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.


Monday, 21 March 2011

Nam June Paik – FACT/Tate Liverpool

There are two things which I associate with Nam June Paik's work:

  1. My university days (there where one or two Paikette's at my uni)
  2. 80 Movies

I know the above remarks seem to be quite glib, what I am attempting to suggest the influence that Nam June Paik has had on generations of artists and creative types. Being one the early adopters of video technology recognising the potential of the emerging technologies of video and television as both medium and subject. Whose work was collected to form a blockbusting retrospective across two of the major galleries of Liverpool, they being FACT and the Tate.

Anyway before I go on a quick admission I am writing most of this from memory so forgive me as I go astray.

The first group of works on the ground floor of the Tate (again forgive me for not taking note of the titles of works) the first work to hit you is the video wall throwing various images from across the visual world. I have a strange reaction to this piece and it's to do with the way once avant-grade ideas worm there way through into society at large, I don't know about you but most of my experiences of video walls have been through the aforementioned 80's movies and in quite a few cheap nightclubs. Is this a case of art following life following art which forms part of the reading June Paik's work.

Another piece is video documentation of a performance between him and Jospeh Bueys, the performance itself is a Neo-Dada/Fluxus combination of guttural word sounds and piano. What strikes me the most is the editing, through which Bueys is subjected to, enabled perhaps to perform illogical and magical movements across the space and even to be able to move within time. I would like to think that this is recognition of videos ability not only to flatly record the events of a performance but to become an active part of the performance allowing us the audience to share an experience akin to witnessing the original performance. I can't recall many contemporary performers who use video in such away, of course that may be my ignorance but it does make me wonder why use of video editing doesn't seem so common in contemporary performance.

One of the pieces which strikes me here is a collection of Life Magazines in which June Paik has annotated with moments from his life. In this collision between the personal and public there arises the question of how we measure our life against a backdrop of mass media and media filtered events. For me at least it lead to me thinking about how I relate and reference my life against mass-media, how music, television and film have become part of what defines us at certain points in our life. Of course our relationship with mass-media and the images produced through said mass media is a fundamental part of June Paik's practice. In works like the TV Buddha where statues of Buddha's or lit candles are caught in a close circuit of television viewing, often while looking at these pieces I noticed my attention natural drifted towards the image on the screen. Now if this was years of cultural conditioning, through years of watching TV I have learnt to give more attention to screens rather than looking at the real thing just like those Buddha's.

A more direct use of mass-media was a number of works produced for television starting with Global Groove in 1973 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2c_H7AEOUs&feature=fvst ) which lead to the satellite broadcasted Good Moring Mr Orwell in 1984. Both feature a collection of mini films produced by various artists and musicians including Merce Cunningham, John Cage and even the Thompson Twins. For Paik this was a celebration of the possibility of mass-media to bring apparently disparate ideas and people together and to provide a way to disseminate these ideas to a previously unimaginable audience. Throughout Paik's work the reflection that technology is a positive creative force as long as there is a human element present, at the heart of it.

As I imaged many people have done, I have to wonder what he would have made of YouTube would he have seen it as an embracing of a utopian ideal? A continuation of the ideas brought fore by pieces like Good Moring Mr Orwell .I guess we have to wait to see what artists whose careers are concurrent with the development of the internet bring, for one such example we could look at the work Ryan Trecartin whose practice address the effect of a life spent on the internet has on language and culture (http://vimeo.com/5841178 )

Who know where it will lead but technology will always be a medium and subject for artists to explore and use thanks to the work of Nam June Paik.



Sunday, 20 March 2011

Anish Kapoor - Flashback

What can I write about Anish Kapoor that hasn't already been written?

Not at lot, but my experience of the exhibition of his work at the Manchester Art Gallery (http://www.manchestergalleries.org/whats-on/exhibitions/index.php?itemID=77 ), had very little to do with having a dialogue, in the expected normal way, with the work on display. What the hell I am I on about? Well it all started just before I entered the space when I nice man in beige stopped me and simply requested that I don't touch anything, OK isn't that what we normally do in galleries? It did seem odd but sure.

