100. Dithering at 100

100 weeks ago today you started this Blog.

It was partly intended to harness, shape and render more valuable and perhaps constructive the time, energy, art, humour, politics, images and citations that you were pouring in to something called ‘facebook’ – a strangely compelling and addictive social networking site.

The Blog was also motivated by a wish to publish more writing, about art and life, more often and more rapidly, and thus find an additional outlet to the professional and referee journals where your work currently appears, but which have a relatively slow and tight editing process.

What inspired you to start it was a talk at Tate by critic Roberta Smith of the New York Times. She gave you the idea of posting a regular amount of words at a regular time and day each week, like the old-fashioned print journalists that she still represents. (Ironically, today of all days is the first time you missed your deadline, by several hours – please accept apologies!)

The third, related motive, was simply freedom, i.e. to give yourself a space within which to experiment further with your long-term engagement with art writing.

Some of your colleagues are happy to call themselves art critics, theorists, or historians, but you have never been comfortable with any of those pigeonholing terms. Your life and career might in fact have been a little easier, a little more prosperous had you managed to lop-off on or two of your wide-ranging and heterogeneous creative aspirations, but to be true to the self that you are still seems as important to you now as it ever did.

And to you that means pursuing parallel paths as artist, writer, lecturer and musician /songwriter/ producer, sometimes feeling some of them to be in conflict, and yet increasingly often enjoying the sense that the wide-ranging skills, experience and wisdom you have accumulated, from what is now a lifetime of working at them all is now able to grace, unite, inform and cross-influence them all. Somewhere in that amalgamation is a whole person and their whole contribution to the arts, modest though it might ultimately be.

The Blog has allowed you to slip between diary mode and art review mode, social network posting mode, and more literary modes, as well as going through a few self-reflexive and formal experiments. These mainly concerned the question of who is writing, and thus informed what you write and how you write about it.

At one point in the 100 weeks, these experiments briefly created an alter ego, a character (named YOV) who wrote for and with you. But you killed that character off when one of your most loyal readers complained that your experiment was spoiling the other values and attractions of the Blog.

Like every artist perhaps, two contradictory aims keep you baffled and force you to travel, not in any straight line or towards any clearly accumulated outcome or reward, but rather in hesitant surges and swerves, and occasional periods of feeling you are riding downhill as well as struggling up.

One of those contradictory aims is that of achieving consistency and homogeneity, and of both form and content. Achieving a consistent and recognizable ‘voice’, or an enduring and productive engagement with a passionate personal theme.

The other contradictory aim is to upset any apple cart you may have thus carefully stacked and to thus maintain heterogeneity, diversity, and ride the edge of a brimming wave of uncertainty, as bravely and for as long and as often as possible.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-22-01-32Hence, the past 100 weeks are both a failure and a success. The WordPress stats tell a similar story. Little columns form abstract representations of weekly popularity or relative unpopularity. You could however read them upside down, or concentrate on the negative space around them that gives the columns their form. Therein you could perceive some alternative record or representation of your actual experience in writing the Blog and the experience of those who have read it.

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You have to pause here to simply and sincerely THANK anyone and everyone who has ever read the Blog, and especially those who read, or claim to read it, both thoroughly and regularly, and with the greatest thanks of all going to those who have left comments on the Blog itself or on associated facebook threads that emerge from my weekly announcement of a new post.

Today, you again have to seriously consider whether to continue beyond 100 weeks, or perhaps END your Blog here, perhaps take a pause, either from today or perhaps in 4 weeks when you hit that other milestone of two years Blogging (104 weeks).

One thing that disappoints you about the Blog, as well as social networks and apparently ‘amazing’ computers in general, is that, far from improving and changing and saving the world – as you once thought they might – the period of this first great computerized flourishing has accompanied nothing but a dramatic deterioration of human behavior and prospects all around the world.

The ability to potentially bring into reciprocal contact the thought, words and deeds of almost everyone on the planet simultaneously does not appear to have brought out the best in humanity. Your Blog, as a microcosm of this condition, though designed to replace many of your most intuitive and spontaneous online utterances, has also provided a fast and easy way (slightly too fast and too easy) to publicise your most rapidly executed, and therefore least well crafted and considered words and thought.

And there’s the rub (as the English say). We all seem to instinctively know and feel the ultimately developing influence that computing of every kind is having on our individual lives and on wider, national and international society. Just as I dither, wondering whether to continue my Blog, or to stop to give more time to higher quality, more considered, professional and even remunerated activities, so computers have us all in a similar bind, hard-wired into their ‘attention-economy’, without which we fear we will die of disconnection, like a hamster denied its feed.

