EVANESCENCE: CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI EPHEMERES AT MARIAN GOODMAN

EXHIBITION 

Given the brutally significant themes of the transience and fragility of human existence, the gaping gulf of indifference of the world in relation to any one life that is very much foregrounded in this hypnotic show of film and sculptural installation (with its embedded motifs of political and social abuses), I may be crude in revealing that my first impulse was to find the material greatly soothing and meditative, mesmeric visually, aurally and, peculiarly for an art exhibition, olfactorily. Through a heavy black curtain, you enter a hushed space (but for the soft tinkle of bells) and move straight into a shrouded passageway of hung cloth, onto which is silk screened faded, faint images of family, through which you may walk, each space illuminated with the barest of light, like a surround of ghosts floating fleetingly on all sides. On either side, bisected by the phantom corridor, play two films, one set in a desolate snowy expanse (Ile d’Orleans in Quebec), the other in an arid, sun-baked landscape (Chile’s Atacama Desert), a field of Japanese bells mounted on tender, pliant rods in each, chiming in the breeze, a curious cycling chorus of the doleful, melancholic and palliative. Seats are provided for you to sit and contemplate, immerse the self in the delicacy of the sound. As if to enlarge the experience, Boltanski has strewn crumpled balls of paper in front of the snowscape, and a field of actual grass and dead flowers in front of the desert scene (providing a heady nasal blast of earthiness), bursting the onscreen environment straight into the gallery space. The film’s titles-Animitas (Blanc) and Animitas (small souls)-reference both the Latin term for soul and a Chilean word for roadside shrine, underscoring the elegiac nature of the song. Ephemeres(Mayflies), situated in a room at the rear of the ground floor, long strips of cloth veils suspended from the ceiling onto which is projected the frantic, luminescent winged movements of the titular insect (with the shortest lifespan in the evolutionary kingdom), is like a magic forest around which you move slightly befuddled and incoherent, unsure of dimension but dazzled by, and in wonder of, the ephemeral and transitory, the flap and weave of perpetual passing, strangely comforting. The upstairs floor is given entirely over to Boltanski’s 2017 three-screen work Misterios, incorporating an image of the shoreline looking out to sea in Bahia Bustamante, Patagonia; a whale skeleton washed up on the beach; and man-made trumpet mechanisms which mimic, with the aid of wind, cetacean song. Again addressing the casual savagery of the natural world, the artist endeavours to leave a mark, lamenting the enormity of loss, inscribing his voice into a machine which, too, will eventually fade. All the while, the light in the gallery subtly swells and ebbs, the rotation of light to dark and back again. Much of the work in its quiet way and structure functions according to the fundamental principles of the haiku-concise, but equally unhurried. Ephemeres runs through 12 May Please visit my Instagram for video posts of the exhibition

https://www.mariangoodman.com/contact

 

 

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TASTY MORSELS: FORTITUDE BAKEHOUSE

CAFE/BAKERY 

From the image, you may construe this recently opened venture from erstwhile co-founder of famed Soho cafe Fernandez and Wells (Jorge Fernandez) and Patisserie Organic originator Dee Rettali to be the latest boutique business to appear in a railway arch in either East or South London, but it is in fact located just behind the Russell Square Underground station on a quiet cobbled mews directly next to the venerable Horse Hospital (independent arts club specialising in subcultural studies, notably underground and experimental film), and neighbour to several small startup media businesses. The emphasis is on slow ferment craft cooking in both sweet and savoury fields, the majority of the cakes baked with sourdough (as well as vegan and gluten free options). The pastries are the stars (at least in the early hours), munificently arrayed along the front counter, open-plan kitchen just behind, where the staff can be witnessed wholly employed in the creation of future delicacies, the environment warm and welcoming. On the day of my visit, the weather being agreeable, the front doors were swung to the side, tantalisingly exposing the seductive wares to passersby-the cafe is organised mostly as a takeaway enterprise, with only a few stools arranged along a narrow counter and, for the summer at least, a few tables just outside which will no doubt be highly coveted. In addition to the baked goods, the cafe offers breads, salads, galettes, tartlettes, and Moroccan inspired Berber omelettes (akin to the on-trend shakshouka), as well as an intensely moreish granola, enormous clusters of grains, nuts and honey on a bed of yoghurt. Their Instagram feed will induce full activation of the salivary gland, appetising image after appetising image. I can speak for the orange-almond cake, both the bilberry (Eurasian cousin to the blueberry) and cinnamon-muscavado sticky buns and the densely rich and gritty chocolate berry loaf, all deliriously delicious and finely balanced in ingredient (the bakers will not be risk-averse in their choice of material, either, introducing such unusual and inspired touches as thyme, squash and black tea into the mix, amongst others) . If you’re in the area, it would be criminal not to stop and have a look at this dynamic new independent-only the heartiest of discipline will depart without a cake or good of some sort.

