In any interaction with art, there exists an artist’s intention, a viewer’s reaction and perception to this intention, and the psychological nexus created by this connection, producing a third state of being-the best art remains averse to the static and fixed, and will ease itself into multivalence, absorbing and channeling each individual interpretation. The work of both artists represented in this show devoted to the theme of collapse (and potential for rebirth-or at least temporary reorganisation) are sterling examples of this ethos, at first seemingly one thing, but upon close inspection of detail and form, quite another. Kate Palmer’s intricate canvas landscapes may initially appear as aerial studies of complex rail network systems, squalls of white noise, or medical spreadsheets of brainwave patterns, but are in fact founded in the narrative geometry of tracks (each a personal tale of both free will and structured control) left behind in Alpine environments (Palmer is a snowboarding enthusiast, and it’s not a great leap to see how this immediately informs the work). A visceral energy surges across the canvas, seductive layers draw you deep into the frame, definition teases then coyly rescinds, lines intersect, break apart, drop suddenly, twirl and spiral, obscure dramatic stories of turmoil and mania suggested, voices embedded. Like looking directly into a blindingly white expanse of snow, both an absence and depth occur at once, soft surface with possible hidden peril. A table in the side room allows a visitor to intimately leaf through pages and pages of Palmer’s sketches, several chapters in her process, on parchment paper so ethereal to the touch it’s easy to imagine it could have been produced using snow powder as base material. David MacDiarmid’s sculptural creations, cheeky and playful and animated, gambol about the space amidst Palmer’s (mostly) mounted work with conceptual synergy. Two’s Company, a table duet, fools with perception from first look, as the piece that you assume looks the most vulnerable and delicate (spindly, haphazard legs, soft wood) is actually quite a deal stronger than its partner, which appears fuller, denser, more solid, but upon touch is of weaker, less substantial material, and the bed of which is without base, all assumptions blasted. MacDiarmid is consistent in this process, tricking sight with material-paper pulp and wood mimicking concrete in the aqueduct creation Flow, polystyrene mimicking marble in Duck and Cover-reforming and recalibrating possibility. Bent Over, frivolously positioned just at the edge of a mantelpiece, is a kittenish bondage homage, its elegant brass body a demure curl that could turn lethal should its copper coil suddenly spring, a threat in waiting. Collapse and Lean To, cane-like figures bent and gnarled, in woozy posture, steady themselves against a wall, two exhausted but undefeated gallery goers determined to see it through. The two artists complement and engage one another in a dialogue regarding constant, excitable flux and instability, positioning this sensibility as perhaps existence’s most meaningful, terrifying and resonant. Collapse continues through 24 March
A boy. A girl. Chance encounters on the Tube, in the queue at Caffè Nero, interest stirred, a concentration and attention paid to small personal details, a tentative and bold step towards first words and communication-with breathless brevity, writer (and actor) Cordelia O’Neill sharply limns the arc of a relationship from its burgeoning start through to its eventual capsize on eruptive grounds of circumstance and sad, supreme indifference of the universe. An omniscient narrator orbits around the main characters, a suggestion of some greater (cosmic?) force acting beyond the couple to construct an alliance, the two heedlessly and helplessly in its grip, foolishly following its template, not for once believing that there is anything other than the traditional trajectory in place. Small quibbles with in-laws, friends, preferences, each other’s personality traits and characteristics gently trouble the surface, but remain benign in threat, until a truly tragic turn severely, and with sweeping suddenness, wholly destabilises and breaks connection-with sanity, with comprehension, with sense, with basic belief in a benevolent universe, and ultimately with one another. O’Neill makes the audience keenly feel the sting of this piercing event, the gulf it creates, the intractable grief that consumes, hardens and exiles especially one individual. The audience is just as beguiled as the central couple, so breezing along on the heady tumult of a relationship in progress that when the ground is abruptly altered, it’s left as scalded and bereft and unmoored as the characters. O’Neill also does something very skilful with the narrator, who almost imperceptively shifts into an aspect with a much more personal stake in the story, so subtle you long to go back over preceding moments, now armed with the knowledge, to witness how she may have been all along building it into the script. This piece is emblematic of the opportunities a festival such as Vault provides: a forum and space to develop and produce work by forcefully talented emerging artists, with bold voices and fearless style. Vault continues through 18 March-in addition to the list of arts events, the venue also hosts a restaurant, cafe and bar, plenty of areas to gather for an evening’s full, satisfying entertainment.
