Jaki Irvine takes on the macho bankers and other MI artworks of 2017

Tenderpixel David ferrando Giraut-
David Ferrando Giraut, The Accursed Stare, video still, 2017, courtesy of the artist

I  aim to keep a fairly complete record of the moving image art that is worth a comment. Here is a summary of some of the works I’ve seen in 2017 that have not been covered elsewhere on mialondonblog.

David Fernando Giraut, The Accursed Stare, 2017 Digital animation film at Tenderpixel Gallery 

I am finding the fashion for films analysing art history is starting to a wearing a bit thin. The artworld incestousness feels rather claustrophobic. However this added one interesting insight – that paleolithic art remained unchanged in style and content for thousands of years. So what is driving the present pace of change? The time scale covered, from cave paintings through the Renaissance to today, was impressive but perhaps too ambitious in its scope to be digestible.

Jaki Irvine, If the Ground Should Open… , 2016, at Frith Street Gallery, Golden Square 

j irvine
Jaki Irvine, still from video installation, If the Ground Should Open.., 2016, courtesy of the artist

Eight channel black and white video installation on standard sized monitors. This was my kind of music video with echos of Reichian style use of the spoken word as musical content. Samples of spoken audio from a notorious leaked Anglo-Irish bankers phone conversation in which they talk cynically about how they conned the government are edited in staccato repetition to highlight their nervous complicity. Irvine’s own lyrics celebrate the female activists in the 1916 Irish Easter Rising and she uses Irish folk instrumentation played by an all female ten-piece band (bagpipes, fiddle, cello etc) to provide a surreal counterpoint to the macho posturing of the bankers.

Anna Bunting-Branch The Labours of Barren House-The Linguists at Jerwood Space 

Helpful exposure of the  idea that language is literally manmade and excludes the female construction of meaning.  Laadan is a constructed language by the feminist linguist Suzette Haden Elgin that aims to remedy this with its own vocabulary and grammar that was used in her speculative fiction trilogy Native Tongue. Unfortunately the video did no more than publicise this innovation and shed no light onto why it has failed to catch on.

John Latham at Serpentine Gallery

I feel he was the U.K’s Robert Rauschenberg. The sixties encouraged artists with eclectic interests to roam widely, so they dabbled in various styles and media which led the way for others to develop. Lathham’s video work was just one element of his experimentation including a quirky take on public school types strutting  in the London stock exchange before the invasion of the 80’s Romford market wideboys. I prefer his sculptural work with scorched and paint-spattered books and his destructive performance artworks. His theory on Flat Time was a bit unnecessary and a distraction from his art. He should have left it to the cosmologists.

Wael Shawkey, Telemach Crusades, 2009, at Lisson Gallery

A two-minute film featuring Bedouin children riding donkeys along a beach approaching a North African fort. Colourful, atmospheric and slightly unsettling but with no coherent narrative.

Christian Jankowski, Director Poodle, 1998, at Lisson Gallery

A ten minute black and white video that sees the magician transform a German gallery director into a poodle who then wanders around the gallery with a kind of skittish curiosity. A great parody of gallery pseuds.

Can art do documentary?

statues-also-die

Statues Also Die (1953)-  still from film by Alain Resnais and  Chris Marker

When art functions primarily as a documentary either conveying information or  explicitly taking a stand it has an imperative to do so with an aesthetic twist. I find political diatribe unpalatable unless it can positively answer my sceptical question: “What added value can art bring that text cannot?” Art that derives from colonial politics can sometimes seem like a dutiful trudge through a well-meaning argument.  The iconic moving image artwork that showed par excellence how to avoid this is the masterful dissection of African art’s distortion by colonialism, Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die) by Alain Resnais and Chris Marker made in 1953 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzFeuiZKHcg. While the commentary is polemical it uses heartfelt poetical language and the rhythmically edited images dramatically syncopate with the carefully orchestrated soundtrack composed by Guy Barnard using African and Western instrumentation. This inspiring work was referenced by the long-winded, overly academic Duncan Campbell film It for Others that won the Turner Prize in 2014. The comparison did not do him any favours.

 

kakili
Still from The Mapping Project  2008-11 courtesy of the artist

The Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili is working in a similar vein.  Her film Foreign Office (2015) at Lisson Gallery until 18 March movingly presents two young Algerians questioning the history of African liberation movements. They sit expressionless, poring over a set of photographs of past heroes of colonial conflicts and articulate a narrative of loss. Where has all the idealism in the early days gone? How do we decipher the “truth” of our shared history? How do we build on the struggles of our predecessors? The format is simple and the issues she raises are poignant and engaging but the film is compromised as it is neither a visually arresting artwork or a detailed analytical documentary. The lessons of Resnais and Marker seem doomed to fall into neglect.

However this exhibition is worth a visit for Khalili’s original take on telling migrant tales in her multiscreen installation The Mapping Journey Project (2008–11) which allow migrants to recount their journey from their homeland to Europe while tracing it in thick marker pen on a map. The circuitous route so many of them take contrasts with the military mapping trope of the sweeping arcs of arrows as popularised in the  Dad’s Army opening titles (see below). I expect UKIP has a similar graphic somewhere in their publications to illustrate their view on immigration. The reversals and dead ends of the real migrant paths is an apposite metaphor for the confusion and rootless anxiety many of them must feel.  I was left wanting to know far more about their individual plights and wondering about the possible artistic justification for the exploitation of suffering.

dads-army
Still from title sequence of the 1970’s comedy series Dad’s Army courtesy of the BBC

 

Grandmother of performance art: Yoko Ono or Marina Abramovic?

ono
Copyright Yoko Ono -still from Cutpiece, 1964, courtesy of the artist

 

Baby boomers born in the 1950s are well positioned to assess the seismic change in values that occurred during the 1960s and 70s. Observing the cultural trends in art and music, it is possible to discern the transition from the  post-war idealistic collectivism that spawned the welfare state to the materialistic individualism exemplified by Thatcherism. John Lennon’s creative partnership with Yoko Ono, then a relatively obscure, but pioneering performance artist illustrates this trend.

