Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Republic of the Moon – FACT, Liverpool

A couple of days ago I visited the Republic of the Moon which currently occupies the gallery spaces of FACT. To this new Republic I am taking lots of expectations and a head full of Space Junk. So if I am honest any notion of addressing this exhibition on a solely artistic level is going out the airlock.

As I enter Gallery 1 I see the Mission Control for Agnes Meyer-Brandis's The Moon Goose Analogue and I brush pass what is the primer for the piece. I already know that this piece was inspired by Francis Goodwin image of a Goose driven chariot being flown to the moon. Once through the door I'm met by large screen feeding me important data regarding the Moon Geese, data echoed by smaller monitors set into a control desk. It's like being on the set of a cheap sci-fi, I mean that in a good way; remember I'm a big nerd.

I find myself becoming quite excited; I'm trying not to giggle like a child hopped up on sugar. I take one of the seats in front of the control desk and fight back the urge to start Techno-babbling. You know to start saying things like 'Goose-Com 1, we are Go-No-Go for Launch'. I pay attention to the poetic images displayed on the screen in front of me, which deserves my attention. What I assume is the artist leading a gaggle of geese with a shining moon on a stick. It's an image which is both beautiful and full of humour as is image of a lone figure sweeping a crater.

The whole piece is a collision between the poetic and pragmatic, like the original race to the Moon where the dream of going and living on the Moon was backed up by the practicality of solid fuel rockets.

I drag myself away; there are other pieces to see. Awaiting me in Gallery 2 is another set of doors, or rather an airlock in which to enter WE COLONIZED THE MOON's Enter at your Own Risk. Once through the airlock a circle of moon rocks sitting in a circle accompanied by a white stool and a spray can. The objects sit there in quiet expectation, like the spacesuit in storage that seems to be waiting, waiting to be animated. I wonder if this is a reflection of the idea that the Moon is quietly awaiting our return. Also it maybe the fact that this installation is the stage for a performance that feeds into this sensation of expectation.

Opposite Enter at your Own Risk is Andy Gracie's Drosophila Titanus an experiment to create a Fruit Fly which can survive within the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. It's the most scientific, or scientific looking, of all the pieces the in the exhibition and it's the piece I feel that I'll have to do some homework on and return to.

Sharing the space with Drosophila Titanus are two incredibly poetic pieces. In the space wisps of fog drift over an overhead projector while it throws a watery Moon against the wall. This is Sharon Houkema's M3 an attempt to make the intangible, tangible by using the means, OHP, water, is that a photocopy? at your disposal. Of course this pursuit of the intangible leads only to more intangibility but that's not the point, again there's a parallel to the Moon Race to be made here, where the want and the need to go to the Moon is as important as going there.

Another artificial moon awaits us in the images of Leonid Tishkov, where in a series of photographs Private Moon details one man's individual relationship with a crescent moon. These images reflect our relationship the Moon, a private, yet shared relationship. An individual relationship which is shaped by our cultural notions. The still image is accompanied by a video in which Tishkov in a boat on a lake casts a net in order to catch a floating moon. Within this video there is captured the longing of half remembered fantasies of plucking the moon from puddles, perhaps every time we look towards the moon we are plucking it from its original site and placing it within private sky of our imagination.

Finally there is Moomeme by Lilliane Lijin which details an incredibly ambitious proposal to use a laser to project the word SHE onto the surface of the Moon. At one point Lijin puts forwards the suggested use of orbital stencils. I can't but think about an episode of The Tick comic where one of the villain's is thwarted in their attempt to laser etch their name in the Moon leaving the letters CHA for generations to ponder about. I am not compering Lijin with cartoon supervillians, but the piece requires us to reflect on the possibility of the misuse of the Moon. If it became possible to turn the Moon into a floating billboard surely that would destroy millennia of romantic notions of the Moon.

Maybe the Moon deserves some protection from the corporations, who see the Moon as another asset. Part of that protection must come from an imaginative and poetic reengagement with the Moon to remember its intangible value, its influence. This is the aim of the artists in the exhibition to ensure that the Republic of the Moon is populated by people who dream of the desolate beauty of a new space home a quarter of a million miles away.




Monday, 12 December 2011

Gina Czarnecki – The Bluecoat, Liverpool

To paraphrase Charlie Brooker '…you are a farting stumbling skittle' you are a mass of flesh, one of billions shifting and moving in this sea of humanity. You are composed of a biological history of viruses, genetics and pumping hearts.

We are our bodies, life and consciousness is withheld in the body, somehow. Don't ask me my knowledge only goes so deep. Perhaps there lies somewhere within this collective and yet individual experience of the body the drive to attempt to understand the baffling operations it undertakes, operations which are at one vital and yet alien.

Is then this pursuit of biological understanding an element of wider understanding of our existence here, as our position as the smartest lumps of flesh on the planet?

These are the thoughts which travel through the grey mush I refer to as my brain well looking at the Gina Czarnecki retrospective at the Bluecoat. An exploration into the augmentation of body through science and technology, which questions the affects that this exploration can have on society.

I find myself inside an installation, sat in front of a piece called Cellmass. A figure smears across the screen, her limbs twisting into evolutionarily dead ends. The fading trails of her movement speak of the memory of movement of lactic burn. Other figures begin to merge into her path, bodies forming a tumbling flailing mass. An orgy of genetic memory, retracing actions, paths, until they compress and reform into something new. Their collective actions have sparked the creation of a new organism, evolution in action.

What is driving this evolution? The tooth and claw of Darwin's theory or some need to circumvent nature. To provide that we are masters of our own biological destiny and not merely meat puppets controlled by deep animal urges.

Cellmass forms part of a trilogy of sorts, three parts of a whole, three organs acting as one. It's easy to read them as parts of a whole thanks (in part) to the booming blood in your ears hum provided by Christian Fennesz. It creates the sense of being enclosed within a body or having your internal sounds being amplified and projected into the space surrounding you.

The middle piece, which would be the first you would encounter (it will make sense when you visit the Bluecoat) is Infection. Features a figure trapped inside what looks like a petri dish. Within this space the figure undergoes a digitally edited evolution, using video editing techniques Czarnecki forces an evolution. As a genetic smear grows limbs and begins to fight against its confines to breakout and complete its genetic destiny. There's a point when I put my hand into the shallow waters that Infection is projected into and the figure retreats from this intrusion. I know that this isn't happening that it was just a coincidence, but it makes me think wonder if I'm no longer just experiencing this and have become part of the piece.

Then onto Spintex where the surprise of the red light of dusk awaits me. For a moment its strange to see something which is outside of the body. Though the rolling heartbeat of the score act as an bodily reminder as it washes into me. The screen fades to black and out of the darkness looms a face, ghostly with the look of being on the edge of something, some kind of revelation. It becomes apparent that this face is part of an moving mass, swaying to some primeval hearts to a greater rhythm. The pulse of music recalling the beat of the heart the flow of blood.

While in this space I can't help but relate it to my experiences of nightclubbing. Specifically that point where you've stopped hearing the music, or stopped trying to hear the music and everything becomes a thudding rhythm that seems to glue the sweaty mass you're in together. To continue this allegory it also feels like the morning after where your body still reverberates and the blood in your ear still keeps a 4/4 beat. The sensation you put your body through something that you responded to some pre-programmed urge to be part of some unknown viral mass.

This has focused on three pieces and I haven't touched on the other themes inherent in the exhibition or spoke about the spectral figures or the collection of teeth moulds that haunt part of the gallery.



Friday, 2 December 2011

If Only…! On Parole – The Bluecoat

If Only…! The Bluecoat's experimental live art cabaret makes a welcome return after a year away. Whatever it's been up to in that year I am not sure, making trouble for itself as the On Parole subtitle suggests.

As often happens at these events the whole thing already seems to be leaking out from the Bluecoat's performance space, what looks like a strippers pole has been set up in the landing. Also what are those guys in helmets and Hi Viz jackets doing making their way through the gathering crowd and disappearing into the performance space?

Entering the performance space members of the audience are approached by 'officials' ,all lanyards and clipboards, who subject them to baffling searches, ensuring that mobile phones are collected into plastic bags, for our own protect of course. The two security guards seen earlier are flanking a tent laid out on stage.

Already I have the sense of an event on the defensive, but from whom? It begins with the two officials ensuring the correct space has been allocated while a figure dressed in prison fatigues sets out what will happen. Marking out where things will happen and the correct contextual statement for each piece. This echoes the pragmatic way artists are expected to lay out their intentions in order for their worth to be judged. Of course events like If Only…!, which focus on experimentation and incomplete work can be seen as a luxury in the face of cuts.

