Located in the newly refurbished Grade II listed Boland House on the grounds of Guy’s Hospital (a Mcdonald’s once ignobly resided here on the ground level), this multi-million dollar project now part of King’s College is set to give the Wellcome Collection some competition. Much like the Wellcome’s remit to locate the intersections of medicine and art, here the interdisciplines between science, health and art will be studied. The look and feel is ultra-modern, with a spacious and open ground floor plan encompassing a gift shop and cafe each of sleek and clean design with gallery space on the first level. The inaugural show explores the roots of addiction and avenues through which recovery may be possible-much of the material is interactive and immersive, film and video and gaming consoles figuring prominently. The seductive lures of social media and gambling, overconsumption of food and fashion, general information overload, the spiritual deprivations of a bulldozing consumerist society, are all addressed through the various works, their ill effects on both individuals and society at large. Through sheer force and scale of presence, technology is aiding potential for addiction, all of us susceptible, even those without predilections towards an addictive personality-it’s all too simple to disappear through many a cyber rabbit hole. Stigmas towards those afflicted are questioned and challenged-in a larger sense, addiction may be classed as a mental health concern, its victims helpless. The alarm of the show as you wander through its rooms is that it becomes easy to identify yourself somewhere on the spectrum of the issue. Latter rooms showcase how a style of performative theatre is aiding some vulnerable individuals, providing awareness and self-examination that are some of the first steps out of the mire. This new venue is a fine addition to London’s already impressive league of museum and gallery spaces. Hooked is on through 6 January 2019
Playful is not a word I would immediately attribute to the oeuvre of Harold Pinter-menacing, cruel, chilly, elliptical, severe are more likely adjectives-but a spirit of fun seems to have inhabited his pen and mind while creating the worlds within these two one-act plays that are amongst the first offerings of Jamie Lloyd’s new star-studded season devoted to the entirety of Mr. Pinter’s short works. They may be anomalies, but their verve and brio were an unexpected surprise, and have led to a swift personal reappraisal of Pinter, an appreciation for a heretofore unknown versatility. In the first, entitled The Lover, a couple chirp treacherously at one another, recounting ongoing dalliances with their respective adulterous lovers (who, in a clever psychosexual twist, are revealed as one another under assumed identities), a long-term game accelerating towards an exhausted, hurtful conclusion. Whether borne of a desperation, boredom or sadomasochistic impulse within the marriage, Pinter does not disclose-it’s merely a game that has ensnared them in its tyrannical hold.
The conversation is scalpel-sharp, a savagely comic undertow of derision driving the dialogue. The audience laughs while never losing awareness of the alarm of what is being enacted. The pink flush of the room, which could indicate in one instance the ardour of first-stage love has now become oppressive and curdled, a meretricious bauble. The Collection follows a quartet of ambiguous characters across a spectrum of sexuality and gamesmanship, betrayal (or the possibility of betrayal) a motivating force to re-excite dulled and slacked senses. All four wield words like daggers, dangerous and careless, seeking to disrupt and in some cases destroy. David Suchet, Russell Tovey, Hayley Squires and John MacMillan manage the rapid-fire dialogue with skilled aplomb, and some of the more explicit aspects of what was once only implied in the male “couple” have been released with great (and ruthlessly comic) candour.
Not always paragons of virtue or principle, more than capable of guile, deceit and wickedness, these characters nevertheless retain a complicated humanity, a determined drive towards self-preservation and fulfilment, even if attained at another’s expense. Pinter’s wisdom has always been in acknowledging the cutthroat and cunning underpinnings of most relationships, especially those of an intimate nature-and here his comic approach teases out the horror and darkness with even greater clarity and effect than mere tragedy would do. Pinter At the Pinter continues at the Harold Pinter Theatre through 23 February 2019
The title may propose a grim finality, and no doubt much of the material that unfolds is harrowing, but this theatrical adaptation of Édouard Louis’s 2014 memoir is ultimately about escape, salvation and self-preservation. On a starkly-lit stage, barren of decoration save for four mounted video screens and a distant mock-up of a grimy bus shelter, the two actors (both representing the central character, perhaps suggesting the “multitude” within the one) guide the audience through the formative events in the early life of Eddy, textualising and footnoting as the story unspools, almost Brechtian in approach.
