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.

Saturday, 25 April 2015


What would possess someone to own something they could never use. Even if it cost 50p. In this case a possibly Japanese 7 inch found in a charity shop in Newport, Wales. Perhaps I was attracted to it because it came with a prehistory, with a multitude of narratives leading to me.

Those narratives best describes the reasons for owning this object. For example the cover, which appears to be a film still. A snapshot of a narrative. Where a woman lays on the floor, clutching a parcel (a child?) Her face twisted in anguish, while under the stoney uncaring gaze of a man.

It's a provocative, evocative image, which drags you into its enigma. Allowing you to spawn multiple narratives, making it a totem for my imagination. The narratives opened by this object, coalesce to form a irresistible mystery.

One I wish not not to solve.

When a apparently useless yet cheap item appears in a Welsh charity shop. Its multiple narratives leading to you. Yet this isn't where the narrative ends. The item is foreign tounged and imaged provocatively. Giving me open narratives. For my imagination to continually roam.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Only In England, Walker Art Gallery Liverpool

I am not looking at photographs, I’m looking at people looking at photographs of people (and writing this). I’m at Only in England a collection of the works of photographers Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Walker Gallery.

Which is considering it’s a damp Tuesday is quite busy. People gather around images of other people, people caught in a moment. Can’t put my finger on it but there’s a strange voyeuristic feeling about the process. As if each photo is a window onto a private section of a life.

I quickly notice that many people are approaching the photographs and pointing calling attention to a certain detail or aspect of the image. Often this action is connected with a memory or nostalgia, responses to the images include “Do you remember?” or “..on Thrusdays you could get tea and cake..”

It begs the question, what are people seeing when they look at these photographs? Is it more than the deadpan recording of light on chemically treated paper. Or a number of moments, deemed important by the photographers’ eye. A selected fraction of a second of a life caught for ongoing examination. Again where back to voyeurism.

Due the photographs themselves act as a mirror in which the viewer can see a reflection of themselves. Not the whole self but fractions which allow aspects of memory and expectation to be released.

As the viewer’s more from image to image, there reflections form some can of judgement or conclusion on the figures which inhabit that two dimensional plain. Look at their faces, their dresses, their behaviour. Perhaps a strange disconnect occurs between the present and the past, or in this case a captured past.

Regarding the photographs as a captured past, brings me to consider that these photographs somehow provide us with an eternal present. The places, people within the photographs are free from time and have no past, present or future.

Of course this offers the viewer the opportunity to look, to stare, to gawp, to really lean in. In ways that is usually socially unacceptable. The people in the photographs aren’t here, like were here in the gallery space and therefore the social rules do not apply.

All part of the cameras ability to create a distance between subject and viewer.  The distance is compounded by the fact the photographs are in black and white and seem to be produced by analogue means. This plus the subject matter cement these images into a collective idea of the past, they mark an undefinable difference between then and now.

This idea of the difference between a then and a now leads me to what maybe an obvious question. How do these images relate to the current proliferation of photographs throughout the likes of the internet?

What are we attempting when we snap and post that image of something strange, funny, a cat? Are we somehow attempting a freeze a moment? To disconnect and remove ourselves from that moment in order that we can look externally upon that moment and spark the sensations and motivations which created the image in the first place.

Within the act of snapping a photo is this idea of spontaneity of capturing a moment, though that is often untrue. Even though that idea has attached itself indelibly to photography no matter who is controlling the lens.

Equally the photograph is shorthand for the past. As I said they become a collective memory of the past. Yet the physically photograph becomes no more immune to the passing of time, no more than we are.  For once the photographs in this exhibition whereas achingly modern as any selfie.

Only the people and places that once reflected light that shone on treated film remain untouched by time.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


Monday, 16 March 2015

Group Therapy/Labyrinth Psychotica FACT LIverpool

How do you write about a show like Group Therapy, how do you convert the experienced of this multi-layered, complex collection of works. Without controlling or predetermining the virgin viewers perceptions.

Also as the exhibition (or expedition) is the exploration of the juncture between mental health and contemporary technologies. Can I make it through without a hackneyed and redundant statements like: ‘people be crazy’ or ‘who’s the truly insane?’

What is my experience of this subject? It mostly comes from my favourite authors, Philip K Dick. Who famously went through a major psychotic transformation or breakdown, which gave us the book VALIS. I think the point I’m trying to make is that within my nominal mind is the idea of mental breakdown as a transforming experience, one of potential and change.

This feels like a fantasy. Often mental distress is accompanied by fear and isolation. My small experience of this came through the experience of anxiety attacks. Perhaps a very common form of mental distress. Though many people have similar experience, as far as you’re aware you’re the only one to feel this way.

How can you express any experience of mental activity? If you could then at least you could begin to understand what’s happening to you and therefore others can understand. Which seems to be the mission of Jennifer Kanary Nikolov(a)’s Labyrinth Psychotica. An attempt to recreate the conditions of psychosis in a psychical experience.  

Once in that maze, grabbing and reaching for the curtains which define the maze. Textures change, alter I keep my hand up feeling the materials as they pass my hand. This becomes at once worrying and yet comforting. As you field of vision becomes a grey palette what you’re walking into become less defined. The fabric walls increasingly become your world, they ground you.

The sensation is that you might be falling but your falling in the right direction. They might be huge gaps that are going to swallow you, but they’re your gaps, your path.

Though at first that path seems short as I get stuck going back and forth from the start to the first hallucination post. This posts of bright LED lights throw up images when you quickly dart your eyes back and forth. In do so an image of Marilyn Monroe floats in front of me. I think of Ballard I think of The Atrocity Exhibition.

Eventually I find a path through bleeping LED lights, number displays flashing its importance. The numbers are relevant somehow. Voices are heard and compete with the knowledge that the only person nearby is the friendly invigilator.  

Is this then the essence of mental distress, of psychosis? The ghost experience, of things that are there but not. It’s like the solidification of imagination, these things; feelings exist for me they are part of my world. When these experiences don’t manifest themselves within the world or culture around you that seems to be a problem.

After an encounter with a demanding set of headphones. I find myself stumbling out of the maze, pretty sure of what’s happened but not. Dressed in a lab coat (did I mention you get to wear a lab coat? You do!) The impression of being involved in an experiment is great. The sensations felt while in the Labyrinth Psychotica do leave you with the imprint of the conditions of psychosis and having that can act as a started point to better explain, to lay persons like me, what that term actual means. Therefore you can better understand the person.

Initially I thought I would write more widely about the Group Therapy exhibition.  Rather than focus one piece, for me the Labyrinth Psychotica distils some of the themes of this exhibition. From the use of technology to deepen the understanding the individual experience, to how the whole exhibition serves as a ‘maze’ which requires exploration and investigation.

On leaving and after foundling the pillows in the MadLove Asylum I feel the need to return and carry on exploring. Also, somehow, the outside feels different now…