Anyway on with the show, one of the officials enters the tent accompanied by glacial winds and a musical duo. The people in the tent begin to play with newspaper, rustling, crushing, ripping it and throwing it around the tent giving it the impression of a self-creating snow globe. Above them a screen splutters into life and gives a view from within the tent, where paper landscapes appear and tumble and spin weightlessly through space given us access to a wold of impossible movements. It's what I would guess the point of view of a dancer to be, there is a giddy sense of movement throughout the piece.

Once the piece is other, the officials simply leave the tent and kick it out of the way. This continues the theme and also neatly conceals the necessary scene change.
Next the security guards take to the stage and begin to perform acoustic versions of popular songs. Is this an attempt to remind us that behind the plastic visors of authority are human beings? I don't know, throughout the performance I expect something violent to happen… it doesn't.

One of the officials gives us a breakdown of the next performance, or rather what seems to be a collection of key phrases which seem to have little to what actually happens next.

As what happens next is magic! The man in prison fatigues returns as magician adorned in a high Fez and has a be-sequined assistant (as is tradition). The assistant is laid across a plain wooden table the magician whips out a saw and begins to saw away at the legs of the table. The audience gasps and coo's and the assistant finds herself in an increasingly precarious position. I can't help but think about the relationship this relationship between magician and assistant where no matter how lethal the actions of the magician appears the assistant much take the risks with quite grace. Almost like every human relationship… though I maybe overthinking it.

As the magician struggles with a particularly though selection of the table, an official address the audience to gather feedback. After gathering the data she decides to configure the data to her own ends and pass the magic act.

The magician swaps place with the duo Graculus who deal with the echo of wood being thrown away as they begin; the main thing I take away from Graculus is simply that improvised music can be unexpectedly beautiful.

Its interval time, crowded bar, confused shuffling. Eventually from outside the performance space there comes a sleazy guitar riff and from the stairwell comes Mickey Mouse who proceeds to pole dance, grinding and spinning around in that way that is physically yet not sexual. It's strange this piece as a begin to wonder if Mickey Mouse is a spent symbol, his ironic cache used up and therefore his appearance as pole dancer, for this viewer at least isn't surprising. Also it's not as funny or sinister as being in a lap dancing club where my one and only visit to such an establishment involved the use of the phrase 'Do you want these in your face'.

My dodgy past aside, where back into the performance space for the trio Eyes consisting of guitar, drums and poet. They make a likeable post-something noise while the poet barks his poetry into the riffs. Eventually the poet ends up taking the traditional frontman role screaming at the audience and rolling around the floor. All good clean fun.

Before the final act the officials go through the information gathered so far ensuring that not only we have the correct performance but we have the correct audience.

On to the closing act of the night, a tango performance, this is almost upstaged by some comedy bickering from Graculus. That aside this is the act that is received warmly by the audience it also serves as a reminder that the platforms like If Only…! are really open to a range of artforms and practitioners.

Before will leave we are given a brief PowerPoint presentation which takes us through the people involved in producing tonight's event. Throughout the night I have had the sense of artists on the defensive, of people expected to justify ideas which sometimes cannot be justified beyond their own existence. Which, to repeat myself, could become more difficult in these times of crisis. That aside what If Only…! provides is an platform for a number of performers from different disciplines to experiment, to strengthen themselves to ensure that we have an on-going creative exchange.

The next If Only...! will take place...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Father – Wolstenholme Creative Space, Liverpool

Laying my cards on the table, this is based on what turned out to be a very brief visit to Wolstenholme Creative Space. I had intended to spend some time getting to 'know' the work as it were. Well that was plan, after arriving at the WCS and surveying what was on offer things changed. At a glance the exhibitions feels slight but never judge an exhibition on quantity alone.

I look at a double buckled belt on a plinth, its well-made, I perhaps lazily think that it has something to do with the authoritative figure of the father. It doesn't inspire me to explore further into it.

Then on to a series of large photographs in which a grotesquely swollen headed figure sits in a pile of debris. Though the grossness of the image is strangely appealing, I get the impression that I'm looking at documentation of something else. Where the unease suggested by the images manifests itself into something more visceral.

Opposite these there are five printed letters, something to do with a paternity test? I don't know I begin to read them but begin to lose interest especially when it turns out all five framed letters are the same. Expect for one which read something like 'stop sending me letters'. I don't know what the point was here nor do I care. If it were to bombard someone with these letters I hope you sent more than five.

In another space there is an old school style arcade machine which has been farting out its 8 bit music since I've been in the gallery. For some reason I don't play the game.

What else is there? Well there are tiles of jet carefully etched with things like 'The Tree of Life'. The seductive materially surfaces of these objects, well remains on the surface and I feel that I've seen this kind of thing before. Occupying the same space are banners on which has been printed a poem, I like the poem but when presented in this manner the words feel flat. Behind that there's a suit on a plinth.

The overall sense I have about the exhibition is my inability to engage with it. In an exhibition whose underlined theme is the father figure, that figure seemed absent. Maybe a better understanding of the individuals context and the process might filled this gap but you still need to engage the audience in order for us to want to delve a little deeper into the work.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Frakture presents: Combine - The Bluecoat

For what promises to be an event full of noise the hub of the Bluecoat feels very quiet (though Calexico appears to be drifting from the tannoy), maybe this is the quiet that prepares us for what's to come, a sonic sorbet of sorts. Soon enough people arrive and find themselves in the intimate space of the Sandon Room. Which has been laid out in a rough and ready, freewheeling nature manner familiar to anyone who has attended a Frakture gig before.

We are introduced Combine as a first of a new platform combining music, sound and art which will consist of three acts. The first act is Takahashi's Shellfish Concern who have set up in the corner of the room, Angela Guyton beckons the audience nearer or they'll miss out. She and the audience are gathered around a blank canvas and she begins to mark the canvas. This action is accompanied by a roaring crushing sound it's apparent that the canvas and Angelas herself has been transformed into an instrument. Of course associations with action painting spring to mind and Harold Rosenberg's ascertain that art lies within its creation rather than with the final product.

What also comes to mind is the almost synesthetic nature of creating art, how the sound of pen scrapping across paper, brush across canvas even your own breathing become somehow part of the process. Takahashi's Shellfish Concern have created a piece which amplifies these private moments into the public realm providing us the audience the opportunity to consider the creative process and the production of art.

For the second act we swap the Sandon Room for the Garden Room where an orchestra of sorts awaits us. They even have a conductor of sorts; a man sits at a trestle table and before him is laid a number of fluorescent cards. He selects one and raises it above his head and it begins. Though it becomes apparent that he is not in charge as members of the 'orchestra' are communicating with the conductor and each other through a series of coded gestures.

To be honest I missed the intro to this piece and I am a little lost to the importance of this arcane signals or the role that wearing hats has. It feels like I've wandered into a private joke and being on the outside of that joke it's hard to so what's so funny. Though there is certain pleasures to have seeing the musicians interact with each other passing on musical phrases. On the whole it gives the impression that this is a piece for musicians, rather than an audience but that's the risk you take with modern composition.

Afterwards I learn that this is a version of John Zorn's 'improvisational game piece' Cobra and it make a little more sense.

Then it's back to the Sandon Room for the final act of the night which consist of Dave Birchall and Bekke Platt a duo comprised of dancer and guitarist. In the middle of the room the dancer (Bekke) sits on the floor with her back to the audience while the guitarist (Dave) sits on a chair facing the audience, facing the dancer. He begins to play in the traditional juttering, plucking free/improve style (he appears to be using a fir cone as pic) the dancer slowly begins to move just her hand at first and then her whole body. Eventually she is rolling around the floor tumbling and sliding nowhere. My focus shifts to the guitarist contorting in his chair and it strikes me that he seems to be lost in the moment while the dancer is not.

Her moments feel planned and of course they are, but as an improvisational piece I want a sense of spontaneity. To see that her movements are plucked from the guitar, to see that there is interplay between her body and the sound around it. This is a little unfair of me as it's difficult to judge something as ethereal as spontaneity from my position in the audience. As a piece I get the sensation that this is a work in progress, of a dancer discovering the extent of her body.

As a whole the night has the feel of a work in progress, in part it like attending a crit session at uni. This may be due to the informal setting and the focus on experimentation. After all this is the first night after all and I think that Combine has the potential to provide a platform for collaboration and experimentation, to celebrate the fluid nature of live performance.




Saturday, 12 November 2011

ZEE – Kurt Hentschläger, AND Festival/FACT Liverpool

I am staring at this screen trying to find the starting point; there is a point some time ago during the summer. At this point I'm reading the travel section of The Guardian which has a bit about the AND Festival it strikes me that most of the works explore themes that I had tried to explore in my practice. To be honest there is a prang of jealously.

Does this explain why it took me so long to get involved, or was it just mistiming? As every time I go to sign up its full or there's no time.

