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 WIN!
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.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Freezing in Hoxton


It. Is. Fucking. Freezing.
It's soooooooooo cold. I'm thinking: Why did I even bother to make the trip out east tonight? Far too cold. I'm hopping along Redchurch Street, thinking, I'll buzz round here and then off to Associates and then home. I skip into Studio 1.1, Museum 52, Trolley and then an odd gallery/bar/club called Vegas. I mooch round here a bit, not really knowing what is going on. There are some paintings hung up and some just leaning against the wall. It's like they haven't finished putting the show up. I don't get a good vibe off this place at all.
Woodeson is supposed to be meeting me down Redchurch Street somewhere but we have all sorts of texts, with him saying he's coming, then he's delayed and then this and then that and then whatever and then I head up to Associates. I get another text saying, 'I'm almost there.'
I text back: 'Just left.'
I stomp up Hoxton Street to Associates. The show tonight is Matthew Harrison. Rebecca Mmmmmmmmm is outside the front door, wearing a hat. She sees me and goes straight into telling me about the work. There's a door handle, a huge thing, fashioned from different coloured strips of wood. And there's a door knocker. Rebecca tells me something about the knocker being a model of part of the brain (the medulla oblongata, as I fail to take in at the time) and how it links two parts of the brain together and I get the impression that this is playing on the liminal states between outside and inside the gallery. (Actually, Matthew provides a beautiful explanation of this in an interview with Rebecca, here, and I quote: 'The medulla oblongata door knocker is itself the threshold between consciousness and activity...like the transition between two very different spaces. What I’m saying is ‘art’, the art-viewing public touches before they enter their art-viewing space. It’s like getting them before they’re ready to see the work.') Marvellous, though I can't help thinking that it looks a little more like a...
'And of course it looks like a pair of balls,' says Rebecca, sweetly.
Then she holds her wrist up to my face. 'There's also this,' she says. What's going on? I think. Why is she holding her wrist towards me like a greeting? What am I supposed to do here? Kiss it? Surely not. Maybe it's a perfume? I put my nose down towards her hand. 'No. LOOK. This,' she says, rolling her eyes, pointing at a bracelet she's wearing.
Ok, got it...
The bracelet is also part of the show. Or part of an edition to accompany the show. It's made out of rare wood and says Save Trees on it. Nice.
And wasn't there a secret drawer too? I'm sure I remember Ryan saying something about this when I was last here.
I decide to head in, out the cold, for once quite grateful that Ryan's door policy is as tight as a coffin lid. Actually, even tighter. You have to knock to get in tonight. I'm not sure if that's part of the work or some fiendish rule that Ryan has introduced. He'll be charging admission next.
In the back of the gallery I see the drawer. It's a wooden drawer like the door handle. There's also a pile of boxes each containing bracelets, all made from various rare woods. All saying Save Trees on them.
I stay in the office a bit, keeping warm.
Eventually I decide to head off. I get back outside and Woodeson calls. 'I'm at Associates,' I say. 'I heard it's just a door handle,' he says, 'not sure I want to come up there just for that.' I wonder if I should say something like, well, it's not just a door handle....but think, no.
It's far too cold for that kind of conversation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ice Trade (or, What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You...)


I'm saying goodbye to Matt Packer, above, shaking his hand. 'Great,' I say, 'great. It all looks good,' I say, nodding around at all the people who have turned out to the viewing for Ice Trade at Chelsea Space tonight - and it's a very appropriately icy night too (ie fucking freezing). Matt's curated the show. He used to work with me at the ICA Bookshop.
'Look,' I say to him, 'this is good, but I don't understand any of it.'
He splays his fingers, his palms upwards, like he is giving me a gift. 'You don't have to understand it,' he says. He smiles.
There's a big, awkward, messy sort of installation in one room. I think this is by Thomas Kratz, though I could be wrong. There's also a bell hanging from the wall beside it in the same room. Throughout the night various people ring it - to no obvious effect. But it does make a spectacularly satisfying clanging sound. There's what looks like a sheet of greeny blue lino on the floor, but all messily folded and rolled up, and with the edges cut to resemble ramparts on a castle; there's a sheet or towel or something, sort of petrified in some white casting...
Who really knows what any of this is about...
Matt?
'Think of it in terms of a set of propositions,' he says. 'I'm doing this project which is about the ice trade, about transactions, history...and I've asked these artists to...'
'Respond to it?' I suggest.
He thinks for a moment.
'Not respond - that would sort of mean that I had nothing to do with it - no responsibility...'
'They're riffing on it...?'
He nods. 'Yeah. I like that better,' he says...
Cecilia Wee is there. I have a chat with her. About Rational Rec, the Graham Hudson
film, stuff... I introduce her to James Ford who is also there. I think about how to contextualise him in Cecilia's world...'he had a car, and stuck loads of little toy cars on it to make it look like that car from The Dukes of Hazzard...' Cecilia nods. I have no idea if this has provided any context at all.
I also see Colonel K there, looking grim and pissed off. 'I just want to see some good art,' he grumbles, 'I haven't seen any good art for such a long time...'
I guess tonight isn't helping.
We both look down at the lino piece.
I can feel him seething beside me. This whole thing is making him very angry.
I used to get angry. Now, very little makes me angry - at least in the artworld. I'm usually interested to see most things and if it's not something I like, well, there you go, I'm not going to be wasting any energy on it.I used to get angry because I
saw other artists works in galleries and I wanted to be in their place. And some curator had had the idiot sense to choose this artists work above mine! And the world was so unfair. And no one realised what a genius I was. And - and - and - well, then I would just stamp my little foot on the ground and cry...
I also used to think you had to be angry to make art. But then later in life, when I got less angry, I made much the same kind of stuff. Not necessarily better stuff, and certainly not worse, just the same sort of stuff, but without all the suffering. Suffering for your art doesn't make the art better. Suffering doesn't make anything any better.
It takes Colonel K until the next day to calm down. He emails me to say he left the show and then read the press release and that got him started again.
'There's a story about James Rosenquist,' says Matt.
I nod, meaning: please tell me.
'James Rosenquist is due to put on a show at a gallery and the curator, the gallerist, makes a little maquette of the gallery, with little models, and plays around with arranging the works until he has got it just right. Then, when Rosenquist finally arrives he ignores the model and just starts hanging the works wherever he wants. The gallerist is really upset and confused and in a panic. But, if people ask what we have done, what should we tell them?
Well, says Rosenquist, tell them we don't know.'

