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.

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