Tag Archives: video

The Wrong Raven

A Friday off, with hopes of a giddy odyssey during the forbidden daytime. In the event, there was more sloth than expected, and I didn’t set out until quite late in the afternoon. What was that woman signing to her unseen friend, at Leytonstone, on the Hainault branch train, I wondered? Whatever – we departed first, so we won. The first destination was a new one for me, the Tintype gallery in Islington, for the group show Bench. My favourites were the Michael Simpson drawings and paintings, Anna Lucas’ montage and the metal bench constructed by the Turner Prize-winning Assemble, which included Art Deco features from the ex-cinema just down Essex Road, as the owner of the gallery explained to me. I wandered down, to the building that is now serving a religious purpose, and sat on a concrete bench, to re-tie my errant shoelaces and take photos.

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Walking to and from the various bus stops, I heard the same Radio 3 Free Thinking intro to their programme about Dada three times, because my podcast program had been unusually prodigal in its downloads. The stand-out quote here was from one of the Dadaists who said that:

“Only imbeciles and Spanish professors are interested in dates”,

in the context of trying to agree the timeline of Dada.

From Islington to Clerkenwell, and the Frameless gallery show The Black Bubbleicious, by Paul Deller. The collages downstairs worked best, though I did like the nods to Matisse’s cutouts in the overlaying of small strips of black vinyl and cloth on the ground floor. The poignancy of the ancient Ferguson Videostar advert snippet, and the testament to classroom boredom that was the collection of rubbers (“erasers”), including the messages written on their ephemeral sides.

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Vacillating over where to go next, I travelled to the road Raven Row instead of the gallery Raven Row, which is not on the road Raven Row, and is sufficiently near that I stupidly did what the erroneously-informed Citymapper told me to do. Bah. Still, now I know where the Whitechapel Mission is, should that ever be needed. On the way to the actual Raven Row, for my second visit to the impossible-to-contain Inoperative Community show, I heard a man exclaiming to his companion:

“The first thing the doctor asked me was, have you been anywhere exotic?”

which implies at least an interesting ailment. The gallery should be thanked for their audience consideration, in that they provided a comprehensive timetable of all the film screenings, even including variations for each day of the week. This meant you would also always know what you were watching in each room, which isn’t always the case. Up the stairs and across to You the better, which has its own special multi-colour flashing light in the alcove outside the screening room itself. As the audience you end up as confused about the rules of the various games the characters are trying to win as they are themselves, which is the point, of course. A happy surprise for me was the 808 usage in the music co-composed by the artist. A few people peered into this film while I was watching, but weren’t tempted to stay.

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Down and across from West to East for Luke Fowler’s Depositions, which ranges across Orkney and Shetland to encompass Travellers who “think they’re better than the rest”, a marvellous quote which I didn’t fully catch but which was something like:

“Never has human asininity been displayed with such extravagance…”,

clashes between Science and folk beliefs, DNA, the BBC Infax system “with the names of contributors redacted”,superstitions about predicting marriage, and the consultation of “clairvoyants and other sensitives” for a futurist’s book Future Tense. Television is referred to as a:

“cultural silicon chip through which you can experience the flickering half-life of someone else’s dreams”.

Both times I’ve been to this show it’s felt like I’ve been member of a strange temporary community of seekers after art films, with earnest discussions between friends and couples of how to accommodate themselves to the film schedule.

“We could go and see the end of Melancholia” (another immensely long Lav Diaz film) “- it’s only on in full for another day”.

Life is indeed Very Hard.

After a reassuringly displeasant journey to Fitzrovia (the carriage being so crowded it was comical), a walk past the braying hordes outside the pubs and bars (strangely similar to the braying hordes in Shoreditch) to Carroll/Fletcher for the Experimental Writing event with Nick Montfort with Manfred Mohr. People were standing outside, phone fiddling, and someone told me they’d been told to wait, but I brainlessly tried the door and someone inside let me in. A man sitting in front of me impressed the woman next to him (nearly everyone else knew nearly everyone else) with his VR device, which turned out to be a 3D-printed plastic version of Google Cardboard.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, having been tempted by the mention of Commodore 64-based poems in the mailing list announcement. Nick Montfort’s first reading was Round, a poem created by a Python script that calculated digits of Pi and represented them in word form. After reading excerpts of the output, he explained and showed us the source code. Left to itself, the program would keep running, slowing down as the calculations took longer.

Next was Taroko gorge, which was in effect a nature poem generator, based on Montfort’s visit to Japan. Again, it was “boundless” i.e. it would keep generating lines of poetry until interrupted. Because it was deliberately designed as a single HTML page that could be downloaded and altered, others took it and changed the input vocabulary, an example being Tokyo Garage. There were other versions that showed the source code alongside the poems, and a meta-remix that included the output of all the other remixes.

The Two has been translated into different languages, the complication being that the ambiguity over the referents of the pronouns is easy in English, possible in French if you choose appropriate nouns that begin with a vowel, hard in Spanish etc. Apparently it’s rude in Japanese to use so many pronouns in a sentence. He distinguished between repetition of sounds across lines (in a strophe) and within a line.

