“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Mark Leckey, Affect Bridge Age Regression (2017)

In hypnotherapy, an affect bridge is a way of linking feelings in the present with feelings in the past. But if an affect bridge were a bridge in real life what form would it take?

Mark Leckey has free associated a bog-standard graffiti strewn motorway crossing. It’s an icon we never knew existed, until we saw the six foot scale model bathed in sodium light here in Cubitt.

This is a bridge seen at speed from the back seat of an Austin Allegro. You are moving too fast to read all the writing on the sloping walls, although the banks invite you to get out and climb.

The show allows you to explore the mystery of the humble underpass: what it might mean for both Mark Leckey and any grown adult who drove past a similar vehicle.

In the gallery, though, it is a sculpture. The eye is led in two separate directions: through and across. It is a cruciform piece, so within the context of Western art, this is a kind of crucifixion.

The soundtrack is as jubilant as a second coming. Tribal drums underpin a page-long list of elements which the artist wishes to cast “OUT!”.  Leckey recites them like manifesto points.

It was Kraftwerk who best captured the rhythmic qualities of a motorway. The rhythm in here is as infectious as the sickly golden light. There is a push-pull dynamic as strong as an individual’s past.

The flatly horizontal bridge begins to resemble an analyst’s couch. This is someone else’s session, a very public session, but this piece transcends the artist’s personal biography, while remaining sincere.

Affect Bridge Age Regression can be seen at Cubitt, London, until June 30 2017.


Johanna Billing, Pulheim Jam Session (2015)

billing2

To be fair, all years have some groundbreaking music to recommend them. But 1975 was a good year for both jazz and urban planning in Germany. Who knew the two could go together?

In Köln, Keith Jarrett played an improvised concert, the recording of which was to become the best-selling solo piano album of all time. Note the quibbling over genre, which can be found elsewhere.

Meanwhile to the North West of the city, a communal reform pronounced 12 nearby villages to have become a single municipal entity. Pulheim was born and in 1981 became a city.

Now, thanks to a new 23 minute film by Swedish artist Billing, improvisation and infrastructure have been married up again: a pianist plays in a barn, while 50 cars stage a tailback on a one-lane road.

Applying herself to the baby grand is artist and musician Edda Magnason. She offers a soundtrack to the traffic situation which begins with some tentative vamping and builds to an insistent riff.

The camera loves her instrument, the workings of which are juxtaposed with the engines of the cars, as, when the queue gets moving again, one driver helps another with a jump start.

But this is one jam you might not want to end, even if it takes place in a landscape as monotonous as it is continental, with fields of sleeping corn and power lines hung like staves from pylons.

It is only once the cars grind to a halt that their occupants come to life. Passengers play with dice. A father reads to his children. Dogs are let out to chase sticks. It’s all action in a major key.

Back in the barn, we encounter film crew, lighting rig and the impossible sight of men loading the Bechstein onto a removal truck belonging to ‘Piano Express’. Easy on the ears, the music plays on.

Plenty more sounds find their way in; the road users provide ambient noise. And Magnason takes regular breaks, allowing you to think about what you see just as much as what you hear.

But ultimately, if you give it time, this film will sweep you away. It is at once totally mundane and yet life-affirming. Billing finds music in every visual detail, from smokestacks to litter in the kerb.

Pulheim Jam Session enjoys its premiere at Hollybush Gardens, London, until 25 April. Read my 2009 interview with the artist here.


Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors (2012)

Hard not to like an artist who is unafraid to quote his dad in an interview (as you can see Kjartansson does in the footage above): “It’s sad and beautiful to be a human being”.

There’s also an honesty about his subject matter in The Visitors. It’s not about poverty, war or global pandemic. He’s Icelandic, after all. They are not supposed to have such things.

And lastly, he took the title for this nine-channel, 64-minute video installation from an album by Swedish popsters Abba. True, everyone likes Abba. But not everyone will admit it.

