Crying in exhibitions: Review of [re]locate at Bermondsey project space

I’ve seen thousands of exhibitions and some really inspiring and moving shows. I have lists of biennales, collections, artist-run things and performance showings on this blog.

The list of shows I’ve cried at is very small. It consists of  just two: Vernon Ah Kee’s this man… this woman... at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane and the new addition Tahera Aziz‘s [re]locate at bermondsey project space.

You can read about the vernon ah kee response in this post.

Background: twenty-year anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Children’s deaths are never pleasant – they are a reminder about the rotten nature of humanity. And when a child’s death also exposes the cancerous way in which we protect that rottenness, it’s especially heinous.

I’m not from the UK, so my experience of this show was as an outsider who had heard only a whisper of the murder case – primarily when the killers were finally convicted not long before I arrived here. But the case and the media/culture surrounding it holds a key place in the London psyche.

The work: audio documentary
The crux of the work at the amazing Bermondsey Project Space is the audio work. It is a darkened sound space – no visual stimulus at all, but a surround-sound, multi-channel re-interpretation of the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Different characters in different sides of the room, some are more audible than others. The people at the bus stop (witnesses), the police ‘responding’ to the crime, the locals living in the area, Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks, people who were first on the scene and the perpetrators.

It was an intense interpretation/dramatisation/re-enactment of the events of that night, in which a young black boy was killed for his race and in which the police were responsible for the lengthy delay in bringing about justice.

As a viewer, I became a ‘witness’ to the crime with zero agency. Completely unable to change anything about the course of events playing out to my ears. Immediately I felt fear, frustration and absolute despair at the ongoing racism, violence and the negligence from the state (and their representatives).

I felt my whiteness and my complicity.
And it is painful.

The contextual imagery, timeline and books about the case shown in the second room were also really helpful for someone like me who is outside the immediate throng of the case (including the incredibly role of the Daily Mail, risking litigation and challenging the police to charge the murderers).

It’s probably not new for those who lived through it to see all the stuff. But it is still powerful.

I also felt the nature of my privilege in that case. I have the chance to view this stuff objectively, to feel the sadness, despair, rage and then walk away. It’s not my life. It’s not my (immediate) community’s life. And it’s not the kind of thing I suffer.

Despite that, it reminded me of the countless Australian death-in-custody cases, the TJ Hickey case – the frustrating and ongoing institutional racism, especially enacted on young black men in the streets across the world.

After experiencing the work, I sat for ages and watched the astounding documentary secret policeman, which exposed the phenomenal amount of institutional racism in the UK police force. It’s jaw-dropping and unsurprising at the same time. I had never seen anything like it – certainly no Australian police force, or journalist, would dig that deep or go to that length.

I left feeling completely gutted. It’s not often I leave a show like that and it felt amazing.
As a whole, it is a work that facilitates immense feelings and to that end, it is spectacular.

There are a stack of events associated with the exhibition – sadly i had to miss last night’s screening of john akomfrah‘s handsworth songs (1987), but will be there next week for the conversation on expanding the documentary from outside the field of vision.

You must go and see this work. Really.

art13

On the first weekend of March I went to Art 13, yet another art fair in London. It didn’t feature any of the super-large galleries, which I quite liked, but did include galleries selling high-calibre work, a few more-experimental spaces, some publications and a performance focus.

It wasn’t so OTT that it was incomprehensible, but it had enough muscle to present a powerful view of art from the UK – with some galleries from Europe, Asia and South Africa.

Method


Because art fairs, like biennales, can be simultaenously overwhelming and underwhelming, you need to have a clear method for maximising your experience.

I was lucky enough to be able to go over 2 days. and, I have to say, over that time I think I nailed it. I did a loose sweep of the spaces of Friday and made it a bit social, catching up for drinks with Simone of discoballbreaker fame.


New galleries
I’m not a long-time londoner, but I do visit galleries fairly regularly, so it was refreshing and enlightening to see some of these new-to-me galleries, meet some of the staff and get a feel for what kinds of works they’re showing.

Fold gallery were showing a series of small works, mostly 2D, showcasing the intimate and accessible aspects of their artists’ capabilities. I quite liked the relief sculptures by Mark Pearson, totems of bands like Wall of Voodoo* The rest of the show also struck me as something uplifting and comforting – like I could have walked into someone’s home with a series of small works on the wall. Small enamel graphic paintings, patterns, etc.