As the Beatles broke up in the late 60’s, Ono’s and Lennon’s self regarding stunts were the signs of a shift in values. During their  “Bed-in for peace” they stayed in bed for several days to promote peace at the height of the Vietnam War and record their anti-war anthem “Give Peace a Chance”. This was perhaps the most widely reported  performance artwork of the 1960s. Lennon then documented the media flack they took for this in “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and with the chorus “They’re gonna crucify me” he set the bar for the level of self aggrandisement and self-pity that artists might aspire to. This gave the green light to a cavalcade of performance artists in the 1970’s for whom careful manipulation of their personal image became the raison d’etre of their art.

In contrast, Ono’s influential performance work, Cut piece first staged in 1964 before she met Lennon, had been less about her and more about the audience.  As they took it in turns to cut at her clothes with a pair of tailor’s shears, the audience members placed themselves in a morally unedifying position. Essentially they were participants in the wilful and public demeaning of a young woman in a kind of strip poker where she always loses. What she exposes so simply is the suppressed aggression and even sadism that is released when “permission” is granted to attack a vulnerable woman. Marina Abramovic essentially replayed this idea in her performance work Rhythm O ten years later where she sat behind a table set with a range of 74 objects including scissors, a gun, a scalpel, a rose and a whip inviting the audience to use them as they wished. This table is displayed in blank accusatory fashion in the new performance art gallery at the  Tate  Modern Switch House. The humiliation she suffered was similarly disturbing but from our present day perspective it appears that Abramovic’s work is hampered by an unfortunate egotistical and comical overkill compared to the subtle minimalism of the original Ono piece.

Abramovic has since been at the forefront of intimate personal exposure as a valid art genre, once claiming for herself the moniker the “grandmother of performance art” an accolade that surely Ono deserves. She now disowns the “grandmother” tag preferring the label “pioneer” (an interesting comment on her attitude to aging).  A recording of her seminal  performance work,  Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful  was screened at the Lisson Gallery’s Performer/Audience/Mirror exhibition this August and is also accessible on Youtube in a variety of versions.

abramovic
Copyright Marina Abramovic -still from Art must be beautiful, artist must be be beautiful, 1974 courtesy of the artist

Her manifesto for her art is stated quite starkly. She faces the camera and over a period of 15-20 minutes violently brushes her long dark tresses repeating with various degrees of desperation and resignation the  injunction that gives the work its title. If the artist is the art object and if art is judged by its beauty this is the inescapable conclusion. In the closing frames of one version her agitation appears spent and she stares calmly into the camera. You are then stuck by her underlying confidence in her beauty which is manifested, like many other striking women, in the asymmetry of her face. The irony is that the artist appears for most of the performance to be tortured by the thought that she is not. The underlying poignancy of this piece is that it purports to be a protest against the unrealistic pressures society places on the physical appearance of women.  As Abramovic reached her sixties rather than resist this pressure it is sad but perhaps inevitable that her confidence could only be maintained by extensive plastic surgery that took thirty years off her physical age. To maintain her market value the artist who is an artwork has to undergo restoration like any other art object.

dan-graham
Copyright Dan Graham – still from Performer /Artist/Mirror 1977 courtesy of the artist

In Performer/Audience/Mirror Dan Graham  documents his 1977 performance in which he describes himself and his audience seated in front of a mirrored wall.  He moves around in front of a mirror as in a dance class with his audience behind him sitting facing the mirror. He comments on the situation, his own movements and those of the audience interpreting the meaning and significance of the non-verbal signals that they are transmitting.  NVC was a new “science ” in the 1970s and it generated much of the popular interest in psychology and his approach was similar to a teacher’s introductory experiential lesson on the topic. However as a teacher he comes over as plodding and patronising.

jankowski
Copyright Christian Jankowski -still from Telemista, 1999 courtesy of the artist

The German artist (sometimes dubbed an art prankster), Christian Jankowski, for my money had the standout piece in this show, Telemistica (1999). Its success derives from his careful balance of egotism and self-deprecation while he gently prods at some significant social issues. His theme is the artist’s insecurity and need for reassurance which acts as a more generalised case study for our own neediness. In Italy there was a vogue for TV phone-ins hosted by clairvoyants who would give you a  live Tarot card reading. Jankowski, who was preparing an artwork for the Venice Biennale, videoed his conversations with these officially sanctioned charlatans as they confidently reassured him on his questions about his future success. Would he finish the work? Would he be satisfied with it? Would other people like it? Would he make money or enhance his reputation from it? What was brilliant about this is that the smug TV stars thought they were in the powerful position whereas in fact they were pawns in the artist’s game. They played their role to a tee by exposing their own vanity and their crude application of pop psychology. What raised this piece above a “gotcha” stunt was that the edit of these encounters was the eventual artwork exhibited at the Biennale. Unlike many other performance artists he is content to be anonymous, giving centre stage to others.

The other works in this show were a mixed bag -from the dire, arid academic exercise produced by Art and Language to the sardonic take on brand fandom on internet forums in a work by self-confessed computer nerd Cory Arcangel who will get a proper review in my next post on art using the internet as its subject.