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...