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.