To put The Visitors in a nutshell, it’s an hour long promo video in which many musicians, in many rooms of a bohemian mansion, play a single piece of overwhelming music.

The song is minimal and repetitive and the most repeated line, “Once again I fall into my feminine ways”, is from a poem by the artist’s ex-wife Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir.

In Iceland they do at least have divorce and Kjartansson made this piece to reflect, as he says, a period of his life coming to an end. It is indeed a ‘sad and beautiful’ artwork.

A choir is gathered on the veranda and as the piece crescendoes one resident sets off an ornamental cannon. It’s the 1812 Overture rewritten for some protracted marital strife.

The cast of The Visitors are friends of the artist, whose background is in  the Reykjavík music scene. So it’s a heartwarming collaboration at odds with the desolate subject matter.

Music can hotwire the emotions, so you have to be wary with a piece like this. But tingling hairs on the back of the neck aside, this emotionally awkward installation gives you something portable.

In the exemplary way these musicians pull together The Visitors offers a slice of fragile utopia. It explores similar territory to a film by Johanna Billing, another Scandinavian music fan.

Her piece, You don’t love me yet (2003), borrows the look and feel of a charity record to present the performance of an overlooked Roky Erickson song by a Stockholm-based supergroup.

It’s worth a look. Both works demonstrate that optimism and pessimism are often hard to tease apart, and that this state of ambivalence might be something eternal in the human condition.

The Visitors can be seen at Ffotogallery in Penarth, Cardiff, until 22 February 2015, as part of artes mundi 6. It is also in Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao until 2 November 2014.

Those interested in this piece might also enjoy this review from Art in America, written in April last year.


circa69, What was wood will be glass (2012)

This is not a simple work but it is easy to enjoy. It is easy to enjoy if your idea of fun is lying back in bed listening to breakbeats and watching a movie on the ceiling.

The footage shows scrambled data on a VDU, followed by a delapidated caravan in a clearing with a burning wheelchair alongside. Hard to make sense of, but visceral.

And when the bass drops, you feel yourself coming up as if on drugs. With speakers on the bed posts the vibrations shake the whole bed. I did this twice for another legal hit.

But circa69’s installation does funny things to your guts before you even follow the printed instructions to lie back on the squalid looking mattress.

A wall is covered in children’s drawings and somehow these are not sweet, but owing to their repetitive quality also somewhat creepy. They have run amok.

Then there is the wheelchair, present here as a sculpture too, destroyed by fire and sitting redundant amidst clods of earth. It is hard not to believe something terrible has happened here.

The brain struggles to construct a narrative around these elements: who occupied the chair?; did the children start the fire?; who lives in the caravan?

Half of the sense of danger here comes from the unknowability of these things. But thanks to the visual, aural and tactile impact, you really feel the backstory matters.

So you are left with radical doubt. It is tempting to say if David Lynch made art it would be art like this. But of course the film director does make art and it looks like this.

This work is part of the show Invisible Bridges at Phoenix, Brighton. Run ends Sunday 12 August. See gallery website for opening times and directions and check out more work by circa69 here.


Trainofthoughts @ The Horse Hospital

You might think it’s a first world problem or a high class issue, but just how does a human being get through a seven hour traffic jam?

Such was the predicament of Micheál O’Connell, aka Mocksim, snarled up on the M25 in what it soon emerged would be a history-making tailback.

But while his phone ran out of battery, his digital SLR had enough charge for him to shoot apocalyptic scenes of stranded traffic through his windshield.

On his car stereo was a sound piece by Stace Constantinou, with which he was planning to work. So Mocksim timed shutter clicks to coincide with moments in the composition.

Constantinou’s piece was already a response to a nightmare journey: a once daily and claustrophobia-inducing commute from North Lambeth to Morden.

But this had been displaced in his imagination by what sounds like a raid on the BBC radiophonic workshop. Field recordings from the tube mix with scripted actors.

His protagonist does eventually reach the far side of a river thanks to a ferryperson and we learn that this place is called, with grim inevitability, Mord.

