Moved and startled by Goldsmiths’ postgraduate artists

 

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Still from VR video Don’t they ever stop migrating (2018) ©Anna Mikkola

This is the third of my annual encounters with the artists at the Goldsmiths’ Degree Show and the impact they have on me is still startling. This year there was less of the controlled anger on display but many of the works seemed to get to me at an emotional level rather than an intellectual one. I started with the artists graduating from the new MFA in Artist’s Film and Moving Image.

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Still from video Now and There, Here and Then (2018) ©Sun Park

For me, Now and There, Here and Then (2018)  was one of the most moving works on show. It is a sensitive, intelligent, concise and sharply observed work seemingly inspired by the Korean artist Sun Park’s sense of alienation at being so far from her home and family. It is presented as an enlarged phone screen projected into the centre of a phoneshaped screen set on the floor at an angle. We are immediately confronted with the ubiquity of video recording  and how it mediates and distances our experience of the world. We hear a conversation  between a mother who lives in Korea and her daughter who is a student artist in the UK relaying their experience of their environment to each other by video footage (a neat reversal of the face-focussed video call!) Their own video clips, mostly of the sky, create a sense of intimacy and the topics they discuss include  the daughter’s insecurities as an artist, the mother’s disillusionment with her life choices,  the nature of art and the limitations of the video image. Among the highlights was the comment when a vapour trail  is recorded and the mother says: “Look, the aeroplane has made you an artwork.” At one point we hear the comment about a shot of the dawn: “You can only see the half of it through the camera” –  a vital warning to all moving image artists. This was a highly original work that had much to say on the emotional side-effects of globalisation and technology.

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Still from Bunker on Kummerstraße (Grief Street) 2018, two-channel video installation           © Susanne Dietz

Susanne Dietz, originally from Germany, also uses mother-daughter relationships as a springboard in her films. One film comprises handheld footage as she follows her mother around a graveyard incidentally passing by the distinctive and beautiful grave stones. (Maybe stonemasons in Germany are given a freer hand in designing exotic monuments for the dead.)  Her mother is looking for her chosen plot and final resting place but she is stymied by her failing memory. Dietz’s complementary film Bunker on Kummerstrasse (Grief Street), 2018 is a carefully controlled and gripping meditation on a disused building, home to memories we might wish to let go.  The stately progress of the camera as it ascends and descends through the seven stories of an aboveground bunker still standing from the Nazi era gives a sense that a home can be conjured even out of concrete bleakness. The drum solo that accompanies much of the film adds an urgency to the atmosphere but also homeliness when we eventually reach the floor where we fleetingly view the drummer himself. Fluffy bedpillows also get star billing. As Dietz explains: “We just want something soft to fit between our heads and the earth”. On reflection, this is as significant as Anselm Keifer’s work on Germany’s past.

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Still from video Ducks Don’t drown (2018) ©Max Leach

Max Leach’s single channel film Ducks Don’t Drown (2018) has an unsettling aura magnified by being projected on a large linen sheet that gives a subtle and almost imperceptible wobble to the image as it is ruffled by drafts. The hyper-real CGI  of a homely interior contrasts with the disturbing, murky sound track derived from a series of interviews with male Dark Web users relishing their freedom to choose from a long shopping list of recreational drugs. It gives a rather bleak window onto the otherwise opaque landscape of the Dark Web. Leach’s short soundpiece that captures the violent energy of laddish banter provides an enjoyable counterpoint to his film. He has much to say on masculinity so I look forward to more in the same vein.

Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s Enduring Body (2018) is a captivating and visually sumptuous exploration of the metaphorical power of cancer. It is inspired by a childhood memory of her rural Thai hometown when a number of her teachers died mysteriously one after another from the disease.  The film begins with a teacher’s funeral and ends with a death mask digitally reconstructed by 3D printer. In between she has created touching vignettes to illustrate the dark, anxious humour of our fears.  A writhing massed tangle of crocodiles emerges from the gloom like invading tumor cells. By superimposition of microscopic cell images the walls of a patient’s bedroom seem to undulate.  A cancer patient coyly begins a romance that leads to game of strip poker. I was gripped by the 25 minute film and would have happily stayed to view it again. It was a pleasure to be immersed in the quirky and beautiful world that Sa-nganhai has so carefully crafted. But I was determined to see as much MI art as possible so I moved on to the Fine Art MFA Show.

Many of the Fine Art graduates incorporated MI into their work including VR. I nearly toppled over inside the VR world constructed by Anna Mikkola.  You float above a vertiginous mountain landscape in the midst of a flock of black birds wheeling around you. Hitchcock would have loved VR. As part of her eclectic installation, Life is Necessarily Complex (2018) Mikkola is highlighting the increasingly synthetic and simplified versions of the natural world we are becoming inured to as technology begins to mould life processes and living organisms.