Whatever the reasons, a window opens and I take it. It begins with the filling of forms, this pragmatic introduction continues when I and the others taking part gather outside the gallery space. Then we queue quite normally in what appears to be a clinical corridor, a corridor filling with smoke. It reminds me of early Doctor Who sets, I mean something this prosaic can't be dangerous – right?

The invigilator reads the safety checklist, is this to reassure us or to add to the drama, who knows it's time to cross the threshold.

I can't remember what hit me first the choking density of the fog the equally dense hum or the barrage of strobes. They happen at once, the moment is now. Hand on rope this little group edge forward, I do let go of the rope and take two steps away but get nervous, nervous that I would lose myself? Disperse into this fog? So far this experience is bringing back memories of my one and only hallucinogenic experience or rather the first moments as my brain started feeding back on itself, that experience wasn't pleasant I grab hold of the rope for some stability. A sense of safety in this shifting space.

Somewhere in between the flashes and particles of smoke I'm pretty sure that I see the grey of FACT's Gallery 1 space, maybe it's my brain attempt to re-establish a sense of location maybe I'm in conflict between what I know and what I'm experiencing. There are little moments of panic, disorientation I keep bumping into the person in front of me, keep bumping into their afterimage. At some point whatever is in front of me disappears and the exit appears in my face. I press through the door back into the place we started only this time it's full of fog, dense white on white I can't see the real exit another moment of panic but I stumble through and find myself back on this side. Where ever this side is.

There is a sense of relief. Everyone say something about their experience, which is the point of this installation. ZEE can be looked upon as the ultimate personality test all you can take in is all you know, all you believe every cultural reference will come rushing forward in a crazed attempt to explain what's happening to fill the void as it were. Maybe the true site of ZEE is all in your mind.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Schrödinger, Reckless Sleepers - Axis Art Centre Crewe

Schrödinger has a cat in a box; well it's an imaginary cat in an imaginary box. Within in that box the cat exists in a state of being and un-being, that is until you look into the box and fix its fate. Schrödinger's thought experiment is the inspiration for the Reckless Sleepers they even created a box, a theatre within a theatre, in which to undertake their experiments. Within this I wonder about my role I'm I audience or observer, as an observer my presence would have an effect on what is happening whereas audience I don't.

I'm audience. So I watch as the players enter the space and begin to prep the space, doors appear the soildish mass of the box, things are happening at the same time, marks are made. Lines are drawn and broken as the players are constantly walking through, on and falling through the black box. These moments have the appearance of magic tricks and are well used throughout as at points players appear and drag other players through one of the many hatches suggesting that the players are at the mercy of an unknown director. They also make the rest of the audience laugh, and I have to admit there is a joy in seeing people appearing as if from nowhere.

Or maybe they are acting out predetermined paths and roles reflecting some understanding of the world at the quantum level. There is a point in the performance when one of the players gives a little speech saying how everything we are seeing has been planned and played out before; they have been doing this for over ten years. This makes me think about how experiments are repeated altering each time and I wonder how much this has been altered over the years or is it as unchanging as the orbit of electrons?

I know I've referenced physics in this but it isn't simply about physics (if at all). There are moments within the piece which explore the effect we have on each other, there's a sequence which references Magritee's The Lovers where two lovers, head covered approach each other but there tender intentions are disturbed by the forces of others. Another sequence has a number of the players acting out movements set up by coded numbers.

As a pair of the players try to pin each other down to mark their positions, one of the themes becomes apparent that is the inability to measure or to understand the actions of others. As the piece heads towards a sodden climax the players franticly draw, redraw, wash and scrabble around the box eventually stepping back to look at their handiwork. As this is art there is no conculsion, there is no need for one.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Romeo Echo Delta

There's something I've never told you, I'm afraid of Alien Invasion, no really… it may be related to my childhood fear of Jeff Wayne's disco-prog reworking of War of the Worlds. Still besides that I always enjoyed what they call 'genre' stuff and the weird bleed through there seems to occur when peoples imaginations are peeked.

When I see posts advertising a radio piece to be broadcast on Halloween called Romeo Echo Delta, homage to Orson Well's 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds I'm going to be interested. The unique selling point (though 20 miles away I can't see it) is a red light in the sky, to appear at the same time as the broadcast. Tuning in I catch the end of the disclaimer ensuring the fiction, the story unfolds of lights in the sky but mainly of confusion. One of themes of the piece is that despite a world of near immediate communication this doesn't provide us with any supernatural power to actually know or understand what's going on.

Or to protect you from any disastrous event and don't expect the authorities to protect you as they'll be as confused as you.

Of course Red Echo Delta is in the fine tradition of hoax broadcasts, such as Ghostwatch and Alternative 3 ( I mention Alternative 3 because though it's clearly a fake, as it features many well know character actors and references events that didn't happen, there is still a body of conspiracy theorists who see this as an expression of Goebbels dictum of 'hiding the truth in a lie' (just read some of the comments on youtube). What has this have to do with Romeo Echo Delta? Well it seems to me that the initial exploration of the failings of contemporary reporting, also becomes an exploration of how events both real and fictional are disseminated, mixed with our fears and passed on across a platform like the internet. Just think about the 'documentaries' regarding 9/11.

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard may of inadvertently(?) created a new urban myth about the time aliens came to Birkenhead, I mean not everyone who saw the light was aware of the broadcast they won't know it was a piece of Halloween fun, right? .

Time will tell keep watching the internet!

The original broadcast on BBC Radio Merseyside (its about half an hour in)

Alternative 3:

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Up the Wall – Chester

Up the Wall an outdoor live art event has been running for 5 years I've been in the North West for 3 so it's about time I actual attend one of these events. It's off to the Socialist Republic of Chester I go. I find myself in the car park of Chester Castle milling around with the rest of the crowd waiting to go in. I wasn't sure what to expect but the crowd seems to be made up from middle aged people with families, this isn't a criticism, it's just something I don't usually see.

While waiting sashes and info sheets are handed out, handed out to groups and being a group of one I hesitate in taking one fearing that I would miss out on some unknown performance experience later. We are let in I have no idea where to go (I haven't looked at the brochure) so I just wander towards the people dressed in quasi-futuristic clothes where I am invited to go on a journey, ok then. This is a piece called A Journey of a Home, more here

Were back to the start and I'm off to look for a another experience so I wander around and come across three miniature theatre sets built into suitcase, the sets have narration coming from them but every time I try to concentrate someone comes along and sticks there face into the set It kind of breaks of my concentration. There is part of me that is restless expecting something to happen, especially when a Teutonic sounding language comes booming from the dark but nothing seems to be happening. I stumble into the back of a crowd and basically push my way to the front. This is Denis Buckley's piece and the gap between audience and performer seems huge, I've come towards the end and I can't remember much about the piece other then he sets stuff on fire and storms out dragging his metal suitcase behind him the crowd stand where they are.

I turn around and see people gathered under a neon sign looking at some kind off I don't know but there's a candy floss machine and a steward cheerfully trying to encourage people to move on this isn't that kind of piece. I wander around they are some installations on the wall they don't really capture my imagination, they both seem to about the English/Welsh border and having lived on both sides of the border I don't really care. Although I do wonder if I should break out into: Sosban Fach ( Also on the wall is Marcus Orlandi where behind iron gates a character sits hunched on steps trapped by the physical space and the pleading female voice that haunts the castle wall, there's something effecting in this simple quiet piece.

After a little more wandering I begin to wonder if I'm doing this right, I don't seem to be engaging with the work as much as I thought, not as much as the boy who leaps out of the way of the projected people of Andrew Bindley's Crossing which makes the piece more alive somehow makes a better connection between the intersection of real and imagined. Then I join the queue for the Lab Collective's piece where there's a lot of complaining about having to queue, and I see what must be Laura Cooper's Inside the Line, which is why I think we were given the sashes at the start. Watching a small group of people form lines I wonder if there civilians or performers, I mainly wonder how to engage with the piece because there's something there I think I like.

It isn't long after that I leave and I have the feeling I haven't truly engaged with it all, or haven't been given an opportunity to do, sentiments which have appeared on Up the Wall's comment board. I left feeling that I had missed out on something, but I don't know what.



Two Destination Language – A Journey of a Home, Up the Wall

I am being prepped for a journey by Two Destination Language as part of their piece showing at this year's Up the Wall. First my male guide and I go through some warm up lunges (always fun) I am given headphones and a purse around my neck the guide takes my hand and we're off. In tradition of Janet Cardiff sound walks a softy accented voices play in my ears, they speak of childhood memories and airports but I drift away from this and think about holding this strangers hand. This is the most interesting aspect of this piece having to trust a stranger to lead you somewhere, thinking back on it the audio seems to act as of a way of distracting you from this distracting you from why you're holding this man's hand and how much of this journey is predetermined. It's not as immersive as Symphony for a Missing Room ( ) but it does offer something.

