Raymond Watson: Hands of History +20, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 7th December 2019 -18 January 2020

Watson’s bronze casts of hands of politicians who signed the Great Friday Agreement also known as Belfast Agreement in 1998  echoes some  concerns central to  Situationists, Fluxus. “social sculpture” of J Beuys  as well as the question when is art.  When an “object”when in the gallery is art, and outside it is not. Warhol and the institutional theory of art opened up that issue.

“Hands of History” (left below)  aspire to be a reliable document, do not aspire to be beautiful like  A Rodin’s modelled hands of Burgher’s of Calais  below right.(pierre_et_jacques_de_wissant_main_droite)

 

It is as if Watson shared the following reminiscence:

“All of my work, all of my writing,” Wormser said in an interview with Richard Cambridge in Solstice, “is about the circumstances of Time in terms of each of us as a human being, being born into the world of historical time — what that does — how that plays out in our lives.” (Legends of the Slow Explosion by Baron Wormser is published by Tupelo Press.  Baron Wormser ,born 1948, in Baltimore, Maryland, is an American poet.)

In a tight, if not consciously chosen, parallel the   ArtisAnn Gallery  curated this exhibition  titled  Agreement: The people’s Process, in  four distinct units  connected to the same history.

Photography intensified the verism exhaled by  the bronzes in seven groups from sites of conflict and its transformation in different states.

 

Frankie Quinn, Peace lines,1994

 

Selected and commented upon by Dr Pauline Hadeway the   Invitation to Observe is a lopped digital display of photographs, 17 minutes 15 seconds, Colour and Monochrome.

  1. Belfast Shadows, LCpl Stan Holman’s photographs, collected by Jamie Holman, 1970-1972
  2. Interface Images, Belfast ‘Peacelines’, Frankie Quinn, 1994
  3. Israel – Palestine, Frankie Quinn, 2012
  4. ‘Bitter’ by Sajida Um Mohammed, from Open Shutters Iraq, Eugenie Dolberg, 2006
  5. Labrando Memorias, Edwin Cubillos Rodríguez, 2011
  6. Desapariciones (Disparations), Helen Zout, 2009
  7. Entries, Chad Alexander, 2016

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin  coined a  term “active human interface” for each local history  when  placed into an international continuum, perhaps with a hope for a more comprehensive and complete renewal. The screen with the Invitation to observe  is placed at the end of the Watson’s exhibits, mimicking, evoking,  a music notation – da capo al fine. The hearing is already engaged by the commentary.

Almost on the other side of that wall is a commercially sleek video of  reading  from the text of Agreement titled

  • Lyrical Agreement (2018)  is an animation created for the Institute of Irish Studies,University of Liverpool  by Alt Animation around the excerpts from the GFA text read by persons of all ages and both sides of the border.  The expectation was that a viewer will be compelled to realise the power of that Agreement.  It harnesses, as if effortlessly,  two registers: serenity of hope in the statements and commercial sleekness of the visual design the best adverts are accustomed to.  If you think that the link between political and commercial is vulgar or out of place, consider the reality wherever you are.  Even the cover for that Belfast Agreement was chosen by the commercial partner selected from a bank of commercially available images.  (We also examine the photographic image sent to every household in Northern Ireland on the cover of the historic political agreement. We reveal its location and the identity of the uncredited photographer.  viz editorial in Source, 1998, issue 15 )

The photographs and the reading are still partaking in verism, not in the  loftier classical Greek ideal of kallos agathos in art. Verism has its roots in the idea that art is the way of doing something, a concept with roots in  triumphal  columns of ancient Rome telling the stories of the battle and triumphs, e.g. Trajan Column, AD 107 -113, photo courtesy University of St Andrews)

Image result for trajan's column

 

The next part of the exhibition would have been welcome by William Morris as a support of his late 19th C lecture on Lesser Arts, those rejected by academia but significant for supporting life.

  • Your Legacy Lives On is a set of   three Memorial Quilts courtesy  of the  South East  Fermanagh  Foundation makes those who lost life the subject of their visual art. They do not lionise the signatories of the Agreement, they do not include them.

  • Your Legacy Lives On, Memorial Quilt, H: 188 cms x W: 254 cms ( with stands H: 213 cms x 330 cms), 2014
  • Patchwork of Innocents, Memorial Quilt, H: 175 cms x W: 269 cms ( with stands H: 213 cms x 330cms), 2016
  • Terrorism Knows NO Borders, Memorial Quilt, H: 175 cms x W: 290 cms ( with stands H: 213 cms x330 cms), 2016 (with additions 2019)

The Memorial Quilts hope to encouraging viewers  to consider the  Troubles from  the point of view of lost life.  We shall never be offered the chance to know what those murdered would have invented,  developed, cherished, cared for.  The quilts installation is accompanied by  a brochure Terrorism knows no border.  In it it reads:”  The Memorial quilt is a piece of living history...”(p 4) By chance I found an analogous image from  another country where groups of people make art as a way of coping with their living history.  A young man recites poetry calling for revolution in Khartoom, on June 19, 2019. ( Yasuyoshi Chiba,Getty Images)

 

 

Look at their hands –  even in the meagre illumination by mobile phones the hands are powerfully evocative.  In comparison Watson chose non poetic approach,   moreover, direct casts.

The installation of  the whole exhibition of work by Raymond Watson’s Hands of History +20.  consists from bronze casts, sculpture, performance, video, painting, sound and light installation. found objects,  a print, and short story with close up lens based images.

 

The Hands of History
Material: Bronze and Mourne Granite
Years: 2000 to 2019
The hands are mounted on  granite bases

First group are  bronze casts of hands of the signatories of the Agreement, subsequent casts include group of politicians, Watson perceived as significant in relation to it.

So for ex. In the smaller group are all the  signatories who actually worked on the Agreement and took the courageous decisions to stop the runaway violence.

 

The bigger group includes those who followed their example. This ethical distinction is not made visible. The names indicate the later stage of support for the Agreement.

  • The Good Friday / Belfast Agreement was signed on Friday 10th April, 1998 
  • The Referendum was held across the Island of Ireland on Friday 22nd May 1998
  • David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were designated First Minister and Deputy First Minister on Wednesday 1 st July 1998
  • The NI Executive took power on Thursday 2nd December 1999

The bronze casts are standing for each of the signatories, thus the disembodied hand is a tropos of  synecdoche for those who signed that agreement.  Initials at the lower edge of each indicate the identity. The hands are “imprints” of a living tool, of hands that signed that agreement, which in turn  allowed to old “world” to meet the one that did not exist yet.

