Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Art Turning Left, Tate Liverpool

If you’re expecting a detailed-ish account of the works which feature in this exhibition, well I don’t think I’m up to it! As the Tate’s Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making (to give it its full title) is a pretty exhaustive attempt to document the influence of left-wing politics on the arts.  It also features many artist from a spread of two hundred years, so a lot to chew on.

The exhibition space itself is split into different sections which set out to address a single question relating to the overall theme. The questions go along the lines of ‘can art affect politics?’, what does interactivity mean? Can the art world be democratic? I’m not sure if these questions are answered within the exhibition, and of course looking for a definite answer in a art gallery might be a hiding to nowhere. Rather it works on a common gallery experience , that being you as viewer are given the information, given the thought processes and you can dentine the answer for yourself.

As a viewer you are given a lot of work to consider, and there was a point where I felt I was concentrating on the interpretation on the wall. No bad thing as that means I’m trying to engage with the exhibitions theme. Though it’s a bit of a task for me, I mean l’m still trying to figure out a lecture about the relationship between Marxist theory and a painting by Van Gogh of some boots from five years ago.

My lack of politic knowledge aside, I focus on the use of imagery from the simple, crude banners used by French protesters to some of more graphical pieces that distils highly complex ideas into a single image, making it universally assessable.  I also recognise the drive to democratise art, or at lease free it from the confines of the dictates of the galleries and critics, which lead to the dematerialisation of the art object. A line that can be traced from the Dadaist through Fluxus, Conceptual Art and up to today.

There are also moments of unexpected beauty, one piece (sorry I didn’t take a note) is the record of a workers emotional state through there working year. One person’s emotional life carefully recorded as delicately painted blocks on graph paper. It’s has a strange effect its attempt to dispassionately make a record of a humans emotion state, somehow heightens the sense of the human within these great systems.

There’s something that might be missing, the human, the person, the individual. It sounds contradictory to say that these works which attempt to address the welfare of the individual lack a sense of the human; there is a strange paradox at the heart of the politic ideas that fuel many of the works. This paradox is evident in Palle Nielsen’s The Model, which part of a Stockholm gallery was given over to children, in the interpretation on the wall Nielsen talks about how he was surprised that the children failed to ‘use’ the materials in the way he would.

For me this point to an interesting point, no matter what system we attempt to put in place, whether that be socialism, Marxism or capitalism, it will probably fail or at the least go very wonky mainly because people are people, and will do what they want. So in a strange way this is what Art Turning Left is about people’s attempts to make perfect systems out of imperfect materials.

Of course you are free to make your own mind up, at Tate Liverpool until February the 2nd.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Bob Cobbing - ABC in Sound, Exhibition Research Centre LJMU

I’m approaching the exhibition and can hear an amplified human voice, echo and bounce of the concrete walls. The voice moulds itself to this space and the space in turns reshapes the voice. This play between the voice and space seems apt as the exhibition is an retrospective of the work of the ‘concrete poet’ Bob Cobbing.

This is actually my second visit to the exhibition I don’t quite remember it being this ‘vocal’ it seems that the recording of Cobbing’s poetry is higher in the mix, perhaps. Now as I attempt to write about them I come to the point where I either try to describe the configuration of the syntax which fall, skip and crash all around the gallery space. It might be futile, even redundant to explain what’s happening aurally.

So what’s happening visually? Well there’s plenty series of prints shown across a specially constructed framework, along with various collections of clippings. The prints are of letters, words forms of poetry. As you eye scans each image your mind goes through a process which the shapes and forms promote a kind of mental reverberation, much like what’s happening as you read these words.  To make things more complex each of these symbols and the sound that are attached to them also threaded to a myriad of cultural meanings.

That is language (I think)

This is a focal point for the exhibition Cobbing like Schwitters, Stockhausen explore this complex web of language. How the combination of symbol and sound equals meaning, this isn’t solely explored through Cobbing’s vocalisations it is explored via his printed works. Both in the performance and prints we see the same process, where words are arranged, overlapped, repeated, this process emphasises the nature of the sigil in language.

This way of approaching the spoken and printed word would seem to be an attempt to dislocate the symbols and sounds which make up language from its original meanings and create new meanings and associations. This dislocation can also be seen as a way of confirming this on-going relationship between symbol, sound and culture which is human commutation.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

3AM: Wonder Paranoia and the Restless Night, TheBluecoat, Liverpool

I ask you this can you imagine a world without a night. What kind of world would that be? One where time has no hold on its inhabitants, do they toil under eternal sunshine. Would they be happy with enough hours in the day to get things done, or would a world without a night means a world without the space to dream, without the need to invent demons or the gods that protect us through the night. What I think I’m trying to get at is that the night is an indelible part of life. A liminal part of everybody’s existence, part of our society, and part of what it means to be human. The time spent, thanks to gravity’s pull, out of the influence of the sun has inspired artists, poets, lover and thefts alike. Probably before we had the terms ‘day’ or ‘night’

So when the current exhibition 3AM : Wonder, paranoia and the restless night poses the question do the still quiet hours of the night reflect the zeitgeist, it seems that the answer would be yes. The answer is of course more complex than that, one that forms part a continuum of culture and reflects individual responses. To paraphrase that famous Nietzsche quote ‘Stare in the night and the night stares into you’

There is something about the night that reconfigures the normal modes of human activity, free from the distractions of routine the mind at night will wander through aspirations, guilt, resentments all from the supposed comfort and security of your bed. If you’re in bed at all maybe you’re taking advantage of the cover of dark to create a set of new rules and behaviour like the figures in Sophey Rickett’s – Pissing Women or Palm and Darner’s film of teenagers taking hold of the night by using their bodies to fill in the spaces left by daylight pedestrians. Not unlike the mysterious figures in Anthony Goicolea’s Code shining torches in patterns unknown to daywalkers the people in these works have the night to create their own nocturnal language.