Today you are just going o think, reflect and quietly celebrate the passing of 100 weeks and 100 posts, some of which you really enjoyed writing and some of which you felt quite proud of. You can leave the ultimate decision as to whether to continue the Blog until next week. Thanks again to everyone who has been supportive and came along for the ride., which began 100 weeks ago, on ‘the tourist bus’ in your first post, on the way to see Anselm Keifer at the Royal Academy.

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99. Bursting At The Seams

The first full week of the teaching term saw you cycling from Camberwell to Chelsea and to Kings Cross most days and spending four out of five days of the week  wholly immersed in dialogue with students (so great to get back to this!) The 5th day was spent in making plans for book launch events and distribution issues.

Everything is ‘full-on’ as they say. You are also writing a small book that requires getting up and starting work at the desk one or two hours earlier every morning. Furthermore, there seem to be more and more evening events you feel cannot be missed and so you are starting to see a pattern of 13- and 14-hour days emerging, followed by some quite sound sleeping (touch wood!)

Sometimes you feel your life or your health or your career are going to burst at the seams, but you also feel a kind of thrill at keeping on top of it all and revel in the diversity of information you can receive in a day or a week being busy in the arts in London.

Of course, if your youth had not been so misspent, lost, impoverished, powerless and neurotic you may be able to enjoy a more leisurely and simple life now, but as it is, you feel you are constantly striving, along with the 20-somethings, to achieve all those things that were impossible and unreachable when you were younger, despite the way your heart always ached to: do an interesting job, make and show art, teach and write, make books and make music.

You strong sense of ‘making-up-for-lost-time also makes it impossible to drop or neglect anything you are interested in, as all were so frustrated in your youth. Now that your various interests and abilities do have opportunities to shine you keep nudging them all along, like a shepherd keeping a little flock of careers moving in some kind of order, allowing none to drift away or fall behind.

On Monday, at Chelsea you were fortunate to bump into Sonia Boyce who pointed you in the direction of an exhibition in Chelsea college spaces titled ‘Now! Now! In more than one place’ It’s part of the ‘Black Artists & Modernism‘ research project, which also held a conference connected with the show.

You’ve known Sonia Boyce ever since your very first ever published art writings appeared in a black womens’ monthly magazine called ‘Pride’. A friend you met on a short journalism course hooked you up with the editor of Pride who asked you to find and profile and photograph one black woman artist per month for the magazine. Your feature got a bout a fifth of one page and the rest of the magazine was fashion, beauty, hair, advice, music etc.

It was a great adventure and challenge at that time (the mid-90s) to find the artists and interview them etc. And along the way you discovered the strangely separated world of black arts in 90s Britain, with its own meagre funding, profile and institutions, such as the African & Asian Visual artists Archive, INIVA and others.

You hoped, at the time, that this would become your specialist field of expertise and that you could, in this way make a significant contribution to arts in Britain by supporting and publicising this under exposed scene. Your MA studies, then the onset of teaching subsequently took you off into many other speculative and plural directions that you also wanted to explore and maintain, and so you drifted out of touch. But you still bump into everyone from that scene, noting everyone’s noble progress and hoping you will work together again, when the stars realign in appropriate patterns.

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As you didn’t attend the BAM Conference its unwise to comment on the agenda pervading both it and the exhibition, but Sonia Boyce and her BAM colleagues seem to be persistently and inventively negotiating the, still shocking and shameful way in which our society is  divided, socially, economically, and in other ways too, according to cultural difference, diaspora, and difference of appearance.More and more however, the emphasis seems to be on turning insistently towards the contributions to contemporary art and art history of artists, in the context of isms and movements shared across a broad diversity of cultures.

Reading the newspaper-style catalogue that accompanies the Chelsea show you glean the sense that artists, theorists and historians informing this project still have to fight and re-fight age-old battles with terminology that amounts to a kind of taxonomy, against language therefore, against pre-judice and various forms of xenophobia and racism, some more explicit some more insidious than others.

Clearly this is a timely show and research project that all thinking, conscious artists should note, and if possible support at this unusually divisive and destructive social moment in Britain. What most impressed you about the exhibitions was the oblique, surprising, subtle, humorous, inventive, intriguing and, yes, beautiful ways in which these long-standing issues are being approached and re-approached today.

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Artist: Sabina Pieper (in ‘Bad Behaviour Open’, 2016)

Last night you also attended the PV for an ‘Bad Behavour Open 2016’ show at Brixton East, organised by ex-students who now work together under the group title ‘Bad Behaviour‘. You were one of the selectors and judges and so it was great to see how decisions, based on slides, came together in the reality of a hang and an opening event. Most of the works you had helped to choose had a slightly dark, monochromatic, haunting, complaining, itchy, scratchy, and political air to them (including a portrait of a laughing Farage), so it was perhaps good that one of the other judge’s selections were more comic, bouyant and vivacious.

