Posted: March 29th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, performance art, rock music | No Comments »
One of the best opening paragraphs I know is found in Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo. The novel meditates on a certain type of fame distinct from that enjoyed by either statesmen or kings.
No, this type of fame, “a devouring neon”, involves: “Hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs.” Yes, it is a book about a rock star.
Artist David Lamelas would surely recognise this checklist. It is all there in this work in which he appropriated the spotlight from a field of endeavour completely different to the visual arts.
The Argentine sculptor has dressed down for his role, borrowed a guitar and stolen the stage from an act like the Doors or Creedence Clearwater Revival, certainly something rootsy or bluesy.
In other words he attempts something authentic, because rock is obsessed with this quality. Its stars are queuing up to prove their convictions with overdoses, dependency issues and disappearances.
Lamelas makes a series of these photos, which serve as a record of a performative frenzy that never was. He pulls it off without having to compose, to practice, to endure life on the road.
“If the purpose of the photographs was to explore an element of fantasy, they were a triumph. Although his rock star was a cliché, he was totally convincing,” writes Stuart Morgan in Frieze.
But the results work on the viewer in a strange kind of silence. They cast us as fans, and extrapolate us as if we were in the pit of an auditorium, shoulder to shoulder, with hundreds.
Cue difference between rock and art, between the sharing of a ritual and the private consumption of a thing of beauty. Rock Star harks back to a neolithic time when no distinction could be made.
There’s a big trade in photos like this of real musicians. They adorn the walls of well-to-do fans who have outgrown their student posters. Why not? It’s an aesthetic choice you can’t argue with.
Yet with sculptural rigour, Lamelas has distilled a whole genre of music to a partially seen figure in the darkness with two props and a glaring light. Like Brancusi, he gives us the essential.
The entire Rock Star series can be seen in Glam! Performance of Style at Tate Liverpool until 12 May 2013. See gallery website for more details and read the words of a completely inimitable rock star from the Glam era: Noddy Holder from Slade, interviewed by the Guardian.
Posted: September 3rd, 2012 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: black music, contemporary art, performance art | No Comments »
This film by David Blandy is to my mind haunted by the suspicion culture changes nothing. You can sing all the songs in the world, but you may never be a different cast of singer.
From the Underground is nevertheless a well rehearsed feat, a perfect lip-synced rendition of one of the Wu Tang Clan’s most hectic and profane tracks.
And it is an act of daring. Most of us would shrink from the prospect of filming a journey into the depths of the underground, all the while performing an aggravated rap.
But Blandy is deep in character and maybe this is what carries him through the potential risk of humiliation which seems to come with all performance art.
Had he filmed this in his bedroom or with less conviction, it would not be half so interesting. You get instead a clash between its North London setting and its soundtrack from a US ghetto.
And of course, the artist is white, the music black. You might say Blandy is very white, in a nerdish sort of way. While gangsta rappers are, for better or worse, another racial stereotype.
But the artist’s youth is important too. This is a very early work by a performer and filmmaker whose latest work Anjin is a many layered and more deeply resounding piece of anime.
In the intervening years Blandy has fully assumed a wide range of personae. Yet the man who introduced his own show on Friday appeared to be neither rapper, nor samurai.
It brings us back to the suspicion that what we love leaves us just as we were. Our occupation of other people’s creative spaces is, sadly, temporary. I was reminded of this:
“You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything,” writes Italo Calvino in his remarkable book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.
“There are plenty . . . who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store, But not you.”
From the Underground can be seen at Blandy’s solo show Odysseys, at Phoenix(as part of the Brighton Digital Festival) until 23 September 2012. See gallery website for more details.
Posted: June 15th, 2012 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, contemporary sculpture, film art, happenings, performance art | No Comments »
This in-depth documentary about a great living artist premiered at Brighton Festival not so long after network TV screened an in-depth doc about its maker Jeremy Deller.
The results were two quite different films. But the subjects have more in common than both having worked together on The Bruce Lacey Experience.
Like Deller, Lacey has fingers in many pies. As this documentary shows he is a musician, a builder of robots, an unrepentant stager of happenings and a former star of the Goon Show.