Aando gallery is a German gallery which I had seen at a couple of the (comparitively awful) Berlin art fairs during my. It was great to see their works again, especially the work of a German pair  Andreas Greiner and Armin Kiplinger – a live sculpture of evaporating water drops, forming perfect spheres of joy, rolling around on a hot plate, fed from a drip feeder. So simple and beautiful.

In my palatial home, I would have it in the hallway.
That’s just how I would roll. In my palatial home.

Zimmermann & Kratochwill
When I wandered into this gallery space from the crew in Graz, what struck me was the images of nail art. The artist Poklong Anading was using the trend to talk about unskilled labour in the Phillipines. The curious objects on the wall were relevant to the process. I also saw a previous body of work featuring the cleaning rags found on the streets of Manila and really liked the singularity of focus and the street-references.

IMT
I have been meaning to get to IMT since forever. It was great to see what they were showing and I really liked the coal eyes for the wall by Laura Pawela (above).

It was such a simple idea and, from a commercial perspective, such a great piece. Cast silicone, coated in coal (which initially I though she meant kohl) and mounted on the wall at the height of the artist. Although, I guess they could be mounted at your height, or any person’s height really. I love the idea that the works come with measurements – how high to hang them. And that their this slightly creepy, but incredibly beautiful works.

Performance

The last few art fairs I’ve been to have had lots of talks, but not so much actual performance and I don’t remember being at one that had a booth and a rolling programme dedicated to it. Even if i didn’t get to see too much of it, it was an excellent piece of planning and it helped to make the fair more of an event

I got to see about 10 minutes of the Juneau Projects (above) and their bleak futuro-romantic epic based on future centered wholly around data mining, information and post-civilsiation. They read a spoken text work and played intruments – fluoro-pimped synthesisers, surrounded by fluoro plexi-glass toys and wearing wooden amulets. It was like Children of Men, Kraftwerk and last year’s H&M range all in a blender.

I enjoyed watching it, and having something to watch. Although, the aesthetic, which is part of the current fluoro-woodsy-scando-flavour left me cold and the content slightly depressed. Probably because I’m still in denial and the truth hurts.

Ceri Hand
As someone whose work has hovered between installation, drawing, performance, etc – it’s always refreshing to know that there are galleries who are working with artists to expand that kind of practice into a way to  maybe make a living from it. It’s not easy and it’s not perfect, but Ceri Hand are one of the galleries who are continuing to have the conversation with collectors and artists to bring them together in a way that can serve both sides as much as possible.

Despite my meh kind of attitude towards photography (which is entirely subjective), the performance detail from Bedwyr Williams with false beard, smeary make-up, damsel-in-distress look was striking and an obvious entry point into what performance brings to art collections.

Șükran Moral is a performance artist from Turkey whose work at the Galeri Zilberman stand was of a female mannequin in the middle of the space; legs-up, like in gynaecology stirrups, with a TV hiding her cunt. The movie was of a naked woman coming out of a haman, being covered by an attendent. Although the word Șükran has no significance in Turkish per se, I love the that pronunciation of her name in Arabic/English is the equivalent of ‘Thank You Moral’. What a great performance name. It goes so well with the edgy pushing work that she makes.

I love contemporary Turkish art – especially that of a performative nature and a lot of women are keening, striving to break out. I saw a lot of it at TANAS in Berlin (thanks to the big Turkish contingent there) and I feel like they have a sense of freedom and energy that loads of European artists are unable to access at the moment.

Publications

Jealous
Their centrepiece was a gorgeous A0 book open to a beautiful shade of aaaah-zure blue, referring to the seas of the world: Thomas Jenkins’ Atlas.

With real focus on print collaboration, they work with emerging artists to create limited edition print-based shows and publications to extend their practices. It reminded me a little of Lucas, Micky and Diego at Big Fag Press, but a little more white-glove. They’re a great gallery/project to be involved with.

Outsiders
I didn’t manage to get back in time to see the live print-run, but Outsiders (the print-arm of Lazarides gallery) had set up ‘shop’/press in the space and were printing and handing out free posters of some of their artists.

I have a bit of a hard-on for Conor Harrington at the moment, so it was great to see a couple of his prints kicking about. I coveted. Hard.

Given that, In a recession people don’t have as much disposable income to spend on blingy things like art, having a print arm is excellent business from Laz & Co and loads of people would leave the fair with a print or two under their arm, that will eventually become an original some day soon.