I wonder what the group of cadets who marched past thought of it.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Six Colourful Tales from the Emotional Spectrum (Women), Jen Liu and John Balderassi – Ceri Hand Liverpool

It's actually a nice day, which makes the walk to Ceri Hand quite pleasant. Once I'm there and I've been let in and given the appropriate pieces of information I enter the space part of which is given over to the curtained box which means there's a video piece playing within. Instead of pushing aside the curtain and only partly ignoring the female American accent I stand in front of one of Jen Liu's collages. Already the dim process of my mind has picked up on the floating geometric shapes, primary colours and washy figures, so I take a closer look and see watercolour impressions of glamour girls leaning against blocks of colour along with orbs of colour full of sinister shadows. I don't feel I have anything more to add to my initial impressions.

Is this my failing? In retrospect I have trouble in reading them, whether to see them as part of a classical tradition of collage, throwing disparate pieces together to create new meanings, or as a conceptual appropriation of those techniques. Maybe it's wrong of me to think about them in that way, I could be taking this all too seriously equally they could be a sense of humour here as the piece Blue Balls suggests ( I can't bring all this together and I wonder if all that time at art school was worth it. Along with the smaller piece there are larger watercolour pieces in which draw on the lurid and titillating paperback covers and the over excited movie posters of the 70's and 80's. Like those posters the larger watercolours have seem to taken elements of a narrative and inflamed with titles like 'Caught in the Act' and 'Green Horn – Guerrilla Warfare School' of course they make promises they don't have to deliver.

Then I push aside the curtain and enter the film box to be greeted by an uncomfortably framed head on a TV screen backed by a lurid red background, this is the source of the female voice that has been accompanying my time here. This Balderassi's Six Colourful Tales from the Emotional Landscape. The disembodied head is providing a narrative for a kaleidoscope of images of stuffed birds and reflections in polished marble, which leads to images of a woman being stalked through grand corridors. Having read about the exhibition info before coming I know there are references to the Italian horror film movement of Giallo and I do wonder if these are scenes from Dario Argento's Suspiria ( there's no bikini clad woman cavorting in front of a woolly mammoth in Suspiria!

Anyway while watching these vignettes I can see, or at least I assume that these are the images that have sprung into her imagination while listening to the confessional tales from the emotional spectrum. This throws up more interesting images then the drawings, for example Jen Liu being led by lace rope through empty night-time city streets. Watching the film I begin to understand not only the source of the Liu's film but of the drawings as well, the exhibition can be considered to a work in itself rather than a collection of smaller pieces, not seeing the film first meant that I didn't make that connection, that all the pieces on show where part of a singular process.

Which raises the issue that would the individual pieces have an independent live away from the process they were created through. I don't think any art can.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Level 5, Brody Condon - The Bluecoat Liverpool

Ok how this all begin?
I saw callouts for people to become involved in this performance called Level 5 and immediately my curiosity was peeked, seeing some of issues I had previously attempted to explore in my own work only better thought out.
Time passes and on several occasions I visit the registry page on the website and chicken out of signing up. I attend an informal (yet informative talk) in a little room, as the small group of people leave there is talk of cults.. For me I know that this isn't about cults but what is it about I haven't explained what's going on here.

Level 5 ( is a participatory performance using the large group self-awareness seminars of the 1970's ( as a framework to critically access the motivations of people like Werner Erhard and the people willing to give themselves over to something else, to leave their pervious identities and break free of the generations which preceded them, the generations that created two world wars. I can see in this as an exploration of the underlying themes which have defined the post-war world, especially the cultural shift that began in the late sixties. The change from We to Me to I, where say the New Age movement began to attempt to collectively change and better the world (We) this became individualized and it was the betterment of the self which would lead to a 'fairer' world (Me) which then became the individual's right to better themselves and only themselves (I).

I won't say if this assessment is correct, I can't remember where I got the We to Me to I phrase from but whoever you are please credit yourself!

After a month after a lot of anxiety about getting involved I sign up, perhaps I've decided to look it in the eyes and say 'I trust you'.

The way we will be exploring this will be through LARPing ( we will be creating a character in which to experience Level 5 through. This element may of effected my indecision as part of me wants to experience Level 5 as myself. Anyway once I have signed up Kit Danes is born. This prompts I a flurry of activity where I build a world around this name, he's a writer ( I try to draw on references which I feel reflect the vague image of the Kit Danes in my head, I even create a playlist of music I think he'd like. (

So it comes to close to the event and I and the other participants gather to hear more about Brody and the LARPing guys, it's during the break between lecture and workshop I confess to our coordinator that I am Excited Shitless. The workshop held by Bjakre and Tobias two big Swedish bears of men, who guide us through this good natured workshop. Where we excitedly talk about our characters what we will where and what we expect from tomorrow.

There's a sleepless night, I go through what I should do tomorrow, how Kit will act, and I wonder if Kit is sleeping soundly or worrying about the morning.

Dressed in my 'costume 'which are basically my street clothes I enter The Bluecoat I am Kit now aren't I? That's what I write on my name tag as far as anyone is concerned that's who I am.

Rules are read out, and rules are broken it begins where introduced to our seminar leaders Steve and Nikki (or Nikki Is) all easy going charm with a faint sinister air, as you might expect. It's actually hard for me to pick out individual moments and when they take place, but we start with a lecture. After the lecture we start the process I think I can't quite remember maybe Kit knows better. During the first break I am having an argument with 'Aaron' about why we are here and I realise Kit wants to be here, and he's a little bit of a suck up. Returning back to the room we begin the processes during these processes I realise I am not completely making things up I am just relying on my life experience to give a convincing performance? Or I am just lazy? Of course I have no way of determining the 'truth' of what's being said to me.

Some of what happens during the morning has kind of blurred a bit, I clearly remember that during the breaks I am more 'chatty' then I would be as I would as Chris, I remember speaking to 'Julie Ann' about how as an author I could see the processes where going through as part of a larger machine. There's a longer break where people have already dropped out of being a 'character' mainly to express their disaffection with events so far, which leads to this 'character' to leave after returning to the room.

I still can only really describe events that happen during my time here, and maybe my thoughts which currently is running along the lines of I need to be more Kit Danes… which may of led to one event. We are asked to pair off and to answer the question 'What do you want?' I go through this and suddenly find myself adopting an 'arrogant' air just word associating at one point 'Henry' is looming over me. Once the process is over and 'Henry' is walking passed I/Kit decide to say one last thing Kit's arrogance maybe? Whatever the reason I realise I've singled myself out (Kit's ego?) I'm asked to explain why I spoke out of turn, because I was caught in the moment. I say that because isn't that what we been encouraged to do. I'm stood up and worried that I'm about to get a verbal and personal assault from 'Henry' and when it turns out he and 'Bob' just going to press me up against the wall until I tell the truth, I'm kind of relived. During this I reasonable and compliant I don't know if this is Kit's willingness to give himself to the process or myself understanding this is part of performance as an whole.

Whatever the reason, there's screaming from me and the truth from Kit Danes.

After this there is a group process, adrenalin is making my legs shake I think about going to the 'safe space' marked out at the back of the room. I don't a sense of confidence gained from going through the pushing makes me step straight into the circle in order to defend myself, which I do quite well, Kit is feeling quite emboldened by his experience. There is a feeling that Kit should be more honest from now on.

I think there's lunch and I don't know if I want to be with the group or by myself.

Then there's after lunch where things get intense, for Kit at least and me if I'm honest. I am going to boil the rest of the evening? To a few events the first being a process in which we are lined up and asked to elect who we find attractive or unattractive. Kit doesn't come out well. He turns out to be the most unattractive man in the room I don't think either me or Kit like this very much! Chris's politeness is overruled by the freedom of being in this context and Kit is quite happy in vocalizing his anger and discomfort. The results of this process feeds directly into a decision I make in how Kit should react to the next process. That process involves being place into a circle while the other members of the group tell your character, one by one, what they really think of you then they will push you to the ground and you fight to get up. It's one of the more difficult processes to go through epically after what happened during the previous process.

If I am honest I take some of the things to heart, maybe it's the immediacy of the whole thing, but one of members call me/Kit 'creepy' it sticks for the rest of the night. The reaction I decided that Kit should undertake is to once he has freed himself he should turn to the group and shout 'DON'T YOU FUCKING CLAP' for Kit this is a defensive action he's trying to claim back some of the things the feels he has lost. Or a reaction to how he is actually perceived. During this process 'Henry' pushes 'Maria' across the room, we may of expected this but it's the genuine reaction of 'Nikki' which make this moment 'terrifying' whether this is part of the performance or everything is about to come crumbling down. The event resolves itself ('Maria turns out to be a LARPer herself and this has been arranged) still it's scary to see how conditioned we've become no one questions 'Henry' and we carry on with our own individual journeys.

