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

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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 

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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.

Hallucinogens, nature and corporate culture: Prouvost and Treister

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Copyright Suzanne Treister. Digital print, HFT The Gardener/ Botanical Prints/ Rank 1: Apple-US-Technology hardware &  equipment, courtesy of the artist, Annely Juda Fine Art, London and P.P.O.W., New York

Tropical  Hangover at Tenderpixel suggests an ambivalent attitude to the intoxication that nature can induce. Cleverly drawn together, the five artists take diverse approaches on the nature/culture clash and there are several gems to be uncovered, not least Suzanne Treister’s surreal take on the hallucinogenic aspects of global capitalism.

Laure Prouvost is her usual quirky self with her short film, Swallow (2013), while not reaching the glorious, wonky heights of absurdity experienced in her 2013 Turner Prize winning installation, Wantee.  Its luxuriant visuals of sunlight, foliage, waterfalls, pools and wildlife (non-tropical!) are not that original but they are complemented by an unsettling whispered commentary spoken in the French-accented English of the artist. She sensuously entreats you to submit yourself to her images:  I heard: “This image needs you”, but it might have been: “This image eats you”. Both seem to work.

The potential erotic symbolism of fruit is explored like the visual equivalent of Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market but this is undermined by some dissonant footage of raspberries being eaten by a fish and strawberries being discovered under a rock. These cultivated soft fruits are now more closely associated with plastic punnets rather than the natural environment. This dissonance is further amplified by glimpses of a USB  lead nestled in the grass and a bright green and purple trainer surrounded by similarly coloured butterflies.

Prouvost’s inclination to give nature the upper hand to culture is hinted at in her slogan on an adjacent painted board  Ideally everything here would be covered in mussels. This appealing image is developed by Rowena Harris’s online video After Attenborough (2017) which makes sense of both floors of the gallery being painted sky blue. This acts as a digital blue-screen for her to flood the gallery with images of flora appropriated from the TV documentary Life of Plants. This entrancing  film, viewable on the Tenderpixel website, is a triumph of ingenuity.

In  HFT (High Frequency Trading) The Gardener, Suzanne Treister takes a sideswipe at the creepiness of multinationals trying to sanitise their operations with tasteful artwork that references the natural world, Apple perhaps being one of the worst culprits. Her cunning deadpan elision of corporate publicity styling, Victorian botanical illustration and a narrative tracing a city trader’s meltdown, hits the bull’s-eye on so many targets. Plant based hallucinogens seem to infiltrate his bank’s investment algorithms and we get a sense of his nightmare existence in the hyperactive global corporate culture. Treister’s collected plant prints are the putative product of the city trader’s new career as an outsider artist obsessionally linking plant hallucinogens with the FTSE top 500 companies. An atmospheric video giving her alter ego’s backstory and a collection of “his” extensive drawings both perfectly capture his manic and freewheeling conjecturing and can be viewed on her website: http://www.suzannetreister.net/HFT_TheGardener/HFT_menu.html

Salvatore Arancio shows some interesting biomorphic ceramics and a video and Zuzanna Czebatul has a couple of striking wall sculptures evoking giant ferns  but neither of them add much to the culture/nature clash theme.

Prouvost’s take on nature has hints of cultural contamination but these ideas are pursued with gusto by Treister. The exhibition runs until 4 March and is mainly worth seeing for the multifaceted, subversive anarchy of Treister’s work contrasting with the sensuous appeal of Prouvost’s video.

Rehana Zaman: subtle scrutiny of Muslim stereotypes

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Rehana Zaman- Still from video work Tell me the story Of all these things (2016) courtesy of the artist and Tenderpixel

Icebergs, cooking and gendered creation myths; three tracks I was led down watching Tell me a story Of all these things, Rehana Zaman’s lively fifteen minute video work in what must be the tiniest gallery in London, Tenderpixel, last week. In this visually and conceptually cohesive work it was fun to experience the clever connections she forged between her three very different media: found footage from the government’s Prevent e-learning package on radicalisation, interview footage of an engaging and self-aware Muslim woman, Farah, reflecting unself-consciously on her life while she cooks and a digitally animated Eve archetype with no need for Adam, alone but vibrant in a burnt and scarred anti-Paradisial landscape.

Icebergs are scary not just because of the sinking of the Titanic. Many government campaigns have exploited the underwater cross-section  view of the treacherous unseen 90% of the iceberg to symbolise an amorphous menace. I remember scoffing at their appearance in the 1985 public health campaign when AIDS was seen as an obscure disease that might decimate the population unless they were terrified into taking appropriate precautions. How an iceberg was meant to protect you against HIV infection I never worked out. In charge of sex education in a sixth form college at the time, I was struck by the irony that sex and death were being so closely aligned in teenagers’ mindsets. More recently icebergs have illustrated campaigns to highlight unreported domestic abuse. Particularly crass then that Prevent graphic designers use the iceberg trope in the online training to convey the difficulties of identifying the dangerous radicals in the population of ordinary people. Zaman selects a very memorable sequence which starts with a cartoon graphic of the bus with its roof ripped off like a tin can lid, a vivid image from the 2005 London jihadi bombings. A shard of wreckage in the foreground transforms into the iceberg of hidden threats that the teachers must be alert to. The term “Muslim” is never mentioned in the training as the avowed intention is to widely define potential terrorists to include far right groups. This striking transformation allows  a confused subtext to leak out.

Zaman’s employer, Goldsmiths University of London, like all educational institutions, has a statutory duty to identify students at risk of being drawn into “extremist ideologies”. Regardless of the controversy of the role this places her in, it becomes clear that as an artist she feels a duty to scrutinise this approach to subdividing cultural groups. For the government the key divide is between those Muslims vulnerable to radicalization and those safe from it. But Farah points out the divisions  important to her: Bangladeshi as opposed to Pakistani, dark-skinned compared to light-skinned. This colour contrast is reflected in the amalgam of different black and brown shades in the skin tones and landscape of Zaman’s digital world perhaps suggesting that a melting pot ideology is what we need.

God’s forming of the first Man from the soil of the earth is common to the creation myths from nearly every culture anthropologists have studied. Christianity and Islam simply adopted a much earlier widespread belief system. Zaman’s reimagined digital Garden of Eden contains a lone woman who blends and re-emerges from the arid ground. As well as commenting on this almost universal justification for patriarchy, perhaps her heroine’s mottled skin tone critiques the Islamic teaching that different races were created from different coloured clays.

The closest I get to this kind of pottery is cooking and the relaxation and creativity it engenders is invaluable. Zaman employs it as context for allowing Farah’s frank testimony to flow. Whether this is scripted or not is irrelevant as it is conveyed with an authenticity that keeps you gripped. The gist of her thoughts is that stereotypes are damaging but she will not allow herself to be boxed in; she has a younger boyfriend and demands space to pursue her interests including skiing.

Earlier blogposts have highlighted the high esteem I hold Goldsmiths for their ability  to produce visually innovative moving image artists with a sharp and subtle political edge like Zaman.  So it is good to know that as a tutor there she is inspiring the next generation.