Monthly Archives: July 2013

Shoreditchification

Unwisely, I decided to see the Bill Viola show Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures at Blain|Southern on Saturday. Positive: it wasn’t the very last day. Negative: I already had several social appointments for later in the day. Still, the idea of waiting around at home until 4pm seemed wanton, so I headed into town. Video art can be quite problematic in galleries, I’ve found, especially with longer pieces, when you don’t know at which point you joined. In the past I’ve noted with approval the extra documentation the Whitechapel provided, including specific show times. Against that, perhaps it’s an interesting wrinkle that people can experience something rather differently based on the timing of their gallery visit.

The first room held five different videos. Three were of different people walking along a stretch of the Mojave desert riven with heat haze and, in one case, a sand storm. There were gradual transitions as two of the groups walked towards and then away from each other and the camera. A fourth consisted of two screens, one showing a man waiting in a chair and the adjoining one showing his “soul”, rehearsing a range of vivid emotions, contrasting with the (mostly) impassive “body”. By far my favourite was the fifth piece in the room, with nine screens each showing loops of repetitive and often Sisyphean tasks, such as a boat in which one person baled water in while the other baled it out and a man emptying then refilling a wheelbarrow. I thought it was hilarious and the way it was presented made the viewing process more interesting, as sounds from the different screens interfered with each other and the viewer was able to play games with them.

The other standout piece was The Dreamers, downstairs. There were seven screens spread around the room, which also had an enveloping soundtrack of glooping and roiling water noises. Some people went up close to particular screens, while I preferred to stand in the middle and move my gaze around, wondering whether they were actually underwater. Bubbles appeared periodically from people’s noses and wandered upwards towards us and there would on occasion be a greater disturbance in the water that would gradually spread across the screen. This reminded me of one of the Thomson and Craighead pieces I’d seen the previous Saturday, in which people were holding their breath underwater, until the moment of release.

After another social engagement on Sunday, I travelled, impeded by Edgware Road weirdness and an impulsive journey of one stop in the wrong direction, to Westbourne Park and specifically the Trellick Tower, referred to in so many architectural documentaries and articles I’ve seen. What I’d come to see was The Ballad of Skinny Lattes and Vintage Clothing. Walking along the canal, there were kids hiding from each other while others skateboarded and played around. There was no sign relating to the event that I could see and the only salient indication of something happening was what looked like a clothes shop with people at the window:

Skinny Vintage

Skinny Vintage shop window

An Italian couple went inside just in front of me. They were architects and wanted to explore the tower. The man at reception man told them they needed permission from the council to look around, so they left rather disconsolately. After I showed him my printed out ticket, he directed me to the lower ground floor. This little journey reminded me of my own time living in a tower block (there must be something universally frumpy about them). Outside I saw the same gathering of people by the “shop”. Hamfistedly I proffered my ticket again and to my relief that was the “event”.

People were milling around in the shop, which had a bar and a vintage stall, some others sitting on armchairs who had an air of involvement, while some were filling out application forms for shares in Skinny Vintage, and examining their receipts.

A few minutes later, there was a short satirical video about artist-led regeneration, with clever B.U.S.T. and B.O.O.M. backronyms. The artists referred to as having taken up residence in the regenerated area were replaced

with people who looked and behaved exactly the same, leaving them free to move on to new venues.

We were then led through into a larger area. A man in a suit with a cardboard box on his head:

Out guide waits by Wall Street on the plinth

was waiting and when all had arrived he rotated the small model on the plinth and the show proper started. Sounds emerged, then we followed him around the dingy space, which was in fact a disused car park, so there were bays set off to the sides, some of which had been customised. He would stop and deliver part of his story, then perform what sounded like a Hebrew chant, with sound snippets in between. There were references to the Futurists and noise as music. Best pun of the evening was when he produced a photo of himself as a child in a costume designed by his mother – a jockey covered in records:

That’s right – a disc jockey

This was after he’d shown us this bay:

Record Shopping trolley

The guide made references to the prevalence of anti-semitism in discussions of Big Finance and told some increasingly poor jokes,

More of which can be found at http://www.racistjokes.info

In one area, the first people to follow him sat at a table, were given drinks and asked to fill out forms. This reminded me, in a much more gentle form, of one of the stages in It Felt like A Kiss:

This is where the money is

Prior to that we’d been ushered through a windy area plastered with hysterical money-related newspaper excerpts, which again reminded me of the Curtis/Punchdrunk piece.

After his speech, the guide picked up the wand resting on the cushion, and used it to both mix and trigger sound recordings and musical elements from the laptop.

We were led into this bay, where we were given a currency note:

Skinny Vintage Fiver

The guide and some of his assistants held out their money and ate it.  As you can see, I chomped the corner of mine, too well enculturated to eat the whole thing.

The rest of the show included a fireside book reading, replete with velvet dinner jacket and analogue tape material, a reggae song about Vintage Lattes and the like performed in the vinyl bay, which now had flashing police lights, and finally a sixties-style show song about Shoreditchification and Modern Gentrification.

