Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bargain Basement

I'm walking through the door of 96 Teesdale Street and the first thing I see is Liam Scully, standing on a little stage belting out a karaoke version of Bowie's Let's Dance. All around the space, covering the walls like a bank of TV screens showing warped up versions of daytime/celebrity/reality programmes are his drawings. This is his event at E:vent - a sale of his works to try and raise money to reunite him with his wife. For reasons that I don't understand she has had to return to Australia and he is fundraising to get her back, or to go out there and bring her back. Or something. Whatever it is, it involves love, separation, and then possible resolution. But like I say, I'm not too sure. His works are being sold off at the knock down price of £20 each.
Anyway, he's singing Let's Dance and Dallas Seitz is recording him with a camera and Matt from Vague is there and we say hi.
The lovely Kate Street is there and I say hi to her and Brian Reed is there too and we have a chat. He has some work in the latest issue of Flux magazine and more stuff coming up in the next issue of cabinet; then a show he's curated here at E:vent and then a show at Seventeen. I'm a big fan of his work. We talk for a bit about work and stuff and about Liam's work and Brian points to the work he's bought and I say I'm buying too but I haven't decided. Although saying that, I realise that my eye was taken pretty early on by a drawing of Amy Winehouse, legs apart, showing it off, and with a caption saying Amy Cunthouse. I'm a big fan of Amy Winehouse and this piece branded itself in my brain as soon as I saw it so I reckon I have to have that. Then, one of the other more scratchy, scribbly ones. Ah yes, this one about I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. That's the one. Kate says she was thinking about that one, but wasn't sure about it having Jordan in it. 'Although, actually, I really quite like her,' she says, like she's confessing to killing children. All the works here are pretty much concerned with popular TV shows: Celebrity, Big Brother, Trisha - all of them down with enough scratchy lines to make you think there's a real anger underneath all this. But an anger at what, I wonder? It would be odd to spend so much time drawing and writing about that which you don't like. These drawings may seem critical of what they portray but I'm not convinced. Mostly people get angry about those things which they can't allow themselves to like. Seems to me Liam has a lot of time for all this trash.
Dallas comes up with Matt. They have bought five of these works. Dallas is laughing and screeching. Then he gives me a look. 'Look at him,' he whispers, pointing towards me, 'he's just looking for something to blog. Just looking for material. Searching, searching, searching, all the time...'
I say Dallas should give the karaoke a go. That would make the blog, I say.
I'll pay you. Five quid if you go and sing.
'Are you kidding, dude,' he says, 'no way, like, no way.'
I chat some more to Brian. I go off and buy the Amy Cunthouse work and another one.
There's still a bit of Karaoke going on, and someone tells a bad joke about an elephant having sex with a mouse.
I figure I might head off.

Scully pics

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tom Morton and Tom Morton's Mum and Dad

I'm at Cubitt, looking at some art from the 1970s by Rose Scott and Jack Morton, or, to give them, for this show, their more relevant and, shall we say, more meaningful names: Tom Morton's Mum and Dad. Tom (above) has curated a show of his parents works stretching from the 70s to, so it says on the press material, the present day. It all looks fairly old and dated though; like relics. But, whatever, we are not here to look at the art at all, really. We are here to understand the back story, because this is a show that is not really being shown. Or, maybe, the work on show is only a small part of the show. It also includes the information in the press release, the interview with Tom by the Wrong Gallery, Tom's position as a curator, the current artworld, the last twenty years of curatorial practice, the past lives and histories of Tom, Rose and Jack, and conceptual recontextualising.
The details are these: Tom parent's married in 1970, they both worked as art teachers and produced their own work that was exhibited in the Cambridge area. They separated in 1982 and divorced in 1985. Tom answers questions on the separation and divorce in the accompanying information and you can read the full interview here. The show, of course, is really about Tom. Or about the curator Tom Morton and the questions that are still up in the air about curating. Tom has said, and I'm sure he won't mind me dredging up this particular quote (ok, actually, he probably will, but, he said it, so tough), that 'I am no more an artist than I am a plumber.' Well, I'd say this show suggests that he could, at a push, install a toilet or unblock a drain. Probably couldn't quite put in a whole new central heating system, but there's still time. The whole artist/curator thing has been rumbling on for a while now - and I think, still has quite a way to go - but Tom's show here really is the curator stepping into a relational dynamic with the work on show that we would more comfortably associate with the sort of position taken by an artist.
But the truth of it is, that, despite myself, and the fact that Tom always seems to wear his shirts unbuttoned very low on his chest like some cheesy 70s actor, I really quite like this show. And I know I really like it because it sort of annoys and irritates me. It's too clever clever and too gestural and, in many ways, only as good as the idea behind it, but I do really like it. I like thinking about it. And it's a very rewarding show if you like thinking...
I'm talking to Bettina Brunner who works at Cubitt. We talk about Jens Hoffmann and Jens replacement at the ICA, Mark Sladen, and we talk about Rob Bowman who is also a curator there and we talk about the ICA in general. Bettina worked there for a while in the exhibitions department so she knows the score.
I also see Simon Ould there. You see, I told you: he is at everything nowadays. 'It's because I have nothing else to do,' he says, genuinely and sadly. He fishes a newspaper out of his pocket. 'Did you see MM in this?' he asks. MM is his name for Mark McGowan. There's a picture of Mark in the paper, on all fours with a George Bush mask over his face. This is a work he's doing in New York, asking people to give him a big kick up the backside. 'That was taken in London, though,' says Simon. Behind Mark, in the picture, is a girl, carrying, rather ostentatiously I now realise, a plastic bag with I Heart NY on it. Simon talks about being in MM's shadow and that it's time he moved out of this and made some stuff on his own. 'I've always been the prop maker for Mark - or the prop. Remember when he did that piece about kicking a crack addict along the street? I was the crack addict,' he says. I've also seen him being the gambler in Gambler Eats a Horse - in which he had to eat a lot of horse meat and cover himself in horseradish sauce. And in other things, usually as the stooge to Mark's showman. Like the Ernie Wise to Mark's Eric Morecambe. It's high time he stepped out of all that.
Asking him if he's always worked with Mark gets me the answer that he first met him at Camberwell College and ignored him for the first six months and then struck up a friendship and then they worked together. He also goes on to tell me a long story about meeting Harry Pye for the first time. Initially he was given a flyer by Harry for the Peter Cook Appreciation Society. Then 6 months later he was looking at some work in Winchester, I think, and it was Harry's work - pens and pencil sharpeners with little cut out Harry Pyes on them and then he met him and said: 'Ah, so you are the world famous Harry Pye!'
Then he talks a lot about cardboard and footballers buying art, but I don't think I quite follow this.
Anyway, we move on. I say goodbye to Bettina and head off. It's pouring with rain and I am thinking about the show and Tom's mum and dad's work and then about Harry and his show and him including those paintings he did when he was five and then I think about shows in which the archive becomes the work and how the representation of a subjective reality becomes the basis for a historical documentation. And then my head starts to hurt.