http://www.fortitudebakehouse.com/

 

 

CLAIMING RIGHTS:ERICKA BECKMAN/MARIANNA SIMNETT AT ZABLUDOWICZ

EXHIBITION 

At moments, this collection of fearsome video art (with the exception of one supremely alarming sound/light installation) functions more like an assault course, gleefully shredding emotion, violating senses, blowing apart brain circuitry (the bare sadistic streak pulsing from Simnett’s work is certainly an aspect in which she no doubt takes great pride). It all starts quite innocently with the tamer (although no less trenchant) material of Beckman’s pieces, one of which (the multi-channel Hiatus from 1999) presciently anticipates the future of first-person gaming universes and the evolution of virtual reality, in which her female protagonist plugs herself into the matrix, tangles with seedy, lascivious (male) fellow players who seek to derail her constructs, and steadily self-actualises. Her aesthetic is a deliberately lo-fi, theatrically trashy, heightened camp (David Lynch and John Waters are, as ever, greatly present cult Godfathers), but her concept of no longer having to merely settle for identification with onscreen heroes, instead directly projecting the self into the action, inhabiting “created” worlds, is revolutionary and very forward-thinking. Her Cinderella (1989) is a deliriously madcap video arcade  musical in which, against tradition, through various trial and error escapades to reach the Prince, Cinderella decides to abandon the game altogether and forge autonomy. Switch Center (2003) and Frame Up (2005) concern themselves with industry and process: in the former, workers in (what the press notes refer to as a erstwhile Soviet era water purification plant) excitedly take to valves and button boards in an orgy of production, cogs in some vaster machination, never quite defined, while a female matron cuts horizontally and vertically through the sets, moving from stiff bureaucracy to flagrant fancy, fissures of antic animation breaking out amidst the flurry; the latter is a feat of editing precision, as footage of labourers on a construction site is visited by two animated balls which proceed to bounce and careen off the movements of the workers and the onsite materials, creating an orchestration akin to the screen activity of the earliest video games. 

A mere stride into the very last room in the gallery brings about a drop in temperature and a rise in anxiety levels. You are issued three-track headphones, each corresponding to one of three screens arranged tightly around a centre of block seats, to take in Marianna Simnett’s film triptych of brutalising imagery and disturbing themes (locked into the head pieces, I’ve never felt so aurally asphyxiated). The Udder (2014) intercuts close-up shots of diseased bovine teats (a narration of the spread and hygienic prevention of the bacterial affliction known as mastitis plays out over the imagery) and the movements of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood around the farm landscape, prey to cultural and societal assumptions of virtue and honour, absorbing and internalising the worst tendencies of an insidious patriarchy and its notions of control, going so far as to harming her appearance. Her brothers are given full range to race about and play, indulge and make noise (shots of them blowing bubbles into their milk with their straws are positively pornographic), while her steps seem increasingly proscribed and circumscribed. Blood (2015) careens even further into body horror and threat, the character of Isabel carrying over from the previous film, in fever dream following surgery on her nose cavity (a reference to the work of  Wilhelm Fleiss, 19th century ear, nose and throat doctor who linked female neuroses to a connection between nasal passages and the genitals!), enduring violence and manipulation, a guest in an Albanian village, her host a woman now living as a celibate man. Blue Roses (2016) conflates varicose vein treatment and a team of scientists attaching motor neurons to cockroaches, invasions into bodies, loss of independence both-I couldn’t quite make it through this third act of assailment. And nothing could prepare me for the final besiege: Faint With Light, which beckons you into a curtained space, at times pitch black, at others queasily lit by a board of blinding white strips of light, all in accordance with a distressing soundtrack of a woman’s frantic, swelling breathing (Simnett recorded herself hyperventilating until she collapsed unconscious). It’s mercilessly aggressive,  dominating, and unsparing, inducing a clammy state. I could only endure it for a few moments before the room seemed to close around me and twist sickeningly (I will post a short video on Instagram to give a flavour). This is confrontational work, for sure. You are unable to leave unshaken and bruised. Both artists are on display through 8 July-proceed with caution

https://www.zabludowiczcollection.com/

As a balm, I had a meal in the serene environs of nearby cafe Tupelo Honey-no formal menu that afternoon, but the kind proprietress had that afternoon created a roast chicken salad with orange and saffron sauce, of which she spoke with tremendous passion, which was very nice indeed-the perfect panacea for the earlier savagery.

