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.