Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Touch the Video Art

There's an American game show called Touch the Truck (sometimes known as Hand on the Hardbody) in which contestants stand around a truck with one one hand touching it and attempt to remain in this position until, one by one, they can't stand it any longer and the last person left is declared the winner. It is, as it sounds, an appallingly stupid idea and an even worse game show.
But I'm reminded of it tonight, standing in the first floor of Dicksmith gallery watching some video art. It's a film piece by Meiro Koizumi. It shows a man dressed in what looks like homemade space clothes and surrounded by a similarly shoddily built space environment. There's a woman in the scene too (above) in a silvery dress. The man begins a lengthy series of questions in a dull voice, along the lines of, 'Can you see their shiny little eyes? Can you see their brothers and sisters? Can you see their dirty shirts?' to which the girl in the shiny suit replies, to each one, 'Yes, Captain,' in a a voice that sounds like it is being fed through a vocoder rescued from the 1980s. It is excruciatingly dull and tideous to watch.
But I decide I'm going to stay in this little room and watch it right the way through - or at least longer than anyone else.
There's only one chair in the room and there's a geezer sitting on it that I think is Carl Freedman. I'm standing. I'm touching the truck. People come and go. The questions on the screen continue. The answer to each remains the same, 'Yes, Captain.' There is me standing, Carl Freedman sitting on the chair and two girls sitting on the floor. Everyone else who was here when we started has gone. Others have joined, but it's just the four of us now with our hands on the truck. The two girls get up and walk to the wall just behind me and start fiddling with another smaller video projection on the wall. I move around the space. Freedman isn't giving an inch. He's hardly even breathing. The piece comes to an end. Nothing much happened. Me and Freedman watch the credits. I'm ready to go but still Freedman sits there. I'm terrified he might just sit through the whole thing again. And I can't face all those questions and that 'Yes Captain' again. But I gotta touch the truck, man, I gotta touch the truck. So here we go again. The man, the girl, the questions, the answers. And finally, he's up and out the room.
I go upstairs. There's another video playing. There are many more people in this room. Too many: I can't get in. There's some laughter and beard stroking. It definitely looks like this is the better piece, but I just can't get in to see it. I wander downstairs again.
I could wait, I think, but...
I decide to head on. As I'm leaving I pass a girl on her phone; 'Yeah, I'm at the gallery now. Pitfield Street. You know: Pitfield Street. Come along there...'
Whenever I'm out there's always someone in a gallery giving directions. The east end is full, every night, of people on phones either directing or being directed, either lost or at the destination. But it's the east end - everyone is looking for something. The New. The Next. The First. Everyone is going somewhere they haven't been before. This is the east end being discovered and claimed before our very eyes. We are just trying to get somewhere. And if we are lucky and we've found it, then we are trying to get our friends there too.
This was my first visit to Dicksmith. It's taken me a long time to finally come along here. I think that's partly to do with the shows not getting talked up much by the crowds I know and partly because, and this really is quite the most bizarre thing, but every time I've seen the name I've always thought: Why isn't it called Dick Smith Gallery? Like the name should properly be spelt. Why have they done that with the name? And because of this, and because it confused and slightly irritated me, I've tended to quietly push the place to the bottom of my list...
How fucked up is that? Pull yourself together Russellherron, I think, and get on with it.
I slip past the bearded group of people crowded outside the gallery and head down Pitfield Street and onto Old Street and along to The Reliance.
Here's another place I've never been (it's obviously that kind of night). It's the sister gallery of The Approach. They are both above pubs.
I go in and climb up into the gallery. It's show of work by Eva Berendes and Florian Baudrexel called Chess.
There's about four people standing in the gallery. Pretty quiet, I think, and then realise that probably most people are actually downstairs, in the bar, where the beer is. Ah, yes, of course. I wander round. It's quite austere. There's an angular sculpture and a curtain. There are some shapes made of polystyrene. I look through the file of photos of work. The photos look better than the things in the gallery. I'm not quite sure why this is.
It's been an odd little night and I decide I'm not going to push my luck so start to head home.
Outside on the street I bump into Simon Ould. He's just come from Dicksmith too. He was in the upstairs room, watching the video that people were laughing at. Simon recounts the entire story of the piece.
Here is what I remember of what he said.
It starts with the camera on the artist. He is wearing a red shirt and has his face painted silver. Then there is another man, also wearing a red shirt, but not with a silver face. He is Dutch. He is from Amsterdam. He is going to tell us about a sad story. The artist, who is now the director of this scene, stops the man and asks him to adjust the angle of his head so that the camera can see the scar that's on his forehead. He does and then continues. He says that the story is of his life. He met a girl and was blissfully happy. They married. He started to drink. The director stops him again. Your face, he says, is so sad. This is a sad story but your face needs to be lighter. The man says he will tell the story in the form of a poem. The director says not to do this as poems are sad and the story is sad enough already. The man looks unhappy about this. The director then gives him an instrument of some sort to hold in his hand. It is a poorly made object with bits of silver foil attached to it. The man holds it for a while and begins his story. The director interrupts him again and says, no, no, that isn't working. Try this. He hands him a tennis racquet on which is painted a hand. He asks the man to wave the racquet up and down so that the hand appears to be waving. The man continues his story. The director tells him to stop, that this isn't working either. He takes the racquet away. You need to have your face painted, he says. The camera then cuts to a few moments later and the Dutchman looking at the camera, his face now covered in black marker pen shapes, defining a large toothy mouth around his own and big, black eyes.
The man continues his story. Finally the director appears behind the man and shouts (at this point, standing on Old Street, Simon does indeed shout, loudly and about five times in a row. I wonder what people are thinking). Then it ends.

That's what I remember of what he told me.
He also mentions that this video piece shares a certain Oriental flavour with a piece he himself is planning to do on Friday at an event featuring a whole bunch of people like Calum F Kerr, Gavin Turk, etc etc. Simon says he has a book he stole from somewhere and a toy emu that he bought from a market and together these elements will be used by him, whilst wearing a cereal box on his head, and reciting a song called OLD MAN EMU - the original words of which he has downloaded - to perform a piece. He says he has been studying Japanese theatre - well, reading about it, sort of - Noh and Kabuki - and he has been struck by how the job of the actors is to make the audience move from one emotion to the next. He recognises that using an old emu and a cornflake box may make this difficut but he does seem committed to the idea.
As we say our goodbyes I wonder how many people will be touching the truck at the end of Simon's performance.


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