A tropos, esp the metaphor or synecdoche, according to I. A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936), consists of two parts: the tenor and vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed., here the hands of the persons.  The vehicle is the subject from which the attributes are borrowed,i.e. the text. The text, the agreement amongst them all.

The preference for the hand as a tenor  has been documented all over the globe, since the earliest cave paintings.

Santa Cruze,, Argentina, Cueva de los Manos,13000 -9000 years ago,sprayed from bone made pipes.

Durham University researchers identified a link between hand prints (tenor) and the rock(vehicle): “Using morphometric data we were able to show that in all cases only a small number of individuals – 3 or 4 – left prints in each cave, and the size and finger ratios of these were consistent with these being female. We were able to show that in all caves studied the greater majority of hand stencils were associated with specific features of the cave walls. An association with small bosses on the walls which the hands appear to be ‘gripping’. Watson makes his hands “voting” not signing the document.

Associations with cracks were very evident too; perhaps enforcing the notion that cracks in cave walls form points at which this world meets another.” (my italics) (https://www.dur.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/all/?mode=project&id=640)

The key words are ” the points at which this world meets another“. The similarity among all cave paintings  be it France, Spain, Balkan(2018) or Borneo (2018) points to shared experiences in decisive mapping up of shared rules: human figures just as dark silhouettes, animals  strong and alive.

The hands are “imprints” of a living tool. That idea appears in the casts made by Watson: hands that signed that agreement allowed to old “world” to meet the one that did not exist yet.

The cave paintings have emotional force, which Watson’s casts have to do without.  E.g. In 1928, the artist and critic Amédée Ozenfant wrote of the art in the Les Eyzies caves, “Ah, those hands! Those silhouettes of hands, spread out and stencilled on an ochre ground! Go and see them. I promise you the most intense emotion you have ever experienced.”

The whole of the current exhibition approximates  that insight with some effort, it is a cold art.  Whereas, below, Ken Bartley’s photographs responding to his viewing animate the small bronze sculptures which silent on a pedestal reduce themselves  to a document. It means, every viewer’s experience is open ended, changed by moving around, looking closely.

The significance of hand as visualisation of a fact thus satisfies its use even when the legal text is its real defender and guarantor. As an exhibit, it obtains freedom to associate with noisy disagreement at one stage and elation when resolved.

This exhibition anticipates the  focus entertained for  The  Armory Show 2020 planned  as “the ways in which artists construct a version of reality when the boundaries of fact and art are shifting”. Indeed Watson casts the real hands without modelling, like death masks.  In comparison, for example,  with 40 sculpted portraits  the difference becomes obvious.

Doncaster Heads (2018-2019) were sculpted from life each in two hours sittings. Edwards remarked: ” my hands were like they were at a typewriter”. (https://messumslondon.com/exhibitions/exhibition-laurence-edwards-minors-heads/)

Both Watson and Edwards give up a significant part of their imagination to strengthen the documentary value of their subject.

Watson goes  further when he applies self-confession about his  jail sentence for belonging to IRA. He also gives up the visibility of it, burdening  the sound with greater significance. Art as a confession has been with us for decades, think of Tracy Emin etc. Watson’ s resonates also with older cases – in literature.  Dostojevski writes after his death sentence was muted to 4 years in a Siberian labour camp followed by compulsory service in the Tsar army with:” If anyone remembers me with malice…I would like to love and embrace at least someone…”. Watson chose less emotional reminiscence, reminding me of Maxim Gorki’s  realistic confession : My universities (ie my life and experiences).

In another exhibit Watson performs to a camera. Consequently the aesthetic impact depends on both the performer and the operator of the lens.   The Grappling Hook, made by an unnamed prisoner, is a found object. Watson uses it to climb so called Peace Walls.

“The Grappling Hook” – A Video Installation Digital Film, Colour with Stereo Audio, 5 Minutes 21 seconds (2018)

 

 

It feels of now and essential. Also the artist making the performance is  the man now, not that youth in the prison.

I suppose as it shifts from document to private experience, the performance hits the viewer with the impatient wish that Northern Ireland develops its future free of the inherited divisions. In places this video is poetic. It has a soul twin,  made in collaboration  with light, the installation,  The Keys.
Metal Keys and Cables with Quadrophonic Audio, 13 Minutes 16 Seconds (2018)

Watson collected the keys after the Crumlin Road Gaol was decommissioned.  He says that the aim was to examine the notion of imprisonment and freedom. That becomes visible on some of the keys carrying the label easily identified with the jail.   However, it is not the sound, but the light source-  as they project the shadows onto the draperies -that defines this installation as art.  The sound track is almost able to stand on its own somewhere else, or not to be there at all.

 

When projected onto the curtains The Keys  morph into human silhouettes, reminiscent of  one Magritte’s painting, making up a mute chorus.

In addition, Watson installed  six more exhibits.

A Cold Floor,2002, yew and mahagony, 20x30x45cm

The book indicates traditional belief systems, the disembodied feet allow both inherited trust in the old belief and  its critique. as the disembodied feet  recall martyrdom of irrational  believers.

Blast Bomber,2002, bronze and sandstone, 35x15x15cm

In a visual paradox of the move,  the figure is ‘playing cricket’ and   ‘letting go’ of destructive forces. Your choice.

Visible mutilation of bodies by sorrow evokes contrary interpretations.

Not my Son,2002, limewood, snadstone, 45x15x50 cm
The motive of mutilation, of cut off  limbs as sign of martyrdom,  appear also in the painting  with identifiable “holy” books as a ground on which some people feel safe standing.


Holy Books, 2019, Oil on Canvas 60 x 80 cm

A kind of bitter irony feeds the increased loss of identification in the only print exhibited, The Legend, 2001, photo etched, 95 x 127 cm

 

The confessional exhibit twins images and speech in Unlocking. Close up photographs of keys and identification tags describe Watson return to the de-comissioned jail.  Watson shares his memories and reflections about them.

 

‘Unlocking’ – A Video Installation Digital Film, Colour with Stereo Audio, 22 Minutes, 6 Seconds (2018)

His preferred mode is relational aesthetics as he gives up autonomy in service to  devotion to the grand and impressive historical facts, in service to documenting politics and self as its part.  Reminiscent of socialist realism? Yes, in being dominated by the ideology of the day.  It is as if he realised that the power of an object and a story  fails to switch on that all important denouement, catharsis. As the exhibition battles against the anxiety of remembering it cannot win against the anxiety rooted in the gap between its intention and viewers current experience of the real. The multiple triggers of history then and now are similar and yet constant state of emergency to change.

