Category Archives: performance

Preview: Art Must-Sees in Museums at Night 2010

Museums at Night is a nationwide campaign running the weekend of May 14-16, organised by Culture24. Here are my picks of the best after-hours activities in the world of contemporary art:

Light Night at the Bluecoat, the Bluecoat, Liverpool, Friday May 14

Local musicians with world influences bring rhythms of the night to Bluecoat. Sit in the garden at sundown, check out a craft fair by LOACA.ART or wander through the late-opening show, Global Studio, by Livepool artists with international links. Open 7pm-10pm. Admission free.

Artist’s Residency Open Studio Twilight Visit, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth, Friday May 14

As dusk falls on Aberystwyth Arts Centre, they celebrate the end of two residencies. Rabab Ghazoul uses text, film and altered-objects to create site specific installations exploring social hierarchies. Peter Williams is a printmaker concerned with relations between the individual and the home. Open 5pm – 9pm. Admission free.

India Noir: LATE, National Portrait Gallery, London, Friday

Visit a completely different timezone at the NPG with a celebration of contemporary Indian culture. Viram Jasani from the Asian Music Network will be programming the regional tunes. A panel will discuss Indian Crime Fiction. And from the artworld, The Singh Twins will talk you through mixing Eastern tradition and Western innovation. Open 6pm-10pm. Admission free.

Artists’ Talks at the Estorick Collection, Estorick, London, Thursday May 13

With a few more hours in the day, this might be a good opportunity to visit one of the world’s best collections of early 20th century Italian art. Check out works by Boccioni, Balla and Carrà and hear from artists featuring in intriguing temporary show Another Country: London Painters in Dialogue with Italian Art. Open until 10pm (artists talks between 7.30pm and 8.30pm). Admission free.

Kenji Yoshida: A Celebration of Life, October Gallery, London, Friday May 14

Yoshida is that rarest of beings, an ex-kamikaze pilot. Find out how the peace-loving painter survived the war and take a look at the deeply felt etchings, calligraphic works and paintings which resulted. Plenty to celebrate at October Gallery. Open until 5.30pm-9pm. Admission free.

10th birthday of Tate Modern, Tate Modern, London, Friday-Sunday May 14-16

After pulling in crowds for 10 years, Tate Modern has more than one excuse to open late. Maurizio Cattelan is among the curators of a free festival in the Turbine Hall which brings together projects from 50 independent art spaces and collectives. With performance, music and film, it could prove as anarchic as any 10-year-old’s party. Open 10am-midnight Friday and Saturday (until 6pm Sunday). Admission free.

Dream Home, Phoenix, Brighton, Friday-Sunday May 14-16

This Open House is less a gallery in someone’s home, more a fabricated home inside an artist-led gallery. Rest assured you can still poke around. Eleven residents include Kim L Pace, Gary Barber, Caitlin Heffernan, Rona Innes and sculptor Ben Thompson.  Open 7pm-9pm. Admission free.
Full story on Culture24.

Interview: Marcus Coates

Marcus Coates, The Plover’s Wing, 2009. Courtesy the Artist and Workplace Gallery.

Marcus Coates arrives wearing neither badger fur nor stag antlers. He drinks tea, not peyote, and does not bark, yelp or fall into a trance. In fact there is no evidence at all this man has a hotline to the animal kingdom.

His genial conversation is a far cry from the spooky rituals which have made the artist’s name. In order to tackle social issues, Coates has after all consulted with plover, moorhen, sparrowhawk and deer.

The resulting performances might suggest he has a true gift and you could speculate there were years living with some remote tribe, learning their ways, but no.

Of his shamanic training, he says, “I haven’t really had any.” Although he does have a weekend course under his belt. “I think what I possibly take is an idea called core shamanism. The idea that the fundamentals of the shamanistic technique are open to everyone.”

Instead of magic, Coates uses meditation in what he describes as a “watered-down” version of indigenous tribal practices. The sceptics among you were right all along.

