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: