word. sound. power: an exhibition review

A few weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny day in London, my fellow smart-lady, Zana, and I covered ourselves in wordiness along the southern bank of the Thames.

We sandwiched the BFI’s screening of Right On! between visits to the Tate Modern Project Space for their brilliant exhibition Word. Sound. Power.

Right On!

The Herbert Danska film is of the (original) Last Poets –  late-60s poets, performers, griots-if-you-will, from New York City. And crucial influences on the development of rap and hip-hop.

It was an amazing film, consisting of an 80-minute flow through eight pieces by the trio, backed by drums, costume changes and amazing black male power on a hot summer afternoon/evening.

The series of spoken word performances –  poems, matras, incantations –  were performed, spat and hand-delivered from the rooftop of a hot Harlem block on a sunny afternoon in 1970, to a dark soporific theatre in London.

As the sun tripped from east to west across the sky, the trio: Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, interchanged between lead performer. The different forms for each poets flow, their particular voice and rhythm were mesmerising and supported by a powerful drums, occasional dance and the uhs, ahas and energy of the other two artists.

Works like Poetry is Black, Jazz and James Brown were not so much choreographed, but embodied. As crucial element of the relationship between words and the body, between the themes of race, sexuality, white power and poverty, as they came spilling out.

 

 

Word. Sound. Power

Whenever I think about this show, lyrics from the Sub Swara ft Dead Prez song Speak My Language (Machinedrum Mix) comes flooding into my mind:

“This is word sound power, this is rebel soul.

This phenomenal exhibition is rebel soul, curated by two amazing women in conjunction with the fantastic KHOJ artists collective from India. It features 6 artists making work about sound, the voice, the word and power (not that you needed my help in making that leap).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has two works in the show. His work with Janna Ullrich, Conflicted Phenomes (pictured, pinched from the Tate website) is visual research and data map of Somali spoken language tests enforced to ascertain cultural original, to satisfy criteria for refugee status. As a data excercise on its own, it’s quite beautiful – with its graphic keys to each person’s relationships and language connections

As a reflection of official policy on the business of people’s asylum and freedom implemented by outsourced agents, without checks or balances, it’s creepy.

I was originally suprised to see that Australia uses this for their immigration processes. Then I really remembered Australia’s immigration processes and was unsurprised again.

His other work in the show, The Whole Truth, shines a light on the relationship between the place in which the voice and power intersect: the Lie Detector; When the voice is used to support incarceration, the place in which a person’s (political) voice is removed – according to Foucault.

Caroline Bergvall‘s word drawing and spoken piece was quiet, but striking. A poem, with all of the letter o-s taken out, and placed on the opposite wall, creating a spacial relationship to the word and the sentiment, supported by the surround sound work. It was simple, but I felt things.

Zana and I went back twice to see Mithu Sen perform I am a Poet and both times we missed her – she cancelled one performance, as it was too much to do too many in the day, and then she must have finished the reading early, because it was already over by the time we arrived after the movie. We were both super disappointed because we wanted to hear her.

But her work in the gallery is interesting and engaging nonetheless. I loved her underlying premise of nonsense as resistence. The language is crucially human and that defying the technology of language, there is a core resistance of all that is human.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum and his videos Arise and Keep Evans Safe Tonight were seemingly a major focus for the exhibition. Although, to be honest, I didn’t feel like they were as crucial to the themes of the show as some of the other works, or the exhibition as a whole. Just my opinion.

The interviews in KEST were quite lovely, giving young men a voice and ability to speak out. I especially enjoyed the KEST boys speaking of the common diasporic experience of going back to the land of one’s parents and suddenly feeling the ease of a culture that is deep within.

Added to the work in the gallery, the essays in the catalogue were amazing.

Both women speak about the relationship between sound, power, culture in different, but equally engaging, ways. They provided second and third angles on the underlying themes of the show, providing a solid triumvirate, reflecting the title itself.

Hansi Momodu-Gorden from Tate Modern writes about the experience of sound, referencing Brandon La Belle and speaking about it as a means of creating an ‘aesthetic space’ and the apparatus of the vocal, quoting Louis Chude-Sokei.

Asmita Rangari – Andi from Khoj speaks about the privilege of using the voice (and other sound means) to speak out – the ability and agency to articulate and the place of silence in this privilege.

The place of words, sound and power in contemporary aesthetics, culture and politics are particularly present at this time and the exhibition is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in any of these things, as well as the ways in which political ideas can be presented aesthetically not didactically.

The exhibition is on until November 2013.

TRIBE

 
For their exhibition at Peckham Space, Sarah Cole and the TRIBE of eleven young girls (from Southwark Arts and Culture Group) played and explored around the themes of female adolescence, feminism, group dynamics, hiding and inclusion. For the short period of seven weeks, they ostensibly formed a tribe of their own and explored its motifs, its ceremonies and its significant activities.
 