“I think firstly I should say that I am deeply skeptical myself, particularly about new age culture,” he says. Disappointment soon gives way to relief.

“Usually I kind of expect people to walk out,” he says of his rituals, “and I’m quite open to people calling me a charlatan and laughing. I quite like people not to be so reverential.”

But those who stick around until Coates snaps out of his trance may be surprised at the vivid descriptions he brings back and even benefit from the advice he dispenses.

“When I went to Israel I did a series of rituals in a shopping centre and people would come and ask me questions which were very serious,” he recalls. “One woman came up to ask me about her anorexic daughter and that’s when I realised I had an enormous responsibility.”

The same day Coates was besieged with long queues, despite the deeply held religious beliefs of people from that part of the world. It was enough to make him consider giving up shamanic work. “Maybe religion isn’t extreme enough,” he muses.

Faced with real problems of any scale, Coates looks to his imagination for a solution. The possession-like trance is in fact a creative process

“It’s really just an elaborate and extended form of meditation where I conjure up an imaginative world where I don’t control it. I don’t run it. I’m just very separate to my imagination. I’m guided by it,” he explains.

His art background is what he claims has given him “some fundamental skills” to do shamanic work.

“It wasn’t like one day I thought I’d be a shaman. For years I had this strategy as an artist to become animal. I suppose that was to reconcile the gap between myself and another being.”

In doing so, Coates was influenced by a 1974 enquiry by philosopher Thomas Nagel: What is it Like to Be a Bat? “There are degrees to which we can know each other and know of each other,” says the artist.

Which prompts the questions of what our native fauna might make of contemporary art: “I think the fact about wildlife is its indifference to us. It reacts to us. It responds to us, but in terms of caring, that doesn’t really come into it.”

Art in turn is not just cut off from the natural world, according to Coates: “I see it as cut off from the world generally. I think lots of artists are very interested in art itself. I’m not particularly interested in art. I see art as a by-product of what I do.”

What primarily he does is explore the present day resonance of indigenous belief systems, the power of ritual, and the leaps of faith needed to create and enjoy art.

It needs pointing out that humour is another strong by-product of his endeavours. But, says Coates,”That is totally undeliberate. The attempts are very serious, but I think the incongruities that are formed create the humour.”

But the strength of his performances lies somewhere between mischief and make believe. Indeed, he says, “Most of the work comes from the idea of being an 8 year old.”

Written for Culture24.

Art must-sees this month: March

Jordan Baseman, Nasty Piece of Stuff 2009 (film still), Courtesy of the artist and Matt’s Gallery, London, Co-commissioned by ArtSway and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Here are my visual arts picks from around the UK for March. Written for Culture24.

Richard Hamilton – Modern Moral Matters, Serpentine Gallery, London

60 years after his first solo show, Richard Hamilton is still making loaded images. His show at Serpentine is a mixed media commentary on conflict in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and Vietnam. It’s not a retrospective so much as a political demo.

Jordan Baseman – The Most Powerful Weapon in this World, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

Taking candid interviews as his starting point, Jordan Baseman makes video art sound as compelling as it looks. Three pieces comprise this show by the American-born artist with themes ranging from gangsterism to gay rights via herb collecting.

Nicholas Hedges – Mine the Mountain, Surface Gallery, Nottingham

This show may serve as an introduction to the term ‘dark tourist’, as Nicholas Hedges visits sites of genocide and massacre. His search for a personal connections leads him to the Welsh mines, where he pays tribute to the fallen of the First World War.

Sonia Boyce: Like Love – Parts One & Two, the Bluecoat, Liverpool

Making work around the theme of care has meant working with those most in need of it for artist Sonia Boyce. A residency with young parents and a collaboration with adults who have learning disabilities both result in an inspirational show.

But what of Frances Stark, standing by itself, a naked name, bare as a ghost to whom one would like to lend a sheet?, CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Here’s a first chance for artlovers in Scotland to check out LA-based artist Frances Stark. White collages, which often take performance as a theme, also feature text by writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson and Mark E. Smith from the Fall. Be intrigued.

