JOURNEY TIME: GETTING AWAY @ ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION 

Holiday as myth. As fantasy. As a product of memory. As a philosophy of nostalgia. The artists in this show take the traditional holiday excursion seriously, pushing beyond the transient lighthearted pleasures provided by times away into realms of  profound reflection and contemplation, pondering its lingering intellectual and emotional legacies upon the self. Day Bowman’s abstract, dream-laden beach scenes conjure days both sunny and overcast, the geography and structure of the landscape suggested in swirls, swoops, squiggles and blocks of paint, coalesced filters of youthful experience, a reminiscence of play and imagination; Anna Barlow’s fevered confections (constructed of clay, porcelain and glaze), smashed against walls , in various stages of being consumed, gleam with maniacal artificiality, trivial and ephemeral, but enduring and powerful metaphors of appetite and indulgence, of the excitements of relinquishing responsibility and exiling stress; Kitty Stirling’s found object and memorabilia pieces (comprised of bingo cards and stamps) rescue transitory articles from oblivion and transform them into venerated artefacts of time spent and time passed-and her deconstructed deckchair absurdly and exuberantly celebrates the resolve of the British character in the face of hardship; Judith Tucker and Marguerite Horner’s uneasy works address abandonment and emptiness through eerie uninhabited or anonymous images of neighbourhoods and roadways, Tucker’s paintings of holiday homes after dark especially charged in their anxious absences; Amanda Wallwork’s stratigraphic column and colour code for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site (a 95 mile stretch Dorset and East Devon coastline) reveals not only natural temporal geographic developments of landscape but also the cumulative effects of human movement upon the ground, marks and prints left behind, the (sometimes) tense conversation shared between the two; Sophie Marritt’s video piece is a hazy, blurred bus journey from downtown L.A. to LAX captured on camera phone, revealing a sensibility unmoored, a jumbled trip through alienating concrete underpasses with occasional thrills of incongruent verdant life in sudden, fleeting vision; Jake Clark’s colourful, jocular sculptures are fond interpretations of holiday structures (lighthouses, towers, miniature golf courses, hotel room fixtures), as if a young child, still in thrall to holiday, gathers together available materials to recreate beloved locations and objects; Lydia Blakeley’s febrile, restless collages directly confront systems of manufactured fantasy and their subsequent mental and spiritual fallout, impossible images of aspiration, of not-quite-feasible or attainable reality, triumphs of “false”nostalgia. Quite beyond the practicalities of planning for a holiday, and the physical holiday itself, there exists a nucleus of sensual and fanciful engagement, embedded long-term in the psyche. Getting Away continues through 28 July, then transfers to Quay Arts, Newport, Isle of Wight.

http://www.arthouse1.co.uk/getting-away.html

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SURFACE TENSIONS:WHISPERING COLOUR @ BO-LEE

EXHIBITION 

To tread or not to tread? The gallery staff are no doubt endlessly amused as each visitor enters the space to be immediately confronted by Dolly Kershaw’s colourful, serpentine path that winds like a stone carpet off into the room-the dilemma and trepidation etched on each guest’s face of whether to purposefully walk along it, or to respect it as a work of art and politely sidestep it, admiring it from a safe, near remove. Kershaw definitively means for the public to directly interact with her work, the process of continual flux between construction and disassemblement its raison d’etre. This ethos extends to the work of the fellow artists in this show, exploring the tensions between manipulation and chance, the synthetic and the natural, the exertions writ onto the canvas, contradictions held in strange harmonies. Sue Arrowsmith’s fragile, haiku treescapes, like troubled, dark Japanese watercolours (echoed in her use of ground Japanese sumi ink) tumble between the abstract and the representational, shapes struggling for definition against inky backgrounds (their resemblance to film negatives is inherent in her use of 35mm colour slides as study guides from her various walks throughout London), the flow and sprawl of limb a revelation of meticulous detail and serendipity. Defects are brought to the fore in Susan Gunn’s panelled paintings, which incorporate base materials, and willingly yield to natural processes-cracks, folds, eruptions transmute into purpose. They are monochromatic conversational landscapes of fracture and imperfection, assertions of both intent and spontaneity. Philippa Lawrence’s bound bonsai trees, constricted limbs dressed in bright cotton threads, animate nature, enhancing and extending a base drama already present in the source body and shape. The pieces exist in a wave of playful asphyxiation, and operate as a kind of resurrection of sorts, as bonsai trees are effectively dead items-Lawrence’s efforts could be taken as elaborate funereal wardrobes, majesterial offerings to the beauty and stature of the natural world, a form of deification.Michelle Benoit’s gelled wall sculptures (of plexiglass and wood) are emotional palimpsest equivalents of the geologic time scales, a suggestion of the interplay, and overlay, of memory and event and sentiment, an encompass of time, directed by light and colour. Chromal isolations of anger, calm, resignation and joy pulse and flash around the anchor of wood, a panoply of a lived life. The sense of the works breathing is strong overall-and indeed, given movement throughout the gallery, Kershaw’s “live” piece may have already transformed by the time a guest leaves-or, in the act of departure, a guest may contribute personally to its alteration, becoming one with the themes of the show. Whispering Colours continues through 19 July