mum and dad pics

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Right Pile of Wank

Up to Sadie Coles place on Heddon Street and new work from John Bock. You have to like Bock. Not least because it's always a treat to see his remarkably striking and attractive face in his video and photographic works. And all that madcap stuff he does. And for Bock groupies tonight there is indeed a video piece here. One of the gallery girls is telling someone how good it is. 'It is 59 minutes long, but it is really good.' I squeeze into the crowd that is watching this piece and take in a couple of minutes. Bock is doing something with a vase of flowers in the grounds of a house. He looks great, but standing up against the back wall behind a load of other people coming and going is really not the way to be watching 59 minutes of video so I sneak off. There's an old scooter in the main space, with what looks like a large octopus made out of swatches of brightly coloured clothing beside it on the floor. I can't work out if they are supposed to be connected in some way. Also, the scooter has had the left handgrip removed and replaced with some contraption which now has a different sort of handgrip on a long lever, too far out to be comfortable to ride, surely. I head upstairs. For some reason the door on the next level is closed and people are walking past, up the stairs to nowhere then coming back down and wondering what's going on. I slightly nervously push the door, wondering what's going on myself. But it's fine. The office is still there and that extra, slightly awkward, space for further work is still there. Inside are two works on paper, with scribbling and notes and drawings and photos of Bock riding the weird scooter. There's also an assemblage with an old bar stool which looks exactly like something Graham Hudson had on Chelsea parade ground.
On the way out I see Mathieu Copeland, which is handy as I need to get some more copies of his curatoral project/magazine, Perfect - a magazine printed with white ink on white paper.
Then it's over to Associates in Hoxton Street.
Even before Ryan Gander says, 'That's the artist, over there,' and points to a girl dressed in a red tracksuit top, who's been laughing her head off with her mates since I came in, I knew it had to be her. She's big, loud, and has a dirty laugh which bursts out her mouth like a drunk falling through a pub door. She's brilliant.
It makes me laugh just being near her. She's down from Leeds and she's brought her mates with her and they're all having a laugh too. The gallery looks a total mess, though, like a gang of asbo friendly kids had been let in with a load of paper nicked from a nearby primary school. There are huge blob-like photocopies of what may be turds, genitals, bananas or just shapes, with big stupid smiles and dumb eyes stuck on them. There's some crappy silver foil sculptures, there's - wait a minute, what is all this stuff? Let's ask Josephine to talk us through it. 'Well, I like tin foil, don't I?' she gurgles. I point at things. 'What's that?' I ask. 'It's a croissant, isn't it, on it's side. You probably can't see that. It looks shit, doesn't it? No one thinks it looks like a croissant.'
'And those teeth at the back of the gallery?' I say, pointing to a scrappily stuck together laser copy of someone's teeth. 'Put teeth in Google and that's the first image that comes up,' she says and pulls out another big, thick laugh. 'I was a bit scared about it tonight, you know. I thought people were gonna come down and say this is a right pile of wank, isn't it? What is this shit? Anyway,' she continues, 'this is me mate Katie, she's come down today.' 'Hello, Katie,' I say and take her photo. 'Fuckin' look at that. You look good there,' she says to Katie when I show her the photo. Then we all laugh together for a bit.
I take Josephine's photo too. She obviously doesn't enjoy this and pulls a face. That's her at the top. It may be one of the best photos I've ever taken of an artist.
Anyway, I don't think anyone here thinks this is a pile of wank. I overhear at least two people use the phrase 'breath of fresh air' in relation to the show. More like a fucking tornado, though, I think. She has filled the gallery with work that just makes me smile. It's awesome. It's a show of pure energy and of a deep interest in what it means to be an artist. I haven't seen anything like this for years. It makes me think of the stuff Sarah Lucas did at the start. That enormous energy that blasted through everything she did. There's a slightly different motor behind this tonight, but no less fierce and powerful.
Later I am talking to Ryan and he mentions an earlier work she's done, where she bandaged her hands for her graduation ceremony. And suddenly, it clicks. This is another work I've loved, but had never connected the names. And now I do. If you don't know that work, there's a picture of it here. At the end of her course, on graduation day, she bandaged her hands and kept them like that for the ceremony and the photograph. It's a shocking, hilarious, angry, passionate, sophisticated, clever and stupid piece of work, that doesn't sit easily into any real genre. But what a work.
And if you too want to join the Josephine Flynn Fan Club you would do well to check out the interview that Ryan does with her here and some of her videos here.
In fact, the interviews that Ryan and Rebecca Mmmmmmmm have been recording with the artists in this gallery are all excellent. Honest, genuine, revealing.
Associates is finding an incredibly rich seam for their programme. It's an important little space.
It's just a shame that tonight's show was such a pile of wank...