Imogen Stidworthy, Arnolfini, Bristol

These four recent works by Imogen Stidworthy have one thing in common, the human voice. Language is a social space in her multimedia show which listens to accent (scouse) speech therapy and a blackmarket slang known as backslang.

Preview: Tom Pope – The Escapades of the Higher Man

Tom Pope, The Escapades of the Higher Man, 2009. Courtesy Glynn Vivian Art Gallery

Exhibition: Tom Pope – The Escapades of the Higher Man, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, until April 18 2010

Having foreseen the coming of the Higher Man, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had, surely, grand deeds in mind. He could not have predicted a photographer from Bristol would come along and try to catch a bucket of water.

Tim Pope has also leapt from stupid heights and disguised himself beneath a pile of rubbish in the street. It seems that now God is dead, the Higher Man is free from the shackles of reason.

Photographs provide the evidence. Pope has set up some real events with reactions from real passersby. And yet these deeds are also staged, a comment on photography as much as the writings of Nietzsche.

“Employing performative strategies within my photography sees the record of an event and the event itself form a creative dialogue,” the artist has said.

“The resulting performative photograph encourages the viewer to invent meaning resulting from a blurring of fact and fiction.”

In other words, any response to these shots will be subjective. So this may indeed be the Higher Man. The rest of us just might not recognise as much.

The zany self-portraits were taken in Marseille in 2009 and now provide emerging talent Pope with a first major solo show in the city where he first studied art.

Preview: Anthony Schrag – Wrasslin'

Photo courtesy the artist

Exhibition: Anthony Schrag – Wrasslin’, The Punch and Judy Gazebo, Margate Beach, February 20 2010

Scrapping on Margate beach sounds like the antithesis of art, but this Saturday artist Anthony Schrag will be on hand to wrestle with the public.

Advance publicity offers the chance to use him as a “human punchbag”. It claims that Schrag, who is no Giant Haystacks, is tired of culture which plays it safe.

“There is certainly a sense of danger in letting strangers do what they will with my skinny little body,” the artist has said. “That is what makes the project interesting”.

All bouts will take place in a giant striped tent designed as a homage to – who else? – Mr Punch. For Schrag, the puppet is “a symbol of joyful disorder”.

Violence, he explains, holds an important place within history and mythology and is undeserving of its bad reputation.

“We sometimes forget about its cathartic ability as a great unifier and a mirror to the common and raw beast inside us all,” he opines.

The Glasgow-based provocateur has previousy dressed up as a human piñata and strapped himself into a human catapult. Cerebral, it ain’t.

If you fancy your chances against Schrag, you can book your bout with the organisers or simply turn up and fight.

Written for Culture24.

Review: Marcus Coates – Psychopomp

Marcus Coates, ‘Vision quest, Ernie’ 2009. Photo by Nick David. Produced by Nomad:

Exhibition: Marcus Coates – Psychopomp, Milton Keynes Gallery, until April 4 2010

It is amazing what Marcus Coates gets away with. A film called Journey to the Lower World shows him inform tower block residents that he has been to the spirit kingdom to consult animals about their fate. To get there, he reveals, he made a psychic descent of more than 21 floors using the lifts in their building.

The Liverpool audience are by this point all ears. They have already seen the artist strap himself into a stag skin, complete with antlers that threaten to spear the light shade, and emit an alarming series of wildlife calls, to the accompaniment of a CD of tribal drums.

There is, of course, much laughter, but after a certain point that stops. Belief appears to take over, as if Coates’ performance has tapped into a primal credulity which goes deeper than rationalism.

And yet the advice he brings back from the lower world is straightforward. It defies his audience’s expectations that a spirit or person will come to watch over them.

Coates is a trained shaman who makes art from his encounters with the animal kingdom. On the evidence gathered by the Milton Keynes Gallery, each performance is a mix of humour, mysticism and plain speaking.