There were more traditional magazine publication stands along one side of the main hall, but they were pretty light on.

I know that everyone goes on about how print media is dead, blah blah, but I think somethig extra special could have been done with the magazines – online and offline that do continue to bring art to our mediated minds: e-flux, artsy, artinfo, zines, small magazines and even art bloggers. Ahem.

Education
Mind had a stall, showcasing a series of work by Simon Sempel and giving away a free poster of his. Focusing on mental health, Mind have a project working with artists to highlight mental health issues and work with artists on related projects, insittutions, etc.

I am personally interested in what Mind are up to inconjunction with artists, because I have an ongoing belief that artists need to be embedded across most public sectors in order to provide a different kind of relationship to art.

I also think it’s important to include these kinds of organisations/projects in Art Fairs – not just for awareness, but from an investment point of view. It could be an interested area to pursue in art fairs, an investor information section that supports organisations like Mind, those embedding artists in schools and prisons, etc.

Large sculpture

Some of the projects for the art fair weren’t quite as embedded as they could be – certainly not as much as I’ve seen in other art fairs.

The inflatable and mechanical flower by korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa, opening and closing/inflating and deflating at intervals – like something out of a nature time-lapse movie. It was so simple and so captivating, I regressed to a 5-year old and just enjoyed it. Imagine waking to that as your alarm clock in your palatial home? Hello, opening flower! OK, so it’s nothing conceptually rigorous or challenging and is in EVERY art fair right now, but hey, sometimes art just needs to make me feel like waking up in the morning OK?

El-Anatsui is always a crowd pleaser and seeing a couple of his gorgeous, gorgeous works is like seeing your nan. A smile of nostalgia and comfort. He will always sell well and I am glad about that.

Obelisk by Michaël Aerts

Made from custom road-cases, this sculpture is the imagined means by which a trad art piece might be transported around the world – complete with a pulley system and modular road-cases. As a form it was fun, alluding to the globalised nature of art, the practicality to public art and gallery logistics. Also perhaps a reference to how a lot of art purchased for large collections ends up in storage in warehouse somewhere.
Overall, there was some new and interesting work to see, and there is still a market for good work for people to buy and that perhaps the commercial aspect to art isn’t quite as dull or insipid as I had previously perceived.

Death: Mike Nelson and Susan Hiller

I have the great fortune of living around the corner from Matt’s Gallery. 

This is especially fortunate when the day is wet and cold and the gallery’s private view is so full that people are queuing down the street in the rain to get into a Mike Nelson installation.

Which is what it was like a few weeks’ ago when I went.

The Mike Nelson and Susan Hiller shows are an excellent combination of contemporary British Art. I like both artists for different reasons, so it felt like a two-for-one deal – great bang for your buck.

Mike Nelson

The insane passage of human bodies that preceeded More things (To the memory of Honoré de Balzac)  is mostly due to the fact that there is so much sculpture – fairly delicate sculpture – jammed into the gallery, requiring a 6-person limit. It also has the added bonus of generating a fair amount of hype and, if I’m generous, perhaps is the real Mike Nelson at work.

Especially because the work inside the gallery is kooky but not what I have come to know from his work.

Yes, there’s his wild-west aesthetic that we all know and love, a few dramatic and poignant pieces – especially an intense assemblage work featuring an Israeli produce box, Arabic signage, American Op.Desertstorm badge and an ‘enter at own risk’ sign – but not the usual installation and spatial influence that thrills me.

The element of surprise or unexpectedness in his work is not obvious, apart from the casual ‘oh, it’s a skull’ and a little more of  ‘oh, this isn’t like his usual work’ reaction, which isn’t satsifactory. It probably means I didn’t try hard enough.

Susan Hiller
On the day of intense queuing, Channels, the Susan Hiller room, was as much a physical respite from the crowds as an aesthetic balance for the Nelson work.

A largely-empty room, with the entire back wall filled with TV sets and screens of various sizes, colours and content. Mostly graphic (not uncomfortable, I mean, plain colours, lines, like graphic design), the screen sculpture conveyed the rhythm of conversations played out – a series of interviews on people’s near-death experiences.

Green oscillators, static, black screens, blue screens and the occasional flicker give an appropriate ‘backdrop’ for listening to sound works: documentary and fractured, you can dip in and out of these stories in the way that radio functions at its best. Or you can sit and stare mesmerised as your eyes wander over the faint rhythm of slowly changing screens as you listen to the whole narrative of these people’s deaths.

