HIT THE SPOT: MAKE A MARK AT ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION 

Gerda Taro is perhaps an obscure name for many who may visit this latest show at the lovely top-floor gallery space in Bermondsey-along with partner Endre Friedmann, she comprised the far better known pseudonymous entity Robert Capa, a name retained by Friedmann after Gerda was tragically killed at a far-too-young age of 26 (in 1937) while entrenched in the chaos of the Spanish Civil War. Likely, she would have gone on to a tremendously illustrious career of her own if not for this annihilating personal catastrophe. Using the same 1932 Leica camera which was Gerda’s object of choice, author and filmmaker Barry Bliss photographed 30 contemporary, London-based female artists in candid, unadorned shots taken in each of the participant’s own studios, free of frill or calculation. A remarkable variety of response to the camera exists overall: defiance, diffidence, and in the case of the younger artists, perhaps more conversant with social media mores, a playfulness or openness to the idea of extending the self as part of a brand. Each artist was asked to contribute a personal item to accompany the portrait, as a means of communicating a sensibility or style by which they would define themselves. Works from ten of the women profiled are situated in the main gallery space, encompassing an extraordinary diversity of form and content: Selma Parlour’s off-kilter (albeit, in this case, diagonally directed) geometric designs evoke a slightly distressing, queasy bemusement, the viewer hyperaware of the ways in which the image isn’t quite lining up, a wholeness  denied, angles askew, definition just out of sight and elusive; at first seemingly lost on a far wall, upon closer inspection Yukako Shibata’s Pink Sisters resolves itself into a bold and forceful statement of personality, one panel evincing a plain, if steady and grounded soul, the other a slightly more colourful and flamboyant partner, a play of pink behind the frames casting a dimension and gravity, creating a solidity between work and wall not immediately perceived; Sharon Drew’s Ziggy is a maelstrom of squiggles which put me in mind of a combative and purposeful assemblage of arms and hands, laced into a strong statement of solidarity; Carol Robertson’s Sirius, with its pulsating central purple orb, seeks to consume the viewer, trapping you helplessly in its spiralling ebon vortex; Roxana Halls, casting herself as lead character in Carvery (a deliberately rendered painful distortion of hands gripping the utensils), is locked into an uneasy and ambiguous relationship to both nostalgia (the detritus of brand consumer culture, the role of gender in cooking) and self-identity, bearing the weight and constraint of each, a table overladen with metaphoric content; Emma Cousins’s Sacrificial Tripod compellingly exists between Surrealist playfulness and a deeper anger, with its tangle of legs and ruin and binds, its system of reward and failure echoed in the imagery and suggestion of trap and cheese-some savage quality informs the piece; gentle harmonies drive both Katrina Blannin’s Green Angel and Red Angel (with its marginal symmetrical shift and colour study) and Jane Bustin’s Rehearsal that references both the act of painting and the art of movement in the graceful arc of ink on her canvas; Rebecca Byrnes’s Mirror Writing brings the vibrant yellow of Van Gogh’s room in the Auberge Revoux to vivid psychological life, hung here as a diptych in one corner of the room, radiating outward, one room’s accumulated energy conversing with another’s.Best of all is Claudia Carr’s madly titled Like a Dog Turning Its Memories of Wilderness On the Kitchen Mat, a work of monumentally allusive quality, a mercurial and ever-shifting masterpiece, one instant a stormy landscape of cliff and sea, the next a crushed white rose petal, then possibly an enormous shell or an abandoned party dress-it holds the viewer in a spellbinding weave of deeply satisfying mystification. Make a Mark has now closed, but more information regarding the exhibition may be found at the venue’s website. 

http://www.arthouse1.co.uk/make-a-mark.html

 

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NEW WORLD ORDER: HIR AT BUSH THEATRE

