Monthly Archives: December 2014

Final day flurry

Alliteration always adds to the sense of quality. In this case, it’s the final day of the year and my usual eventuality of seeing things on their last day. In that spirit I need to complete the description of recent activities before I compare 2014 with 2013. There isn’t much time before the final expedition of the year, so this will be a more concise enumeration than normal. [hmm]

Taking advantage of a fortuitous geographical proximity, I went to the Eel Pie Island open studios the day after the previous episode’s events. Once again someone thought I might be a photographer by reason of my Man Bag. It did indeed contain a camera, though I don’t claim any such profession.

“I’ve got my land, all I need is a shovel”

was one overheard snippet, indicating that penury isn’t necessarily rife in that area, while one of the artists was able to declaim that he and his wife

“live in the Love Shack”.

I always enjoy talking to the artists at open studios, nevertheless feeling a bit guilty that I’m only able to talk and not buy, unless there’s a comfortably priced trinket.

This was the best opportunity to see the latest show at Kristin Hjellegjerde in Wandsworth. It was one of those where you needed to persist beyond your initial impression, allowing appreciation to bubble up in your mind. My favourite pieces included Outi Pieski’s Gorge and Goddess Uksáhkká at Liŋkin Marsh, while the two that stood out by Monica Canilao were This Moment Crystalized and Birds Eye (link to catalogue with compressed images). Londonist listed this as their favourite independent gallery of the year, catching up eventually with the vanguard like me.

Following this it was to the South Bank, where I wandered around the Star Wars display at the BFI, which is focused on the person in charge of continuity. The early evening appointment was for the Radiophonic Workshop performing live in NFT1. The sedate mucking about of the Radiophonic people was a refreshing change and they seemed to be having as good a time as the audience, which often isn’t the case. From there, a brisk journey back over the river to the ICA to see Blind Chance, sadly the only part of the Krzysytof Kieslowski retrospective that I managed to catch. As you’d expect, it made the films that took the same idea (Run Lola Run and Sliding Doors) look rather shabby, even with the parochial points about the Polish political situation Kieslowski was making.

“I keep losing my sparkling water. Every time I buy one I lose it. “

lamented one attendee. Ah – but was it petulant or gassy?

The next day started with a schlep to Southwark Park for Dilston Grove, one of my favourite venues. Having seen Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair at the Barbicanin the summer, talking about their project to recreate the poet John Clare’s odyssey from Epping Forest, I was very keen to see their progress. Here was an installation, including texts related to the film, costumes and a projection of one edit at the far end. The straw man costume was there, uninhabited, with some of its straw essence spilling across the floor; a portent. I agreed with the person who wrote in the comments book that the additions by Kötting’s daughter Eden completed the effect. It was only by going to this that I was reminded of the performances they were giving, including one the next day at the Battersea Arts Centre. The sister venue in the park is the Café Gallery, which was holding its 30th annual open exhibition. A piece with an automatic hammer was operating itself too quickly, which was the cause of some angst amongst the staff. I wondered about the missing piece by Robin Klassnik, of Matt’s Gallery (another of my favourites), which just had the words

“Thank you, removed”

on the wall. Hmm. Other notable pieces for me were by Sharon Kivland and Vivien Harland. It’s always been worth the trek there so far. Finally that day I saw Stations of the Cross at the ICA, just as beautifully full of grief and rapture as I’d been expecting.

Thanks to the Dilston Grove visit, I went to the Battersea Arts Centre to see the performance associated with By Our Selves the next day. This consisted of a film showing, with other performances and readings interspersed, Iain Sinclair acting as our guide. He wore a goat mask, while others wore their own, including an owl. In the film itself Toby Jones is perfect as John Clare, the man troubled beyond his body, conveying this without any dialogue. Andrew Kötting disappeared then returned (inevitably) as the straw man, losing his essence as he danced, his existence bringing about his own destruction. The fragile power of the singing woman was very affecting, playing the piano listlessly with a single hand. I will definitely be seeing the film when it’s released theatrically.

Owing to my own listlessness, I had failed to book a 70mm screening of 2001 at the BFI, meaning I had to settle for 35mm. Tsk. When I took my seat the day after the By Our Selves performance, the man next to me, who I suspect might have seen it when it came out in 1968, said:

All aboard, now we can take off.