TELLING TALES-GDIF 2018

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE 

This showcase of street theatre (staged over the course of two weekends, the first in Greenwich with the stunning backdrop of the Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval College, the second amongst the concrete canyons of Canary Wharf) continues to be one of my most anticipated events of the year, never failing to ignite my senses. Although this year collectively the pieces didn’t register as strongly in either narrative or artistic content, the overall skill of the performers remains peerless, and there were plenty of highlights. The consummate act of this year’s programme was the Finnish trio Race Horse Company, whose Motosikai is a marvel of acrobatic clowning that builds thrillingly to ever-more outrageous and jaw-dropping antics, utilising such props as axes, bowling balls, skis and stone planks, as well as being a complex of potentially dangerous feats of tumbling and jumping, in which the physical boundaries of the performers’ bodies are pushed to the limit. Sorriso, a sweet, wistful, beautifully costumed tale of a love transcending the grave, performed on stilts (which grants movement an apropos otherworld quality) squanders much of its poignancy on ill-advised audience participation which detracts from the essential intimacy of the central couple. La Belle Escabelle is a lighthearted bit of choreography between two men and a series of stepladders, each move one of escalating intricacy and daring that eventually challenges the core strength of one performer in a climactic, bravura sequence.

Canary Wharf offered more traditional dance, the pinnacle of which was Nomadis, featuring a sinuously hypnotic fluency of movement between its two performers, in flawless sync with one another, two strangers drawn magnetically into the other’s orbit. Bolero stressed the strain and intensity of the central couple’s exertions, the physical exhaustion and grave focus, the grind and demand. Consequencies, with its manic motion, dancers colliding and falling-and occasionally walking over one another-jovially explored being out of step. Gibbon’s dancer/juggler duo suffered a bit in the afternoon heat, sweaty hands defeating precision, but their good nature and easy camaraderie softened the imperfection, and they were able to create moments of poetic movement despite setback (the heightened ambition of many of the manoeuvres is so mind-boggling that achievement of even half of them is still impressive). 

Even the works that are not entirely successful will most likely offer a memorable moment or image-such is the breadth of what is on view. Bring on next year!

Please visit my Instagram account for video footage from the event-still images, of course, can’t quite provide the proper perspective.

https://festival.org/gdif-2018/whats-on/

POOR SOULS-OLDE FOOD: ED ATKINS@CABINET GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

Credit TimeOut

Trapped in inexorable loops, Ed Atkins’s digital creations (victims?) have succumbed to forces unnamed and unknown, yielding to a pornography of upset and grief and alarm. They are the subjects of a manipulatively cruel and merciless creator, wholly defined (and confined) by their distress-their ability to move out of the moment has been stripped from them, forced to endlessly dramatise their anguish. A soundtrack of moans and screams, sad piano chords, agonises through the gallery.

Credit Notey

A character in Good Wine performs a circular action that is never allowed to be complete-abruptly, a lifetime comes to pass, and the young boy has become a man seemingly beset by disease, crawling to a piano to play out his own dirge. A storm of human figures tumble from the sky, careening into a void, over and over, until end credits roll at ridiculous length, thanking corporate sponsorship and social media platforms (for a production that never quite began). Sandwich ingredients, including baby corpses and human face masks (like cuts of lunch meat) slap onto bread slices, occasionally blasting apart into cross-sectional studies.

