Friday, October 27, 2006

Scratched Records, Icy Buckets and The Frieze Reprise

I am travelling alone tonight around the usual Hoxton/Kingsland haunts, I have no plans to meet anyone and am not particularly on the lookout for any familiar faces. PV nights are sometimes a social whirl of snatched conversations in passing, the odd 5 minute work discussion here and a 2 minute quick gossip there and sometimes even the passing of a beer to a friend with a tap on the shoulder and a nod to catch up later once you have finished a conversation with some other person only to find that the recipient of the beer has been swallowed up by the crowd never to be seen again (‘til the next time!), on very exceptional occasions it turns into a night of alcoholic carnage as multiple art bods head off from the 9pm gallery curfew to converge in the same pub at the same time, for one night multiple social strands overlap and the world momentarily expands only for it to begin its natural contracting process the next morning. But all these possibilities are far from my thoughts on this particular night, I have my intenerary; 3 galleries, Seventeen, Cube and Associates, bosh, bosh, bosh, done, dusted and home, no messing.
I start my mini tour with a visit to the always top-notch Seventeen Gallery, Graham Dolphin’s exhibition of ‘pop art’ is on show and a small but appreciative bunch are either quietly and closely peering at the work or chatting and pointing at it animatedly, most are hanging round the Seventeen bar and this early evening scene is a calm and welcoming place to be. I take a good look at the work on show, dog eared record covers, posters, a 1978 copy of Melody Maker, LP’s and 7” records and other pop ephemera have been written on by Dolphin, on the card and paper objects using ink, pencil or scratched into the surface he has written in tiny capitals lyrics from the songs, obsessively and painstakingly reconstructing the sung words onto the original packaging in his own handwriting, the spaces in which the written elements have been placed are dictated by the photography, imagery or design of the record cover or poster. These obsessive efforts are reminiscent of the obsessions of some of the fans of these artists. On the vinyl records he has used the same process but this time scratching the lyrics into the vinyl record face following the concentric circular patterns of the record grooves. This is where it really gets the brain ticking over, the cataloguing instinct of the fan, the obsessive attention to detail of lyrics, the need to have the original version, the repackaging and re-release of albums and the multiple copies that can be accumulated by the collector or fan, the completist collection of an artists output and the collection of related journalistic material all occur to me whilst looking at these. The major element is the recreation of the lyrics in one form whilst removing them from their original form, it is a manner of retelling the same story with one voice speaking in the present whilst obscuring the voice of the past, the interpretation of these small handwritten words is much harder to read than to hear the original sound recording but this handwritten element has removed the possibilities of ever hearing the vocals on these particular vinyl pressings.
As ever this is another strong show at the Seventeen and I leave with my head filled with the musical landscape of my childhood, as I walk to Hoxton Square I re-imagine 21st Century Kingsland Road as 1970’s Tooting High Street.

On Hoxton Square I brace myself for the usual manic White Cube experience, I barge my way to the familiar icy buckets and the house beer at the White Cube (Asahi). It is a huge crowd tonight, I see some familiar faces, not that I really know these people to talk to but their faces are etched into my memory from past visits to ‘the cube’. This is where the Frieze experience returns, my short lived nostalgic ‘70’s drift is smashed by the crowded street outside the glowing white light of the White Cube, I cant quite face the art yet so I drink three beers in quick succession whilst people watching. The punters tonight differ from the quieter clientele of the Seventeen, every art world or Hoxton cliché is strutting in the white light scorching this part of Hoxton Square, more than anything the appearance of many is that of refugees from Frieze, I wonder if every flight to New York, Paris and Zurich has been cancelled for a week and the international art fair crowd are milling about tonight on the square because they haven’t been able to return home after last weeks art fair activities. The main man himself is ushering a potential buyer/useful contact or some other from of V.I.P (Very Important Punter) through the crowd and away from the rest of us hangers on.
The 3rd beer takes its toll on my empty stomach and I get that slightly heady beer and no food feeling, not altogether unpleasant but definitely woozy. Slim hipster jean wearing ladies slink past me with their not quite natural lips pursed for some air kissing, twentysomething boys with expensive torn jeans and mullets crowd around their beer bottles and chatter like gossipy girls, a couple of 30’ish guys who look like they belong to a Tokyo biker gang are surreptitiously eyeing up the woman who pass them whilst avoiding the occasional taxi driver shaking his head as he trundles through the crowd cursing this monthly evening ritual that screws up his normal route. The odd crusty resident of the square staggers past me and grabs some more free beer to take to his mates sat behind the railings just out of sight, each guy is in and out without anybody really noticing, the four or five bottles lodged in each hand held tightly and safely, in another place these guys would be dream waiters, Parisian brasseries would kill for staff with their sure-handedness and speed and deftness in manouvering through crowds. Also here tonight are that particular group of fiftysomething beer bellied bald blokes with nerd spectacles that always seem to be at the Shoreditch private views, particularly the White Cube, they often discuss the galleries they have visited but never mention the artist or the work, I cant quite understand what they are doing at the gallery but they seem to enjoy the free booze and eye the crowd with a cool distance that seems a little strange, if someone can explain their role in this whole art world play please do so?. Back to the rest of the crowd and beards of all descriptions can be seen, from Italian style sculpted to grizzly bear backside types of facial hair, as a beardy myself I am surprised by this new male facial hair obsession, it seems that when I left London in March this year everyone was clean shaven and when I returned from 2 months snowboarding in the alps in May with mountain man grizzly hair on my face everyone else had done the same, I did it firstand it's because I froze my bits off in a stinky, cold, cheap hostel with no hot running water and no shaving possibilties, it is my snowboarding mountain man badge of honour and that is why it stayed when I returned to London and I earnt it and no one else has the right to bear hair in the same way!.
I decide to get away from this bizarre spectacle of people watching and wooz my way past the gallery bouncers and into the gallery, Carol Dunham’s modernist pop art paintings throw me, any art is beyond my comprehension by this stage anyway so I’ll give you the quote from the press release.
“I didn’t sit down and strategise my way to an image of sightless humanoid with genitals growing out of its head in a funny hat. It just evolved from things connecting, triggering”. However, in my slightly pissed state and crowd phobia raging in my head nothing is connecting or triggering so all I see is a sightless humanoid in a funny hat with genitals growing out of its head. There are some lady bit paintings upstairs too.

I leave and decide to make my way to Associates on the final leg of my tour, when I arrive there is a huge crowd both outside and in, so much so that it is impossible to see Stella Capes work, I grab the second to last beer from the icy bucket (what the hell, I’m well on the way now so who cares) and make my way back outside, around me there are numerous chattering visitors but I just stare up Hoxton Street watching skateboarders, cyclists and people coming and going from the barbers on the corner. I finish my beer, jump on my bike and weave my way home.


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