I really enjoyed this unlikely walk around the entrails of a famous tower block. There was a tension between the actor’s words and his super-earnest delivery, which was very effective. A great performance from him and the whole thing worked rather well.

There’s more about the group behind it (the Neo Futurist Collective) here and here. I’ll definitely keep an eye on them and try to catch their future work. Also involved is Fruit For The Apocalypse.

While I was there, I couldn’t resist taking a predictable photo of the tower itself:

Trellick Tower

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Only the finest Mosaics

This weekend’s pathetic delay was caused by ridiculously slow printing of my East End Live ticket. Twenty minutes for a single page. Tsk.

My first destination was the Bank of England, for a special tour. There was quite a queue, which allowed me to read a bit of The Week the same day I received it. Possibly a new record of reverse-backlog activity. There were two men by the entrance wearing mauve uniforms and large hats, like the concierges outside upmarket hotels. The system was that they’d let in a group of people who would be assigned to one of the guides, who would then conduct the tour. Our guide was very good, my only concern being that I couldn’t decide whether he was a Londoner or an Australian. Chiming with John Lanchester’s idea in Mr. Phillips about the necessity of extravagant buildings for banks to conceal the casino-like nature of their operations, there was much description of mosaics that took years to construct, 24-carat gold leaf decorations, specially weaved carpets that match the design of the ceiling etc.

The Bank has a large collection of cartoons, including the Gilray that coined the term “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, and we were informed that there are cats in many of the Bank’s paintings because they used to be kept as mouse hunters. Our guide showed us the “secret ballot machine” the board used for all their decisions, back in more secretive times. The office of the Governor himself had a completely clean desk, which is one of his policies, apparently. There is a cantilever staircase that was at one time the largest such structure in the world. Throughout this tour I was in a slightly tense state, because I couldn’t find my normal glasses, and so I was either suffering rather blurred views or briefly wearing my sunglasses, exposing myself to accusations of arrogance and stupidity.

I heard a couple arguing over whether it was Pitt the Younger or the Elder, in one of the stories the guide told. To settle it, they asked him and he decided that it was the Younger. There’s something interesting about the way a tour group such as this mills around and fills each new space, waiting for the oration to begin and trying to make space for everyone, while also trying to secure the best viewing spot, even without knowing which are the things to be observed. After the tour, we arrived in the museum.  Here, you can lift up a gold bar, within its various security restraints, observed by several employees. I can report that a gold bar is indeed Very Heavy.

Next on my list was the Carroll/Fletcher gallery, for the last day of the Thomson and Craighead show “Never Odd Or Even“. I’d first heard of them about eight years ago and had in fact booked a place on the artists’ tour for July 10th, but a last-minute work trip meant I couldn’t attend, so it was the usual Last Day Shuffle. On the wall as you enter the gallery were printouts of tweets sent from that area (Fitzrovia), using the agit-prop visual style of the late nineties, during the time of the exhibition. It is interesting to see people’s obsessions change over time, though I’m not sure it provides more insight than a similar display of SMS messages would have five years ago. In the same room is a karaoke setup, with the words taken from 419-type spam mails. It was quite a funny effect to see the usual “I have something to discuss with you concerning an investment” blandishments along with the cheesy backing track and generic holiday background images. (On my way out I asked one of the gallery staff whether anyone had tried to sing along, and she said a few had – “some better than others”.)

The adjoining room held a three-screen video of people holding their breath underwater. If you stood near the doorway, you could also look over at the old-style flip-letter railway sign that was showing Google search terms such as:

Whitney Houston mp3

Maple lodge hockey festival whitby

Terri and bernie christian nmr data of taraxerone

At first I’d mistaken the loud sound of the new messages resolving themselves on the sign as some form of printing or construction. It was fun to play the Space Invaders game that had been adapted to have Michel Foucault’s “What is an author” text as the invasion force. It was tempting – but unwise – to read the text instead of trying to shoot it.  Another of those strange gallery analogue tellies held the subsequent piece;  perhaps the better to fit on a plinth?

The two main pieces in the downstairs gallery were Belief and The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order. The latter comprised a re-editing of the 1960 film based on the individual words in the dialogue, so all the “you”s, then all the “young”s etc. It had a very strange rhythm because the word sequences were sped up while in between them would be the wordless scenes that seemed to stretch out much further in their staccato context. Belief had a series of “spiritual” video clips combined with a geographic projection of the locations of the recordings on the floor. My two favourites here were the young boy who claimed he was Adolf Hitler, though some people know him as

Mykey, which is another story

and the emissary from an apocalyptic cult, with super-staring eyes, bringing the message that

Planet earth is about to be refurbished and recycled

and

Your only chance to survive or evacuate is to leave with us

It being the last day of this show, it’s not surprising that only one of the three headphones for Belief was working, and I felt a little bad as other people came in…

This is quite distended already so I’ll write about the evening’s film and music in another post.