He is also interested in celebrating and preserving older computer poetry efforts, on his Memory Slam site, which again allows you to save the source and alter the output of the scripts. Changing loyalties from Python to Perl, he showed his series of Perl scripts that generate poems using only 256 characters of code. Naturally the constraints meant he had to take a flexible attitude to whether the generated words actually existed in English or were just English-like. In the second version, he emphasised structural variation more than vocabulary size. A side-effect of the smaller set of words was that there were more rhymes. The final part of his performance comprised some poems running on the Commodore 64 (in this case, because his actual machine doesn’t support PAL, it was in an emulator running on his laptop). As well as a one-line Basic program which applied colours based on the rhyme scheme of a Rimbaud poem, he showed a couple of machine code poetry generators, that were very reminiscent of the old demo scene in their concise prodigality, operating in only 32 bytes. The size of text you might use as a password for a wireless network, as Montfort pointed out.

 

 

After the performance, there was a discussion between Nick Montfort, Manfred Mohr (whose show has just opened at Carroll/Fletcher) and Matthew Fuller. Asked about his definition of “experimental“, Montfort referred to the difference between experimental and theoretical physics, and the importance of “working through doing“. Mohr noted that the people who made the first visual art on computers weren’t themselves visual artists (at this point, he pointed to someone in the audience, but I’m afraid I don’t know his name).

Mohr went on to ask whether the rational comes from inside or outside a person. He had found that after he developed his  programs, he became a different person. The process had permanently altered the way he perceived everything, because he was thereafter
always looking for the algorithm“. He had undergone “professional deformation“. A comparison was made between twenty consonant poetry and Schoenberg’s twelve tone music, when considering the importance of constraints in experimental writing. Mohr gently chided Montfort for what he felt to be his sentimentality for old technology, while Montfort noted that there was little support for international characters in the old 8-bit systems (so Spanish and French poems generated on them lacked accents, for example), while there are still a lot of biases in computing towards the Latin alphabet.

Montfort referred to the ubiquity of “textual grids”, while Mohr declared that

“An artwork has to be strong enough to defend itself”.

I liked Montfort’s concept of “Plagiarism by anticipation“, when someone copies from you a few years before you write the original, and his blunt assessment of the financial rewards of poetry:

“You have no hope of earning money as a poet.”

He cited Derek Walcott, a Nobel Prize winner, “who didn’t teach because he liked it, he taught because he needed the money”.

I thought it was very pleasingly unusual to be able to recreate a performance at home so directly (by running the poetry generators) and it was also quite bracing to see an artist using a laptop running Linux, rather than ever-present Steve.

 

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The Second Grotto

Every year, or at least for the second year running, which I think we can regard as meaning every year, I seem to end up walking through Waterloo when it’s Ascot. This meant the concourse was full of neophytes uniting bewilderment, over-dressing and inebriation in their persons. I wanted the quickest train to Twickenham, for a visit to Pope’s Grotto. As it turned out, this innocent 11:20 service served double duty as the “Royal Ascot Express”, indicated by a specially printed sign on platform 20. The racegoers tottered and swayed towards this goal, the furthest away of all platforms, and I joined them. It’s not often that I’m mildly jostled by the idly swaying top hat in the hand of the man in front, while surging towards a train.

Because I went for a distant carriage, there was a hiatus, until the gaudy horde arrived. When the carriage was pretty full, an American lady asked if I could swap seats with her friend, to allow them to sit together. When I agreed and moved, she displayed an ordinality error in her over-effusive gratitude:

Would you like an orange juice or something?

I feel like I have to bribe you, for being so sweet.

Normally the bribe is offered first. Pfft. I was now sharing a group of six seats with three lekking men and two American women.

“I told myself I wouldn’t drink on the train,” said one of them, who appeared to be leading their conversation. They were all drinking their mini-bottles of champagne or beer, and eating their sandwiches. Mind those expensive clothes… Tips about Ascot, and bottle openers, were shared. I think the best way of distilling the nature of their interactions is this quote:

Adam plays much better golf than I’ve seen, but the moment he hits a pressure situation…

Ah, golf. One of my long dead grannies used to advise an interest in golf, tennis and bridge, in order to Get On. Hopeful people wearing similar Ascot uniforms at Clapham Junction and Richmond had no chance of boarding, and it was a little awkward squeezing past to the doors at Twickenham. Outside, two marketing ladies asked “Are you interested in cooking, Sir?” “Not really,” was my terse but polite and accurate reply.

Nearly two years later I still haven’t written about my visit to the Margate Shell Grotto. Auto-tsk. Pope’s Grotto is all that remains of Alexander Pope’s villa by the Thames.  Reliant as ever on IanVisits, I knew it was open that day, which was likely to be a much better experience than going during Open House in September. Radnor School has built up around the grotto, so it had a slight air of a visit to a polling station, albeit an unusually well situated and appointed one. In addition to guides with the locations of specific rocks and features, they lent us small torches. There’s something very appealing about the sustained labour and interest represented by a grotto, though I suppose it’s not an enterprise many of us can indulge. It was only near the very end that I bumped my head on one of the dangling outcrops. Bah.