The night has a power to make things uncanny, to transform familiar landscapes and objects and behaviour into something else. Something strange emerges from the dark even commonplace things like clothes can appear hostile as the figures in Danny Treacy’s Them. Treacy’s figure tap into something that is at once ancient and contemporary they could be figures that haunted the medieval mind, while they echo the image of a more modern idea horror of the slasher movie.

Not that the night is the sole reserve of ghost, goblins or weirdoes, the night has been marked for having a good and even sexual activity, apparently.  Often the two coincide as in Tom Wood’s photographs of groping drunken teens receiving their reward after hours of behaving under the sunlight codes. I can leave anything about sex and the night to Wikipedia which says Night is also considered the best time for sexual intercourse. Though you don’t actually have to have sex you can be or most likely be thinking about it, thoughts of possible lovers, should have been lovers mingle together with other thoughts of bills and who played that guy in that thing. These shifting thoughts seem to have a physical presence in Rachel Kneebone’s sculptures which offer a blooming mix of shifting forms. It also reminds of a line from a song, by 13&God, which goes: you'd set your eyes off one the ceiling all night in the dark think of a song or maybe breasts or missing body parts

Do these works address the question about the wee dark hours being reflected of a zeitgeist? Well yes, I said that earlier, one of things this exhibition highlights is the fact that the world doesn’t stop when we go to bed. The world carries on when where not about, which is quite disquieting. This feeling is now expatiated by the existence of empty chain store car parks and the 24 hour communication system that is the internet. It can threaten to overwhelm us, gives us a sense of alienation in what could be termed a contemporary sublime

To stop falling into this pit of despair we can embrace this night taking the freedoms its alloes, to change, reconfigure and challenge our other illuminated selves. To carry on what we’ve been doing for millennia use the night as a space to be filled with ‘poetic imagination’ and continue to use the night as a dark mirror for our hopes, dreams and nightmares.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Mark Boulos, FACT Liverpool

There’s a current slightly disturbing trend within contemporary curation at the moment, that beginning the complete darkness galleries appear to be willing to plunge us into. Maybe I need better eyes, anyway shuffling hand against the dry MDF partition I make my way into No Permanent Address  Mark Boulos’s , documentary installation you could call it. Where across three screens I’m introduced to various members of a communist militia living in the jungles of the Philippine’s.

It’s a pretty absorbing account of individuals who seem to be living in their own world, of a self-contained society perhaps some of the last Marxist society’s outthere. The dedication of the members of this group (the New People’s Army) as they detail the sacrifices they’ve made to follow the course while causally clutching M16’s is obviously real. Though my ignorance of the wider aspects of the political scene in the Philippines’ makes me regard the information supplied to me across three screens with a kind of neutrality.  

I do think more about that device of using three screens, which has become quite a common device within video installations over the last decade or so. For me it doesn’t add much to the narrative and I wonder if it was employed simply to change a ‘documentary’ into ‘art’. Still it doesn’t distract from what I’m seeing, so yeah.

Another Boulos’s installations (All that is Solid Melts into Air) which offers reflecting narratives across two opposing screens. One is filled with fluctuating digital numbers and aerial shoots of Chicago and the bullpit of a western stock exchange. The other offers images of oil platforms in the Niger Delta, more important it offers the voice of members of a group who are, quite rightfully perhaps, have taken to violence at the fact that they as Nigerians receive nothing while their countries resources are taken.

I know that there is political point being made here, but one scene strikes me. When one of the anti-Shell organisation performs a ritual to turn his body into stone, to make himself invincible to bullets and is then joined by his colleagues in a chant to call upon the spirit of a ‘thunder god’ . I begin to see I connection between these rituals and the rituals being performed on the other screen. The stockbrokers do seem to be casting symbols, raising their arms to catch the spirit of the numbers to call on the god of commerce. Both actions, both rituals are as equally abstract but it does raise the question which one of these abstract acts is the more dangerous?

Now on to the centrepiece of the exhibition Echo, which promises an almost magical transportation of physical and mental states. One entering the space you see an disc of yellowish light on the floor, this is for you and entering it starts the experience. On doing so, and not surprisingly, I’m very aware I’m standing in a spotlight, in a gallery, I’m very aware of myself. I spend a few moments nervously fidgeting with my clothes, trying to present a better image to my future self not really paying attention to the cityscape being projected. It’s only when the image begins to recede I begin to pay attention and to feel a little woozy. After that I begin to pay attention to the projection, in which I appear as a relfection of a ghost quite aware that I’m not in that projection I’m in front of it. Very much aware of the bright light making the rims of my specs glow amber.

On the whole it feels like an academic exercise, especially when filling out the questionnaire afterwards. A piece to tickle the intellect rather than to pluck the heartstrings. Which leaves me thinking about the experience, I’m glad to have taken part it feels like I’ve done the right thing, done something beneficial, like attending a lecture.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Emergency 2013

Due to the bendy nature of the perception of time it doesn’t feel a year has passed since I was last at Blankspace for the annual day of live art that is Emergency. I wonder what’s ahead of me, crazed hectic performances or something more quiet and thoughtful. It’s hard to judge as I’m the first viewer to arrive I have a go at generating atmosphere but soon enough the final adjustments are adjusted and this is a report of the things I saw in the order I saw them. Just a note I’m going to see these pieces ‘blind’ and not reading the notes provided.