During the break following in this I remove myself from the group, in part this is to allow myself to calm down a little, and maybe for Kit to come to terms with his new status as a very angry person. I also eat the majority of the chocolate rice-crispy things on the snack plate, well a part of me, maybe Chris offers the final piece to 'Zoe'. I guess at this point because of the physicality of anger I still feel wound up. The final part is much quieter, as we are given the chance to be an asshole in front of group by getting up and doing something stupid which I do, actually during someone else's bit, on reflection this seems to provide a bit of relief for us all. 'Steve' begins to deliver his final at times baffling lecture where the conclusion is that we haven't learnt a thing, and he's right we weren't here to learn we were here to experience.

That why I was there to experience, to understand why and what happens when people go through this process, and I feel that it confirmed that these seminar directly appeal to the tribal part of our brains, our wanting to be part of a greater whole and how these desires and conflicted by the drive to succeed as an individual being. Both of these conflicting drives seem to be created by and supported by the ideals of the EST seminars creating a feedback loop where nothing is attained nothing is learnt all you can do is go through the process.


Monday, 12 September 2011


There's not a lot we know about each other but I am supposedly an artist, and I guess that involves making and showing work….. right. Well I'm currently in an group exhibition, an exhibition which I've haven't heard much about until one quiet Sunday night and full use of the Google machine I came across this review of the show…..

I'll be honest I've had very little to do with the curation of the show, due mainly to geographic and financial reasons but like many artists in that situation you have to put trust in your fellow artists or curation team to do a bang up job. After reading this review it seems this hasn't happened which is a disappointment because it gives the impression that the artists involved are lazy or just don't plain care about the viewers… which we, well at least I do…..

Anyway I can hope this is a lesson learnt for everyone involved….

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Constellations – The Cornerhouse, Manchester

I arrive in the landscape of Takahiro Iwasaki where on an antique side table a tree and pagoda raise from a pair of balled of socks. This serves as a kind of introduction to his world where the everyday landscape of pylons and poles are delicately recreated using everyday materials of socks and towels. In this reconfiguration of what makes up the world he is asking us to revaluate the nature of the world. By creating landscapes from the threads from socks, pencil leads and even dust, objects which have a high level of in built obsolescence Iwasaki is pointing out the world we exist in isn't as permanent as we think, or hope. Everything from buildings, trees and mountains only appear to be permanent to our mortal eyes, it's also a confirmation of how this way of seeing the world somehow ensures that we can see the beauty in the 'mundane'.

As I stomp around like a curious Godzilla occasionally squatting (maybe an attempt to gain access to the landscapes) I find myself oddly comforted to be surrounded by this other little world, perhaps part of our fascination with any miniature world is a direct connection with childhood hours spent on the floor recreating the world through play.

In the middle of this is Kitty Kraus's Untitled I've missed the process of the melting ice (or ink) cube which created the blob spread across the floor. Seeing it in this state, alongside Iwasaki's pieces I can't help but see it as a landmass, the homeland of Iwasaki's telegraph poles lit by a permanent sunrise of a light bulb.

Throughout my travels in Iwasaki's landscape has been sound tracked by a familiar tune falling through the ceiling. It radiates from Katie Paterson's Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) one of the pieces I wanted to experience. First I have to step over 100 Billion Suns, thousands of pieces of confetti each representing a gamma ray burst ( forming a pretty mess on the gallery floor. These are the evidence of an event that takes place every day (a confetti cannon is fired daily) on a cosmological and human level both are events which I have never witnessed but I believe that they have happened are happening. The little dots could equally be records of people falling in love, another event I have to take on faith. In any case it's a playful way of connecting you with the mind bogglingly terrifying activity of the universe.

Of course through all this a player piano has been playing its haunting melody mainly to me, as there's no one else around. In some kind of poetic experiment Paterson has reflected Moonlight Sonata off the surface of the Moon. The sonata is transformed by its half a million mile round trip and has been affected by the nature of the surface of the Moon itself, it's hard not to make a parallel between its journey and the experience of the Apollo astronauts both have been affected by our closest neighbour in ways we don't quite understand. Instead of wandering around the gallery space I decide to sit and listen, the music begins to disintegrate, mutate the original's melancholia reinforced by the increasing gaps and the background hiss of static (itself an echo of the Big Bang)

As I sit there listening to the final hesitant notes fade into the static it fills the gallery space and this space never felt so huge, I am almost aware of the size of the universe, aware of a sense of entropy, that can never make it to the end of the universe instead my energy will be absorbed back into. It's an almost heart-breaking, romantic moment in a sense Paterson's work seems to allow me to reinvest our technologic advances with a sense of romance. My deep space daydream is broken by the appearance of a bloke who looks around unimpressed then leaves.

Soon after that I leave, people arrive the world keeps spinning.

Monday, 18 July 2011

11 Rooms – Manchester International Festival, Manchester Art Gallery

I've written this in the order I saw the works, maybe I should've edited it or just written about one or two pieces but my OCD took over....

It may be remiss of me but this is the only part of the Manchester International Festival I've seen, better than nothing right? Anyway I walk out of the wet day and up and into the top floor of the Manchester Art Gallery where I am given a map which a briefly glance at before folding it and tucking it under my dripping and broken umbrella and began thinking about how I am going to guide myself through the crowd. I haven't seen this many people here since that Da Vinci thing a couple of years ago.

At some point I had made a decision not to read too much about the works, I am not really referring to the map I have. So not having a preference or a need to see a particular piece I begin to drift towards one of the rooms which doesn't have a queue of people stuck to it. There are a few people in this room but the main focus is the figure facing into the corner, an older man I guess by his grey hair dressed plainly and holding a walking stick. That's all I can gather, facing away from me, from the audience keeping his secrets to himself and therefore making me ask why I am looking at this man. Who has the power in this relationship the one who keeps the secrets or one who piles on the associations on the quiet figure? It's only after leaving the room that I discover its Santiago Sierra's Veterans of the wars of Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq facing the corner.

Still without no clear idea of where I should direct myself I end up in John Baldessari's room Unrealised Proposal for Cadavre Piece which is one piece I have some knowledge of. The room is covered in e-mails regarding Baldessari's attempts to recreate Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ using a real corpse. People read the neatly pinned e-mails (I skim and read the post-it chapter headings) I wonder why? What are they getting from it, that the practicalities of making art is far removed from the perceived anything goes perception? That the piece is somehow completed within engagement with the conceptual and ethical issues surrounding the piece or are they waiting until some of the queues go down?

Who knows, in the words of Jay-Z 'On to the next one'

Still sticking to my meandering method, I catch the eye of a steward who invites me into a room. Where I'm greeted by a baroque silhouette. From which emits a voice, a voice which belongs to man in a grand bed. I am trying to position myself so I can listen to his monologue which is harder then it sound as the surrounding walls of covered with the rest of the audience. So I sit by the side of the bed so it appears that the pillow is giving the monologue. Where ever the monologue is coming from it details the difficulties of representation and the confusion between personal, public and historic narratives. It should feel egotistical but it doesn't perhaps I identify with the need to create my own monologue or maybe I spent too many hours in my own bed thinking about myself (ahem) so maybe its concerns are more universal then it first seems. Soon the book is closed and the audience leaves.

Part Two -

11 Rooms – Part Two

After leaving Simon Fujiwara's Playing the Martyr I final decide to join a queue, one of the shorter ones and I quickly find myself facing a chorus line or rather the chorus line is heading towards me. This is Allora and Calzadilla's Revolving Door. The audience and I are being kettled by this high kicking goon squad. They seem to acting some passive aggressive programme unknown outside of the line, which creates the situation where the reaction of the audience determines the intent of the wall.

After escaping the wall I head back towards where I started and end up walking into a room where a man sits at a small table. This is Roman Ondak's Swap.He is cheerful chatting to the people who are already there. The man at the table is asking the audience to exchange items, any item. On the moment of my entrance there is a business card on the table and air of joviality. The card is swapped for a travel brochure. This is swapped for my own broken and sodden umbrella. There is a strange moment were the woman to my right offers to swap me for my own umbrella but luckily things that breathe aren't up for swapping. My umbrella is swapped for a pen and I begin to wonder about these valueless objects and whether through their involvement in the swapping process raises their value. I mean I spent the rest of my time there clutching my travel brochure even taking it home.

