Monday, 15 December 2014

Gretta's Gabriel, Gabriel's Gretta

Now perched on the Manchester / Salford (UK) border, ‘International 3’ gallery is currently home to Maeve Rendle’s two-screen installation piece ‘Gretta’s Gabriel, Gabriel’s Gretta’.

Gretta and Gabriel are a husband and wife couple Rendle has lifted from James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’; a story in which an Xmas get together terminates in Gretta’s attention drifting from her husband’s advances due to the distant warblings of a male tenor’s interpretation of the old Irish song ‘The Lass Of Aughrim’. 

With this starting point in mind Rendle has filmed tenor Michael Jones in the act of learning how to perform the song.

Far too often the formal construction of the component bits and pieces of an exhibition ape the spacing and space of a clothes shop or apple boutique without any attempt to take on board the centrality of this formal architecture to the substance of an ‘art’ show. Rendle’s displays foreground this aspect of staging, often in an idiosyncratic combination of the pragmatic and the anthropomorphic. ‘Gretta’s Gabriel, Gabriel’s Gretta’ is no different.

Two Sony playback cubes of different sizes show DVDs of Jones getting to grips with ‘The Lass Of Aughrim’, their plinths are different heights and a slightly diagonal spacing has the backs of the devices facing each other so the looped DVDs can’t be seen at the same time. Viewers circle the piece and alternate the visual playback experienced. Not that there’s much to actually see, a left shoulder and the cheek and chin of a turned head listening to headphones. One head seems to be gauging the tuning shifts by tentatively whistling along to the song being played back, the other singing in unison to the presumed playback of the song.

But there is a degree of trust on the audiences part; the tenor may indeed not be hearing or singing anything, soundtracks are as easily applied to electronic images as they are to the imaginatively remembered.

The indulgent and maudlin implications of using an old Irish song never takes hold over the piece. The unpicking of the insular mechanics of language, a straining towards articulation by the singer, retains the feeling of a performative distance from emotional sincerity but insinuates a keening aspiration to learn by rote how to actually engage with emotional demands. 

Joyce has always seemed smart, cold and aloof but drawn to and drawing from the intimate and particular. Distance and ill communication in one migraine inducing package with a healthy dollop of sentimentality (knowingly mangled along with the English language).

Joyce’s ironic detachment from his own biography allowed him to deal with the intimate at several removes, a myth-making process which helps the minutia of the everyday in his books resonate with an additional significance, and helped him to make the provincial feel universal. At odds with this is a certain literariness which both hides expressive intent and allows its articulation. 

Rendle’s installation echoes these onion layers of complexity by transcribing them into spatial intimations of intimacy and distance, closeness and rejection, engagement and performative indifference and yet still retains a human warmth to the whole gameplay.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sensory War

Manchester Art Galleries (UK) are currently home to ‘The Sensory War (1914 - 2014)’ which is billed as ‘the responses of a range of artists over the past century to the sensory effects of warfare through a series of themes’. 

Indeed the underlying thematic of the senses assailed by the technology of war is paralleled by the sheer quantity of work and the relentless role call of sub-categories: ‘Militarising Bodies, Manufacturing War’; ‘Pain and Succour’, ‘Rupture and Rehabilitation’; ‘Shocking The Senses’; ‘The Embodied Ruin’, and on and on. 

In reality there’s probably half-a-dozen exhibitions here. 

On a positive note ‘Sensory War’ has more than enough ‘art’ quality to justify several visits.

The works attempt to make sense of the chaos of war whilst often being seduced by the scale and visual beauty of the carnage; from First World War bombardments to the games console ‘virtuality’ of the predator drone.

Georges Leroux’s painting ‘L’Enfer (Hell)’ (1921) shows a First World War landscape: cement greys, porridgy mud, green-grey smoke and interchangeable bones, rubble and twigs. A similar post-Apocalyptic entropy and decay radiates from CRW Nevinson’s ‘The Harvest Of Battle’ (1919), a large canvas with a middle ground of trudging wounded surrounded by dead grey greens and blues, slashes of turned buttermilk yellow; the dead expanse of Passchendaele and Ypres.

