The Infinite Mix: a glorious blast of MI art

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Stan Douglas – Still from Luanda-Kinshasa courtesy of the artist

London’s lack of a venue for showing large collections of moving image art is radically but temporarily resolved this autumn by the upcycling of a vast derelict office block, 180 The Strand. The Infinite Mix presents ten MI artworks which demonstrate technical ingenuity in spades but with varying degrees of emotional connection. Curated by the Hayward Gallery, they have sensibly co-opted Vinyl Factory’s expertise gained through its occupation of various unlikely spaces including the Brewer Street NCP Car Park. The imaginative transformation of this cavernous shell  to create a series of discrete “studios” of varying dimensions and ambience, all with superb sound design, allows each work to be perfectly showcased. This could never be created in a traditional gallery so this is a cast iron “must-see” exhibition.

Stan Douglas:  Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013

This was a blast. You might find it hard to pull yourself away from the nostalgic and addictive jazz-funk groove laid down by these talented musicians whose enthusiasm and focus are captured so vividly by Douglas. The glorious 70’s vibe is enhanced by the olive, ochre and grey of the authentic equipment (including an early MOOG synthesiser) contrasting with the acid  colours of the musicians’  clothing. Douglas has edited the visuals and sound so that an “infinite” mix of  alternate takes (in reality six hours) have been generated. I could have stayed all day.

Elizabeth Price: K, 2015

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Elizabeth Price: still from K, courtesy of the artist

Deserving of the highest praise is Elizabeth Price who has honed her art to the point where her original ideas are presented through parallel text and images that chime with intellectually appealing clarity. She takes two apparently unrelated ideas, a black and white publicity film for a professional mourning service and  a colour digital animation of a slick assembly line producing yellow stockings and then subtly picks out associations between the two. I guess her overarching theme is our present crisis of technological advance stripping us of our humanity.

Price has detected the rich symbolism in the trend of outsourcing our distressing emotions, deferring to experts who appear to have the required skills that we have lost. For example the services of a professional secular celebrant at a funeral is becoming increasingly prevalent. Price creates a marketing text for a fictitious professional dance troupe who provide a tailored mourning ritual that can move seamlessly between funerals and trade fairs. This bizarre concept of institutionalising sorrow speaks of a future where all emotions are mediated through a third party.

Her restricted colour palette of yellow and blue, the sun and the sky, and the shiny gunmetal grey of high tech equipment is used to highlight our desire for technology to reflect the natural world. All the stocking brands packaged at the end of the process have “sun” in the title (Sunburst, Sunstroke etc) and we note how often marketing is exploiting our attachment to nature. Her description of the automated weaving process mimicking the flailing limbs of the dancers again points to our need to find humanity in the deskilled internet culture we have created.

 

Cyprien Galliard:   Nightlife, 2015

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Cyprien Galliard: still from Nightlife, courtesy of the artist

This can be read as a politically charged film. It is backed by the mournful hypnotic soundtrack of a dub phrase “I’m a loser” and we instinctively empathise with the centuries of colonial repression. Slow-mo storm blown trees flailing against a wire fence seem almost human in their futile struggle to escape confinement. Had it stopped there it would have been a concise statement. Then we get a stunning but seemingly unrelated sequence filmed by a drone flying through aerial firework starbursts. Drone cameras are this year’s latest toy for MI artists, this being the the fourth work I have seen in the last few months where they feature. In this case it feels a bit of a distraction from the political momentum of the narrative.

Rachel Jones: Everything and More, 2015

I am taken by her unifying theme of the fragility of the surface appearance of our environment hiding deeper layers. This concept was examined historically in one of her earlier works where the pixels of her filmed images start to break up. Siting her fabric screen against a river-facing window means that certain passages reveal a view of the Southbank which puts the astronaut narrator commenting on his view from space into some kind of perspective. His description of the earth’s surface are accompanied by some home made oil emulsion experiments with food colouring which were interesting in themselves but a poor replacement for the real thing.

Cameron Jamie: Massage the History, 2007-9

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Cameron Jamie: still from Massage the History, courtesy of the artist

This is billed as straight music video. The 10 minute track by Sonic Youth, seemingly about lost love, alternates between tenderness and anger and is an apposite accompaniment to the ambiguous images Jamie presents. The film begins with a skateboarder set alight who becomes a flaming beacon as he hurtles downhill towards the dousing from his accomplices that will save him. The closing shot is the dramatic blaze of a Christmas tree festooned with American flags (see above) that has featured frequently. The erotic male dance moves which dominate the film are all directed at inanimate objects including the tree. This autistic version of sexual attraction is unsettling to watch and seems to indicate both a poverty of connection and a repressed hostility.

Jamie, a white film maker, has made statements that suggest he identifies as a kind of urban anthropologist so I have no inkling of any intended political subtext. However the title points to our tendency to gloss political history, the fiery images images are reminiscent of lynchings and the overall narrative suggests some kind of revenge for a history of  U.S subjugation.

Martin Creed : Work No.1701, 2013

Creed’s music video celebrates people with unorthodox mobility and admirably undermines the stereotyped victim disability narrative. As people with a range of mobility issues make purposeful crossings of the same intersection in New York a cheerful and catchy pop ditty played by Creed and his band implies that we can usually find a workaround to the problems we face . The final matter-of-fact portrait of a man dragging his lifeless legs along the ground is a throw back to the medieval image of an amputee on his trolley  but without its gruesome associations.

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Martin Creed: still from Work No.1701 courtesy of the artist

The four other works in the exhibition by Kahil Joseph,  Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea, Ugo Rondinone  and Dominique Gonzalez-Forester are interesting but not groundbreaking. With the exception of Price, overall this is not a survey of cutting edge MI art. Visually spectacular in many cases but sometimes falling into the trap of revelling in images at the expense of conveying compelling original ideas it is nevertheless a rewarding and enjoyable exhibition. Given the large crowds it has drawn it should generate a welcome increase in the popularity of the genre.