So me and my brochure join the queue which after consulting my map turns out to be Tino Sehgal's Ann Lee. As we are ushered into the room we are greeted by a young girl who stands alone in the middle of the room as we take up position around her. I take a really awkward position behind her, which also gives me a view of my fellow audience members. The girl enters into a measured monologue explaining that she is an avatar, created by the context and conditions of the cultural space we are in. The child/avatar seems to be aware of this and questions the nature of the museums and her own nature, now I know that this is an actor recounting lines but maybe the context has allowed me to accept the idea of this child as a conceptual manifestation. Or it may just be my Sci-Fi nerdyness which is comfortable with the Ann Lee character. One thing which was noticeable was the audiences interaction with Ann Lee, there is a point where she directly asked a question to a member of the audience, who doesn't answer it's an odd moment and I don't know whether that is the audience members unwillingness to break the characters monologue, a unawareness to they were part of the performance or some unease about interacting with a young girl I am unsure. The girl/avatar announces that its time to leave she opens the door and disappears into the crowd.

Part Three -


11 Rooms – Part Three

Ok final stretch now, turning a corner into Marina Abramovic's Luminosity the first thing to strike me is the sensation that I am not looking at something three dimensional but rather at some kind of projection. An illuminated image which becomes more human as I spend more time within the presence of the performer perched naked on a bicycle seat attached to the wall. You might expect to get a sense of the performer's vulnerability but in this case the performer seems to be protected somewhat by the white line across the floor. Once I am outside of the performance space and queuing for Xu Zhen (I'm referencing the map now) I witness a changeover of the performers for Luminosity. Seeing this add a workman like element suggesting that artist, spiritual and emotional transformation can be achieved through simple pragmatic hard work.

Then onto Xu Zhen's In the Blink of the Eye where I'm confronted by a performer trapped in an impossible pose bent and suspended as if about to hit the floor. Unable to achieve the expected relief of hitting the floor.

Next is Lucy Raven's What Manchester Does Today the Rest of the World Does Tomorrow, which features a player piano playing a version of what I discover is LCD Soundsystem's Dance Yrself Clean ( ) my nerdy brain fixes on the idea that this is a reference to Manchester's musical influence. While in the room watching the piano play itself and having no performance to focus on I find myself, not for the first time, watching my fellow audience members and I begin to note the different way people behave. Some look like they are giving the whole thing a lot of thought, some like bored, one plays a little air piano. In having this piece of automatic music would seem to allow this piece to explore that relationship between art and audience.

Time another queue, this time for Mirror Check by Joan Jonas. It's a classic piece of body art, where complex ideas are explored through apparently simple methods. In this case the female performer stands in the middle of the room looking into a mirror held in her hands. Were too far away to see what's in the mirror but that shouldn't matter we as the audience can already see what the performer can't. So why pay attention to the mirror? As only the performer looks directly into the mirror do we, somehow expect to catch of glimpse of something of the performers inner world, her thoughts about physical self and how it relates to our gaze and where our notions of the self-come from. Or I might be reading too much into it and perhaps should enjoy the delicate contortions which the performer undergoes to move the mirror around her body. In a performance which has been performed, is being performed by many of us privately.

After the final queue I am crouching down on the floor looking at a man trapped in Laura Lima's MEN=flesh/WOMEN=flesh – FLAT , while watching this performer I notice he slowly moves his fingers as I've been doing since getting on the floor. Is this man my mirror? Who is performing for whom here? There is something which has been going through my mind as I've been working in-between the rooms and it's been my role as audience, everybody's role as audience our we in turn acting out a performance of sorts. Our movements governed by the conditions of the space our individual reactions to the work creating hundreds of quiet performances in each other. I don't know whether this is the case of not but I guess my final performance would be walking pass the people still waiting, willing to take part.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Semiconductor – Worlds in the Making, FACT Liverpool

I cannot ignore that how I feel effects the way I might read and experience whatever artwork I'm looking at. Why I'm bringing this up? Well after baking in a hot bus for an hour I not enjoying the closeness of the outside world either, it was windy and raining not long ago what is nature's problem? I'm feeling hot and nauseous as I enter the cavern of FACT's gallery one wherein the slight nausea is joined by slight disorientation as the triptych of screens explodes with fizzing and growing crystalline shapes.

Somewhere in the crackle there is voice I don't quite get what he is saying, but he sounds like one the deadly serious narrators from those documents which filled many of my summer mornings (well if you're 30 plus you might get that reference). I find a space on the bench and try to settle down. There's a little breather and quiet clouds gently slip across the screens, but there's a distant humming it's the sound of impending threat. (It's also the soundtrack created by Oren Ambarchi ). As the humming increases, or seems to increase, as a plume of inky smoke spreads through the sky like the artery spurt of some ancient and alien creature hidden below the Earth's thin crust. The soundtrack booms in my head, I want to escape this sinister place.

I don't but things calm down, maybe I calm down and we are presented with apparently alien vistas, which seem to be in the process of being colonised strange concrete structures keep a vigil and the changing landscape. The structures are home to volcanologist (I assume that's what they are) it appears to be their job to observe and detail these alien environments. They collect, separate the different elements of ash, rocks and dust and it is all mundanely catalogued into little plastic bags. One of the volcanologists appears to make a burnt offering as if to ask permission to stay safely within presence of the volcano and record its cryptic rumblings.

Does this cataloguing and recording express some kind need not only understand the world but also a need to overcome our fear of the power of nature by reducing, or converting it through the pragmatic collection of data or the creation of linear diagrams which can be transposed onto the world. It would be easy to see ourselves as tiny fragile creatures living in fear of the crashing, exploding, insanity of geologic time but would it be better it see ourselves as creatures who can transgress their fears in the of pursuit knowledge.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Ron Athey – Gifts of the Spirit: Automatic Writing, Manchester

I am waiting in what appears to be a gothic lounge in a building of the University of Manchester and the air is already thick with humid art-speak. The room is also thick of people sporting tattoos, piercings and occultist Heavy Metal T-Shirts, a display of some half remembered connection with the spiritual and religious meaning these marks once communicated, and it could be a show of affinity with the tattooed and pierced Athey himself.

Before I can really think about it I notice that people are drifting away, so for reasons unknown I get up and follow them. Luckily the reason for the movement was prompted by the start of the performance. There's a curious tension in the scholastic surroundings of the Whitworth Hall, as I join the other members of the audience wondering around the imagined Victorian Gothic romance of the hall. Perhaps they trying to decide what they should focus on, the people on the giant white cross splayed across the floor, the table of mediums(?) on the stage or the empty looking people waiting at typewriter set against the walls of the hall. It's a big difference from the more formal and traditional way I saw his performance of The Judas Cradle way back in 2005.

Or maybe the tension is in me, as my own work has dealt with similar themes I have this feeling that I can see the strings as it where, it leads me to question what are we engaging with here? A genuine attempt to contact something unknown and beyond our understanding? Or just a collection of the symbols and actions which we associate with such notions of supernatural investigation? Are we meant to see it within the context of art history, the attempts of the Surrealists to connect without the aid of spirits with their mediumistic selves.

I guess these thoughts are rattling somewhere around my head as I watch the 'writers' scrawl across the giant cross I am not interested in what they are writing, the writing seems it become part of the drone of the church organ and Athey's voice. I begin to wonder how much is contrived and how much is spontaneous, how much is predetermined by Athey's hand. I also have think about how much of my own actions have been predetermined, well perhaps not predetermined but it appears that a certain set of conditions have been laid down. Of course the two major conditions would have to be supernatural aspect and the conventions of performance itself.

By allowing the audience to meander away the space, focusing on no fixed point could be considered an element of the performance itself. As the performance proceeds I note a change in the audience who change from standing at a distance to getting closer to the performers, some peer over the shoulders of the 'writers' as if they are ghosts and cannot be seen by the performers. Once a audience member enters a space within the hall others follow. In our actions as audience I begin to see a relation between us and the 'writers' each follow unseen paths, increasingly become more involved in what is happening around them. I wonder, admittedly retroactively, if we have become to a degree Automatic Viewers allowing or giving ourselves to the context and conditions to the piece.

When a Thank You, breaks through the storm of organ drone, yelping voices and keys clicking the spell appears to be broken and the audience reconfigures returns to its pre-performance set and begins to examine the detritus left behind as if to decode what just happened. I leave the space and step outside, its cooler and wetter; something has changed at least that's what I want to believe.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Breakfast Sculpture – Mel Birmfield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The history of performance/live/body art (whatever you want to call it) has been a problematic one, dealing as it does with works which are ephemeral. Once the event is over it begins a separate life experienced through documentation moving into the more traditional modes of the gallery. This also provides live art with one of its strengths, to create a sense of mythology a world of coyote loving, glass crawling, and stalkers all experienced second hand with only the word of the artist and gallery that this did happen.

