Sunday, 5 October 2014

Thinking City: Adam Chodzko, Liverpool Biennial

Funny, when things seem to come together.

The way life can connect seemingly disparate things. Giving the impression of a greater meaning, I think that this is sometime referred to as synchronicity. A recent experience of this phenomenon involves my current (paid) job, a novel, the current social-economic situation and a performance lecture.

That lecture by Adam Chodzko took place in an abandoned above ground reservoir in Toxteth.  Now Liverpool gets its water from elsewhere it stands as an monument to Victorian engineering and bravado.

So where once were tonnes of water stands Chodzko and his seemingly modest presentation. Though the reverberation of his voice throughout the space lends his voice a certain booming gravitas

Fitting as Adam is talking about some huge subjects, literary. One of the things under discussion are super container ships. Modern leviathans that cross oceans and seas, making sure that you and I have things like iPods, Lego and training shoes.

This is where the first ‘connection’ comes into play. I have recently read Simon Ings novel ‘Dead Water’ a multi-layered narrative, which features a character Eric Moyes who creates these shipping lines and uses them to hide a terrible secret.

Both Ings and Chodzko touch on the strangeness of these sea born giants which despite their size are as invisible as air. How these thing follow a unique idea of fluid dynamics, operating to the imagined pressures of commerce.

The creation of a constant flow of things and stuff which threatens to overwhelm us and fill the spaces we inhabit. Which brings me to the third ‘connection’ recently I have found myself employed (by a company known for tiny pens, that’s not IKEA) this puts me rather neatly at the end point of this epic voyage of stuff.

One of many who facilitate the ‘last mile’ of that journey. Helping everyone fill their homes with stuff, in the lecture Chodzko speculates that this collection of stuff will lead to the instigation of people creating and dealing with smaller and smaller spaces. He provides this by showing us his prototype living space created from a IKEA wardrobe.

All this may just be preparation for a future, a future that will take place on the giant super-boats. These will become the cities of a flooded world, a world flooded with water and stuff. Once aboard this floated cities we will be surrounded by all of our stuff that we would arrive at some kind of nirvana.

A capitalistic equilibrium, a utopia on the ocean waves.

When where on our never-ending cruise, what will happen to the mega-docks that where once home to these behemoths? Well Chodzko suggests that the ultimate role for these docks, such as the proposed Liverpool 2 superdock is as massive earth-works, as land art. Their destiny is to become supersized monuments to entropy like Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’ or even oversized versions of J.G Ballard’s empty swimming pools.

The archaeology of this future is to be built through commerce, we are building it.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

We Buy the Cosmos

On Wood St, unsupposing Wood St for a brief moment there exists a conjunction of two experiences of time, history and our place within it.

Both revolve around dumb objects. Objects in themselves arguably nothing more than the material which composes them. Nothing more than the whatever banding of atoms determines them to be.

Starting with a very earthly object, an LP, in particular The Beatles ‘The White Album’. Under the title ‘We Buy White Albums’  artist Rutherford Chang has been endeavouring to collect all numbered copies of The White Album. For Chang the famous white sleeve is a void which the concerns and personal history of whoever possessed it can expand into.

So you get exotic drawings, forgotten names neatly sitting in corners patiently waiting for identification and reunion. You also get a series of objects in various states of decay. Flick through the copies and each one is corrupted by its own existence. Each is its own maker within an individual journey in entropy.

Drifting through sleeve after sleeve, which can get repetitive, you do begin to think about the need for collecting. Is this need to collect some kind of attempt to keep entropy at bay? To halt or slow down the passage of time, by gathering object which hold residual histories.

Or is it simply something to do?    
Objects with residual history also exist a little further down Wood St. Three meteorites’ sit patience on three brown modular plastic chairs. They can afford to be patient they’ve been around for a long time.

This is Beginnings by AKRA group part of Axolotl at Model. The aforementioned trio of space rocks and earth chairs sits in a group around a humming amp. Partly shielded by an old cinema screen, again objects imparted with historical residue.

The main focus is the meteorites; to experience Beginnings you select a meteorite don headphone and sinister black hood. Already under way is the narrative of the lump you hold in your hand. As the soft LIverpudlian accent intones this narrative, which for me starts somewhere out in space, heading towards, away from a familiar blue planet.

