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

The Art of Listening

Over the last few days, I’ve been to a fantastic symposium called The Art of Listening – something I stumbled upon, but thankfully could capitalise on my time here and go.

(any day now peeps are gonna call me or invite when there’s something like this happening… guys? please?)

I’m not going to review it all, because, well, i want to keep some of the thoughts for myself for a while. But i might, down the track, talk about the fact that the organisers (across 4 institutions) kept speaking about it as a new area of research. And that, although not a lot of visual artists were represented*, there was a sense that this area that i’ve been focusing my life on is an interest point for those across a stack of disciplines and that they’re all conducive to one another: philosophy, architecture, history, musicology, engineering, media studies and sociology.

I’m going to mention just two things from the symposium, though:

I am now going to investigate the link between Edison Co‘s demonstration recitals of the Phonograph from the early 20th Century and the Steve Jobs/Apple model of business/promotion. I swear, from today’s presentation of Edison Co’s archives by Alexandra Hui, the similarities are uncanny.

And, I have a new brain crush on Jonathan Sterne, the Sound Studies Reader and his focus on a General History of Compression (which could also easily include Cory Arcangel‘s Essay on On Compression – especially the JPEG).

As you were.

image credit: reverb tests by wallace sabine for the new theatre, pinched from the soundscrapers blog

*except in a great paper on Christian Marclay by Lydia Goehr.

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the doors.

a.structure b.destruction c.an illusion d.all above

“But is he who opens a door and he who closes it the same being? The gestures that make us conscious of security, of freedom are rooted in a profound depth of being. Indeed, it is because of this ‘depth’ that they become so normally symbolical.”

gaston bachelard, poetics of space.

swoon! coming back to this book is like slipping on an old pair of tracky dacks: cliched, a little daggy, but oh-so-comforting.

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listening to the city, part II.

Dunja_TramStopWeb

following on from the not-listening project i posted about last week, saturday saw the extended remix of the listening to the city work that i’ve been undertaking. it’s a process work on the act of listening and the role of headphones in urban life, where sound is a public environment.

in the first part, i was a participant. this time, i mostly delegated. i had 9 other fabulous listeners with me to record and absorb the soundscape of the city, making freeform notes along the way.

4 curators
4 artists (1 of whom is also an artist)
a DJ
a stylish go-getter
a writer of sorts
and a slightly extravagant interpreter/member of the polis

each person listened for 1 hour, most in the same spot. each had over-ear headphones as a prop – metaphorically connected to a social code and literally plugged into parts of the city: stairs, handrails, garden beds, public sculptures, bike rails, bus stops, stone columns.

plus, we had the occasional person wondering what we were plugged into, what was going on. as ben said, he could hear ‘the sound of people’s necks turning to stare and wonder’.

i haven’t had a lot of time to distill the experience yet, but in the brief poring over some of the notebooks, it’s interesting to see the same sound events happening and the different ways in which people noted it, experienced it, recorded it. some sounds were noticed, others were not.

most of us went to my local, brother, for a much-need coffee and sweet treat afterwards. it was there that a fantastic round-table discussion happened about the nature of listening in public, the effect of the headphones – both aesthetically and accoustically, and the experience of public sound emersion. i recorded a chunk of it with my dodgy phone voice recorder and am hoping that it captured enough of the dialogue to be useful.

interestingly, everyone’s experience confirmed and related to the research/theory i’ve been poring over, and extended the nature of the previous projects. although it wasn’t quite as big as i imagined it to be, it was still a success, in terms of what i’m interested in engaging with.

thanks to anthea, ben, dunja, eddy, jaymie, kim, kira, nella, simon and uncle george from greece.

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public societies

my public life is sometimes fun

After I slovenly put together that last post about secret societies, i found myself divvying up (with my stepdad) this week’s Australian Literary Review, which seemed to have rather a lot of articles relating to the business of being a citizen – politically engaged and discussing issues pertaining to the broader notion of the public sphere.

I thought it was kind of a nice pendulum swing from the interstitial space of being in a secret society: neither public nor private.

Firstly I was excited to see that Jock Given wrote about the notion of privacy, using the ALRC’s recent review of Australia’s Privacy Act, For Your Information, as a prompt to review three publications which address the notion of privacy and ‘the public sphere’ – specifically in the media/comms realm, but still relevant to this little bunny (who, in case you hadn’t picked it up, is interested in art that addresses the line between public and private spheres).

Given reviewed The Spy in the Coffee Machine by Kieron O’Hara and Nigel Shadbolt; Blown to Bits by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen and Harry Lewis and Privacy: A Manifesto by Wolfgang Sofsky (one which I own). He broke the reactions to contemporary issues of privacy within the books into three ‘camps’: the ‘get-on-with-its’, the ‘get-over-its’ and the ‘get-out-of-its’: those that accept the changing nature of privacy, those who advocate it and those who rebel against it.

Some of the gems from the articles include:

…public melieux where one would not ordinarily expect to indulge in hightly private or intimate behaviour… (as a definition of the public sphere, in relation to surveillance)

or

“…Privacy to them (authors of Blown to Bits) is not a right to be separated from society, but one that makes society work. People need room to experiment, to deviate from accepted social norms, because there are no universally and permanently satisfactory one. They also need to develop and rehearse independent thought before its public exposure…”

Then, after a great article by Robert Dessaix on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s book on Fyodor Dostoevsky (one of my literary lushes), I read what was left of an article by Mr Kathy Lette – Geoffrey Robertson, about suggested format for our bill of rights. An excerpt from his upcoming book, Statute of Liberty: How Australians Can Take Back Their Rights, it was surprisingly rousing for me. I had tears in my eyes reading some of the statements to which Australians would pledge (according to Robertson’s proposal).

Most of them were fantastic, in tone, intention and content. I only had two minor issues with them:
Article 9, The Right to a Fair Trial is obviously taken straight from current statutes and not edited, as it all says “he” this and “to him” that. All the other rights are gender-equal and I would like to think that at the end of the first decade in the 21millenium, Australian’s first bill of rights would be one that addresses the rights of all citizens – in content and language.

And then Item iii of Article 15, Right to Own Property, states that “there shall be no confiscation of private property by the state other than when it is in satisfaction of a judgment deb or if it is reasonably suspected to be the proceeds of crime”. Whilst technically not confiscated, there is no mention of the fact that land which is being repatriated to Indigenous communities will be done so according to the Native Title act. Technically this contravenes the idea of all ‘owning’ land. I would like to think that Australia’s first bill of rights would acknowledge this important process of our national identity.

In fact, between those two rather chunky articles, it felt like I had read the kinds of things that should be discussed in mass media publications: the business of being a citizen: the politics of public life, rather than the private lives of people who have a higher paid stylist than me.

Wouldn’t that be something!

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