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.