Long before your brain attempts to reason out any thematic narrative weight, this wildly exuberant dance piece by Korean choreographer Eun-Me Ahn (a good friend to the late Pina Bausch) has already colonised the entirety of your senses, eyes and ears adazzle from constantly shifting designs of movement, costume and light. The dance reaches into the most primal and playful recesses of the body, quite beyond the purview of the intellect. As an artist, Ahn combines tradition (an abiding respect for shamanistic ritual) and cosmopolitan modern flair, acknowledging the past’s enduring influence even as time and behaviour move onwards. Ahn herself appears in interstitial scenes between the major propulsive and heedless sequences, a placid, implacable figure quietly going about her business, testing borders, coyly tempting limits, continually rebuffed but determined to begin again. In one exquisite sequence, she appears as if held on pause button, her strangled, glitchy gestures striving against stasis. There are a few brave moments where Ahn chooses silence, allowing the movement alone to carry the pace. Otherwise, her troupe of six dancers (three males, three females) relentlessly exert themselves to an intriguing soundtrack of industrial noise and electro trance in mad cycles of supportive and oppositional movement, nesting together than propelling apart, in and out of tremendously malleable day-glo coloured gowns (used as sheaths), often stripped to their pants, set against a stark background that shifts from brilliant colour to brilliant colour. The action starts in monochrome (all dancers in black clothing) in dull white light, awaking to a primordial murk (the dancers scrabble like insects along the stage), then slowly gains energy and drive as the piece unspools (the routines of a workday?) until, all inhibitions tossed off (along with most clothing-the nudity avoids all carnality or tease), evening arrives, all responsibilities fulfilled, time to create a playground of frisky pandemonium. The performers seem to have been encouraged to freestyle this section, a frolic of personality. Throughout there is a mutable aspect of gender, the men and women trading off stalking and sashaying around the dimensions-at times, it’s as if you’ve found yourself in attendance at the sexiest, most exhilarating fashion show on earth, attitude about to burst the seams. The curious, extended curtain call seemed structured as a final movement to the performance-I’m still mystified as to whether it was crafted choreography, or just a slightly unhinged response to the enthusiasm of this particular audience. This piece played for two evenings at The Place as part of the Dance Umbrella event-Ahn makes very rare appearances in London, unfortunately, so I encourage you to go online and familiarise yourself with her work and keep abreast of her touring calendar. Her work is worth any length of wait.
The danger in presenting several disparate pieces (with a vague theme of communication very tenuously linking them) to visually suggest a prophetic 1966 statement by theoretical musician John Cage that spoke of an emerging age of ceaseless sensory assault-the time of plenty, 24 hour news and entertainment feeds, instant availability of goods and information-is that nuance and subtlety are necessarily sacrificed or trammeled; specific works have particular power in and of themselves, but an attempt to fit them into a larger overarching and developing agenda are continually frustrated and thwarted. Unlike the previous sprawling show at this labyrinthine former corporate office building (The Infinite Mix, which remains large and luminous in memory, last year’s standout cultural event), this collaboration between Lisson Gallery and the Vinyl Factory lacks cohesion, unity and resonance, a visitor moving uneasily and uncertainly between installation, painting, sculpture, video and film without curatorial build or direction (Infinite Mix was wholly comprised of video/music art, combined to explore and reveal states of consciousness at once personal, societal, psychological and sensorial, each work contributing to a greater aesthetic-truly all at once). A few of the pieces which provide individual pleasures and astonishments include Anish Kapoor’s At the Edge of the World II , which wreaks monumental perceptual havoc on viewers, creating both distortions of expanse and enclosure, a softly rounded hat-like sculpture treated in red pigment positioned near the ceiling of the space which, when underneath, preys oppresively upon the senses, eliciting a sudden and alarming feeling