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.

the sound of love and death

i had to put my cat down on the weekend. she had been with me for 14 years and i cannot tell you how much i miss her already. it’s crazy hurty at she sees red HQ right now.

something i’ve been thinking about during that time is related to ‘their constant loving silences’ that a friend used to describe our pets’ companionship. it’s the sound of her absence that is the biggest, painful silence:

no thump of her jumping on or off the bed
no loud, insistent meow when she heard the crack of a can opening, or the rattle of her catfood packet.
no low adorable rumble of her satisfied purring – the feline vuvuzelas
no sound of licking paws and general grooming
no scratching on the door, asking to be let in/out
no scratching all my magazines, insisting i wake up for her to be fed
no conjugations or diminutive versions of the word pussycat, cat or sweetheart (including poozie, pyjamas, pushkin or gorgeousness)
no concern about the sound of a vacuum cleaner – that machine monster that would drive her under the bed
no sound of three kisses (her particular call)
no gallumph of mad running down the hallway
no growling or hissing
no random skitters across the floor
no taps on the wedgewood saucer, that called for food
no tiny mew when she sees me crying
no general chit chat to a patient and quiet, loving listening cat

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death, silence, performance and architecture

Abracadaver_Bus2 Web

For some absurd reason, i’m reading Michel Foucault‘s Spectacle of the Scaffold.

Morbidity by the French philosopher seemed a fitting chaser to the sexual introspection and feminist meanderings of Erica Jong‘s Fear of Flying. Suffice to say, i’m having some weird dreams at the moment.

Anyway, Foucault speaks about the public changes of death-as-punishment and they appear to coincide with political changes of modern democracy. It seems that one man, one vote, also inspired the idea of one man, one death – that the punishment of torture by a thousand deaths (first drawn and quartered, flayed, then dragged along behind a horse and cart before being burnt at the stake and ashes scattered to the wind, etc) was barbaric (!) and not fitting a system that sought equality and civilisation. He describes the history of penal changes in which punishment is gradually separated from a corporal act into that of the soul (or at least the mind) – a concept which is well-known by the legal peeps, but i found it disturbingly fascinating.

All of this has got me thinking again about death.

Death as the ultimate silence – a true absence of sound.

Death as a political consideration – one necessarily built into the public system of governance, law and order and infrastructure. In terms of death-as-punishment, it is the absolute removal of a citizen’s place in society: the removal of one voice. And such a lack of voice is in fact the only silence in the public realm. It is primarily an undesirable one. Not this utopian, desired, i-just-need-some-peace-and-quiet silence, but the true absence of sound.

Death as an act to be performed– that the performance associated with capital punishment – in all its forms across the centuries – have been a performance of creating death and silence.

Architecture of death – the gallows, the guillotine, the dungeon and the death row prison ward – all architectural types for the creation of silence. Foucault speaks of the ever-lengthening distance between The Executioner and the prisoner – no longer does he even touch the body, but now presses a button. Has the designer who is charged with the task of designing these spaces begun to take on these roles?

These are just a few loose ideas, but something which has been an unexpected aside to my research into sound/listening/silence in public.

I know you think it’s too morbid a subject for a Sunday morning, but how’s this for timing:

– Yesterday was the Melbourne Zombie Shuffle
– Daniel Mudie Cunningham resurrected his Funeral Songs blog and
Elvis Richardson and Claire Lambe have opened a new space called Death be Kind which opens on 29 June with The Memorial.

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Nick Waterlow RIP

i just assume that people are going to die of old age. especially people i don’t know personally, but who are in my peripheral vision. I’m always afraid that my close friends and family will die in horrific ways, but every one else i know – the guy who owns the video store, Karen who i buy my felt from and any director of every biennale – they all just die of old age.

i’m shocked and saddened – to use an overused expression – to hear about the murder of Nick Waterlow, Sydney-based curator and Director of Ivan Dougherty Gallery at COFA. I didn’t know him personally, but a couple of his exhibitions and essays have stood out in my memory – especially his views on art practice as research. And he was a feature, a mark, of the australian art scene. A constant, of sorts.

My thoughts go to his family. So sad.

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optimus prime gets prostate cancer

[click image for video link]

with this vid having been pulled by you tube for some cartoon network IP violation, i’m probably contravening some kind of laws here too, but i just had to post a link to this awesome vid. it’s got all the cool things: transformers (prior to overpriced blockbuster), a robot changing into a coffin, a good health message and the best insult ever: ‘you’re such a retardicon’.


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abracadaver: last days.

Residence From Above

hey peeps,

just a quick reminder that abracadaver at bus gallery has its last day on friday. if you haven’t had a chance to pop down and see it, now’s your chance. gallery is open 12 – 6 both thursday and friday.


abracadaver: death and magic
putting the ‘fun’ back in ‘funeral’.

Bus Gallery
Level 1, 117 Little Lonsdale St
Melbourne, 3000
Skinny Gallery

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