On the terrace just outside the entrance to Tate Modern’s new Switch House extension, a groundswell of steam hisses forth from a run of valves to be caught up in wind currents, fast developing into a coruscating cauldron of twisting, swirling eddies of vista-obliterating fog, all to the delight of an audience gathered to gleefully immerse themselves in the installation, phones held aloft to record the experience, no doubt to be endlessly shared online. Fujiko Nakaya’s “sculpture in space”, playful as it is on the surface, attempts to address nature through the use of technology, to bring each individual who interacts with it into a closer relational (and atmospheric) consciousness of the given environment, but I’m not sure that most of the crowd is much contemplating anything other than the best angle for a selfie or group photo. Inside, the other participating artists open up the vast spaces of the museum’s tanks (once used to fuel the building in its original use as a power station) as social interactions of art and place. Isabel Lewis invites the public to become participants in her “gatherings”, free to roam peacefully and unassailably amongst dancers and djs and plant sculptures-the formal boundaries between stage and audience have been removed. Environment itself has become the performance. Another room hosts a collection of heavily knotted coloured rope, based on an Incan rite of information collection (called “quipu”, or hanging knots), which visitors are encouraged to walk amongst, triggering a very animated form of communication and dialog (they also throw a very seductive tangle of shadows on the surrounding walls). The tanks themselves remain perhaps the most impressive element of the show, engulfing monoliths of curving concrete walls-they react quite compatibly with the large-scale, extravagant aspects of the staged works (especially Lewis’s room devoted to her “found” dancers and sweeping, enveloping electronic soundtrack, theatre and club intersecting most alluringly). It may finally be only a triumph of sensation over profound meaning, but it nevertheless provides a stimulating and memorable experience. The show closes on 3 April
I don’t know what to expect from this innovative offering of “experientially”, or occasion based living art installations taking over the Tanks at the Tate Modern over the next week and a half (the series commenced last Friday), but I wanted to inform readers as to its residency before it vanishes altogether. Each artist involved has designed a piece communal in nature, structured to invite a networked, participatory group encounter-“sculptural” performances involving fog, perfume, sound, film and fabric, textural sensations abounding. The six nights refer to ticketed happenings based around the themes and preoccupations of the daily events, described as theatre-party hybrids, interdisciplinary works encompassing dance, film, music and movement. I’ll report my thoughts later in the week after I’ve had a chance to attend a few of the daytime exhibitions. Ten Days Six Nights runs through 2 April
In 2014, Richard Mosse’s THE ENCLAVE, a multiscreen video installation atmospherically staged in the chilly environs of the disused Brewer Street Car Park in Soho, keenly communicated the terrible cost of the decades-long war in the Congo, skilfully abetted by the piece’s use of infrared technology to saturate the frame in barbarous concentrations of pink and red, as if the prodigious blood spilled had soaked fully into the very soil and earth itself, the foundation upon which the endless conflict continues to rage and feed anew. The experience was revelatory and alarming, the audience trapped in the immersive ubiquity of the screens-the heartbreak was that the people onscreen attempted to defiantly persist in daily ritual and ceremony and attitude against greater annihilation (it’s estimated that somewhere in the vicinity of 5 million people have perished in the last three decades). For his new work now showing at the Barbican Curve Gallery, Mosse returns to the multichannel structure to document the enduring migrant crisis, this time employing a weapons-grade military camera able to capture thermal imprints, cleverly repurposing a (destructive) device used primarily to detect human movement in long-range surveillance so as to efficiently dispatch perceived enemy combatants. Mosse and his cameraman embedded themselves in very contentious conditions in an area just at the border between Turkey and Syria, and recorded scenes of tremendous devastation and conflict, then followed up on the perilous and uncertain journey of those displaced by war (from boat to shore to refugee camp). It’s a monochrome stroll through Hell, imparting to all individuals and actions a spectral quality, and relieving any snap judgement call based on ethnicity and colour-there’s an eerie ashen quality to the figures onscreen, given a further tweak of disorientation by almost imperceptively slowing down the camera speed, so the movement proceeds in a slightly dreamlike momentum. Traces of bodily fluids (sweat, tears, general moistness) obscure and muddy faces, and there are suggestions of Bosch and Bacon in the imagery, lives held in a horrific suspension, as if identity has been stripped raw by exhaustion and emotional ravage. The central three-screen installation continually explodes focus, a roiling and roaring barrage of intense and momentary fragments of fear and confusion, as collaborator Ben Frost’s effective and disconcerting ambient soundtrack of environmental noise ( the disquieting thrum of military vehicles, a cacophony of abstracted voices, an undercurrent of industrial vibration) adds layers of tension. Of course, the risk of such skilful endeavour is that an artist does nothing more than aestheticise suffering, but I believe Mosse operates from a sound basis of integrity and concern, trying to find ways of pure emotional engagement in issues that are usually presented as monumental calamities, in which the personal is lost-there are many moments here when no filter exists between viewer and lone person on screen, an available instance of communion. The most haunting sense is that most everyone in the frame is already a ghost. Incoming continues through 23 April