Credit Art Basel

Although characters of undeniable artificiality (bodies, yet not bodies) Atkins is able to suggest enough of some real vulnerability and helplessness to provoke in the viewer a pitiable and empathetic response. Just what is Atkins investigating? Perhaps a peculiar modern disorder to serve ourselves up to a digital dimension, cheapen sentiment, indulge our gaudiest behaviour, wilfully surrender to the reduction of algorithm. We allow for a process of consumption, and may have a complicit hand in our own exploitation.A two-tiered rack of costumes from the archives of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, sending out waves of dormant,dusty air, physically dominate the centre of the space, echoing the wardrobe worn by the onscreen avatars. They speak of ghosts and loss, of those who have inhabited them, animated them, and of the yearning towards those who may possess and liven them again, both reproachful and sympathetic towards the poor souls around them, lacking full lives but theatrically hysterical to achieve materiality and fulfilment.Two weeks on, no matter the meaning, I can’t shake off the haunting imagery. Olde Food closed on 2 June, but you can find excerpts from the works online, and I have a few clips at my Instagram account.

http://www.cabinet.uk.com/index.php?artists

 

LIVES ON THE LINE: BOBBIE RUSSON @ BO.LEE GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

Gothic-tinged, etched in tender gloom, the wide-eyed, wary subjects of this series of paintings by Russon seem on the verge of being subsumed by the very canvas, creeping tendrils of paint bleeding onto the figures, the stark backgrounds insidiously working to claim the fragile beings, as if ready to absorb their forms. A precarious, tenuous hold on an inner equilibrium is evoked-a psychological soundness is at risk of defeat. Defenceless, in retreat, the characters appear to be one thought away from abnegation to forces from within and without the frame. Expressions ( bitter, peevishly resigned, exhausted) denote that no illusions are any longer harboured, hope is a con long extinguished. The dolls to which some cling, the pets beside others, lesson books open (all symbols and talismans of security, safety, escape) are no longer strength against the slide towards a greyish oblivion. Storms rage about, water rising-the title of the exhibition, Deluge, is apropos. Russon favours an austere vision-these are bare pieces, no flagrant embellishments or dramatic flourishes. For the people portrayed, there are no aesthetics with which to protect the self against some terrible truth. She works skilfully and with deft craft in multiple sizes (her miniatures are especially effective in isolating disquieting details)-winter has thoroughly settled into the sinew and flesh of these poor souls, mind and body enervated, speaking only of loss and loneliness. And yet the softness and the delicacy of this gaze into the bleak prevents the works from being overburdened with darkness. Both the oddly melancholy eccentrics of Tim Burton and the gentlemanly grotesques of Edward Gorey may drift through the mind as you walk the gallery. Deluge continues through 23 June

https://www.bo-lee.co.uk/

TOXIC: THEATRE REVIEWS

THEATRE

Mood Music @ The Old Vic 

Credit thestage

Under a canopy of microphones, like an omnipotent garden of confessional devices, an unscrupulous record producer and his new protege (a young female singer with whom he has collaborated on a wildly successful single) descend into rancour and antipathy over intellectual property rights and psychological abuse. Structured as a series of three simultaneous conversations-legal, therapeutic, personal, occasionally overlapping-the play explores, somewhat schematically, the nature of the artist (the ways in which narcissism shading off into sociopathy may be excused due to talent), deceptive legal manoeuvrings, the politics of ownership of a shared piece of work , the pressures and liabilities of partnership, venomous power dynamics cut along gender and generational lines.

Credit the stage

Ben Chaplin is charismatically  dissolute and grungy as the wholly self-absorbed producer, coasting on a nonchalant egomania that helplessly pulls otherwise smart, savvy people into its vortex, and Seana  Kerslake is emotionally raw and wounded as the young artist experiencing her first professional betrayal (reeling still from her father’s early passing).

Credit oldvictheatre

The other actors (the respective lawyers and therapists) unfortunately exist only as sounding boards and contrivances to pose the script’s conceptual inquiries, not allowed to exist much beyond the surface-if writer Joe Penhall had found a way to dramatise the issues solely as an  assiduous byproduct of the argumentative, calloused relationship between the two leads, had them battle through their words and actions, the play would have really crackled and felt much more immediate, shaking off the rather stodgy approach, which continually interrupts the vigour with a lethargic, staid sense of the academic. Mood Music continues through 16 June

