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…

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Quiet FACT Liverpool

It's hectic, its half term, in an effort to fill the time people are taking to the streets of Liverpool. Swelling the population, swelling the noise.

The hubbub is up.

To avoid this I'm travelling up Wood St, which is quieter in comparison. Just other people avoided the mainstream or having of fag break.

I'm on my way to FACT to see the Quiet, which promises to be a immersive installation which will recreate the still before the storm.

Or I hope it will as attempts to find more information just leads to a silent 404 page. I hope it is.

There it is in the foyer of FACT a strange combination of plywood and soft baby blue, erm stuff.

On the entrance there's a hefty bolt, it makes me hesitate. Is there someone locked inside a unknown stillness inside? Anyway the gallery assistant assures me I'm free to enter.

So I do, and like a deep breath, the silence is there, the stillness, the expectation that something will happen. Like a breath its gone and there I am in a room filled with that twilight that comes with a heavily overcasted day.

One where you can't tell were the light is coming from.hh

With a collection of tropical plants, lights and the sighing of a air conditioner. The muffled songs of the outside leak through from a distant world.

Though I feel I could stay I feel that my time here is fleeting. On exiting the installation I feel oddly upbeat. As if the installation has acted like a mental reset.

It's a slight experience but a affective one. Later I capture myself thinking about that space. Almost like a secret. I also think about that episode of the Avengers where a eccentric Army Major recreates a tropical jungle in his mansion.

Maybe because the both create hermetically sealed individual worlds.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

For the Mowdery's!

So, Lauren, do you think it might be serious with this Karl fella? 

Yeah, Ok then I’ll say I few words about this wedding thing, about love, relationships and Lauren and Karl. 

Where to start, really, where to start? I could give out quote after quote about love; I mean I can find some good’uns. All that stuff, all that heart and flowers, Hallmark view of the power of liking someone a lot. Somehow doesn’t reflect the feelings the Lauren and Karl share. 
For what we have before us is more complex, deeper then something that could be summed up in a few well-chosen lines, or a speech. 

This marriage is another episode, another step in the on-going public display of affection that is your relationship. 

I was ‘nearby’ at the beginning and remember I conversation in TJ’s Newport about a boy Lauren met during a trip to Huddersfield. When she spoke about this boy there was a something in her tone that was a clear indication of attraction, a spark. Though when I asked Lauren if is liked this boy she was all ‘yeah he’s ok’. Anyway this attraction grew; with the occasional nudge from Jack Daniels a relationship was formed.

Since then I’ve been witness to the small acts of tenderness between these two. The carefully constructed mixtapes, the gifts bought with an ease which belies the thoughtful affection which goes with it. I’ve even seen the smile on Laurens face as she typed away sending messages to Karl over the internet. 

So what’s my point? Well all these moments are the evidence of why these two belong together. All these little acts of affection, all the quiet un-witnessed moments of love had led Lauren and Karl to this point. To this act of love, this marriage, this symbol of commitment, this statement of the obvious, and marvel at the fact that within a universe of billions of stars, on a planet with billions of people. 

Two people who are right for each other and are willing to share a life together can find each other.

Now you’re legally stuck together, until one of you is DEAD! 

The Mowdery’s!