Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Monday, 18 April 2011
Sunday, 17 April 2011
Saturday, 16 April 2011
Tate Britain 1 February to 15 May 2011
Lost and Found in E17 has ventured into some very dark spaces recently all in the name of field research with a psychological bent. Ever willing to seek and receive guidance and inspiration I have visited elder and eminent artists who have conducted field research with exemplary creativity. Susan Hiller’s retrospective at Tate Britain provides willing field students with many opportunities to study radical and innovative explorations and accounts of the often overlooked and ignored aspects of our culture.
The exhibition is all most a maze of installations, in and between which it was easy to become disorientated or lost. I entered the spaces or chambers via short dimly lit passageways or thresholds. Some of the installations were unnervingly dark spatially and metaphorically; the darkness paradoxically came and went with the ephemeral glimmers, rays and beams of the constituent slide and video projections. Once inside and immersed it was sometimes difficult to tell if, while betwixt and between projections, others (Hiller acolytes) were there. Indeed, fellow visitors entered and exited so quietly and respectfully they might have been supernatural. Was I alone in this perception or imagination of an art experience which was so purposefully designed?
What powers were being played out in these chambers of ‘paraconceptualism’? ‘PSI Girls’, a 5 screen video installation, each featuring colour filtered clips from movies in which girls were (viewed) exerting telekinetic powers, relayed the potencies of some childhood female/feminine minds. Objects were moved, and materials transformed, by thought alone. Accompanying this concerted and directed telekinesis was an intense soundtrack consisting of ecstatic drumming and clapping. The clips shuffled between screens and colours in a series of different permutations - each cycle repeatedly reaching an abrupt climax of white noise and visual static. Here was a collective consciousness in flux but to what effect or consequence? The contrasts and juxtapositions of assorted phenomena, alarm, innocent playfulness, sinister experimentation, terror and disbelief were intriguing, and might have been more immediately perplexing had I been able to shift from a sense of security, in which I believed I was just watching harmless celluloid bunkum.
In response I imagined I would recall, falsely, having been a subject of an infantile fantasy of another’s omnipotence. As a diligent field student I attempted to make notes, trying to maintain a cool anthropological observer status, and to resist the mass eroticism of pleasure being enacted. As I began to write ‘PSI’ my writing hand was taken by a telekinetic power. I could only scribble frantically or, to use a para-technical term, write automatically. After many cycles, I detected a whiff of gas on my breath, and fearing one of the PSI Girls was turning my bodily fluids to petroleum - and especially as another PSI Girl had demonstrated a power of remotely igniting baths of water into flames - I exited tout de suite. No matter how much I enjoyed this fantasy I was not going to spontaneously combust for the pleasure and privilege of it. Later I wondered if my automatically created memento could have been the result of a connection with just one of the PSI Girls.
Concerned about my literal and para borborygmic state I headed for some of the less enclosed spaces of the exhibition. Finding refuge on the bench which formed part of the work, Monument, I reflected on how vapid my responses to the installations were; symptomatic of a super ego resisting the potentially enlightening draw of a mercurial and troubled feminine collective unconscious. In the book to accompany the exhibition, Jorg Heiser writes,
‘Questions such as ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ or ‘Do you believe telekinesis exists?’ are somewhat beside the point for someone versed in these fields: collecting stories of the mysterious is not primarily about ascertaining the existence of supernatural phenomena, but about exploring them as manifestations of the individual or collective imagination (not excluding, crucially, the imagination of the person who is doing the inquiring).
In this respect there is a case for an anthropological survey and creative taxonomy of disbelief and mocking scepticism. My self-indulgent joking aside I acknowledged, privately or inwardly, a great deal more imagination and sophistication had gone into the creation of the exhibition than that which I brought and I could try harder to empathise with the real situations and imaginative constructs to which it referred. There in is the issue of a viewer’s willingness or reluctance to relinquish a safe distance and get into the mind of the artist and those the artist is trying to communicate with and about. My facileness with the installations may be indicative of an emotional vacuum and artlessness I brought to the works or plain callousness given the tragic circumstances of those who are memorialised in Monument. On the bench accompanying the memorial plaques of Monument, there was a cassette player with headphones through which the artist talked about the work. Hiller (I assumed) commented,
‘Safe art ignores death and ageing, the limits of our understanding, fear, the existence of evil, despair, rage ..... the enormous pressure created by the vacuum of the virtual absence of these elements obliterates all strong feeling including joy...’