It is this complex relationship that Mel Birmfield exploits, creating a series of artists and performances which meld the history of art and popular culture through a series of staged photographs and imagined TV documentaries in order to create a parallel performance universe. As with many parallel universes it throws up some incredible possibilities, for example, a series of performances which sees the creation geometric shapes by throwing balls in the air, it's something that leaves you wishing that it was real. Perhaps that reflects the need in us the viewer (or just me) for art to transcend itself and to open up unknown possibilities.

Another element of Brimfield's practice is her inclusion of popular culture, within her parallel universe Eric & Ernie are equals with Gilbert & George, this use of pop culture is evident in the Breakfast Sculpture performance. Given as it starts with an introduction from Sir Francis Splading, the fictitious host of This is Performance Art TV series, he is a signifier of what is expected from such a position, eccentrically dressed and posh, he gives a knowing introduction to the proceedings which also pokes fun at the art system. This leads into a piano recital where the pianist plays badly, in the style of Les Dawson ( ) I can't help but think of this as a manifesto for the whole performance. For to deliberately play a piece of music badly you really have to understand it, this can be applied to the whole performance, in order to produce a successful spoof of performance art you should have a solid understanding of your subject.

And the New Art Club do as they take to the stage (or rather the suitably shabby '60s gym where all sat in) and go through a series of dance moves which shows us that they can dance but also shows up the clichés of contemporary dance. They kick, jump and do that rapid hand movement, you know what I mean it kind of looks like the doggy paddle; there is also a sequence about the enforced improvisation brought on by the mistakes of another performer.

Eventually they move into the finale the famous 'Breakfast Sculpture'. Using Morecombe and Wise's 'Breakfast Sketch ( ) as a basis, it's interesting to see something which has been a part of my life in a different context. Seeing in this way makes me think about what motivates us to create, being someone who has happily been 'informed' by TV shows, the reference to Eric & Ernie makes perfect sense as these 'performances' we see on television during our childhood influence us as much, or even more then, anything we discover during our drunkenly pretentious years at Uni. Depending on your age your initial inspiration to take up the brush could have been one of the following: Tony Hart, Rolf Harris or Neil Buchanan

Mel Birmfield in a way has acknowledged the place that people like Morecombe and Wise could hold within the history of performance art, it sounds like a bold statement but also remember that Gilbert and George where also partly inspired by the music hall duo Flanagan and Allen so there's precedent.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

‘poolside emergency 2011, The Bluecoat

2011 sees the second collaboration (or should that be collision?) between The Bluecoat and Manchester's greenroom arts. Whatever you want to call it, there's no doubt that it offers an intriguing programme of live art and all the forms, positions and places it can take.

I am not going to attempt to write a comprehensive overview of the whole day. I am going to write about two pieces which reflect the possibilities that a platform like 'poolside offers to the viewer and artists alike.

The first piece is Victoria Firth's The Butter Piece, put simply this sees the artist pushing a knob of butter with her vagina while the artist menstruates. The piece has been underway of a while when I enter the space to see Victoria naked at one end of a gantry, everything is bathed in a golden light and the room is filled the sound of a droning chant. I also imagine that this is what it might have felt like seeing one of the 'body art' pieces from the '70s.

It's difficult to describe the position Victoria is in, it's an awkward position I guess it's the best for pushing butter. She crawls along the gingerly down the gantry and it feels 'painful' I don't know if that's a response to the vulnerable position she's put herself in or what. When she stops and there's a sharp intake of breath it's a shocking moment, strangely I don't know whether it's a moan of pleasure or pain and what the difference between the two is, I can't tell by her face as it's turned away from us focused on some spot way above our heads.

Maybe it's the combination of her actions and the monk like soundtrack makes this feel like an act of penitence or self-flatulation but what for? Her physicality? The fact that on a regular basis her body has to go through a process which involves bleeding? No, it isn't her shame it's our shame, our shame in our embarrassment of our own spurting, farting, bleeding bodies and our failure in coming to terms with the nature of our flesh.

The second piece is Pas de Deux by the Lab Collective. The stage for Pas de Deux is the lift in The Bluecoat's gallery, so after seeing The Butter Piece I head towards my pencilled in appointment where I discover that this Pas de Deux has become a Ménage à trois, by that I mean there is a second audience member taking part. The lift is called; the door opens to reveal a dancer who cheerfully welcomes us into the lift. He introduces himself and admits to being a Take That fan which leads into a story about a lost opportunity to meet Jason Orange. This may sound slight but when he asks us the audience, about our own regrets we offer them freely, this surprises me; I don't if I just have been swept up in the piece's good natured charm.

I think it's more than that, it's a simple and effective way of creating an experience which had me questioning why I had let those opportunities go, and perhaps I should act on the suggestion handed to me at the end of the performance, which was to: 'Buy a stranger a cup of tea'.

Both performances show how platforms like 'poolside work, by using live art's unique mutability it provides the audience the opportunity to engage in an experience slightly removed from the norm.

‘poolside emergency 2011

This year I was invited to write about some of the artists involved in The Bluecoat's 'poolside emergency, here is the link to said writing and so so much more…..

Monday, 16 May 2011

Me and the Machine – On Ways to Disappear Without Leaving a Trace, FutureEverything, Manchester

On the sixth floor of a blank looking office complex there is something going on, hidden in the a empty office space there is a story, for the last four days Me and the Machine have been coxing this narrative out of the space and make it part of the piece 'On Ways to Disappear Without a Trace'.

The piece is a site specific, performance installation to be undertaken by one person at a time by themselves. People arrive to be placed in front of a set a double doors and be given a set of headphones which will provide the narrative which they will wilfully follow. This is where it starts for me, as I was 'working the door' again, I manage to sneak in. So I don't get to know if their sense of expectation feeds into the work I would like to think it did.

Walking into the space the exotic voice which appears in your ear (should that be in your head?) begins to guide you through a noirish tale, her story becomes your story, her footsteps becomes yours. As this narrative of red shoes and mysterious rooftop strangers unfolds you become more involved, in a sense you become like a child developing its own little play world.

This is a playful piece; it requires the imagination of the participant to make it fully work. It's this action of engaging the imagination that seems to make the title a bit of a misnomer, it feels that rather than disappearing you become more solid, you become the main focus, and you become the star of this narrative. Even though there's a part of you which is aware that other people have been here before and the narrative would still play out the same way without you, that is all over ridded and you feel that you are pushing the narrative along as much as it pulls you. This might be where you truly disappear into your own mental state, away into whatever world you choose in order to 'deal' with the real world.

You could question why a piece like this would feature in a festival which celebrates digital technologies, the first reason which springs to mind is the changes within playback devices, a few years ago a piece like this would require you to carry a CD player probably in a cumbersome backpack. Other than that the other reason I could think of is that this piece, and the current crop of pieces like it, also seems to raise questions regarding how we interact the world, whether the technologies we develop are enhancing our experience of the world or do they take away the need to experience the world physically?

It's a question I can't answer, but with pieces like this I am willing to be part of the research.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Warpaint – FutureEverything/The Ritz Manchester

The overall feeling of the night, is that finally plucked up the courage to tell 'that one girl' how I feel, only to notice she spent the whole time looking at someone else.

Or they were great and not even the drunk screaming 'I LOVE YOU JENNY!!!' right in my eye throughout couldn't spoil it!!!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Bryony Kimmings Sex Idiot, The Bluecoat

I'll be honest I don't understand sex, it's never really been part of my life, it has always seemed to exist in some kind of parallel universe. Like skydiving or visiting China something other people did. Maybe it exists in this way for most people an expected shared experience that is kept private, like going the toilet or masturbating.

Last night I was privy to have brief access to this strange and baffling parallel universe through Bryony Kimmings's Sex Idiot a grand burlesque, inspired by her contraction of a STI and in a disarmingly honest and sincere way details her sexual history, with some of the most glorious hats I've ever seen.

I have to honest (again) I missed the first half (I was working the door) but I walk in to see Bryony half dressed in a speculator Matador uniform staggering around the stage surrounded by faux romantic trappings, flowers, paper hearts and the like. She speaks of the dangers of lusting after the 'other' which goes in a mini performance where she puts lipstick on each of her hands and then proceeds to 'kiss' herself. After the kissing is over she quietly wipes the lipstick off and is left alone, she manages to convey the sense of loss and regret in pursuing the things you think you want and losing the things you had.

There are a number of these 'quiet' moments in one section of the performance she invites the audience to donate their pubic hair and they oblige, scissors are handed out along with Jack Daniels to 'provide' an excuse. After the snipping is done and the tools are handed back Kimmings informs the audience that the scissors have never been cleaned nor have the bottles, they have had unprotected contact with multiple partners and now you have exposed yourself to God knows what. It's a canny way of highlighting that given the right circumstances people would do the stupidest things, without thinking of the dangers. I believe that this echoes a common sexual misadventure one which I've missed out on.