One of “urban guerrilla” artist JR’s now signature large-scale Xerox photo sculptures greets visitors to this new Mayfair gallery devoted to street artists (the latest residence for the established Lazinc project, a partnership between Qatari businessman-and former spouse of Janet Jackson-Wissam Al Mana and Banksey’s erstwhile dealer, contemporary art specialist Steve Lazarides ), an arresting pair of sporty legs, tennis-shoed, jutting out from the first-floor windows, as if in frozen act of backward gymnastic move (the “other half” of the piece, the arched torso, lives just inside the entrance). Less an overview of JR’s career to date, the focus of the show is specific to his creations for the 2016 Rio Olympics, some of his most ambitious and colossal to date, celebrating the grace, strength and poetry of the athletic form, installed quite spectacularly in outdoor locations across the city: a high-jumper, in astonishing mid leap, just clears the top of an apartment block; a swimmer emerges, mid-stroke, from the seaside; a diver soars off a pier just about to land in the welcoming water. Anchoring each figure is an elaborate system of scaffolding which in and of itself is quite a feat of construction. For maximum effect, either distance (which rewards the majesty of each sculpture in relation to surrounding environment) or tight, close focus may be the best angle from which to view the work. On display are a series of architectural studies for each work, illustrations, prototypes, 3-D models, sketches, even some intriguing inked transfers of the images onto rough-hewn planks of wood, which are rich and successful works of their own. The visitor is given the opportunity to immerse the self in JR’s process, from initial conception to final production. You long to project yourself for just a brief moment to Rio circa 2016, to witness the monumental appointments. Ever since happening across an abandoned camera in the Paris metro in 2001 (so the myth goes), JR has taken to the streets, snapping portraits of marginalised, fringe-dwelling people, his work taking on an increasingly socio-political bent (recent projects address the plight of women, migrants, Middle Eastern conflict, favela gang activity, and he is Oscar nominated for his collaboration with iconic filmmaker Agnes Varda, “Faces Places”, a documentary travelogue in which the pair traverse the French countryside in a photography van encountering local communities, leaving behind magisterial images of the town populations emblazoned on local buildings, a visual encomium of the common people). Some may dismiss JR as all flash, but I believe that a generous and engaged sensibility informs the material, a sincere interest in and concern for those unfairly treated and enmeshed in cultural and political warfare, staging a very visible and public confrontation. Giants concluded its run on 28 February, but have a look at the gallery’s website, and please engage in further research online for JR’s various activities.