In a little alcove awaits a golden man in a bowler and a suit (I’ve already since this figure before marching in and out of the space) sat behind a small desk he finishes making a print of his hand. He introduces himself in an accent that comes from an imagined Eastern European he briefs me on what’s about to happen. Which is a kind of psychic reading part interview. He paints my hand in golden paint making guesses about my occupation, as he presses my hand against the paper, he says I’m involved in films I tell him I’m a writer. He asks if I lean to the French or the German, French naturally, on this prompt he mentions Paul Vrillo (that’s right I’ve read his stuff) and for a moment I’m amazed by this incredible insight. Despite my knowledge of cold reading there’s an element of me that sees this as an amazing ability. It is a piece of mentalism which relies on given the viewer what they want to hear.

Nearby there is a figure rowing in a sea of gossamer fabric, though it seems there’s a fine line between rower and ‘sea’. She rowing, moving nowhere is she where she needs to be as she sings a wistful mournful song. This figure is at a point that the furthest from any shore, at the point between exertion and exhilaration, at the point where the possibilities of the journey have yet to be fulfilled. In her position in the middle of this fabric ocean she is part of a melancholic lyrical dream.

Lili Spain

There’s another figure sat still at a table which is covered in talc, as is the figure. On entering the space the figure throws more talc on herself then returns to her stillness. I stand watching wondering why, what does it all mean? What processes are trapped in that dusty head? Is there any meaning at all, is the action just a simple action, like a child digging a hole for the sake of digging. Ultimately at this point it is unknowable a set of symbols based on internal codes. As I leave the space she throws more talc on herself.

Kerry Carroll

I’m told a new piece has started and I pass behind a curtain where I discover the figure of a girl dressed in white on the floor. At just her and me at the moment leaning a sense of intimacy to proceedings.  In front of me she delicately roles and stretches and as she does I notice a strange effect. It might be the dim light affecting my perspective but the dancer in front of me seem so small lending her movements a spectral delicately. At points her shadow has as much, if not more of a physically presence in this space as it echoes the expressions of this dancers body.

This piece feels the most ‘performacey’ as it has its specially installed space, in which above a neatly set dinner table hang apples. Maiada enters the space and disrobes she begins to ring a bell announcing the beginning. Though at this point I and two other mistake this as an invitation to take a place at the table, this is a mistake, though Maiada calmly continues, picking and peeling apples despite our unwanted presence. We three interlopers are male and fully clothed what it must look like to have these men served by a figure of a naked woman. In a happy coincidence, later on reading the notes provided I read that part of aBOUD’s practice is the exploration of ‘living in a patriarchal society’  maybe I just trying to justify my blundering presence in an otherwise meditative performance.

Lotta SCAF

Outside there sits the Bank of Change… a piece which attempts to create a dialogue regarding the value of money. Normally I would find piece like this difficult to engage with but recent history has given me an opinion on the matter. So me, the artist, and the others that have gathered chat about the damn oddness of the capitalism and the like. Lotta SCAF proposal for a new economy is definitely intriguing and necessary perhaps.  

Earlier I signed a disclaimer form and instead of waiting I saw other stuff but now I’m back to see what I signed up for. As for some time now a remix of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus has been leaking out from behind a blackout curtain. After been refreshed of the ‘rules’ of the piece I nervously enter the space into a stroboscopic storm into the centre of a circle. I note the blindfolded dark suited figure in the corner. Like something in a dream the figure is in the circle with me and this is where the touching begins. It’s an intimate kind of touching and the whole thing is pretty much like a nightmare I had once I endure as much as I can then leave. Wondering exactly what to take away from this, maybe it’s just the experience of the strange dreamlike environment.

As a welcome difference I look for a piece which offers the chance to hear the most silent place on earth. On meeting the artist she explains that there is a place in the world which well is silent to the point that if recorded it registers in minus decibels. Hard to get your head around. Though that element isn’t important to me, as there is something poetic about the idea of the most silent place in the world and in Sarah Boulton’s need to or wanting to share it with others. Having shared it, listened to I began to question the cultural importance of ‘silence’ or sound, but I’m basis to this kind of thing.

I step outside to watch Paul Hurley run back and forth and watch people join in imaging there breathless conversations, though I don’t join in. Not long after this I leave though this part of Emergency of felt quieter it has been thoughtful and I leave satisfied with the work I have engaged with, which might sound like damning it with faint praise but putting together which leaves the viewer (me) with a sense of completion, of being satisfied is hard to do.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Right, why I am writing this? I have to admit there are selfish reasons; I feel that it’s necessary to inform people about what been undertaken in their name. You see I’m one of the Unemployed and a claimer of a benefit Jobseekers Allowance. Yeah I’m one of those people who evade work at any given chance.

Aren’t I? That’s often the image of the unemployed given out not only by the media but the Government themselves. In reality I have worked, OK that was back at Christmas but it was work. Further to that I’m currently pursuing a career in the arts where you find the problems of finding work compounded by cuts to funding. This has meant volunteering, working (it’s NOT a hobby) in various roles from interacting with visitors, to trying to locate an artist at 2 A.M.

I am currently a writer and have begun to curate a live art show to take place later in the year. In short I’m making an effort.

It would seem that all my efforts are in vain well according to the DWP who have seen fit to send me on a mandatory work programme. Initially this didn’t bother me as I received a letter informing me that soon I will be given a call to discuss a placement.

This didn’t happen within a week I received another letter stating, demanding that I attend a placement at (name removed) in 4 days’ time, so I can work for 30 hours a day for the next 4 weeks. This seems very clever as it gives the Jobseeker little or no chance to complain or ask for a new placement as the complaint procedure takes 2-3 weeks. Most of my time before the start day sees a lot of angry googling and no information on the activities of ****** could be found. This felt like a bad sign. The next day I was due to see my advisor, where I was feeling OK coming off the back of having an interview for one of those job things.