The flat certainty of photography as trustable ‘fact’ is used as a blank report (with aesthetic tweaks ) of our violent assaults on bodies or, in Richard Mosse’s aerochrome photograph of a valley in the Congo ‘Poison Glen’ (2012), as a restaging of chemical processes which parallel the war’s toxic defoliation of landscape and soil.

Keeping things traditional in artistic terms, Sophie Jodoin’s ‘Helmets and Gasmasks’ series (2007 - 2009) uses the subtle tonal complexity of conte drawings to show the charcoal blur of distorted faces trapped inside an exoskeleton of the circles, tubes, studs and straps of a gasmask. There is no interest in a simple fetishizing of the enveloping thingness of archaic technology but like Mosse’s photo-work there is an instinctive understanding of the contrary seductive aestheticization enforced by the medium.
Herbert R Cole’s 1918 watercolours of faces torn, deformed and disfigured by war injury and Harold Sandys Williamson’s pencil and watercolour side view of a ‘Human Sacrifice In An Operating Theatre’ (1918) are additionally disturbing because of the casual politeness of the medium. Roy Lichenstein’s ‘Wall Explosion II’ (1965), a roughly oval cartoon explosion constructed from layers of brightly painted metal, remains a joyous whoop of American ‘positivity’ lathered in art irony.

The moving image quite reasonably gets a digitally slick appearance in the tragically bland and clean dystopia of Larissa Sansour’s ‘Nation Estate’ (2012) and the three screen cinematic sweep of Dinh Q Le’s Vietnam documentary ‘The Farmers And The Helicopters’ (2006).

The works in ‘Sensory War’ emphasise the degree to which art is a transcriptive system of equivalences, necessarily informed by editing and simplifications, but nevertheless straining towards the most appropriate stylistic incarnation to carry more than can ever be shown or even re-presented. 

The more successful individual works succeed in being depressingly appropriate visual equivalents for historical moments when human beings showed their latent impulse to socially and politically naturalize a clinical indifference towards each other.

Technoscientific progressions may depend on increasingly subtle understandings of electrical, mechanical and material interactions but they have always been at the expense of a secure sense of ‘selfhood’, psychic solidity as it were. Transgressing the secure frame of the body only serves to imply the liquid fluidity of the human psyche, its mutability and, by extension, its potential inhumanity.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Towards Monumental Sculpture

Spinningfields Manchester (UK) is a fairly compact mini-metropolis of commerce; all shiny glass, tweaked Modernist blocks, ground floor chain restaurants and bars, a ‘business, retail and residential development’. The kind of thing that arouses people in suits.

Bureau gallery has been based at 3 Hardman Square, right in the belly of the beast, for a number of years, using the extremely large foyer space for exhibitions and art events. 

Currently fighting for attention in the corporate emptiness that signals cash and success is Noel Clueit’s two-part installation ‘Towards Monumental Sculpture’ and it’s nice to report that in a straight fight Clueit has managed to win. 

The exhibition has two discrete parts: a large billboard sized wooden framework displaying two close-ups of areas of, according to Clueit, Henry Moore sculptures; the other end of the foyer has two touching DVD playback screens showing the same synchronized hand movements of someone copying instructive hand gestures on the pad of an apple mac. 

The organic curves of the fingers echo the smooth arches of the images of Moore’s works. The very same black and white images whose definition has decayed, on being blown up to such a degree, leaving the surfaces seemingly constructed from repeated stabs of black paint on a bristly painting brush.

The title, ‘Towards Monumental Sculpture’, may itself potentially imply a diagnostic cynicism about a flimsy monumentality which has long since been usurped by a different conception of space and scale; even the near infinite space of the techno-sublime has itself been thoroughly colonized by corporate branding which bleeds back into domestic space.

Clueit isn’t however interested in cocking a snook at civic and private statuary.

The ethical necessity of ‘Public Sculpture’ is predicated on the assumption that unyielding static blocks somehow incarnate the immovable and unchanging correctness of political and social institutions founding principles. 

However, Clueit is less concerned with sculptures solidity, its concrete physicality, than he is with its aping of the architecture of gesture. The successful imposition of the ephemeral on sculptures ungiving surface is what truly allows ‘sculptures’ experienced to resonate in the mind. It’s this knowledge that allows the installation to head towards its own presentation of monumentality with an apologetic grin. 

Clueit has actually managed to have his cake and eat it. 

Not unlike Credit Suisse who own the building. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Third Space

Crusader Mill is a stone’s throw away from the centre of Manchester (UK) so it’s an ideal site for a gallery space. Indeed it’s so ideal that Magnus Quaife’s ‘Malgras / Naudet’ gallery closed and has now reopened as ‘Cardroom’, a gallery run on more democratic principles by a loose grouping of artists. 

Ironically Quaife’s curatorial input seems to have been central in bringing together Manchester and York artists for Cardroom’s current ‘Third Space’ exhibition. And, as usual with group shows, it’s a mixed bag.

Alyson Olson’s ‘Hang In There’ is a chemically yellow sheet of perspex pinned to the wall by a pink sheet of curtain. The perspex is angled almost horizontally and its almost fluorescent edges poke into and deform the materials vertical hang. Janine Goldworthy’s ‘Pure Land’ also uses material leftovers and found items: a ten-foot rod of metal pierces what appear to be two crumpled oversized paper towels whilst her ‘Mountain Fold’ looks like a knee high, horizontally looped length of a roll of paper, little nuggets of colour decorate the paper edge free of the floor and the whole thing appears quite unstable.   

The grubbily disposable and materially odd have a touch of camp about them in Jude Lin’s ‘The Day You Won Me A Unicorn’, a light pink painted pelt stuck on the wall and pieced together from nylon mesh, feathers and padding. The suggestive tactility of the components is emphasised in the scratchy abstractions of Lin’s ‘Touch’ drawings.

In the sculpture department, Tom Wray’s three oversized, lumpen ‘Crucifixion Nails’ pierce the gallery floor. There’s an irritating literalness about the work but it does get under the skin. More willfully obtuse, Helen Wheeler’s ‘Untitled (Glass 1)’ is a blown glass alchemical flask, its glass neck gripped by a metal clamp, filled with a cotton candy pink glass thread.

Apart from Megan Wellington’s body parts and vegetation collages, two static camera ‘films’ complete the show: Wellington’s ‘Garden Book Club’ (the same title is given to all her pieces) and Liam Healey’s ‘Haze’.

Wellington’s camera work looks like an old, lined black and white video of a man and woman alternately placing bland, leafy potted plants on a table top until it's full, cleaning the leaves with a sodden cloth then removing the plants. 

Also referencing the still life, and by extension a memento mori, Healey’s ‘Haze’ is a more artful affair: pink and white flowers (painted or real? It’s hard to tell) slowly come into focus on a smudged green background, a dark stain congeals into an image which gradually becomes increasingly defined until the looped sequence starts again.

The real conceptual glue of ‘Third Space’ is the works grotty aesthetic, a popular offshoot of shabby chic automatically popular amongst cash strapped arty types. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, the career artist does after all have a tendency to go from a cheaply produced but thoughtful output to polished, slick and less interesting gallery-funded productions. But things may have reached a point in small gallery world at which the urban beards and delightfully scuffed furnishings of magazine culture are promoting an ‘aesthetic’ which is in danger of becoming an orthodoxy.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Cellar Vie

The author may well be dead but readers are alive and relatively well in a cellar in Salford (UK) and, occasionally, in a polite version of Tourette’s, between varying pauses, reading out apparently random sentences from Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography ‘Words’.