icy pics

Friday, January 19, 2007

Slightly Floored


Apparently Wednesday night at Associates was great - it was art's birthday, courtesy of Will Holder. Rebecca Mmmmmmmmmmm says that there were balloons and presents and cake.
Tonight though is a little more restrained. And if you're not careful it would be easy to miss. I arrive early and press my face up against the window. Andrew Bonacina walks across the empty space, opens the door (probably thinking, who's this nutter pushing his face against the glass - probably another Hoxton Street drunk...) and lets me in. I look around. Ahh, the floor is different. Today's artist is Gemma Holt and she's put down an entire new floor over the old one. Her floor is made out of small pieces of wood, exactly the size of those wooden 30cm rules you used to get at school. They look like this because, actually, they are 30 cm pieces of wood that have been prepared for a life of rulerdom but have been cruelly plucked away from the printing house and their natural vocation in the classroom, to end up stuck on a gallery floor in the east end of London. They look like tiny planks of wood. Apparently Gemma was here at 5.30 this morning with her boyfriend putting this stuff down and only finished at about 4.oo this afternoon. That's a lot of work for a floor.
Over the next half hour I stand around and watch people arrive and come in and look at the floor. This whole thing about Associates being a social space is, in some ways, what these exhibitions have been about. While there are individual artists each day the exhibition has actually been a group show, sliced and diced and arranged and overseen by Rebecca and Andrew. This twelve day show is theirs. It's a very interesting notion. The show is about creating a nexus of some sort for an art community that may (or may not) exist. It's a meeting point. I'm interested in this, naturally, because my work is about private views and people and conversations more than it is ever about the work (though sometimes that gets the better of me), and already I'm thinking about what these twelve days will look like in the future, how this will develop, what history will do to them. Luckily at this point in my thoughts Niru Ratnam comes up and says something stupid about filming the floor with his mobile. I immediately say something stupid back about taking photos of people's feet and together, I think, we both reach an understanding...those are his feet in the picture at the top.
Niru talks about Ryan's door policy. Ryan's obsessed about the door being closed at these private views, which is why they are always so damn hot and sticky. 'Wasn't like this in my day,' says Niru, sniffing and throwing out his chest, referring to when Store was here...
I lean over and put the door on its latch and watch it swing open again, figuring that should piss Ryan off.
And maybe it has because outside Ryan is putting on his big black gloves so he looks like a bouncer. Sort of. I reckon I could proabably take him if it came to it, though. People are coming and going to the bar, which is cleverly disguised as a little shop and off licence next door to the gallery. It's a pay bar, obviously. Ryan says that the shopkeeper is well pleased with all this. Ryan also thinks he should be getting a cut of the shop's profits.
I hang around taking messages on my phone and thinking that maybe I won't go to Danielle Arnaud's opening tonight. I was going to go; you know, pop in at Associates, then tube down to Danielle's but, suddenly I'm thinking, oh, it's just too far. Of course, it's not too far, it's just south of the river, but that sounds just soooooooo far away....
But that's the way it is. Four people I have spoken to today say, yeah, I was going to go, but, you know, Danielle's is just sooooooooooo far....
We are a fickle crowd. I have a few words with Matthew Smith. I tell him I'm thinking about going down to Danielle Arnaud's.
'Bit far,' he says.

floor pics

What You See Is What You Get (and More)