Peter Bazalgette mentioned the inherent values of culture in defining personal and national identities through collective memory.  Watson challenges that by stripping that idea down to the personal experience of material objects:  It is only as good as the person who tell it or write it, or paint it, or sculpt it. I do not doubt that he also is acutely aware of the power of choices, and of necessary incompleteness.

While many people were involved in the lengthy process of bringing peace to Northern Ireland, journalist Brian Rowan assessed Fr Alec Reid’s legacy in the 14 Days documentary: “I think when the historians look back on 30 years of conflict here, and on the journey of war to peace, the story will not be told without the name of Alec Reid right in the middle of it all.” Also in 2013, the Irish president, Michael Higgins, led tributes to the late cleric  “Fr Reid will perhaps best be remembered for the courageous part he played in identifying and nurturing the early seeds of an inclusive peace process…Fr Reid’s role as a channel for peace laid the ground for the achievement of the IRA ceasefire and created the political space for the multiparty talks that ultimately led to the Good Friday agreement.”

If there was a mention of Fr Reid  somewhere in the exhibition, I missed it.

Carved out of lived past the exhibition opens entrances to synchronised  resonance, that may impair spontaneous self-organisation of viewers own responses.  In that it is similar in theory to Zhdanov doctrine of social function of visual art and to the Situationists’ stubborn struggle to obtain “denouement”. This exhibition whispers and echoes  many other previous works of art, from Diego Rivera to Andy Warhol.

Images courtesy ArtisAnn Gallery who produced and curated the exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

Noise of Silence: Japanese Art Now, Golden Thread Gallery Belfast, Aug 10 – Sept 28 2019

The Buddhist monks from Namgyal monastery in India engage in a ritual that involves the creation of intricate patterns of coloured sand, known as mandalas. As large as three meters across, each mandala requires a couple of weeks of painstaking work, in which several monks in orange robes bend over a flat surface and scratch metallic vials. The vials extrude sand from tiny spouts, a few grains at a time, onto areas bounded by carefully measured chalk marks. .... After the thing is completed, the monks say a prayer, pause a moment and then sweep it all up in five minutes.  ( Alan Lightman on https://aeon.co/essays/the-music-of-all-time-is-a-duet-between-order-and-disorder).

The concept of the curtailed duration of a painted image, the use of materials located in nature,  has thus a long history, and not just in India. It is a strategy that occupies the territory between time-based and all other image-making.

In the GTG pop-up space at the  Castle Court shopping centre, 

the IKIRO by Takahiro Suzuki included low relief od a set of squares defined in dark soil and writing of that word over and over on sheets of paper, thus combining performance with floor installation. 

This work metamorphosed during the two weeks into  this:

Courtesy of Sinead O’Donnell

The writing of a word IKIRO/Be Alive is grounded in decades of the artists’ doing this particular performance. I believe he developed it while living in New York and made it all over the world: eg Dingle!

 It is simultaneously similar and different from mandalas. The time, duration and choice of materials, as well as the aura of the original authorship, are adapted to the western art system. (see the essay on https://slavkasverakova.blogspot.com)  

The naming of selected  Japanese contemporary art as Noise of Silence has triggered link to poetic tropes, to one in particular: an oxymoron. It highlights the discord of a kind and encourages thinking about paradoxes. It appears in Shakespeare when Romeo cries about loving hate, it appears in pop music: Simon and Garfunkel have a song The Sound of Silence  that includes

And in the naked light, I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more/People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening.

The oxymoron, in relation to this exhibition, signals looking without seeing,  absence of aesthetic experience while looking, while it is the fundamental aspiration of visual art to make visible the invisible thoughts, memories, and intentions.

Working in front of the audience, a strategy similar to that of  Yves Kline in mid 20th C , was applied to one of the paintings made during the vernissage by  YUSUKE ASAI. While the audience was watching and moving, and leaving and adding to the present group he painted with coloured soils on a panel, possibly,  finishing it that afternoon.

Reminding me of the legend that Giotto di Bondone made a perfect circle spontaneously,  also of Jackson Pollock’s dripping,  Yusuke Asai placed thrown wet soil by free movement of his hand  or transporting the clay on a long stick, or throwing a handful aiming at a higher up area, to the hard to reach  places . And then smudged it into various details that do not live in geometry, yet borrow from it (circle, ellipse, etc) The white marks are the masking tape, which he used also on the floor and across to another painting in an impromptu performance.  He is highly skilled in making marks by the whole hand, or just fingers, while the soil is still wet.  The wet in wet technique has been cherished by many significant western painters, enough to make it familiar. (To name but few: Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden.  Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals,  Jean-Honoré  Fragonard and many Modernists like  Soutine, Van Gogh, W. de Kooning…)

Onto the longer gallery wall (Peter Richards the director of GTG says it is 17 m long)  Yusuke Asai painted  Nobody dies forever -narrative repetition”. 

It includes diverse elements from Japanese culture, including reference to Manga.

Delicious freehand details remind me of the virtuosity of medieval scribes. This detail is tiny in size.

 Painting in front of the audience slipped into a genre of durational performance. Both links to the western idiom are not dictated by any failure of the tradition, or by servitude to the younger cultures.

As Peter Richards noted in his curatorial statement, this art reflects on similarities. Nozomu Ogawa raised the crossing over the boundaries between cultures to the highest value of this art: ” …spectacular visual impact, exhaustive research, an indirect metaphor”… became a way to protest the absurd in life and to challenge the received view of Japanese art.

MARICO AOKI presents an installation of attire with a mask on the wall and a video, in which she wears those items. 

 

Spirit Disco (7 min video) is a disjointed narrative mirroring our inadequate concepts of the universe, perhaps our arrogance too. I could not follow what she read while addressing the invisible audience in one of the episodes.  Her mask, her out of norm duster, the appearance of the grazing goat inject irony as a smiling reminder of our inadequacy.

 

FUYUKA SHINDO

 

  presented three art techniques:  drawings on plastic in Items for storytelling (2016), colour inject prints Who is This (2015)  and nine albumen prints Invisibles (2016).  Different techniques, different motives, yet, I sensed familiar similarities.  Perhaps it was the tonality that did it, between sharp vision and the misty one.

The headless figure, masks, ceramics, land, sea, insect, legs, appear holding important message each, an impression negated by a closer look.  Freedom to interpret is both enjoyable and off-putting, the choice while inevitable is not forced. It provokes a search for the meaning when that is very slippery.

The visibility kept between being there and ready to disappear, adds timelessness to the deliberate bleaching of details. 