The verve and energy animating this recent work (2014-7) of British pop doyenne Riley belies the fact that she is approaching her ninth decade. She continues to dazzle the optic senses, playfully manipulating and disrupting the mechanics of seeing, at every opportunity seductively thwarting any attempt at sound visual purchase. A pioneer of the Op Art movement in the early 60s (she originally experimented with a pointillist technique, occasioned by an abiding admiration for Georges Seurat), Riley has remained consistent in her style of content, a system of shape and pattern, colour and form, that excites sensations of movement and pulse, achieving startling depth perception on a flat surface (her only radical shift being the introduction of colour into her palette in the late 60s, thus expanding her range of optical possibilities). Her most successful pieces radiate with an almost hieroglyphic resonance, a coded language of line, curve, square, triangle that continually elude meaning just as your eye believes it’s solved it. The longer you stare, the more vibratory and unanchored the focus becomes, suddenly lost in several simultaneous visual tracks and levels-the work is speaking to you, breathing. Whereas many practitioners of this optic form of art may be nothing more than surface flash, Riley has a sensibility that rescues the work from the insubstantial. Modestly and carefully curated across the three floors of this luxe Mayfair townhouse, each work is granted a broad enough space to exert its most impressive potential, and outside of the framed studies, Riley has been invited to inscribe works directly onto the walls, freeing content from the confines of traditional support, expanding field and context, rewarding a viewer’s movement around the piece, which persistently morphs in compliance to angle. Most intriguing are her works (Quiver, Untitled 2) which hold some absence, or pause, of continuous pattern-you find yourself searching for structure, for a perfect square or cross to form on the grid, only for the instinct to be frustrated (but not jarringly or hostilely). Riley generously allows for such effort. Viewing Riley’s work inspires in my mind a contradictory phrase: meditative agitation. Although the image is in constant dynamic shift and fluctuation, nevertheless it manages a soothing,, undulating, mesmeric quality, invoking a sort of primal delight. Bridget Riley continues at David Zwirner through 10 March
A stark stage is strewn with the detritus of technology: a visual cacophony of cast off modems, keyboards, consoles: gratingly brutal bursts of discordant modern jazz punctuates scene changes, sometimes overwhelming the pitiable stabs at conversation and communication between the characters. This manic hour-long piece invites the audience into the spiralling world of three intense gamers , one of whom spectacularly flames out (by overdose of Adderall) from competition (staged to resemble the aggressive push of a trading floor) , forcing the retreat of the trio from this insulated and consuming environment into the unforgiving parameters of the “real” world, requiring a state of being and clarity for which all three are woefully lacking. What is profoundly cynical and disturbing in writer Alex Benjamin’s accelerated debut script (not always particularly subtle or nuanced) is that the supposed saner, more rational world of conventional responsibility and behaviour hasn’t much to offer, here a sum total of unsuccessful job interviews, eviction notices, monetary insecurity, dysfunctional relationships, unrequited love and abandonment, and all the space one needs to tremendously drift off-to become completely lost and unmoored. In an overeliance on technology (and an inability to feel valuable or complete without some online presence), the most severely troubled character, Kieran, exiles himself to his bedroom to spend the bulk of his time on a live-feed, accruing a league of followers, mostly to watch him sleep. It is he who poses the theory that perhaps the world could be constructed from not concrete (definitive, strong, unyielding) but cotton, a substance at once more fragile, but also supportive and pliable (a needed cushion)- he then goes even more drastic, proposing it be built from the certainty and compactness of code. The acting, for the most part, is earnest, if not a bit erratic (with an odd bit of casting for the father, the performer of which doesn’t appear very much older than the two actors portraying his sons-it’s a young company, so this may be forgiven in terms of dramatic suspension). The tone is one of continual attack (perhaps mimicking the tenor of millennial ADHD angst), but over the course of the running time, and unregulated, grows somewhat wearisome and frustrating. A final sequence, borne of a thoughtful and loving gesture on part of father to son, is a quietly powerful kick of nostalgia, in the son’s hands the now-primitive (and innocent) device which started his love of the potentials of gaming and its access to consuming and palliative realms of fantasy and escape, before a curdle into obsession-on the precipice, with an adulthood looming, will he choose to succumb wholly once again, or devise a way in which to incorporate it into a wider life? I fear for him, as the dialogue of his two colleagues, sat on benches behind him in the dark, recedes further and further away from audibility, and from his consciousness.
The Vault Festival continues through 18 March, and has a full schedule of theatre, music, comedy and cabaret events from which to choose, as well as several options for food and drink.
