Bruce Conner’s legacy and assorted 2017 clippings

Bruce Conner
Still from Bruce Conner’s film A Movie (1958)

2017 has seen a surfeit of stimulating MI artworks in London galleries.  As the year reaches its final frame I am impelled to hoover up some of the missing highlights – the clippings on the cutting room floor – that have not made it to the final cut of earlier blogposts.

Bruce Conner‘s A Movie (1958) at Thomas Dane Gallery in July was an eye-opener for me showing the strengths of the pioneer MI artists. This early example of collaged newsreel footage was prescient, contrasting personal with political dangers such as the iconic atomic mushroom cloud. Billed as the first “assemblage film”, much that has followed in the last sixty years in a similar vein is more clumsy and haphazard lacking the energy, precision and harmony of the chiming images in Conner’s editing. Conner died in 2008 but his legacy for moving image art is a significant one

John Akomfrah’s overblown 70 minute six screen installation, Purple, at Barbican Curve also used found footage and was an interesting comparator to Connor’s 12 minute work. It was also an attempt at a global overview of contemporary issues but with much less economy. Intermittently dramatic, it failed to hook you in, its portentous gravity and lack of visual harmony in the edit making it feel a bit plonking in comparison.

Paul Pfeiffer at Thomas Dane Gallery in July was memorable for its unusual video effects. In his series of short looped videos, Caryatids (2016), boxing fight sequences with one of the boxers digitally erased leave us to focus on the spectacle of his opponent being battered. The sight of his head bouncing and his neck muscles straining from the unseen blows stripped backed this sport to its barbaric reality

Afro Black

Into the Unknown, the sci fi exhibition at the Barbican Curve, was crammed with too much miscellaneous art but I was taken by the retro charm  of Soda_Jerk‘s Afro Black which is a 30 minute homage to Afro-futurism, sampling sci-fi movie clips and some classic  music tracks incuding Kraftwerk and Sun-Ra.

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Installation view of Shana Moulton film installation

Shana Moulton’s videos at White Cube Bermondsey’s surrealist group show of women artists in August were quirky but satisfying as she seems to treat each object she films with such reverence. This was particularly evident in one where the objects were installed in front of the screen as well as appearing on it.

Willie Doherty
Still from Willie Doherty’s Loose Ends (2017) courtesy of the artist

Willie Doherty’s Loose Ends at Matt’s Gallery in July was a two screen video installation consisting of a series of slow zooms onto a variety of scenes associated with the 1916 Easter Rising including derelict patched-up Dublin buildings. This “ruin art” essay combined with commentary on political myth making was very hypnotic in its pacing and provoked ruminations on the interaction between personal and historical memory.

The films of Allora and Calzidilla always combine poetic imagery with a political ambiance. Their exhibition Foreign in a Domestic Sense at Lisson Gallery in November had subtle but intense charge inspired by their opposition to American imperialism in Puerto Rico. Their film The Night We Became People Again contrasted shots of the interior of a vast cave and abandoned industrial plants. It takes its title from a short story by José Luis González, where Puerto Rican immigrants in a US power blackout exult in the sight of the star-filled night sky undisturbed by light pollution as a reminder of their homeland.

 

 

 

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Autobiographical films from Beirut and Ellesmere Port

Mark Leckey’s autobiographical film at the Tate Modern, Dream English Kid (2015) 1969-1999, is delightful, endearing and intense, very like the Ellesmere Port born artist himself.

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Affect Bridge Age Regression, installation view. Photography by Mark Blower