So, I nick over to the Serpentine to take in Damien's Murderme show. I have to say, it was a blast. Some really big, heavy, full on, top class, high range, serious minded, big statement, proper, no nonsense art. And all the time I'm walking round I keep getting drawn into things and looking and thinking and feeling great to be here amongst all this stuff and then suddenly, like a sledgehammer cracking a walnut, it just hits me that he actually OWNS all this. It's not like just a group show of stuff. THIS IS FROM HIS COLLECTION.
It's awesome. He owns a Francis Bacon, for goodness sake. He owns a Jeff Koons that is enormous. He owns a whole bunch of Jim Lambies and even more Richard Princes. And Sarah Lucas works by the bucketload. And Warhols! He has that massive splattering of dead whale bits that John Isaacs did - revolting and grotesque and I couldn't take my eyes off it. And he owns it. It's his. Don't get me wrong - it's fantastic to see all this stuff. But I couldn't get away from the thought of Damien owning it. It was like a group show and a solo show at the same time.
Then I'm at Fieldgate, for a group show called Latitude. I'm here, really, to see the Sarah Baker piece but I'm stopped by a great Doug Fishbone video piece which I think maybe I've seen before...I'm also struck by a wall of shopping bags by Rosemary Williams. She bought an item from every store in the Mall of America in order to get a representative bag from all the retail outlets. It's impressive and made me feel both nauseous at the concentration of consumer packaging - which, now reduced (or elevated, it's hard to know) to art, looks clearly like so much hollow desperation and worthless greed - and also uncomfortably attracted to the designs and textures of the bags. It's an ambiguous piece and well worth getting more info from Rosemary about this here - her website has podcasts of her shopping trips and also some revealing commentary about the money she spent and the goods purchased (and although she attempted to take everything she bought back to each shop - minus the bag - there is a subtext about the issues surrounding her purchases - and those she does actually keep - which is enjoyably problematic and which she herself is happy to explore. Her husband less so, mind - he eventually refuses to open credit card statements for the sake of his health).
Sarah Baker's piece is in a room on its own. Nooza has written about it here. I love it. Sarah has produced a music video but she can't sing. The video uses cheesy edits, back lighting and cutaway slow motion clips from what looks like family footage of a young girl (Sarah?). There are two people standing in the room watching this with me and they are both laughing in disbelief at Sarah's atrocious singing. Sarah is utterly shameless about her lack of tune and pitch. She defintely doesn't have the X factor...
But she does, finally, seem to have the beginnings of a website - which hopefully she'll be updating soon...
Then it's up to Maureen Paley's on Herald Street to see the Andrew Grassie exhibition. This is another real treat. There are five paintings, all executed in the fanatical, detailed photorealism that Andrew is so good at. Each painting is 15.8cm high and from 21.7 to 26.1cm wide. So, you know, fairly small. They are arranged on three of the walls of the downstairs gallery. Two on the left hand wall as you walk in, two on the next wall, much further up, and one on the far wall. The paintings are of the five shows that have preceeded this. Each one is based on a photograph that Andrew took of the installation of each of the previous shows. On the handout he even details the dates he took the original installation shots and then the dates that he began each painting. His show, this that I am looking at now, is called Installation.
Did you see what he did there?
OK, let's think about this. He's a painter. A very, very, very talented painter in terms of near photographic reproduction on an almost incomprehensibly small scale (I mean, I can't even focus on some of the details, let alone paint anything that small - check out that roll of masking tape, above, that's like about a few millimetres high). So, you know, he can do that bit. So then what? What to paint? What questions to ask? It seems to me that Andrew is trying to move painting into questioning itself; or us, as viewers; into questioning what it means to look at a picture. In these works we are looking at pictures of the room we are standing in, except the paintings show the room as it was, at five points previously, and at a point when the gallery was closed to the public. We are seeing the room as it was never meant to be seen. He is showing us a version of the room. So we are not so much looking into and at a painting which is showing us something in another place, he is reflecting back to us the room we are in. We are not looking into the painting but looking back into the room, and looking back at five installations. So, maybe, these five paintings are about perception. But note that he hasn't called this show Five Paintings or Five Rooms or Five anythings. The five paintings are called Installation. These are paintings that know where they are, know that they are installed in this room. They know they are being looked at. And they will always relate to this room. They're not like other people's paintings that sit on the wall waiting to be bought and hung on another wall. They are an installation. They are the room now, and in the past. In at least a couple of the paintings there are doors open in the gallery wall with views through to the usually hidden areas of the gallery. And this being Maureen's gaff the place always looks immaculate. But in the paintings he is opening the gallery up, carefully peeling away all the artifice that has been so assiduously constructed for the previous five shows. When I leave the gallery and think back I feel absolutely convinced that I did see in through one of the gallery doors, at a clock on the wall. But, I know, factually, that I was alone in the gallery the whole time and that the doors were closed.
It's a curious effect and one he achieved awesomely in the Art Now room at Tate Britain a couple of years back. Then, in a piece called New Hang, there were 13 paintings around the empty room depicting the room from various angles but showing a collection of different paintings and scultures from the Tate's collection. It was amazing. I came away from that feeling like I had been in a room filled with different works. This work today is different, but there is still that odd juxtaposition betweeen the five small paintings, the gallery itself and the residual memory of being in a gallery that had other stuff in it, other people's works, open doors, tins of paint, a stepladder...
These aren't paintings so much as propositions about the nature of paintings, about perception, memory and experience.
I don't know of anything else quite like them.
And seeing them is unforgettable.

some pics

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Associates again


Tonight's entry on this blog is brought to you courtesy of FIREFLY, the healthy drink to help you wake up, detox and chill out!