 

 With a stronger role for irony, the story, the narrative, forge the tenor of the video The Village’s Bid for UFO (2017, 24 MINS)) by

TAKURO KOTAKA

The subtitles are often undermined by acting in order to accentuate the absence of thinking and critical judgement. The three central characters chat about UVO they claim to have seen or heard of, or not, inviting some other villagers to celebrate by dancing.  Humour and ridicule are acted by hand moves, words, facial expressions and clothing. I feel that they do not act, but live their comic story. 

 

 

 

 

 

In the small separate gallery room, SHIRO MASUYAMA presented his mixed-media installation that connects a significant past event ( Great East Japan Earthquake) with a future one (Olympics 2020) hence placing the visual art as a link between them. It is accompanied by a catalogue made in relation to the  Tokyo Landscape 2020,  a mixed media installation, 2018  (in co-operation with cooperation  Tara Ichikawa) being exhibited at two venues in Japan: Contemporary Art Factory, Kyoto, and the Art Centre Ongoing, Tokyo in November/December 1918.

 Ren Fukuzumi and Hiroyuki Arai republished their reviews of the installation.   Fukuzumi thinks of it as of an ecosystem, ‘because human figures are included’, covering their eyes, ears and mouths. Those gestures he connects to statues of three monkeys that “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”  (https://www.toshogu.jp/english/shrine/index.html). 

Is this art so disappointed with mankind that it is not only without hope but already presents the figures not quite alive? In my European context, they wrestle to be associated with the mourning monks on the catafalque of some significant person, e.g. see Dijon 15th C.

Hence the installation is not a radical gesture, instead, as the light bulb climbs up or down it makes each viewpoint equal, it is reminiscing on all people being equal after death.  An aged idea. The transposition of a natural disaster and Olympic games is possibly intentionally incompatible.  Measuring peoples achievement against the power of the Earth?  Besides attacking the judgement of what is essential?

In the second re-published review, Hiroyuki Arai makes a similar point with greater precision:” In the contemporary age, it is possible to see the proliferation of art directed towards society and defined as ‘socially engaged’ as being driven by the motivation to compensate for a weak raison d’etre.” And he hails Masuyama as someone who sweeps the way clear for political art.  I accept to the extent to which polis means people. Not just the power over them, but also their own power. This idea led Masuyama to work with and about sheep farmers, knitters, weavers etc.

Kyunchome: Making  perfect donuts, 2017 -2018, video 

This is a political art laced by self-irony. It consists of two deeply significant substories: the two artists visit an older man, collector and maker, who built his own house and the protest against the presence of the USA army in Okinawa. The link is the intention of two artists to make an ideal doughnut by filling the hole in it with local bread.  Thus joining the two cultures.

 

Photo Sophie Daly

The young artists’ pair asks what the older man thinks about their art project of making a doughnut, whether it will work.

The camera holds his face as he stays silent as if searching in his consciousness for an answer. I adored the genuine honesty of: I don’t really know. I don’t really understand what it means”.  The artists repeat their intention: ” We want to know what people think about our art project”. He, after a pause: “I can’t say anything on it…”.  The chastity of the judging mind moves me.

The first part of the story is the clash between the self-appreciating confident artists and the earthbound man, between assured intention and an experience fashioned out of life.

Irony appears in the second part of the narrative: a perfect doughnut is made and offered to the occupation forces in Okinawa as a part of the civil protest against their presence there. The hope is they will go home.

Instead, the artist is taken away by the police, still holding the “perfect doughnut”, which as an embodiment of a perfect idea fails, about to be thrashed. The scenes are visibly arranged, with the makers leaving all pretensions that it is a document.  The freshly pressed uniforms and acted expressions betray a setup. The video is referring to the SACO agreement on making Okinawa into an American military base. Japanese settlers feel it as an occupation.

Making donut is not a problem -it is who will eat it. 

The last gallery room houses an installation saturated with green light.

Caressing and irritating in equal measure. 

The three green bulbs simply make reading details of landscapes on walls deliberately difficult.  MIDORI MITAMURA: Green on the mountain contains light, copies of photographs and old records creating an immersive installation, you walk in and out of it, and a small suspended dark wreath, slightly moving in the centre.

Photo Sophie Daly

She offers a poem that explains it on her website. (https://www.midorimitamura.com/greenonthemountain.htm) It is calm like a just-opened Egyptian tomb. Treasures around, not easily deciphered.

More videos accompanied Takahiro Suzuki’s IKIRO

 at the Castle Court pop up gallery,   gently adding different visual experiences.  Something not belonging, yet part of the meaning of the words being repeated: Be Alive. 

   Atsushi Yamamoto: An Asian Giant goes to the Japanese restaurant, 2014

 and

 Hikaru Suzuki: Michiko, 2018

 

Felt like an unnecessary addition, yet, even on quick and superfluous sampling, in the limited space and inadequate light, each confidently offered sensitive visual poetry appearance in their study of the ordinariness. Two artists were both standing on their own and still accompanying the performance, also as its first viewers. 

There is more on

https://www.mori.art.museum/en/exhibitions/mamscreen007/  https://www.facebook.com/public/Atsushi-Yamamoto.

I did not watch the videos but in passing. I appreciate their investigative aim at ordinary, and even personal, life.

The self-documenting work features also in Hikaru Suzuki’s videos.  More here: https://www.mutualart.com › Artist › Hikaru-Suzuki.

The Golden Thread Gallery scored with this exhibition high points for many obvious reasons.  One, in particular, stands out for me: the confidence of the artists that they work for mankind, not just for regional audiences with some invented social need. Their work stands against nationalism – even when it does not deny having roots in the experience of particular peoples. It that sense, this exhibition is a political statement about aesthetic experience, of its liberating force to balance differences by similarities. A duet between real and hoped for. Between order and disorder – similar to those traditional mandalas. 

Images courtesy of GTG via Shiro Masuyama and Sophie Daly.

 

 

PXVIII,Platform Arts Members Show, 2018, 6-29 December 2018, Platform Gallery, Belfast

Installation view – from L: G Carson, Damian Magee

If you think that the installation looks like many other exhibitions in Europe over the last two decades,  you may be acutely aware of the spirit of the age,  borrowed from the German language as  Zeitgeist.  Philosophers associated with that idea include Herder and Spencer and Voltaire. It counters the Great Man theory popularized by Thomas Carlyle which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses.