In Leckey’s Tate Shots video he tags himself as an outsider with a “schizophrenic” approach (meaning detached and alienated rather than psychotically delusional, misusing this term as so often in artspeak). However he is forgiven this as his video is an engrossing, visually rich, tightly orchestrated nostalgia trip exorcising the personal and political demons instilled by a late 20th century upbringing. His video collage is carefully sound tracked with some iconic musical clips and includes archival material from television shows and advertisements as well as a digitally rendered concrete motorway bridge. This bleak urban image is one that has obsessed him from childhood and seems to distill the claustrophobic anomie of much post-war culture. This gave the film a dark and disorientating quirkiness that distinguishes it from similar archive based videos. His compact and powerful exhibition later in the year at Cubitt Gallery, Affect Bridge Age Regression included a model of the bridge lit by  cold sodium street lamps and a grimly poetic sound installation based on extending the lyrics of the Edgar Broughton Band’s Out Demons Out whose channeling of teenage fury I first encounterered in a memorable live rendition by a schoolboy proto-punk band at an end of term concert in 1973. In his lyrics Leckey introduced me to the term alembicated (excessively subtle), so perhaps  there is something to be said for artspeak.

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Installation view of  The Craft (2017) courtesy of the artist, Monira al Qadiri

Kuwaiti  born artist Monira Al Qadiri’s 16 minute VHS film The Craft at Gasworks in August also drew heavily on the long political and personal shadows cast by her childhood in the Middle East.   Incorporating archive footage from her past, it explored the magical thinking that children are prone to and how their sense of unreality can be reinforced by parental obfuscation. It featured a clip of al Qadiri as a child showing her drawings in a TV interview.  Her diplomat father is seen to prompt her to relate it to her traumatic experience of a recent air raid. But Al Qadiri reflects in the voiceover that the figures she has drawn are more amorphous, mythical creatures that she experiences as “aliens” from outerspace. In the film she links the child’s sense of unreality with the destabilising influence of American cultural imperialism with a sequence showing the bizarre recreation of an 1950’s red and green styled American diner in  Beirut. We watch the video in an installation that replicates this diner!

 

Disorentation of perception at the Whitechapel

Adrian Paci
Still from Adrian Paci’s video The Column (2013) courtesy of the artist

The International Film Series at the Whitechapel continued to offer a stimulating programme in  2017. The three films I saw in September  all had an element of visual surprise. This destabilisation of perception forces us to reorient our understanding of the visual field and reminded me of our tendency to make unwarranted perceptual assumptions.

Adrian Paci’s  The Column (2013) was a visual treat. Paci is an Albanian refugee now living in Italy whose films reveal an acute sensitivity to light. He followed the journey of a block of marble from its delicate extraction in a quarry in China to its loading onto a cargo ship where it is arduously carved by stonemasons into an ornamental column as it makes its journey to Europe. An amazing sequence that took a while to interpret was created by sunlight casting shadows through the slits in the deck onto the hold below as the ships orientation slowly changed.

Better migrants
Still from Cengiz Tekin’s video Just Before Paradise (2015) courtesy of the artist

Cengiz Tekin’s Just Before Paradise (2015) was a moving portrait of another type of cargo – young male migrants. Initially we only see their faces  but they are finally revealed to be standing waist deep in the sea contemplating an uncertain future. This Kurdish artist created a profound impact with the careful marshalling of simple elements.

Jūrmala (2010–16) takes its name from a beach in Latvia, the setting for this collaborative film by nine Berlin-based women artists and filmmakers. Each one took the same sequence and played around  with the sound track to give it a different spin. The version with a director’s voiceover in homage to John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum was quite neat.

This the way the world ends…or not

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David Blandy – installation view of The End of the World, 2017

David Blandy returns to his musings on apocalyptic endings in his latest works now showing at Seventeen Gallery until 16 December and generates intriguing questions about our interactions with the emergent online universe. Will our online identity replace our IRL one? Will the line between human consciousness and the digital world become increasingly blurred? As usual with Blandy, the works manage to be both gripping and meditative while dramatising the competing rational and emotional approaches to tackling the “big problems”.