This is the closing performance of Maeve Rendle’s staged ‘ On Summary In Freedom’ in which a nine strong reading group are camped out in Stuart Edmundson’s ‘Black’ cellar gallery and producing an unsynchronized communal muttering by reading highlighted passages from Sartre’s book.

Historically, ‘performance’ works have intentionally manufactured discomfort. Rendle is happy to generate a degree of unease, to be less combative but possibly more subtly irritating.

We depend on the communal cement of an assumption that language is a tool which allows the communication of human truths, whilst all still retaining a universal suspicion of language’s actual social use. The devious manipulations of the unconscious and the social conditioning of a populace by political administrations and their sound bite simplifications of language’s knotty operations make sure of that.

But this is not just a staged metaphor for the rumblings and grumblings of a Jungian id camped in the basement of the human psyche. The skepticism about language’s function -the automatic inauthenticity of its articulations - dismisses the autonomy of consciousness itself as a delusion. If individual autonomy is an illusion then clearly the concept of ‘the author’ is also. The authorial subject has been well and truly kicked into submission.

Rendle’s art school background makes this kind of hamster wheel of speculation almost a given within her work but something else is going on. 

The detailed observations and dissections of a novelist’s eye and the parallel imperceptible hum of an interior monologue just highlight the sequential linguistic domino effect of language’s flow, the comforting spine of a narrative, that’s so impossible, at a gut level, to dismiss.

Within the novel form (and let’s face it the ‘autobiography’ is as unreliable as any other writing), words often obscure the bigger picture by clarifying detail, trim things to essentials. What does this mean? What is actually essential in any particular movement, gesture, moment...? 

In Rendle’s piece there is a gesture towards the experiential and visible, and the wider implications of that which this implies: the image, a movement, this moment becomes this anticipated redirection of narrative. Here the physicality of announced words and the physicality of the reader-performer’s bodies are curiously bifurcated, they are separated into two physicalities: the old-fashioned performative presence of the human form and the parallel infrastructure of the mental operations of the other.

When bodies are used to obscure, to frustrate speeches presumed operations, an ambient tone of opposition results. To what, in particular, God knows; but it still leaves you feeling pretty good. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Not And Or

On 28th June Manchester’s ‘titledateduration’ project space / gallery / studio (edit as appropriate) presented ‘Not And Or,’ the second exhibition in a loose programme of events which avoids revealing the artist until the evening presentation.

As its website baldly states ‘title date duration invites artists to show new and existing art works. The programme intends to provide an opportunity for reflection and discussion.’ 

This time it’s the turn of Simon Payne and although it’s a very different kettle of fish to the previous Sean Edwards installation they’ve managed another one which works rather well.

In Payne’s ‘Not And Or’, spatially angled projections of black and white alternate in a fast but fairly regular cut between positive and negative spaces. Smooth rotations of insets of black on white, white on black, projected with a diagonal lean. Some digitally generated, others digital filming of projected swinging, shifting rectangles which may be hand drawn; inevitably the straining mechanics of the equipment occasionally give a synthetic blue tinge or wash. It’s all a bit hard to decide how much is intended, how much an accident selected and retained.

By alternating the digital with the indexical means of fixing an image of space Payne is burrowing into the mechanics of representation, the mechanics being the archaic ‘photographic’, the physical rendering of hand directed drawing and the contemporary digital, and relating the results to the body in space which grounds and directs the viewers eye. So it seems that the phenomenological and formal dissections within theory texts hold equal sway over Payne’s affections. 

The ‘titledateduration’ mavericks have, however, been a bit cheeky and projected the piece twice, unsynchronized, on opposing walls, in different scales. Centered between on the gallery floor, at a rakish diagonal, is a long white bench looking like a ridiculously tall plinth which has toppled over, or possibly a dropped ceiling beam. 

So by making the tipping, rotating rectangles physically concrete the digital projections simplistic organization of space has invaded the real; the space sandwiched between the two projections becomes another significant container. 