Pope's Grotto

“Well, that was an unexpected treat, wasn’t it,” was one comment, while I heard a wife chide her husband:

You’re just treating it like a treasure hunt now, aren’t you.

because he was ticking things off on the printed sheet. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t really spot the bit of Giant’s Causeway that was supposed to be there.

Flickr album.

Next it was quite a schlep to Golden Square, to the Frith Street Gallery for one of their two Fiona Tan exhibitions. After much pfaffing from District to Piccadilly, I ended up sitting opposite a middle-aged couple with his and hers Steve Watches, which he couldn’t resist using for some function or other. Soon the second swamping of the day transpired, this time a gaggle of Italian schoolkids learning English. “Move Language Ahead” it said on their white satchels. The woman corralling them with her stern teacher voice counted them all back again on the platform, like Brian Hanrahan.

Inventory consisted of six projections of footage taken in the Soane’s Museum. Something about the close-ups of the statues seemed to animate their faces and make them more poignant. You wondered about the histories of the objects, how so many of them came to be damaged (noses especially), and the histories of those people or gods they represented. There were different qualities and sizes of video/film and she cleverly edited them to provide simultaneous different views of the same object, with variations in texture as well. One thing I found interesting, but which perhaps should only have been remarked by a projector salesman, was that when they weren’t projecting anything, i.e. there was just a blank image, they ranged from a variety of greys to blacks. Did this mean some of them were better than others? Was it meaningful variation?

In Soho Square there was a very different show, Ghost Dwellings, the three rooms all bearing the lived-in look that’s quite familiar to me. “It smells like an old house,” was one comment and the first room was indeed rather fusty. It was pleasing to see some rock samples, after the grotto, and an owl statue, after Inventory.

Fiona Tan - Inventory and Ghost Dwellings

The video footage here was of decayed Detroit. Good, but as always just a reminder of Mike Kelley’s marvellous Mobile Homestead. Next door was a cramped bedroom, with footage of unfinished premium housing developments near Cork. This was less powerful than the others, because it represented unfulfilled potential as opposed to actual loss or deterioration. My favourite was the room downstairs, which was partially a working area, with vacuum formed model parts, WD-40, dangling cables and other oddments. At the other end of the room was a video of Fukushima and the surrounding area after the tsunami. Objects that stood out for me included a telescope labelled Family 1000 and the blasted trees on the coastline, plus the train tracks already submerged under weeds.

Flickr album.

Fitzroy Square next for Every Object Tells A Story. The slight problem here was that the objects only really made sense with the large catalogue and addendum, though I suppose there wasn’t really room for a lot of blurbs on the wall. Some of the descriptions were mini-essays and one of a trio of Americans read out the whole thing for her companions. She was delighting in ringing a large gong when I came in. “Does it call people in for dinner?” It’s good to see opinionated collections, I suppose, though I do think it’s a problem if the main interest in the object is the story behind it, however interesting that may be.

Flickr album.

Disturbingly close to work though it was, I wanted to see rooms 4 and 5 of Forensics at the Wellcome Collection, having seen the first 3 a few weeks earlier during their late Friday opening. As I’d been warned, there was quite a large queue, headed by a member of staff who kept commiserating with and chatting to new arrivals. Behind me was a group of two couples. The men kept making a big joke of stealing over to sofas so they could have a sit down, their places being kept in the queue by the women, until they caught up with them. Bracingly transgressive though it was to be able to breeze quickly through the rooms I’d already seen, it was of course also very busy in the remaining 2. The volume of people meant that the cooling fans in one of the exhibits had failed and the experience of watching footage from Bosnia in the forensic fridge was a little diminished. The interviews with the barrister and forensic anthropologist were very good, as was Orson Welles’ radio dramatisation of the “Brides in the bath” murders. Right at the end was Taryn Simon’s The Innocents. Someone was asking a staff member, bizarrely, if this was “just political correctness”. The Wellcome person was very patient with him… I was glad I managed to see the whole thing, overcrowding notwithstanding.

Final excursion of the day was to Curzon Bloomsbury to see London Road. For some reason there were a succession of wrong seat incidents. Not sure why the Phoenix screen should be such a focus of recalcitrants. The film was very good, albeit also a reminder of the greatness of The Arbor. Very unusually, I recognised a couple that I’ve seen more than once on the Central Line, normally full of anonymised travellers.

Final observation of the day was that at this point in the year, at the right time of night, if you’re sitting on the right, there’s a lovely view of the sunset in the clouds at Leyton. Lovely poetic Leyton.

Jon Hopkins

With unusual prescience, I bought tickets to see Jon Hopkins at the Royal Festival Hall in June, having only a vague awareness of him (“ooh, that sounds interesting”) from the radio. When I mentioned this, friends were rather envious and extolled his most recent album, Immunity, which I did actually listen to before the show.