They have now turned Peckham Space into a journey of their clan – a living game of Hide-and-Seek  leaving clues and ideas about themselves, about womanhood and about their place in both secret and public worlds.

 

The installation doesn’t focus on a single visual point of expression, but has become an enjoyable space of touch, smell, taste, feel, vision and intuition, where the viewer can be simultaneously included and rejected from the ways of the TRIBE – as it is when you’re a teenage girl. 

Green/grass
The green exterior of Peckham Space and its overtly-geometric outside fuzzily merges with its inside through the presence of turf. Real turf. Their turf. Soft underfoot and smelling faintly of petrichor.

It immediately conjures all the Rococco images of grassy picnics, swings and lassez-faire frollicking that Fragonard would have loved. Except it’s South London and the frollicking in this show is being done by a small pride of fierce girls in bright, colourful full-bodied onesies and animal masks.

 

Play/play/play
Most of the ‘play’, crucial to their work, is revealed on video – a nice triple entendre. Most of the videos reveal the dance/movement performances the TRIBE did during their time with Cole: rolling and dancing on hills, cavorting on workshop floors, in public – displaying none of the usual self-consciousness of girls in early adolescence.

The video which sparked my interest the most showed one of girls drumming on cardboard box in Peckham Square at night – it was menacing, a challenge to all the forces, to fight, a reference to home (lessness) and being a woman at night in an open city square, masked in a onesie, Powerful and vulnerable.

The imagery was reminiscent of Gob Squad’s Super Night Shot (the onesie and the mask, slowmotion, at night) and it held the same playful and challenging spirit to public space and storytelling. But with the added friction of the main protagonist being a young teenage girl calling on a power uncommonly portrayed.

Costume
The onesie is an important feature of this show. I must confess to being a little cynical and my first impression of the onesies hanging in the gallery was a groan – against an item that seems to have gained cupcake status in certain female sections of the creative community.

However, in this context, it was the perfect costume to reveal the actions of adolescence, whilst avoiding the unwanted (male) gaze and unnecessary distraction of fashion with all its heavy and sexualised symbolism.

It seemed to allow the girls to play without burden, to really move in new ways and to connect with the self. Perhaps similar to the role of the burqua in certain religious circles (or so I’ve heard) – a removal of the pressure to match outsides with insides.

Music
Peppered throughout the space are points of musical connection. In the entrance, a gorgeous old record-player plays a custom vinyl of music from the group (arranged by Isa Suarez), a cuckoo clock keeps a rhythm for the show and  on the opening night, a drum kit was set up outside the gallery – free for anyone to bash on it –  a chaotic counterpoint to the ice cream truck playing Greensleaves.

When I spoke to Cole about the reasons sound and music were connections between ideas, she suggested that it was instinctive.

It makes sense to me that this, in particular, was the means by which the presence of intuition in the TRIBE was was conveyed:  the relationship to sound is personal, without necessarily being gendered, class-based or ascribed the heavy weight of society that visual or even performative works can be. It is a lighter touch to speak of identity and perfect for the in-between-ness of a group of teenage girls.

Buckingham Palace
Thanks to this show, Peckham Space has acquired a new mantel over the entrance with a fluorescent re-naming as Buckingham Palace. Lit up until 3am, Cole thinks that the outside of the gallery now ‘looks more like a nightclub than a gallery’. The duality of irony and appropriateness betwen the hot mess of bustling Peckham is so cheeky, it’s delicious.

And that same Buckingham Palace motif again switches from outside to inside, becoming a score for the small music boxes that are mounted on the walls. You can literally ‘play’ the word Buckingham Palace over and over again.

Cole was forthcoming with a lot of information about the show – the meanings and processes behind the works, but when it came to discussion about Buckingham Palace, she chose to not reveal its significance. It was part of the language that stayed solely with the TRIBE – hidden and private. Special.

Ceremony
The opening night was, in tribal terms, a ceremony: it gathered together all the people involved in the TRIBE (and those of other tribes), to come together over food  – free softserve icecream, drink, drums, music and costumes to exchange ideas, ways of doing things; to touch palms.

One reason I make this self-consciously gauche analogy of the occasion in tribal terms is because of the relationship between adolesence and rites-of-passage (and not just a thoroughfare in front of Peckham Library). In white, western, especially urban environments, we have ceased to continue those actions that acknowledge movement from one state of being to another.

The other reason I bring up the quasi-ceremonial aspect to the evening is because it presents an entirely different percption of the exhibition and of the TRIBE than the one most people will experience. Those present for the event received the full extent of their expression.

Most people will see the exhibition in its quiet, daily manifestation: a slightly kooky place with slowly-degrading and trodden grass, video works of girls twisting and birds killing, not a lot of noise, save the record overhead and the sound of traffic outside.  It will become a much more contemplative ‘village’ and some of the underlying ideas will not be translated, whilst others, perhaps sadness, death, loneliness, will really come to the fore.