The place of light in the space is great, as the audience are bathed in this pale blue light, ghostly and slightly horrific (especially if you’ve ever watched either version of The Ring).

These two works together, opposed creates a beautiful and uncanny death theme running across the gallery, which I loved. The movement from this mortal coil from two different perspectives: hers from direct but calm curiosity in the active dying moments of people’s lives, to his deserted, Death Valley, departed graveyard of symbols that allude to it.

The exhibitons are on until the 14th April, so head to Mile End and check it out and feel free to pop over for a cup of tea afterwards.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

London Gallery Wrap Up: Bank and Sandback

This gallery wrap-up is driven by the BANK exhibition at MOT INTERNATIONAL (so many caps!), taking in the David Jablonowski show at Max Wigram and a Fred Sandback show at David Zwirner along the way.

BANK at MOT

Although not a London native, I first heard of BANK  in relation to Melbourne’s own cheeky anonymous collective, DAMP and also as provocateurs in the YBA era of UK art. I have always admired what MOT are doing as a gallery, so it felt right that the two seemed to meet up.

The exhibition is a collection of images, ephemera and original FAX BAK words, as well as a sculpture, a painting and a beautiful light box. It does all seem to be flirting with the exact commerce of art that the collective jabbed at for so long, but I’m sick of artists not being allowed to bite the hands that feed them, so I’d prefer to embrace this particular quirk.

If i had a medium-sized pile of money sitting around that I could invest in art, I would promptly buy all the FAX BAK originals. Not only because they are brilliant, but because I thoroughly enjoyed laughing maniacally at their content.

I didn’t enjoy having to stifle said laughter because nobody else was laughing, but goddamn the works are hilarious. Not just for straight-up wit, but for the sheer embarrassing close-to-home-ness of it all. All that artspeak that I have been super guilty of using in press releases and blurbs about my work, all ripped to shreds.

I enjoyed looking through the table of ephemera (if slightly overwhelming) and the lightbox was quite a beautiful object, as was the large-format black’n’white photograph. I can honestly say that I really didn’t like the sculpture of the BANK team – it was a little too Devo without being Devo enough. But to not like one thing in a whole gallery of works – their not bad percentages.

David Jablonowski and Pavel Büchler at Max Wigram Gallery

I was intrigued by this show. The installations featured a lot of synthetic display-type, media-influenced materials, loads of silver powder coating and plastic shapes, combined with moving image and/or light. I’m still not sure if it was to my particular taste, although I wasn’t completely repulsed. I am a little bored with install-on-floor trend in galleries, and would have liked to see the work get up a little – but there was a bit of 80s Patrick Bateman feeling about the show, which was interesting to me.

To be honest, I actually preferred the Pavel Büchler series of acid and nicotine drawings in the back – something about the simplicity of form and oxidisation process had me. I enjoyed looking at the studies of hands and the survey of the ways in which people hold cigarettes. And I usually can’t stand work that glorifies smoking, drugs or alcohol (I think we deserve better art than that).

Fred Sandback at David Zwirner

The highlight of the afternoon was easily the Fred Sandback show.

His works are site-specific installations of wool/thread lines and geometric shapes that play with perspective, triangulation, linear planes and dimensions. He uses simple colours, often black, red and blue, to outline and alter the relationship between the viewer and the space.

I first saw his work in Vienna at MAQ years ago and it was so great to see work like this installed in a commercial gallery; to play with the space through perspective and simple movement, to have my sense of vision and spatial assumptions messed with in such a delicate and concise way – voilà.

The spiral staircase was the perfect place to install a floor-to-ceiling work and the variety of works and spaces created in the gallery was perfect, and the gallery was packed. So deserved.

objects in mirror are closer than they appear: Project Space Tate Modern

I think the River Entrance Project Space at the Tate Modern is one of the most undervalued spaces in London.  I still think about the delicious Nicholas Hlobo show I saw there 4 years ago and the rest of their shows are consistently great.

Their current show  Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear,  is curated by Contemporary Image Collective Cairo and the gallery is drenched in darkness. The show’s premise is to reduce the privilege of the visual perception and reality –  the catalogue opening with a quote from Jean-Luc Goddard’s Le Gai Savoir, 1969.

“If you want to see the world, close your eyes”

Although mostly video works (which is quite the paradox), they’re all interesting ways of dealing with the theme.