The support act was Blanck Mass, just a black t-shirted diffident man with his gear hidden behind Jon Hopkins’ table. He was unfazed by the shameful lack of attendance in the hall, and the extreme rudeness of people who left halfway through to go to the bar (Super Tsk). At points his head was swaying intensely, and he took nervous swigs from his beer bottle. This experience of not knowing anything about the music I was hearing was more familiar to me, and I rather liked his stuff, my taste for droney-ambient not being sufficiently indulged at the moment. It would have benefitted from being louder. Always I’ve thought that full volume was denied to the support act and perhaps that was the case here. I’ll be investigating.

The preparations for Jon Hopkins on stage were fairly minimal, during which someone behind us explained the nature of his relations:

“We’re not together together, are we?”

Hopkins was white and quietly exuberant when he came on stage, in contrast to Blanck Mass’ introversion. He had a guitarist picking out heavily-effected hums, who left and re-joined for different songs, along with a violinist and viola player. His own gear was laid out on a wide table, including what must have been trigger pads (Kaoss pads, I read later), effects units and a mixer, plus the inevitable Steve, albeit with the white logo obscured by a black sticker.

The visuals on a large screen behind him were triggered by what he was playing, simple shapes of colour at first, then more complex geometric shapes. He’s clearly rehearsed a lot because he was controlling live breakdowns and fills beautifully, and he was bodily expressing himself, which is pretty unusual for an electronic musician, jacking and jerking, though always with a steady eye on what he was doing.

He would move from a heavy, beat-driven song abruptly to a contemplative piano piece (there was a grand at the left of the stage), the latter usually accompanied by the string players on the other side. This stylistic disharmony shouldn’t have worked, but it did. What gradually happened, as the inducements took their toll, was that people in the audience started standing up, then some of them took to the aisles and to the space by the front of the stage, dancing, for the upbeat songs. They would then, maybe a little self-conscious, drift back to their seats for the quieter ones, waiting for the chance to thrash around again. At points the bouncers tried to intervene, probably for “fire safety” reasons, and to stop the dullards plonked at stage front taking video on their phones. The visuals were very good actually, the most memorable ones embodying a skateboard-based journey, a woman (Imogen Heap?) in a spacesuit-helmet on a 2001/Gravity-style journey, and a woman who was both ecstatic and estranged. I suspect the hollering, whooping and pointing audience missed the person burning in the tyres of the former, for which insight I’m indebted to my co-attendee. One of the encore songs more compelling videos, including what looked like drone-eye views of a bleak landscape, later transforming into a red palette, which reminded me of Richard Mosse’s The Enclave.

The string players and guitarist came on for the last time, then as they departed the violinist walked over and triggered something via one of the machines on the table, so that things were running when Hopkins arrived back there from the piano.

It was a stunning performance, and the crowd’s reaction bordered on the disturbing. My little joke was that they were all happy about the Scottish referendum result. I think this was what people had craved when I went to see Derrick May during Meltdown, and they weren’t really satisfied then. They certainly were last night.

Mind you, the exclamation of

“the Royal Festival Hall will never be the same again”

was a little ludicrous. Again, I must credit my co-attendee for the observation. In the Clore Ballroom afterwards there was the incongruous site of people making packed lunches, which I realised was part of Maggie’s Culture Crawl. They were being serenaded by the Letherette DJs, in the Central Bar. Outside, I was handed a flyer for another Jon Hopkins performance in April next year, which I think I may go to. There, that’s commitment.

I think the songs included at least Vessel and Wire from Insides, plus We Disappear, Open Eye Signal, Collider and Abandon Window from Immunity. Waiting to take the Drain to Bank on my way home, there was a couple discussing their impressions:

“I liked it the first time he built it up, then it became a bit generic. I prefer it more melodic.”

[Ed.: quite wrong there]

A guy in front of us told us to shut up, and then they were the first to stand up.

One of their friends suffered a tragic memory loss:

Lance forgot about it, so he missed out.

On the train itself, the discussion moved to more mundane matters, involving workplace promotions and rivalries. One “colleague” was to be:

“cut down to size like a m*th*rf*ck*r.”

Apologies for the cuss-word euphemism.

 

 

Lilting Void Aurora

The day after the Thurston Moore Band, my ears were ringing quite loudly. However, what with some complications next week, Friday night seemed to be the best time to see LIlting, about which I’d heard on Radio Four. The Pullman seats in screen 3 at Curzon Victoria are indeed rather decadent, with a little platform for your wine and a space beneath that served as an umbrella stand, though may prove to have a different intended purpose. Ben Whishaw was as good as I’d heard, while the actress playing his dead boyfriend’s mother was dignified even as she rapidly shifted between froideur and crossness. The figure of the unexpected translator, more of a UN observer unable to resist intervention, was a nice disturbing force, too.