It’s credit to Payne that he has allowed such playful experimentation with his ‘Not And Or’  work and it highlights the real strength of the whole ‘titledateduration’ project; an holistic willingness to keep fluid the nature of the process of display to make uncertain the expected dynamics of art display, from announcement of intention even to the internal operations of the contributors usual practice.

‘titledateduration’ is proving to be a quietly ambitious enterprise and an extremely welcome one.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Small Connecting Part

It’s exhibition number two in ‘International 3’s new compact Salford (UK) space and this time it’s a one woman affair: Hannah Dargavel-Leafe’s ‘Small Connecting Part’.

First the gripe. There’s too much stuff on display. Commercial pressures make obvious demands but Hannah Dargavel-Leafe’s combination of framed drawings, repeated girder motif wallpaper and sculptural ‘assemblages’ really require more space.

The small drawings look like exercises in carefully editing old-school technical drawings. Executed in pen, indian ink and pencil, these schematic abstractions of objects (a fluorescent light, a wine glass), an action (the skimming of stones on water) or the casual ripple of sound-waves (a yawn) are not quite images, not quite a traced motion, all encoded in the formal simplicity of a dry, pseudo-scientific shorthand. The obvious analogy is a musical score.

Actions petrified into abstractions and DNA templates for choreographing movement or sound, a musical score may be a formally simple thing but it’s implications are not: a compression of time and volume, intensity and delicacy, the featherlight insubstantial or an aggressively heavy slab of invisible weight. 

To further complicate things they are accompanied by four freestanding sculptural works, constructed from small hand sized ‘Crane Motifs’ each seated on roughly rectangular, slate thin slabs of cement set on  black metal frames looking like the supporting skeleton of a high stool from a corporate style bar

Far from being grotty little spit’n’glue maquette girder constructions they are well produced kinder-egg cute scaled down plastic architectural forms made solid by 3-D scan and print technology. 

They may hint at sculptural works so architecturally substantial that they escape the constraints of ‘art’ and directly impinge on the fabric of the social but they seem more indebted to Buckminster Fuller’s mathematical geometrical constructions than Manchester’s ’loft’ redevelopments.

The sculptures and drawings all forgo the pleasure of excessive detail but somehow all seem to insinuate an undergirding of psychological ennui.

Steven Gartside’s accompanying text quite reasonably notes that the drawings ‘ have a multiple existence, that of drawing, score, instruction, document: the choice helps to determine what might be made of the work.’ 

By strip mining chaos, editing the unpredictable - no matter how insignificant or even banal - Dargavel-Leafe leaves a directive thought as an elegant echo of the human need to organize, whether by architecture or ‘art.’

Indeed what is most telling is the viewer’s final interpretive choice, speaking volumes about the kind of art they need.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Tooth House

Staged at the Henry Moore Institute Galleries, Leeds (UK) from 20th March until 22nd June 2014, the Ian Kiaer 2005 - 2014 retrospective ‘Tooth House’, uses the basic organic, early regenerative powers of the tooth - apparently referenced by the speculative architect and designer Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965) in his concern with constructing free flowing architectural frameworks for genuine lived experience - as a binding concept for  'collaged' maquettes of implied modular architectural environments. 

A dependency on constructing from crappy studio leftovers - cheap, disposable packing polystyrene, plastic sheets, rectangles of mass-produced paper - ‘questions’ the actual worth of the historically acceptable materials of art practice; the end results further complicated by the addition of titles which reference ambitiously Utopian thinkers socio-architectural speculation as tools to fine tune his 3D-event sculptures.

Somehow this allows Kiaer to dispense with the sculptural as an illusion of absolute solidity; a stabilizing conceptual marker in an anarchically fluid universe: everything here is temporary and contingent. 

The effectiveness and affecting aspect of this show is the fact that the display of sculpture-constructions may be about the way we dream architecture, or the universal need to do so, but architectural textures have an appropriate scale, a rule which Kiaer’s constructions completely ignore and, in doing so, they respond to the textures of the real as experienced in life’s everyday routines. 