I brought up the matter of the placement, voicing my concerns about the placement as no information about I would be doing on this placement. There was however a lot about what’s punishment would be metered out if I don’t go. I asked the one question that I really wanted to know ‘If I feel that there’s no benefit to me, do I still have go through with the 30hrs a week programme?’

The answer was: ‘Yes, it’s mandatory’ followed by the suggest that it will give my CV something current. Two thing my CV has something current and this is not going on my CV. I’m well aware that any potential employers are going to look at a CV work ‘mandatory work activity’ and think ‘Gee Whiz this guy was madedto work, he’s the guy for us!’

Already we have a in built redundancy, I suspect that I will gain nothing from this and begin to believe that this is simply a form of punishment. Given that the letter state the programme offers me the opportunity to ‘provide experience reinforce the disciplines of employment and enable you to make a community contribution.’ It has the whiff of community service. 

To use a cliché ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’. Already I know I have to suspend any ambition regarding my voluntary work as for some reason one form of unpaid work is better than another unpaid work. Already I feel resentment to this work thing, well this form of work. The days leading up to the start day (the three days leading to the start day) involves lots of frantic internet searches leading to many stories similar to my own.

I also come across the ‘rules’ given to JSA advisors and I’m shocked and angered to discover that there is an actual rule that states the client shouldn’t be sent to a MWA if they are working paid or voluntary (No.17).  The dole is well aware of my volunteering they make me fill in a form insuring that I’m not getting paid. Of course the reason many people like myself are being sent on these MWA is purely political a way of the Government and it’s very much the Conservative element of this Government. Who are currently chasing the votes heading towards UKIP  by creating these schemes and to satisfy some imagined need for the punishment of people who through no fault of their own without work.

I’m I being punished for simply not having a job? A paid job that is I take my ‘volunteering’ as serious as paid work.

Or I ‘am being paranoid? Maybe it won’t be all bad after all its meant to ‘benefit your community’ (despite not being based in my community) maybe I’d just be picking up litter I can handle that, it will make the world a better place and hopefully I can listen to the radio as I work.

The day arrives and I find the place at the backend a backend of an industrial estate, and work into the main space. Which is filled with people in Hi-Viz jackets smashing window panes. I make myself known at the office and take a seat in the staff room with the other new recruit. The other recruit appears to have a learning disability as he can’t write I have to ask why he’s hear and not on some other programme, if he does have a problem with literacy surely he needs help not work activity.

Carrying on with the paperwork we come to the section about what I’m supposed to learn, things like timekeeping, working in a team, good communication skills things that already appear on my CV. I say to our liaison offer, that I honestly have no problem with any of these his reply is telling ‘some people are hear out of circumstance’ indicating there is no real reason for some people to be here, but hey that’s the system!

The following day will be my first proper day. As I said this will involve breaking up UPVC window frames so at 8am we begin. Now it’s not the concept of hard work I find troubling and in a parallel to current events last year I was in a warehouse working hard cleaning, painting, shifting  for a major art project. Working on that project but there was a goal to it and I was selected to be a part of that project and was willing to work hard for it.

I wonder about the money provided by the Government to provide this business with an on-going supply of free labour. As after one day I don’t see the opportunities for anyone to become employed, there are few paid employees here and I don’t think they’ll be giving up their positions up. As for my fellow draftees they seem resigned to the fact that this is something to be endured rather then something which will assist them in life.

As for myself I already know that there will be no benefit from this activity and instead of building a supposed sense of confidence to makes me begin to dislike myself for allowing myself to get in this situation. For not standing up for myself. I try to look at it in a Charles Bukowski way but I keep reminding myself that he got paid and was a much better writer.

Why did I write this? I wanted to tell someone what was happening not just to me but to everyone in this situation, of a one size fits system that seems to failing the majority. It doesn’t really benefit me as I’m only two days in a four week scheme and I’m left with a choice do I risk being labelled as an trouble maker and kick up a stink ? Sign off in what feels like I’m saying I never needed this money. Again like many I’m trapped by a failing system without a clear solution.

I also feel trapped as one solution is to sign off JSA and risk being marked as someone who is ‘unwilling to work’ which I’m not the other is to work for someone else’s benefit and point everything else everything I care about into hiatus.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Portfolio NW – The Bluecoat, Liverpool

Put bluntly this exhibition is here to showcase a set of artist currently based within the North West part of The Bluecoats remit of this areas position as a major cultural centre. That may seem a cynical way of describing the exhibition but what it offers is to see the work of artists without the need to try to tie the individual art works to an overarching conceptual theme. It could be seen as a celebration of the creative communities of the North West, arts for art sake if you like.

Turning into the first gallery space I encounter Rebecca Chesney, where her film Still in Silence floats disembodied in the darkness. Quickly scanning the interpretation I learn that this work is the result of an attempt to discover or uncover a lost Eastern European village. Looking at a flat blue sky an unseen narrator begins to tale the tale of his grandmother, an inherited story of why the village was abandoned. The reason is due to an apparently supranational occurrence, you see one day the birds stopped signing. This seems to be a more poetic and somehow simpler explanation that attempting to describe the probable and complex social-economic reasons behind the flight. The birds stopped singing and the silence became unbearable. As the short (8 mins) film plays I make associations with the film Stalker, maybe it's a lazy association as both feature journeys through abandoned East European landscapes. I hope that it isn't as sallow as that, I think I see an echo of the narrative of Tarkovsky's film, that there was an unnameable need to discover and question in Chesney that prompted her to discover this village as much as the trio of characters search the zone to answer question which stem from within.

Maybe I'm over romanticising it but there is an element of romance in Chesney's piece which fuses the object collected from site and displayed with the film with a fetishistic melancholia.
Leaving that space I take the path of least resistance and find myself in gallery 2. To be confronted or greeted by a number of reoccurring images of a woman of unnerving and fragile beauty. These are paintings by Hannah Wooll these are portraits of a woman, or women I recognise somehow if it wasn't for the too wide eyes or the apparent hints at an animalistic nature. When looking at these portraits I cannot help but see them as portraits of the unnamed female character from Anna Kavan's novel Ice. Not only does she looks like the mental image I had of that character (the source of my recognition?) there's something within these paintings that makes me think of her a character pursued by two facets of the male protagonists imagination, trapped and turned in a fragile creature by the gaze and imagination of this man. This is how I feel when looking at these portraits that somehow my gaze fixes, alters this unnamed woman.

On the other side of Wooll's painting are the photographs of Tadhg Devlin, which feature people in transit at a point which is never here or there. The photographs are taken on board a ferry 12 miles into its journey at a point where the ferry is always 12 miles away from the horizon. That's an interesting concept as Devlin's photographs are an exploration of immigration and knowing that this photographs were taken at this point connects them to a human need to find out what is beyond the horizon. An age old desire to leave the village and search for better, a poetic exploration of the on-going need for movement, whether that is spurred by longing or more pragmatic social-economic forces. Not unlike the grandmother leaving the village after the loss of birdsong in Still in Silence. Though this train of thought comes from reading the interpretation and looking at the photographs, otherwise you could be looking at some well-produced reportage.

There is another artist in this space behind the images of people looking to the horizon there are some rather strange looking sculptures. They look like pieces of paper idly rolled and shaped into forms; they could be products of your own fidgety hands if they had been scaled up. These are the deceptively simple sculptures of Dave Evans where a large sheet of paper becomes an alien landscape complete with tin foil boulders. Before I can really consider them I quickly fixate on two of the titles. The Lights of Zetar and The Empath are Star Trek episodes and in particular they are episodes from the third, final and often derided season. I really want to know why these episodes from that season it opens up a possible dialogue with the work which is solely 'artistic' or can be define with the realms of artistic discourse, which feels kind of healthy. If you get what I mean.

Continuing into Gallery 3 where for the next two weeks you'll find Kai-Oi Jay Yung. I find her currently undertaking a lesson in Yoga, which creates not unsurprisingly an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. It also adds to the feeling I've enter an private space, a rehearsal room or studio space, especially when tip toeing around you see the objects you would expect to find in an artist studio. Relevant texts, books and things like laptops and CD players. I have a strange sensation I think about Rosalind Nashashibi's film that formed part of the Northern Art Prize this year where members of the public where allowed access to dance rehearsals. I realise that I'm currently in the same position I've been granted access to Jay Yung's private process. Fundamentally this is work in progress the experiences and interaction that take place in here with eventually take form in a performance at a later date, at the moment I as viewer can actually see that mythical phase of an artist's process referred to as 'research'.

Leaving Jay Yung to her research I head upstairs where what looks like a flight deck from a spaceship waits. This is an installation by 0point3recurring. Three bucket seats sit open faced at different views of the iconic Preston bus station. In one I notice three brightly coloured cars positioning themselves in the car park that form the roof of the bus station and I settle into one of the seats. That action set into a motion a film taken from within cars that could be mistaken for gaudy trainers. It also sees the beginning of a soundtrack that has been generated by the movement of the car as it travels through Preston. It emulates the kind of bass that appears to radiate from these cars naturally I'm a voyeur voyager having an indication of the experience of what might be termed 'da yoof' as the cars drives through the pre-car red brick building sending out electronic pulses, like some modified technologic animal searching for others of its species. Naturally, for me, the mixture of modernist architecture and car culture make my thoughts gravitate towards J.G Ballard. I can imagine this experience in his terms as modern technology connects with some primal need, in this case the need for tribalism and the significance of place, to form some new and possibly liberating culture.
Later it occurs to me that there is little difference in the people involved in Modz culture gathering in car parks or the people who gather at Stonehenge during mid-summer. Both reacting in ingrained needs to belong to something and to attach meaning to place.

This is the final piece I see, feel, experience and usually at this point there comes the time when I as critic judge the individual work against the conceptual ideas that have underpinned the exhibition. In order to judge its relative success. Of course as I stated at the beginning this does not wholly apply to this exhibition, I say not wholly as if there is any overarching ambition to this exhibition it is the one of showcasing the range and the skillz of a number of North West artists. On those terms it would be hard to say anything other than the exhibition is a success. Also a one of those 'critic' types, I have to admit that it has been enjoyable to engage with individual pieces of art, feeling that you where addressing individual artists.



Sunday, 28 July 2013

Life's an Illusion Love is a Dream - The Royal Standard, Liverpool

Where to begin? Often when I write these things this is the question I deal with. For example for a few weeks I’ve seen the title of this exhibition pop up on social networks and every time it does, I in a fashion that borders on autistic I complete it my signing in my head ‘Everybody Happy Nowadays’.

Is this relevant? Is the title a code about the exhibition, something that indicates what the works involved deal with contemporary expectations of that illusory aspect we call happiness. I think I may have steered myself in the wrong directions as standing outside the white door I read the info which references Balzac and the ‘profound emotion’ to be encountered by a viewer and art.

After the chimes die away and the door is opened and I virtually fall in blackness. What is it lately with galleries and blackness? I seem to spending time in galleries staggering around in blackness or I’m I getting old? The only thing that has the change to compete with the darkness is a triptych of carefully rotating paint cans. Equally in another room there turns in elegant orbits a china tea cup.

These are films created by Roderick Maclachlan, they are graceful films that offer an illusion which is illusory. They point to something I haven’t thought about, how the mechanics of projection, of cinema pull us all into a shared hallucination where the only thing that feels ‘solid’ is your experience. Of course the overriding thought in my head as I inhabit the space is the opening titles of the ITV schools programme Picture Box.