It's within these moments, and throughout the show, Kimmings exposes not only her own vulnerability but everybody's vulnerability there's a scene towards where it's revealed that the source of Bryony's STI was her then boyfriend whom she genuinely cared for. It's a shocking and heartbreaking moment. This is such a loaded moment the whole reason for her to confront her past, came from some form of misplaced guilt. There's still a contradiction out there where women are expected to be having sex but are limited by some undisclosed number of people they can sleep with and if they are unfortunate to catch an STI, (or suspected to have one) the supposed onus often seem to be placed on the woman.

I can only speak from secondary sources (mainly drunken late night chats with actual real life females!) but clear that there concerns and experiences have been reflected in Kimmings performance. She also playfully mocks the way these experiences, and feminist theories, are earnestly expressed throughout performance, and all, art. As ridiculous as some of the acts performed by Kimmings are I've seen performances which pronouce their feminist credentials which come of much more ridiculious and less serious for it.

Have I learnt anything about the mysterious world of sex? Well it's a confusing mess which can in part define you and at the heart of it all there's a human attempting to control and understand at all.

For now my time in this parallel universe is over.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Fierce Festival: Covet Me Care for Me – Shelia Ghelani

Weirdly this that last week I was returning from Birmingham, so this might be a good time for a recollection of the last thing I saw as part of my brief interacting with the Fierce Festival. That being Shelia Ghelani's performance Covet Me Care for Me.

I'll be honest I don't really know what to expect as I head towards the space where the performance is being held. As I do enter the space pass the free drink and another cheery hello I attempt to take in what's going on. Which at first appears to be a group of people milling in front of a large red curtain while a delightfully soppy 50's pop song fills the air (the song is Frankie Avalon's Why? ). There is something Lynchian about the scene albeit without the sense of violence, even when I try to recall the events of the day Bobby Vinton's Blue Velvet comes crashing into my head.

I drifting here, but the Blue Velvet connection has already bought to my mind associations with love and violence, the risk you take in allowing yourself to become an object for someone else putting yourself in harm's way (well that's what I am told). My thoughts seem to be reflected at the centre of Ghelani's performance where she invites members of the audience to select a glass heart containing a nurse's watch and ribbons. They look like the tin man's attempts to make a heart. The participant is adorned with safety gear, given a hammer and asked to break the heart, once this has been done the watch and ribbons are given to the participant who disappears behind the curtain, while the shattered remains are gathered and placed in the space left by the heart.

I want to take part in this and after some confused politeness, I get my chance. I select a misshapen heart I've had my eye on, Shelia asks why I chose this one it's because it was misshapen I say which leads her to ask 'So you want to put it out of its misery?' no I feel an affinity with it an answer which Shelia likes. I place my heart on a mound in front of the curtain a note of the hearts number is taken and I sign a receipt, formalising the savage act I am about to undertake on the delicate heart. I am dressed in the safety gear and given the hammer, I kneel in front the curtain in front of the heart and with one hit it satisfactory smashes. I have to ask myself am I taking small satisfaction in symbolically breaking a heart and not having my heart broken. Once the act is done Shelia begins to disrobe me of the safety gear, just before removing the gauntlets she pauses and says: 'This is my favourite part, as I get you look in your eyes.' It's a startling moment akin to when that girl/boy you like smiles at you, a quiet personal moment for you to treasure.

Perhaps this is the underlining point of the performance, it's about the way we transfer these temporary fleeting emotions into something tangible. If we look we all have those objects connecting us back to those moments whether they be scrawled messages on a tatty bear mat or that e-mail you haven't deleted, in an attempt to preserve that spark of possibility of love. So with my memento I am sent behind the curtain where I hand over the items to a lady who will wrap the 'mongrel objects' in some fancy trappings. This is undertaken in coyish silence perhaps she is complicit in what has just occurred, they understand how and why I have come to possess this object, who knows she ain't telling.

I have my charming object, which I will care for and I think I will take up the invitation to meet up a some future point.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Fierce Festival – Prayer, James Webb

I don't know if anyone else has had this experience when engaged in a dialogue with an artwork, you can clearly see what the artist is attempting to say, you understand how you as the precipitant are meant to interact and what response the work is meant to generate within you and yet you suspect that this is an intellectual response, that's good isn't it? At least it shows that your where paying some attention during your Contextual Studies lectures, right?

This is the experience I had while 'immersed' in James Webb's installation piece Prayer, which is the first part of the Fierce Festival I've seen. As I walk pass the cheery Hello of the invigilators I enter the larger church like space of The Old Library to be greeted by what looks like a slightly tatty looking carpet with speakers poking out of it. The installation is already being experienced by a group of students who lay in-between the speakers, attentively listening to the mix of religious sounds raising from the floor, how do I their attentively listening? They have their eyes closed, which often seems the way people experience sound art.

Anyway I join them at the back of the space, and think about the interplay of sound and space, giggle when I recognise the words of Aleister Crowley come through the ethers. As I watch the others lay there I realise that I am not really sure how to interact with this piece when I think this it occurs to me that this could be due to my secularism, how do you act among this confusing mess of faiths? I know we are expected to drop to our knees in an act resembling prayer and I do this but still something nags at me, something isn't quite right. Part of me is looking for direct, looking for some priest figure to anoint me into some kind of ceremony where the religious aspects will come to the fore.

Perhaps this sensation of something 'missing' is as much an unexpected reaction to the cascade of religious sounds as it is to the experience of the installation as a whole. I wonder if it's a reflection of the difficult position religion currently has within a secular world but I feel that stems from me making those connections rather it being something inherent within the piece. It could been the overall lack of an atmosphere that has added to this sensation that this installation could have been so much more.

Here's more info…




Monday, 28 March 2011

Fierce Festival: Symphony of a Missing Room - Lundahl & Seitl

This is why I am here. This is why I've travelled here.

But where did it start? Four weeks ago I am standing in WH Smiths, killing time, reading The Wire reading about this thing, a collision of sound art and performance, space and memory. It's telling me I will be able to experience it within a certain time in a certain space.

Now, two weeks later, I am sat by my computer, at home; I've elected to take the experience.

I am waiting for it to begin; an elderly man in a long leather trench coat wearing mirrored sunglasses, carrying a cane throws his hat on the ground and sings to the sun.

I am in a nervous group my hands are free.

We follow the first guide, she leads us to a second guide already we are different, separate from everyone else, in this space, in this museum. We are given headphones a woman's voice is cooing instructions we follow another woman I never see her face, she leads us through museum rooms, have I been here before? I haven't been here but I've been here in other museums at other times haven't I? There's a piano playing we follow the guide, is she a guide? We've followed her so far, followed the instructions coming through the headphones and we find ourselves on the threshold of something if we already weren't.

We close our eyes,I hope we close are eyes. The world goes white even through my closed eyes the world goes white. Everything drops away I lose my sense of place I lose sense of time I lose any sense of anyone else but myself.

Is this where it starts?

I feel like I about to passout, slip into a lucid dream. The museum space has already dropped away, the group, the other people within the museum have gone with it. All there is, is the voice coming through from somewhere else is telling me about a room, unknown to anyone else, secret yet known,I realise that to access this room I have to give myself I have to reach out and take that hand in front(?) of me and allow it to take me where either it goes.

Space shifts through corridors, small passageways, woods, space has become elastic anything physical sense of the museum has gone all I know is that there is enough floor space to cover my footfall. Throughout this all are the hands that reach out from somewhere perhaps they are projections of my imagination, whatever the case they guide me gently, gracefully, their benign presence stops the anxiety, they don't laugh at me when I reach out to feel for that non-existent tree (I know it's not there but I have to feel for it).

I have given myself to this 'performance' I have slipped willing into this other space, this other time and it occurs to me this will end and I don't want it to. Here in this space it feels that the elastic promise of dreams can be fulfilled. On reflection it seems an incredible thing to say, I know that the world doesn't work that way but when the time comes to leave the other space I find myself back in the material world, looking at the reflection of the group in the glass covering some painting of a grand sailing ship I feel disappointed, I know that this experience will end, the memory of it will fade.

I feel the gently push of hands on my back; they are putting me right where I belong. I, we open our eyes back in the museum, fully this time in front of us someone lies on the ground, just beyond that three others sit squarely and watch us it's as if they are just on the edge of my understanding, the soon to be forgotten elements of this dream.

We close our eyes for the last time, we lay on the floor, a tap on my shoulder my eyes open and my headphones (the last connection) are removed.

I get to my feet, as do the others and we are out of that other space, we collect coats, one of the group asks me: 'do you think we ever left that room?' yes we did, we have been were we have been, the experience has been real, like the places we visit in our dreams the places we forge from our memories.

I am eating cheap food, in a dim pub.

I am waiting at an empty train station.

This is why I came here and the further away I get, the more I want to go back.