are free to make your own mind up, at Tate Liverpool until February the 2nd.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Bob Cobbing - ABC in Sound, Exhibition Research Centre LJMU

I’m approaching the exhibition and can hear an amplified human voice, echo and bounce of the concrete walls. The voice moulds itself to this space and the space in turns reshapes the voice. This play between the voice and space seems apt as the exhibition is an retrospective of the work of the ‘concrete poet’ Bob Cobbing.

This is actually my second visit to the exhibition I don’t quite remember it being this ‘vocal’ it seems that the recording of Cobbing’s poetry is higher in the mix, perhaps. Now as I attempt to write about them I come to the point where I either try to describe the configuration of the syntax which fall, skip and crash all around the gallery space. It might be futile, even redundant to explain what’s happening aurally.

So what’s happening visually? Well there’s plenty series of prints shown across a specially constructed framework, along with various collections of clippings. The prints are of letters, words forms of poetry. As you eye scans each image your mind goes through a process which the shapes and forms promote a kind of mental reverberation, much like what’s happening as you read these words.  To make things more complex each of these symbols and the sound that are attached to them also threaded to a myriad of cultural meanings.

That is language (I think)

This is a focal point for the exhibition Cobbing like Schwitters, Stockhausen explore this complex web of language. How the combination of symbol and sound equals meaning, this isn’t solely explored through Cobbing’s vocalisations it is explored via his printed works. Both in the performance and prints we see the same process, where words are arranged, overlapped, repeated, this process emphasises the nature of the sigil in language.

This way of approaching the spoken and printed word would seem to be an attempt to dislocate the symbols and sounds which make up language from its original meanings and create new meanings and associations. This dislocation can also be seen as a way of confirming this on-going relationship between symbol, sound and culture which is human commutation.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

3AM: Wonder Paranoia and the Restless Night, TheBluecoat, Liverpool

I ask you this can you imagine a world without a night. What kind of world would that be? One where time has no hold on its inhabitants, do they toil under eternal sunshine. Would they be happy with enough hours in the day to get things done, or would a world without a night means a world without the space to dream, without the need to invent demons or the gods that protect us through the night. What I think I’m trying to get at is that the night is an indelible part of life. A liminal part of everybody’s existence, part of our society, and part of what it means to be human. The time spent, thanks to gravity’s pull, out of the influence of the sun has inspired artists, poets, lover and thefts alike. Probably before we had the terms ‘day’ or ‘night’

So when the current exhibition 3AM : Wonder, paranoia and the restless night poses the question do the still quiet hours of the night reflect the zeitgeist, it seems that the answer would be yes. The answer is of course more complex than that, one that forms part a continuum of culture and reflects individual responses. To paraphrase that famous Nietzsche quote ‘Stare in the night and the night stares into you’

There is something about the night that reconfigures the normal modes of human activity, free from the distractions of routine the mind at night will wander through aspirations, guilt, resentments all from the supposed comfort and security of your bed. If you’re in bed at all maybe you’re taking advantage of the cover of dark to create a set of new rules and behaviour like the figures in Sophey Rickett’s – Pissing Women or Palm and Darner’s film of teenagers taking hold of the night by using their bodies to fill in the spaces left by daylight pedestrians. Not unlike the mysterious figures in Anthony Goicolea’s Code shining torches in patterns unknown to daywalkers the people in these works have the night to create their own nocturnal language.

The night has a power to make things uncanny, to transform familiar landscapes and objects and behaviour into something else. Something strange emerges from the dark even commonplace things like clothes can appear hostile as the figures in Danny Treacy’s Them. Treacy’s figure tap into something that is at once ancient and contemporary they could be figures that haunted the medieval mind, while they echo the image of a more modern idea horror of the slasher movie.

Not that the night is the sole reserve of ghost, goblins or weirdoes, the night has been marked for having a good and even sexual activity, apparently.  Often the two coincide as in Tom Wood’s photographs of groping drunken teens receiving their reward after hours of behaving under the sunlight codes. I can leave anything about sex and the night to Wikipedia which says Night is also considered the best time for sexual intercourse. Though you don’t actually have to have sex you can be or most likely be thinking about it, thoughts of possible lovers, should have been lovers mingle together with other thoughts of bills and who played that guy in that thing. These shifting thoughts seem to have a physical presence in Rachel Kneebone’s sculptures which offer a blooming mix of shifting forms. It also reminds of a line from a song, by 13&God, which goes: you'd set your eyes off one the ceiling all night in the dark think of a song or maybe breasts or missing body parts

Do these works address the question about the wee dark hours being reflected of a zeitgeist? Well yes, I said that earlier, one of things this exhibition highlights is the fact that the world doesn’t stop when we go to bed. The world carries on when where not about, which is quite disquieting. This feeling is now expatiated by the existence of empty chain store car parks and the 24 hour communication system that is the internet. It can threaten to overwhelm us, gives us a sense of alienation in what could be termed a contemporary sublime

To stop falling into this pit of despair we can embrace this night taking the freedoms its alloes, to change, reconfigure and challenge our other illuminated selves. To carry on what we’ve been doing for millennia use the night as a space to be filled with ‘poetic imagination’ and continue to use the night as a dark mirror for our hopes, dreams and nightmares.