Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"No Search No Entry"

No doubt you have heard it, those occasions when you do a radio channel hop and amid the crackle, growl and hiss, amongst a variety of signals with a variety of music and language and amongst other more sinister sounding beeps, whistles and buzzing you can hear it. Travelling through this airwave soundscape is like flying through the city at great speed but every now and again I stop, the shouted adverts for club nights all delivered in that same style, whether dub, roots, soul, rare groove, jungle, drum & bass, garage, house it is always the same. I know there are a numerous selection of pirate voiceover specialists but in my imaginings it could be the same guy and as you stop your brief radio tour those phrases come shouting out at you with that slightly strangulated, high pitch, insistent vocal delivery without any pause for breath. “...no hoods or trainers good behaviour and law abiding citizens only strictly no caps or jeans look suave and stylish no search no entry security tight but polite…”.

Take a walk through the eastern edges of the city and further out to the depths of east London early on a Sunday morning and you will see documentary evidence of those radio words and the events they speak of, littered along Hackney Road, Cambridge Heath, Whitechapel and any large road out to Ilford and beyond and you will find those familiar printed postcard sized flyers. As the young of east London shuffle home weary and ready to catch up on their sleep after a Saturday night and Sunday morning spent throwing off the previous week a sea of litter drops from their hands and pockets, trod underfoot are the same words that emanate from the radio here in printed form. The venues, times, dates, DJ lineups, dress codes and security warnings are now history but soon to be repeated in a weeks time as the whole process starts again.

David Stewart has taken these little documents of urban life and replicated them as large woodcuts. In the Gone Tomorrow Gallery in Bethnal Green he has constructed oversized prints in black ink on white paper bearing the simple imagery and slogans from these flyers collected around Hackney Road, the flyers reproduced in this way and at such a scale show a significance, something so easily discarded and forgotten takes on a real documentary purpose.

The everyday streets of London are shown as a form of visual poetry, this traditional
method overtaken by modern printing processes is now reclaimed by Stewart and shows a real love of the city. Amongst these reproduced flyers Stewart shows printed text and images echoing a world of pirate radio, nightclubs, takeaways and discount international calls. It is a world we see and hear in this city but have become used to, our eyes and ears no longer notice due to the scale of its influence and the sheer scale of our city, its evidence litters our streets in the form of these rudimentary printed flyers.

David Stewart has taken these discarded pieces of litter and out of these weather beaten, crumpled scraps shown us a view of our city, it might be a rain soaked, muddied and grubby history of the night before but under Stewart’s hand it is renewed and made beautiful.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Work in Progress

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Moments at The Arcola

I do not find theatre particularly engaging, I know that is a sweeping generalisation considering the variety within theatre but on the occasions when I do visit a play I often find the performances stilted and contrived. There is something about the need to project to the audience, every action and gesture or phrase seems over elaborate and, well, theatrical. Even the words associated with theatre bother me, the very words ‘theatre’ and ‘performance’ did not sit easy with me. In any art form I look for subtlety and theatre literally and metaphorically shouts too loud.

So it was with great hope but a little doubt that I visited the Arcola Theatre for last nights performance of ‘Chasing the Moment’, especially as this play deals with one of my great artistic loves, jazz music. Jack Shepherd’s play follows an evening of a performance by a jobbing jazz quartet and the personalities who come together around the quartet, this evening chronicles the potential endings of the relationships of the musicians and their friends, families and acquaintances and the very site at which they gather.

The dialogue between classes, races, generations and sexes, the breakdown of and the damage to relationships by our lack of understanding of others is contained in this play. Along the way the musicians show their feelings and understandings of the legacies and history of jazz music, slavery, immigration, the changing face of the political landscape, dependency, love, birth and death.

The measure of this play which sets it apart from other plays is the sense of reality, actor and writer Shepherd has obviously observed deeply the language and attitudes that underpin the subject matter of his play and great direction, acting and a sparse but realistic set add to the effect that we are just onlookers in a real life dialogue. The actors do not play to the audience, they play to each other and as an audience we just exist around them, this is no mannered ‘performance’ and it is all the better for it.

If, like me, you think theatre is not real enough try ‘Chasing The Moment’, the Arcola Theatre might just be the place to think again?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Musings on Fear (The Whiteness of the Whale)

Fear is an unusual thing, as an abstract concept fear seems a harsh, pointed and aggressive thing but in reality it is a dull and slow feeling. Fear doesn’t push you forcefully into its realm and drag you to the finality of its actions, it does its work slowly, the speed between the feeling of fear and the playing out of the consequences of the fear inducing act may be fast but once we are in its hands it removes control from us and time slows down, the moments between its inception and its final play are like slowly grinding wheels that catch our sleeves and drag us into its dull and slowly crushing inevitability. From personal experience of a Alpine related accident I can tell you that fear subsides into a quiet but unsettling calm before the conclusion of the fear inducing act, when faced with a conclusion that appears to be certain death fear is soon replaced by a resignation to inevitability, especially because ten seconds feels like ten minutes.