The script is less interested in a clean linear narrative progression from one action to the next than in a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of clipped impressionistic scenarios that reveal aspects and concepts of a particular environment, in this case Eddy’s small Northern French town. The stripped, crude staging nicely complements the frank, unflinching material. Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills play every character, from Eddy’s family members to tormentors, offering an overview (almost a lecture) on the perils and pitfalls of Eddy’s rural existence, the ramifications of a personality in conflict with its place, an area subject to strict codes of gender conformity and conduct compliance, suffused with deep-rooted racism, misogyny, and deformed male rage. Each home is a hive of deprivation and despair, a grind of poverty and violence, against which Eddy’s unconventional behaviour (sexual, intellectual, emotional) is tremendous affront.
The mentality cannot abide any flourish or affectation beyond its narrow parameters-in this case, a rebellious, disruptive sexual orientation (but the material is strong enough to suggest any matter of errant traits which may signal someone out for exile). Eddy is eventually offered an egress in the form of a university placement, but in this he is the rare exception. There is a great attempt to be forgiving of his parent’s limitations and failures, unconscious victims of a closed system. Despite the slight remove of direct sentiment and somewhat academic application, the performers extract quite a fierce mine of alarm and sympathy in regards to Eddy’s predicament.
It’s safe to assume (given the Unicorn’s focus on theatre aimed at children-productions geared towards preschoolers up through early teens) that this play’s candid discussion and confession of sexual experiences and use of adult language may scald and bespoil once virginal walls, ushering in a new, more experienced age for this venerable space. An exacting, uncompromising production altogether-bravo to fearless playwright Pamela Carter and director Stewart Laing. The End of Eddy closed on 6 Oct
Doris Salcedo “Palimpsest” and “Tabula Rasa” @ White Cube Bermondsey
A stunning memorial field composed of stone tablets, sand and a mighty feat of hydraulics, this sculptural installation by Salcedo is monumentally scaled but fragilely intimate in concept (an intimacy never compromised or subsumed by the grand mechanics of the piece). Each tablet holds multiple names of migrants who have perished in the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas on their way to freedom in Europe. Intermittently, names shiver and bubble into presence, inscribed by water, only to incrementally fade again, the water retreating in rivulets, to be replaced by yet another identity, a continuous process of reveal and erasure. Salcedo honours the individual otherwise lost in a collective statistical anonymity. The viewer is encouraged to gingerly step around the stains and contemplate (reverentially, as the space makes one feel) the enormity of the tragedy-the vast room mimics the sense of being adrift in a mighty sea. This is a holy chamber of witness-most spectators were stunned into silence.
If only I could bring the same awe to Salcedo’s “Tabula Rasa”, but I’m afraid the metaphor in this case (at least for me) is stretched too far for resonance. A stark room displaying a variety of ordinary looking wooden tables reveals, upon closer inspection, cracks, fissures, fractures and rough edges, as if some violence has been visited upon them. In fact, Salcedo has savagely broken them apart, then reassembled them with great blunt abruptness, all delicacy and finesse drained.
