ALL IS NOISE: COTTON @ VAULT FESTIVAL

THEATRE 

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.

https://vaultfestival.com/

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BE STILL, MY HEART:THE YORK REALIST @ DONMAR WAREHOUSE

THEATRE 

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

https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/production/6395/the-york-realist/

 

CONDO CRAWL 2018

EXHIBITION 

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.

http://www.condocomplex.org/london/

 

 

 

 

THE KIDS ARE NOT ALRIGHT: 300EL X 50EL X 30EL @ BARBICAN

PERFORMANCE/THEATRE 

If Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch and Roy Andersson were to collaborate on a project, the product may very well resemble this feverishly surreal, ineffably moving, and strikingly staged work from Belgian theatre company Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, the title of which references the dimensions of Noah’s Ark (rhythmically powerful, vaguely threatening water imagery recurs throughout the evening). The audience enters the auditorium to find a brooding gentlemen, quite still, sitting at the edge of a fishing pond, flanked by two small video screens (and one large one looming above his head) with the image of an elderly man in bed, forlorn in bearing, wired up to some medical equipment, encaged pigeon at his side. You struggle to sense movement in the frame, uncertain whether what you see is a still or live image (barely perceptible movement soon convinces it’s live). As soon as he rises from bed and heads for his door, the curtain rises, transforming what was a cramped space into a sudden broadness, revealing six wood shack dwellings, three each side of the stage surrounding a commons area, a thick grove of trees sealing them off from the greater world. We see the older man emerging from his home and walking off into the forest, seemingly swallowed up. A metal track around the circumference of the set allows for a quartet of production assistants, astride a vehicle reminiscent of the handcar used on railroads for maintenance, to film the interior activities of the village inhabitants, as the audience is only given the public space to see. Behaviour, initially mundane, grows increasingly bizarre, as if a toxic boredom has loosed some pathology in the characters (one family indulges in operatic meals, the voracious matriarch taking to the furniture when food runs out; a stern mother drills her daughter on the piano, all the while a black slime worryingly fills the tub; a gastrically distressed wife eventually passes-or births?-conch shells while her distracted husband casually masturbates; a group of men while away the hours playing games which grow progressively more violent towards each other, and an anxious youth takes to ever more destructive acts against a table-top diorama, which, it becomes clearer, is a recreation of the village). The interior detail of each home is a revelation of design, unfussy but pointed and revealing. An absurdist strain of humour is very nearly always present, which aids enormously in humanising the stories and eliciting a strange compassion for these people trapped, to a degree, in empty ritual, spiritual and emotional malaise, and cosmic abandonment. As the action becomes more frenzied, the camera crew wildly circling the stage, the interior dramas escalating,  you learn to appreciate and respect the tremendous precision of timing that must be in place to capture the exact, pinpoint image in each home as the camera passes-in the climactic moments, the camera whips around to expose the audience itself watching, a gesture that intimately implicates the audience and consciously heightens awareness of the artificiality of the experience simultaneously. Music is used powerfully throughout, especially an incendiary Nina Simone song near the end, scored to a tribal ceremonial dance enacted by the villagers, rigourously dousing their heads (for quite alarming lengths of time) in buckets of water then tossing the spray from their heads. There are a number of memorable images, in addition to those already mentioned: the forest folding up on itself, revealing a void behind; a man in silhouette violently taking axe to boat; an astounding clamour of people rushing the stage in the final moments to stand amongst the main characters; the carcass of a sheep lifted from the pond, elevated over the stage, a deluge of drip allowed to lessen to mere dribble in real time-all quite startling. Threaded through is the tender, heartbreaking story of the young girl pianist and the anxious young man as they plan what is inevitably a futile escape, claimed as they are by the land and custom. A distinct narrative does course through the work, despite the bizarre perspective and aberrant expression, which keeps you engaged and sympathetic. This was part of this year’s London Mime Festival, which has now concluded. I’m linking the Barbican page so that the interested may watch a trailer for the show, which will give a flavour of what the piece offers probably much better than a static image.

http://mimelondon.com/fc-bergman-300el-2018/

 