Anyway into the main space, which isn't the biggest space and other then the sculptures, in fact possibly more than that, I notice the three gallery assistants doing their job watching us, watching the sculptures. Now it may have been too much caffeine in a short space of time but there making me fidgety, I feel like giggling, being naughty. Turning someone else's work in my own little performance piece. Maybe it's Anish Kapoor that brings it out of me, once while his big walk-in pieces where in Liverpool I did run inside one of them much to the annoyance of the gallery assistant. (After working in many gallery spaces I really should know better)

It did make me think about our role while looking at art, and of course the context in which we see art. By that I mean that my awareness of being watched seemed to both at once emphasise and devalue the work, somehow by accidently setting up this relationship it brings into focus the role the gallery space in the evaluation of art work. Imagine if the work had been replaced by crisp packets and still guarded with nervous reverence; it would still have to regard it as art, because that's why people are watching over it, right? Of course this has been concept explored many times before it was just odd to experience it with actual art objects.

Having rambled on I am going to ramble on a little bit more, this time about physicality, this is sculpture and we do experience it bodily and no more so with the piece Her Blood. Her Blood consist of three large concave mirrors, not unlike the sound mirrors built during the First World War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_mirror ). Maybe this fed into my experience of the piece I felt surrounded by a thunderous noise, a noise that didn't exist, well that didn't exist outside of me. In part good sculpture/installation/art should make us aware of ourselves as much as it brings attention to itself, even my caffeine filled paranoia over the gallery assistants fed into that experience.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


For a few years now I've been making work which takes from what you might call 'contemporary myths', what be I mean by that? Well in part it's an exploration of that hinterland that is imagination and also in part the result of watching too much television as a child. Especially the guilt of sci-fi shows and 'factual' shows like Arthur C Clarkes Mysterious World, ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKnAG_60QEo ) these programmes help fill the world with strange histories, creatures and in the case of the forgotten Nigel Kneale series 'Kinvig' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIPBxl_Wu-k) and of course Doctor Who these incredible things became connected to the everyday.

Of course this was all back in the early '80s, so flashfoward thirty years and I find myself on a Master's degree in Fine Art and struggling with what I was making. What I was making at the time where video pieces that where focused on empty spaces, both real and imagined, this was mostly a reflection of my state of mind rather than the pursuit of some pure critical theory, I am afraid. Then at some point I became interested in the invisible forces which exist within these 'empty' spaces, the path of light, the movement of atoms bouncing around and through. I started to explore these concepts by using the means at my disposal, which meant video and domestic materials such as Torches. In a series of performative videos I attempted to recreate what I imagined to be happening at some galactic level. (http://www.youtube.com/lepiggy#p/u/38/lrjndm4ve_4 )

I was exploring science through art, wasn't I?

No, I wasn't far from it, it was through the making of these pieces I realised that I didn't have enough understanding of the scientific concepts to make the pieces works; in a sense my science was fiction.

Previously I had confessed to be informed by authors such as Philip K Dick and the aforementioned TV space opera's, along with people with a certain mentally who could make experience based on little evidence and completely put themselves within, I hate to say it, a fantasy world. This is an ability of humankind to see patterns and make connections with very disparate things to give themselves to their imagination.

So this is how I came to create the Artistic Research and Special Experimentation Organisation it seemed the best framework to explore and to recreate the conditions in which these beliefs can arise. The creation of this organisation was also to allow the viewer to become part of the work and have and active role in the completion of the work, and be involved in the interpretation of the materials being presented to them. As for why I should choose to work with such exotic materials luckily I can reflect the sentiments of Susan Hiller that "this stuff has charisma" and that it is the artist prerogative to select the materials they work with, and thanks to the demeratialisation of the art object an art object made from physical materials can have the same weight as one made from an abstract idea.

And this seems to be what my work is fundamentally about (possibly) is the way ideas spread, become real as it where, whether these ideas come to us from books, TV, art or the sandwich boarded street preacher.