In his surround screen work, The End of the World (2017), pictured above, we feel we are on the observation platform of an interplanetary spaceship as the Earth, Moon and Saturn rotate beneath us. But these are not re-runs of Kubrick’s 2001. Blandy’s animations are slightly skewed stylised versions which ramp up their aesthetic impact. The earth’s human activity on the dark side is picked out by light zones emitted from its urbanised regions. The unseen Sun  makes its presence felt by illuminating surfaces with a ghostly glow.  As the commentary  morphs from lecture to poetry we get a sense of  our rational selves grappling with the emotional ramifications of our own demise. Personal deaths are not refered but we get a rundown of the solar system’s history and its inevitable dissolution in the Sun’s supernova meltdown. This is followed by an abrupt change in tone as a our narrator relays a tale of social annihilation resulting from the shutdown of a longstanding online role-playing gaming community. On termination day its avatars gather together to share their grief  before they are consigned to the digital hereafter. This is the converse of the dilemma in Ruth Waters’ equally thought-provoking video Redsky66  (accessible through her website, ruthwaters.co.uk) where her interviewee is haunted by his immortal digital existence.

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David Blandy- installation view of HD Lifestyle, 2017

On first sight, HD Lifestyle, 2017, is an installation inspired by mobile phone shops but on closer inspection its display case is more like a science museum exhibit tracing the development of screen technology from the early “dimphones” to the current day. The early Nokias have blank screens while the video plays across the more advanced technology to mark the moving image Rubicon that we have crossed. Over visuals of crystals and animated desolate landscapes, Blandy’s commentary draws a neat parallel between human and environmental sacrifice. Technological “innovation”  requires vast areas of landscape to be sacrificed in the poorest regions of the world to placate our consumer anxiety for the latest, hippest Apple product. The Ancient Greek ritual of casting out an individual scapegoat at year’s end to restore social and agricultural equilibrium was an earlier incarnation of this tendency to concentrate our atavistic and inchoate fears onto narrow target populations.  The concept of “sacrifice zones” is a fertile one.

Also included is The Archive, 2017 a video and VR examination of one 94 year old woman’s vast personal collection of newspaper cuttings that have taken over her house, provoking speculation on the definition of  accumulated knowledge as the digital record supplants print.

You come away from this show filled with thoughts of how far our online existence will change human nature. All DB’s signature strengths are on show: the astute thinking on contemporary issues, the hypnotic quality of his carefully choreographed visuals, music and narration, the unsettling undertow this creates and the humane emotional engagement with the content incorporating little touches of humour confirms for me his appeal as one of my favourite MI artists.

Ruth Waters explores fears of eternity and digital immortality

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Ruth Waters. Redsky66 (2017) video installation featuring still from  Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures (1989)

Ruth Waters first impressed me at the Goldsmiths MFA Degree show last year and so it was a  major treat to see her recent video installation last month at Peer Gallery in Hoxton. It is a carefully crafted cautionary tale for the internet generation that can turn to a supportive global community of sufferers of the same phobia, no matter how obscure. The bulk of the film consists of a skype interview with the film’s increasingly distraught protagonist, known to us only as REDSKY66. This is intercut with clips of  different types of vortices swirling into a vanishing point which provide a visual commentary as he struggles with his obsession with infinity and his acute fear of the eternity he will endure in the afterlife.  This includes a hilarious clip from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures  film of 1989 showing the heroes being sucked into deep space. I had never encountered apeirophobia before and Ruth astutely pinions the reason why digital natives might be particularly prone to this form of anxiety. REDSKY66 reaches a tipping point in his attempts to control his phobia when he becomes the epicentre of a twitterstorm triggered by his rash tweet trolling the teenage rape victim of a celebrity footballer which he later regrets.

He explains that his breakdown was triggered by the realisation that our digital lives have an immortality that our bodily lives do not possess. Eternity is a terrifying prospect if it means ruminating on our life’s bleakest moments as if on a continuous excruciating  loop and this horror is amplified by the indelible nature of the internet record preserving our crass mistakes. Ruth makes an astute choice of collaborator as the performance of REDSKY66 is entirely credible and you are left wondering whether this is acting, role play or a real interview. Whatever it is, you are moved by his plight.

This concise, gripping and original narrative goes beyond the ubiquitous concerns over social media’s impact on personal reputations and instant celebrity and hints at the more murky, emerging uncertainties of our digital era. Having seen much incoherent and self-indulgent MI work recently this was a refreshingly simple yet profound experience having much in common with David Blandy’s excellent new video, The End of the World, which I will be reviewing in my next blogpost.