 

 

 

98. The City as ‘marvelous’ Mosaic

Some weeks in London become a mosaic of fragmented experiences. Work and life, art and world, the city itself and what it contains, all become one continuous experience, not hierarchically organized but even immersing the self as just one more, more or less significant element. Long ago you learned to allow the city to enter you, and that this was the only way to stop it from spitting you out or trampling you down. You become one with it and now it allows you to become increasingly familiar. The city shrinks the more and the better you know it. A bicycle shrinks it yet again.

The outgoing mayor appears to have signed lucrative licenses to a thousand property speculators and building firms to make a quick profit from EVERY single empty lot in London. As is always the case with ‘free market’ thinking, the thinking is not ‘joined-up’ (as you used to say in the New Labour years), nor far-sighted. It’s quick buck, poor quality thinking.

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Hence, a bus ride that, a few years ago would have taken the average London punter 20 minutes, now takes over an hour, simply because every street in London has at least one  building site on it, serviced by queuing trucks, and often with its own temporary traffic light system. Multiply this by a thousand or more and the potential for chaos is clear. But as always in the Tory’s very own version of ‘La La Land’, the reality of ordinary people’s lives always has to give way to the rapid (and invariably ugly) production of ‘trickle-down’ fairy tales wherein thousands more overpriced apartments and office blocks are supposed to contribute in some oblique, vague, long-term manner to the improvement and equality of society.

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Philippe Vandenberg

As you say, the world and its art all became rather blurred this week. Last Saturday you moderated a conversation about ‘Making The Nature Seen‘ a painting show at Tannery Arts featuring Tim Ralston, Benjamin Deakin, Emma Cousin, Clare Chapman and Mark Jackson. While there you popped in to the Drawing Room next door to see Philippe Vandenberg and a drawing by your friend Yu-Chen Wang.

A few days later you rushed through the Turner Prize in between two appointments, and saw the architectural intervention called ‘The Smile‘ set in the Chelsea College of Arts parade ground. You popped in to see the Punk photos by Sheila Rock at Chelsea Space while you were there too. But it was all a bit of a blitz, unkind to the art, artists and curators and thus it isn’t fair to comment on what you saw as any cursory memory would be unrepresentative, unjust and possibly unkind.

In a similar hurry, while attending to other jobs, other roles, you saw shows by Anthony Gormley and Virginia Overton at White Cube Bermondsey, by Bonnie Camplin and Matt Mullican (perhaps your favourite of the week) at Camden Arts Centre, and by Roman Ondak at South London Gallery too. Then there was James Richards , plus the wonderful little ‘Flourescent Chrysanthemum‘ show, both at the  ICA. The week ended visiting one or two friends, including Elaine Mullings and Anne Kuhn who were  exhibiting at ‘The Other Art Fair‘ in Shoreditch.

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Matt Mullican

You learned long ago to follow flaneurs and Frankfurt School heroes in addressing the city itself and embracing all it offers, rather than prioritising the relatively rarified and strangely stratified art world. Robert Rauschenberg  is supposed to have insisted that any good artist can make art simply by taking a walk around their own block, and you are sure that is true.

Hence, whenever you walk through Spitalfields, Liverpool Street and Leadenhall Market area, and see the seething crowds of well-paid drinkers who seem to fill these spaces 24/7, you have to ‘marvel’ at the historical spectacle of it all.

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While buzzing about the city you also dropped in on an elderly friend who occupies some rare, and much needed sheltered, social housing in the Whitechapel area. From inside the tiny flat you could see fashionably reinstated extremely old shop signs, making you feel you were living in Victorian or Edwardian times. Meanwhile the resident complained about ‘Jack The Ripper Tours’ constantly disturbing them in the evenings as loud, dramatic voices shared the secrets of nocturnal London’s evil past with tourists in the street directly outside the window.

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To live in London is not only to live in a city rich with what Baudelaire called ‘marvelous subjects’ (with which the art world has to compete) but it is also to live in a huge, sprawling museum, to which you and your heart alone can be the only guide.

The exceptions are of course those rapidly thrown-up new Tory-fuelled facades which appear to have no value at all, partly because they have no history, and partly because they seem to come into the world, not through any sense of necessity but simply as a result of crude, thoughtless, careless greed.