Bock and Flynn pics

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Knives are out at Rokeby

Pearce's brother is at the bar. We have a chat. Behind us the wall is dripping with blood and there's a chainsaw on the ground. Upstairs I had to pass a table of knives and knuckledusters. I also noticed a knife resting in a blood soaked sheet. But I'm not worried. Because this is Craig Fisher's show and however much blood gets spilled, splattered and spurted on the walls, it's not real. It's all made of fabric.
As I'm getting a drink I see Ellie Harrison and Adele Prince. They are on their way down to the ICA for Jo Mitchell's re-enactment of the 1984 Einsturzende Neubauten gig - when they had the power pulled on them for drilling into the stage. We say hello and then they have to head off.
I saw Craig's show here last year, when he had made an entire car out of fabric, crashing into the gallery wall. This show seems a little more restrained, despite the blood. The press release suggests that there is some sort of narrative at work, but I'm not at all sure about this. I think I'm missing something. Is there a torture scenario going on? There's a chair halfway down the stairs in that curious little hallway just by the toilet. The chair is made of fabric too. Some kind of premeditated killing? Whatever, Craig can certainly stitch. The knives and the table on which they lay, the knife in the blood soaked sheet and the chainsaw and blood spurts on the wall are exquisitely produced.
Outside I see Simon Ould. We chat. He talks, as he often does, about an upcoming show or piece of work or some strange project that he is involved in with Mark McGowan. I've noticed that Simon is at many of the openings I go to. I think he may always have been there but I've only just noticed this.
I also talk to Beth Greenacre. She is just back from Rotterdam and heading off again tomorrow to join Ed in New York for the Pulse art fair. It's a busy time for gallerists.
We talk a bit about this blog, and about history. Beth talks about having been a student just down the road from where we are and walking along this street, with the weight of art history pressing down on her, never realising that she would one day be running a gallery of her own on this very street. I tell her about sometimes wishing that it were possible to reach thru time, momentarily, for like a few seconds, maybe, to a younger self and being able to offer some words of reassurance or help or support. Occasionally I find myself walking along Whitechapel Road, near where I used to live years ago. It was a devastating and depressing time (for many reasons, and I shan't bore), but whenever I'm there, I almost expect to see my younger self turning out of Cavell Street, looking down at the ground, hunched, unhappy, wishing that life wasn't the way it was. And as this younger self walks along, this me of now, this happier me who knows that the story ends ok, holds out a hand and says, it will be alright. It won't always be like this. It will pass and you will be happy.
Well, whatever...
You never know what's going to happen - or how life will be.
I give a little sigh. Poor Beth, I'm not sure she wanted quite as much detail as all this.
Maybe it was the sight of all that blood...

Fisher pics

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hot and Cold in Hackney

One minute I'm talking to Tom Humphreys in the basement of flaca, the next I'm standing, abruptly, in complete pitch blackness. The lights have all gone out. I reach out and grab Tom's arm. 'What's going on?' I ask the black nothingness in front of me.
'It's -'
The lights come back on.
'- art.' says Tom, calmly.
The lights go off and on throughout the night. They are on a timer. Tom says they're on for the length of time the artist, Mandla Reuter, has calculated it takes to look at the show. I wonder how he calculated that? It could be useful to know for future use - how long it takes to look at any show? I wonder too - does this include thinking time? Does it imply a certain way of looking? In fact, this subtle, but noticeable piece, makes me ask a lot of little questions. I look at Tom. 'Nothing as gauche as a press release to accompany this show, I guess?' He shakes his head, 'Ooh, no,' he says. 'There is some text though, upstairs, near the door. The artist is up there. You'll see him: tall, brown hair, pacing around, chain smoking.'
'OK,' I say. 'And you. You also have some work at Keith Talent tonight?'
'Yes.' He thinks for moment. 'A very cool show,' he says. 'And I don't mean cool as in...I mean icy cool. Cold.'
Yeah. Lisa Penny was cold. Then she was hot. Then she was cold again. Earlier I saw her outside 1000000mph on Old Bethnal Green Road. Too much drink the night before, now suffering, hot and then cold. Couldn't cope with it inside - too, too hot - so is standing outside on the pavement. We have a chat. Don't put this on your blog, she says, but...(people always say this now. 'Here's something, but you can't put it on your blog.' And there will be another two people tonight who say the same thing to me. It's a wonder I actually have anything left to write at all...) Anyway, back to 1000000mph. Or rather, hello for the first time! Regular readers will know the Herculean task it has been to get on the mailing list and now finally, a favourable constellation has brought my schedule and their private view into alignment. I'm also glad to be here as it's the launch of Vague issue 2 and even more pleased because I know that the show has some Sarah Baker work in it - and I'm a big fan.
I go in, leaving Lisa, going hot and cold, outside.
It's packed, naturally. It's loud and busy and there is some art on the walls but hardly visible behind everyone. There are two pallets worth of Vague magazine. Matt, who edits the paper, is there and so too Dallas, who runs this space. He's in his element. I lift my camera to take a shot. He sticks out his tongue, screws up his face. Also there is, hey wow, is that....? Well, yes it is, it's Sarah Baker herself (above). I say hello and introduce myself and she looks at me thinking who is this guy and I ask to take her photo and say I write an online diary of shows and then she knows who I am because it turns out she read what I wrote about her before and suddenly, in her eyes, I go from being weird pervert guy who might kill her slowly in a cellar at some point to ok guy who likes her work and can string a sentence together and, then I say, as further reassurance: 'I'm a friend of Dallas.' 'Oh,' she says, 'I didn't know you were his friend.'
'Isn't everyone a friend of Dallas?' I say.
'Well, yeah, sure,' she laughs. 'Or I guess you are either for him or against him.' I nod in agreement. He seems pretty popular tonight, though, with this crowd. There's always a crowd not far from Dallas. I wonder if Dallas has ever experienced standing in an empty room?
Sarah has some work in this new issue of Vague and also some flyposted up in the gallery. It's great stuff. Undiluted, unapologetic and unafraid to be what it is. In these pieces she is wearing her sunglasses with her familiar signature across the lenses and she's all all blinged up and behaving like a starlet. Her work, of course, suits a magazine format. Part art star, part celebrity in her own right, she happily plays with branding and surface and celebrity and glamour and fashion and icons and image and logos and identity. Phew. But she offers no easy critique of all this stuff; merely posits her own contruct in its place. Perhaps she's trying to see how far this can go. Perhaps it goes all the way. I guess, yet, we none of us know what her work could be. Much of the time what she does doesn't even look like art. How good is that?
In the basement of flaca though I am clearly looking at some art. There are electrical bulbs across the floor, a door with one end jammed up against the wall, the other end on the floor, against a book called What A Life by Georg Herold. This work is by, I think, Haegue Yang. I go upstairs and see the tall, brown haired, pacing, smoking Mandla Reuter. I find the text Tom referrred to. It is four titles on a piece of paper. This at least means that I now know the lights going on and off is called Time Has Ceased Space Has Vanished (and not: Work No.227: The lights going on and off). But there's no other information on the paper. 'It does have the address of the gallery printed on it,' says Tom helpfully '... but I guess you already know that.' I do know that. Yes. The lights continue to go on and off and upstairs I notice that there is a hatch opened up in the ceiling and, just visible through it, a large speaker from which some confused sounds are emanating and dropping down onto the gallery like drops of water from a leaking pipe. There's also a large photograph fixed to the wall. An indistinct, shadowy form. It looks like art and it sounds like art. But it all seems a little bleak.
As I leave, heading north towards Keith Talent, Woodeson phones and says he's heading south and do we want to meet? We schedule a meeting at Talent.
On arriving I see him and also one of the Keith Talent boys - is it Simon or Andrew, I can neve-
'Fuck's sake, that pisses me right off. This fucking 'is it Andrew, is it Simon' shit. Fucking hell, man. You're fucking taking the piss, you fucker. You and your fucking blog, it fucking pisses me off. If you fucking do that again I'll fucking bottle you, you fucking gobshite.'
I'm guessing here that Simon from Keith Talent isn't very amused.
Or is it Andrew who-
'FUCK. YOU. Stop doing that. And you can put that on your fucking blog too.'
Anyway, we do manage to have a chat. Seems Andrew (or Simon) is often also known as Keith. At art fairs and such, it's sometimes easier for him to be Keith Talent. We chat some more - about Charlie Brooker (who we both love), art.blogging.la and LA art fairs, selling art, Clunie Reid, spliffs and blowjobs, Miser and Now. It's a curious mix.
I go and have a look at the show. It is a little chill, as Tom suggested. There's Tom, Lillian Vaule and Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez in this show. I have no idea who has done what. Some pieces stand out: three reams of sealed photocopy paper are hanging on the wall, with a rectangle gouged out of each one; there is what looks like the back of a frame in its polysterene holder still; there is a badly drawn, glum looking cartoon Pink Panther gesturing with his hand as if to say, this is it, this is what there is. Other pieces sit awkwardly on the walls. Even for a private view there is a looming tension that these works seem to be emitting.
Just as I'm thinking it's time to go I bump into the lovely Lucy Harrison. I've been following a project she's doing down in Canvey with a series of monthly meetings/walks/conversations under the title of the Rendezvous Club. You can check it out HERE. It's a very interesting piece. She tells me about people she's met on these walks, people she's talked to in the community. It all seems a very long way away from the unhappy Pink Panther in the corner.
I think back to Sarah Baker's work. I think about the lights going on and off. I think about white pieces of paper. And I think about walking along with a bunch of people in Canvey on a brisk, light Sunday afternoon.
It has indeed been, like Lisa said, a very hot and cold evening.

hot and cold pics

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Harry Pye, Harry Pye, Harry Pye

Harry Pye can't paint for toffee. I'm looking at some of his work at the opening for his Me, Me, Me show at Sartorial Contemporary Art and I'm thinking, thank you, Harry, because at last, finally, now, I can splutter that staunch old tabloid favorite in my next sentence.
This work looks like it could've been done by a five year old!
(Ah ha!)
Oh no, wait, hang on, sorry, in this case, it actually has been.
The three paintings which hang in the entrance corridor tonight were all painted by Harry when he was about five years old - maybe a year later or so, but not much more than that. They are painted in splodges and daubs of colour and are titled in a teacher's steady and patient hand with things like 'We have P.E. on Monday' and 'Me in my garden'. Later, in the corner of a very crowded (Harry knows a lot of people - he's got over 750 friends on his myspace for a start) and very hot gallery upstairs I ask Harry about them. He confirms they are from his school days and also, and this is just one of those facts which can never leave you once you know, 'that brown blob in the picture is Richard Reid, the shoebomber. We went to the same school.' Sometimes life arranges itself in such a way that you can wonder about yourself, the world and your place in it, simply by a looking at a single moment from your past, while the intervening years explode loudly around you with revelation and horror and surprise. (Later, on the way out, I stand and look at the two blobs in the picture: 'Self portrait with shoebomber' I think).
In the gallery there are lots of Harry's more recent paintings. And despite the twenty five year gap from the ones in the hall they don't look all that different. Except that he has an unusual way of juxtaposing different styles into one image. Oh no wait, hang on, sorry, no he doesn't. 'I get other people to paint the bits I can't,' he says. He points to a small self portrait (that one, just behind his head, up there at the top of this - it's called 'Where's the party?'). He says he did the face then a friend of his, Rowland Smith, drew the cans of Fosters (as you can see from the photo above, Harry does indeed like Fosters). There's also a small blue dog just in the front of the picture with a sausage in its mouth. I think someone else painted that too. It looks too painful... Harry points to other paintings, picks out other peoples work, where they have painted what he felt he couldn't. So, that's what I've picked up with this strange stylistic thing in his paintings before. He didn't actually paint bits of them.
Later on I read the small catalogue which has been published for this exhibition. Harry has written his own essay in it. The prose is innocent, simple, honest, engaging and knowingly naive. Just like his paintings, I think. They are endearing and interesting and they evidence an intelligent and sensitive mind.
In one of his works two fish are swimming along, one saying 'My therapist says I crave recognition rather than actual accomplishment.' You see, Harry's not stupid. He knows what he's doing. As well as all the paintings - there's about twenty of them (and I think he appears in pretty much every single one) - there's an hour of tv that he's made, though the noise of the chattering crowd prevents me from hearing it, and there's his publication, The Rebel, and, although I don't see this anywhere tonight, I know he's also done five copies of a handwritten autobiography, called My Strugggle; and then there's the shows he's curated over the years, the fanzines he's produced (I said before about being interviewed back in the day for Harry Pye's Frank Magazine) and all the other art and writing he's done...
The title of this show is Me, Me, Me. Though I'm not convinced. I don't think Harry's work is really about him. I think Harry's work is about the possible existence of Harry Pye. And in order for Harry Pye to exist he needs to be seen to exist. Painting, television, writing, publishing. It's pretty much all the same in the end, as long as it serves to continue the existence of and propel the ongoing history of Harry Pye. Don't forget those paintings in the hallway. He's got them hanging down there without any sense of irony. I'm not sure there's many other artists that could show their school paintings like this and get away with it. But they are as much a part of 'Harry Pye' as his most recent stuff. They are, in the end, equally valid. It doesn't really matter how Harry paints - or who does the painting - or even if there are any paintings at all for that matter - as long as whatever there is is about the person who is Harry Pye.
In some of the info to the show Harry says: 'Maybe I make the work I do because I'm trying to kill off a part of me I don't like or a person I'm in danger of turning into. The battle is still being fought and I'll only know when the dust settles.'
It's a good quote, but I don't think the dust will ever settle. There's no resolution with identity. The battle itself is who you are.
In the end, Harry Pye, it's all just me, me, me.

Pye pics

Monday, February 12, 2007

Da Da Da...

As you well know, I've been to a lot of private views over the last twelve months - small ones, big ones, some as big as your head, but tonight is the first time I've ever been asked to pay in order to gain entrance. Seriously, no kidding: I actually have to pay to get in, it's not like part of an installation or anything. And the real irony of this, I think, is that the place I'm trying to get into (and the place to which I was invited) is a derelict shop on Tottenham Court Road which is being squatted by a bunch of artists who are putting on a show. Well, what can you say? Yes, that's right, that's exactly what I think about saying - but instead, in the interests of my research, I keep my trap shut, pay my quid fee and walk in.
This is a show organised by DA Gallery - the DA stands for Direct Action - a group of young artists who find empty buildings and squat them to put on art shows. I walk into a dimly lit corridor which has some cotton or similar sort of string threaded across it, from wall to wall, like fake cobwebs. I have to dip my head slightly to avoid getting caught in it, or pulling it out the walls. At the end I walk up a staircase. Everything is dirty and cracked, plaster falling off the walls, holes where light switches used to be now housing claw-like wires holding tiny bulbs. It all looks like a proper squat. Then, on the first floor there's a brightly lit room with some people milling around. There's a girl who looks to be in charge - smartly dressed, clipboard, glasses, hair in a bun, official looking - and a team of boys and girls dressed head to foot in white overalls, as though they are conducting some experiment. There's a long table, a laptop and an industrious air about them. Behind them there are some words painted on the wall: Cows Under No Title (did you see what they did there?). Anyway, you have your photo taken, fill in a form with a few details, then your image and information is printed on a T shirt. In a couple of weeks time they'll email you and tell you where to pick it up. There's a suggestion that it will be a public place and you'll have to get there sharpish to get your own T shirt. I think.
I'm not sure about this. Maybe I'll have a look round at the rest of the show first...
There's another room on this floor, with a small bar, a few bits and pieces of things which may be art and some people miling around or standing looking out of the large window onto Tottenham Court Road. There are a couple of guys fiddling with electrical equipment and a short while later someone starts moving instruments in here too. I guess later there will be music. I head up the stairs. On the next floor there's another room with what looks like more art, though this seems more constructed and thought out. There's a kitchen sink arrangement with plants and tubes and buckets and wood and tape and lots of carrots. A girl is demonstrating its use, a chain reaction which ends with a small guillotine sharply descending and slicing through a carrot. Except in this particular demonstration she forgets the carrot. 'Oh,' she says, finally placing a carrot into the path of the blade, 'here - it will chop it.' She manually raises the blade again and lets it drop. It sticks in the carrot. 'It does usually chop it in two,' she says, wrestling with the blade. I move on. Near this is another contraption with lots of bicycle wheels. I don't know if this does anything. There's no one demonstrating anything here...maybe it just does nothing.
I head up, even further into the building and come across a room with a few chairs and a long hammock like construction. A film is being projected onto the wall. Oh no, I think, video art...
But then, wait, what's this - the film is brilliant. Lots of samples of old fifties and sixties films somehow projected onto little origami like paper trains that are roaring along a track. It's such an original piece of work I can hardly describe it.
It's fast, exciting, innovative, enormously inventive, breathtaking and truly captivating. I sit down. I can't take my eyes off the screen. I wasn't expecting anything of this calibre. When, about 10 minutes later, it finishes I'm so exhilarated I can hardly stop smiling. I can't believe I've just seen such a great piece of work. I scan the credits. It's a film by Virgil Widrich, who I've never heard of and who clearly isn't affiliated to the group of artists in this squat - they are just showing his film. Anyway, it's called FAST FILM and you can watch it HERE.
After this I reckon it'll be difficult to look at much else here. As I leave the room there's a girl with a string puppet mooching around. He doesn't look very happy. And neither am I when I almost put my foot through a hole in the floor. There's a fairly noticeable lack of concern for any health and safety issues about this place. And a minute later, still worrying about this, as I am standing in a room that has been completely covered with carboard, a guy comes through a hole in the wall on his hands and knees almost dropping the cigarette he is carrying. He scuttles past me while I wonder a) how long before the whole thing goes up in flames and b) how granddad here ought not to go to squats anymore...
It's all a bit of fun really. I suspect it's as well to leave your art criticism at the door (along with your pound coin) as this is an attitude, a proclamation, a stance, more than a serious art show. I suspect they'll hate me for saying that, but that's ok, I'm old and they're young - I'm not supposed to understand them.
I make my way back down to the room with the C.U.N.T.s in it and, what the hell, let them take a photo of my face and print it onto a T shirt. Earlier today I met up with someone I hadn't seen for 20 years (which was lovely and amazing) and I give this fact as my 'anything else we should know' answer on the form to commemorate it on the T shirt. I wonder where the T shirt will end up?
I got the invite to this place tonight by a girl called Steph Smith. I feel I should say hello and get a bit more information from her. I ask the girl with the glasses and clipboard if Steph is around. 'Ummm,' she says, 'she should be.' We walk round a couple of the rooms, but don't find her. 'She's wearing a black and white dress, black and grey tights, burgundy shoes...and she has brown hair.'
I spend the next five minutes looking at girls, their dresses and their shoes. None of them fit this description but I do get some rather strange looks myself.
I figure that maybe I have enough information on the evening after all and make my way back down the stairs.
Luckily there's no charge for leaving.

DA pics

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Whiteness of Transition

'Where are you off to tonight, then?' asks Francesca Gavin as she's standing in the queue to pick up her ticket to see Jacques Ranciere speak (I told you she was clever) at the ICA tonight, catching me on the way out and momentarily causing me enough confusion to make me forget where the hell I'm setting off for...
'It's Paradise Row with the Chapmans tonight,' she says.
'Is that tonight?' I say - I didn't know. 'Bloody Hackworth,' I say.
Nick Hackworth's running Paradise Row and even though I saw him the other day and said, look, here's my address, put me on your mailing list, please, he obviously hasn't. Sometimes getting on a list is like trying to get membership for the masons. And talking of mailing lists I ask Francescsa if she can forward me an email address for Ancient and Modern on Whitecross Street which opened a couple of months back but to which I still haven't been and which has no website. Rather scarily she reels an email address off the top of her head. She laughs, 'You know - not that I have all that information in my head all the time...'. She rolls her eyes.
OK, so where was I supposed to be going?
I was off to Transition tonight. I haven't been in months and months and months and I said I'd see Sarah Doyle there to get a dvd of the work she was showing in the So Sad show at Guy Hilton. But Chapmans at Paradise Row, eh? It's a tricky one...
I say goodbye to Francesca and head off.
I go straight to Transition. If I went to Paradise Row, I'd be there, everyone would be there, I'd never get to Transition, it'd all go wrong, yada yada yada...
I get to Regent's Studios and haul up to the second floor, following the crappy marker pen signs, and there's the lovely and glamorous Doyle accompanied by a distinctly nautical looking Olly Beck (he's wearing a a big black coat) on the balcony outside and lots more people inside. Doyle gives me a dvd called Opheliyah. The name is a mash up of Ophelia and Aaliyah. 'It's not very long. You'll watch it and go, is that it?' she says. I have a look round the gallery. It's a show called the Whiteness of the Whale, curated and including work by Nadia Hebson. And the first thing that strikes me going in is how mercifully few pieces of work there are. Group shows at Transition (ok, like, the few I've been to) always seem packed with more works than the space can handle. But tonight is a lot more restrained. There's barely six works in total. And it looks good. The show is inspired/based on/influenced by the novel Moby Dick, a twenty four hour reading of which has already begun. Olly takes up a chapter, standing behind a hurricane lamp in his nautical coat reading away (above). I'm chatting to Sarah. She waves her hand quickly in front of her mouth. 'Sorry,' she says, 'just done a samosa burp.'
Like I said, she's very glamourous.
She takes a sip of white wine (she'll be doing this a lot over the next hour or so...) and throughout the night I keep bumping into her and, during these little meetings, we cover the following subjects:
Essex women, suntans, plastic surgery, self botoxing, farting into jamjars, smiley faces, building things on beaches, mistaken or unknown identities, Mark McGowan's recreation of the 7/7 tube bombing tomorrow and what it looked like today when she was down there, death holes, Critical Friend, Alex Michon's patches, Pete Doherty being filmed stealing a teddy bear, Colonel K and the imminent attack, Calum F Kerr's parasites, scabies and its treatment, and many other really delightful things.
We go and have a listen to Olly reading. Cathy comes to say hello. She's looking lovely and very happy with the show. She points out Nadia Hebson to me (I notice that she is wearing a red coat - what is that with curators suddenly?) and says how nice it's been to work with her. She says that Nadia is a proper painter. Looking at Nadia's work, a ghostly, keening ship on a sea, I have to agree. It's a very accomplished piece. It makes me think of Dorothy Cross's Ghostship - though they share very little in common other than their ghostlike theme. Nadia's painting has both an ethereal presence and the thick, heavy, slow weight of a wooden ship on a roaring sea. You can feel the movement, the creaking of the wood. This central work is balanced by the two other artists in the show. Reece Jones's works are moonlit studies of icebergs and Anna-Karin Jansson shows a couple of video pieces which most of the time I am standing in front of so no one can see. In these pieces, from what I can glance, there is a lake with steam rising from it and some kind of fog filled forest through which animals appear and then disappear. I could have got that wrong, but I'm sure that's the gist. All of it seems totally unsuited to a private view: we are all talking and nattering and getting drinks and crowding about (especially that twat standing in front of the videos pieces) and generally not really taking this quiet, delicate work in. But, I do think that when we all get out of the gallery there's a good show left behind. It's a show of moments and possibilities and things becoming. The monochromes of the pieces (it's a very black and white show) suggest a balance that is shifting between states, but without any clear resolution. The icebergs in the moonlight may eventually melt, or they may continue to freeze; the ship on the storming sea may make it safely to harbour or it may not. The lake breathes steam in the morning sun, but the rains will come; the animals in the forest pass by in the fog. Nothing is certain or fixed or explained. There are no easy answers or directions. We may take a moment here to try and understand something, but these moments reveal nothing - or maybe everything. What more could we say of life, than we are caught in moments whose outcome is continually unknown, whose movement is one way or another, whose meaning can only be guessed at?
Cathy suggests I do a bit of reading of Moby Dick and after listening to a girl ploughing to the end of a chapter I do a stint in which the narrator talks of the joys of sleeping and his growing tolerance for his companion Queequeg's foul smoking habit...
At least I think that was what it was about. Like the ship upon the sea the text is heavy and dense.
Also there tonight is Steve Smith who says he's been hoping to bump into me (we do a lot of the same views) as he has a proposition for a possible show and would I be interested in putting in some work? He says he'll email details and we talk further.
Interestingly I don't seem to talk to him about any of the things I talked to Doyle about...
Except the theme of identity.
Earlier, while I was talking to Doyle a guy came up and said hi to her. She gave him a completely blank look. He persisted. You don't remember me? He cites a show they were in together. Then another. Sarah still has a wonderful blank look on her face. 'No,' she says, 'I really don't remember you.' 'We had a conversation...' he says, clearly, I think, grappling to hold onto his self esteem as it runs like oil through his fingers.
She really doesn't remember him. I catch his eye and mime drinking heavily, nodding my head towards Doyle. She then starts giving me a look too. The guy gives up.
Doyle says that something similar happened the other day. Another guy came up to her and said 'hi' and she gave him a blank look and then said, 'My name's Sarah.' At which point the guy said, 'Oh, I don't know you then.'
Later on I'm talking to Steve about the name pieces I do and about branding and all that and he says, 'Well, maybe Russell Herron isn't your name. Maybe you're really called Bob Davies.'
Later on still Doyle finds me to say, 'Have you seen what they have called you on the list? Have you seen? What they've called you?' (Bare in mind what I said about the white wine earlier...)
It turns out she is talking about a list that Cathy is keeping of all the people who read Moby Dick. We step into the office. 'Look,' says Doyle, 'just after my name -' she points. After her name, someone has written in 'Glasses man'.
So maybe I'm not Russell Herron, nor Bob Davies, but Glasses Man.
(Looking at the running order I think Glasses Man may actually have been Olly, but I can't be sure. If this was the case though, I then end up with no name at all. Or Olly does. I don't know which. Just who is that short sighted superhero, Glasses Man??)
Even later still Doyle says, 'I think I'm a bit drunk.' I mime typing my blog. She looks worried. 'Oh, God, don't tell anyone that I [CENSORED].
So I don't.

Whiteness pics

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mike Kelley at Gagosian

Ah, Mike Kelley. He's the man. The Dude. The Dudester. El Duderino. Yes, indeed, he's really one of the main men of American art from the West Coast 1980's. He's done it. He was there way before anyone else (well, maybe not Paul McCarthy, but that's another story). He was being a Dude.
Ah, yes, Mikey Mikey Mike Kelley.
I'm standing in the huge space that Gagosian calls a gallery. Man, it's a big place. It's full of people in black coats. Us art folk love wearing black. And we like going to private views and standing around with other people wearing black. Black clothing is serious; it tells people who see us that we are serious. It's a cool colour. Plus, it's very slimming, don't you think?
Around the walls in this main room are Mike's drawings. Odd, doodly, disjointed drawings on pieces of paper butted together. They are called the hermaphrodite drawings - exhibiting charateristics of both male and female - or, in some cases here, just entrails and a head. They are weird and I don't get them at all. I look at each one. Then I look in the room off the main space and at some of the sculptural pieces. These I like a lot more. There are about 6 or so pieces in the room. They all have that Mike Kelley art and craft thing that he has going on, but their production is a little tighter, a little more finished. I walk round this room for a while, taking time to study each piece. They are really good, and get better the more I look at them.
I go out of this room, cross the main room and into the other smaller space tonight. Three Mikes and two Picassos. Blimey. Someone's staking out the territory here. I'm not sure this works, though. Is he taking on Picasso? Is there a resonance here? I'm not convinced.
Whatever, I go back to that room with the other sculptures in. There's a figure lying face down on the ground - except he has no face. He's made of straw. He has a red and white checked shirt and a pair of blue dungarees on. That's him in the photo above. Where his back should be is a depressed cube shape. There are some silver studs on the shirt in there and I think they say FRESNO. Or do they? Over there on the wall is another sculpture. This is two feet, vertically diametrically at odds to each other but sharing a single leg that seems to move through female to male. I like this a lot. There's a similar one with a blue and white theme and only a single foot just opposite this. There's a silver sort of torso in the far corner. What the hell any of this is supposed to be saying I don't know, but I can't shake off a feeling of sorrow and loss and a sense that he is dealing with American history. Except it's not how the west was won, but how it was lost. There's also a curious sense of male and female about these sculptures, as though they can't quite decide what they are, or as if they are unformed as yet, or maybe deformed. All these thoughts, ah hah, yes, of course, lead me back to the Hermaphrodite drawings...
Now I'm thinking about America, masculinity, femininity, history, suffering, war...
Well, didn't realise all that was going on when I wandered round in my nice black coat.
I see a few artworld stars in the crowd, and lots of women of a certain age with long blond hair framing faces whose skin has been polished and buffed with wealth and comfortable living for many years. I see the small crowd of bearded men I see everywhere.
And, as I leave, and head off down the street I see Hans Ulrich Obrist. He's striding along, deep in a serious conversation, heading into Gagosian's, wearing the same coat I saw him in the other day.
It is a bright shocking red.

