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.