97. Art and Illness: The Rich Nausea of Complexity

Your weeks can be very varied. You probably dreamed once of being the kind of short-story writer, abstract painter, or 3-minute hit-single songwriter who consistently focuses on one form of art, but in recent years you have become resigned to , accepting of, affirmative about your eclectic ‘profile.’ You describe yourself as ‘artist, writer and lecturer’ but within each of those three terms lies further complexity, i.e. you are several kinds of artists, of writer and of lecturer. Furthermore, there is more to life than arting, writing, and lecturing too and so, as you say, a week can be quite varied.

This week involved attendance at APT open studios event in Deptford. Not only did about 40 artists present their works in their workspaces but a group exhibition was also curated. This featured the novel but effective device of having each artist present a work in one space and an object chosen by the curator from the artist’s studio nick-nacks and paraphernalia, in another space. Of course, in the 21st century, and largely thanks to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp the two rooms did not look incongruous, both looking and feeling like contemporary art shows.

Numerous performances and art events pervaded the weekend, including your partner, the artist Bada Song, repeatedly performing ‘Walk On By’ on an electric piano in an echoing passage-way, wearing a specially made costume.  Ex-Laban Centre contemporary dancer Svenja Buhl interpreted and negotiated an external fire escape with sometimes machinic movement, Fran Cottell waded across the adjacent Deptford Creek at low tide to install a rope showing the height the river could attain at high tide, and there were many more.

You spent a couple of days preparing materials and working hard on logistics for a couple of books you are making, and soon launching, with your eeodo colleagues. You spent one day in a recording studio turning a song sketch into a more finished interpretation of what you believe to be its magnificent possibilities. You attended an event at Morley Gallery which marks the handover of the gallery programme to interim manager Lena Augustinson, an old friend. The featured artist was painter Rebecca Mclynn, whose near-abstract renditions of remote spaces (often evoking barren beaches and horizons) were curated by Augustinson, and complemented with a choice of books, equally carefuly displayed and relating to encounters with wild places.

There were more events in your diary that you thought you might be relating today if it wasn’t for the fact that you had to cancel and spent one day bedridden as a sick artist, writer and lecturer. At first you thought the symptoms pointed to something you must heave eaten, but, as the problem didn’t resolve itself through one or other of the notorious forms of violent bodily evacuation, you think it may equally be stress-related. Either way, you spent a day in bed with a booming head pain, related to a consistent nausea , extreme exhaustion, abjection, weakness, and an occasionally palpitating heart.

There was still time for a little imaginative interpretation, philosophical reflection and even poetic insight into your miserable condition. At times, the bare plaster walls offered up figures and patterns you had never noticed before. You became interested in your sudden conversion to religion as you repeatedly groaned out the name of the Holy Father while  writhing around the room, ‘becoming animal’ and creatively blurring distinctions between bed, the carpet and the threshold between the bedroom and the hall.

The scene outside the window also offered moments of blissful change (albeit, as it were, seen ‘through a glass nauseously’). A sudden shower drenched the leaves of a cherry tree and the sheer beauty of it brought you a brief moment of relief and pleasure, helpfully reminding you of the better self you were capable of being.

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Then late afternoon sun turned whispy clouds to a pale peach contrasting with the pale vivid blue of the sky.  Reading made you feel sick, but you thought about Nietzsche and Kafka and the ways they had philosophically alluded to the body, to our animal condition when bereft of our ‘higher faculties’, and of the notion that, in illness we are offered a rare opportunity to see our ‘self’ as something first lost to us, and then regained, as we return to what we consider our ‘real’ or ‘normal’ self.

You still don’t feel ‘100%’ as they say, but nevertheless heroically rose to complete your weekly Blogging duties (the above may not be one of your best efforts and this is the excuse). Perhaps you are doing too much and sometimes become overwhelmed, exhausted and even nauseated by the rich mix of interests you take in life and art. The past 20 years have felt like making up for lost time, grasping opportunities that seem available to you now but which were way beyond your grasp in your repeatedly ailing ‘n’ failing 20s and 30s.

Today, as you nurse your wounded body, soul and mind the lure of that more singular creative identity still beckons, the discarded dream of becoming more focused on one single activity returns. Perhaps this bout of illness is a signpost on the way to realising that possibility, or necessity.

96. What Is Soul? Spectacularisation of Black music and subculture at ‘The Infinite Mix’

Writing the first draft of this on a 171 bus, on the back of some sheet music (‘Walk on By‘ – Bacharach & David) that you can’t read, leaning on a new Verso book (that you can read) of Walter Benjamin’s little fictions (‘The Storyteller‘), heading to Bloomsbury for a discussion of same.