But this is not the first time Lacey has captured the imagination of another creative spirit. A look at his Wikipedia page will tell you he is widely celebrated in music and film.
So the slightly contentious question is this: which of these two artists has incorporated the other into their own body of work…
Does Lacey join former miners, brass bands and wrestler Adrian Street in the parthenon of subjects pertaining to Jeremy Deller?
Or has Deller become yet another footnote in the life of octagenarian Bruce Lacey, who by 1962 was already the star of a celebratory Ken Russell film?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The Bruce Lacey Experience will surely bring the elder artist to a wider audience than Lacey can find in one of his regular appearances in the depths of Norfolk.
Besides, the results look as if Jem has fixed it for his subject to complete a boyhood dream and take a spin in an RAF jet, or at the very least given him an excuse.
Tracking shots of a model plane ‘flying’ around the Lacey home build to breathtaking footage from the cockpit of the real thing as it swoops over the English countryside.
Silver Machine by Hawkwind plays. You may not even like Hawkwind (I don’t (yet)), but I would defy anyone not to be uplifted by this trip through an illustrious career.
The Bruce Lacey Experience has its official premiere at the British Film Institute Southbank, London, on 5 July. Later in the month (from the 16th for three months) a show of Lacey’s work co-curated by Deller can be found at Camden Arts Centre, London.
Posted: May 22nd, 2012 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, performance art | No Comments »
Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth at a post show talk at Lighthouse
Is Brighton too cosy for a performance piece with the f-word in the title. Certainly by the end of Jo Neary’s performance on Saturday 12th it appeared that way.
Most of the audience may have relieved that this local comedienne chose to say, mainly, nice things about us as she adlibbed her way through a 20 minute set.
But nevertheless things were tense, as if the four letter word hung in the basement air. Looking past Neary, we could see ourselves in a wall length mirror. It didn’t help.
Performer. Audience. Fuck Off. is split into five minute segments in which a stand up comic talks first about physical sensations and second about the audience.
She then turns her back on us to address the same two concerns while facing the mirror. This allowed her to be slightly less polite about herself and us.
Forsyth and Pollard’s work is a playful spin on a performance-for-video by American artist Dan Graham. But Graham appears to have been a less threatening presence.
Here the artists appear to suggest that Graham’s performance needs updating. Perhaps it really does need snarking up for contemporary tastes.
Putting a comedian on the stage alerts us to the fact we may become targets of jokes. Neary‘s gentle jibes are only a taste of what might happen when this show tours.
Name stand-ups draw audiences unprepared for the conceptual structure of the show, the lack of script, the absence of gags. Don’t like it? You know what you can do.
More from these artists can be seen in the current show Audience/Performer at Lighthouse Brighton. See gallery website for details.
Posted: April 14th, 2012 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, net art, performance art | No Comments »
Freedom from Eva and Franco Mattes aka 01.ORG on Vimeo.
In the terms of the ongoing wars, there is really only one side you or I can be on in the infiinte struggle between freedom and tyranny.
But Eva and Franco Mattes have questioned the extent of that freedom, with a novel approach to playing networked console game Counter-Strike.
With Eva at the controls, the pair have found themselves in a virtual town somewhere in the arab world, dealing with an endless parade of heavily armed American gamers.
She too has the right to bear arms, as you would expect the genre of this game. And so we view the landscape from behind the barrel of her revolver.
Yet she looks for all the world like a terrorist (certainly not a freedom fighter), and she uses a real time messenger window to plea for clemency on the grounds of being an artist.
“Please don’t kill me,” she says time and again. “This is a performance art piece.” But she doesn’t survive long. There are limits to what you can get away with in a war zone.
“You don’t want to be in this game. Go and play in paint,” suggests one of the counter-insurgents. One other, sounding for all the world like half of Beavis and Butthead says “Shut up, Matisse.”
The title of the piece, “Freedom” is a rallying cry dropped by US soldiers running by in the distance, before he turns to gun down the immobile artist. It is too perfect.
But as Eva asks at one point in the game, “What are we doing here?” At time of writing 54,000 people are currently playing Counter-Strike.
That is only 14,000 less than the total number of real troops in Afghanistan. What can it mean that so many people are waged in an invisible war from the bedrooms and front rooms?
There is total moral freedom in these environments. Bullets are scattered left, right and centre. Compared with the gunshot in this earlier performance piece, the results are total bathos.
Freedom can be seen in Anonymous, untitled, dimensions variable at Carroll/Fletcher, London, until 18 May, see gallery website for more details. For my review of the whole show on Culture24, click here.
Posted: March 31st, 2012 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, feminism, performance art | 1 Comment »
It turns out that despite ourselves, even the most urbane and politically correct audience can still love a beauty pageant. The sequence of young women in swimsuits could not be more easy on the eye
It is obvious what heterosexual men might get from this. But women too were enjoying it. There were no shortage of volunteers to strip off, while their fully clothed sisters looked on with vicarious pleasure.
But context is everything. Each of us knew this was a performance by a feminist artist, Sarah Maple, and a feminist curator, Beverley Knowles. So that was okay.
Also, the swimsuit, sashes, and tiaras were balanced up by the fate of each Miss America. After parading past the extensive glass windows of La Scatola, they went to stand facing a wall.
Here they reminded the viewer of children in disgrace. It was as if they had blown their moment in the limelight by using their platform to make an off beam comment about the recession or the war.
About 20 women took part, only coming to life every five minutes when a burst of Sinatra or maybe Bert Parks cut through the silence and then cut out with just as much abruptness.
When the music played and the girls were up, it was all eyes in their direction. The rest of the time they were to be seen and not heard. The choreography was impersonal and brutal.
As the title of the piece and a corresponding handout suggests, to be crowned Miss America or Miss World entails a year of hard work. Just like artists, their levels of dilligence might surprise the public.
Gallery director Valentina Fois is not sure how this glass box of a space was used before. But last night it was not hard to imagine a car showroom, with bonnets for the girls to drape themselves over.
Clearly we have come a certain distance since the time men crooned about beauty queens and no car ad was complete without a dolly bird. But not so far we could not recognise our role in this piece.
It’s just like any other job really took place at La Scatola gallery on 30/03/12. For more on the players visit the websites of La Scatola, Sarah Maple and Beverley Knowles.
Posted: May 27th, 2011 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, performance art, philosophy, video installation | 1 Comment »
What to make of a flicker between a bandaged head and a face carved in a brieze block. Or an unshaven mouth which hi-jacks a news report. Or self-immolation illustrated as if for a kids’ book.
Quite a bit happens in the Plastique Fantastique show at Grey Area. Not all is easy to describe and even less is easy to interpret. The entertainment above is on a reel called PFTV.
On this channel a masked and spangly demon pops up, curses us, and with a voice garbled-by-vocoder intones: “There is not and never has been anything to understand.”
It transpires Plastique Fantastique are into the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari. The love of nonsense and invention of mad schemas with which to overlay reality may come from there.
So a nearby video installation breaks down PFTV content into idiot-proof diagrams. Captions such as “You taste the object/ The object tastes you,” are still stupefying.
Still, you should never dismiss the incomprensible. Two Plastique Fantastique performances, documented here, the ritual punishment of a victim by a band of futuristic savages.
Hanging the man from his feet may be aim at inverting the status quo. But if not, these scenes still feel urgent and deep in meaning. It’s a feeling; there may be no point understanding it.
Impossible Diagrams is at Grey Area, Brighton, until May 29. See gallery website for more details.
Posted: April 20th, 2011 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: art activism, performance art, Tate | 2 Comments »
Image (c) Immo Klink, http://immoklink
Disclaimer: this is not an eyewitness account, but then an eyewitness account would be missing the point. This is a response to a press release and a news story.
By all accounts, the unendorsed performance went like this: two veiled figures poured an oil-like liquid over a naked man in the foetal position on the gallery floor.
The wider context for this was an exhibition dedicated to the human body, and this show, Single Form, is sponsored by controversial oil company BP.
The even wider picture is that one year ago a BP drilling mishap caused the deaths of 11 workers and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Needless to say, the company does some other bad stuff: from drilling in the Arctic to risky tar sands extraction in Canada, the stuff of an environmentalist’s nightmares.
One way to offset such bad PR is to sponsor fine art: Tate say their arrangement with the corporation fits with their ethics guidelines, but has yet to disclose full details.