https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2018/mood-music/cast

Teddy @ The Vaults Waterloo 

Credit londontheatre

This original musical details the youth rebellion (and revolution) following the austerity and deprivation of World War II, whereupon the dark and damaged facade of Britain rose a new generation full of swagger and cool (the Teddys) with their own lexicon, their own rituals of wardrobe and behaviour-as in America, here was the start of the rock-‘n-roll era. Writer Tristan Bernays isn’t interested in presenting his material as a history lesson, instead revealing the parameters of this burgeoning lifestyle in the blooming love affair between the lead boy and girl, following them from their respective preparations for a night out on the town, their strategies for negotiating their way around disapproving parents, their troubled acquisitions of funds, their furtive movements around neighbourhoods where police prowl and enemies lay in wait and, finally, in a club where they first notice one another, revealing  their mutual passion for the American teen idol Johnny Valentine, playing a secret gig at a grotty club in Elephant & Castle that very evening.

Credit mytheatremates

Molly Chesworth and George Parker work furiously in the lead roles, Chesworth all hard edges and grand detachment, Parker confident and cocksure, both vulnerable beneath the bluff (and each inhabiting a host of supporting characters skilfully). By the end of the show, both are drenched in sweat at the effort. From the moment an audience member walks into the space, Max Dorey’s set design is already registering, the whole of the theatre resembling a bombed-out area, full of detritus and crumbled material, dense fog lingering. A quartet of spirited and lively musicians, each with a distinct character arc, portray Johnny and his band, essentially playing an ongoing gig throughout the length of the play (a mix of original tunes in the style of the 50’s and a few standards).

Credit britishtheatre

Bernays has his lead characters speak in rhyming couplets much of the play, mostly in their private musings, which is a poetic device that doesn’t always work seamlessly (oftentimes it calls too much attention to itself), and there are a few unfortunate developments, the material trending darker as the play progresses, that aren’t in keeping with the generally upbeat nature of the majority of the show (the storylines feel ill-suited and inconsistent). There’s a curious punitive nature to the closing moments, a rather peevish adult confirmation of youth being abandoned to vice and criminality, their sum total of choices and conduct ruinous.

Credit londontheatre

That the audience is asked to jump onstage following curtain call for a dance and jive with the musicians is a bit immodest considering where we have just left the protagonists. Teddy has now concluded its run

https://www.thevaults.london/teddy

 

 

 

TRANSMISSIONS: WALLEN MAPONDERA @ TYBURN GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

Mild-mannered, softly-spoken, the works that constitute Zimbabwe-born Mapondera’s show (Emergency Exit) at this stylish gallery tucked into a corner of London’s charming St. Christopher’s Place, put the lie to the popular notion that artwork needs to churn with heaving aggression and turbulence, announce its significance in full stentorian voice, to properly shake and move an audience. Fragile and resilient in equal measure, the metaphor is directly embedded in his materials-frayed threads, waxed paper, cardboard, plastics stretched and torn, but not quite yielding; it’s as much about absence as presence.Political and social crisis and stress informs his topographical canvasses (inherent in the droops and dangles, the scars, the sheer exhaustion of the textiles), conveying an aggrieved history of failures of state and global culture, each piece an aerial map of devastation and depredation of both village and people (ghostly figures hover and haunt the compositions, occasional tangles of red thread suggest bloodshed). These are painstaking, precise creations, all the more powerful for allowing the viewer to engage with them slowly and at ease, the acute implications accumulating quiet force. The oil paintings included illustrate ways in which native populations negotiate and strategise alternatives to systemic governmental inadequacy (Nemabhero references the explosion of the second-hand clothing trade; Korokoza crystallises the conflict and search for detente between commercial and artisanal gold miners in the country; the crowded bus terminal of ChiVendor Nechihwindi may address the ambitious nascent infrastructure projects now underway in Zimbabwe and the concomitant opportunities for local labourers). One Hundred and Twenty Candidates, a pronounced series of scrawled faces on blocks, thrust out from the frame, gives great attendance to activists who may otherwise face elision or discredit from authorities-Mapondera makes it impossible not to notice them. Each painting, in structure, takes on the definition of landscape-the mountainous piles of clothing; the visual dissonance of the mining factions; the cramped encampment of buses; the pointed, tiered sea of physiognomy-confirming Mapondera’s abiding preoccupation with environment.

Credit Artsy

It’s in the terrain where you will find the truth-spirit and soul are embedded within it, human traces and tributaries limned upon its surface. Emergency Exit continues through 4 July

http://www.tyburngallery.com/

Credit Artsy