Moving into a new space, moving from the dark in the near blinding summer light. Slightly confused I begin to realise that I am surrounded by a number of fair, delicate paintings by Kaye Donachie. My initial reaction is to think about paintings found in charity shops. Or rather the sensations attached to those paintings, a melancholic sense of fading beauty. That all the cultural meaning and passion that these paintings and there subject matter where once invested with is now leeching out. The paintings seem to have captured a sense of entropy.

In comparison David Osabldeston’s models, despite being fragile enough to be placed under protective glass boxes, they appear heavy and solid. There models of building I don’t quite recognise, they seem to be constructed from something else, as in the material used to construct them leads to a counter-narrative. Basically, to coin a phrase, there’s more than meets the eye with these pieces.

As seems to be the case in many exhibitions the further away you are from it the more you invest, or think about it. I begin to think about the conceptual underpinnings about the desire to explore the desire to create a masterpiece or if there is still an idea of a masterpiece. Well the latter is difficult as we exist in a relative artistic universe where the viewer’s experience of a piece is central. What there is in this exhibition in regards to the romantic notion of a masterpiece appears to be an inherent need of artists to create something of emotional resonance.

I don’t know if I’m clearer about what constitutes a masterpiece in the wacky world of contemporary art. What I could be clear about that the works in this exhibition do share the spectral, ethereal or emotional charge that you might expect in the presence of a masterpiece.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Do It - MIF13, Manchester Art Gallery

The first stop on my MIF tour is the Do It exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It’s on approaching the gallery that I hear a familiar voice hanging in the hot air, it’s the voice of 6 Music DJ Mark Radcliffe. He is enthusiastically announcing ‘A time sale! A  time sale!’ whether it’s the jolly tone of voice or the familiarity of its putting me in a buoyant mood.

I work through the gallery my clomply footsteps echoing off the other visitor’s quiet contemplation of art. Noticing that across the floor there as numbers of small brightly coloured rectangles suspecting that they might be connected to the exhibition I scoop one up and discover I was right. It’s an element of Suzannes Lacy’s contribution to Do It.

To see its completion I head towards the main space and I’m faced by the memorial wall of artists names or should that be rota of artists who stepped forward to undertake prewritten instructions of other artists. Getting in the exhibition space proper I am confronted by a number of objects, a vending machines, upturned fridge-freezer, walls made from doors and volunteers. It’s busy.

Wondering whether to approach it methodically trying and pondering each one or just wander to whatever one takes my fancy. I fall in-between and methodically wander around. One of the first pieces I decide to interact with is Andreas Slaninski bike seat lemon squeezer. The instruction is tip a bike seat so it can squeeze lemons, and with a half a lemon in hand I set out to make lemonade. Something happens I attempt to move the seat thinking that it has been configured to squeeze the lemon in a new exciting way.

Only it hasn’t it is a literary undertaking of the instruction. This feels like a problem one that runs throughout the exhibition that most of the instructions are done in quite a straightforward manner. I keep mentally referring to La Monte Young’s Composition1960 the Fluxus and Conceptual movements. Which have seen the production of similar ‘instruction pieces’ in part to challenge and reconfigure the conventional artist/viewer modes but ultimate to allow the viewer the preceptor to complete the work.

To stimulate something unique within the viewer to allow them to become part of the work. As I carry on looking around the exhibition I feel a sense of distance, of eavesdropping into other peoples conversations. For this viewer the concept that underlines the exhibition has thrown up a barrier of sorts that I’m not involved in the work somehow. Even if I climb the ladder, move the clothes, squeeze the lemons I’m not involved in the completion of the work. I am adding to a system which has already decided the outcome.

From feeling buoyant I move to feeling less buoyant? It seems to be a contradiction it is a good exhibition and there are interesting pieces including having to hum to an uncaring security guard. Ultimately I felt there was something missing somehow perhaps a return visit might fill that gap.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Tino Sehgal: This Variation - Manchester International Festival

Looking back on it, it could have been a dream. A series of unconnected events. From walking in bright sunshine, to passing through dusty behind the scenes , to being at the edge of darkness.

Stood at the edge of a dark doorway full of the panic, fear and excitement that precedes falling into that darkness. This is normal darkness as it is dense with voices making music a somehow unknown yet familiar tune inhabits the solid dark in front of me. These voices know the darkness, at least know it better then I do.

Clutching onto the wall, clutching onto the only thing that might be solid in this void. Into this darkness I stumble unable to see, it creates a gap, a void in my perception and into this void my brain begins to fill it with whatever information it has to hand. Creating a near hallucinogenic experience as images flash (Victorian architectural details, a multi limbed dancing creature) onto the empty space in my brain where visual information usual plays. All this happens as I stumble through the dark into others suddenly feeling cloth or skin belong to the other inhabitants. The dark grants me permission to walk into peoples personal spaces, as this has been obliterated by the nothing. It could almost offer an excuse for touching, an escape from the day to day conventions of human behaviour, not entirely though as once I’ve collided with any other body apologies are issued.  

At some point those voices began to surround me, I think, there vocals as close and enveloping as the black that surrounds us. They take on a urgent tone, like the chase music from some action film. Its actually quite uncomfortable, I don’t know whether to scream or laugh. These a point where I begin to wonder if they’re there at all I reach out a hand to see if they can be touched and not just some illusion trigged by sensory deprivation. There is something outthere, and I don’t know if I’ve touch something I shouldn’t so in a lull I say I’m sorry if that’s the case.