Press notes claim this process addresses sexual assault and its aftermath, an inability to fully resurrect the self, imperfections cast into the basic structure. Vital issues to explore, for sure, but for me the connection is missed here. Palimpsest and Tabula Rasa run through 11 Nov
Kim Dorland “Terror Management Theory” @ Beers London
It’s a shame that this exhibition by Canadian artist Dorland closed in early October, as its themes of apocalypse and delirium and fear and death are such focal aspects of the month that culminates in that most pagan of holidays, Halloween. Dorland’s subjects dance and carry on along the edge, twisting in ominous wait for some portentous catastrophe, an extinction-level event, often in shadowed forests and clearings. That we now exist in a climate swelling with possible, increasingly more immediate calamity, only lends his images greater force and alarm. Dorland’s exploration of the concept of momento mori brings it up to date with very real contemporary concerns with a global society seemingly at wit’s end, mentally unfit. Playful as they are, an unease and disquiet are abundantly foregrounded; the canvasses hum with cloaked sinister bodings. Burly fists of impasto paint occasionally adorn the frame, a sudden net of meretricious weight. The images are gleeful and maniacal at once, a punk aesthetic present. Comic book and horror film tropes are in liberal use. In many ways, these images seem very of the moment. Terror Management Theory closed on 6 Oct
Soufiane Ababri Here Is A Strange and Bitter Crop @ Space Gallery
Ababri confronts dominant cultural representations of the black male body in an attempt to liberate it from imprisoning absolutes and engendered attitudes. Through the prism of race, sport and sex (the latter two especially prone to particular tropes of display and depiction), Ababri studies the internal pressures and anxieties that arise when control of self-image is in the hands of outside authority. Sports allow for an environment in which violence and machismo is celebrated, an acceptable level of physicality between men portrayed, a way to play to the cultural norm. In absolute defiance, one wall of paintings depict masculine men engaged in a series of pornographic acts, a shock to hetero-normative structure. Stripes of green call forth, according to the artist, both the football field (or team colours) and cotton fields. From the time of slavery, the black body has been commodified and defined. A cage, with open door, invites one to consider enclosure, detainment, prison. Ababri does not want the viewer to be in the least comfortable-he wants to induce a permanent state of unrest and sweat, Billie Holiday’s lament of “Strange Fruit” and the tragedy of gay footballer Justin Fashanu bearing down on the senses. He wants us to consider deeply the impact of oppressive dynamics of social assumption on identity and behaviour. Here Is A Strange and Bitter Crop runs through 24 Nov
Frances Wilks How To Sell Death To The Living/Zachari Logan Spaces Between @ New Art Projects
Here we have an interesting gender flip: bold, brash paintings by a female artist, forthrightly engaged in elbowing in on a male dominated sporting field, and exuberantly delicate pinhole drawings of wildflower meadows and cultivated gardens rendered in fine blue pencil (resembling china patterns) by a male. Wilks stages interventions into the (fairly) exclusive male domain of Formula 1, replacing a male figure in nearly every image, an unequivocal shot of estrogen amongst the testosterone, fully, confidentially inhabiting the environment. The paintings are suffused in the brand red, and take their cues from the classic graphics of Marlboro and Ferrari, the graphic language of men’s magazines from yesteryear. Logan’s fragile prints, mere details of a fuller image that exists somewhere within-or past-the surrounding white space (that the image is partial, is a slender whisper of the whole, lends it great melancholy), are like impressions of memory and dream. It’s perhaps a detail remembered rather than the whole experience, the detail being the reason, the mode for transport. Serendipitously, as it happened, an overhead pipe carrying a constant flow of water lent a soothing, calming backdrop to my stroll through Logan’s images-I thought it a deliberate audio feature to accompany the exhibition! How To Sell Death To The Living and Spaces Between run through 27 Oct
I’ve been a busy boy the past few weeks, scrambling to keep up with myself! Certainly, I’ve fallen quite behind on chronicling my adventures in the gallery world-time to correct this woeful oversight with a few brief reflections.