This gentle, unemphatic production puts the lie to the principle that theatrical convention must favour confrontation and hysteria and heightened reality to be successful. Its virtue lies in its tremendous ability to evince storms and spirals of feeling and sensation without ever once disrupting the calm, polite surface of its cast of characters, as taciturn and pastoral as the Yorkshire landscape that holds them (a large screen, an image of the vast and spacious moors, is situated imposingly above the set). Gruff, reticent George (Ben Batt), sharing a cosy home with his aging mother, joins a troupe staging the York Mystery Plays (catching the eye of a director’s assistant, wide-eyed and anxiously analytical urban boy John, played by Jonathan Bailey, in from London); when George suddenly stops attending rehearsals, curious (in all aspects) John makes a pilgrimage to George’s front door, and steps into his life. The attraction between the two men, although almost never physically overt (except for one thrilling moment with a tentative, affectionate and secret hand on back) is marvellously suggested through body language and look-something positively liquid flows between the actors, quivers of fear, lust, possibilities. For me, the two lead performances were revelatory, as I know both actors from television work, personas quite fixed (Batt as a tough, criminally minded sort; Bailey the glib, smug, ruthlessly aspirant careerist)-here, both reveal heretofore unknown reserves of yearning vulnerability and tenderness. I don’t know how Batt does it, but his posture, a particular slouch that somehow communicates a steady backing away from life and conflict, indicates the sadder, melancholy man he will be when older. The impediments to a successful relationship in this scenario is not the scorn or repugnance of the wider public (given this takes place in the early sixties, it wouldn’t be a great leap to expect this), but the limitations and fallibilities of both men, frailties of confidence and potential (although George, as in all facets of his life, is very matter-of-fact regarding his sexuality). The script explores the enormous claim that land and place has on a soul, how unlikely it would be for George to thrive in the metropolis of London, even if he were to share it with his beloved (and how equally difficult it would be for John to relocate to the scale of the rural ). Batt is quite happy to remain in his composed, known parameters, a domicile happily set in period detail, not shift too radically, even if it costs him a degree of personal fulfilment. Temporally, past and present co-exist, happier, carefree moments of discovery and companionship for the two men, and the sorrowful consequences of impasse and time passing; never in doubt, though, is the profound way in which George honours and remains devoted to John even in his absence (the care with which he retains an otherwise obsolete appliance only because John cherished it, albeit in a fetishised way).
For John, comprehending the custom and ritual of Yorkshire is the true mystery. The supporting cast all provide compassionate performances, the script extending them respect and understanding (Lesley Nicol’s careworn mother; Lucy Black’s knowing sister; Katie West’s enduring Doreen, her fidelity to George never to be reciprocated; Brian Fletcher’s callow, bored Jack), a resilient, loyal network of community. The final image, George in the kitchen alone, reciting lines, as the pool of stage light recedes, is one of twilight and exile. This unhurried, understated work (perfect in the intimate confines of the Donmar) manages to speak louder of matters of the heart and hearth than the bombast and noise of most any other production. The York Realist continues through 24 March
The worth of the annual Condo event (in which independent London galleries host global counterparts, welcoming house artists with a month-long opportunity to show works which would otherwise encounter difficulty finding available space or sufficient interest from establishment galleries) remains unassailable-the continuing challenges for the curious gallery goer in regards to Condo remains in the sheer breadth of content (17 participating galleries this year) and sites spread broadly throughout London, and limited and conflicted hours for many of the spaces which makes it difficult to properly structure a coherent and straightforward schedule. It takes much individual drive and grit to negotiate a proper route even over the course of a month to comprehensively visit every gallery (even with determination I managed only 15 0f the 17, relinquishing the final two with the greatest of reluctance). The most successful shows were those that concentrated on one or two representative artists from each guest gallery, or those that managed to create a more uniform voice between a group of artists-in a few busy cases, several artists had one work to define the self, the room becoming a hodgepodge of styles and materials. I’ll concentrate on particular highlights:
At Pilar Corrias,Christina Quarles’s ghostly,pale paintings of entwined bodies, one of very solid line, another of ethereal weight, speak of phantom lovers, imagined or lost partners, an exquisite absence, the act of memory and longing (for a tenuous moment) conjuring what has shifted into the incorporeal realm; Trisha Baga overlays found lenticular prints (trashy, gimmicky still lifes and animal prints found at sidewalk sales) with playful daubs of heavy acrylic, simultaneously acknowledging and celebrating the tackiness of the object, yielding odd pleasures.