Yet, this is me, a white woman from an urban setting, nativising the whole situation, which I acknowledge is problematic. Cole herself mentioned its problems, but is still seeking to discuss these ideas of Tribes (as opposed to Communities) for group dynamics. Can a bunch of girls from disparate racial, social and class backgrounds create a new tribe for the purpose of talking to each other and creating new cultures? Why did it work so well?

These are the kinds of questions that I suspect drew me to the exhibition.

As well as revealing aspects of identity and definitions of femininity, like any good exhibition, it continued asking me more questions than those it answered.

Important ethical questions, like what is the role of the elder/artist for a group of young teenagers in contemporary life? Is it to guide? Is it to draw from and adapt either the past or other worlds in order to understand this one? Or is it to only present our own experience – with all its inherent benefits and problems, and allow them to take what they will?

Adolescence is difficult for everyone. This exhibition, rather than ‘fix it’, has found a way to continue to explore it without it being painful or saccharine. It opens up the gallery and the discussion – from inside to outside, to allow for those questions and that difficult fuzzy space to hang; unanswered, but honouring the process of being allowed to work it out. Just like being a teenage girl.

 
This writing was first published on Interface (May 2013) www.a-n.co.uk/interface as the result of a Critical Writing Bursary provided to a-n by Peckham Space

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.

systems and depravity: sarah sze, the white room, grayson perry and candice tripp.

i’ve been quite ingrained in the residency – not really leaving the ‘compound’ of hackney wick much. but i have tried to at least check out a couple of exhibitions every couple of days – get out of my head a bit.
systems: sarah sze and crystal world

i’m a sucker for a moving system in artwork. 
hany armanious’ worm castings piece bubble jet earth work was the first time i discovered the beauty of watching organic and mechanic process come together in an art gallery.
of course fischli and weiss’ der lauf der dinge is a seminal systemic work that is beautiful and progressive and subtly performative that has become my desert island piece for this kind art.
i recently loved pip stafford’s crystal workall my world is a scaffold in hatched at PICA. i thought i wrote about it here, but it turns out i was too busy getting busy in perth to bother actually blogging about it.
and in the last week or so, i’ve seen two more works that really tickled my fancy, making me think that there’s some of spooky connect happening at the moment:
crystal world at [space] in the white building. it’s across the road from performance space, so i could literally pop in and check it out, watching it grow and change. 
based on JG Ballard’s novel of the same name, it is an exhibition that is the result of an open lab reconfiguring old circuit boards and apple power macs. using rock ores, water pumps and baths, acid solutions, high voltage and electrolysis, the work is developing new forms and chemical muckery. there is a section using the live culture from natural yoghurt (to do what, i’m not sure yet) and mimesis of neuroscientific circuits using natural and commercial electronic elements.
it’s quite intriguing to watch and i always like work that has me looking and analysing the way of things in a beautiful way.

sarah sze is someone who does this super well. i’ve always liked her work and i was quite excited to see her show at victoria miro – especially as i usually only see painting in that gallery. she took over the whole of the ground and first floor galleries with a series of systemic installations.
the ground floor contained about 5 smaller works – from simple linear extensions, to complex and tenuous balancing pieces, some with movement, most with light. they are so exquisite and beautiful.
the whole gallery upstairs is darkened to host a large-scale work in the round that reminded me of a solar system, but also of the camp map of burning man (and image that went around a while ago). a pendulum swings around and across the installation, tracking form, light, connection and space. as well as her sticks and clips and string and paper – there are replicas of contemporary and natural objects, which is something that i noticed (wondering why she didn’t use a real show and/or mice).
you could get lost in following each overlapping track and path that the works make.
depravity: grayson perry and candice tripp

grayson perry is famous here.

i only know that because when i walked into the gallery to see the sarah sze show, it was crowded – full of old women and couples checking out the show. not that sze isn’t entitled to that kind of crowd, but it’s not what i usually see when i go to a show at that gallery. turns out grayson perry is on the telly and now draws massive crowds.

which is great. he has some important things to say about class  – a particularly white english thing that still really exists. and his tapestries in this show are quite amazing. based on rake’s progress, vanity of small differences documents the social mobility of contemporary life – made possible through the technological revolution (following on from the last movement made possible by the industrial revolution). it follows tim rakewell, a kid raised by a single mum and his grandmother, who marries into more money, makes it big as a geek, becomes a classic middle class smartypants, rich nouveau riche twat then ends up in the gutter. grayson’s style is garish and graphic, perfect for tapestry and ceramic vases. he uses symbols, codes and behaviours of contemporary life, so the works are easy to ‘read’.
whilst he doesn’t go into intense depravity, he scratches at the facile and unpalatable pursuit of ‘progress’ and our vapid desires. the courseness of human motivation and relationships vibrates in all those pinks, yellows, bright blues and clashed combinations of colour. they’re quite fabulous.