The next day I saw the last day of Mirror at the Frith Street Gallery. The best thing in that show was the short reading by Samantha Morton of a description written about her by the artist who’d painted her nude, the first time she’d seen the text. After that, to Carroll/Fletcher for Pencil / Line / Eraser. They nearly always have something covering the wall on the right as you enter, and in this case it was a well-executed faux architectural piece by Justin Hibbs. The funniest contributions were by John Wood and Paul Harrison, including the paper trapeze between two fans and the battle between a pencil and an erasing pencil downstairs. While watching the latter, I could hear the operation of the machinery in the adjoining room, chattering away. When I went in there, the plotter, which was laying out patent applications, had stopped, for a rest. I also liked Evan Roth’s outline views of web advertising schematics, another of which was on show at the Project Space, about five minutes’ walk away.

It was a brief trip from there to the Barbican. For the second Saturday afternoon running, I was seeing a film in their “eye popping colour” season. Last week, it had been Written on the Wind, a startling piece of Douglas Sirk hysteria, with the unusual casting of Lauren Bacall. This time it was the uncut version of Enter The Void, which I hadn’t seen at the time of release. One of a couple in the armchairs just outside the screens returned from the bar just before with some wine.

Rather large wine glasses for a small cinema,

commented the recipient.

There were just a few of us for the Sirk, while the screen was nearly full, including what you’d have to call a younger demographic, for Gaspar Noé’s attack, which started abruptly after the Barbican logo with the barrage of titles. It’s hard to think of a more Freudian film, even though it claims to be a hazy realisation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and in some ways a much more sophisticated take on alienation in Tokyo than Lost in Translation. An unsettling combination of Nihilism and life affirmation. For all his frequent revelling in obnoxiousness, you have to admire Noé’s dedication to the disturbed systems he creates.

There was time once that had finished, to contemplate what to do next, while I read more Turgenev. Last year, on a whim one Sunday I’d gone to LSO St. Luke’s to see the Aurora Orchestra. Because I’d enjoyed it, I signed up to their mailing list, and as a result I’d received their message this week saying that if you only saw them once this year, it should be their appearance at the Proms late on Saturday. Given the proximity, I went to the Digital Revolution exhibition again, and was pleased to see that some of the exhibits that weren’t working the first time were doing now. Fearful of complications and queues, I set off nevertheless by bus. Upstairs on the 9, I witnessed a near-tragedy when the occupants of two of the front seats descended. A boy two rows in front of me stood up, hoping to take that prime tourist seat, but a much younger child and his mother were already heading towards that space. The parents of the older boy warned him off, and the young boy gave him a powerful look that combined outrage with dejection at the idea of his triumph having been imperilled. One of the flimsy arguments against attending this Late Night Prom was that it was extremely close to my place of work, but at least the route there was an unusual one. People rushed from the bus towards the Albert Hall, and I wondered whether there’d be a long queue and lots of angst. There was hardly any queue at all, and the man who sold me the £5 ticket was particularly cheery, given how poky was his kiosk. Unlike for my first ever Prom the previous week, the Arena and Gallery weren’t available, so Prom tickets were allocated in the Circle, an arrangement that suited old people like me. I overheard one of the staff explaining how to find their places to people twice as I approached, so I indicated to him that I knew what I was doing, to save him from the extra repetition.

You’ve got the gist, jolly good.

Three rows in front of me were being kept clear, an injunction which some people didn’t seem to recognise, leading to a few awkward ejections.

Aurora Orchestra

Unusually the stage didn’t have any chairs or music stands, which made sense when I remembered from the e-mail that the first piece of the night, by Mozart, was to be played from memory, which they did very impressively. It added something to see them moving about more expressively and naturally as they played, without the interference of the score.

Aurora Orchestra

Next was a short, rather fragile piece for violin and hurdy-gurdy. The two performers were crammed in by the keyboard of the Hall’s organ.

Aurora Orchestra

During the latter piece I had noticed players filing in one by one on the Gallery level above and opposite me. The main part of the evening was to be a premiere of Meld by Benedict Mason. Many claims had been made for this, and by the end of the evening I thought they’d been more than justified. It began with two lines of musicians walking out, one from each side of the space behind the upper organ pipes, above the stage, joined by a small bunch of string players who had already arranged themselves in the Gallery, above and behind me. This set the standard of pleasing unsettlement that was maintained throughout the evening – you were always moving your attention around to hear and see what was going on where. It seemed like conjurer’s tricks of misdirection were being cleverly used. More musicians started playing in one of the lower circle levels, having suddenly appeared while I’d been looking elsewhere, with others singing and clicking their fingers from the open hallways of the level above them.

Aurora Orchestra

Eventually a full line of players took up one of those levels, and notes would visibly flow from one end of the horseshoe to the other, from one person to the next. This was a very clever and rather delightful spectacle. I could see people around me smiling in wonder at it all.

Aurora Orchestra

Men with rattling bandoliers around their necks walked along the row in front of me, transmitting their signal in sequence, as the full line had done, doing the same with their tubular bells. Later some flautists and woodwind players did the same, and I noticed that they had earpieces, which explained in part how they were all coordinating so well, without an ostensible conductor. Some of them had Go Pro cameras on their heads or on their instruments, which I hope means there will be a video of this performance, in time.