Alexa London 2025
Installation view of Bedroom, London 2025 (2018) © Alexa Phillips

VR is also the bogyman in the startling live scenario designed by Alexa Phillips. In Bedroom, London 2025 she illustrates the dystopian end point of isolation, withdrawal and listlessness that our self focussed screen based life might lead to with a seven level bunk bed where the occupants are held in stasis by their 1984-style utilitarian tin VR headsets.

Johanne Bunkertown
Still from video installation Bunkertown (2018) © Johanne Wort

I was determined to see Johanne Wort’s intriguingly titled Bunkertown (2018) so it was my last stop as the frenetic Preview came to a close. Appropriately sited in the gabled loft space of the converted church which is the latest addition to the Goldsmiths’ art buildings,  the two channel video installation did not disappoint. Here at last was the cutting satirical work I had been waiting for. We sit in an estate agent’s office with water cooler at hand to view a glossy CGI promo for their latest offer to the paranoid home seeker. Building on the current fashion for gated housing developments, she has skillfully envisioned a hermetically sealed  life/work/play “seven star luxury” bunker that owes something to the Eden Project. This type of fantasy world prevalent during the Cold War now seems uncomfortably close to reality as climate change threatens to wreck our environment and the rich head for the hills.

Aimee Neat
Video still from installation A Sculpture of your Grief (2018) © Aimee Neat

With sixty artists to survey in one evening I am sure I missed some excellent work. I also enjoyed Aimee Neat’s observation of media performers being reduced to “happy” or “sad” emoticons in her installation A Sculpture of your Grief (2018) where she takes a satirical sideswipe at the rictus grin that hides the pain of living life on the revolving circus of the internet. Sheila Buckley’s Peepers (2018) was a disturbing and thrilling mash-up of explicit Celtic stone carvings with a vortical CGI and laser installation – a visceral and thought-provoking blast.

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Installation view of Peepers (2018) Sheila Buckley  Photo image ©Dave Andrews

For controlled anger I need only turn to the Goldsmiths academic and activist, Ayal Weisman. His Turner Prize nominated Forensic Architecture research group will be the focus of a future blogpost.

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

Ian gouldstone

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.

 

 

 

Sophie Michael: a nostalgia trip

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Sophie Michael : still from 99 Clerkenwell Road courtesy of the artist

Trip (The Light Fantastic): Art Now at Tate Britain until October 30:

Three films that rightly celebrate the sensual attraction of 16mm are steeped in nostalgia.

99 Clerkenwell Road (2010) 16mm colour film,silent, 8 min

This was the stand out work for me as its simplicity spoke volumes and it had a visual sucker punch at the mid point. It initially appears to be an abstract work of coloured spheres moving in a  dark void, reminiscent of early experimental art films. So far, so derivative. Then we gradually  pick out the root image: a  globe lamp hanging from a darkened room’s ceiling  observed and obscured from a variety of angles and the viewer is pulled back and forth between figuration and abstraction: it is a clever technique to unsettle our complacent view of the trustworthiness of our perception.

Chapters One to Five (2012) 16mm film, colour/sound, 15 min

This is an overlong meditation on the role of play in creativity as we see a young girl interact with a series of artistic toys. The halting grade 2 piano practice soundtrack and the vivid retro colourscape gave it some charm.

The Watershow Extravaganza (2016) 16mm film, colour/sound, 10 min

This attraction was built for the 1951 Festival of Britain before being installed in a theme park in North Devon in the 1980s. Illuminated fountains dancing to a mechanical organ provide an entrancing contrast with the rather spooky Watershow logos which also catch Michael’s lens. Pleasant to watch but trading on nostalgia can be a bit of a trap for artists working in 16mm.

Tate curators need to give more exposure to the emerging  artists who are commenting on current internet visual culture by exploiting the metaphor-rich boundary that separates digital from analogue rather than succumb to the obvious retro aesthetic appeal of 16mm. (see my Goldsmiths MFA  blogpost)

Razor sharp insights from Goldsmiths MFA video artists

Goldsmiths  have a reputation for producing quality video art and I was not disappointed by their MFA show this week. Political awareness in an artwork is a big plus for me, as long I do not feel preached at. All of these managed that and more.

Ruth Waters
Installation view of J.A Generalised Anxiety Relaxation, 2016, Ruth Waters, courtesy of the artist

Ruth Waters is a coolly subversive satirist. She covers so many bases and spices her work with wry humour, social commentary and visual appeal. In her installation J.A Generalised Anxiety Relaxation she has created a simulation of a relaxation class complete with yoga mats. She starts with an original image: immaculately  groomed, pencil sharp, straight hair blowing seductively in the wind filling the screen like a curtain. A laid back narrator soothes us with a standard relaxation tape visualisation mantra: the lapping of waves, the warmth of a sandy beach. Gradually less calming images intrude. We are asked to imagine we are Jennifer Aniston and to meditate on “weddings”. We begin to feel uneasy. The mention of the personification of coiffured perfection and a nerve-wracking life event make us giggle uncomfortably. We have been subtly drawn into the pervasiveness of social comparison anxiety for which mindfulness can only act as a sticking-plaster. Aniston’s recent complaints about media intrusion reinforce the ambivalence caught so aptly in this work.