I don’t believe that Gavin Turk would be much offended by a declaration that he is a bit of a smartass, even if the uses to which he puts most of his surface outrage is towards more sobering observations and critiques- of identity, ownership and the destructive reductions of a rapacious consumer culture. His retrospective show at Damien Hirst’s Newport Gallery (a stunning conversion of three former Victorian-era scene-building studios into a 37000 square foot, bi-level gallery in Vauxhall), which addresses work from the past 25 years of practice, is prodigious with a playful, maddening, slightly bewildering vortex of obsessively self-reflective, explosively brash pop exuberance. The first room devotes itself to studies in signature and definition, the ways in which the individual can both assert control over identity, and the ways in which that control may be helplessly ceded, appropriated by wider culture and media into a larger bottom-feeding narrative (hence the elegance and self-possession of his framed exercises in signed paper cutting leading to a mock-up of a Hello! Magazine cover in which he and his family become the subject of cheerfully vulgar gossip and lifestyle profile), although the most resonant pieces in the space are the oddly hypnotic perpetually revolving Perrier bottle and knife on formica tabletops, the underpinning mechanics of which are fully exposed, quite perplexingly, objects trapped and lost forever in endless orbit. Turk’s thesis piece, a Blue Plaque dedicated to himself (and possibly misunderstood by his teachers as an empty provocation) hovers in a vast room on its own, an arch comment on what qualifies as apotheosis of an artist’s career or worth. As a viewer, engulfed in the near-hallucinatory white wall space, you feel as if you are floating in the room with nothing but the blue circle as grounding. Other rooms take you through Turk’s Pollock-like phase of intricate, elongated splotch paintings (somehow softer and more inviting than his fellow artist’s samples), his Warhol homages (the centrepiece of which is the frighteningly compacted auto remains of a motor crash) and his series of sculptures exploring British identity and character, through figures such as the punk and royal guard (an eerie dispossessed soul has wandered into the space from his soiled bedroll one room over). The final room consists of nothing but bags of rubbish and detritus (bronze sculptures), all surrounding the central object, an obsidian skip akin to a black hole, its annihilating maw ready to suck everything into itself. It’s an alarming, uneasy statement on junk culture, encompassing even the gallery experience, feeding work to the whims of commerce and feckless taste rather than longevity and true worthiness, cheapening the process all round. Turk often quotes his progenitors, many pieces here finding antecedents in poses, gestures and styles. He came a bit late to the notorious Young British Artists enclave (Charles Saatchi first exhibited him in his Sensation exhibition in the 90’s, placing Turk firmly in the second wave of the movement), but his working methods and themes are very much in keeping with the very particular aesthetic sensibilities of the influential (and still controversial) group. Who What When Where How & Why continues through 26 March
Chancing upon a poster affixed to a public wallboard while en route to a film (and with a bit of follow-up research), I discovered the existence of these two very exciting and ambitious private arts ventures, both concentrated in a rather low-key neighbourhood corner of Bermondsey. The Concept Space, located in a small works building just behind the studio of a bespoke furniture maker, opened its first show this past February, the debut UK exhibition of Hungarian artist Marta Kucsora. Curator KB Stowe has made good use of the corridor leading to the main gallery space, continuous rows of small-scale works the length of each wall which act as proper prelude to the sizeable works to come once through the doorway. The soft suggestions of crashing waves and possible celestial events gives over to strong sensations of explosions at the cellular level or the processes of natural phenomena evoked by the larger works. Kucsora applies paint to canvas in such a way as to make the viewer viscerally aware of the instrument which wielded it, its force and movement across the frame. The eye is held by the texture, the layered feel of oil and acrylic, the hypnotic pull and waver of colour. The exhibition’s title, Viscosity, is entirely apropos for the elemental effect of the work, dynamic but never vulgar in the the uses of thick and fluid materials. The show continues through 25 March
Odds are when you press the bell at Artshouse1 (its post code cleverly concealed within its name) you will be greeted by the building’s owner, Rebecca Fairman, who will be your eminently personable and intimate guide to the current exhibition in the gallery on the top floor. As it turns out, patrons are guests in Rebecca’s actual home, a portion of which she has devoted to artists both emerging and established to display work outside the strictures and pressures of public institutions, idiosyncratic pieces that may breathe easier in the open environment of a private home. The venture surely calls on Rebecca’s skills in the fields of marketing and advertising, and I’m more than happy to do my part in informing the curious public as to this fantastic and worthy endeavour. On offer at the moment are the lacquered creations of Benedict Pulsford, arrangements of objects (some identifiable, others obscured) adrift in swirls and whorls of dazzling, obliterating fields of colour. The works directly engage the senses, leaving the individual in a playful, sedate daze, and they certainly interact well with the room in which they are displayed (the few pieces that have had to be placed outside the main room have been artfully and flawlessly curated in the domestic areas on the ground floor, and if they hadn’t been addressed by Rebecca, you’d be forgiven for imagining they were permanent fixtures, nothing at all to do with the show). Works by Pulsford’s father, stepfather and son are featured in a separate room, offering a conversation between the generations of an artistic family. I encourage all readers to have a look at the website, and plan a visit (if not for this exhibition, than for a future show-there’s nothing quite like this to be found elsewhere in London). The show is on through 31 March