 

 

DEEP DEEP INSIDE:MINDSCAPES AT BO.LEE GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

The natural light suffusing this new and exciting storefront Peckham space (on an unseasonably brilliant Spring afternoon) created great dissonance with the majority of the pieces on display in this exhibition devoted to the recesses and crevices of the unconscious, an acknowledgment of the coiled fist of psyche suspended between the real and the imagined-there is something of the chill and occluded light of winter about the works, of matters closing or passing that a moodier exterior environment would have complemented. But, as no one of us has any claim to power over atmospheric forces, the works, despite the unusual weather, are strong enough to dispel the momentary brightness (there will be grim, drab days to come-this is London, after all). Daniel Crawshaw’s photo-realist oil paintings of deserted landscapes, a shroud of smoke or cloud foregrounded, eerily suggest recent calamity, an extinction event, the eye attempting to define solid outlines but continually defeated-Silva VI could be a decimated, singed forest-yet are adroitly capable of holding contrary, lighter interpretations, in that they may nothing more than meditative, early morning images of mist in the hills, a paean to daily rebirth; Saad Qureshi’s Measures, a depopulated, blackened environmental triptych diorama tenuously linked by power lines and vulnerable rope bridges, each part placed in a wooden drawer (with their resonances of safekeeping and storage), along with two mighty charcoal works etched directly on unadorned wood panels, are uneasy, anxious revelations of apocalyptic topography, the raw material and eschewing of any formal veneer lending them a gritty immediacy; Sue Williams A’Court’s ovular panel portraits wouldn’t necessarily be out of place in a Victorian parlour but for their peculiar phantasia motifs that continually morph between landscape and behatted female figure in whorls of rich imagination and fancy; David Kowalski’s delirious images, suffused with overwhelming sources of light (in some cases annihilating, at others crouching in the background, softly beating with vague threat), could be ecstatic, visionary images just prior to death or awakening, hazy, heightened filaments of memory and reflection; Julian Opie offers a hallucinatory, 3D lenticular Japanese mountain vista, a trippy intersection between pop and tradition; and Patrick Jacobs embeds a pastoral scene of countryside (carpet of grass and dandelion, stream behind, city towers obscure in the great distance) in an illuminated glass portal, an intimate, fish-eye immersion in a fantastical world that nevertheless will have personal and real-world resonance with each viewer, a construct linking directly to experience. The liminal state mentioned in press material is wholly achieved as one travels through the gallery, a catch between the tangible and the ethereal, the material and the ineffable. You emerge onto the bustle of Rye Lane slightly altered and in strange, dazzled spirit, a sensibility that, for me, not even the excess of sunlight could banish. MINDSCAPES continues through 28 April

https://www.bo-lee.co.uk/

 

WHY HELLO THERE

I thought it was more than about time to end the drought of word and expression from the past six weeks. It may only seem as if I had fallen off the face of the earth, but in actuality I was on an indulgent road (and ferry boat) odyssey through an impossibly serene and scenic New Zealand, bracketed either end by visits to good friends in the rather diametrically opposed urban fray of Los Angeles. A deluded confidence led me to believe that I would have numerous opportunities to send out posts as I travelled, but most evenings would find me in what I can only describe as a sensate stupor, a nicely ravaged state of overstimulation-sleep was the only creative act of which I was capable. I will write a future post about my observations and thoughts of my experiences in both locations-reflection will bring a deeper perspective. In a peculiar way, it is wholly possible to feel absolutely remote and removed-certainly geographically, but also spiritually-from all global conflict and crisis when in New Zealand, a most refreshing, replenishing feeling, as if even the most terrible international catastrophe would hardly register a tremor in the daily narrative of the islands. I leave you with a few of my favourite images from the journey to communicate a sense of why, for a few weeks at least (given the relentlessly stunning vistas), the wonder of the natural world stole the supremacy of words, made them redundant or temporarily not required.