I begin to spin off connections, one of them being Charles and Ray Eames treatise on our place in the universe Powers of Ten. Of course all of this doesn’t matter to the space rock, it just is. All the poetry and astonishment comes from us, the humans. Due to our placement, out temporary placement, in the universe we create a sense of wonder; we attempt to come to terms with the incredible odds of our existence.

We do that do projecting some immense ideas onto the things that make up the world. Whether those object be record sleeves or things that fall from the sky. In pursuit to comprehend our place here and now.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Opposite Ends

Some while ago I went to see a few exhibitions in Manchester and this is, according to my notebook, what I thought.

First was the Clifford Owens exhibition at Cornerhouse ‘Better the Rebel You Know’ which to my knowledge is probably the first exhibition dedicated to a performance artist in the North-West. As I like that sort of thing I’m quite interested.

It doesn’t disappoint. It begins with a selection of photographs of an audience at one of Owen’s performances. Instantly I begin to see these images as evidence of the idea Barthes had about how when confronted with a camera, we perform. Follow this train of thought and you arrive at the question what is the difference between performer and audience.

As in this case the audience is asked to categorise itself, by race, by sexuality even personal experience. Here the boundaries about who the performer is get smeared. Within a system which Owen presents in this work is he uncovering some desire held within everyone to perform, to display some kind of characteristic that we can say is us?

There is a thread of this going upstairs. The other two floor of the gallery space features work which was created by Owens based on instructions from many members of the art world. The results are varied and interesting. Videos and photographs provide evidence of this undertaking. One piece features Owens randomly French kissing members of a gathered audience. Again making the audience a performative element. In turns the video is funny, exciting and uncomfortable definitely a boundary breaker.

I think my favourite piece is on the top floor. Here a white cube takes up the majority of the space, though it appears that part of this cube has been removed to allow access. Once inside you see a brown powder (coffee) gathering around the edges of the space. Something has happened here, and within me there sparks a myriad of imaginary motions and actions. It’s almost contradictory the absence of the performer allows the idea of the performer of his physicality.

To be aware of my body and the performers.

Better the Rebel you Know has been a totally satisfactory and completely engaging exhibition. I hope to get the chance to see Owens work again.

I also managed to see Ryan Gander’s exhibition ‘Make ever show as your last’. Which in short I didn’t like.

From the looking at empty boxes etched on Perspex the empty cartoon strips, the cloth shapes rendered in marble. I look at them and think it’s a whole lot of nothing, as if all this art has been reproduced, photocopied by a bored and inattentive intern. The whole thing feels as if someone has copied a Matthew Collings book on the YBA’s and hasn’t bothered to put in the feeling.

As I progress through the show I begin feel like I’m being teased and not in a playful way, just in an annoying way. For example when I move a curtain to relieve a wall, I’m not please that my expectations have been played with I’m just angry. It’s art I don’t trust, it feels insincere on the receiving end of a poor joke.

Though there are small points which might offer relief, which include sculptures based on descriptions of engine parts made by Ryan’s father and a mock sci-fi supercomputer. Unfortunately by that point I don’t really care.

I compare it to the Clifford Owens exhibition, which works in a very conceptual way but still invests his work with emotion along with a social and personal history, which makes his work human. While Gander’s work feels like an exercise in making something that looks like art.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Artist Statement generated via

C James Fagan

C James Fagan (°1975, Liverpool, United Kingdom) creates performances, drawings, performances and media art. By using popular themes such as sexuality, family structure and violence, Fagan tries to approach a wide scale of subjects in a multi-layered way, likes to involve the viewer in a way that is sometimes physical and believes in the idea of function following form in a work.
His performances directly respond to the surrounding environment and uses everyday experiences from the artist as a starting point. Often these are framed instances that would go unnoticed in their original context. By merging several seemingly incompatible worlds into a new universe, he uses a visual vocabulary that addresses many different social and political issues. The work incorporates time as well as space – a fictional and experiential universe that only emerges bit by bit.
His works often refers to pop and mass culture. Using written and drawn symbols, a world where light-heartedness rules and where rules are undermined is created. With a conceptual approach, he touches various overlapping themes and strategies. Several reoccurring subject matter can be recognised, such as the relation with popular culture and media, working with repetition, provocation and the investigation of the process of expectations.
His works bear strong political references. The possibility or the dream of the annulment of a (historically or socially) fixed identity is a constant focal point.

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.