One can’t help but laugh at his outfits, for example, many of which are on display. He explores the Israel/Palestine conflict dressed in a blue shell suit and a Newcastle United shirt. In Tokyo he looks into bike parking restrictions dressed in a white Marilyn dress.

Yet on both occasions, footage shows him enter a trance-like state and provide a soundtrack of non-human grunts, yelps, shrills and barks. Something other-worldly definitely takes place.

And then there is the fauna-received wisdom. Much of it is pinned to the walls of the gallery and it all makes perfect sense. “Nothing in itself is artificial,” he explains to one perhaps sceptical questioner. “This is the gap between understanding the appearance and the purpose.”

If Coates is simply making it up on the spot, it is remarkable. No wonder he gets away with it.

Written for Culture24.

Interview: David Blandy – Work of Fiction

©David Blandy, courtesy 176/Zabludowicz Collection, photo Thierry Bal

Picking up his gong in the Breakthrough category at The Times/South Bank Show 2010 Awards, artist David Blandy might have thanked the man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. During WWII, his grandfather was a prisoner of war and Japan’s surrender is said to have saved his life.

“How do I reconcile my life and the life of most of my family with the 200,000 dead in Hiroshima?” he wonders aloud in his East London studio. “It can never make sense really.”

Blandy now looks East for inspiration. Martial arts, manga and video game culture all feature in his work. As a performance artist, he has long posed as a Zen-like wanderer, making countless films as The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim, armed with record bag, staff and portable turntable.

His latest alter-ego, The Child of the Atom, is a response to the atrocity which saved his grandfather. This time he has styled himself as a manga action figure with legions of fans.

“I thought it would be interesting if they were already fan made things, about this character who was already existing, so it’s like a fan homage,” he says of the film, shot in Japan in December.

Blandy himself is the consummate fan. When we meet, he is quick to show off his current favourite graphic novel, his vintage arcade machine cartridges and just a few of his many vinyl records. He may be up on art history, together with Freud, Lacan and Žižek, but this serious artist is a pop kid at heart and well aware of the absurdity.

“Art’s been very important to me in my life,” he insists, “But at the same time has it really changed me? Has it been as profound an influence as . . . Karate Kid?”

He laughs, just as the viewer might at footage of a tall, bespectacled Blandy, dressed in his orange Kung Fu suit, wandering the streets of New York in search of soul. Humour is everywhere in his work, or more seriously, “the joy of acknowledging the truth that maybe identity itself is a fiction”.

“Once you embrace that idea you realise that anything is possible,” he explains. “Rather than feeling completely constrained within your boundaries of – I don’t know? White middle-class male from North London – why can’t I be a superhero anime action figure?”

Or for that matter a black soul singer. Another film finds Blandy made up like a minstrel in reverse as he mimes along to Syl Johnson’s classic, Is It Because I’m Black? The track lasts eight minutes and in psychological terms is something of an endurance piece.

“I may have put on clown make up, but I perform the song with total . . .” he is lost for words. “I’m just inside it and in a way it’s inside me now because I’ve learnt it for the last eight years. It’s just become such an intrinsic way of how my brain is”.

It is this depth of engagement which makes the work so interesting and Blandy compares it to an experiment: “I guess I’m not scared of making a fool of myself in the aid of art, in the aid of trying to understand a bit more of who I am.”

But this serious question about identity leads the artist back to the video game Street Fighter, which he says is also hard-wired into his nervous system.

“Where do we get our ideas if we don’t read philosophy or if we don’t deal with religion?” he asks. “That desire to believe in something or have rules to live your life by is still there, so you end up relating to [game character] Ryu, wandering the world looking for the perfect fight.”

This in turn, he argues, might lead you to an interest in reading actual Zen philosophy. Just as going to a show by David Blandy could lead you to Syl Johnson, Street Fighter or manga epic Gundam. “I guess I see that almost as my role as an artist,” he adds, “To be the finger pointing at the moon, as Bruce Lee would say”.