OK, these directive routines may actually construct any notion of selfhood but it’s always worth keeping an eye on them.

The best intentions of Utopian dreamers are often reduced to the playful jigsawing of leftovers into 3D sketches of other worlds which will never come. That said, maybe helping to maintain a freedom to be imaginatively playful with the quotidian’s crap is success enough in the current climate.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

This Space We Are

There’s been a slow incremental migration of art-events, instigated by that peculiar hybrid the curator-artist, away from Manchester (UK) city-centre into the borderland with its tougher neighbouring city area of Salford.

Gallery / art ‘facilitators’ ‘International 3’ have followed suit, moved to Salford’s Chapel Street and are currently staging the group show ‘This Space We Are’ pieced together from works which self-consciously reference the institutional mechanics of and peculiar currency which is ‘art.’

The title ‘This Space We Are’ may sound like Yoda mangling a Lawrence Weiner text-piece but it’s entirely appropriate for this exhibition’s concern in which the space or arena of art activity is intimately bound-up with its efficacy and value as a cultural enterprise.

To further milk the spatial metaphor, the human impulse to paint things hasn’t been limited to flat, vertical surfaces. Or rather the impulse to paint things has been given free-reign on flat and unflat vertical surfaces - canvas, linen, the human face and the front door. One name artist Monty has painted the gallery door green and confidently titled the activity / object / gesture ‘Door’, twice named artist Bob and Roberta Smith aka Patrick Brill is responsible for the colourful ‘International 3’ sign outside the building; Andrew Gannon has taken things one step further and painted the faces of gallery staff in his sociable but unimaginatively titled ‘Face Painting Work’.

Oil on canvas hasn’t been completely omitted from the equation. Enzo Marra’s half dozen small paintings show simplified box-like interiors with figures drifting in and out of the frame, playing with undetailed rectangles, all rendered in pasty troughs of pastel hued paint. 

There’s three further small oil paintings, Evi Grigoropoulou’s ‘Future Contracts’, of banal comestibles - an onion, a mango, an orange - isolated elements from an alphabet of foodstuffs all centred on ill-defined, dark, horizontal surfaces. They look like something between a Dutch still-life and a magazine food promotion; highly literal presentations of the digestible as a currency for a consumer culture. 

Sculpture and the moving image have one representative each. Joe Fletcher Orr’s ‘Decoy’ is a likeably clumsy mechanized compact of elements sticking out of a plastic bag, it is, however. in the wrong show. Dante Rendle Trayner’s HD Video ‘Show’ isn’t but fits far too snugly: a narrator’s head, decorated with a shaving foam beard hovers on screen. a rolling transcription of the head’s monologue, peppered with repetitions, misrepetitions  and contradictions witters on and on about the importance of networking with fictitious curators and collectors. The sleepy somnambulant delivery is affecting but the strained idiosyncracy of the piece is finally a little wearing.

Louise Lawler’s entertainingly unhinged ‘Birdcalls’ (1972 - 1981) consists of Lawler’ bird-like trilling of famous male conceptual artists plus a text-on-the-wall listing the artists names.

The birdcalls themselves work very well - the sound of art’s frustrated potency invading the space of the white cube. Unfortunately the text aestheticizes and standardizes the piece, it becomes an example of the castration and normalization of the eccentric and the application of the critical. The space of the gallery has absorbed and defanged another critique.

It may be temporarily necessary for ‘art’ to pull up the drawbridge and hunker down for a period but no-one should forget the importance of its function as a sand-in-the-vaseline of social discourse. The self-reflexive turn of the more interesting recent Manchester exhibitions is fine and dandy but only if it leads to self-reflection and hardier mutant offshoots of art practice.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

What's The Point Of It?

At the Southbank Centre, London’s Hayward Gallery is staging ‘ What’s The Point Of It? ’, an expansive career retrospective of Martin Creed’s three decades of numbered works: all his ‘greatest hits’ are here and, to help muddy the critical waters, considerably more.