I'm up at Associates again, like a dog returning to the kill. And tonight there is definitely something happening. I walk up Hoxton Street and see a small crowd standing outside the gallery. As I look at this crowd - young, arty, bearded, smoking, drinking, chatting - I think back to all the many, many similar groups I have seen over the last year of going to openings. So many times I have turned a street corner to approach a new gallery and never had to worry about where or what number on the street it was, the location always announced from afar by this same group. It in its own little way it's quite comforting. As I get closer I also notice that some of the people here are drinking FIREFLY, the healthy drink that is helping them chill out!
It's cold outside again tonight but hot and close, like my mother's breath in a hankie pressed into my eye, in the gallery. The windows are steamed up. Ryan Gander is by the front door, acting like a sort of doorman. I say my hellos and he offers a thanks to me for putting an ad for a studio manager for him into my weekly mail out. 'I owe you one,' he says, 'you may want to mark that down in your black book.' 'Already in there,' I say, 'already in there.'
I go in and my glasses do the same thing as the windows and completely steam up. I take them off and stand in the middle of the gallery wondering what on earth is going on in front of me. Rebecca Mmmmmmm comes out of the blurry colours and says hello. We chat. I tell her I was here on Sunday night but there was nothing going on, all shut up and quiet. Oh no, she says, we were here until about 9.00, then we decided to close up. We're sending out emails saying if you turn up and we're not here just give us a call. She tells me that they left a note on the door the other night saying they were in the pub and when they came back there was a little note from someone saying they had come along but didn't want to disturb them...
It's a very laidback vibe, as I said before.
Anyway, what's happening tonight? There's a whole bunch of people in the gallery, there's the sound of a voice, heavily microphoned, speaking calmly in the the back and some small objects arranged around the room, mostly hanging from the walls. The recorded voice is referring to these objects, describing them, alluding to themes and meanings, but it's hard to hear above all the chattering. I make out the words 'Figure one...coastal erosion...' I have a wander round. Lots of people are happily drinking FIREFLY, the healthy drink helping them to detox! Well, you know, it is January, so I guess that's why...
I go back outside, opening the oven door, like a chicken breaking free from the imminent Sunday roast and gulp in the cool night air. Rebecca Mmmmmmmmmm is outside now too, drinking some FIREFLY!
I meet Andrew Bonacina, Rebecca Mmmmmmmmmmm's co-organiser of this 12 step programme. We talk about what is going on. He tells me there are 12 days in this show to mirror the 12 months that the gallery is going to be open for. And then, not wanting to do a group show, and wanting to find different approaches to showing generally, they came up with this one day/one artist approach. There's a certain freedom that this gives too. There is the opportunity for artists to try things out, to experiment and investigate, a little less pressure to make the big statement show and a little more space in which to fail. And that's a good thing. He talks about these shows and viewings acting as a social space as well as just simply a place for showing art. This is a place for people to come, to meet up. I'm very taken with this. The whole thing that the two of them are doing is great. They both talk about how the performance on Saturday, Anne Low's presentation of a recording of Glenn Gould's Bach's Goldberg Variations, was an experience in audience expectation. For the first 25 minutes of the recital no one spoke. I imagine everyone was treating it like ART. Then, finally, someone said something and this broke the tension and soon everyone was talking and it was marvellous.
I get to meet Matthew Smith who did the first show at Associates and which I saw, though got so drunk that night that the only thing I can say to him tonight is - oh yes, you did the wonky shelf thing. I can just tell he's impressed by my acute summation of his work...
Anyway, he graciously stays to speak to me for a moment. He has a show coming up at Store and and has some work in East. That's great, I say. Ryan leans over and says, and White Columns, don't forget that, eh? Matthew hurriedly looks for a bushel in the the street under which he can ram his now burning light...
He looks uneasy. Yeah, you know, ..he says.
I have to take a photo I say. I blast him. Love the background, he says. Hmm, I say, red chickeny things. Like my eyes, he says.
Ryan, who has consistently refused to have his photo taken every time I see him is now taking delight in moving people forward and saying, 'here, take her photo - she's the artist. Go on, get a photo of the artist.' I flash at the people in front of me. They look uncomfortable. I wonder if Ryan is enjoying this....
And talking of enjoying: we're all enjoying some FIREFLY! Seems like everyone is drinking this stuff tonight. Heck, it's better than the beer!!!
I go back in for another look round. I see Tom Woolner and Mike Cooter in there. They look woken up, detoxed and chilled out! They're drinking FIREFLY! I also see a girl drinking FIREFLY Love Potion and another guy drinking FIREFLY Sharpen Up! Hey, he looks sharp! And she, well she looks, you know, loved up, I guess...