Around this point something changes I begin to become aware of the space, my eyes adjust forms appear. I turn from helpless stumbler to confident strider moving around the space and people. I am beginning to feel like a veteran here watching the faltering steps of the newcomers with a unjustified sense of superiority. I feel more in tune with the performers in terms of being free to move through the space and this marks the beginning of the end of experience. As it feels like I’m adjusting the space and reverting back to a traditional viewer/performance mode and have tumbled through different aspects of my perception and have been terrified, excited and even amused by this experience.

As I attempt to come to term with this experience, making mental references to other pieces such as Zee and The Symphony of a Missing Room. I keep on return to the dark, and how quickly the world can change when you turn the lights off.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Black Sun Horizon, The Royal Standard Liverpool

Boredom that thing that encompasses us from time to time, envelopes you with that sensation that you really should be doing something, shouldn't you? Well you would if everything wasn't devoid of interest. It may sound like a contradiction but from boredom there often comes creation; a prime example would be Bowie's Sound and Vision. It's this paradox where boredom meets unbored that is the theme of The Royal Standards 'Black Sun Horizon' exhibition.

A collection of four video pieces which deal with this concept. Take Samuel Williams piece Natural Habitat where a camera is dragged around in a homemade dolly through a small scale landscape. Watching the video you get the sense that this is something done to fill in time, the journey of the camera has no other aim then its own existence. So there's a combination of boredom and means here, an equation of time plus materials equals something, the kind of downtime where people make sculptures from Kit Kats.

This equation is also present in Dick Jewell's and to a degree Corey Arcangel's pieces which employ editing software to manipulate the elements from the sea of digital transmissions. Looking at these pieces I begin to consider whether having access to all this methods of creation will lead to a vacuum of choice, being able to produce something may not lead to something being produced. That maybe this is my subjective laziness, laziness that close relation to boredom.

Something occurs to me as I watch various edited cats bash out a Schonenberg piece, I begin to think about the many stupidly clever internet videos out there (including this one) and how they exist simply to be, to distract and pass time for both the creator and viewer. At poses a question if so many people are creating stuff which serves simply to elevate boredom and has no life outside of that remit what happens after that? Is more to be created to continually fill the space then are we stuck will a lot of distracting yet empty culture?

It's a possibility, boredom is a motivator yet it mustn't be the sole motivator for it happens as quickly as it can be quenched.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Rogues Galleries, Chester

If I'm honest most of my time spent in Chester has been swayed towards digging in Charity Shops. Rarely do I make a purely cultural visit to the city, well not since the Toy Museum closed. This week sees artists taking up residence in various empty shops across the city under the banner Rogues Galleries. Its aim seems to be to explore the nature of the commodification of well just about everything and the value of things. I hear the word performance drifting down from on the row above me I have first reached my first stop.

Upon entering I'm cheerful greeted and have the goings on explained. I quickly head upstairs to directly meet a man dressed in an ill-fitting suit, who has the practiced joviality of any salesman. This is Harry Giles who is offering a free debt counselling service for visitors today. I accept his offer and he takes me into his office, where the walls are covered in scrawl and graphs and numbers, like the Cave Painting edition of PowerPoint. Mr Giles begins to throw out some jargon and gets me to think what I owe people and what people owe me. I realise that this is something that I don't really think about. Mr Giles gets me to visualise my debt as a 'monster' and I select a distant shuffling zombie, which is precisely how a like to think about my debt off in the distance awaiting a kill shot which will solve my financial problems. Which makes me feel strangely better. If this performances aim is to make the participant to think about what is meant by debt it done that to a degree, on reflection I wonder if a view of how other people dealt with their debt may of have a greater impact.

Still I feel pretty better about handling my debt.

I have a brief look at the videos on display there well-made but none really sing to me. If I'm honest I've come with a performance bias.

Talking of which I fall into Two Destination Language's piece Storyville, it seems like I've walked into their living room. For their piece they have brought all their belongs and have offered them for sale. These items have been in storage so have been existing in a value status. If an object is not interacted with does its value change, does the inaccessibility of the object increase said objects value. These are the questions that come from my conversation with the artists, they engagingly tell me of the histories behind certain objects and I'm happy to discuss these values. We agree about the value of homemade objects. As I sit there surrounded by the collected objects created by peoples passage through life I begin to make connections with the Mark Leckey exhibition at The Bluecoat. Both speak of the alchemy that occurs when value, whether it be cultural, personal or monetary, becomes attached to an object.

I also have to admit there is a slight voyeuristic thrill in going through someone stuff.

Before leaving I have a quick game of Fruit and Veg chess, as the rules change I become aware of how quickly my attitude to having and losing things change along with them. Though an actual working knowledge of chess might have helped.

It's on to The Scrivener's based in the old Odeon cinema. Here I find a small space where Octopi ribbons of paper hang in the air, while a lady types away in the shops window. These are two pieces which deal with the value of words of the cost of communication, what are words worth. The typist in the window is Rowan Lear or The Scrivener she has set herself the task of transcribing an old book of Chester's history. She injects her own thought about the city and what is happening directly in front of her, collapsing two histories into each other. I feel that this piece is about the value of writing of the production of words, of how we transcribe meaning through the written word. Through that it also touches on the different forms of memory and how valuable that is and whether history can be commoditised.

Sharing this space is Heard Words a machine which spits out words, well tries to make sense of the word inputted into it. Speaking into a microphone your words are decoded or recoded by an invisible machine who spits out what it thinks you said. What comes out of the machine is quite often radically different to what went in; it's like a machine which converts everyday speech into beat poetry. I can't help but thing of Burroughs and Gysin as this mashed up beat poem forms in coils around my feet. The whole thing feels like a celebration of gibberish, a point towards the fallacy of words and therefore if communication can become this confused then where is its true value? It's also one of those pieces where the technology used to produce it provides fascination rather than distraction.