There’s his A4 sheet of white paper crumpled into a ball; a series of unsynchronized swinging metronomes; semi-erotic, eye-level football sized white protrusions seamlessly bulging from the wall - but everything has become more physically substantial with previously isolated works spilling into each others display space, overlapping; generally busying Creed’s previously reductive practice. 

In the first of the Hayward’s interconnecting gallery spaces, a thick wooden beam, acting as a base for large neon letters spelling out the word ‘Mothers’, rotates 360 degrees, horizontally, around and around and around. Although it is high enough to clear the head of any gallery visitor the sheer mass of the thing retains a threatening, oppressive potential for decapitation. It also acts as an early announcement that Creed’s previous predilection for isolating objects of formal and material simplicity is no longer a given, the space also containing a much reproduced photo of Creed grinning in an unreadably exaggerated manner and a wall hugging line of 39 clicking metronomes.

This leads through to walls decorated with colourful stripes, a large clumsy ‘x’ of paint, bright simple painting-drawings of stacked blocks of colour repeated in the adjacent tiered sculptural stack of random cardboard boxes.  

Although his restaging of his 1998 audience favourite Work 200: Half The Air In A Given Space - white balloons piled into a room and the audience permitted to enter the area for a Wacky Warehouse romp - remains a self-contained affair; Work 227: The Lights Going On And Off (still available to experience at Tate Britain) now happens in a functioning gallery space which just makes looking at the other works pointlessly irritating.

There’s two reconstructed old wall pieces, one an isolated bulge, the other two parallel lumps, something between pale smooth cysts and cartoon breasts, both insinuate tactility whilst denying it. The stand alone wall lump seems altogether more ambiguous and therefore more threatening - is the mass being absorbed into the vertical surface or protruding into real space before splitting and spilling its contents?

When it comes to the subject of spilling contents, Creed’s taken this to its obvious conclusion with projected DVDs of individuals wandering into a static framed studio shot and vomiting on the floor. Some manage it with a casual indifference, others battle their gag reflex which makes things a tad uncomfortable. Following these snippets with someone having a shit is, let’s face it, just a display from the other end of the tube. 

Speaking of the other end of the two ends of a tube, another ‘filmic’ projection, this time outdoors on one of the Hayward’s city viewing balconies, has a side shot of a human cock becoming erect then flaccid in a constant seamless series of cycles. A neighbouring balcony holds a tall diagonal stack of various strata of brick further resonating with the interplay between erect penis and London’s skyline. A glaring literalness can just be the hallmark of poor art but Creed’s exercises in stripping things down to physical and mechanical facts can be smart-stupid and entertainingly unsettling in equal measure. 

Everything somehow fits together like the cogs of a larger mechanism, the exception being a line of childishly crap portraits; Creed’s intuitively skillful in adopting the pose of the wide-eyed and childlike but childish isn’t the same thing at all and should be stamped out immediately.   

The new giddy carnivalesque Creed just about pulls it off here even if it is at the expense of crowding out the little Zen nuggets of yesteryear. What is new is that which Creed previously avoided, a tone of cynicism; simple mechanical processes used to be pleasurable enough in themselves in Creedworld but now they seem to be becoming less than satisfactory repetitions, repetitions without a confining duration, pure and mindless mechanical process. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ghosts Of The Meaningful.

Obfuscation and obscurantism are both great words to throw at a Scrabble board and guaranteed techniques for successful audience-baiting. 

Based on the Manchester (UK) side of the rainy Manchester / Salford border, the new ‘title date duration’ programme of studio-gallery presentations flirt with the above but purely in the interests of allowing ‘the art work presented to only be concerned with the act of viewing, and the will of the individual to view it.’

The first of the presentations ‘still,’ intriguingly ‘viewable between 19.12 - 19.14‘ of the launch bash, turned out to be the work of artist Sean Edwards.