Its been a week in which you reconvened with your academic colleagues and heard news of last year and the coming year in academia. Increasingly we are assailed as art tutors with fearsome stats and digital analysis, followed by digital analysis of the digital analysis, all of which makes us, or is perhaps designed to make us fear for our careers, livelihoods, meaning and purpose in this world.

However, you happened to (fortunately) believe that art is more than statistics, in fact it is the relentless production of possibility DESPITE statistics, facts, reality. Walter Benjamin and Sigfried Kracauer were both very wary, in their own fearful times of ‘the processing of data in the fascist sense” (Benjamin).

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As one of your heroes Alfred Jarry said, art is the ‘science of exceptions’ (he also renamed it ‘Pataphysics’). Meanwhile, we all know how that consummate and untouchable artist Mark Twain judged statistics to occupy a realm that was even more contemptible than ‘damn lies’.

What Is Soul? The real art highlight this week however was ‘The Infinite Mix‘ the Hayward Gallery’s Pop-Up show in an enormous disused office building on The Strand. The key to and core of ‘The Infinite Mix‘ is a subject very close to your heart i.e. the convergence of art and music and of art and ‘soul’. And should you write it in inverted commas?

What Is Soul? Hmmmm, yes, your own mixed-up and rather wavy career, shuttling back and forth between fine art and popular music has repeatedly confronted this schism, this question, this conundrum. for a generation of artists influenced about equally by Modernism, Conceptual art and Postmodernism ‘Soul’ is a largely taboo or ironicised value.

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What Is Soul? Consider the contemporary artist ‘Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’ who explicitly references one of our greatest, and undeniable Soul heroes (here I write it without inverted commas and with a capital letter in honour of marvelous Marvyn). Is Chetwynd a fan of Gaye? Does she believe in or pursue the value of soul in here art? Or is there some critique, of the quasi-spiritual concept (soul) or of the black music genre in her audacious appropriation?  (RESEARCH!)

What Is Soul? Your own teaching seminar, and apparently some conducted by your colleagues too, purposefully addresses a growing number of references in art and its theories relating to the emotive and ‘affective’ values and possibilities of art.

The Infinite Mix. Photo by Linda Nylind. 3/9/2016.

The Infinite Mix. Photo by Linda Nylind. 3/9/2016.

What Is Soul? Fine art can be ‘great’, ‘amazing’, ‘interesting’, ‘beautiful’, ‘challenging’, ‘innovative’ etc. and yet it could be argued that it might still only rarely touch you in that special spot targeted by the world’s myriad musicians, songwriters and record producers, that defenceless ‘soft’ spot that gives goosebumps to the determined commuter, brings a smile to the face or a tear to the eye of those passing-by the busker, or sends you rushing to turn up the radio when a certain song comes on.

What Is Soul? In ‘The Infinite Mix‘ you get to witness stunning visuals accompanied and enhanced by some magnificent musicianship and moving mixes of sonic and visual clips. Dancehall, Dub, Hip Hop, R&B, Rock, Jazz, Funk and Soul all feature, oh, and there’s a little bit of Rock and opera too.

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What Is Soul? Sometimes your critical antennae grow concerned about the repeated presentation of blackness in this show. In many ways you can simply enjoy it as a (truly) beautiful celebration of black music, culture, subculture, style, lifestyle and achievement (there are other aspects to The Infinite Mix, but this is the aspect on which you wish to concentrate here). The artists here all presumably draw personal and private inspiration or simple pleasure from black music and culture (we all surely do) but without referencing it as explicitly as they do here in their fine art works.

What Is Soul? Nevertheless, most of the audience visiting the show alongside you look like freshers drawn in from the prestigious universities nearby (LSE and Kings) and this sometimes gives you the slightly uncomfortable sense of blackness and black culture being exploited or rendered as a magnificent spectacle for a privileged audience who can simply rake-off its pleasures and even adopt some of its style and attitudes but without ever having to experience the kind of socio-economic oppression from which so much of it surely springs.

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What Is Soul? Dancehall, Dub, Hip Hop, R&B, Rock, Jazz, Funk and Soul, and the Blues that underpins white Rock, all unarguably provide examples of creative excellence and innovation, whole new genres in fact that, like fire stolen from machinic gods, like little victories repeatedly wrested from relentlessly crushing defeats, have helped us all to negotiate and survive modernity (city life, motoring, consumerism, capitalism, industrialisation, technologisation) with our hearts, souls and minds relatively intact.

What Is Soul? All the ‘beauty’ of black culture that you witness here is undeniably a product of a centuries-long, more or less conscious regime, of constant marginalisation and oppression, essentially based on a barbaric and primitive fear of largely visual difference.

