Saturday, 30 May 2015

Surreal Landscapes - Carrington & Wilkes

There is a word, Mythopoeia

It’s a word that relates to the idea of myth making, of creating alternative worlds. Ones that often echo pre-existing myths, or myths that echo the world that they are generated in.

It naturally prevails in the worlds of fantasy and sci-fi, think the Mad Max movie. The word itself was invented by the ultimate in fantasy writers Tolkien and despite depicting a world of fantastical creatures it can be argued that Middle Earth is a description of the changes that befell England during and after the Second World War.

Within this word we see are natural desire to make things up, to tell stories in order to explain our world. It happens on many scales for example the simple telling of a personal event becoming imbued with great import.

A certain type of mythopoeia appears to be central to the work of Lenora Carrington exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Here paintings and drawings are filled with images drawn from a collective mythological world. The figures that inhabit her work seem familiar but in the way that déjà vu is familiar.

Her paintings present a kind of parallel myth, one born of a parallel history.

This is more pronounced in her large tapestries with their strange symbols and animals definitely give the impression of belonging to another history. While her sketches and statues would seem to belong to some forgotten book of lore or book of monsters.

There is a sense of magic in these paintings and I associate then with the ‘rule of name’ a tenet of magic wherein if you have the real name of a thing or person you can have real control over them. That there is a fundamental reality under the one we can see.

Like the wizards in Ursula K leGuin’s Earthsea saga.

Perhaps within this idea of a true name of a fundamental truth we can see or read Carrington’s work as an attempt to find that name. That the adaptation of myths will somehow create a way to discover something new about the world or some basic truth.

Myth making doesn’t solely apply to an otherworld it can also be applied to the world of the mundane. To the objects we gather around us and brush with a light fetish.

Heirlooms can sit on shelves and produce of soft mythology, a contemporary and active archology. This is present in the work of Cathy Wilkes who has a parallel exhibition with Carrington.

The moving between exhibitions provides an unusual sensation as if you are stepping into some kind of mirror world. Of stepping into a landscape like Carrington’s and yet not being wholly present within that world.

This is a landscape inhabited by figures that refuse to acknowledge your presence. As if we, the visitors, were sprits gliding through this world. Things aren’t concrete here some figures melt into the floor filling the space with a sinister dream like quality.

The people that inhabit Wilkes landscape stare blankly or intensely (its difficult to tell) at recognisable objects. They stare in a way that is alien they stare at comics; ceramics wallpaper as if looking at an unknowable past. Pieces of furniture wrecked and broken broadcast a strange worth.

This is a surreal landscape.

Though everything is recognisable it becomes alien. Like walking in a familiar place in thick fog. It disconcerting.

If there is myth here it is one that stems from the present, a present whose flitting nature nudges us into attempt to create meaning from the places and object, which we inhabit and use. The production of experience into memory calls for the need for mythology.

To sure up fragile memories and to keep us telling stories.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Social Behaviors

When the video camera become available and fell into the hands of artists. Some of the first things they did was to record relatively simple actions. Snapping tree branches, mooching around their studios and so on.

These actions carried on and the camera became smaller and cheaper and the camcorder became the means for artists to record things like trekking through their bedroom (Lucy Gunning) dancing in the street (Gillian Wearing) or autobiographies (Tracey Emin.)

What the camcorder seemed to offer was a certain type of freedom, allowing artists to catch phenomena or actions. A new spontaneity was offered, have camera will art.

Didn’t it?

Trying to think of recent video works which didn’t show either documentation of actions or wasn’t plonked down and let run. Maybe I need to see better video work.

This thinking was trigged by seeing the work of Li Binyuan at the CFCCA Manchester. His exhibition Social Behaviours features a number of performative actions captured by smartphone.

Simple actions simply captured.  

While I understand everything is more complex then it appears. Some of the actions presented, cartwheeling across a bridge, jumping in time to the rhythm of a passing train, flicking a lighter, remind me of those early video works. Press record and go.

It’s probably a falsehood but I can’t help but imagine Binyuan reaching into his pocket. Pulling out his phone putting it on a steady surface and getting on with it. I guess it appeals to the sense that art is a spontaneous reaction to the world.

Also it’s not just the videos, it is also how the videos have been curated. The videos are displayed in ways which complement the actions within them. For example Signal where the artist attempts to light a lighter in time with the flashing lights of a tower block is projected across two screens. Thereby creating a sense of distance. Similarly in Exercise 47mins featuring the artist apparently making trees sway by blowing on them, this is partly projected on a cloth which itself sways in sympathetic motion.

It’s a sympathetic curation which allows the themes and playfulness of the videos to come through.

It’s what the videos show and the way that they have been curated that prompted these thoughts on video art. That a certain expectation of what video art is and how it could be shown has been set. That for the last thirty of more years a convention of video work being shown on monitor or wall.

Echoing the tradition modes of cinema and television. Which was often used by artists to promote a sense of familiarity and pulling the viewer in.

The biggest change in galleries seems to be the move from monitors to flat screens.
Theirs is also the question of why there hasn’t been a ‘second wave’ of video artists. Given the availability of the technology and the changes of that technology it’s a wonder we haven’t seen artists embrace it to make and show art in new ways. Janet Cardiff has employed this tech in this piece.

Maybe it just hasn't gotten into the gallery space, maybe it’s up on YouTube. Maybe it’s a technology that artist are just understanding the possibilities in their hands.