of being consumed in a void; Rodney Graham’s Vexation Island coyly frustrates a viewer’s anticipation of progress, an endless nine minute hi-definition loop of an unconscious pirate marooned on an island (his only companion a rather purposeful parrot) who, just on the precipice of dawning awareness and movement, once again knocks himself into another round of oblivion, caught in an endless comically cosmic convolution; Shirazeh Houshiary’s Breath welcomes you into a darkened space, clad in black felt, in which the swell and ebb of prayers from four different faiths play out from video displays situated around the walls, ghostly, almost mathematical patterns of the performers’ expanse and contraction of breath visible on screen, an architectural lexicon of respiration-the experience is a curious balance of the eerie and the meditative; Laure Prouvost’s Lick in the Past follows a listless, wayward gathering of teenagers in L.A. as they muse obscurely about their futures and desires, a heady mix of hormones and drugs, interspersed with moist and fragrant images of squids, an unspoken matrix of sexuality undergirding behaviour-we watch this unfold surrounded by the detritus from a pool party, a stage set; Susan Hiller’s Channels is an intimidating mountainous cacophony of 104 analogue TV sets of varying size, all aglow in cathode waves, a sea of chattering voices, screens glitching and twitching-you feel the sickly heat generated from the machines like a slap as soon as you enter the room and feel the atoms in the space sharpen. Two of the most remarkable works are adjunct pieces, not part of the central programme: Arthur Jafa’s Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death is a striking panoply of archive footage that confronts the sobering realities of the modern black experience in America, an insanely accelerated story of catastrophe, discrimination and bigotry-and the hard work to push against it and endure; Jeremy Shaw’s Liminals, shot in the style of a black-and-white 1970’s countercultural documentary (with strange sci-if inflections), follows 8 dancers as they reach towards new modes and potentials of consciousness in attempt to jump-start the next stage of humanity (in my opinion an easily achievable communion any good night of dancing may provide). Scored to an hypnotic original trance track (composed by Shaw), the dancers move in exquisite slow rhythm to lights and music, slowly merging with the revolving illumination until it seems that they have risen into the cosmos itself and are floating in the stars, soon followed by a sequence of psychedelic colour in which the dancers continually dissolve and reform into one another, a mind-melting but thrilling effect that sends you out on a (purely conceptual) high. Even lacking a throughline, it would be a shame to miss the satisfactions and enjoyments of many of the individual pieces of this exhibition-just don’t expect it to add up to any significant message. Everything At Once continues at 180 Strand through 10 December
Curated by Victor Wang, this show featuring the work of ten young artists from China necessarily confronts and addresses themes of strangled expression, caught in gears of suppression and repression-and, in the bright, hollow case of Xu Chen’s Supermarket (located just outside the main entrance, in what usually houses the gallery’s bookshop), the crude mechanics of indefatigable and rapacious consumerist culture which subsume all sense of specific community or culture, shelves choked with recognisable global (Western) products, is laid quite bare. All packaging is empty, valueless and insubstantial, but arranged in a seductive aesthetic symmetry of choice and bounty. Where once vital markets of social interaction and discourse existed, now there is only the transient and the mass, quick consumption. The exhibition’s title is taken from an unpublished science fiction novel (that great, reliable genre for embedding societal critique and analysis within speculative fiction, which somehow mostly eludes the repressive reach of governing authorities ) that posits a future in which a democratically appointed female president must shut down all power sources to prevent a cybernetic uprising by a group of virtually resurrected brains, teasing out modern anxieties surrounding virtual reality and the increasing dominance of the Internet on consciousness and perception. Tang Dixin’s troubled, entangled figures, constricted under heavy daubs of paint, appear as if in the seconds just after nuclear detonation, evacuated spiritually, tumbling into a cancelling void.