Associates is doing something a little special here. There are more views over the next few days - including a birthday for art itself - and I'll be back. Andrew says London needs a place like this for people to come to, to gather and to be.
He's right. That little crowd of people - young, arty, bearded, smoking, drinking, chatting - will always need somewhere to stand outside.

Don't forget now:
FIREFLY - the healthy drink to help you wake up, detox and chill out!

FIREFLY pics

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Polite Party (in two halves)


Honestly, you can't give these tickets away.
I've got a bunch of tickets for a party at the Cobden Club in west London, thrown by Polite cards to launch some new designs they have coming up from David Shrigley, Vic Reeves and Stella Vine. I've emailed a bunch of names across to the RSVP address and we're all set. Except I just can't find anyone that's up for it. Everyone's like, it's too short notice, or, it's too far west, or this or that or whatever. Halfway thru the day and I even get an email from Sarah Doyle. Do I want to go to the Polite party tonight - she has a spare ticket. Now I'm thinking even she's having trouble passing the tickets.
What is going on?
Anyway, stuff all of you and your lame excuses! I'm going to go and I'm going to have a good time!
Over in west London I get to the end of Kensal Road and suddenly realise I have been daydreaming and forgotten to look out for the club. I have to retrace my steps, right back down the road, with no idea suddenly where my head was at.
I get there and find my name isn't on the list. The girl behind the counter looks at me. 'What was your first name again?' she sighs, having gone through about fifty sheets of paper, the neatly typed ones on the top giving way to increasingly more madly biro scribbled ones towards the back. She gives another little sigh and eventually just writes my name on one of the sheets at the back. 'Cloakroom's on the first, reception on the second.' she says not looking up at me.
I go up to the reception. It's a nice bar, there's a stage set up with band equipment, some banging music coming out the speakers and a girl coming towards me with a tray of champagne.
I stand around. I see Shrigley there, Bob and Roberta Smith, both in conversations. I see a few other people milling around in the shifting lights. I lean against a shelf where the new Shrigley designs are all propped up. I take a sip of my drink. Send a couple of texts. Try and listen to a message but can't hear a thing with the music playing.
There's some performances later.
I begin to wonder if I can make it.
I stand around a bit more, look across the bar at people.
I wonder if Doyle is going to turn up.
It drags on.
I don't see anyone I know.
I start feeling tired and wondering why I am standing in a bar drinking when I could be doing that at home?
I take another sip of my drink.
Look at the postcards.
Listen to the music, look up at the disco lights in the ceiling, study them for a bit longer than is normal...look at the mirror ball..have a few thoughts about that...have a few thoughts about the angle of the light that is pointing at it...about light theory... about...
Decide to leave.
Along the road to the station I see Doyle, looking glamorous and party ready. She says she heard that nothing would kick off until after 8.30. Best to watch the Paul O'Grady show first she figured and then head in. We talk a bit about Celebrity Big Brother (CBB). I tell her to have a great time at the party. We say our goodbyes and head off in opposite directions....
The next day I email her, ask her if things got better, whether she had a good time.
She says:

Yes it was nice, we listened to Bob Smith singing some of his songs then watched Mike’s band Bandism playing for a bit. Stella turned up too from Northumbria, looking gorgeous as usual. I think she’s the only other person watching this years CBB apart from me.
Never been to that club before, the working men of North London have better Working Men’s Clubs than the ones I remember in Sunderland!

Bye for now
Sarah x

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Closing Drinks for Grotto


Closing drinks (or the finissage, as Warren Neidich would have it) are always slightly odd, but quite relaxed affairs. They lack the mad energy that accompanies an opening and generally have a quiet little air all their own.
Tonight is the closing party for Grotto at Studio 1.1, the huge group show they have run through Christmas. There's so much work here. It has been a massive, 150 plus artists show. Even I have a work in this show, above (a magazine cover, with all the text collaged out, using cuttings of the background colours taken from multiple copies of the same issue.) Some stuff is great, some less so. It's impossible to see it all.
I do, however, see Kate Street there and have a chat. She tells me about a flayed squirrel skin she has just bought, and a dead magpie. Seriously, I'm not kidding, she's like that. When she used to work at the shop with me she was continually having boxes delivered filled with dead things she'd bought off ebay. I always expected to receive a package one day with blood dripping out of it.
While we are talking I overhear a conversation with a woman asking if it's possible to collect the Cathy Lomax piece that she has acquired. I'm assuming that means a sale for Cathy. There is evidence of other sales or collections too, squares of velcro that delineate the corners of a invisible squares or rectangles sit within the hang. I get introduced to Oliver Bancroft and at last have an opportunity to tell him how much I liked this piece he did.
I also bump into Rosie Spencer who I met at the Hayward Gallery party for Art Monthly. Yesterday I saw her coming into the Guy Hilton gallery as I was leaving. We talk about that show. She says she felt like the house was about to fall down. And what was going on in the basement? And Will Self just creeping around. And what were all those people eating in that back room? It looked like a swan. Ah yes, I had forgotten the little frenzy of picking at the swan that overtook everyone after Mark had taken his ceremonial mouthfuls, but yes, everyone was in there getting a piece of the greasy meat. Rosie introduces me to Jess Baines, who along with Rosie, produces White Collar, the small, odd, literary journal. It's an interesting piece of work.
I stand outside for a bit in the cold and talk to Kate Street again who can't find her name on the poster outside. It isn't on there. Mine is, so I take a photo.
Then I say my goodbyes and head up to Associates; it's on my way, and I'll catch whatever is on. I get there. The blinds are down. There's no one else around. I stand there for a bit, like the poor kid who has turned up to the party on the wrong day. If I had a balloon in my hand it would now be gently deflating, looking like a giant raisin. I wait for a moment wondering if something might happen.
It doesn't.
I leave the balloon on the pavement and trudge back home.