I stand outside reading Rowan's words and looking at Simon Faried's collected newspapers before moving on.

I am heading towards the Grosvenor Centre, all plastic shiny facades to find The Haberdashery. It's a little quiet I gravitate towards Anoushka Athique's Repair Stations. A small confession when I read about this piece I thought it will be a great opportunity to get my button sewn back onto my jacket. It's a simple piece where Athique will repair something you own in exchange for a story. It's odd coming up with a story and like many of the other people before me I come up with a 'story' that is about my personal history in relation to Chester. If you're wondering my first date at the now defunct Odeon. As I attempt to tale my story there's something at the back of my mind which makes me think about the history of storytelling and how this apparently unassuming piece is somehow connected to a grand history, of a different time when a tale was currency. Or is that just a myth?

I had arrived too late to catch Secret Door Theatre, and Kate Gater-Davies sound piece doesn't really engage me it feels like it can be developed more or needs to be presented in a different way.

Before I leave altogether I return to take part in Two Language Destinations auction, where the artist's engage and amuse. We also get to see subjective value of objects in action especially when an expensive piece of fabric fails to meet expectations and is sadly removed from the auction. I also get a really nice chocolate as well.

So what did I think of Rouges Galleries as a whole, well I found some interesting and involving works and I felt that the works fitted within the overall theme. Whether it was my bias towards the performance pieces I found the installation pieces to be less engaging or seemingly not as developed as the performance pieces. On the bus ride home I wonder what ambitions Chester Performs have for future versions of Rogues Galleries a North Western version of the Fierce or In-between Time Festivals? If so then this is something our cultural hubs of Liverpool and Manchester should be aware of.





Monday, 25 February 2013

Mark Leckey - The Universal Addressibility of Dumb Thing, The Bluecoat Liverpool

Tomb of the Feline

A huge form dominates the space. Its benign smile blesses the people who pass. It is the great magician Felix he stands, protector, guardian the other spaces. People take tribute by taking and sharing his image.


The mandrake and the green man speak of fertility. As the grossness of the growing spring swells mammalian glands and engorges erections. The force of the bull creates the reproduction of technology.


The animal as a cypher for human spirituality, for things unknowable. The knowing of are animal closeness, the ape hoots of Lucy. Spiritual exploitation becomes scientific exploration, animals become cartoons, and cartoons become animals. Both abide by the same laws. Also second appearance of Felix, are all black and white cat Felix? Felix cats love Felix.

Man Machine

The desire to reproduce, to replicate the human. To ascend beyond human form, objects given holy relevance. A Rocking Machine no longer that after use in Delarge death kill. Though stark warning of troubled aspect of man machine interface provided by cyberhead.

Man Machine 2

The progression of machine sexualisation. The configuration of the organic into the machine, organic rhythms made metallic. Pylons subject for still life. Schizoid’s electric waves influence Automatic Drawings. Man like machines, machines like man.

The Wheel

Mankind’s greatest achievement given prominence of wall space. Engine sparkles lethal attraction like they are want to do. Child describes the world as machine parts. Ballard reflected in the automobile influence on culture. The true description of the relationship of culture and technology.


The reflected image, reflects high gloss image unexisting outside of its reflection. Light emits, captured before. Reflected image shows digital self.



Monday, 4 February 2013

Tracing the Century, Tate Liverpool

I seem to be making a habit of making two trips to exhibitions, no bad thing really as it always gives the chance to revaluate the exhibitions. Often a second trip is necessary if a particular work you’re interested in isn’t up and running. As Anthony McCall’s piece in Tracing the Century wasn’t this makes Tate’s Tracing the Century one of those exhibitions, though that maybe I left my last visit till the last minute.

Trying to stretch my memory back to pre-Christmas I recall myself to be pleased by the exhibit. I get the sense of the exhibition as a reminder of the role of drawing, a refresher of the importance drawing. Drawing being one of those mediums whose ubiquity belies its power and commutative qualities. Consider that drawing is maybe, one the first  creative acts we undertake its one of the gateway drugs into the wider world of arts. On my first visit I slip into ideas of gestural marks, of a sense of a familiar movement across paper.

Things change on my second visit McCall’s piece is working. If I’m honest this piece is the main drive behind wanting to see this exhibition. It being one of those pieces of art that where so evocative when discussed during those long gone student days. Sentiment aside how do I react? Well stepping inside the room which houses the piece my eyes begin to adjust and I begin to adjust. Walking around the space my reaction to the curved lined being shot onto the wall by the projector on the other side of the room. I can see this object that isn’t an object, a thing which a whole and yet a combination of separate parts.  This is pure concept everything dependent on my perception and my, relative position, I move to being observer to part of the cone of light. It’s also very poetic, a beguiling, and illusory piece.

Stepping outside of the installation I began to revaluate the rest of the exhibition. The drawings become representations of darkness and light, they become variations of mass. I make an observation that I didn’t make on my first visit, that drawing are all interpretations of perception. Conversions of three dimensional space filtered through the perceptions and concerns of the artists. The shadows casted by the sculptures become solid and extend their physicality. I imagine that this is somehow reflective of the origins of the sculptures themselves, the line forming in the mind is marked across paper where they become solid and are able to cast shadows. It seems somehow cyclical.

Any criticisms? Well maybe the exhibition feels familiar and I would of liked to seen Tactia Dean’s sea drawings or Turner nominee’s Paul Noble’s drawings. There are still some surprises Andy Wharol’s drawing of mechanical delicacy is an example. On the whole the exhibition seems to part of a current curatorial trend to look at the fundamentals of art, exhibition such as Drawing Sculpture at Leeds Art Galley or Paper Cuts at Manchester. An exhibition like this provides us (we creative types I guess) with a reminder of how are interest in art began and why we continue to be involved.