black coat pics

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Christian Marclay? White Cube? Yeah - heard it was AMAZING...

It's been the ruin of many of a poor boy and god knows I'm one, so tonight when the free champagne comes round, poured by an exceptionally agreeable waiter, it is with some relief that I, yes I, am off the drink tonight (alright, steady yourself, there). Unfortunately, though, Lena Nix, my sometime private view bitch, isn't off the drink at all. No siree, she's very much on the drink tonight. So, when it comes to saying goodbye - to our delightful host Nathalie Hambro, for it is at her party in the luxury surroundings of the Soho Hotel for the launch of her book, My London, that we have been served so well with the free bubbles, and yes, canapes, and been chatted to by a simply delightful girl who does PR for the hotel chain - it is not going well: Lena has found a newly filled glass and a new friend and I'm saying, come on, or we're not going to get there, and I don't want to miss the Marclay at White Cube because I just know that it's going to be good and so with an increasing sense of urgency I attempt to move Lena towards the exit as her glass and the agreeably nice waiter seem to be forming a very close relationship.
'We really have to go,' I say, 'we need to get to the Cube.'
We finally leave.
Oh no, hang on, wait a minute...Lena needs the toilet.
Ho hum.
What is she doing in there?
I look at my watch. We've blown it. We ain't going to make it. I know this, you know this, Lena knows this, but I decide that extreme denial is a great little strategy for a while tonight. I look myself firmly in the eye and tell that hopeful little face looking back to me that it may just be possible for the bus we jump on to take flight and hum like a helicopter, and drop us down in Hoxton Square. Flup, flup, flup go the propellers...and suddenly the old number 55 is landing! I run towards the Cube doors. Thump, thump, thump! There's still movement in the gallery! I'm pushing people over as I run through the beer swilling mass - Boof! Buff! Blat! and get to those bouncers that hang around the door at the gallery and they...
Well, they aren't letting me in, are they?
I can't believe it. The Marclay is over. Finished. Why didn't we leave the party earlier? I'm gutted.
'Let's get to Seventeen,' I say to Lena. 'They'll still be open.'
We nick round the corner onto Kingsland Road and to Seventeen and the Shay Kun show. We go the bar and get beer except that of course I'm not drinking tonight so ask for water. There's water sure, but no glasses. Dave 'let me sort this out' Hoyland gives me a white mug. 'It's mine,' he says, 'it's ok.'
I think I probably strike quite a cool figure, standing there while eveyone else around me drinks from beer bottles and I sip from my nice white mug...
Anyway, we like Shay Kun's work. It's odd but interesting. I know a few details: he paints scenes typical of the Hudson River School of the 19th Century - pastoral, idealised, chocolate box stuff - and adds peculiar incongruous details like killer whales, tightropes on fire, telegraph poles, smashed up cars...
No idea why he does this - or why he chooses the things he does. The juxtaposition of these two forms (the background meticulously painted in oil, the strange details in acrylics) makes me think it's all messed up, all wrong. He's pushing things up against each other when they clearly don't fit. The background is based on a style of painting that was out of date even when it was originally being painted. So how does this fit in today? And the who the hell thinks about killer whales these days? They're like something from my childhood. Whatever. Nothing, I think, is clear about these paintings. But perhaps the mistake I'm making is to see the images as in contradiction to each other and maybe they're not. I'm particular I'm struck by the fact that Shay paints that detailed oil background himself. That takes a bit of doing, no? And then when he plonks a big killer whale in the middle of it does he feel that this is in any way a contradiction? I wonder. If he thought that this stuff didn't fit he couldn't do it, could he? I don't know. The title of the show is 'Perversion is the love we feel when others feel love.' I think he is talking about difficulties of perception and understanding. I also don't think there are any easy readings of this work. I do think he is pretty interesting.
Anyway, back to Dave for a minute. Feels like I haven't seen him for years. And, look, there's Beth and Ed Greenacre. What happened to them? I haven't seen them for years either. Where has everything gone? I was always hanging out at Rokeby at one point. What happened?
I think back. I've been tied up in other galleries, other little groups, other openings, other adventures and discoveries. Just trying to find out what's going on, in London, with art and artists and galleries and curators and gallerists.
Just before I head off, I get a quick chat with Dave. About this blog he says: 'In fifty years time there'll be this record. Look, this is what we were all doing.'
Dave understands, I think.
This is what we were doing.
This was what it was like.

Killer whale pics