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.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Mark Boulos, FACT Liverpool

There’s a current slightly disturbing trend within contemporary curation at the moment, that beginning the complete darkness galleries appear to be willing to plunge us into. Maybe I need better eyes, anyway shuffling hand against the dry MDF partition I make my way into No Permanent Address  Mark Boulos’s , documentary installation you could call it. Where across three screens I’m introduced to various members of a communist militia living in the jungles of the Philippine’s.

It’s a pretty absorbing account of individuals who seem to be living in their own world, of a self-contained society perhaps some of the last Marxist society’s outthere. The dedication of the members of this group (the New People’s Army) as they detail the sacrifices they’ve made to follow the course while causally clutching M16’s is obviously real. Though my ignorance of the wider aspects of the political scene in the Philippines’ makes me regard the information supplied to me across three screens with a kind of neutrality.  

I do think more about that device of using three screens, which has become quite a common device within video installations over the last decade or so. For me it doesn’t add much to the narrative and I wonder if it was employed simply to change a ‘documentary’ into ‘art’. Still it doesn’t distract from what I’m seeing, so yeah.

Another Boulos’s installations (All that is Solid Melts into Air) which offers reflecting narratives across two opposing screens. One is filled with fluctuating digital numbers and aerial shoots of Chicago and the bullpit of a western stock exchange. The other offers images of oil platforms in the Niger Delta, more important it offers the voice of members of a group who are, quite rightfully perhaps, have taken to violence at the fact that they as Nigerians receive nothing while their countries resources are taken.

I know that there is political point being made here, but one scene strikes me. When one of the anti-Shell organisation performs a ritual to turn his body into stone, to make himself invincible to bullets and is then joined by his colleagues in a chant to call upon the spirit of a ‘thunder god’ . I begin to see I connection between these rituals and the rituals being performed on the other screen. The stockbrokers do seem to be casting symbols, raising their arms to catch the spirit of the numbers to call on the god of commerce. Both actions, both rituals are as equally abstract but it does raise the question which one of these abstract acts is the more dangerous?

Now on to the centrepiece of the exhibition Echo, which promises an almost magical transportation of physical and mental states. One entering the space you see an disc of yellowish light on the floor, this is for you and entering it starts the experience. On doing so, and not surprisingly, I’m very aware I’m standing in a spotlight, in a gallery, I’m very aware of myself. I spend a few moments nervously fidgeting with my clothes, trying to present a better image to my future self not really paying attention to the cityscape being projected. It’s only when the image begins to recede I begin to pay attention and to feel a little woozy. After that I begin to pay attention to the projection, in which I appear as a relfection of a ghost quite aware that I’m not in that projection I’m in front of it. Very much aware of the bright light making the rims of my specs glow amber.

On the whole it feels like an academic exercise, especially when filling out the questionnaire afterwards. A piece to tickle the intellect rather than to pluck the heartstrings. Which leaves me thinking about the experience, I’m glad to have taken part it feels like I’ve done the right thing, done something beneficial, like attending a lecture.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Emergency 2013

Due to the bendy nature of the perception of time it doesn’t feel a year has passed since I was last at Blankspace for the annual day of live art that is Emergency. I wonder what’s ahead of me, crazed hectic performances or something more quiet and thoughtful. It’s hard to judge as I’m the first viewer to arrive I have a go at generating atmosphere but soon enough the final adjustments are adjusted and this is a report of the things I saw in the order I saw them. Just a note I’m going to see these pieces ‘blind’ and not reading the notes provided.

In a little alcove awaits a golden man in a bowler and a suit (I’ve already since this figure before marching in and out of the space) sat behind a small desk he finishes making a print of his hand. He introduces himself in an accent that comes from an imagined Eastern European he briefs me on what’s about to happen. Which is a kind of psychic reading part interview. He paints my hand in golden paint making guesses about my occupation, as he presses my hand against the paper, he says I’m involved in films I tell him I’m a writer. He asks if I lean to the French or the German, French naturally, on this prompt he mentions Paul Vrillo (that’s right I’ve read his stuff) and for a moment I’m amazed by this incredible insight. Despite my knowledge of cold reading there’s an element of me that sees this as an amazing ability. It is a piece of mentalism which relies on given the viewer what they want to hear.