For compariosn I selected an image available online from the 2018 exhibition by two Slovak artists

 

Roman Ondak (b 1966) and Štefan Papčo (b 1983), from their exhibition titled Sky Gravity (19 Jan – 16 March, 2018, Zahorian and Van Espen Gallery Bratislava) Ondak called his  exhibition in  South London Gallery (2026/17)   “The Source of Art is in the Life of a People” – a claim easily adapted to Platform members, e.g. Aoife Earley: Street Series 1-3 (Digital photo on c-type photo paper), 2018 taken by iPhone7; “I enjoy the convenience and connectivity of my phone camera” (gallery handout) 

Earley also explores the chance mobile phone photography harvests while the photographer is mobile, i.e. driving or driven.  It may appear obvious for now and here. The implication is that the viewer’s mind drives the aesthetic experience.

Let me digress to test that.

In 1966, the philosopher Karl Popper conducted an informal experiment:  During a lecture at the University of Oxford, he turned to his audience and said: ‘My experiment consists of asking you to observe, here and now. I hope you are all cooperating and observing! However, I feel that at least some of you, instead of observing, will feel a strong urge to ask: “What do you want me to observe?”’

Then Popper delivered his insight into observation:

‘For what I am trying to illustrate is that, in order to observe, we must have in mind a definite question, which we might be able to decide by observation.’

The question for Earley appears to be the value and power of spontaneity. Of a flow which she arrests.

Andrew Glen(b1981) makes the “curious relationship between object, experience and artist”  into a locus that facilitates the choice of a found object.   Yes, it nods towards the Arte Povera, yet, it has an up-to-date root: Glen’s personal collection he started in 2015. On the far wall  the blue-green  Bute wool&found objects is a part of the ongoing series  ATOMICA.   

The cabinet and attached objects carry the title  “E. Gomme”, enigmatic for those of us who do not know the history of the G Plan furniture.  (https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/E._Gomme)

Andrew Glenn is recycling a useful object into a free art by canceling its usability, not miles away from Duchamp a century ago.

When a person visits an art exhibition they carry in their mind both “closed” and “open” questions.

Installation view: D Magee, G Carson, video Alex Brunt.

The closed questions are “a priori” thoughts, likely to be connected to their previous experiences with and memories of art. They refer to similarities and differences. The open ones are those formed by dynamics of curiosity and creativity of the viewer on one hand and the power of the work of art (the artist).

Hayley Gault

It is not a straightforward process –  ‘All observation must be for or against a point of view,’ is how Charles Darwin put it in 1861. Hayley Gault included two long paragraphs in the gallery handout to explain how her curatorial practice which focused on environment and landscape was supposed to champion “ the value of exchange and types of transparency”.  She printed a stack of sheets listing similarities between her father, a farmer, and herself: an artist, curator, activist, researcher, writer.  She named this installation Things me and my father have in common. 

H Gault

Its roots are in installation art, in conceptual art, in early modernism minus Dada,  in the art and language tradition of the 1950s. It also echoes, perhaps unwillingly, the not so glittering removal of specific talent as the indispensable protector of visibility. (I have in mind those periods when we see the hegemony of ideology). Her exhibit confirms Ondak’s statement that “The Source of Art is in the Life of a People”. That includes the visual artist’s ingenuity in crafting questions, expectations, hypotheses, and theories to make sense of their subject – visibly.

This exhibition strips the objects of flattering their makers’ importance.  Instead, it matters what is vitally located in each exhibit.

Christopher McCambridge revives the conviction of William Morris that so-called lesser arts are equal to the rest because they are life supporting. Except, he moves in the other direction – towards the removal of the original practical use see http://www.chrismccambridge.wordpress.com/

 

Alteration, 2018, found fabric, dress, embroidery thread, an embroidery ring

Hand stitching the fabric aims to remember the hand weaving of the cloth before it was more often machine – made.  Both processes (sewn by machine and by hand) are legibly there, so it is not a case of canceling one and replacing it. It is a method of a metamorphosis of one object becoming another. Remember Ovidius Naso? He seduced even  P Picasso to illustrate metamorphoses…

Here, it occurs by replacing the very value of use championed by W Morris.  Yet, McCambridge entertains a similar aim:  to make an object recognized as an aesthetic object by replacing the machine with a hand.

Something similar to a replacement appears on the surfaces of  Dreaddgerm, which Gerard Carson describes/defines as ” a manifestation of stratified oily techno objects, dredged from antediluvian sludge territories morphed into objects that speculate on the dark forces of techno-capitalist time”.  (Gallery handout)

Quite! I give up, but do not deny the link to the 1918 manifesto by Tristan Tzara quoted below.

To impose your ABC is a natural thing—
hence deplorable. Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system,
pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love of
novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m’enfoutisme, it is a transitory,
positive sign without a cause.
But this need itself is obsolete.

(see http://writing.upenn.edu/library/Tzara_Dada-Manifesto_1918.pdf)

Gerard Carson may agree with some of Tzara nonsense as nonsense, but in visual terms, he is a dead serious player for tacit communication between optic, haptic, and illusionary.

Dreddgerm, 2018, wood, thermoplastic, epoxy resin, silicone, borax crystals, PVA glue, chain, spraypaint

Consider his Statement

Stretched like elastic, it’s untethered from hermetica, blooming from conjunctions.

A speculation on futures via a tenuous materiality that is constantly on the verge of dissipating.

(Re)Mixing  from the mutating jungle of matter, feeding through a viscous interstitial mesh.

(http://gerardcarson.tumblr.com/Statement)

I see the chain and I read a sculpture, a rough immobile silent sibling to the chatting mobiles by Alexander Calder.  Its prettiness gives way to terrorizing sadness of broken lives,  broken by those dark forces, he mentioned.  In between the cascading down and never reaching the ground, it seems to stutter J’accuse (thinking of Emile Zola). And then it wiggles out and pretends that nothing matters, whispering: I am a construct.

Rachael Campbell Palmer 

exhibits installation with sculpture and print. It may be thought of as three objects not connected, but the way they are placed is softly considered to signal togetherness.

She gives it all one title: “Untitled (Inventory), 2018 (polyester casting resin, concrete, plaster, digital print). Maybe she entertains the thought of a chain, and not just of grouping. After all -she prefers traditional techniques – a kind of a chain, a thread,  between now and before. In her statement on the gallery handout she singles out the connections to locations and memory and preference for multiples, both an association with time. The supreme chain.

Image result for https://rachael-campbellpalmer.squarespace.com

Her trees(or magnified weeds)  are like personages  – meeting in a meadow … I hesitate to rule out conflict, or an accident.

Moving away from the back wall, the visible space is dominated by Damian Magee. 

Theta Waves”,2018, Graphite on paper, brass eyelets, paracord

Its dorso is empty.