Written for Art & Music.

Preview: André Stitt – Substance

André Stitt, Nostalgia. Courtesy Golden Thread Gallery.

Exhibition: André Stitt – Substance, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, until March 6 2010

The 1970s and 1980s were André Stitt’s formative years. He lived in Belfast. Conflict and trauma may be his greatest artistic influences.

In a city where people took sides, Stitt chose a truly committed medium: performance art. His work is hard hitting, so much so that it comes with a warning. This show may not be suitable for all audiences, says Golden Thread Gallery.

A few of Stitt’s themes include alienation, oppression and coercion, so we should be pleased his work has the power to shock a Belfast audience. It is better for art to offer these experiences than everyday life.

For all that, Substance offers an objective view of his well-documented performance events. Stitt may refer to them as “akshuns” but they are never less than intelligent. A documentary as part of the exhibition reveals some of the thinking behind them.

He may be one of Northern Ireland’s most important contemporary art exports, but this will be an overdue chance for locals to see a major show by Stitt. Many of the pieces on display have never been seen before.

The artist now lives in Cardiff. This show is part retrospective, part catalogue, perhaps part homecoming.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Richard Grayson at De La Warr Pavilion

Video Still from The Magpie Index. © Richard Grayson/Locus +.

Exhibition: Richard Grayson – An Exhibition, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, until March 14 2010

The show is simply called An Exhibition, but music and words feature as heavily as visual art in this five-year retrospective of works by Richard Grayson.

A Country & Western band, from Australia, play tunes that occasionally borrow from the score of Handel’s Messiah. Hay bales are provided to sit on.

Another gallery, decked out like a chapel, shows footage of a 26-piece choir who sing about the end of the world. Their lyrics are adapted from a cultish religious website.

Then there is Roy Harper, the English singer-songwriter, who appears on video as a  talking head in The Magpie Index.

This new commission looks at the philosophies and attitudes that have ensured Harper remains outside the mainstream, where you’ll also find aussie C&W and apocalyptical cults.

Grayson is fascinated by the narratives and texts used to stake out these positions. The show includes several works on paper which take blogs, star charts and Internet-based prophecies as a starting point.

Indeed the web is the place where outsiders can remake the world using language and image. Various sites theorise about the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ. Grayson downloads the results and draws pictures from the jpegs.

He takes wayward voices seriously or at least plays with the possibility of doing so.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Simon Whitehead – Afield & Louphole

Pings, Simon Whitehead, 2008. Photo courtesy the artist

Exhibition: Afield & Louphole by Simon Whitehead, Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys, February 6 – April 7 2010.

With a background in both geography and dance, Simon Whitehead has an unusual CV. But it does mean he is well placed to stage physical encounters with landscape.

Whitehead has been using ‘pedestrian practices’ to investigate the meaning of various locations for over a decade. These include dance, improvised movement and, one imagines, walking.

Video is used to document his geo-choreographic explorations and much of the artist’s work is collaborative. Sound art and artefacts also feature in the new show, entitled Afield.

When not responding to landscapes, Whitehead is responding to wolves. During a 2005 residency in Canada he became fascinated by their fearsome call.

“The wolf howls called up a physical sensation I had not experienced before, an excitement probably rendered by the folk tales of this legendary outlaw as well as some primal response to the proximity of another predator,” he has said.

“We never saw the wolves, they are rarely seen by humans, which made their evanescence even more compelling.”

Having returned to Wales, his artistic base, Whitehead began to consider the fate of local wolves, which were hunted to extinction in the 16th century. Now he has devised a long-overdue tribute, a participatory event called Louphole.

So visitors to Newtown should not be surprised by freak sightings or hearings of wolves. And on March 4 the Newtown Silver Band will play a wolf-inspired composition by sound artist Barnaby Oliver.

Louphole will culminate in the first ever public howl to be held in Wales and possibly the UK. It must be a far cry from geography lectures and dance lessons.

Written for Culture24.