grotty pics

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Artist Eats a Swan


This afternoon, in an extraordinary art performance, controversial artist Mark McGowan eats a swan. No, seriously, he does. And that's why all those guys with the big cameras, above, are here. Look at 'em.
We are in Fournier Street for a show called So Sad... at the Guy Hilton gallery - a place I've seen mentioned a couple of times, but about which I know very little, other than that it is the best gallery in the world. Well, that's what it says above the front door, anyway.
Inside that door, though, the place looks more like a condemned property, or a serial killer's dream home. It's falling apart. It makes flaca look like Gagosian's...I wonder, as I go down the stairs, whether the whole place is just going to fall in about me. Or explode. Or go up in flames.
In the basement there are loads of odd and strange things on a table; things piled up against the wall, strewn across shelves, hanging from the ceiling. I think some of these things, or all of them, may be actual art. There's also Richard Dedomenici in a suit offering people black coffee made with black milk; there's a video of Simon Ould covering himself in peanut butter (what is it about Simon and rubbing foodstuffs onto himself?); and Harry Pye, calmly sitting in an armchair writing on a sheet of paper. When I ask him what he's writing, he looks up and says: 'It's about a time when I got lost'. He points to a typed line on the page he is using that says something about children being lost. He motions to a pile of papers next to what looks like a scrappy ballot box. He gets back to writing. I think Harry thinks I should know what on earth is going on. I don't. Will Self is there too, skulking about (he was born to skulk) and I wonder if this may have something to do with him. But who knows? Who knows if everything down here is part of the show? Who knows what is supposed to be art or not? Or am I just being old fashioned and out of date, worrying about these kinds of distinctions?
Certainly I don't think Mark worries too much about these things. He just likes things happening, whatever they are. And he likes the press coming down. So, let's get outside and watch him eat this swan then.
He carries it out the front door and puts it on a small makeshift table and reads out a few words - about the piece being some sort of protest about the rich and the queen being the only person to legally have the right to eat a swan, and then gives a little bit of the swans history. Apparently it died, probably, of natural causes on someone's land, someone who had the foresight to pick it up, stick it in the freezer, then wait for an artist to have a project needing a swan, whereby they defrosted it, cooked it (for 2 hours, 10 mins, I remember, oddly enough, Mark saying) and delivered it up to Mark for him to eat. Anyway, Mark does eat it, holding a piece of it on the end of his fork half in his mouth so the photographers get a good shot. He's very good at this kind of thing.
He'a also very good at what he does. Mark's work is, despite what you may have heard, surprisingly subtle and very clever. The work, of course, is not the eating of the swan, nor is it the supposed 'protest' (I mean, come on, he's not really protesting against the rich, is he?), the work is those guys up at the top with all their cameras. Well, they are part of the work. McGowan's work is about the media representation of the act, the framing of the art performance within the contemporary media culture of edit, soundbite, story. Mark uses the media as his raw materials. He lets them construct the work for him. All he needs to do is enough to make sure that the act gathers coverage. Recently he 'performed' the work Dead Soldier, in which, dressed in British Army combat gear, he lay in a Birmingham Street all day. I think it only went on for about a day or so before the very real possibility of violence and death threats towards him made it prudent to abandon the laying down bit. But the work generated a lot of coverage. It generated the actual work itself. He said at the time that the work was neither pro nor anti war. At his best, Mark doesn't need a protest, he just needs the context. His work brings up all sorts of questions about the artists relation to society, how art is seen in society at the moment, how the media relates to and communicates about art, etc etc. The act needs writing up, photographing, filming, then editing and some form of transmission. I think maybe, this entry may indeed be a work by Mark McGowan.
Lovely Sarah Doyle is there having a bit of a fret about her dvd piece which she can't get to play. I tell her it doesn't matter, it's the private view. Sort it out tomorrow when people might actually look at it. Then, because it has now taken over my life completely, I ask about her myspace. Sarah's friends with everyone. Everyone, man. She's been on there years. In internet terms she's really old.
'Hey,' she says suddenly, putting a paper plate on top of the piano we are standing beside, 'take a photo of that.' I look at the plate. It has the remains of a bit of marmalade on it, like someone's been eating something then finished eating and put it down. Euuww. 'Take a photo,' she says, 'That's Gilbert and George marmalade and Will Self was eating it off that plate.'
Of course! Isn't it obvious? I take a photo.
Still more people are pouring into the delapidated house. Around me I pick up bits and pieces of conversation; most people are talking about the swan.
'I think he made a valid point,' says someone to their friend.
'It tastes a bit like duck,' says someone else.
'We should've called the police.'
I wonder: if Mark McGowan falls over in a forest and there's no-one there with a camera, does he make a work?