Well, I have not been able to talk about the performance and the photo without talking about the important message. So Liberate Tate has staged a properly good stunt.
Nevertheless, it looks like art. It features a nude and litres of paint. It was carried out in full seriousness. But when the performer got dressed, only a black stain remained.
Okay, so they hi-jacked the rarefied atmosphere of one of the UK’s leading art galleries for their own ends. But they appear to have got away with it and who else does that sound like?
There’s a full story on the Liberate Tate blog and for further news about BP-related goings on from the Art not Oil campaign, please go here.
Posted: March 18th, 2011 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, lobsters, performance art | No Comments »
Edwina Ashton, Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), performance, duration: three hours intermittently, 2011
Most of those lucky enough to see Edwina Ashton’s performance at Jerwood Space in the next five weeks will be, presumably, non-plussed. How else to react to people dressed as lobsters?
For three hour stretches the lobsters may be seen to rearrange objects. There may be more to it, but that’s the gist. It’s a response to the little known fact that real lobsters rearrange their caves.
This is an extensive a tribute to a crustacean whose most famous fan was the 19th century French poet Gérard de Nerval. It was him that characterised them as “peaceful, serious creatures.”
Said term might of course also apply to artists. In which case, the piece is a good demonstration of “the choreography of positions between artist, artwork and audience.”
It is only through this arrangement, according to Catherine Wood, that dancing lobsters and the like can be comprehended. This curator’s essay is well worth reading in the online catalogue.
And this rule applies to painting and sculpture just as much as performance; performance merely foregrounds it. The implications are incredible and a little frightening.
Positions on a dancefloor or indeed a stage change all the time. The movement of the audience will therefore determine the meaning and certainly the value of any piece of art.
But of course we are being moved around in our turn by the artist, via whatever channels they hope to communicate, and the various appearances of the work.
If proof be needed that the quality of your aesthetic experience boils down to social context, look no further than lobsters and a second essay, this one by David Foster Wallace.
The novelist points out that until the 19th century, lobster was dished up in prisons. Many said it was inhumane to make the inmates eat today’s delicacy more than once a week.
You would think that a taste for food might be less subjective than a taste for art. But as lobster numbers dwindled they became more desirable dance partners. Inevitable really.
We can only be non-plussed for so long and no one can respond to a piece of art in isolation. Other people’s discourses are then part of what we are looking at. It’s lobster, after all. Eat it up!
I haven’t even seen this piece yet, by the way. I’m planning to next week and will report back. It’s being performed at Jerwood Space as part of SHOW, until April 21 (Tuesdays and Thursdays 2–5pm). See gallery website for directions.
Posted: March 3rd, 2011 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, film, performance art | No Comments »
Marcus Coates, The Trip, 2010. Documentary photograph, Courtesy of the artist
Towards the end of this 35 minute film, a horrible thought occurred to me. Maybe Marcus Coates is making the whole thing up and playing an unethical trick on a terminally ill man.
In voiceover, with a view from a hospice room, he describes a trip up the Amazon in vivid detail. It is lush, green, benign, too good to be true, almost like a meditation tape.
This is reminiscent of earlier films where Coates goes on imaginary journeys to commune with the natural world. Having put questions to animals, he now claims to put them to the Huaorani tribe.
But despite the inclusion of ten inch wide dragonflies, this is no drug trip. It is a real life adventure-to-order for the pleasure of bed-bound Alex H. Intelligent, realistic, yet game, he is a good foil.
Still unable to be sure this trip happened, I even wonder if Alex is in on the joke. Both he and Coates sound close to laughter as the trip gets recounted off camera. Is he even dying?
This, however, may be what joy sounds like. Artist and subject have shared an amazing journey. And one person has gone well out of their way for another, evidently a good thing.
Not a million miles from shamanism. But Coates here finds a less equivocal way that artists can be socially useful. This trip ends with a blackout and a song. Let us hope that is the way for all of us.
Click here to read my interview with Marcus Coates from last year.
The Trip can be seen at Serpentine Gallery, London, as part of their project Skills Exchange: Urban Transformation and the Politics of Care. See gallery website for more details.