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Still from the video King of the Kats,  2016, David John Beesley, courtesy of the artist

David John Beesley’s film King of the Kats has him as an ur-cowboy, an alter-ego wandering the empty streets of the City of London on a kid’s toy horse.  The bankers have left, their eerie ghosts remembered for their childish games. Beesley create a timeless environment by exploiting the weird contrast of the medieval and the modern in the City streetscape and manages to blend a critique of our current crisis through multiple personal, political and religious lenses.

Daniel Dressel
Still from  Polygon, 2016, Daniel Dressel  courtesy of the artist

Daniel Dressel’s four screen installation, Polygon, is a skillfully edited video montage where sounds and images flip  around the viewer like a boxer prancing around the ring. He uses documentary archive material and his own footage to explore the history of the East End and draws parallels between the estate agents and boxers fighting for the glittering prizes. I loved the sense of time collapsing as the different eras slide across each other. Another single channel video, Sensation, neatly shows how Damien Hirst’s public sculpture guarded by CCTV provides the opportunity for our surveillance society to enforce its grip over the kids who just want to clamber over it.

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Still  from  video, Precarity, 2016, Michael Dignam courtesy of the artist

Michael Dignam’s short video Precarity,  viewable on his website, -http://michaeldignam.eu/Precarity – creates maximum impact with minimal material. His black and white film is constructed from three takes all focusing on a rapidly moving shadow sweeping over bends in  a rutted countryside track. My first thought is that these are formed from the rotor vanes of a wind generator. Through digital manipulation the shadows become more frenzied and stuttering and threaten to blackout the sun before eventually settling down into their original steady beat. This almost musical piece is in fact more powerful as there is no sound track. Sometimes less is more.

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Still from the video  Wrong then, wrong today 2016, Katie Hare courtesy of the artist

Katie Hare’s short single channel video Wrong then, wrong today is again so simple, yet it packs a huge punch. Over a loop of a 1950’s MGM Tex Avery cartoon clip her narrator points out the parallel between the botched attempts to both politically and visually “clean-up” the original. The politically incorrect assumptions of the cartoon are whitewashed by the distributor of the newly released version with a disclaimer referring to its historical context, hence this works title. We observe that the digital filtering of the analogue noise of the original  results in the erasure of some outlines, indicating perhaps that updating such “corrupt” material is doomed to failure. This apposite melding of the conceptual and the visual was for me one of the most exciting experiences of the Goldsmith’s show.   Hare’s interest in the analogue /digital  transition will surely  prove fertile material for the  future.

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Still from the 7 channel video installation Voices of our Mothers: Transcending Time and Distance, 2016, Frances Almendarez, courtesy of the artist

I was able to meet the artist Francis Almendarez who exploits nostalgia for his South American heritage to moving effect in  a 7 channel video installation, Voices of our Mothers: Transcending Time and Distance.  His grandmothers’s tales of adventure and the rich oranges and greens of El Salvador’s rural landscape contrasts with the downbeat contemplation of a murky grey riverscape as global sea-traffic ploughs by. The time slippage of the same footage on the seven screens is deployed to great effect. We need more of this style of visual analysis of globalisation.

I could not get round to all the MI artworks at this show but the trend for artists to disseminate through their websites means I can catch up at my leisure. Andy Nizinskyj’s work Everything is Bright,  http://andynizinskyj.co.uk/Everything-is-Bright is a three channel video  ideal to view on a computer screen as it uses videogame tropes to raise the hot topic of what is missing from the pin sharp CGI and HD world we increasingly inhabit. His poetic commentary over a dreamlike and entrancing, digitally rendered desert landscape uses the metaphor of thirst to describe that missing element.  Even the arrival of a water torrent tacked on to the landscape does nothing to relieve this. It is only when we get a smeared image of a tree canopy as if “shot” through a plastic sheet passing in front in of the “camera” that we get a glimpse of what is really missing. His two subsidiary screens provide a mute chorus from the lo-fi analogue world. This type of implied critique of digital imagery has great appeal. It is a shame that the expense of celluloid film is restricting access to analogue creativity at the moment although Tacita Dean is doing a sterling job in preserving the processing infrastructure.

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Still from three channel HD video Everything is Bright , 2016,  Andy Nizinskyj courtesy of the artist

 

I found many of the Goldsmiths MI artists invigorating. The efficiency of their razor sharp skewering of current issues had a freshness about them that in some ways puts them streets ahead of the more established video artists I’ve seen in the commercial galleries this year.