SACRED & PROFANE: MICHAEL ARMITAGE@SOUTH LONDON GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

Any number of clever historical art references may be deciphered in these eight new works by London-based, Kenyan-born artist Armitage (a touch of Manet and Degas here, a soupçon of Titian there), but what lingers in memory and haunts the senses is his singular techniques and imagery, informed equally by folklore, cultural ritual and an acute psychological concentration. Realism and fantasy harmoniously co-exist, the canvas happily accommodating manifold spiritual, cosmic and chronal states. Lacuna celebrates forebearers, who shimmeringly share the landscape with the present generation, an enduring influence and presence, an overlay of lizards perhaps symbolising cyclical regeneration, all existing at once. Four points of incandescent light, a group of celestial beings, are plugged directly into the earth, profoundly entangled in the complex root systems of forest and tree, in Seraph. What at first may appear as frolic (a tribal celebration of the season, a harvest festival) is actually a village ceremony devoted to the public exorcism of its female members (unsurprisingly the title of which is Exorcism). Armitage uses as a base Ugandan lubugo bark cloth onto which he directly paints, which yields a rapturously earthy, eruptive and rough texture, which he further ruptures by punching through, pockmarking his paintings with wounds and voids, charged black holes which may at any given moment suck everything into an annihilating vacuum. As this very historical cloth has, in recent years, been bastardised and belittled into a tourist commodity, Armitage’s use of it is a means by which to reappropriate a culturally significant artifact. Elsewhere baboons copulate, witches sit astride flying hyenas, nuns’ visages take on reptilian features, references to possession and mental breakdown. Colours bleed down the canvas, shifting and jolting in rhythm, and sutures drive across almost every frame, as if Armitage has torn them all in half, then performed surgery on them (everything is stitched together), a series of fissures. These are agitated, destabilised, but perilously alive pictures. The Chapel continues through 23 February

http://www.southlondongallery.org/michael-armitage-the-chapel/

 

CLOWNING AROUND:LITTLE CLOWN, MY HEART @ ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION 

Sandra Cisneros’s poem, which acts as both fulcrum and mission statement for this latest show at Bermondsey gallery Arthouse1, is an unabashed hymn to the absolute foolishness and, conversely, bravery of hurtling into a state of adoration; the act of falling in love, necessarily fraught with vulnerabilities and anxieties, with the mystery of not knowing how things will work out but taking a leap regardless, is the single greatest audacious undertaking of which we are capable. Each artist in the exhibition addresses the efforts and consequences of such action. Most impressive are Poppy Whatmore’s architectural door works which the longer you study them begin to manifest human dimensions, like beleaguered, not yet quite conquered, persons, refusing (despite a visceral awareness of each bend and snap and crack visited upon them) to be vanquished. They’re broken symbols (one staggers unsteadily against a wall, another has seemingly crawled into a corner, curled up defensively, the grandest occupying a lengthy bit of floor space, a collective engaged in giving what support they are able to one another-or perhaps an individual, in fragments, but tentatively holding the self together). The leap into the unknown has not worked out so well. The pieces are leant an extra charge by subverting the natural vertical philosophy of doors as passages of movement by crushing them to the floor, unable to fulfill their use. Whatnot’s Walk All Over Me, a carpet of concrete blocks of varying levels and colours, allows for a texturally unstable walk along the faultlines of desire and relationships, arousing self-awareness of constant wobbly ground. The tender, fragile harmony of Sarah Pager’s Mr. Glass, four upturned wine glasses balancing the soft weight of a slender table, is a consummate image of support. Laura Smith’s otherwise traditional still life studies are troubled by quivers of the askew (a not-quite-right reflection in Silk Flowers, a precarious angle in Two Glass Pyramids), insidious interruptions of order and formality. The colours rope and weave throughout the frame, fairly sinister in hang, like they mean harm. Nadege Meriau’s close-up photographs of foodstuffs, moist and gleaming, appear like a fearless plunge straight into the viscous heart of body fluid. Laura Cooper’s video work, Silence of the Valkyries, in which a male performer weaves and slithers along the thick contours of a female sculptural figure in Oslo’s Radhus plaza, may take on sudden troubling resonance in this new #MeToo era (although the supreme implacability and inviolability of the statue resists all exertion to compromise or exploit it). The figure remains untouchable, unreachable. Rosie Morris’s Bullfight heartbreakingly links the inexorable fate of a bull in Madrid’s Plaza de Torres de las Ventas with the unseen (but forsaken) residents of a South East London in process of demolition-the majesty of guileless beast and people at the whims of destructive push and development, wholly self-determined and possessed figures thrust in to swift and unforeseen arrangement with selfish, vainglorious partners. The visions on display run from playful to queasy to grievous to disorienting to pleasurable-the full gamut of emotional response to the complexities of the heart and its pursuits. Little Clown, My Heart continues through 18 February

http://www.arthouse1.co.uk/current.html