THEATRE 

Taylor Mac’s bracing script for HIR (pronounced “here”- in both incendiary personal and cultural context- for reasons which become increasingly clear as the story progresses) posits a traditional, some may say smugly entitled, society under siege, on its way to a post-patriarchal, non-binary structure as embodied in one fraught Californian family. Disgraced soldier Isaac returns from the front to a shambly wasteland of a home in which the new paradigm seems to be the annihilation of all proper order, a rat’s nest of clothing, displaced household objects and products, piles of paraphernalia shoved up against doorways and splayed across floors, a humiliated paterfamilias now dressed in tatty women’s apparel, tarted up in clown makeup, an abject, cowering figure lorded over by his wife with spray bottle and suspect daily mixer of prescribed pills and decidedly not prescribed oestrogen. His sister has begun a transition into Max, dreaming of escape to a radical queer commune, bewildered and emboldened by a new genderless sensibility. To be able to do this material justice, a production would need very capable comic performers who can spout the dizzying, darting dialog, with its paroxysms of absurdist edge and theoretical concerns while also locating the humanity within the excess. Unfortunately, the matinee I attended was absent of its lead actress (a crucial role in this instance), with a very brave production assistant standing in for her, script in hand, trying her best to steer the narrative-the character herself is a bit mystifying, in that in establishing a new power dynamic she has only replaces one tyranny with another, requires an actress who can suggest the least bit of self-awareness of this fact, a helplessness or bemusement at her failure-or perhaps a sadism that cares for nothing other than base vengeance. The character of Max could have benefitted from a more profound and precise performance as well. The production wound up, in peak moments, as a series of shouting matches rather than greater investigations into character and emotion, a certain sign that confidence and steadiness are lacking. The script is electric with ideas and caustic wit, and it needs to be spoken with skill to fully work, for which this falls short. The father, in his few lucid moments, illustrates his abidingly base, bullying personality, his casual cruelty; Max reveals less beneficent traits as an emerging male; the cisgender brother is capable of tenderness and sympathy; mom has reserves of barbarity and heartlessness-in this, no one person on stage is bound by gender assigned behaviour, and this feels like the greatest revelation of all, the most realistic. There are only humans. HIR runs through 22 July

https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/hir/

OVERVIEW GDIF 2017

EVENT 

2017 seems to have brought a time of austerity to this annual festive extravaganza of performance arts (dance, mime, circus, magic, theatre)-the opening events, usually stunning spectacles of scale and ambition, were more modest in nature (The Border of the Water, The Song of the Wind, a chamber piece of a love affair conducted within a water tank just off the grounds of the Greenwich Observatory, set against a very pretty backdrop of Canary Wharf, felt slight in story and invention-I waited in vain for the movement in the water to grow in poetry and range; it frustratingly settled for an endless repetition of a very few manoeuvres). Other pieces felt curiously under rehearsed and rushed, including the initially promising Culinary Duel in which chefs compete against each other (and a renegade remote-controlled cooker) to bake the better cake, which collapsed into increasingly frantic bits of unfocused acrobatic running and overempatic facial expression, when what was called for was a precise control of spiralling chaos; similarly, Table Manners was victim of bloat in length and dearth of sustaining ideas-a man and woman repeatedly attempt to meet for a dinner date which is continually interrupted by the machinations of a server who also fancies the girl and their own relationships with various foods-a tighter running time may have sharpened the action and content. Men of Steel, a 10-man strong troupe from Korea, impressive both in physical stamina and choreographed dynamism and synchronicity (the show was 55 minutes long), enacting ritualistic war-like games of aggression and force dressed in the most civilised of suits, suffered from diminishing returns as well, another piece that could have benefitted from judicious pruning. Better were the gentle music hall shenanigans of Three of a Kind, a pantomime trio of slightly bedraggled, bewildered men navigating a seemingly hostile world, managing very skillfully to build beautiful and sustained stories and interactions with particular audience members throughout the length of the show, a sweeping warmth and pleasure left in their wake; Mulier tells an emboldening tale of a quintet of women steadily breaking free of stricture and imposition (dressed in drab institutional gowns, movement regimented by stilts, the group manages to achieve a fierce and harmoniously poetic balance with that which is meant to hamper and cripple them, their energy building towards something like a battle cry). Best was the shortest piece: Lost, a riveting 10-minute duet of furious physical concentration and a dazzling demonstration of core strength is akin to watching the principles of fusion and fission as applied to the behaviour of lovers-flinging themselves at one another with alarming speed and force, entwining bodies at astonishing angles, whirling around each other with restless sensuality. The tender heart of the work is the absolute support and trust between the two through both joy and pain.