Nearby there is a figure rowing in a sea of gossamer fabric, though it seems there’s a fine line between rower and ‘sea’. She rowing, moving nowhere is she where she needs to be as she sings a wistful mournful song. This figure is at a point that the furthest from any shore, at the point between exertion and exhilaration, at the point where the possibilities of the journey have yet to be fulfilled. In her position in the middle of this fabric ocean she is part of a melancholic lyrical dream.

Lili Spain

There’s another figure sat still at a table which is covered in talc, as is the figure. On entering the space the figure throws more talc on herself then returns to her stillness. I stand watching wondering why, what does it all mean? What processes are trapped in that dusty head? Is there any meaning at all, is the action just a simple action, like a child digging a hole for the sake of digging. Ultimately at this point it is unknowable a set of symbols based on internal codes. As I leave the space she throws more talc on herself.

Kerry Carroll

I’m told a new piece has started and I pass behind a curtain where I discover the figure of a girl dressed in white on the floor. At just her and me at the moment leaning a sense of intimacy to proceedings.  In front of me she delicately roles and stretches and as she does I notice a strange effect. It might be the dim light affecting my perspective but the dancer in front of me seem so small lending her movements a spectral delicately. At points her shadow has as much, if not more of a physically presence in this space as it echoes the expressions of this dancers body.

This piece feels the most ‘performacey’ as it has its specially installed space, in which above a neatly set dinner table hang apples. Maiada enters the space and disrobes she begins to ring a bell announcing the beginning. Though at this point I and two other mistake this as an invitation to take a place at the table, this is a mistake, though Maiada calmly continues, picking and peeling apples despite our unwanted presence. We three interlopers are male and fully clothed what it must look like to have these men served by a figure of a naked woman. In a happy coincidence, later on reading the notes provided I read that part of aBOUD’s practice is the exploration of ‘living in a patriarchal society’  maybe I just trying to justify my blundering presence in an otherwise meditative performance.

Lotta SCAF

Outside there sits the Bank of Change… a piece which attempts to create a dialogue regarding the value of money. Normally I would find piece like this difficult to engage with but recent history has given me an opinion on the matter. So me, the artist, and the others that have gathered chat about the damn oddness of the capitalism and the like. Lotta SCAF proposal for a new economy is definitely intriguing and necessary perhaps.  

Earlier I signed a disclaimer form and instead of waiting I saw other stuff but now I’m back to see what I signed up for. As for some time now a remix of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus has been leaking out from behind a blackout curtain. After been refreshed of the ‘rules’ of the piece I nervously enter the space into a stroboscopic storm into the centre of a circle. I note the blindfolded dark suited figure in the corner. Like something in a dream the figure is in the circle with me and this is where the touching begins. It’s an intimate kind of touching and the whole thing is pretty much like a nightmare I had once I endure as much as I can then leave. Wondering exactly what to take away from this, maybe it’s just the experience of the strange dreamlike environment.

As a welcome difference I look for a piece which offers the chance to hear the most silent place on earth. On meeting the artist she explains that there is a place in the world which well is silent to the point that if recorded it registers in minus decibels. Hard to get your head around. Though that element isn’t important to me, as there is something poetic about the idea of the most silent place in the world and in Sarah Boulton’s need to or wanting to share it with others. Having shared it, listened to I began to question the cultural importance of ‘silence’ or sound, but I’m basis to this kind of thing.

I step outside to watch Paul Hurley run back and forth and watch people join in imaging there breathless conversations, though I don’t join in. Not long after this I leave though this part of Emergency of felt quieter it has been thoughtful and I leave satisfied with the work I have engaged with, which might sound like damning it with faint praise but putting together which leaves the viewer (me) with a sense of completion, of being satisfied is hard to do.