What Is Soul? If black music seduces and charms, moves, excites, soothes and reassures, and if it simultaneously amazes with its apparently inexorable fecund production of avant-garde risk-taking innovation (which seems so absent from so many other arenas of cultural production) it still has to be acknowledged as the outcrying and outpouring of a horrific, pervasive and all-but unbearable injustice, the corralling, intimidating, abusing and oppressing of individuals and communities who, despite all, constantly strive for and achieve, thorough innovative art and culture, the special kind of excellence you can witness repeatedly throughout this show, and which you can also ‘enjoy’ throughout your life, even (or especially) as a member of a relatively rich, largely white, privileged audience.

What Is Soul? A Christian preacher may tell you it has something to do with God, but most of the visitors to this show will recognise it (hopefully) in their own visceral response to the sound of a sampled bass drum or Roland cowbell, in a conga or shaker pattern, a bass line or funky riff, or in the deliberately staggered rhythm of a rich rhyme laid leisurely over a sensuously winding loop. Combine all this with HD video that can pick up and instantly hero-ise, glorify and romanticise even the most ordinary scene or impoverished life (assisted by slow motion, wide-angle, drone shots etc.) and you come close to the reason that for you this is the show of the year so far.

What Is Soul? On your first visit you stayed 3 hours. The next day, about the same again, and you are looking forward to returning, each time a little more critical and discerning but also prepared for a pleasure-fest. Nevertheless, the political readings and implications of this show have to be considered too.

What Is Soul? Time and time again you experience here something truly ‘extra-ordinary’ (a currently much overused word); time and time again (despite your underlying concerns about eh possible ‘spectacularisation’ of black bodies, black lives, black subculture etc.) the artists and curators time and time again seem to get the balance right between image, idea, concept, sound, installation – ‘mind, body and soul’ we might say.

What Is Soul? All in all its a ‘cracking’ experience, fun yes, but also ‘cracking ‘ in the sense in which, having opened you up or ‘wounded’ you, it encourages you to confront and consider your ‘soul’, what it is, (is it your nerves, your conscience, your inner nobility?) and to ask yourself again some of the hardest, deepest human and moral questions that face every single one of us today. After all, the socio-economic structures and the fear and the prejudice that created the terrible conditions of injustice from which so much of this ‘beauty’ arises -far from being consigned to a shameful past-  may be increasingly rampant, ruthless, unchallenged and global.

SHOW LINK IS HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

95. ARTyOULIKE?

Sometimes you can’t quite believe your own life, who and where you are. The other night in Peckham the air was still, September warm, and amid the industrial wasteland of its backstreets you encountered all kinds of electric, youthful and creative enterprise.

One huge warehouse had its doors flung open to reveal the strangely theatrical sight of a dozen tall, strong, young men and women heaving huge weights, as if on a high and in time with the motivating music. After a few minutes they all jogged off sweating into the night only to return soon after and complete the strenuous circuit-training loop.

All kinds of abandoned factory buildings and little purpose-built sheds are adapted, in the yard known as ‘The Nines’, to quick-fix cafes and bars. There are also a few galleries and artspaces, including David Thorpe and Oscar Mac-Fall’s Performance Studio.

You always tell your own students that they shouldn’t be afraid to make a work of art that isn’t ‘liked’ and that art isn’t necessarily about pleasing. First year undergrads, untuil quite recently, still came to college with only the default terms ‘beautiful’, ‘aesthetically pleasing’ and ‘interesting’ in their armoury of verbal evaluation, and found themselves quickly asked to think beyond these limiting terms, in search of other values, aims and other reasons for making art.

Nevertheless, your own experience with art remains extremely diverse and you have to admit you do enjoy a lot of it and even feel increasingly relaxed about using the ‘B’ word (though you would never, NEVER be caught saying ‘Aesthetically Pleasing’  – surely just the most insipid way of not saying the former, more established term.)

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Mauve 2016 –  Katrina Blannin

Last weekend you were invited to be one of the judges of this year’s inaugural British Contemporary Painting prize. As well as it being a true privilege it was also a great pleasure. the show was held in The Riverside Gallery in Richmond’s Old Town Hall.

It was a rich experience and a significant education as you became increasingly deeply involved in the 15 paintings and practices of shortlisted artists, not to mention the strangely magnetic way that four judges were able to converge on a single winner, Cathy Lomax,with her iconic-looking, culturally disruptive painting ‘Black Venus‘.

 

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Cathy Lomax,  Black Venus, 2014-15

There is a ‘quiet boom’ in British painting that (thankfully) most of the world doesn’t know about, but you have been regularly startled by its astounding diversity, heterogeneity, energy, wit and ambition in the past few years.