An insistent, redoubtable growth of shrub opposes a block of rock face, a defiant rebuke of nature against the concrete certainties of trampling progress, in Zhang Ruyi’s Planter, set on a plinth of white tile and green grouting, as if in sacred regard. Xu Qu’s Occupation is a queasy ode to the omnipresence of surveillance culture, a threading of fossilised cameras looped in the form of prayer beads, which also anxiously resembles a noose. Power of Will, a multi-platform ongoing piece from Lu Yang, who moves simultaneously between digital and physical manifestations of herself, is an enormous balloon rendition of her head filling up one corner of the gallery, a pneumatic device that can be blown up and flown, as chronicled in a video feed nearby-it’s quite an unnerving sight to behold, with its mad open-mouthed expression and Medusa-like tendrils of crazy brown hair; its movements through the air are liberating and free, but almost like the jagged and twitchy freedom of the insane and direly frustrated. Lu Pingyaun’s Grandmother, a triptych dedicated to his relative with a softly rendered portrait of her face as foundation, recounts three enigmatic and haunting tales of quotidian compromises and degradations (the stories are typewritten sheets of paper held out for reading by dainty blue hands, projections, strangely, from the eye sockets- but the eyes are one of the greatest recording devices, after all). Chen Tianzhuo’s Scapegoat is a phantasmagoric staging in lilac and gold (a recreation of a scene from a theatrical performance piece by the artist) of the burial bed of a regent prince, his body host to a suffering series of grievous wounds, his face adorned with a gold priapic elephant mask, still a potent force even in death. It’s full-throttle camp excess, an appropriately fashionable consecration for such a regal figure. Tensions between the traditional and modern are omnipresent in all the works, uncertainties in identity both cultural and personal as technology continues its rapid pace in redefining the possible informing much of the material-and always the contradictions of Western influence, consumerism and capitalism an inexorable (and destructive) force. It’s clear that these artists have a lot on their mind, and the immediacy of their work is thrilling. Ai Weiwei may be the most prominent (overexposed?) contemporary Chinese artist, but this show illustrates his is not the only voice-there are many riches to unearth. Zhongguo 2185 continues through 04 November
Effusive and excessive (deliberately so), Dupre’s pieces gleefully revel in a promiscuity of materials, forms and disciplines-the central gallery space hosts everything from bombastically creative headgear (a series of fascinators named after indulgent sweets) to dresses of outrageous imagination (in addition to more traditional elements, rubber, plastic and even loofahs are grist for the mill) to paper collage to a work of gold leaf religious iconography to a curiously modest and quiet series of watercolours which, given the pervasive, berserk manic energy generated in the room, are perhaps the most subversive works on display. The smaller second room houses a truly unsettling assortment of patchwork quilt dolls and ceramic figures seemingly torn from the recesses of demonic myth, which prick, quite unpolitely, a viewer’s subconscious anxieties. Hanging off in the corner is a gown that resembles a shank of meat hanging in a butcher’s window, evincing yet another fissure of unease (and, perhaps, piquing Lady Gaga’s interest). Along with the rubber frock (which appears the result of slashing and arranging the treads of tires), this is the most outlandish example of a fascinating theme. Dupre’s imagery harkens back to the courts of 17th century France, where fashion took on the dimension of theatre, an ascension of playfully dangerous artifice, dress as statement, both personal and social. Flamboyance is elevated to principle (Dupré refers to her dress pieces as Facades, after Rothko). A few of the chapeaux are situated as window dressing, a crawl of aesthetic vine. She has convincingly transformed the space at this lovely South London gallery into her own court of extravagance-of temperament, desire and intent. Hatchery and Other Fabrications continues through 28 October
The first (and only free) event of this year’s Dance Umbrella programme, this peripatetic piece (it will roam across five London locations) can best be described as a curious pas de deux between a female dancer and machine. Following the principles of the paper-folding art that supplies the work’s title, the shipping container, through clever hydraulics, assumes the role of partner, doors sprouting like wings, whole sections creasing and looping into spiralling platforms upon which Satchie Noro, with a tender and graceful geometry, navigates the shifting metal peaks and planes of the vessel. Cold, hard surfaces turn bafflingly supple in regards to how Noro moves across and along them, with caress of foot and hand. In constant scuttling motion, a certain bravery is required of Noro, with but a modest menagerie of tightropes and footholds as accompaniment as she commandeers tricky, precarious angles of hold and height, all to an intriguing soundtrack of white noise, pulsing with tribal chants, distant overheard conversations and announcements, industrial moans. This is most successful as concept, as story is almost wholly absent; despite the daring and skill of Noro, apprehending any meaning from the material is an exercise in futility (and much frustration). Any revelation remains thoroughly out of grasp; instead of build, the piece ends inconclusively at a stage of arrested anticipation. My attention over the 40 minutes began to waver, distracted by the O2 centre, airplanes overhead and the motion of civilians passing by on their way to North Greenwich Underground station, as no narrative gravity kept me held in place. Yet I will long remember particular visual aspects, Noro in poetic communion with an impassive, hulking husk of hardware. Origami runs through 15 October at various locations.