as a compliment, candice tripp‘s painting show at black rat projects is a stark and dark exhibition of humanity’s fight for survival with similarly depraved means. actually, both shows reveal humans’ mean-ness and shallowness.
children, masked in animals and tribal symbols appear to ‘play’, yet leave each other ostracised, dying, diseased, scarred and discarded. the competition and territorial nature of humanity, especially faced with scarcity comes through.
and maybe because i’m doing a bit of research towards HIV in southern africa, but the dynamics between the young girls in these works and the creepy beautiful titles reminded me of the social messages coming out around the disease: promiscuity, judgement, privilege and ignorance.
all of these shows had a nice balance between the way of things and the way of being. i like it when that happens.
thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

OE

i just got back from a roaring trip to sydney and brisbane. sucking in as much art catch-up as i possibly could in two days for each city. easier said than done.

olafur eliasson at the MCA was a massive drawcard and, thanks to sydney’s terrible public transport, and my awful time management skills in the face of such chaos, i didn’t get to the gallery until friday morning.

funnily enough, it was exactly the kind of exhibition i expected it to be. usually i like surprises in my blockbusters, but there was something extraordinarily comforting about this sense of familiarity.

the mirrored window extension as you first walk in, with its tunnel of one thousand reflections, was perfect for the vista over circular quay and his spectral mirrored architectonic passageway into some of the main galleries was just beautiful. that colour reflective acrylic is an amazing material that seems to be made for OE and his light/colour spectrum schtick.

on either side of the entranceway were two moving light-based works, both reminiscent of film history (especially hitchcock) – one created spaces using the angles of 7 massive quartz light cans and the other used the combination of filter and refraction to create a revolving light/colour installation.

i have seen the lego room before, so didn’t participate, but i wasn’t surprised to see it filled with teenage boys, building their koolhaasian architectural monuments to the phallus. it was so cliche, that it took the glee out of it for me. although i was pleased to see the one asian boy building a great wall-esque extension – going for span rather than height. interesting ethnographic studies in that room abound!

bracketing the lego room were two spaces that investigated pure colour and light. the circular reflection cylinder was dreamy – on a slow time-loop which graded the colour from one end of the spectrum to the other, slowly moving through from violet to red and every shade in between. as i overheard, at no time, were you ever a witness to a single pure colour – always moving from one to the next.

the other colour-light room was all pure colour. yellow (which, strangely, is the single colour i have always associated with OE. probably because of his sun work, but maybe even before that..). whilst loads of visitors were all freaked out by the purple compensation sensation, i enjoyed the strangely flattened depth of field. it was beautiful to just watch the human form in an altered palette – all nostalgic and dreamlike. i could have actually stayed in that room for a really long time, but sadly i had time constraints.

tracking back through the gallery, past the entrance to the southern wing i flicked past the photos of geological colour samples. i kind of found it boring, although it certainly put his practice in to context. and i went straight into the model and print room, where i fell in love with his 3-part colour wheel/palette prints. they were embossed and layed over each other so that the colours were in a wheel, created by an overlapping triptych of prints – with a perfect triangle of space in the middle. oookkkaayyy, so it does sound pretty simple, but my colour/shape/math geek self went a little weak at the knees.

which was backed up by the part of the show that made me go quite silly with love. i call it the tessellation station.

the first room was lined with his moss wall. by this stage of the show, it was whitey-yellow, all the chlorophyl having been drained out of it. in fact, it reminded me of how the great barrier reef is going to look in the not-too-distant-future, will all the coral being bleached out of existence by the lack of ozone.

in that room was the coolest kaleidescope object – aluminium cones joined together to create a myriad of facets and reflections that produced such simple, but beautiful shapes of reflections. these were visible either through being inside the space and looking out through the cones, or from the outside, looking into the cones. even the structure itself, with its quasi-industrial connections and materials. and, at the same time, the whole thing reminded me of something out of Dragonball Z. or something like that.

the final space was the water-room, which was preceeded by an earthenware brick corridor, floor to ceiling, which modulated temperature, insulated the space and acoustically deadened it. although most treated it as an interstitial space, i loved that in and of itself.

so much so that i forgot to go back into the cloud room. d’oh! if you’re going to the show in the next 4 weeks, don’t do that. go all the way to the end and into the cloud room. especially if you don’t have the chance to go back. like i don’t. boo!

anyway, the OE show is fantastic. i was a little concerned that the show might end up being an extension of ego and i would end up hating mr eliasson, or at least feel slimey afterwards. not so – its timbre is so perfectly weighted that i could go back again and again and again.

bravo!

image credits: all pinched from the mca site.

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