Infantalised by social media: Rachel Maclean’s dystopian vision

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Copyright Rachel Maclean, We want Data!, 2017. Courtesy of the artist

In Rachel Maclean’s recent film, we enter a frenetic and eye-scorching visual world, a 30 minute riotous mash-up of Disney and Hammer horror, that neatly distils the child-like anxiety and exuberance exhibited in much social media activity. It’s What’s Inside That Counts, 2016, first exhibited in London as part of Tate Britain’s Art Now programme in the Spring, is a tour de force from an artist with a disturbing and singular vision. As a performance artist/computer animator she is keen to explore the “dark and depressing” aspects of social media and her unashamed gross-out style conveys the sometimes grotesque distortions inherent in living an online life. She describes her work as “digital collage” inspired by trawling through T.V. and web sourced material. Scavenging visual images and found audio clips she creates a script and a cast of self performed characters realised with sophisticated prosthetics and costumes. Green screen editing and CGI allow her to produce a digital backdrop  for multiples of her own performances. Hidden behind such heavy disguise she is unrecognisable and in a strange way by dressing up and lip synching she is simply exaggerating the standard strategies used to project a social media identity. Despite casting herself in every role, narcissism is entirely absent as her own physiognomy is submerged beneath the transformations she so carefully crafts.

Social media values and internet marketing tropes are clinically and cheerfully parodied. We follow the rise and fall of a social media celebrity named “Data” (see above) whose absent nose I took to be a cutting comment on surgical enhancement. As her adoring onesie-suited followers chant “We want data” we reflect that the torrent of information we demand from the internet is exactly mirrored by the flow in the opposite direction from us to the corporate internet giants. With their sleep shades emblazoned with dilated pupils her crowd of internet data addicts are portrayed as deluded clones in thrall to the dominant messages that fill their social media feeds.

Maclean splices in a found audio file of the irritating childish refrain “Again and again and again” sung by a chorus of rat/human hybrids in nursery rhyme dresses. The contradictory pressures of online existence are neatly exposed. On the one hand it points to the self-improvement mantra “If you fail to be liked, try again and you are sure to achieve success ”  but also  “If you want to stay happy and avoid upsetting yourself, here is more of what you liked before”. Ironically Maclean’s career is in danger of being caught in this trap. Her work is so successful and distinctive she must be tempted to mine this rich seam with her self-made purpose designed tools for the foreseeable future. Having said that, Hogarth had the same acerbic vision and artistic elan as Maclean and he did not do too badly. In the US Paul McCarthy has similarly built his reputation through testing our squeamishness to the Stygian underbelly of consumer culture.

In some of McCarthy’s filmed performances he becomes too self indulgent and the length detracts from their impact. Maclean is usually admirably concise as many of her short films testify but with this one there is a digression into caffeine addiction which features a contrasting gloomy palette. This was amusing but could have been cut to give the film a more watchable length. MI artists need to attract an audience beyond their devotees so unless there is a compelling narrative 15-20 minutes is probably the optimum.

As with any artist appropriating consumerist iconography Maclean is in danger of fetishising rather than critiquing the visual tropes and their attendant values.  I think it might be interesting if she moved away from found audio and used her own text to narrate her films.  Her future trajectory will be intriguing to track.

 

 

 

Ferocity tempered by ice-cold analysis at Goldsmiths MFA

Goldsmiths’ art students are ferociously angry, rightly so given the state of the world. But they use this furnace to temper their material into stark blocks of steel  that coolly reflect the idiocies surrounding them. Among the targets skewered by the moving image artists this year are crass gender stereotypes, corporate gobbledygook, medical arrogance and psychological vacuity.