A perfect complement of venue (the gorgeous Victorian distress of London’s oldest surviving music hall, Wilton’s) and material (a gothic and macabre anthology of cautionary tales of recalcitrant and dysfunctional children recounted with a vaudevillian brio and scripted with lilting alliteration), this 10th anniversary production of the show which first announced creators Les Infants Terribles as an artistic force with which to be reckoned, sings with a surfeit of imaginative flair. Elements of the carnival, Parisian cabaret and antic burlesque continually surge forth, mad baroque melodies (provided by a live band, drums and piano, both members of whom occasionally involve themselves personally with the transaction of tales) underscore each convulsion and shift of story. The stage is crowded with dusty detritus, a junkyard of faded grandeur and broken dreams, punctuating the tawdry turn of events for many of the doomed characters, brought on by their own behaviours. The amount of expressiveness the cast members are able to coax out of their papier-mache (or, in some cases, fashioned from found industrial objects) puppet creations is startling. Tremendous vulnerability, vanity, longing, nastiness-all is fluidly communicated through physical and gestural manipulation. One character’s submersion into the currents of a body of water is suggested by a curtain of fogged strips of plastic strung across the stage, one of many examples of a consistently brilliant use of theatrical vernacular. The troupe evokes an extraordinarily fierce poignancy from the sad tale of Thingummyboy, pathologically shy and recessive, hardly there, who one day just fully disappears from presence altogether-under his cloaking hoodie is just a wire structure of a face. The company has even been blessed with an assist from a luminary, as Judi Dench provides narration for one tale, who I understand approached the group rapturously after attending one of their productions! The piece is just dark and odd enough to capture the fancy of adults, but never too serious or despairing to alienate children-the prodigious imagination and creativity on display is all-inclusive. Roald Dahl, Tim Burton and Edward Gorey will no doubt be effortlessly summoned in the consciousness of many an audience member (the show as it unspools is unofficial homage to these forebearers). Sparklingly sinister, playful, haunting, witty, the audience departs in an excited state of bliss. Treat yourself. The Terrible Infants continues through 28 October.
30 September saw the launch of London’s first weekly vegan market on the grounds of London Fields Primary School, situated in what is now officially (on Saturdays, at least) the most concentrated foodie corridor in all of the city, flanked by the august and continually buzzy Broadway Market on one side, and the compact Netil Market on the other (a creative hub of food, fashion and vintage design). Social media must have been working diligently on its behalf, as the gathered crowds on this inaugural date were dense, with intimidating queues at most every of the savoury food vendors by the time of my arrival (I would caution interested parties to arrive as early as possible-the market opens at 10:00a.m.-to avoid frustration and exasperation). There are about 30 vendors (with a preponderance of sweets sellers presently), with the idea of expanding to upwards of 60 if the market proves successful. Stalls offer a variety of dishes, from burgers to Vietnamese buns to tacos to falafel wraps-there’s even a vegan butcher offering cuts of veggie sausages and burger patties and bacon to takeaway for home meals, as well as the requisite cheese and wine merchants. I longed to sample a doughnut from the Dough Society, but demand was such that the poor seller had completely run out of stock, forlornly awaiting a not guaranteed late-day delivery. Be warned, though, that prices are quite elevated, as they tend to be at most outdoor food events. Perhaps in response to this new kid elbowing his way onto the scene, Hackney Downs Vegan Market, which originally set up shop only on the 3rd Saturday of every month from 11-5, will now run weekly as well at the Hackney Downs Studios (the founder of this event, Big Fat Vegan, has an inclusionary policy of offering the majority of the space to women, members of the LGBTQ community, or those with disabilities). With two wholly vegan-based markets, both very worthy, London is certainly well represented herbivorously.