He suggests that it is a “depiction”  of Gigantomachy from the Pergamon Altar, based on a low resolution digital image.  (Gallery notes, image downloaded from Wikipedia))

It would appear that the drawing selects a perceived rhythm of the volumes as a wave of subjective attention.  Magee makes another claim for his drawing: ” This treatment of a fragment …seeks to explore the ways in which time has informed phenomenological shifts in the experience of cultural objects.”   As I understand it in relation to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit published in 1807 and based on a precious philosophical intuition: consciousness is not a completed institution, it is constructed, transformed to become other than itself.  As if the selected wave is how the sculptural fragments appeared to Magee’s consciousness when he aimed to capture the essence of what he observed.  That subjectivity is one of many possible.

Iolanda Rocha  lets her subjectivity move on and on, claiming equivalence for each state of what she saw, recalled or imagined.  Those rich pickings are downsized by the summary title “Schema”. 

The seven small paintings/prints (cyanotype and gesso on wood (all 2018)  do not tell a story that has one beginning and one end.    Each stands confidently alone and together as if there were identity between the two states of being.

 

However the absence of nature – beyond signaling the atmosphere – become a significant sign of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism.

 

Hannah Casey-Brogan aims at the intimacy of seeing, viewing, by altering the expected, normal,  when observing a small format image.  Her “Untitled” (oil on aluminium, 2018) does not fully escape into abstraction, allowing the red become an arch above a melee of either a very distanced crowd or some insect, or just a multitude of dark traces.

Another small-scale object is made with several materials: text, paper, vinyl, glass and frame. Jane Butler ‘s School of Thought #4,2017.

  

Reminiscent of the preoccupations by the Art and Language of 1967 -70  – it seems to be re-visiting the group’s early conceptual concerns as shown in the example below.

Map to Not Indicate 1967 Art & Language (Terry Atkinson; Michael Baldwin) born 1942, born 1945 Presented by the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P01357

 Alex Brunt installed a digital video, 19 mins, 2018 titled  Spit and Honey,
both those materials descending onto a head of a willing person.
Reminiscent of cinema verite it exposes the visceral, the setup, the observed, fragmenting the whole, perhaps in a hope of lessening the chance of absence of any subversion of the intention, by sympathy or its opposite.
The exhibition felt like a sanctuary of vanishing ideals.  Subdued.
Images courtesy Platform, and Simon Mills.

I stepped out and she stepped in again, 13/09 -26/10 2018, Belfast, Atypical Gallery

Curated by Hugh O’Donnell this is a display of video, photography, embroidery,  painting and “poured bitumen relief”

Elaine McGinn, Permeate, 2017, Bitumen and mixed media

a la Lynda Benglis  (see  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynda_Benglis ).

Then, two days after the opening, the five artists came for a 2 hours durational performance, leaving its traces.

Schizophrenic exhibition?  Or overconfident?  Neither. It revives the memory of Situationists and Bruce Naumann, inter alia. If Ludist art was a fundamental method of critique of the consumerist culture  – what is this display a critique of?

One clue is already in its title. Habitually artists work as individuals, or in pairs, e.g. Gilbert &George. Over the last decade, the Belfast based performance group  Bbeyond developed a tradition of monthly group performances harnessing exchange and free co-operation between individual artist, making the aura of authorship to become an unnamed multiple.  The five exhibitors appeared in some of the Bbeyond Monthly.  The decision to keep the individual autorship on one hand and to give it up on the other may be strange.  Strangeness, estrangement, is a value that permeated Modernism  – as witnessed by the early essays by Victor Shklovsky. And it seems to be coming back.

 

Svetlana Boym writes, in Architecture of the Off-Modern:

By making things strange, the artist does not simply displace them from an everyday context into an artistic framework; he also helps to “return sensation” to life itself, to reinvent the world, to experience it anew. Estrangement is what makes art artistic; but, by the same token, it makes life lively, or worth living.

( Buell Center/FORUM Project & Princeton Architectural Press 2008, p. 18–19.)

This is different from the Marxist alienation of the worker from the product, but similar to Bertold Brecht’s concept of estrangement as a method of enhancing criticality and an awareness of the levels of fiction. It is also similar to Shklovsky’s foregrounding – drawing attention to.

Elaine Ginn, Waft, 2018, mixed media

The plastic has become a ubiquitous threat to life, a knowledge borne out of current research, made accessible in TV documentaries.  Ginn lets the material to become a poetic mover, seemingly innocent but dependent on electricity, which in turn is still far too dependent on fossil fuels. The use of energy other than the maker’s own is prevalent in this display of machine embroidery,  video, and photography.

Jane Cherry, You told me I deserved it 12 times, 2010 – 2018, bamboo cotton fabric, watercolour, embroidery floss, glass beads

It is latently there in all the materials used: bamboo cotton fabric, glass beads, bitumen, wooden sticks, roses  … all recycled away from the original function.

 

That foregrounds our significant challenges, existential issues.

 

 

 

 

Elvira Santamaria Torres  used her signature motif of flowers and a photography. I do not know who left the residue of that installation on the floor.

It is, unintentionally,  reminiscent of mosaic still lifes found in Roman villas by foregrounding chance and disorder as an aesthetic function.  The charm of leftovers resonates with this exhibition.

Next to the roses is a photographic still of a  bare foot with sticks between toes, as if to rectify a degenerative change.

Elvira Santamaria, The steps of memory, from Parable VI -I: Suspended process. Art Process and Gestures, 2015, El Mozote, Mozaran, El Salvador. Image Eduardo del Corral

It reminds me of “calculative image”  by Luke Evans:

accessed on http://www.wren.agency/luke-evans.html

Through an intentional arrangement, both images evoke play as a resource.  That, in turn, invites reminders of surrealism’s equivalence between observed and imagined, harvested with panache in the video by Katrina Sheena Smyth.

Katrina Sheena Smyth, Residue, 2016, video, 3 minutes

 

She exhibited also a still from a more recent video Providence, 2018.

Videographer : Jordan Hutchings

The strangeness of this image lies in not telling what experience became its source.  It may be a play or sorrow.  Thus it foregrounds the observation that a strength of a belief is not a strength of evidence.  Something very apt in relation to the conditions for life in Northern Ireland.

That became intensified in a video Dislocating the origin, 2002, 2018  by Siobhan Mullen

I may be wrong, but I assumed that the mixed media display on the floor near it  treats the same subject.