Kemang Wa Lehulere-not even the departed stay grounded @Marian Goodman: Transitioning into the practice of art from social-activism, inquiry into politics and community remain in the forefront of the works on display from this young South-African luminary at this most stunning of West End galleries (the 1st-floor skylights remain uncharacteristically uncovered to cast a stark, illuminating, shameful light upon the gnarled, enlaced sculptures). Addressing the disquieting and ever-charged legacy of apartheid, Lehulere challenges “official” history and its “whitewashing” of cultural identity, symbolic references to student demonstrations, enforced relocations and subjugation inescapably present. Repurposed school desks and chairs, birdhouses, tyres, glass bottles, casts of his aunt’s hand (who was caught up calamitously in the Soweto student uprisings), porcelain dogs (suggesting Sirius, the dog-star) and blackboards combine into tangled, free-wheeling installations that speak to violence and upheaval, of attempt to colonise. Chalk scrawls upon a series of boards detail an astronomical lore, a contested celestial knowledge a European authority could not abide or consider an African culture possessing before their own apprehension. Striking black and white paintings pulse with a fight between presence and erasure. Quite beyond or through any historical engagement, the pieces themselves achieve a hushed, nearly devotional aesthetic (and strangely quiet, given their origins) beauty. This is Lahulere triumphantly reclaiming what others wished to destroy, the gallery rooms transformed into staged demonstrations of enduring power and voice. not even the departed stay grounded closes 20 Oct
Credit the inspired genius of artist-curator Amanda Lwin to stage this six-artist show devoted to the issues of home, domesticity and the housing crisis in an existing estate agency on Kingsland High Street. Some may be mortified to walk in on active staff as they field calls from clients (on the day of my visit I nervously listened as agents candidly discussed forfeiture of tenants’ leases and lapsed payments), disrupting their activities as you move around tables in a fairly cramped ground floor, but the themes of the exhibition come thrillingly alive in this arena for the less inhibitive visitor. Even before entry, fabricated listings share window space with those of authentic nature (one very cleverly intersperses the conventionally mundane line details of the classic property listing with a slightly more anxious and unresolved “hidden” emotional and spiritual subtext, the feelings of disassociation and panic that can arise in the pursuit of buying a home). Another makes an appeal to a literal “alien” family that they will encounter nothing less than a warm welcome in their new domicile.
Paintings inside the building illustrate fantastical, (sometimes impossibly) idealised portraits of the cosiness and safety of home, gilded promises of sanctity that reality is not always able to provide. The largest threat to the integrity of home, though, is the increasing commodification of the concept, reduced to a cold investment opportunity or an image of empty desire on an Instagram feed, posted to induce envy, dissatisfaction or self-worthlessness, a hopelessly inaccessible achievement. Home is of more humble origin, as a place of refuge and safety first, a basic human need. An entire “website” has been created around this exhibition, and meetings with an “agent” may even be booked on Saturdays during its run, giving the proceedings quite a meta twist. Brilliant. Unreal Estates is now closed, but please visit the website, as the creators intend to tour it around the UK, with local artists contributing to each iteration.
Adebayo Bolaji: Rituals of Colour @ Public Gallery
In refutation of the formalities (and pretensions?) of more established galleries, the very playful Bolaji has inscribed (scratched, really) his mission statement on a piece of rough fabric, and haphazardly pasted scraps of enigmatic drawings and phrases next to each painting that serve as curatorial text for the works on display. Bolaji, with this charming DIY aesthetic,would prefer a viewer to have his or her own running narrative rather than the burden of an officially sanctioned one which would expect you to move about the space with administrative notions. Basquiat will pass through the mind, as well as Yinka Shonibare, even Picasso in the angularity of the figures. Each portrait is a stare into the interior worlds of its subject, every aspect just a bit unmoored-the physical, the emotional, the spiritual all a jumble-a flux of wild colour and pattern storming around and behind. The figures are not quite lost or torn apart, merely acknowledging their incoherence and disarray with good nature and modesty, directly embracing a truthful, terribly human mess. They are ready for the rumble. Bolaji extends them all a tender empathy. There’s a thrilling looseness to the style, a street energy that animates and fizzes with tremendous swirls of electric energy. Rituals of Energy closed on 4 Oct, but the gallery is committed to showcasing similar up-and-coming urban artists.