One of the photo-plaques making up the whole assemblage of Monument is that for a,
Henry James Bristow
Aged 8 at Walthamstow
On December 30 1890 - saved his little sister’s life
By tearing off her flaming clothes
But caught fire himself
And died of burns and shock
And so I wondered at the turmoil of joy and despair this dedication evokes while also failing to reconcile the foolishness of my mock irrational fears at, or in, the mind of an out of control PSI Girl. Much of the charm and appeal of the retrospective is its capacity to play on ambivalence within the discrete fields of each exhibit as well as in the spaces between them. Carrying a joke (a self indulgent entertainment for example) from one site to another did eventually have disturbing consequences and together with a little more thought (of some sort) each encounter became less neat and self assured.
For field students of 'An Entertainment', there is an opportunity to witness a mass outing of Mr Punches in early May
Friday, 15 April 2011
Monday, 11 April 2011
Saturday, 9 April 2011
Thursday, 7 April 2011
The question of how LBWF manages the portfolio of public arts was prompted by my experience of trying to access, 'Linked' - an audio walk/installation by Graeme Miller.
Despite being supported by the London Borough of Waltham Forest, there is very little information about this work by an acclaimed international artist on the council website. All I have found about this work via 'lbwf.gov.uk', so far, is this list of celebrities and notables, which features Graeme Miller.
If the information is there, it is not virtually, literally or metaphorically jumping off the page. When I went to various libraries and a museum to borrow the equipment necessary to participate in Linked, many members of staff (council institutions & employees) did not know what I was talking about. The equipment was (eventually) provided following various enquiries and I recommend Linked as a public art work. The work is partly about people who lost their homes, sometimes forcibly evicted, to make way for the M11 Link road.
I appreciate it is of little consequence I expended a little more time and effort getting access to Linked than I expected however the experience prompted me to ask if various cultural strategies are pointless. The council has expended public funds on a variety of strategic surveys and initiatives which might be considered ineffective.Perhaps, like the provision and management of public footpaths, public art in Waltham Forest is sometimes lost in a labyrinth of strategies - a relevantly dated blank map.
Further afield, beyond the M25, other borough councils appear to be more inspired by London 2012. I was in Ipswich recently and picked up this free guide at the city library. Below are a few scans from the 35 page A5 booklet. It is available for download via Ipswich Council website.
Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Monday, 4 April 2011
Blackhorse Road April 2011
Saturday night saw a lonesome field student of E17 temporarily vacate his cloister of erotic misery to make a bee line for the bright lights of the High Street, Walthamstow. Intent on stripping a bridesmaid bare (or two, even) he proceeded with an artful swagger. He thought his luck was in when three headless bridesmaids emerged from the darkness of the Crest charity shop.
He tried courting their attention, volunteering his services from down on one knee, however he was incapable of arousing anything but a mannequin stillness and silence - which he thought dumb before thinking better of such a judgement.
Determined not to be deterred or frustrated in his erotic mission our man decided to try dating some buildings instead. Earlier in the week the field student had loitered on several apartment block corners admiring the ornamental facades, at times lost in an Arcadian reverie. That evening he could not find the date stones for the building of St James St Apartments and the International Supermarket.
Suddenly the Grotesques (grottesco) of medievalist fantasy cried out like an awful conference of emergency service sirens. So intense were the cries, screams and wails of these terrible visages the field student had no choice but to seek the sanctuary of an altogether more peaceful and refined location - fleeing the arcade in search of a night garden.
Earlier in the day, north along the Blackhorse Road, the field student had spied a front garden between the corners of Courtenay Rd and Cornwallis Rd. Close to a bus stop, the garden was occupied by a line of resplendently blossomed trees; a free(?) cherry blossom festival. Seeking some philosophical solace, the ornamental male headed for the mysticism of the sakura (or ume) and the consolation of hanami. Given the field student’s nocturnal predilections this hanami would be a yozakura. Were the trees plum or cherry? Would there be, as in parts of Japan, a rowdy lantern lit party? No.
The field student strolled about the trees imbibing the atmosphere of the blossomed place hoping to revive his spirit. But for the flow of traffic along the Blackhorse Road it might have been a more peaceful experience. Although without a lantern the student had a camera and flashed the trees, capturing their floral images. He imagined this site and ephemeral illumination viewed from a greater distance. Two young women arrived at the bus stop, and finding the sight of someone photographing trees at night amusing, started laughing mockingly before being shuttled off by a night bus.
The field student recalled another tree in full bloom; one which during a hot and sunny June day had been so full of foraging bees of all sorts, it hummed or sang of a nectar flow.
According to this site, the rowan has some relevance to those searching for ghosts.
The wood of European Mountain Ash is a tough, strong wood used in making tool handles, cart-wheels, planks, and beams. The Rowan was once a tree of ill repute in Northern Europe, where the Celtic Druids had venerated it. It was associated with witchcraft in 15th-16th century England where it was a symbol of paganism and the supernatural - and in some circles it has magical properties good for the virility of the male essence.
For this student however, the digital camera screen blinked indicating exhausted batteries, and without an ash in sight, he made his way home