Those words  “dislocating the origin”  resonate deeply with a critique of focusing only on differences.  They allow accepting differences and similarities together, rejecting the submission of one to the other. Evoking the current theories of the beginning of life in our universe that observe the similarities and differences as equivalent forces are harnessed to increase awareness that our most significant challenges like clean air, water, and soil are not tethered to one gender, one belief system, one tradition.

This exhibition by minimizing the artist’s aura and by installing anonymous co-operation  makes meaning of what is made visible to depend on lived life.

As Jan Mukarovsky observed, the aesthetic function of art is transparent.  Dissolving ego, taking risks,  perhaps enhance the cognitive dissonance between need and want.

Elaine McGinn, 2017

Paul Klee warned that art does not reproduce the visible it makes visible. This exhibition, like several others recently,  makes visible at least two conditions for truth and change: freedom of thought and courage to dislocate the origin.

 

Images courtesy Atypical Gallery.

Travis Somerville and Ian Cumberland at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 04.08 – 22.09 2018

The gallery calls it a “simultaneous solo exhibitions” connected to “the current themes (….) explored by the GTG  2018 – 2019 programme of approaching ways of looking” (Gallery handout). Like Humpty Dumpty I – you- GTG may  give those words different meaning. One is that the gallery programme aims to present some distinct ways of looking. But – by who? The curator? The artist? The viewer? Is it not always the case?  Seduced by the 20th C obsession with “la différence”, often that becomes the main value.  However, these exhibits allow for sameness to enter.

Travis Somerville, Invasion, 2017, graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet issues gas mask and bag, 118x96cm
Travis Somerville, Invasion, 2017, graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet issues gas mask and bag, 118x96cm

Painting or drawing a person transmutes a sentient person into an inanimate object. Nevertheless, verism holds on to more of the “soul”.  Nothing new about that. Look at Gentile Bellini’s self- portrait, how similar his way of looking at the live body is to that of Somerville above. I am not suggesting the debt of the younger to the older artist. Rather, a comparison of pose and modelling illustrates that the ways of looking do not depend on temporal context. Whereas, using vintage cotton pick sack as a ground, does, as do references to a Soviet gas mask and bag.

Gentile Bellini, Self-portrait, 1496 -97
Gentile Bellini, Self-portrait, 1496 -97

Bellini also added accessories in a portrait of another:  In line with the trends in European portraiture of the time, Bellini depicted the sultan in resplendent detail, his three-quarter profile framed by an illusionistic archway.

Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet, 1480
Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet, 1480

Mehmet is also represented by the trappings of Islamic authority: His red caftan and luxurious fur mantle are accompanied by a headdress (a wrapped turban over a red taj) that indicates his rank and religious identity; a piece of jewel-encrusted Ottoman embroidery hangs down the front of the frame; and the three crowns of Constantinople, Iconium, and Trebizond flank him on each side.

Travis Somerville, Exiled, 2017, Graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet soldiers epaulets, 106.7 x 96.5 cm
Travis Somerville, Exiled, 2017, Graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet soldiers epaulets, 106.7 x 96.5 cm

Quite a few “samenesses” between the then and now.

I am not sure that the double meaning is intentional in the terms GTG prints in its handout: “approaching ways of looking” – from where? to whom? by what? Are ways of looking distinct from ways of seeing? 

The verbs seeing, looking and watching, situate each activity in subtly different realms of attention and meaning.  In life and in art. Yet – what I see  I perceive as a process to make visible – even, particularly,  the invisible, e.g. empathy, fear, insecurity.  Human condition.

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Travis Somerville, This Land, 2017, graphite on vintage cotton pick sack, appr 256.5 x 133.3. cm

Drawing and painting, both have near hypnotising capacity to find correspondence between a fleeting perception and the unmovable marks on the ground. Between seeing and naming.  Between observed and made up.  I recall  Paul Klee: “Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.”

Therefore, thinking of the art, I tend to replace the words “ways of looking”  with “ways of making visible”.

In the above drawing, the fatal experience of being “lost at sea” between escape and arrival arrests the retrieval of that experience in one moment.  While the reality is inherently fugitive.  As is generally the case with visual perception.  It may imprint on memory if my eidetic memory is good.  The rest is, as Balzac pointed out,  indéfinissable.

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On the image immediately above – a challenging 8-part painting by Travis Somerville that echoes Géricault’s Raft of Medusa, with its political charge. The Raft, 2016, demands to fragment perception into a stream of many partial views, resisting offering one all-embracing one.

Raft20180807 Golden Thread Travis Somerville 013 (2)
Travis Somerville, The Raft, 2017, Oil on Canvas 8 sections, 67 in. x 126 in.

It successfully transfers to me the impossibility of grasping it as a whole.  Like any of Breughel’s “tableaux”.  The event’s dynamic is not susceptible to one dominant view. This ragged composition mediates an experience of being inside a story.   There is no sign of the order of Alberti’s disegno.  Instead, the colours weep, accuse, make hope not to be swallowed by dark waves. The darkness of what it is they collectively make visible.

The choice of painting it in fragments removes the narrative from sliding into sentimental historical drama. Instead, it revives a mechanism of restraint akin to  Zola’s “j’accuse”… and hits hard the central issue:  the tragedy strikes and unfolds, strikes and unfolds … its duration unpredictable.  Homeland Insecurity  mirrors the experience as it would be lived,  a part after a part.

 

Mediation of reality by subverting the convention by control and absurdity appears in a display of the five exhibits by Ian Cumberland  in Gallery One.

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The title A common fiction appears both ironic and wondrous.  Is it a futile literalism that turns a portrait into a genre, à la Pieter Breughel the Elder? Just with one person, not as many as the 16th painter would do.  Or is it turning a portrait into a still life?

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The first “tableau” includes a carpet covering the floor, also painted on the panel with a fallen man. Suspended from a rough wooden support on the painting’s dorso, the body is seen from its back,  moving its head slightly now and then, movement afforded by the virtue of lens-based media.

Higher up on the wall, two video screens run information about various health issues.

20180807 Golden Thread Ian Cumberland 001

The All Consuming Selfie (2918)   presents a tromp l’oeil of the carpet around the hyperrealist (photorealist) rendering of the body. The painting and its support are the mute, unmovable parts.  The faith in the power of the painted image is immediately undermined by screens with words on the wall and projection of the pose of the man seen from the back.  Is it a pleonasm? Is it needed because the trust in mute poetry is waining? Matching up the two modes of representation cannot escape the dominance of “la différance” in the perception of visual images and text.

Adrian Navarro (Boston, 1973. Living and working in London)  pointed to a paradox inherent in painting practice.

