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.

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