In fact there was a lot of angst caused by late arrivals and people in the wrong seats. Non-regular attenders perhaps – who knows how their minds work. There isn’t much I can say about 2001, other than that I was just as impressed as when I last saw it at the cinema, Cornerhouse in 2001. Some people afterwards were judging with anachronistic eyes:

How many product placements did you see? Did you see what was written on the socks?

while others were exclaiming simply “Oh God”.

The next morning, there was a long snake of schoolkids proceeding towards my local station in the morning, and I could see fellow commuters speeding up, trying to ensure that they could board a train before this monster reached the platform. I’d booked a free members’ preview ticket for the Mirrorcity show at the Hayward Gallery that evening. On the way, some people wearing dinner jackets and evening gowns on the District Line discussed “Tube golf”, which appeared to involve running between train and platform or something.

“That’s a par 5”

etc. An alpha among the group turned on a struggling beta with the dismissive comment that he

“knows all the stations”.

There two people leading guided tours of Mirrorcity, which were worthwhile, but overall there was nowhere near enough time to see everything that evening. especially the longer video pieces such as the Susan Hiller upstairs. What I did enjoy that night was Lindsay Seers’ projected film on concave and convex balls inside the hull of an upturned ship, Tim Etchells’ text-based political slogans and distorted stories, and Concrete Gown for Immaterial Flows by Pil and Galia Kollectiv, which is a physical manifestation of financial plots and charts. Because I went again more recently to see the rest of it, I’ll save further comment for when I’ve caught up (if ever…)

Back to the ICA for the third time that week the next day, for the latest A Nos Amours screening, in their dogged Chantal Akerman retrospective. There was a Contemporary Art Society event happening at the same time, which led to some queue-related angst. Indeed, some presumptuous Art-world people tried to push in, and were rebuffed. This time it was for Nuit et Jour, just as subversive as ever, in spite of what compared to some of her other films appeared like an unusually domestic premise, at first. The man who introduced it, Olaf Möller was hilarious. (People behind me were discussing the pronunciation of his name beforehand, one of them adding that they were going to hold a “Swedish party” in their flat.) He started by referring to one of the previous screenings, which I’d also seen, Histoires d’Amérique. To his mind, this was

“What Woody Allen in all his clumsiness was trying to do [in Annie Hall], but for real.”

Moving on to Nuit et Jour, he said that he’d seen it on his own in his local cinema, though he later admitted that he knew the projectionist and asked him to show it. He had

“Never seen a film with such arousing yellows. Massaging my heart, rather than playing about with my brain”.

He also thought that this film was the

“fusion she was always looking for. Avant garde and popular”,

like a mix of Golden Eighties and Toute une nuit. He denied that Akerman is at all austere as a filmmaker and said that we should all be “embarrassed” if we hadn’t seen all the retrospective films. One of the actors in Nuit et Jour is now a producer and Olaf described the films he produces as

“the worst films imaginable”.

Of course, Nuit et Jour was brilliant, an anti-romantic romantic film that also celebrates Paris.

Well, I haven’t got as far as I’d hoped, and there hasn’t been time to sort out any photo links, but now I need to depart. It looks like there’ll have to be a Flurry part two.

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The Orgone Accumulator is too small

On Friday, I discovered that I was in central London a little before lunchtime. Proximity suggested that I see the Institute of Sexology at the Wellcome Collection, even though it had only been open for a couple of weeks. It’s fortunate for them that Henry Wellcome’s obsessions were various and compendious. The show is marked at both the start and the end by strident ideologies, while there’s a stretch in the middle of attempts solely to describe. While it’s almost a dead cliché now to talk about the reality behind the familiar trope of Victorian stern prudery, it was instructive to see various contra-indicatory images and texts. It was remarkable the consistency with which some of the pioneers, such as Marie Stopes, were shown to have exercised the clarity they asked of others on themselves, in her case noting the fluctuations of her own physical ardours throughout the month. Her desire to record and index was echoed by the artist Caroline Schneemann, whose Ye Olde Sex Chart describes with startling frankness her sexual experiences, inspired by the end of a long relationship. The layout of the long strips of paper on the wall meant that groups of people kept reading the list, trying to decode it, then they’d reach the other end, find the key, and make that vocal noise of satisfied realisation, wondering at the person who inspired the summary “phallic devil king”. Having always been curious about Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Accumulators, I was a bit disappointed to see that it looked rather small. That didn’t prevent some people from brief spells inside. I didn’t follow them around to see if they’d been vivified. From the expected references to Alex Comfort, it’s a jarring to see the 1980s AIDS information campaign, and the Tory government’s refusal to fund a national survey into sexual attitudes:

“Bloody Thatcher”,

as one person said.

Apparently there is a chance of accidental encounters with unexpected participants, if you’re there during certain times (I wasn’t).

A short walk eastwards along Euston Road is the Crypt Gallery, which as I believe I’ve mentioned before often isn’t open when it’s supposed to be. This time, I could go in to see Koen Vanmechelen’s Darwin’s Dream. The piece at the entrance, artificial vegetation with a continuous, plaintive, fractured cry of a chicken, was in many ways the strongest, resounding as it did throughout the gallery. The shelves of stuffed chicken, each of them different breeds created by the artist, made me a little sad, while I kept returning to the reversed footage of him eating a whole chicken, a Time’s Arrow-like effect which was rather disturbing. I did like the illustrations of his cross-breeding lineages, with their polemical slant. The chopped-up chicken cry was in the background of all of these.

Darwin's Dream

Darwin’s Dream album

It wasn’t far to the Dairy Art Centre, the opening of which I think I remember hearing about on Front Row. At first I wasn’t very impressed with the works of Yoshitomo Nara for the show Greetings from a Place in my Heart, but there was a cumulative effect as I started to discern the variations in his obsessions and motifs, notably the extraordinary colours of the eyes and the patterning of the hair. An odd part of the experience here was that I was virtually the only person looking at the Art who wasn’t a young Japanese woman. They were mostly in pairs and groups, all taking pictures of each other. Clearly, many were committed fans, and some kind of expatriate grapevine had directed them there. They took photos of themselves standing in front of the entrance. In the comments book, people had written:

“I hate the cold weather in London but I love the art”

and

“It makes me want to go home and draw”

amongst many comments and doodles. Indeed, the book was almost completely full and some people were looking forward to seeing the show when it tours to other countries. It’s always good to see an artist you don’t know anything about and find something worthwhile there, and to see a whole subculture of appreciation, that persists irrespective of the public gaze.

Yoshitomo Nara

Yoshitomo Nara album

The Courtauld Gallery is another of my regulars, and I went there next to see Jasper Johns Regrets, a single room of works based on an accident arising from a response to a photo of Lucien Freud. The image of a skull, created by Johns’ mirroring of the original photo, was very grumpy. The pleasure of this room is to see all the variations as Johns follows different paths from the source, and I was glad they’d bothered to provide somewhere to sit in the middle, the better to gaze and contemplate. The multiplicity of effects created by the ink on plastic technique of some of the pieces makes them elusive and rewarding. One of the larger renderings includes what looks like a tiny ceramic tile/mosaic effect, that appears to have been individually painted.

Attracting more attention currently at the Courtauld is the Egon Schiele: Radical Nude show. He had a few paintings in the National Gallery exhibition on Viennese art, but I’ve never seen anything only about him before. With Schiele you’re always talking about the disturbed, distorted limbs, whereas the revelation for me here was the haunted beauty of the faces, when he troubled to include such (many of these pieces are deliberately cropped to just a trunk). Seeing a single collection of his like this you’re also struck by the importance of the poses and arrangements of fingers, hands and feet, often very unnerving, and the startling colours, which seem to anticipate the pitilessness of Francis Bacon. If you stay long enough, then the crowding in the first room abates, and you can go back to those pieces which you struggled to see on first entering. There were a couple of husbands who appeared to have been dragged there by more bohemian spouses.

“But there you go”

concluded one – I didn’t hear what led up to this, but I’m sure it was dismissive. Another decided that one of the nudes

“Needs a good wash.”

There’s still another month to see all this and I think I’ll try to go again.