swan pics

Friday, January 12, 2007

Pettibon and Myspace


It's too hot in Sadie Coles tonight, especially as we are all wrapped up in coats against a vicious wind that is punching its way along the streets like a drunk, so I go stand outside and wait for the others to finish beers, conversations and looking at Raymond Pettibon's new show.
I've never made up my mind about Pettibon.
Have you?
Has anyone?
This show still hasn't helped (above).
We go along to a party thrown by the publishers MIT, up in Chenies Street. There are canapes and drinks and us huddled up in a group in the middle of the crowd. Simon Armstrong, from the Design Museum shop, is there and we talk about Myspace. This is because I am still in my first month of being properly signed up and because it is new and exciting and all those things you feel when you get addicted to something straight away, and you have to talk about them all the time. And I want to talk to everyone about it, ALL THE TIME. In maybe another week or so, I'll forget all about it, but for now, I HAVE to talk about it.
We talk about trawling through lists of friend's friends, the relentless and shameless attention of bands trying to build a fanbase, the people who post bulletins everyday, deleting Tom from your list of friends...
Where will this all be in 50 years time? I wonder.
Where will all these profiles go?
When we die will we all leave an internet footprint forever?
My head begins to hurt.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Associates and Vyner


Associates, on Hoxton Street, have come up with a series of 12 one day shows over a period of 12 days, each taking place between 12 noon and 12 midnight.
That's gonna keep them busy, no?
It's Thursday, the first of the 12 shows begins, and I've checked the website and there's launches on some nights at 7pm but not tonight, but what the heck, I'm in that neck of the east end and so I'm going to pop along, see what, if anything, is going on. Maybe it'll be closed, shut up, finished. I don't know.
As I'm walking up there it doesn't look too promising. It's supposed to be Andrew Lampert, an American artist doing a thing called PUBLIC OPINION LABORATORY. I get there and look thru the windows.
Luckily it looks like something is definitely going on. There's a projector and someone holding a coloured gel in front of it and moving it around so that the room is going different colours; there's someone else painting onto a large sheet of paper...there are a couple of people standing around. I go in. The person painting is Rebecca May Marston (above), who co-organised all this with Andrew Bonacina. We say hello. She's painting a representation of a certificate of artists work. There are loads of these along the wall of the gallery that she has painted throughout the day from 12 noon.
The sound of a phone rings. A guy, looking at the bright glowing screen of a laptop says, 'ok: he says, move the gel a bit more. He says it looks really good. Keep doing it...'
The guy speaking is taking instruction from Andrew Lampert who is in the States, watching via a webcam and directing the people in the gallery into doing stuff. A girl comes out from the back of the gallery and starts reading aloud a text. I wander round, looking at the pieces Rebecca MM has painted. Each one describes a work, on which it is possible to bid and then own. They range from being sent a belated birthday card every year for five years, going out for a meal with the artist, having the artist shoot a super 8 film of the purchaser...small acts involving participation or connection with and to the artist in some way. I like them.
In fact, I like the whole gallery tonight. Despite the galleristas being ordered around by Lampert, and maybe a certain growing realisation that a full 12 hours of this is a pretty tall order for them, they all seem remarkably up for it and good spirits. It makes for a good vibe. And there's a certain frisson about the artist beaming into all this from the States.
I hang around for a bit.
Nice.
I have a quick chat with Rebecca MM while she paints then say I'm heading up to Modern Art and I'll be back later. She says something about looking forward to a beer...
Vyner Street is busy. There's Modern Art, IBID and a bunch of strangers called Artists Anonymous all opening tonight.
I nip into see the Ross Tibbles show which I'm intrigued by because he uses old images from magazines, and that's something I like, but although there are some great resonances and dissonances in his collaging of images, objects and textures together, when seen as a whole they suffer from a singular tonality of form and colour which undercuts their individual power. I stand and look at one, trying to block out everything else. It gets better. It makes me think about images, how they are used, what they mean, how to look at them - all the sort of stuff that's been in my head since I saw Clunie Reid's work at flaca...
I hop across to the Philip Lau show across the road in the main part of Modern Art. It's a busy night. Underneath the parachute thing which is suspended across the ceiling of the gallery I hear people saying 'hi, long time no see' - as though Christmas has kept us all shut away and the first openings of the new year bring us all out again. Edging back out of the gallery I bump into Simon Bedwell, just back from New York, and we have a chat. Then I have to get down the road to check out the Artists Anonymous show on the corner. I have reservations about this - I included it in my weekly mailout but something in the arrogant, unironic and aggressive tone of their own missive left me feeling that there was going to be the same attitude at play in the gallery. In the back room is a psychedelic painting with an electric guitar coming out of it. Hmm, I think.
One of the artists is a woman wearing contact lenses which transform her eyes to those of a cat, black almonds looking out from pale yellow irises. Surely, I think, here's the photo of the night. But she's having none of it and won't let me take her photo. 'Only take photos of the work,' she says, forcefully.
Curious. Usually people who have cats eyes love being photographed. And being fed little bits of fish.
Across to IBID projects and while taking a quick look at Christopher Orr's work, Lisa Penny appears. She's come up from an opening at Fieldgate and is going on about Sarah Baker's video piece that's on down there. I'm well into her work at the moment so resolve to pay a visit at a later date. But, when though? Where is the time? Actually seeing shows is so hard. The time disappears. You could put a show on for ten years and the day after it closed I'd still be like, Oh, yeah, I really need to go and see tha- whaddya mean it's finished?
While we talk I take a few desultorily photos of the crowd in IBID. Lisa asks about the blog. I tell her that I'm almost done now. I just need to decide what the final private view will be, sometime near the end of February. She tells me to let her know in advance so she can be in the last blog. (She isn't the first one to ask this of me...).
From IBID we step to the pub, chat, and Lisa takes phone calls from her mate Sally who, although opting to stay at home tonight is still needing a vicarious private view experience so is texting and phoning with questions: Where are you now? Who are you with? What's the show like? Any good??
Ben Woodeson, who I have been saying hello to earlier and meaning to catch up with, appears at the bar and says - 'why don't you answer your phone? I've rung you three times since I've been in here.' I get out my phone. It says two missed calls. 'Ah right,' he says, 'so it was only twice.'
I have to go. I tell Woodeson I'll email him about next week - unless he wants to join me on Saturday to see Mark McGowan eat a swan...
He pulls a face. The same face that lots of people pull when you say you are going to see Mark McGowan do a [INSERT A SUITABLY PROVOCATIVE/STUPID/OUTRAGEOUS/ALL THREE OF THESE PERFORMANCE IDEA HERE]
I go, slightly later that I thought I was going to, and decide I can't really get back down to Associates.
I do wonder, though, what Andrew is telling them to do now.
Ring Ring: OK, dudes, start drinking beer!

