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

Phil Collins, dűnya dinlemiyor (2005)

Dűnya dinlemiyor is Turkish for The World Won’t Listen, which as you may know is a 1987 compilation album by The Smiths. At the time of release, the world was listening. The album was a chart hit.

And that was just in the UK. As this work by artist Phil Collins reveals, the sentiment and the message of the album reverberated all the way from Columbia to Indonesia via Turkey.

The Turkish installation of this epic project was filmed over several days in an Istanbul nightclub, to which fans of The Smiths were invited to sing along with a karaoke backing to the 18 track album.

Thanks to the efforts of these volunteers, 30 years on, the audience for this work will be able to listen more closely to an album which Morrissey appeared to predict the world would ignore.

He was loved him all the more for it. And his imitable persona has made the 2,000 mile journey from Manchester for this hour long film. A local, for example, performs with a back pocketful of flowers.

More interesting than the inevitable Moz impersonators, are the millennials who take part in this exercise with good cheer. There Is A Light That Never Goes is joyous, rather than maudlin.

In a similar vein, we have a hard rocking version of London and a version of Half A Person which is equally good for a giggle. It’s comedic to be a Turk singing about Euston station or the YWCA.

When it’s not being funny or being awkward, dűnya dinlemiyor is a moving reprisal of a collection of songs that take one back to the 1980s, via this highly circuitous cultural route.

The final track on the album, Rubber Ring, features a warning that until now was buried in time: “Don’t forget the songs that made you laugh and the songs that made you cry.”

The singer is a middle aged goth who gives her all to the final performance of this artwork. Either she can’t let go of the music of The Smiths, or she has moved on and felt the consequences.

This work can be seen in Now, Today, Tomorrow and Always at Towner, Eastbourne, until October 8 2017. The show is an Arts Council Collection National Partner Exhibition.


Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, Finding Fanon 2 (2015)

If you play Grand Theft Auto you may be closer to understanding this piece than me. So far as I gather, both artists have had to play their way into all the footage which accompanies this film.

There’s not a stolen car in sight, mind you. The duo wear suits, rather than gang attire. They walk and run through lonely citycapes, some Romantic with a capital ‘r’, some apocalyptic with a small ‘a’.

Finding Fanon 2 grabs you from the opening set up as avatars for both artists fall to earth from a clear blue sky. They pedal limbs like upturned beetles, pick themselves up again like gods.

If this film were nothing more than a travelogue about virtual cities to be found in the GTA game franchise, it would already have a certain novel, uncanny appeal for non-gamers.

But there’s much more to it; the quest here  is not to become a crime lord, but to get closer to an understanding of philosopher Frantz Fanon, who advocated armed resistance to power.

As a former resident of Martinique and a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front, Fanon was most interested in fighting back against colonial powers. Britain is no longer one of these.

So where might Fanon, who died in 1961, be found now? Nigel Farage might have said he would don khaki and pick up a rifle in order to fight for Brexit. But the UK left is using ballots rather than bullets.

The battlefield is the media, both mainstream and social. Dark money and big data are the dangers. So where indeed is Fanon today? He would doubtless be on a terror watchlist.

But the artists remain optimistic. “Perhaps he’s waiting here,” says the VO, as they stride through the ghost town, “behind the polygons, behind the texture maps, through the fields of algorithms”.

Fanon might be found in one of GTA’s beautiful sunsets. Achiampong and Blandy watch our fiery star sink below the horizon. If the sun has sunk on Fanon’s day, we know it will come again.

Finding Fanon Trilogy was screened at Lighthouse in Brighton on 29 June 2017. More information about the artists can be found on the websites of David and Larry.


Simon Senn, Just Let Go (2012)

Athens: cradle of Western civilisation, and in more recent times the canary in Europe’s coal mine. On the face of it, the perfect setting for Simon Senn’s dionysian artwork.

Just Let Go is (so far) a single video loop in which three angry locals rampage the length and breadth of a concrete wall, starting fires and throwing black paint.

They are rendered anonymous by balaclavas and a motorcycle helmet, and go about their anarchic business with what appears to be quite some joie de vivre.

Well, the good news is that you can join them. What might have remained a diverting 53 second film is in fact an ongoing project allowing for frustrated folk worldwide to let off steam.