Kris Lemsalu’s mysteriously conceived and deeply felt at Sadie Coles (in the small side room) arrests attention, an intimidating maternal figure (which also references the goddess Kali and, perhaps, an opera diva, hosannas of roses thrown at its many-limbed naked feet, which soak in the cleansing waters held within a series of porcelain bowls ), with a physiognomy of dominant, consuming lips, in its arms a swaddled replica of itself. It effortlessly manages to resolve the garish and the sacred.
Eduardo Sarabia’s eye-popping acrylics at Maureen Paley contain dense, explosive squalls of colour heaving over what appear to be portraits, perhaps referencing the clotted, jittery conversations surrounding migrants and borders in fraught Mexico-U.S. relations, aesthetically damned figures. His goofs on the classic Ming vase, replacing sedate scenes of nature or floral prints with the rude representational energy of guns, drugs and hoochie mamas, placed atop wooden crates intended for transport of bananas and tomatoes, address issues of smuggling perceived lifestyles from one country to the other.
At Emalin, David Weiss’s cartoon creations, pantomime comics, commencing with a single line or circle or square continually transmute over the course of several pages, set out along a wall, epic, detailed narratives spun out of the energised strokes, a constant, monumental, convulsive metamorphosis enacted. You fear for his fragile protagonists , your eye helplessly compelled by these most basic yet powerful scrawls, and wish them well through the journey.
The three main artists exhibiting on the ground floor of Greengrassi, with their macabre, brooding imagery (reminiscent of Edward Gorey) could easily be a triumvirate of particularly disturbing childrens’ book illustrators, trafficking in the dark undercurrents of fairy tales or fantasy. Tatsuo Ikeda’s thick, fearful pen & ink imagery and Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa’s aquatints with their apprehensive, anxious sceanarios tweak foundational fears, and Kye Christensen-Knowles’s fey, candid paintings of louche adolescence suggest an alternative Harry Potter.
Sam Anderson’s clay figurines at Mother’s Tankstation (one of two galleries located in the former home to the Chinese Embassy for Visa Applications) depict solitary, self-possessed individuals, some astride donkeys (one bathed in shifting moon glow in a corner of the room, another atop a plinth, the merest suggestion of the dust and debris churned up by the animal’s movement rendered in black pepper) or alone, such as the young girl turned expectantly towards the window and the vistas beyond, all evoking a curious poetic power, soft yet resilient, products of their material.
The most successful environment overall belongs, as it did last year, to Carlos-Ishigawa. Entering the gallery through a narrow rust-coloured cardboard passage (which resembles one of Richard Serra’s steel creations), a soft crush of paper bearing down from a dropped ceiling, you emerge into a back space which carries through the idea of suspension, very few of the pieces grounded. Woozy, gauzy landscape and city paintings hang from the ceiling, ambiguous figure portraits as well, cut-out silhouettes gently haunt the corners, ritualistic cloth bat creatures appear to hover. You feel as if you are floating through the space, your senses and body airborne.
Despite tremendous variance in quality (how could there not be with such sheer volume of work), Condo provides a valuable service in making less high-profile art or the work of emerging artists available to be seen by the public, concurrently enlivening and freshening the gallery scene-without its intervention, many of these creators and their work would be consigned to the insularity of trade fairs. At this stage, London is still very active with mid-to-small size galleries, residing in nearly every conceivable neighbourhood from the poshest West End to the scrappy East and newly vital South-the annual Condo month, taking advantage of this bounty, is now an essential date on the city’s cultural calendar. Condo 2018 has now concluded, the 2019 edition will arrive mid-January next year.