Outside of the Nine Elms regeneration project, I can’t imagine a greater concentration of building works than those surrounding Mare Street in Hackney-a walk along the length of this arterial road (culturally, economically) is a near assaultive experience, every road off of it a riot of new towers, fresh refurbishment of original properties, or the skeletal hint of future designs and residences, a convention of cranes and construction vehicles. For an area once considered fairly dangerous (notoriously granted the designation of the Murder Mile), this acceleration of development is a thing of true wonder. A plethora of smart independent cafes, pop-up restaurants (including the saucily named MiSo Honey, a Pan-Asian enterprise currently taking residence at Helgi’s bar), fashion start-ups, and boutique gift shops now spool out along the pavement, stretching all the way to Lower Clapton Road, itself a hotspot of intriguing retail and dining. So pervasive is the wealth of options, it will take several return trips to sample them all. My main port of call this visit was what has been described as arguably London’s most Instagrammable cafe, the newly opened Palm Vaults, where the colour pink is elevated to that of royalty. Water glasses, water bottles, chairs, flowerpots, napkins, pastry creams, many of the ingredients used in the range of drinks (with an emphasis on smoothies) and dishes (my bowl of granola, flecked with berries, was accompanied by a very emphatic pinkish yoghurt), even the bathroom fixtures-sink, rubbish bin-exalt the pink. The uncomplicated menu nods to the current regard for plant-based food items, offering a tidy range of toasties and sandwiches. The space is fairly modest and can seem cramped when full, not especially helped by the orchestra of hanging plants overhead, covering most of the available ceiling dimension. The cafe is curiously set amongst the pound shops, bakeries (Percy Ingle, Gregg’s), pharmacies and chicken huts of a traditional local high street-its pastel mint green and pink frontage certainly arrests the attention. Just up the road from here, on Lower Clapton, is Miami Cafe (located in the elegant Art Deco jewel Strand Building, originally an electricity showroom), a spacious, beautifully spare labour of love from erstwhile fashion industry worker Sophie Wright, bringing the clean, bright, soft vibes of the American southwest to Hackney-you’d be forgiven for thinking that just outside the cafe could be found beach and oceanfront. I sampled a compact and satisfying avocado and halloumi sandwich tricked up with a sweet chilli sauce on a particularly sound seeded rye bread, and finished with a zesty take on a peanut butter cookie, with a Reece’s like cup dropped into a mound of dough (many of the pastries on offer are homages to American treats such as Pop Tarts and Oreo cookies, all delicacies made in-house; on my visit, Sophie was in the midst of stirring the very seductive ingredients for a new batch of rocky road bars!). Savoury dishes include attributes of both Mexican and Spanish cooking, a breadth of meals covered from breakfast through to snacks to late afternoon tea. These two discoveries represent just the first steps in the investigation of this burgeoning area-the inventory is prodigious with choice. More than a few further posts will follow!
If you should find yourself in Limehouse, whether for business or pleasure, this unique cafe located on the grounds of the charitable Royal Foundation of St. Katherine is a structural homage to the traditional Central Asian dwelling of nomadic peoples (comprised of a latticework of wood or bamboo walls, the perimeter of which is topped off with a tension of cable, finished off by an angled run of rafters leading to a compression crown, usually open to natural light). Often, the building is finished off with an overlay of skins-this modern version settles for a tidier fabric canvas. Classically, yurts are spaces highly charged with both familial and cultural symbolism, and to that spirit this establishment pays great respect, as its management intends for the cafe (and its accompanying spaces, a reflective room and activities room) to become a community hub, open to both contemplation and social action. The main seating area, a mix of proper tables and comfier furnishings, a warm spill of light from the tono bathing the room, is a nestle of intimacy (yes, I’ve been diligently researching proper architectural terms for the yurt!). The menu is fairly straightforward, a terse selection of sandwiches and cooked dishes (and a counter of copious pastries), although you can refer to their Facebook page for any daily specials. Local baker Bread and Butler tantalisingly fills a metal display shelving unit daily with fresh loaves of bread, focaccia and the occasional hot cross bun. Bordered by several busy thoroughfares (the titanic mania of East India Dock Road, the Limehouse Link entrance, and the din of the Highway), not to mention abutting the DLR tracks, this manages the miracle of offering sanctuary and oasis amidst the clamour, a true gem of a discovery.