The low budget film comes with a low budget A5 flier: “Do you need to let it go?” it asks. “How do you personally deal with this climate of instability and austerity?”

It looks like the kind of thing you might stumble across in a local daycare centre. State-funded, you would think, if you came across it anywhere outside a gallery.

Indeed, Just Let Go, is registered as a non profit organisation. But in Switzerland, rather than here. This only adds to the play of shadows in a truly subversive work.

Each of the resulting films, and one hopes there will be some more, is more than an act of therapy. It is a warning shot to governments everywhere, all the more potent for its obscurity.

If Warhol said art is what you can get away with. This is art which lets non-art people get away with the unthinkable: riot, destruction, nihilistic frenzy and revolution.

It is at once the most artful and the least artistic thing in Bloomberg New Contemporaries, this year. Don’t wonder how it will all end. One doubts even Senn knows that.

So, as the flier says, to arrange a session please email: info@justletgo.ch

Bloomberg New Contemporaries can be seen in the World Museum, Liverpool until 26 October 2014. It will be seen again, in a varied form, at the ICA, London, between 26 November to 25 January 2015.


Andrea Slater, If You Can Spass With Yoghurt You Can Spass With Caviar (2012)

Few sights can be as alienating as a group of healthy grown adults spassing out in imitation of the most retarded members of our wider society.

Such scenes are the enduring images of a 1999 film by Lars Von Trier called The Idiots. The Danish director’s community of spass-ers act out one mentally backwards flashmob after another.

Parallels can be drawn with a group art show, such as the one at CAC in Brighton, in which five artists are presented at one remove through a spassed up film by Andrea Slater.

The Idiots du jour, who occupy the subterranean gallery for just four days are, in no order, Mike Stoakes, Huw Bartlett, Daniella Norton, Josh Uvieghara and Lou Allison.

Having been sent works by all of the above, Slater appears to have displayed them in her home, then gone into a spasm of video art.

The camera pans up down and around taking us on a dizzying id-driven gallery tour. We can all spass, like Slater who “saw the banality of her experience and loved it” (cf. gallery notes).

Von Trier’s film provides the soundtrack, with quotations chosen to highlight the Utopian potential of this truly bad taste behaviour.

And as things get nude in Von Trier’s film, so they do when Allison paints direct onto photos of the great and the good, including Sepp Blatter, Pope Benedict XVI, Nick Clegg.

And then there is Stoakes’ collage Would You Adam and Eve It which brings in Massacio to reference the lost paradise. As if Eden was one big spassfest, which perhaps it was.

Paradise is also shortlived at Community Arts Centre, Brighton, since this film, which opened Saturday closes later today (21/11/12).


Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want

Unrelated photo: Piers Allardyce

In her much-talked about retrospective, the first piece of art is not by Tracey Emin. Nor does it seem much like a work of art. Despite the frame, it is clearly also a letter from her father.

Halfway through the show is another work in which the art is hard to discern. This is a video piece called Conversation with my Mum (2000). It does what it says on the tin.

It’s been noted elsewhere that Emin is the subject of Emin’s show. Most surely know by now most of her biography. And that biog is the message, however impressive the range of media here.

There could be something in the water near Margate. Despite differences and the accusations of copying, the outputs of Emin and onetime lover Billy Childish appear to run parallel.

First there is the confessionalism, an impulse you surely either have or you don’t. It cannot all be learned behaviour. Then there is the gesamtkunstwerk of painting, drawing, writing, film, etc.

But the reason Emin is now the bigger player in the art world is not just because she moved into the conceptual arena but, equally, because she wears the former tendency better as a female artist.

Personal statements and feminist art have gone together since (at least) the 1970s, when Mary Kelly made her landmark work about pregnancy and the early years of motherhood.

Of course, we now have some real artists of autobiography, the non-conceptual celebrities who spin out their life stories in regular installments to an eager audience. It’s a thin line.

You may point out that Emin can draw and has read some philosophy. The Exhibition Guide says so. But what a strange and interesting show this would be if she couldn’t or hadn’t.

Love is What You Want is at Hayward Gallery, London, until 29 August 2011. I got the above image from Wikipedia Commons licence as photography was not permitted. But it seems to fit.