no cats eye pics

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

This is the Kind of Shit that Wins the Turner Prize


That's a great quote, no?
It's taken from Hector Castell's film of Graham Hudson's residency at Chelsea Parade ground, which regular readers will know was featured in this blog over last summer.
We are at Rational Rec at the Bethnal Green Working Mens Club for the first public screening of the film. Hector spent a lot of time on the ground and I'm interested to see how he has brought 6 months of building, rebuilding and partying down to 40 minutes of film.
There's a lot of footage of the Parade Ground itself, in various states of (de)construction and a few short interviews with some of the students who went out and built houses beside Graham's. But it's not until later that the film really picks up with some choice quotes from Graham, some neat bits of editing and some great interviews from the auction night. That's where that quote from the top comes from. A girl, playing the role of devil's advocate, with a loud, shouty voice that could do nicely on a Channel Five youth programme, is interviewing buyers and onlookers in the midst of the auction, goading them with talk of 'junk' and 'shit' and 'hype'. She does it very well. She speaks to Ben Borthwick, one of the curators at Tate Modern, who gives a brilliant interview - funny (actually hilarious in places - especially on the subject of his own laundry...), incisive, knowing and perceptive. Dave Hoyland appears too, walking round the parade ground with a microphone, mostly taking about how the work is really a way to meet girls....
Throughout the second half of the film there are some pieces to camera from Graham himself - digs at Tate Britain, which throughout the residency sat like a big, disinterested pompous lump beside all this adventure; an account of the Richard and Judy show and the Sharon Osbourne show coming to visit and Graham's attempt to undermine it all by presenting someone else to play the part of Graham Hudson, artist. He talks about the feature in The Times which leads to a visit from the local council to confirm that he isn't actually living there (he was, of course) and finally some off the cuff remarks that Hector was quick enough to catch: 'if we want to sit and drink beer and watch football then that's 100% part of the project...'

Most of the filming is hand held, or propped up against something. The sound levels are all over the place and the editing is hard and fast. But that's all ok - it matches the aesthetic and the sensibility of Graham's project perfectly. It's all rough and ready, and rock and roll. Graham and his crew come across as cool, sexy, arrogant, hip revolutionaries against the might of the indifferent art establishment, unafraid of anything (except, in one telling sequence, the groups of little fifteen year old kids who buzz thru on their bikes and cause trouble). It's a fantastic document of the time and I am always interested in (flawed, immediate, subjective, inaccurate, biased) historical documentation, as you know, so I find it all immensely satisfying. It's not quite Ken Russell's Pop Goes the Easel, but it's close...(read a snotty review of that particular documentary here)
I'm happy to say there's some excellent and gratifying footage of the piece that I bought (I loudly tell eveyone around the table at the screening this - and point, repeatedly).
As the girl says:
'This is the kind of shit that wins the Turner Prize.'
It's only a matter of time.