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Aglaé Bassens,The Shirt Within, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the Peckham Performance Studio we were at what might be considered the other end of the contemporary art spectrum, in the field of cutting edge Performance. Here innovation and tradition might seem to play out their relationship in quite different ways to contemporary painting. Performance designers, their curators and hosts have, after all, and since the inception of this relatively new ‘genre’, always been searching-out and feeling for the very edges, not only of performance but of art per se.

Tonight John Costi first provided some pretty impressive and hard-won urban poetry in the bar outside the space. This strangely morphed into the same artist pulling strange objects out of boxes and bags and placing them carefully for our consideration.The impression was something like an impromptu and perverse pop-up museum of the everyday.The piece was titled: ‘Culture Mating and Memory Reappropriating‘.

 

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The crowd then drifted inside and another event began. ‘Michel, ma belle‘ was: “a live performance by Paris-based artist Arianne Foks …”, but you won’t quote any more of the official blurb (you can find it here of course). You try hard not to read blurbs about art before, or even after you’ve witnessed it with your own open eyes and mind. therefore you are more likely to come to some kind of personal evaluation or interpretation, or even judgement, unguided by the relevant artist’s, curator’s or institution’s words.

The piece started in darkness and a smartly dressed, mature woman tap-danced her way noisily across the space in the dark. Only her dancing feet were illuminated, by an assistant who followed her with a shining smartphone. This remained the most captivating image of the evening for you. It even made you reconsider the quality of the concrete floor. In this ‘new light’ concrete suddenly seemed harder and flatter than ever.

Following this moment of clarity the rest of the piece seemed to you to break into numerous strands and narratives. The performers and audience shared the space informally but the performers constantly commanded it, often giving a strong sense that they knew something that the audience did not. This was slightly troubling as, in the more egalitarian atmosphere of much post-1990s art this very posture felt like a throwback to a lost era of avant-garde activities. It could of course also be valued as a kind of 21st century retro re-enactment, or an insistent reclamation  historic avant-garde stance.

As the tap dancer repeated variations on her dance, sometimes flinging little firecrackers onto the hard floor to add extra percussion, another performer draped herself languidly over a bar reading short poetic and philosophical extracts through a microphone (Michel Foucault seemed to be either invoked or satirised here.)

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Yet another performer (the artist Arianne Foks herself you suspected) took and uploaded selfies that were cleverly posed in front of posters depicting historic buildings. Meanwhile a live facebook feed projected on one wall ensured the audience were always aware that they were involved in a live documentation of the event they were attending. This surveillance feature increased a growing sense of imposition and possible entrapment which was then compounded by a young man and his ‘hench-woman’ who slowly circled the crowd, stopping at each guest.

The man whispered ‘eat or death’ in each person’s ear (at least that’s what he seemed to whisper in YOUR ear.) The woman pointed at your face gun-like fingers, smeared with (something-like) jam. If you ‘ate’ then you had to lick the fingers’, if you ‘died’ then your hand was marked with red. Some people managed to wriggle out of either choice. It was all quite uncomfortable, intrusive, provocative and fearsome, but it also passed quickly enough.

Nevertheless, the whole event proved too demanding for some members of the audience, including -your slightly ashamed to say- yourself. As 2-3 of your friends upped and quit you felt timidly inclined to join them, encouraged by the sense that, after all, you were NOT feeling great, and justified by the notion that,this might just be the intended or desired outcome of the piece.

Welcomed by the warm, comforting air outside, and drinking a free can of poor quality beer, you bantered with the very same friends about whether the piece ‘worked’; whether this ‘kind of art’ has value, if so what just that value is, and just what it may have or have not achieved in this instance – perhaps a critique of value, or certain values.

Having ‘slept on it’ you still feel a bit lame for quitting the performance, but think it was all a worthwhile experience. It reminded you that you may have been getting too comfortable with art lately and that it may be dangerous to do so. As we grow older we may feel a tendency creep up on us to simply try and ‘enjoy’ life – each day, each minute of life – a  little more and as much as we can, but art should still sometimes put your nerves on edge and make you search hard for; make you find an evaluation (as you so often tell your students); a valuation and a vocabulary that is other than a simplistic, habitual or thoughtless affirmation.

94. Marta Michalowska at the Whitechapel Gallery

 

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Drawing in Space, Drawing in Tim

You are making your way through London’s Aldgate, returning from  an evening event at The Whitechapel Gallery, followed by a quick sip of bitter beer at a trendy Brick Lane bar. Its September but the night air is still warm and a slight breeze makes your journey feel a little more romantic. Our latent capacity for romanticism grasps at us in such unexpected moments, in momentary affirmations of being alone, coming into contact with the self as a kind of adventure.