Whitstable Biennale/Persistence of Vision/Wolfgang Tillmans

Here’s another round up of my week’s output for Culture24. Happy reading…


Francis Alÿs/James White/Clare Twomey/Surreal Friends

Here’s a round up of the pieces I wrote for Culture24 last week. Enjoy!


Francis Alÿs: Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing)

The art of Francis Alÿs is a reflection of political realities. In this film he pushes a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City for six or seven hours until it melts. On the same streets, thousands of locals spend their days pushing, carrying or towing wares or chattels. The results are the same: nothing to show for all the hard work.

But Alÿs does have something to show for it, a five minute film. And in a work called Ambulantes I and II, he also gives the street traders and removal men their due. Physical labour has given rise to art, if not profit, but what good is that to people who earn a living by the sweat of their brow?

The piece is called Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads To Nothing), as if Alÿs were making a point about the futility of art. And yet this is not merely art about art. The routines of manual workers are just as much of a praxis and must at most times feel just as paradoxical.

Compared with such hardship the artwork melts away; the city absorbs it and the viewer, whoever they may be, can see those hot, dusty streets as if for the first time. And that is something.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception is at Tate Modern until 5 September.


Preview: A Horse Walks Into A Bar at Castlefield Gallery

Exhibition: A Horse Walks Into A Bar, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, June 18 – August 8 2010

That a non-domestic animal in a pub should occasion hilarity tells us something about our relationship with nature. The proverbial horse in a bar is an old joke.

Perhaps the nine artists in this group show at Castlefield Gallery can persuade us that we should take animals more seriously, or at least supply an original punchline.

Using video, painting, photography, sculpture and performance, the show promises to work away at the boundaries between the human and non-human living worlds.

The role of animals is here considered in many spheres, such as regal portraits, mass produced imagery, the entertainment industry and myth.

Contributors include Turner-prize winning artist Mark Wallinger, who once dressed as a bear to roam the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin for one of art’s better gags.

Meanwhile two photographers on show include Corey Arnold, who worked in Alaska as a fisherman, and Richard Billingham, whose unflattering family snaps caused controversy at the Barbican in 1994.

The response from art collective UHC is also no laughing matter. They have invited 100 members of the public to get unique tattoos of the 100 most endangered species in the UK.

Other artists to feature in this intriguing bestiary include Andrew Bracey, Lorraine Burrell, Maddi Nicholson, Dan Staincliffe and Chiz Turnross. So surely one can tell us, why the long face?

Written for Culture24.


Review: Underwater at Towner

Exhibition: Underwater, Towner, Eastbourne, until June 20 2010

In the landscapes paintings of Eric Ravilious, the South Downs look like green waves in a rough sea, at least they do so after a visit to Underwater at Towner.

The Eastbourne gallery has a reputation for landscape art and the local painter is one of many whose downland works feature in the permanent collection.

Ravilious doesn’t qualify for the new show, which takes the boundaries of the landscape genre and drags them into the depths. But it might have pleased him that his hometown can now stake a place on the UK map of contemporary art.

The big name at the current show is Bill Viola, whose 2005 video Becoming Light turns a non-specific body of water into an inky blue starry night.

Floating just below and occasionally above the surface are an entwined couple whose struggle to remain buoyant resembles an improvised dance. They come up for air and look ecstatic. They sink away from the camera out of sight and end life as a luminous bubble of oxygen, or perhaps carbon dioxide.

In a second video, by Dorothy Cross, the artist films herself afloat among a swarm of jellyfish. This is a nude, as much as a landscape, and a scene of painful exposure. But the creatures appear not to harm her. They merely investigate, along with our gaze.

Klaus Osterwald also takes us below the surface of a lake, with a five speaker audio installation. Donatus Subaqua reveals a mysterious world of noisy fish, bubbling gases and overheard human calls. Space, depth and topography are rendered in sound.

Another subaquatic landscape is provided by Seunghyn Woo, whose plaster and wire mesh sculptures look both organic and alien. Dripped with acrylic the colour of exotic milkshakes, they get even more interesting close up, like coral.

Perhaps the underwater realm is, after all, unknowable. Detailed photographs of the sea bed here, taken by Daniel Gustav Cramer, show it as dark, murky and utterly impenetrable. Eric Ravilious would surely have been fascinated.