Puck Verkade, Breeder

Puck Verkade

For her inventive marshalling of diverse sources and ideas into a cohesive whole, Verkade for me was the standout MI artist of the show. The three video episodes totalling 20 minutes are a playful but hard-hitting exploration of the politics of female reproduction with digressions into related issues. It integrates her own animations, archive clips (including Shirley Bassey, Boy George and moon shoots)  and features a stunning sequence as a baby chameleon emerges from its leathery egg. Directing three teenage girls to demonstrate the relevance of chickens and Cleopatra to gender and racial politics was handled with a confident sensitivity. At one point in a nod to post-modernism, Verkade steps out of the director’s omnipotent role during shooting to query with a black teenager whether a shot of her eating fried chicken would be seen as offensive stereotyping. She is acutely aware of language betraying cultural assumptions and her bold use of (covert?) sound recordings of women undergoing encounters with medical professionals is particularly startling for their honesty.  One of the video episodes is viewable at https://vimeo.com/224480565

Ian Gouldstone, Wanton Boys

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The title of this work is an attempt to invest it with profundity. I thought the dancing crosses  projected onto simple blocks evoking animal gravestones were quite amusing. So perhaps I am a “wanton boy” heartlessly looking down on the misfortunes of others. The idea of using software to generate random interaction between geometric figures is fun but also gives a new perspective on the meaningless absurdity of life.

Laura Yuile, Contactless Family #4

Laura Yuile

I was taken by Yuile’s background commentary, sourced I assume from found audio featuring  smooth corporate sales pitches that ratchet up the paranoia of environmental contamination and disruption of the home environment: “Do not allow two mirrors to reflect each other,” the feng shui advisor smugly urges. This is extended to an exploration of the idea that the smarthome has a consciousness and its ill health will act on the family that resides there. Her digital processing, scrambling and fuzzing the images, arrestingly conveys that the boundary between the environment and the self is becoming blurred, a disconcerting but prescient idea. More info at http://www.laurayuile.com/

Tom Varley, The Personality Test

Tom Varley

This was absolutely thrilling and very funny. Initially I read it as a parody of a dire counselling session with the counsellor mirroring verbatim the depressed self-statements of the client according to Rogerian non-judgemental orthodoxy which only leads to him sinking more deeply into his depression. But it becomes apparent that the entire script is taken from the statements that feature in the woeful personality tests that we are all subjected to in the cause of refining the recruitment filter for whatever organisation we are seeking to join. As scenes progress the mood fluctuates wildly from delight to anger to sarcasm as the actors do a sterling job giving alternative interpretations of the banal profiling statements such as “I enjoy meeting other people.” Introducing melodramatic classical themes like Mahler’s 5th Symphony at dramatic points provides a humorous counterpoint to the turbulent emotions. This film is a devastating practical debunking of scientific psychology’s futile attempt to grasp the complexity of the human  condition. Brilliant.

Michal Plata, Bodies and Dark-metal

michal plataAs an ex-BMW designer, Plata has an interesting background for an artist. His two videos take muscular strength as a signifier of masculinity as their starting point. Interview clips reveal competitors for the “World’s Strongest Man” are also filled with self doubt. This is contrasted with a young boy testing his mental strength by confronting pedestrians with his attempts to walk between couples holding hands. That this is set in the least macho London suburb of Hampstead I took to be significant! His website is http://www.michalplata.com/

Tomasz Kobialka, Pearl Diving for Wyrms

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Kobialka’s installation of this digital video in a carpeted room only four-foot high and his narrator’s sub basso profundo growl add to the undertow of menace.  The alpha male elements of video game culture are presented as an inescapable rule. But this contrasts with the benign innovation – a virtual worm (or wyrm) with a simple genotype which is seen as the holy grail in that it mimics a living organism contrasting with the typical mythical scaly monster that otherwise prowls around this video. Is he suggesting that we will soon be satiated by online fantasy and seek instead to fashion a virtual reality indistinguishable from the “real” world?

Robbie Howells, ACG in practice

ACG

A perfect example of channeling controlled anger is seen in Robbie Howells’ hilarious parody of a corporate animation promo which supposedly launches a collaborative venture between artists and business while giving a chilling commentary on freemasonry, viewable at http://acginpractice.co.uk/.  Along with the accompanying video by his artist alter ego “Katie South” on the “architecture of ritual spaces,” his satire encompasses the troubling, darker question of the rigged world we are all in thrall to. His experience at Millwall F.C. recorded succinctly in a text piece is a crushing indictment of the exploitation of young artists by business.

So, overall an abundance of  MI treats. You have until 7.00 pm Monday 17th July to experience them.

 

 

 

Humanity branded at RA Schools Show?

Sam Austen
Still from 16mm film True Mirror, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Sam Austen

“Ensure your brand represents humanity”.  This slogan for wannabe artists appeared in Richie Moments’s coruscating video in his degree show at the RA Schools  exhibition last week. It neatly summarises the dilemma: to get noticed by the artworld you need a USP but if you aspire to art’s more noble aspirations you need to reflect something profound about the human condition. I speculated whether this year’s crop of graduates had succeeded in meeting both of these demands. Noticeably more moving image works featured in this year’s RA show often deployed to enhance works in other media.

Sam Austen’s visceral three channel installation, True Mirror, accompanied by an original musique concrete  soundtrack  with factory and railroad clatterings in lockstep with the visual edit was the standout work. Not many young artists have the patience to work within the constraints of celluloid but it confers a  ghost-like immediacy and glamour to the images that digital cannot achieve. Through painstaking editing and superimposition Austen has made a chilling work that transfixes the viewer with an eerie sense of mortality. The key motif is a series of disembodied plaster heads that evoke the Mexican Day of the Dead or classical death masks whirling through space like frenetic commuters or riders on a manic fairground roundabout. There are frequent changes in tempo and when they come to rest their staring eyes invite us to posit an interior life. Often paired, the heads have reflections that are chasing or shadowing the original. In the final sequence two heads circle each other like wary combatants. Exhilarating and unsettling representation of the human condition. Tick. USP =  “old school” medium + contemporary sound track. Tick.

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Dmitri Galitzine and Thomas Bolwell. Still from dual screen HD video, Cowboys, 2015-2017. Courtesy of the artists.

Over two years of filming Dmitri Galitzine and Thomas Bolwell immersed themselves in the fantasy world of a Wild West cowboy re-enactment community. Their construction of a complete frontier settlement in Kent is the ideal narrative for exploring the contradictions of myth and reality. Hi-vis jackets among the stetsons, mechanical diggers among the horses. Their dual screen presentation juxtaposes Hollywood Western scenes with very similar ones from his footage. The contrast of the English mud with the Arizonan sand highlights the perceptual skew required to preserve a mythical world. They also slyly hint at the more worrying side of historical warfare obsessions by inserting a clip of a Third Reich memorabilia stand. We are reminded that America’s adulation of its gun slinging heritage underlies the appeal of Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip mind-set.  But this is not a hatchet job on the role players. Their attachment to the cultural heritage is represented by a grizzled re-enactment member singing a heartfelt rendition of a cowboy folk song accompanied by the mellow strumming of an autoharp.

Jesse Jetpack and Richie Moment have chosen monikers that declare their brand as a cutting edge artists. Both foreground themselves, Jetpacks as an angsty singer song-writer/ performance artist/computer animator and Moment playing the motley fool as a wild-eyed satirist of the art world.

In Jetpack’s Day of the Challenger I was beginning to weary of an extended sequence of her dancing over a clunky digital riverside landscape with portentous lyrics of survival amongst “the crashing of waves of blood” when a stunningly original visual metaphor unfolded. The next sequence dramatised the choreography of bilateral relationships  by starting with two digitally animated pendulums whose weights are the heads of the artist and her significant other. As they swing they leave a trace of intersections. It gets more complicated as the pendulums are transformed into jointed armatures sketching a delicate enmeshed Spirograph type pattern. 24 minutes was on the long side but you had to admire her emotional honesty and her versatility. The shorter videos on her website show a keen sense of humour.

As noted in an earlier blogpost on last years Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Moment’s manic portrayal of an artist’s attempts to become a bankable art world prospect is spot on. In Level Headed, Next level Video 001 (Gallery Version), 2017 he appears to be showcasing a minimalist work of a telephone mounted in the centre of a white gallery wall. After several minutes  it rings to be answered by Moment who responds ecstatically to the news that he has now moved to the “next level” which leads into a rush of slogans on art career strategy. This is mischievous and brutally perceptive fun that stands comparison to Hennessy Youngman’s and Louis Judkins’ cutting satirical videos.

Political commentary takes a back seat to aesthetic considerations in much of the RA School graduates work but this is certainly not the case at Goldsmiths MFA Show which I am off to see this evening to unearth some more talented video artists.

Exuberance and elan at Chelsea Fine Art Degree show

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Still from a 1980s BBC chatshow featuring John Cleese, Bishop Stockwood and Malcolm Muggeridge discussing The Life of Brian. 

I spent three hours last Tuesday picking my way through the warren of studios that house the final degree show for the Chelsea College Fine Art students in the fine building that housed the Royal Army Medical College until 1999. At one point I found myself in a grand wood panelled hall, an incongruous contrast to the mini-white cubes I had been passing through. A crack in time opened and it was a summer’s evening in 1978. I’m feeling absurdly “grown up” because I’m being offered a whisky by a Major in the similarly pukka officers mess at the Medical  College. In my first week in my  job as an HR trainee, I was nervously negotiating the use of their squash courts for the Esso HQ employees whose perks were part of my remit. I wonder if the squash courts  are still there and what they are being used for now?

Final year degree shows must be similarly nerve-wracking, the students’ artistic visions and aspirations exposed to public scrutiny after prolonged incubation with their potential careers tentatively poised on the launchpad. My overall impression was of technical ingenuity, flashes of fearless experimentation and the marshalling of a considerable range of media. As to be expected, many revealed a gawky inwardness that failed to engage the viewer. Among the video artists there were three exceptions that intrigued and amused me: Elizabeth Langton, Fred LeSueur and Louis Judkins.

Elizabeth Langton is a conceptual/performance artist with the gait and physiognomy of a budding stand up comedian. The title of her video John Cleese, Malcolm Muggeridge and a Bishop walk into a Bar (viewable at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9-DqortG_Q&t=60s) references the notorious chatshow confrontation from the 1980s where the Pythons defend their film The Life of Brian against celebrity Christian critics (the still above is taken from the Youtube version which has had over 4 million views). On first sight she seems to be good humouredly grimacing with the effort of stifling a gale of laughter but you gradually realise that she is holding a mouthful of water in her cheeks that she is attempting not to swallow. This tension between her hilarity at the absurdity of this self-imposed torture and the effort required to carry it off is what makes this video so compelling. Eventually she succumbs and a fountain of water erupts from her mouth. This image is an homage to the 1970 photograph Self portrait as a fountain by Bruce Nauman who was himself appropriating the image from Renaissance sculpture. Is this witty, too clever by half or is it a profound reflection that comedy and art are both condemned to an endless recycling of the same archetypes?

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Copyright Elizabeth Langton – still from HD video John Cleese, Malcolm Muggeridge and a Bishop walk into a Bar, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Chelsea College of Art, UAL

Fred LeSueur’s Strange Stranger  stood out for its simplicity and offbeat charm. His spare but effective installation consisted of a digital animation, two complementary sculptures and a print out of a Mail online webpage which inspired the work.  The news story reveals the unearthing of a 5000 year old yew tree whose mystical antiquity contrasts ironically with the attention grabbing clickbait typical of the Mail online sidebar. In his digital animation we see a convincingly rendered hollow tree alongside a lifelike besuited figure who through his sliced off pate is also shown to be hollow. They float around a grassy plot that is suspended in a sunlit skyscape.  T.S Eliot comes to mind. The tree and the figure might represent the eternal and the quotidian and how digital representations produce a facile continuity between them. His sculptures also comment on the aridity of digital deconstuctions.