The Whitechapel event was curated by its film curator Gareth Evans who has developed a unique, slightly  DADA-esque and impressario-like style of introducing events. He manages to explain and name-check all the important information about the evening, the series of events in which it appears, the works you are about to see, the artists, sponsors and anyone else involved, while rolling out a rapid, risk-taking stream of consciousness which veers and swerves vertiginously from one speculative sentence into another, often diverted by an encounter with an explicit metaphor which then suggests an entertaining wordplay, which in turn sets off a new train of thought, which, though often at risk of departing entirely from the point, is suddenly yanked, like a car on a fairground ride, back on to some kind of track, while the audience, following every word with concentration, trepidation and occasional bursts of laughter, has to actively and collectively will the speaker to find some way back to the original point and purpose of his decorative proclamation and thus make sense – which he eventually, unfailingly, and almost miraculously does.

The featured artist was Marta Michalowska who has been supported for some years now by the Jerwood Foundation (see link below). She showed a triptych of short films grouped under the title ‘WITHOUT’ and which included: Without Reflection (2011/15), Without Shadow (2011/15) and Without (2016).These films are based on the artist’s mother’s widowhood.

Michalowska also screened Drawing in Space, Drawing in Time (2016) in which two artists – Meghana Bisineer (animation) and Julian Wild (sculpture) – were interviewed about their work and collaborated on a large drawing, while explaining, exchanging and sharing their motivations, processes and aims. Following the first screening Michalowska was also in conversation with artist Dryden Goodwin.

You often try to visualise for, and with your students, the creative excitement of making a connection between two apparently unconnected thoughts, ideas, images, scraps of found material, historical events etc. The more distant and different the elements are and thus the more unlikely they are to be connected, the greater the satisfaction to be found in finding or building the connection. You can almost feel the pleasure of any such synaptic connection being made, and this seems to point to, what for you, is the pleasure of making and thinking as an artist. Subsequently, the connection you have built is often more important and valuable than the objects themselves.

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Meghana Bisineer

In Michalowska’s Drawing in Space, Drawing in Time you are left with a kind of medley formed of the generous offerings of two very different artists who, not only make a work of art together in the film but become a work of art together in and as the film. The film leaves you with a strong sense of that enjoyment described above, of making connections between the previously unconnected, fusing distinct and diverse practices, producing an elusive synthesis that is something other than and more than the sum of the components.

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Julian Wild

In the film a certain geometric linearity encounters a material fluidity, the assertive marking of a site is overwhelmed and suffused by the irrepressible animation of a dynamic line. Wild uses a mix of intuition and rigour, gesture and polish to produce his accessible, intriguing and entertaining public sculpture. Bisineer produces deeply rendered emotive drawings (often drawn from the experience of motion and travel) which she photographs as they evolve and subsequently animates the results.

The triptych (or trilogy) screened after the discussion with artist Dryden Goodwin is a very different work, triggered by the death of the artist’s father and reflections on her mother’s new state of widowhood. Here Michalowska’s camera lingers around the family house, itself a kind of yearning and lost soul, nervously  observing a world from which it is necessarily detached  – or ‘without’.

The mother is first glimpsed from behind and we see only her hair. This image reminds you of the 19th century Danish painter Hammershøi‘s (1864 – 1916) domestic interiors in which a woman almost always has her back to the artist.

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Hammershøi

Atmospheric encounters with domestic details – bed sheets on a line, close-ups of patterned glass and details of lampshades- leads the trilogy on, out of the house and on to a beach where you, the artist, the camera again follow the mother at a kind of respectful distance, as if she should not really know we are there, or as if her privacy and grief must be cherished.

In a slightly Doppleganger-like mode, and encouraged by a sensitive soundtrack composed by Billy Cowie,  you persistently trail the mother,  whose very gait seems slightly wayward, as if she has been disconnected not only from her husband but from her internal compass. She is bereaved, but also strangely freed, freed of purpose and direction.

And so it seems significant that when she comes to a crossing of paths she seems to make arbitrary gestures with her hands before wandering on; and that, when she comes to a pile of felled trees, she walks along one of them, balancing in tentative, girlish steps that you sense she might not have been made had her husband still been at her side.

After continuing across gentle snow bound hills you follow the widow through the forest, which eventually leads to a cemetery where graves are beautifully patterned amidst the trees, and where the Polish, (possibly Catholic) community seem to conscientiously, and touchingly care for the graves, as each is illuminated, while the sun sets on the scene, by a lighted candle.

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The artist’s website is HERE

The Jerwood Foundation link is HERE

The Whitechapel Gallery’s event link is HERE