On Friday evening the Transition Gallery opened their current exhibition “The Whiteness of the Whale”, three artists ponder issues relating to the novel Moby Dick. Fear and dread, mortality and the loss of control when faced with forces more powerful than yourself run through the novel’s text and that is echoed by the quiet forboding that emanate from the works on show. In a world of bluff, bluster, ego and artwork that shouts and screams for attention it is fascinating to be drawn into the orbit of these works, quiet whisperings draw you close and then grab hold of you and don’t let go. It is a great tribute to the artists that in a crowded room on such an opening night that the subtle power of these works can vie for attention and win. As a complement to the work on this opening night there is a continuous reading of the novel by a kind of endurance reading tag team, on my arrival the reader is holding booklet or newspaper megaphone style to his lips to try to be heard, he fails to be heard and is only contributing to the collage of voices chatting around the room.
In other settings the social atmosphere of the gallery would distract but the work quietly insinuates its way into my thoughts.

Reece Jones large monochrome almost landscapes do not register with me as images but as a series of deep dusty black streaked sheets, imagery gives way to something more ephemeral, they look like oversized photocopies of charcoal drawings but it is the combination of their cleanliness and grubby earthiness that attracts me. Anna-Karin Jansson’s videos are single frame films of forested wilderness, in one a moose sits in the grass watching and waiting, we look for some time for an action to take place, what will the solitary and perhaps fearful creature do?, who is scared of who?, this large and powerful beast has a strength that we could not match and in some ways it must know this but it’s fear of us just brings it slowly to its feet to turn and slowly slip away from danger. In the other film a spot of sunlight reaches the frosty ground, with a background of black dense forest the heat from the sun melts the frost and mist lifts from the surface into the air. In Nadia Hebson’s large canvas the rigging of a sinking ship lists to one side as it sinks into its blue black watery grave, this is a timeless image, once again an image of fearful inevitability is portrayed but as the act makes its slow progression to conclusion we can only watch and wait.

This exhibition does not answer any questions it just reminds us of human frailty in a powerful and uncontrollable world, we can only participate when the things that cause our fears to be realised plays itself out, there maybe an inevitable conclusion but we can do nothing but wait for that conclusion.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Is The Art Market Making Us Stupid? Or Are We Making It Stupid?

Seeing Dollar Signs - Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid? by Jerry Saltz January 18th, 2007 2:48 PM

Painter Charline Von Heyl recently described Americans' disconnect between the personal and political this way: "While almost everything in the outer world feels messed-up, our inner lives aren't altogether messed-up." The current art world, awash in money and success, is shot through with a similar disconnect. link to full article

Monday, February 05, 2007


Have you seen him?, I have. I know he is notoriously secretive but hiding in a tunnel near the Westway seems a bit extreme. I am not sure he was there by choice in an abandoned kiosk surrounded by bits and bobs stood dead still. He ignored me, as usual he didn't say a word but I knew it was him when I saw him in a variety of guises on posters along the tunnel.

No doubt you will hear of his presence, of his secretive tours around galleries in the East End but don’t be fooled, he was underground in that subway near Edgware Road. He's gone from his temporary West London lair, you can be sure that wherever he now is he’ll also be lurking in the mind of some artist somewhere.

Whether it’s lurking under Edgware Road or in an artists dreams or maybe a chance glance of him scuttling that small distance between the gallery exit and the taxi that whisks him away you may feel, as I do, that there is something not quite real about him, whichever guise he may take in your imagination.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I am standing in the darkened room at the back of the White Cube on Hoxton Square which is showing Christian Marclay’s four screen video installation, most of my fellow visitors stand fixed to the spot and focussed on one screen only, I am however wheeling round darting my eyes from screen to screen and pacing around. All around me gunshots ring out from each screen and the associated imagery culled from a variety of films show the quick cutting edits of the actors firing off shots.
We are in the firing line, either targets of or bystanders in a horrible but strangely compelling and grin inducing gang war. Triads, western gunslingers, Mexican bandits, street thugs, loose cannon cops, armed private eyes, drug dealers and femme fatales take aim and repeatedly fire at us, this does not feel like art it feels like some Hollywood live action cartoon in which we have blundered. A sense of the real and the fantasy are bouncing round my mind as quickly as my feet are shifting from right to left and my eyes are darting from screen to screen, and then the shooting subsides until the flashing and jumping imagery settles into eery soundtrack music and darkened calm, there is not so much a tension in the room but there is an atmosphere, my fellow visitors in the gallery are reacting but I cant quite put my finger on what emotions they are feeling.

Then we hear the sound of reloading, quietly at first and then more urgent and then the firing begins again, back in the crossfire my mind starts to order the sounds of gunshots, many of the looped video segments are random but as the firing continues other parts of the edit start to order into a percussive rhythm, like a drum solo moving from polyrythmic to an almost conventional beat, this is close to music, it never lasts but for brief moments of Marclay’s bizarre homage to Hollywood’s on screen death counts it is like a drum beat of death and destruction. It is oddly reassuring, maybe a diet of ‘70’s U.S cop shows has inurred me to the significance of the reality that such stylised gun play reflects.

I cant decide if this is showy video pop art or something deeper and darker, either way this is compulsive and impressive, whether entertainment or something else it is one of the more engaging exhibitions that the White Cube has seen for a while.