As I am usually abroad the month of September, I have had to make peace with missing out on the activities surrounding this festival celebrating London’s great waterway, long a source of commerce, leisure and livelihood, a true source of the city’s lifeblood and development. Outside of a few public displays that begin appearing along the banks of the river just before the start of the month, I have been unable to attend any specific events, of which there are many, anything from talks to concerts to walks to photography exhibitions to boating spectacles. It was my great pleasure to this year have the opportunity to avail myself of two of the central offerings, with wildly varying results.
Bascule Chamber Concert
This choral concert held deep within the bowels of one of Tower Bridge’s counterweight chambers, a Victorian masterpiece of engineering and industry (one of four such cavities that house the mechanisms that allow for the bridge to lift) is the one presentation I have most regretted not to have experienced, so I jumped at the chance to book a ticket early to assure myself of a seat for a truly atmospheric and transporting piece. The descent is quite dramatic, and sparks all manner of anticipation, entering through one of the control room stations and commencing a steep downwards journey via a series of twisting stairwells until you emerge into a vast, sweeping stone vault, vibrations of passing traffic overhead creating its own eerie vehicular rhythm. On the day I attended, rainfall was heavy and unremitting and cascaded in absolute freefall down the back wall (which may have engendered a reshuffle of seating), only enhancing the earthiness of the environment. The seven-strong Marian Consort, performing a programme encompassing works from the Renaissance through to 20th century (music set to Emily Dickinson poems), voices lifting and countering and complementing, crafted spine-tingling feats of tone and cadence, enhanced by the glorious acoustics within the space. I was held captive for the entirety of the hour of the performance (and I will never forget the incongruent visual of the members holding not songbooks with clip lights, but rather the very modern iPad, in a room so clearly claimed by a singularly different age-the audience could sense the close of a piece when the singers moved to click off their devices’ illumination).
The brainchild of the profligately imaginative and inspired Iain Chambers, this is an indelible, unique sensory experience which I can without equivocation highly recommend. Inventory it for next year’s festival. The lineup changes each year, and you may, as happened to me, be required several times to alter the entry time to accommodate the raising of the bridge. I’ll never cross Tower Bridge in quite the same way ever again.
And now, unfortunately, to this woeful auditory promenade through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, which in concept promised much, but in practice fell quite far from intention. After booking a ticket (which even at £8 felt rather extortionate for what was required productionally ), each participant was sent two files to download onto personal devices (phones, iPods), the purposes of which were to accompany and direct you on your journey through the tunnel, the voice of a small girl meant to gently stoke your perceptions and reflections through the prism of water. There was much faffing about as people gathered in front of the tunnel, the organisers assuring themselves that all had properly downloaded the files, handing out earphones (although, as instructed, most people had brought their own, less cumbersome, buds). A big show was made of queuing up and releasing each person into the tunnel in staggered fashion (the first file, seven minutes long, was meant to indicate when each person should be released-you had to listen for your prompt), but this could have been achieved much easier with a guide simply indicating when you could go (really, what was the purpose of the first file if it was just a holding mechanism? Very confusing, and superfluous). The second file (the only one of use) was switched on as you finally made your way down the stairs, but even this proved rather unilluminating, the increasingly irritating cadence of the small girl’s voice exhorting us to touch the walls and listen to the flow of people through the space, contemplate the water held on all sides. The way in which all participants had been dispersed was meant to mimic the choreography of a river dance. Why the voice on the file could not have been more sensibly adult, spoken of the tunnel’s specific history, imparted any rich knowledge of the Woolwich area and its military legacy, is a mystery. Continually, the spell (weak though it be) was broken by the volume at which many passersby spoke, the sounds of distracting public movement all around that violated the headset. On turning around, as recommended by my infantile host just before climbing the stairs that would blessedly bring my walk to its end, to contemplate the tunnel one last time and watch my fellow wanderers, I felt..unchanged and unmoved. I emerged with only a pointedly burdensome sense of disappointment and slight outrage. And shock. The whole experience lacked any sort of sophistication or edge. At least I was able to at last have an excuse to tour the buildings of Royal Arsenal, a long-held unrealised ambition. It is only for this sake that the day was not a crushing disaster.