“Man is an alienated being who thinks he is free. The same thing happens with painting, it is a free and expressive medium whose aim is the communication of a view of the world, where that freedom is not possible. This is the paradox I try to represent. “

Cumberland also explores the dichotomy between confinement and freedom inherent in painting and by focusing on a figure,  extended to the human being.

Ian Cumberland, Boom and Bust, 2017/18, oil on linen, video.
Ian Cumberland, Boom and Bust, 2017/18, oil on linen, video.

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To a certain extent, the installations are similar to still life.  The presence of the human being does not violate the terms of still life, as formulated by 17th C Dutch paintings.  Hypnotic ambivalence erases any chance of hebetude. Like Paul Cezanne, the painter is first true to the motif, but after that he plays with omens of impermanence.  Spark -germinate-unravel.  There are clues in brushtrokes and in attachments of real objects: flag, cage, wood, neon, carpet….

Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent (detail), 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent (detail), 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm

Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent, 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent, 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm

Quiet confrontations of representational accuracy and installed objects create less dissonance than the sudden “blind” gris-en-gris divided brushstrokes. Could be intentional or not. Make me think of decay.

Objects are there as if the painting needed them.  As if without them it would be incomplete.  Their “reality” results in estrangement of the painted part.  The question arises – what kind of alienation is that?

Ian Cumberland, False Flags 2018, oil on linen, mixed media
Ian Cumberland, False Flags 2018, oil on linen, mixed media

Marxism  defines alienation as hiatus between the worker and the product of work.  That’s not the case here.  Bertold Brecht established that estrangement enhances criticality and awareness.

That is applicable to these exhibits.  The caged painting and the woman’s gesture align to indicate a court procedure. Only to be undermined by the domestic setting behind her.  So this alienation is both similar and different from Brecht’s proposition.

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Ian Cumberland, Get the look, 2027-18, oil on linen, neon
Ian Cumberland, Get the look, 2027-18, oil on linen, neon

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Handwritten over the above  painting is the cost of each item in GBP, e.g. material, the model, etc.

Listing the model is a significant marker, that the painter works in the European tradition  – not the newer way of using photographs or video or cinema stills.

That leads me to conclude that this painter defends representational figurative painting by wishing it, letting it, win a competition with real objects.  That is, what I sense to be foregrounded. Through exposing it to estrangement, alienation works like Shklovsky’s foregrounding or defamiliarisation.

In his 1917 text Art as Technique he distinguishes poetic language from ordinary language :

The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” (Shklovsky 16)

Cumberland  moves in the world of common reality, such as the animation of inanimate objects, but evolves defamiliarizing the viewer and provoking an uncanny feeling.

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The slowing down of perception ( like the smear of the blind blue-grey of the pills onto the hand) injects energy into a physical system of paint to “originate” difference, change, value, motion, presence.  Making painting strange (e.g. both by tromp l’oeil of the carpet and confrontation with real carpet) motivates comparison and recognition of “la différance”…

____

Images courtesy Simon Mills and Golden Thread Gallery.

Phil Collins: This is the day. MAC Belfast, 10 Aug – 21 Oct 2018

A mix of installation,  still photography, video, painting, sound, water and black sand, are installed in all three MAC galleries:

Ceremony, 2017 in Upper Gallery

Delete Beach, 2o16, in the Tall Gallery

Free Fotolab, 2009 in the adjacent room

The meaning of Style,2011 in the Sunken Gallery

John Stuart Mill thought in On Liberty (1859) that a largely mistaken position can still contain some small elements of truth, as well as serving as a stimulus to thought by provoking us to demonstrate what is wrong with it.  By “a mistaken position” I mean the decision to stretch the story of moving a mediocre sculpture of F Engels from a Ukrainian village to Manchester to 60 minutes.  Visitors to the art gallery were overheard on returning the handout with words – “I do not have an hour ” – few others stayed.  I did not watch it in its entirety, although visited it twice.

This installation with HD video, colour and sound have been supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence, the BBC, the Henry Moore Foundation and My Festival Circle.  No mere visitor can add to these fanfares. It was co-commissioned by 14 – 18 Now, Home, Manchester and the Manchester International Festival and produced by them, Shady Lane Production and Tigerlily Production.

Collins has a master’s touch to enliven the elements of truth with a chance  and a whim as well as with meticulously planned and executed craft, which I sensed to be valuable for a film director.

The installation underestimates mute poetry, propping the visual thoughts at all times with words.  As if the appropriation of a documentary mode cannot be visually beautiful and exciting without speaking. As if a video had not a gate for every value from vulgar curiosity to sublime imagination.  Whim aligns with the description in visual terms,  I recall one powerful detail, when the screen is filled with a part of the side of the container lorry.  Vertigo ensued.  Or the comical details of the torso of the statue anchored in a car tyre for stability.  The images on the sides of the screen were bloodless.  Lifeless in the shadows.  Banal. They attracted curiosity and repelled the attention.

The world does not need another video.  As if anticipating that fatigue, the appropriated mode and look of Japanese anime was projected in darkness on the screen and accessed over heaps of – what seems to be – polluted sand, black from oil, with puddles of dark liquid.  Ostensibly, the environmental “death”  revives the need to end dependence on fossil fuels.

Delete Beach (4 min 50 sec)  was commissioned by Bergen Assembly and supported by Vestnorsk Filmsenter and the German Cultural Foundation.

Again, it is quite verbose, as if not trusting that visual thought can stand alone. It is an erroneous hope that independence from fossil fuels will remove inequality.

The Free Fotolab  is a 35 mm slide projection of 80 anonymous archival photographs, the result of Collins’s call for rolls of undeveloped films.  After being developed,  they were returned to participants on condition that they relinquish the copyright to the artist.  The images come from Milton Keynes, St Gallen, Belgrade, Eindhoven and Banja Luka (=my favourite stopover).

A jet photographic print  Mici’s Last Night, 2002, completes the Tall Gallery installation.

As art belongs more to the viewer than its creator,  Collins’s propulsive efficiency sways the installations and projections into a spectacle.   The Meaning of Style, 2011, is a particularly immersive take on cinéma verité. Aesthetically it flattens into a stasis which insists on sameness. The wish to break free descends palpably in the views of men silently reading, or letting butterflies perch on one’s ear.

Made me think of Fluxus – specifically Eric Andersen’s mastery of “being busy” reading words backward.

Indeed, the economy of means matters, when escaping from that cave (Plato)

Écho, parlant quant bruit on mène
Dessus rivière ou sus étang,
Qui beauté   trop plus qu’humaine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

(Francois Villon….)