Images of a cube of wooden wedges and a sheet of paper samples suggests that the neighbouring 1970‘s tabloid pictures are being born from, or about to be reduced to, paper or pulp. Could this be a direct reference to the inbred disposability of an obsolete medium? How is this really picked up in the simple chipboard and screw, homemade freestanding shelving units which pepper the space and obstruct the wall pinned elements? Any suggestion of DIY functionality is automatically undercut by the framing gallery-type space, the audience, scrawled diagrams, fragments of tabloid headers; it’s all basically a lexicon of suggestive bits.
These bits are, when stolen and recontextualized en masse, all materially solid and yet floaty, ambiguous signs in which contrary liminal impulses seem to coexist.

This is a ‘style’ of application which has gained considerable art world purchase in the last few years but Edwards’ construction retains a particular, individual conceptual gestalt which acts as a binding glue. 

Compiling stuff as a form of unfocused social anthropology which reveals a hidden grammar of communal discourse may initially suggest itself but is way off the mark. Edwards is playing a considerably denser game: here ‘meaning’ isn’t a vague, ambiguous straitjacket, it’s a tatty string vest, the comedy ghost of proud signification.

Rather unexpectedly it’s down to the temporary inclusion of a 2 minute VHS playback, about half way through the ‘opening’ event ( i.e. 19.12 - 19.14) of a very young incarnation of Bruce Springsteen explaining the live impact of Roy Orbison to make things a little clearer. A Springsteen trapped on a degenerating VHS tape singing the praises of Orbison’s otherworldly intangibility; a ghost reconstructing ghosts. 

Everything has become murky, vague; a straining towards meaningfulness is no longer possible but a presentation of the meaningless is equally impossible.

Like Joe Devlin’s recent invite-only ‘Black’ project, even if a sizeable percentage of the audience go home scratching their heads over the muddle-headed carry ons there is a genuine tone of questioning and application to the venture. The arts’ movements and shifts, its game-plays and potential contrariness, allows it to operate with a nimble tread and tone of aloof confidence which makes the whole affair either infuriatingly ‘elite’ or admirably cocky. 

What is beyond question is the fact that by contrast most of the city’s state-funded art institutions are left looking like a Brontosaurus thrashing about in a tar-pit; unwieldy, desperate and purely concerned with their own survival. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Manchester (UK) Metropolitan University’s Holden Gallery is an exhibition space policed (programmed) by college staff (the students would obviously make a complete hash of the job).

Currently on show is ‘Diagrams’, quite simply examples of artistic practice heavily indebted to the instructive simplicities of the diagram.

There’s a reasonably predictable role call of established artists - Angela Bullock , Langlands and Bell, Simon Patterson, Mark Titchner - in itself not necessarily a bad thing.

Bullock has a stack of cubes exhibiting ambient throbbing, tasteful colours. Patterson has had stenciled onto the gallery wall the table of predictably misnamed chemical elements. Langlands and Bell have three bird’s eye views of architectural-type abstractions. Nothing outside the artists’ productive comfort zone.

‘Art’ may be predicated purely on a dissection of displays of shapes and colours, or on presentations of information revealing hidden social and political processes, or the voicing of a subculture’s opposition to wider communal assumptions about falsely ‘naturalized’ norms, etc. Fortunately ‘art’ doesn’t care. The minute it’s defined it moves home.

That said, any form of delivery that makes the audience do some work completing the pieces; any way of a presenting things as temporary snapshots of the process of thinking, as self-contained events indicating a meandering if oblique meta-narrative has got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?

But ‘Diagrams’ seems unusually hollow - maybe the work’s too easily comprehensible, too clearly stylistically and conceptually delineated, just too damned comfortably readable.

Cumulatively the collection of pieces in the show seem to petrify the motion of art’s scruffy vitality leaving the sense of the emptied architecture of a format - the reductive and diagrammatic - which finally, and sadly as it’s in the context of a contemporary educational institution, has lost any critical clout. 

When the final impression is the ambient tone of the restraining directives of a vacuous ‘mission statement’ something’s definitely gone wrong.