There’s one work which is particularly hilarious to watch other people watching: A Middle Aged Woman by Ján Mančuška.  It’s a text piece – a slowly changing script of a narrative – that is presented on a screen and people sit down on the floor to watch it, like it’s a TV show. The ‘action’ they’re reading on the screen is enthralling and the reactions from the audience are fascinating – a cross between watching moving picture and reading a book. But together, in public. Like a group twitter session or old fashion ticker tape views.

Another ‘text versus image’ work,  Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana, is based on the conspiracy theory that the Miserable One predicted Diana’s death through his lyrics. It’s an amusing mash-up of Morissey lyrics, images and pop references connecting music-based poetry with the pastiche of the current Monarchy to create a history that isn’t necessarily real..

Dissonant is a  video installation by Manon de Boer that I came in half way through, so I didn’t get the whole of the work, but I’m going to tell you about the work from my experience.

It began in darkness – you hear puffing and grunting, moving and squeaks of flesh. You get the sense that it’s a woman, exerting herself and because it’s in the dark and I’m a perve, it’s get’s pretty sexual, pretty quickly. I stick with it, wondering what it felt like to listen to someone else having sex and whether, because it’s art, I’m not really prying.

This huffing and puffing sound piece shifts half way through and the video comes (back) into view. It’s not a couple having sex AT ALL, but a dancer rehearsing a contemporary dance work – squeaking and moving, huffing and puffing all over the studio, you perve.

I found that ‘big reveal’ so thrilling! I loved that my first thoughts were sexual, that men left the room all uncomfortable, only to see miss seeing what the true picture was. It also says something about contemporary dance: its sensuality and yet highly visual form.

Reading the catalogue afterwards, I can see that de Boer’s work actually starts with the image of the dancer and her music, with the darkness being half way through. But I don’t think it matters too much – the work is about the darkness, the black gaps that fix our memory of a film and perhaps the intense power of the auditory in a story.

Double is the retelling of a story about parallel universes, by Mančuška. Although in-jokes and meta narrative in art is getting tiresome, what with meme culture knotting us all sideways, this work is enjoyable nonetheless. Probably because, above all else, I love the work of Franz Kafka and this could easily have been made by him.

On a screen, there is an image of a man standing in front of the image of a man on a screen. The second man is sitting, telling a story to someone off screen. It looks like he’s in an institution somewhere, an interrogation room of sorts. The first man is standing, lit as though on stage, telling the same story to an audience off screen, although we only hear his voice narrating. The story itself is one of the first man coming home drunk one night to let himself into his appartment in Praha and faced with a stranger who attacks him. It turns out to not be his appartment, but an exact replica of it in Bratislava  – same section of the city, same looking block, same layout and same key access. A parallel.

Layer upon layer, truth over art over truth, replication and storytelling are all elements to this work. Its simple form allowed for all those themes and ideas to come through.

Yet, honestly, I’m not sure i would have stood and observed the work for as long as I did, if i wasn’t trying to get 3G reception near the door. It’s the first work in the entrance and a little intimidating to stand right in front of the door to view this work. I watched loads of people (friends included) walk right past it. So if you’re reading this before you’ve seen the show, keep that in mind and make sure you stop a while.

image credits:
Double film still, by Ján Mančuška from his site.
Dissonant film still, by Manon de Boer from the Galerie Jan Mot site.

Gallery wrap-up: Judy Chicago and Situations


This week’s art theme is pretty much all about vaginas. It’s odd what trends arise in a city like LondonJudy Chicago is showing at Riflemaker, featuring her early works. Given her particular place in feminist art history, the show was slightly disappointing. The works on  car hoods – specifically the diagrams for them were interesting, but not much of the other works. It coincided with a packed-out session at Whitechapel Gallery, focusing on Judy Chicago’s career, her focus for art as activism and the longevity of her Dinner Party work.

Sarah lucas project space, situation at Sadie Coles gallery featured impressive floor-to-ceiling meat genetalia wallpaper in your face as you walked in the door, including the image of two massive decorated vulva. It was quite spectacular.

The Situation series, run over a month-long period was a courageous show, allowing for a rotating exhibition of works, installations, experimentation and development – works in the ‘kitchen’, on a sink, sitting on tables, hanging from the ceiling and projected onto the wall. It was the welcome antithesis of the ultra-sanitised work of the decidedly boring Richard Prince show downstairs.

Collectors also respond well to works in a space like that. Not every work has to be shrouded in whiteness in order to give it the right space to be.