They made good use of the Arena, showing athletic abilities I don’t think are normally asked of an orchestra – running around hitting bells against the wall, forming rotating people rings, gymnasticising and chanting, making a big circle then concentric circles.

Aurora Orchestra

There were little teams of musicians in some outposts, who kept playing while the others ranged around the venue, plus a couple of trumpeters on either side above the stage. In fact, there were very few areas throughout the venue where someone didn’t appear at some point and play, including the steps emerging from beneath the Arena.

Aurora Orchestra

At the end, most of the players emerged in the Gallery again and the two phalanxes stepped slowly back whence they’d originally appeared, quietly completing the music. In fact, it seems invidious to comment on one aspect of the performance, because it all (the music itself, the performance, the choreography, the visual impact of it all), did seem to resonate together extremely well. I hope the performers had as good as time as I think they did, and as I did.

I loved it, I absolutely loved it,

was one couple’s verdict as they were leaving afterwards.

Aurora Orchestra

Guillaume-en-Egypte

A Grin Without A Cat

I’ve found few artists more enigmatic and interesting than Chris Marker, and I heard a very positive report about this on Saturday Review a while ago. Nevertheless, I didn’t make it to the Whitechapel Gallery until the final day of their show A Grin Without A Cat. (This meant they’d sold out of the catalogue. Hmmph.)

While I knew he wasn’t “just” a filmmaker, I hadn’t realised quite how diverse his activity was, and it was well represented here. The triumph of this show was that you could pick up a strong sense of him, even if you hadn’t the liberty to stay all day and watch all the films.

Just at the entrance you could watch a half-hour video based on a gallery space Marker created in…Second Life, which pretty much justified the creation of that oddity so beloved of futurologists ten years ago, or sit down with headphones for Statues Also Die, or sit at some computers and navigate an interactive CD-ROM “immemory”. In the latter case, it shows his strength that it transcended the salience of the format’s obsolescence. On the other side, guarded by a waving cat, there was an enclosed space in which the Zapping Zone had been recreated. This consisted of a set of monitors and old computers on varied plinths, with themes flowing between them. One theme was an elephant adopting various different positions, my favourite being:

Elephant paying homage to Max Ernst

It felt like being benevolently trapped inside scenes from Sans Soleil, one of extremely few films I’m happy to see as many times as I can.

It’s usually a good sign when people look happy and there was a man who couldn’t stop grinning at Ouvroir (the film created in Second Life), perhaps at the realisation of Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ginger cat that often became Marker’s avatar/protagonist. This also reflected Marker’s playfulness, while not undermining his serious political work. As he said:

In other times I would have liked to just take pictures of girls and cats, but I wasn’t born in those times

Other artefacts on display included the series of guides to countries around the world that he edited – Petites Planètes – various portraits with accompanying descriptions – Staring Back – and some letters, including a hilarious one in which he simultaneously chides and encourages a film-making collective.

Towards the back of the room, behind another hanging screen showing an excerpt from Sans Soleil, was a tower of five TVs showing a silent movie in 5 channels, the periodicity of the different loops apparently varying. Even with my notorious completism, I didn’t manage to see any of the intertitles come around again.

Elsewhere there was a photo taken during a protest about Algeria from around 1962 at the Place de la Republique, in the background of which is a young tree. He took another photo of the same spot much later and noted the growth of the tree over the forty year period:

Within these few inches, forty years of my life

Nearby there was a photo taken in a cemetery, with a white cat lying on top of a mausoleum:

I’m a cat, I don’t need a statue

was the caption.

You passed some of the imagined film posters in the Great Premakes series on the stairs and could watch both La Jetée and some of the more political films on the first floor.

Flickr set

I was sad to leave, but had planned to see Acid Brass at the Southbank, a free performance as part of Meltdown. They were playing on the terrace outside the Royal Festival Hall. The conductor was surprisingly young and felt himself to be a bit of a showman, whipping up the crowd when needed. Some people near me on the fourth floor terrace seemed to think it was entirely about 808 State:

Bit disappointed they didn’t play that one, Cuba. It has brass in it.

Maybe it was to do with the different viewing circumstances, but I preferred the steel band version of Voodoo Ray, another Deller-related enterprise.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

How's my Raving?

Given I was in the area, I decided to buy a ticket to Jeff Mills: The Trip and then went to see Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery, as a good use of time. As an exhibition it was a bit fragmented, with no clear theme, but it did have a cumulative effect. Towards the end, I did at one point confuse a real person with a mannequin, briefly. Inevitably with so many pieces the quality was quite variable, though the best (Maurizio Cattelan, for instance) were very good. An elderly man became quite exercised that the title of one of the pieces referred to “Black and Tan”. He started talking about this to one of the guards, explaining the reference to Ireland in the 1920s:

“Look it up on the Internet”

The three renderings of a young woman at the end are startlingly (disturbingly) life-like.

