Friday, July 13, 2007

Rhythms Of Life

Artists who reflect on the musical world seem to fall into two camps, one is the fanzine style, pop music becomes pop art visual stylings, like being let loose on a seventies copy of Smash Hits with glitter and fluorescent marker pens, the others seem to think about the emotional responses to music and the wider environment of sound and its performance. ‘Play Yourself’ the current group exhibition at Gimpel Fils shows a group of artists whose work attempts to address the ides of our musical tastes and how it relates to our self identity. Many of the artists use the highly colourful styles reminiscent of the more pop star fan preoccupations, not so much an exploration in sounds and emotions but more the fashion led tribal aspects of fandom being allied to musicians, bands and genres of music. These works are all accomplished in particular Stefan Hirsig’s large scale collage, Graham Dolphin’s scratched record works are, as ever, quietly impressive, Muzi Quawson’s Woodstock slides are as captivating as ever, strangely in this setting they seem to carry a little more melancholy and edge than I remember from previous viewings, maybe the people depicted who are searching for the ‘70’s hippy lifestyles associated with that place realise that time has moved on and the spirit of those times cannot be recaptured, a tribal identity in its last death throes.

The two works which standout in this show are those which focus on the nature of performance and the emotional response to music, Mark Dean’s multiple screen DVD shows four differing and individual performances which strangely combine to create a unique joint musical performance. In isolation we see a drummer, two guitarists and a school choir, the musical accomplishment and styles of the different performances are varied, a disparate band of people perform their own compositions, after time our hearing orders these sounds and an unlikely alliance of musicians seems to almost perform together. Are we viewing the power of music to collect and align individuals together in common cause and action?.

Seamus Harahan’s film shows three urban scenes with marginal members of society going about their daily activities to the bouncing beats and rhythms of a reggae soundtrack. With a gently danceable rhythmic backing a lonely homeless figure seems no longer a melancholy sight, he slowly pulls his jacket to shield his face from the wind and light his cigarette, a pigeon flies over head and we feel the world whizzing past, there is the unshakeable feeling that this man has his pace of life just right.
In the other film a stray dog howls and barks in a crowded street, watched by one elderly man he finally moves on as other feet pass swiftly by, ignored by passers by the dog trots away stopping occasionally to sniff the ground but seemingly happy and free. In the final film another homeless man picks litter from a bin, sorting through cardboard and paper he is ignored as he sorts through a jumble of litter, as the film moves on we begin to see that the actions are reversed. Harahan’s film evolves into a view of a man quietly and slowly removing detritus from the streets, spaces between paving slabs are weeded and litter carefully folded and deposited, the man becomes an unwatched force of public-spirited action, at all times the soundtrack plays and gives the impression that even the margins of our society have a rhythm of their own. It may be seldom heard and has its own unique pace, beat and volume but if you listen closely you will hear it playing along with your own.

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