Mocksim meanwhile cut holes in each of his shots, animated and stacked them to make a virtual tunnel which the viewer can finally fly through to freedom.

The two works combine in a dryly amusing way at the Horse Hospital, itself once a pit stop for London cabbies. A place for breakdowns and delays.

So the travel issues just pile up. The UK road and rail infrastructure is not one of the great themes of western culture, but it’s still a pain in the ass. Why not make art about it?

Trainsofthought ran last weekend in London. Visit www.mocksim.org or www.myspace.com/staceconstantinou to find out more about the artists’ work. 


Kaffe Matthews, ‘You might come out of the water every time singing’ (2012)

(c) Kaffe Matthews. Courtesy the Bluecoat, Liverpool

“Okay, we’re 30m underwater on a ley line and we’re heading for some squid,” or words to that effect. Such is my greeting from artist Kaffe Matthews.

My response is helpless excitement. I lie on my back on the shark platform and look up at the murky green light. You can well imagine the hammerheads are up there.

Oscillators pump out a generative soundscape. Tremors pass through me from the matted platform. And it feels as if we are really travelling at speed.

Matthews is a diver as well as a composer. And she has really swum with hammerheads so has really earned a right to the data which drives this piece.

The raw materials for this music are the topographies of the ocean floor and the depths, speeds, and directions of six tagged shark specimens.

And here is where it gets cosmic: hammerheads navigate using electromagnetic fields. So as this piece follows them, it recreates on dry land the invisible forces which bind oceans in place.

As a result it is hard to get off the mat again, hard to break free from its magnetic pull. It is thrilling, yet as free from danger as Matthews’ dives must have been fraught. whatever she says.

Up until now, one might have figured that Damien Hirst was responsible for the world’s most badass shark art. But his pickled tiger now has a serious contender.

And surely everyone will come out of the water here singing the praises of this art, not to mention the joy of sharing minutes of your life with some prehistoric fish.

This piece can be seen in the exhibition Galápagos at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, until July 1. See gallery website for more details and read my interview with Matthews on Culture24.


Liverpool Biennial/Manchester Weekender

Two long-ish previews written this week for Culture24 and I’m looking forward to both:


Artist's Statement: Oliver Beer on Deep and Meaningful

Here’s the first of a series of new features in which artists talk about their own work. This is what Oliver Beer had to say about his film Deep and Meaningful:

“For some time I had been quite fascinated by the structure of hidden architectural spaces, but also I read about these urban explorers. They break into sewers in London or all over the world and explore underground. I think considering all the ends of the earth have been explored, there’s actually quite a lot to explore under your feet. Then I found out that on occasions Southern Water let people into Brighton sewers and it’s an incredible space…”

Read more on Culture24.


Oliver Beer, Deep and Meaningful (2009)

Three locations are evoked by the film Deep and Meaningful by Oliver Beer: the sewer in which the original choral performance was filmed; the type of church where you might expect to hear such a thing; and the gallery environment in which it might end up.

The correspondence between church and art gallery is self-evident. To many both are sacred spaces. Both offer a place to reflect. Visitors to either may hope for revelations or the appearance of truths.

But the links between church and sewer are less clear. There could be straightforward blasphemy in the work. Or perhaps it is that both perform perform civilising roles and both absolve the user.

Finally this piece brings the sewer into the gallery. In a more polite way, it is a similar gesture to that of Duchamp and his urinal. It could suggest art is a functional and dirty business.

Seven well-trained voices join in harmony for the performance. Their song is pitched to vibrate with the sewer and echo around the gallery. It elevates the former, and raises questions in the latter.

The church is conspicuous by its absence. ‘Amen’ is sung without an obvious referent. It could be affirming Victorian architecture or possibly contemporary art. But you can find religion in both.

Oliver Beer, Deep and Meaningful, is currently on show upstairs at 20 Hoxton Square Projects until 24 July 2010.


Diane Arbus/Chicks on Speed/Arabicity/July must-sees

Here’s another round up of stories written in the past week for Culture24: