Monday, November 26, 2007

Looking Over The Shoulders of History and The Future

Once an artist reaches a certain age and reputation it is often difficult to approach their work with a critical eye, this was my first impression on viewing Michelangelo Pistolletto’s latest exhibition at the Simon Lee gallery. Returning to his familiar paintings on mirrors this seemed reassuring but perhaps a little unsatisfying to one who has kept a close eye on this artists work, initially it is possible to remain disengaged from the work, pacing around and stopping in front of each piece it is possible to indulge in ‘visual snacking’. Each mirror painting in isolation is a quick and easy hit, from the middle aged trio engaged in conversation who stand apparently ignoring you as you see your reflection peering back over their shoulders or the television cameraman who points the camera out of frame to some indeterminate point. All the images seem very static, actions frozen in time, a couple at a peace protest wave a flag and look directly at you but they do not move, held in mid step they beckon your engagement but once stopped in your tracks give no more. It is when the man who stands with his back to you not looking at the you in the gallery behind him but perhaps looking at the you in the gallery in front of him reflected in the mirror that the human interaction and personality play begins, it is not when you hold yourself still and look that the works unlock themselves but when you begin to move that those in the mirrors begin their movements also. Once the process begins your movements around the gallery unlock your interactions with those depicted on each mirrored panel, other panels are reflected back into sight alongside yourself and the others in the gallery, the mirrors, the gallery space itself, you the viewer, the portraits on the mirrors and adjacent walls at which the gaze of those depicted ends at some indistinct point in the gallery space, all become integral to your experience. It is a dance of humanity in which we move through and alongside others, their influence or lack of influence on us and ours on theirs becomes the overarching theme of Pistoletto’s installation. These reflections of humanity and the associations of society and community is the true key to the unlocking of this series of works, this installation, Pistoletto’s career and his unusual success in remaining stylistically familiar but still refreshing engagement with his work. It is this firm rooting in humanity and society that keeps Pistoletto a fresh and engaging artist many years after the beginnings of his career.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Forces Of Sound And Music

Steve Reid is currently regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful jazz drummers of modern times, having seen the developments in his music since his re-emergence in the past few years I awaited his appearance at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival with enthusiasm and a little trepidation. In recent years his live playing has received such reverence amongst audiences that I wondered whether a venue as large as the Barbican could receive his music without dissipating some its power. I needn’t have worried, although the atmosphere here at the Barbican did not reach the same levels as his previous appearance with his ensemble at Cargo in 2005 the audience was carried by the sheer force of will amongst all members of the ensemble. Beginning with his ‘Drum Story’ his drumming patterns created waves of rhythms woven amongst the sound textures created by Kieren Hebden’s electronic effects, this poem based statement of his musical vision created the point of entry for the audience to this evenings performance, at the culmination of this passage of music instead of the usual break before the next number the drumming and effects continued for the remaining band members to arrive on stage. Almost two hours of music ensued with a journey through a variety of rhythms and soundscapes some recognisable, such as Reid’s classic ‘Lions of Judah’, some unrecognisable, this was beyond jazz and in some parts beyond music, all the band members moved with musical fluidity through this vibrant and pure improvisational journey. Reid acts as driving force for the band and as band leader takes responsibility for directing the flow of the music with his many and varied drum patterns, however he has the modesty and courage to allow all band members not so much to solo in the traditional sense but to take the responsibility from him and to lead the music and take the band through new routes on the journey. Kieran Hebden in most part floats through the music creating the enhancements and textures reacting to and complementing the other musicians, Marmadou Sarr’s percussion creates a complement bouncing percussive tones and rhythms off Reid’s playing, Boris Netsvetaev’s keyboards soar and swoop in some parts and jump and drive the music in others, it is the breath of the music, the air that feeds the band. Joe Rigby’s saxophone and flute provided the most formal ‘jazz’ element to the music, Rigby was the only band member to play so sparingly in terms of the time spent playing, however his ability to play such creative and original solos whilst retaining the recognisable heritage of jazz in his playing provided the intensity followed by calm that influenced the atmosphere of the other band members contributions long after his particular part had been played. Rigby was also a great communicator between audience and band, his enthusiasm and attentiveness to his other musicians and bond with the audience with his humility and love when the audience showed particular appreciation to himself or other band members. My final praise goes to Simon Fell, the real star of the performance, his bass playing took the instrument to a different level this evening, Fell’s playing was the metaphor for the achievements of this band and of the music as a whole, hunched over his instrument he plucked, slapped and thumped the bass creating more sounds than you would imagine possible from this stringed instrument. With bow and sometimes two bows in hand he contorted his body to get every last sound possible from the strings. Rhythm, percussion, wailing, growls and hums came forth and without a break his ceaseless movement for the almost two hours of this performance showed a real love of music and experimentation in improvisational sound. This was music taken to the limits, some audience members could not really understand what was happening, it was beyond jazz, beyond music, sound became elemental, it was a night where music became more akin to geology or weather. Reid wants music to change the world, to move us so much we change our view of the world, our view of ourselves and our engagement with everyone around us, if any musician can effect this change Reid will be the one to do it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Looking For Truth

For the past few months we have been made aware of the inaccuracies and half truths constructed by the television media to create revenue and engage audiences, if you have called any competition telephone lines for the variety of programmes which hold home viewing audience participation quizzes then you will be no doubt aware of the methods of our television companies to increase and retain audience figures for their programming. Similarly as you smart about the potential disingenuous acquisition of funds generated from your phone call you will no doubt also be aware of the production methods of documentary makers, the ‘careful’ editing of these films to create mood and to fully put across the messages the filmmaker intends is obvious in hindsight and only but a few would be shocked at this revelation. Michael Moore admitted to this only too happily recently, his honest and open response to such charges showed that many filmmakers are clear that the story is most important and the naivety of some audience members is not their responsibility.
But what of documentary makers of the past?, surely their methods were much more honest. Oh dear, how naïve could we be?, since the beginnings of photography and then filmmaking the crafted filmmaking processes for factual, documentary films have always been subordinate to the message or story.
It is this ambiguous territory of fiction in fact that interests Damien Roach, his current exhibition at IBID PROJECTS contains references to these constructed realities in a variety of forms. On entering the gallery you will bathed in red light, the obvious feel of a darkroom in which images are manipulated and created insinuates itself to you as you engage with Roach’s sculptural works, the sound that you hear is from an LP called ‘Sounds of a Tropical Rainforest in America’, the sounds this LP contains creates the sounds of a rainforest, it is not a field recording from a rainforest but edited together form a variety of single sources. Birdsong, animal calls and rainfall amalgamate in a constructed soundscape intended to represent and mimick reality. On the wall of the gallery plays the film Nanook of the North, this famous 1920’s documentary shows scenes of Inuit life, however some of these scenes are directed and planned to allow the filmmaker to create a more idealised and less real depiction of Inuit life. Roach’s intervention into this film is to project the film onto the gallery wall, a slowly spinning crystal disrupts and alters the images of the film by distorting the projections around the wall in altered, broken and scattered images. Roach’s intention is complete, we are in the centre of an environment intended to create a questioning of integrity, reality and our concepts of fact and fiction.

We hope that those who intend to show us the ‘real’ world through their films, images and representations do so with honesty, but to put across a message strongly it sometimes necessary to alter the reality to enhance the response from others. The manner in which ‘reality’ is depicted is unimportant if it is depicted with a spirit of honesty and integrity.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Points Between

The visual language of modernism has been established and is now a recognisable and ingrained part of our culture, the practical, unfussy linear cleanliness is evident in the work of many painters and sculptors and in the designs and manufactures of architects and designers. Looking back to the beginnings of modernism the clean, efficient lines and minimal stylings free from flourishes are something most of us now take as an easily recognisable style across many creative fields. The four artists whose work is collected together in the latest exhibition at The Approach gallery carry these modernist stylings in their works, interested in the overlaps and intersections in their work they create artworks with a certain mathematical imperative, linear sections, unitary blocks of shade & colour and a minimal usage of material and structure run true through all their works, the unfussy cleanliness and efficiency of modernism are an obvious influence. However, it is where the contemporary world manufactures and interprets these influences that these artists show a movement through modernism and beyond, these modernist traits now break and wobble under the influence of contemporary life, for all these artists the formal systems that are the foundation of their different art works begin to break down and change shape, the mathematical patterns and predictions of the world alter, the edges warp, the framing becomes misshapen, patterns realign in time and space. It is where a formal language changes and develops in front of the viewer that provides real satisfaction in this exhibition, Alexander Wolff’s stitched and dyed canvas paintings show the edges of success and failure, technical specifications in the making of these paintings are subverted by failings and reactions of the dyed material. Tom Humphreys’ sculptures show metal rods which appear bent and misshapen or perhaps reformed and shaped as they rest supported on plinths or perhaps standing free and wrapped around, they form a system of ambiguity somewhere between action and reaction. Nora Schultz’s sculptures similarly contain elements of metal rods, constructed as frames to carry loose unfurled sponge mats, the solidity and rigidity of one material support and enable the loose flowing shapes of the other. Mandla Reuter has altered the phasings of the lights within the gallery, all the lights turn on and off in all permutations possible, the order is specified but it is the buzzing, clicking and fuzzing of the bulbs and elements which give a sense of disorder, control feels as if it could give way to chaos at any moment. It is Reuter’s other work that the true metaphor of this show really drives home, Reuter has commissioned a photographer to take photographs of the LA skyline at intervals to show the movement of the setting sun, the predictable movement of sun across the sky flows ever downwards to disappear for another night behind the pre-existing built shapes of the skyline, ultimately your mind reflects beyond the predictable patterns of movement and shape to the unseen but ever changing human activity within each framed photograph. Modernism seemed to create order, predictability and simplicity in its designs and shapes, but within any order or system it is the points between success and failure, action and reaction, order and disorder that real humanity lives.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Climate Of Change-Images

'Soil from the bed of Lake Winnemucca'
Lake bed soil in sample tube in laboratory rack
Various Dimensions

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Storm Surge Surf-Kent