It was five minutes before closing time when I finished, and the guards were contacting each other on their walkie-talkies, flushing people out, some consternation being expressed that there was still someone around, location uncertain.

We can only hope that, having seen Human Factor so soon after opening, I will then have the time to see something as good as the Chris Marker show well before it closes.

Next it was back to the Royal Festival Hall, where there was a DJ in the same place the Brass Band had been earlier. It seemed to be a tribute to the Detroit Holy Trinity, with people of a certain age dancing on the terrace beneath me to Strings of Life and Good Life, plus I Feel Love and Blue Monday. Inside the hall itself, the audience was as positive as the Edwyn Collins crowd had been, but with more urgency, perhaps having been pumped up by the DJ set. A Guy Called Gerald was the support act. Always pleasing to see a Mancunian in action. His set blended from one song to another, with some extended motifs, including a pitch-bended riff that brought to mind his Peel session. There was an excellent stripped down version of Pacific State – perhaps a comment by him on the notorious legal dispute he had with Massey et al? Anyway, he seemed to be having a good time, taking off his jacket later on. People were dancing in their seats and in the aisles, just as they had been on the preceding Tuesday, but much more of them of course. Whenever a four on the floor kick appeared, there were ripples of whoops. I think he was a little humbled by the strength of the reaction of the end, parading about the stage bowing to everyone.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

After his table was removed, Jeff Mills’ equipment appeared including what looked like a 909 on a plinth.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

The people at Londonist were pretty scathing about The Trip. I did enjoy it, because I wasn’t as desperate for a beat as many seemed to be. I was disappointed that I couldn’t easily recognise any of the science fiction film clips he was using, the other visual element being abstract coloured pieces, inspired by the “beyond the infinite” section of 2001, perhaps. It was a little haphazard, but always interesting, and I didn’t join in with those shouting

“Go on, Jeff”

towards the end. He did indeed make an excursion to the 909, triggering live patterns.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

It’s admirable to do something a little less obvious than unimaginative expectations would prefer.

Flickr Set

Projecting the Masons

At the Rook and Raven gallery, a new venue for me, I saw the last day of Stephen Wilkes: Day to Night. The first impression was rather shallow, perhaps because of the glossiness of the prints. When other people came in, I looked more closely and re-examined the earlier ones. It was only then that I really saw the care with which the shots taken across 15 hours had been blended and the startling change in weather and light across the view. A form of panorama in time rather than space. In the Paris-set one, you could see a fresh bride scurrying across the bank of the Seine, while the 9/11 memorial lights were striking in one of the New York images. The handout referred to an image from an entirely separate series, set in a Chinese factory, which didn’t seem to be around. I asked one of the gallery staff, and she said that it had been put into storage because it was (of course…) the last day. She did kindly show me the whole series on her laptop.

In my border crossing between Soho and Fitzrovia, I tried GRAD next. The absence of any signage meant that it had in fact disappeared, or is searching for a proper home. Tsk. Nearby is Carroll/Fletcher, which I like because there always seems to be an element of slyness in what they exhibit. Very unusually for me, it was the day after their latest show, Constant Dullaart: Stringendo, Vanishing Interiors, had opened. This may have transpired because I went there for reasons of proximity and previous enjoyment, rather than scheduling. The first room contains a whole set of lenticular implementations of Photoshop filters, applied to a photo famous in Photoshop history – Jennifer in Paradise – which re-arrange, dissolve and resolve as you move around.

Recently I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle and I was reminded of that by the female voice of one work, complete with animated mouth formed by the Google search box, intoning that corporation’s terms of service. He’s taken the circular dots loading symbol as the signifier of YouTube and there’s a clever realisation using alternating lights and polystyrene. There’s usually something good saved for the stairwell and in this case it was a laser projection, redolent of vector-based arcade games, extolling Dullaart’s idea of Balconism. Downstairs, there are more Photoshop-trope homages and a parade of flags representing countries that censor the Internet, amongst which the UK proudly stands. I do intend to go back and take a longer look at all this, especially if there’s an artist talk.

Back on the other side of the wretched Oxford Street, I saw John Deakin’s photos of 1950s and 1960s Soho, at the Photographers’ Gallery. As good as the photos were some of the blurbs and ephemera, including two letters from the same month sadly listing the camera equipment that Deakin has lost, and a quote from someone that Deakin was

the second nastiest person I know

to which others in the same circle wondered, with some incredulity, who was the first. The scorn with which Deakin’s efforts in his preferred medium (painting) were received at the time, was quite poignant. There was time for a quick second look at the Deutsche Börse contenders, reminding me again that the power of Richard Mosse’s installation at the Brewer Street Car Park (which featured in something I was to see the next day, though I didn’t know that yet) was only hinted in the few photos on show here. I suppose it’s a bit like the Turner Prize. There isn’t room to exhibit all the items on which they’re being judged.