Fred Le Sueur
Copyright Fred LeSueur-  still image from HD digital video Strange Stranger, 2017 courtesy of the artist and Chelsea College of Art, UAL

Like a proto Rowan Atkinson, Louis Judkins takes huge relish in his delivery to camera. Standup could be a feasible career move for him as his jokes have a brutal edge to them. His film, Concrete Dildo: Season 1, Episode 1-3 (Episode 1 viewable at https://vimeo.com/224071618 ) is full of deadpan humour including his reading of phone sex adverts with slides of cute cats behind him.  He is interested in moral sensibilities under threat from the empathy-deadening effect of shock images so prevalent on the internet. At one point he juxtaposes a slaughterhouse scene featuring a carcass being dumped into a mechanical flaying machine with a graphic porn video over commentary questioning whether morality can survive exposure to these images. Much thought was given to the film’s installation with its quality boomy sound design and a claustrophobic environmental ambiance. You enter a darkened viewing room and realise you are stepping onto freshly laid turf!

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Copyright Louis Judkins. Still from HD video Concrete Dildo; Season 1, Episode 1-3, 2017 courtesy of the artist

Special mention for Horcelai Sinda. I guess her future will be in a political arena rather than artistic one. Her short video The Gift of Time is Suffering  is a cry from the heart that was painful to watch. She addresses the camera directly venting her anguish in coming to terms with the nature of her personal suffering over a sentimental French waltz tune. The intensity of this performance was initially baffling but made sense when I later googled her and found that she is an HIV positive AIDS campaigner from the Congo where she intends to continue this vital mission.

I was heartened by the exuberance and elan apparent in these students’ videos and  I ‘m looking forward to talent spotting at the RA Schools  and Goldsmiths MFA shows in the coming weeks.

 

“What’s left of the loony left?” asks Alice May Williams

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Installation view of wall text Grants for Irish Lesbians, 2017, copyright Alice May Williams and Tintype Gallery

For those of us involved in north London grass roots politics in the 1980s, the “loony left” tag was an irritating and pervasive insult that we had to tolerate.  Since then “identity politics”  has become the popular buzzword to berate political activists protecting the rights of oppressed groups. For many commentators the backlash to this trend is the reason for Trump’s electoral success.  Ironically Trump himself exploited identity politics by galvanising a range of special interest groups and by conflating all “Us vs. Them” conflicts to the overarching battle of “The U.S vs The World”. This was evident in the Trump rally so tellingly filmed in Cornelia Parker’s recent video installation American Gothic.  I find it rather depressing that the “personal is the political” battle cry from the 1960’s that should have transformed politics has become so devalued.

Art is an important force to push back against this trend and this blog has championed many contemporary moving image artists that are successfully pursuing this goal. Among them Alice May Williams has the key quality that they all share- an acute sense of history- and this has greatly enhanced her recently opened exhibition, And Now… Grants for Irish Lesbians! It is showing at Tintype until July 15 and is inspired by the outraged Evening Standard reporting of the Islington council funding decision in 1983. It includes her punchy and engaging video, On the 73, which creates a heartfelt  and amusing narrative of a doomed lesbian flirtation from a sequence of iconic still media images compiled from the last 25 years. I gave a rave review to it in December  when it was shown as part of Tintype’s Xmas window screening. She has also applied her facility with language to compose a typically rye and poignant “text work”, Grants for Irish Lesbians, 2017, painted onto the gallery wall from which I have quoted in the title to this blogpost:

What’s left? what’s left? of the loony left?/ Where’s Islington now, that was here, was then?/ We dream of grants for lesbians.

Well, part of the answer is that the “loony left” and “identity politics” have been painted into a corner by a prevailing orthodoxy that tries to link them with ideas of victimhood and bleeding heart liberalism. It is heartwarming to see the term “loony left” treated with such nostalgia. The Corbyn surge may yet breathe life into this 1980’s idealism and restore the idea that politics is all about finding our group identities and resolving conflicts of interest by working out how we can all rub along. The lightness of touch that Williams brings to these heavy political issues gives the lie to the dour, po-faced stereotype of the “loony left”. I look forward to her next film at Knole House in Kent next year in a group show that includes Lindsay Seers.

Also included in the Tintype show are a number of  her delicately executed paintings.

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The Lesbian Kiss Episode#1, 2017 , copyright Alice May Williams