The festival remains, despite the slight dip in assurance of quality this year, one of the most vital dates on the cultural calendar, the majority of the events free, the programme wide in appeal. We are truly spoiled in being able to avail ourselves of such a marvel.

FREE & EASY:LISA YUSKAVAGE AT DAVID ZWIRNER

EXHIBITION 

Fecund was the word most prominently in mind as soon as I walked into this show of refreshingly, playfully candid paintings of (mostly) nude women, direct and open in body. The central character in Deja Vu is like an avatar of celestial light (she is an eruptive vertical slash of illumination cutting through the middle of the frame, her denim jeans and floral decals almost hallucinatory), phantoms of past loves rendered in mute, recessive tones surrounding her. In The Art Students, one creative freely offers her body as canvas for her colleagues, rainbow hues pulsing peacefully from behind a wooden fence (echoed in the clutch of flowers at the front left of the frame) as the comfortably naked trio merrily set about their business. A remarkably versatile play of light across the frame lends one character gravity, another an ethereality, and the third a near-abstraction of figure. There’s something of a West Coast mentality to the works, suggestions of communal living, free love and borders broken, of a uniquely female fever dream. The women possess a clarity and self-possession, a forthrightness that a male gaze would not accommodate-in many of the paintings of couples, the female figure assumes the more traditional role of support and sovereignty without sacrificing either harmony or tenderness ( the softly entwined standing couple in Ludlow Street). In addition to furthering the historic study of the nude figure, Yuskavage embeds aspects of landscape and still life portrait into her studies, linking human to environment through rhymes of colour and light (she counts as major influences Degas and Vermeer). In her smaller pictures, intimacy becomes even more compressed and charged, the colours a sudden vortex of saturation-they breathe harder. For all her Renaissance allusions, Yuskavage is fearless in pushing her material into more meretricious territory, undeterred by accusations of possible vulgarity, low-class and cartoonishness. When asked to interpret her work, Yuskavage has admirably replied “I only load the gun”-I’m very happy to have the space to shoot the bullets along with every other viewer. Lisa Yuskavage continues through 28 July

http://www.davidzwirner.com/exhibitions/lisa-yuskavage-2/press-release

 

MAKING THE MAN:KEN DOLL AT MACHINE-A

EXHIBITION 

Copious ink has been spilled in surgical essays studying the cultural significance of the unyieldingly unhealthy, unreasonable distortions of the Barbie doll on the self-image and self-acceptance of generations of young girls, the rigid and tyrannical standards of beauty creating a paradigm of great and crippling psychological harm. Manufacturer Mattel has addressed concerns in recent years with a more diverse line of selection, Barbies with a greater range of skin tone, body shape, personal style (including more ambitious models, concerned with career and individuality and self-possession, less pronounced demure princessy traits on display). But what of Barbie’s perpetual mate, himself an idealised portraiture of male virility and beauty? A glass case located in the back room of Soho’s independent fashion shop Machine-A traces the genesis of the Ken doll, from his first iteration from 1961 through to the most recent styles ( a Fashionista line of 15 new models including broad and slim body structures, Latino, African-American and Asian identities, a host of hair styles and wardrobes), Gareth Pugh’s freaky shock goth incarnation the most bracing interpretation. Ken, like Barbie, has come to reflect the cultural shifts in ideas and assumptions of gender and its possibilities over the decades-certainly he has become less encumbered by tradition, leaning into a more relaxed and playful sense of fashion and standards. Ken has unequivocally embraced his metrosexuality. By turns amusing, frightening, frivolous and serious, the enterprise and (multimillion dollar) reach of this image industry cannot be dismissed lightly, its ability to nest in our collective conscience and create weighty damaging demands on the psyche is limitless (and nefarious in its stealth). It matters that we can properly reflect upon its absurdities as well as its attempts to broaden its parameters. This exhibition closed on 7 July

For more info, here’s an article from the LA Times regarding the show:

http://www.latimes.com/fashion/la-ig-wwd-machine-a-martine-rose-designs-ken-mattel-20170620-story.html