Across London to the Andaz Hotel in Liverpool Street, for a double-bill of macabre films in their Masonic Temple, as part of the East End Film Festival. Ticket holders were asked to wait in the lobby, before being taken upstairs to the temple. Animations were being projected as part of the Festival and I started watching a Russian one about an industrious ant committed to Art, that made me rather sad, as the best short animations tend to. In fact, I missed everyone else’s departure as a result and had to ask directions. Unlike everyone else I didn’t take any of the free popcorn. There was something magnificently vulgar about the room, especially the marble, which was garish rather than impressive. For the first film, I sat in the temporary seats in the middle of the room. This was The Last Winter, starring Ron Perlman, who had been billed as providing a Q&A beforehand, but we were told he couldn’t make it. The film was pretty grim (for which effect it was aiming). However, I don’t think it managed to transcend the influence/shadow of John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, though that may say more about me.

After the interval, in which I bought a Strange Attractor Press book, the head of that company and a BFI person introduced the next two films – a Kenneth Anger short (“Invocation of my Demon Brother”) and Night Tide, an early starring role for Dennis Hopper. We were told about the links between the directors and various occult figures, and a revelation about Robert Heinlein’s fling with L. Ron Hubbard. When the Kenneth Anger short started I recognised the music, which was performed by Mick Jagger on a Moog. Apparently, when the synth was delivered, someone said

Mr Jagger, here’s your sanitiser

I think I’d seen it before, though I really couldn’t remember where. Anger tends to stay with you. Dennis Hopper saw Night Tide again late in life and we were told he exclaimed that he couldn’t believe how good looking he was back then. It did have quite an odd atmosphere, with Hopper’s ingenuousness matched by rather grand declamations from a couple of baroque English-sounding actors. The focal point of the merry-go-round for some reason reminded me of that scene in The Sting, when the “girls” want to have a free go, while the punters are away. For this second half, I moved to one of the throne seats at the side, for greater comfort and spiritual easement.

Magic and Macabre at the Masonic Temple

When I did so, people next to me asked to see my Tarot card (we were all given one as a ticket), checking whether we all had the same one or not. As the artiste in the film said, the cards should not be subject to oversimplification.

Video, Audition and Project

Logistical impediments meant that I couldn’t go to see Martin Creed at the Hayward after work, so it was the ICA instead, where I could take advantage of the late gallery opening before an A Nos Amours screening. I had to ask where the ‘Theatre’ was, because it was a space I hadn’t been in at the ICA before, at least not in this decade. The Hito Steyerl show is yet more video. I had limited time before the film, leading me to choose the relatively short How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File first. The repeated motifs here were various incarnations of ‘targets’ used by the US Air Force to calibrate their photographic equipment, ranging from a placard/testcard-sized handheld item to various incarnations in the Californian desert, one of which has been discarded, owing to the obsolescence of analogue imaging, the intriguing arrangement of graded lines and numbers replaced by three large pixels. The various lessons in invisibility were narrated by a slowed-down version of the Weakest Link man. Some rogue pixels strike up mischief, while the Temptations appear towards the end, transposed, excised and re-rendered.

The large screen, complete with proper seating, was showing Liquidity Inc., which includes tales of austerity via German child and adult masked weather presenters – “What is water” – referring to trade winds and “orgone cannons”. (I have a soft-spot for any Wilhelm Reich mentions). The lack of funds appears to affect the making of the video itself, as a stream of e-mails and messages relate the inability to render a raft in 3D –

“even the kid in Moscow is broke”.

Meanwhile, the water itself begins to talk about Jacob Wood and his journey from Vietnam towards Silicon Valley success and then wrestling. I had to leave before the end, and before I’d seen the other three videos, sad to say. It’s on until April 27th.

The main reason for my visit was to see Les Années 80, eighth in the A Nos Amours season of Chantal Akerman productions. I’d been to see the first instalment, and none since (for no good reason), and didn’t know much about this one. In fact, it was a rather extraordinary dissection of the creative process, including most of the bits that would normally be left out. It’s split into two parts, the Audition and the Project itself. Never before have I seen feet activity being assessed, as footage of steps and intimations of dancing are shown, limited to the shin. The structure is deceptively clever, because you see various small sequences and scenes rehearsed many times, by different performers, in different ways, on video. In the Project section, the medium moves to 35mm film and it’s startling when what you’ve seen broken down, with minute direction to the actors/performers, is realised in a proper choreographed performance. The concentration of the actors is very endearing, such as during a musical piece set in a hairdressers, when one of the people washing hair loses track of her hose while singing and drenches the face of her customer, during his own singing. There was lots of laughter in the cinema and I think this was as much from delight as amusement.

“That really caught me off guard”

I heard someone say in the foyer afterwards. My favourite bit of Akerman’s direction was when one of the actors was waiting for a customer in her shop and she was asked to

“present her best commercial smile”,

which she did.

Given that the organisers are promising to show her entire oeuvre, I’m looking forward to seeing the “proper” musical that emerged three years later.

Starting home along the Mall, I peeked into the Mall Galleries, which appeared to be hosting the “Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year” event, denoted by dinner jackets,tables with lots of wine glasses on them and an imposing entry desk. Some kind of radical contrast with Akerman, there…