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

James Coleman, Untitled (2011-15)

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It surprises me that the artist filmed this himself. It looks like a degraded home movie, out of focus, a bit over exposed. But no, it’s an afternoon of fieldwork into a four second loop.

Indeed, it is a loop within a circular loop. The carousel offers what Nietzsche might have recognised as an eternal return, a moment worth affirming from now until the end of time.

Funfair rides do slow down, eventually. But this glitchy slice of the merry-going-round, which plays back over and over, suggests infinite repetition and a Dionysiac commitment to pleasure.

The soundtrack is an insistent techno throb, far removed from the cries of fear and joy one associated with a fair. It is an echo of the generator rather than the barker and the disco truck.

So there appears to be nothing humanist about the delivery of this experience. The film deals in machinery and a cosmic pulse, rather than happy memories and domestic home movies.

But for all that, the forms lack definition. The expressions of fear and joy are masks rather than faces to whom we might relate. The masks takes us all the way back to Greek drama.

Maybe this blog post is spinning out of control, but might we not see the riders as a masked chorus who can only comment on the conflicting forces of gravity and centrifugal pull.

There is really something frightening here, something that scares me about funfairs in general. And it has nothing to do with rusting bolts and prejudiced feelings about travellers.

The funfair is a factory for inducing hedonistic thrills by the relentless burning of diesel; it is a crude apparatus for moving bodies in all directions through space. Weird, or what?

James Coleman was at Marion Goodman, London, between the 4th March to 16 April 2016.


Corinna Spencer, Portrait of a Lady (2015)

corinna spencer

There is something maddening about Corinna Spencer’s installation. Her 1,000 portraits have a compulsive, destructive streak which would surely destroy the mental equilibrium of any sitter.

The lady in question is already disintegrating. Eyes look out from somewhere behind the face. The lipstick is smeared on quick, perhaps as if for a public appearance in Bedlam.

Each board is 21 by 15 cm, a modest size. But there is nothing modest about their cumulative effect. The artist has spoken about her interest in obsessive love. Well, here it is, grandly embodied.

It was Gertrude Stein who once claimed there was no such thing as repetition. And yet the pre-eminent American writer made a specialism of repetitive literary portraits. Why should this be?

Unlike landscape, the face generally contains half a dozen similar features in a similar arrangement. A spot of flâneurism will confirm that urban life is an endless procession of this essential pattern.

Spencer’s own brand of portraiture is somewhere between the impressionistic or visually fleeting and the expressionistic or psychological. We are possibly too late to use the relative ‘isms’.

Above all, it is monomaniacal. In an interview with Yvette Greslé, the artist claimed her four figure sum of portraits represented “a reasonable number of paintings”.  But no, 1,000 is a crazy number.

Really, it is “the madness of art”, to quote Henry James, whose own, Portrait of a Lady, another epic example of portraiture, appeared, much like these paintings, in serial form. So many quotes today…

As John Cage said of music: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

Spencer has never been boring. But it’s fair to say she is getting more and more interesting as she expands on monolithic series like this one, a fascinating, skewed take on traditional portraiture.

Portrait of a Lady can be seen at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery until 17 January 2016.