THE SCAR: NOOR AFSHAN MIRZA & BRAD BUTLER-DELFINA FOUNDATION

EXHIBITION 

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A marvellous illustration of the temporal, psychological and narrative possibilities of film as art installation, this five-channel peripatetic piece unfolds over three chapters in the basement space at this enterprise dedicated to the facilitation of artistic exchange and development, neatly tucked down a pretty period street close to Victoria Station. In the first part, a fraught car journey finds four individuals in tense confines working through cycles of anxiety and fear-based on a real-life event, this fictionalised account veers wildly into speculative and hallucinatory territory.

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All four are (unself-aware) archetypes: a police captain, a politician, a hitman and mysterious woman, who is allowed no space amidst the self-absorbed toxic machismo of the males, who believe her beneath consideration, believing only their personal dramas have any relevance. It’s clear all are in flight from some calamitous incident, perhaps a coup attempt, themselves the perpetrators, pursued by authorities, bedevilled by victims. The road they travel is damned.

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The second chapter replays the interior car scene from the perspective of the silenced female, who in increasing amounts of agency, unfurls a furiously assertive voice-over, the interior monologue drowning out the privileged banter and bravado of the male passengers, their babbling voices belittled-she reclaims herself from cliche.  Her oral testimony unsparingly implicates the men in the realm of violence and bloodshed, claiming their roles in an inevitable, indefatigable system of male barbarity. This sequence is intercut with a sylvan scene, a woman in a flowing red dress, the folds and hangs of which suggest rivulets of blood, nailing the dress to a tree, only to slowly, determinably rip away from the pressure of the hold, the confinement.

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In the final chapter, the men have been entirely sidelined and dismissed-across the respiratively liberating space of three screens, an Eden of women speak confessionally to one another, transcending barriers of time, language and geography in an ecstasy of support and sympathy. The mood is relaxed, thoughtful, unperturbed by turmoil and, unlike the first two sections which were viewed on hard benches, here an audience is encouraged to avail themselves of the soft surrender of provided bean bags. An image of a woman, first glimpsed in chapter 1 evincing an aura of contorted asphyxiation, recurs transformed as a focus of celebration, a release of emancipated breath.

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This conclusion posits a spiritual realm of female empowerment that may just save a tired, defeated world. Don’t let the flocked wallpaper in room 1 lull you into a false sense of domesticity, as it is quickly replaced by hanging animal carcasses and stony, institutionalised walls, like sweet, distracting words structured to deceive an individual from fully comprehending the tyranny they conceal suddenly exposed to harsh illumination. Here, in this stunning piece of fractured storytelling, is the true revolution. The Scar runs through 1 December

http://delfinafoundation.com/whats-on/noor-afshan-mirza-and-brad-butler-the-scar/

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LIP SURFACE: A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER @ BRIDGE THEATRE

THEATRE 

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For a brief time, this new piece by the highly esteemed Martin McDonagh (playwright of The Pillowman, Beauty Queen of Leenane, Lieutenant of Inishmore, and director-screenwriter of In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) coasts along on the deranged energy of its wtf!* premise, but its resolute refusal to develop its themes and issues beyond anything other than the superficial ultimately sinks engagement, concluding as a weightless wisp of an experience.

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Hans Christian Andersen, that most celebrated author of fairy tales (here seen as a monstrous toddler, a cartoonish vortex of keening ego and selfishness, soaking up adulation) keeps a Pygmy woman enslaved in his attic, the revelation being that she is the genuine creator of his body of work. He is locked in a combative, sadistic relationship with her, going so far as to cut off limbs to prevent her escape, marooning her far from home, entirely reliant on his whimsy, and subject to survival based on his terms.

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No one less than Dickens is soon dragged on stage as a fellow conspirator in this very curious set of circumstances. A vague grasp towards statements about colonialism and racism hover about idly but never blossom-and what any of this has to do with the collected work of either of these literary titans remains, at least for me, a mystery (neither subject is germane to Andersen’s or Dickens’s oeuvre). Or perhaps the perverse point is that both individuals eschewed any mention, in their output, of the horrors that were taking place in the name of empire, instead offering fantastical confections or carnivalesque epics of domestic social ills- a crime for which they obviously should be punished, given the potential for awareness their influence and reach could bring to global conflict.

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Coming from an artist who usually well orchestrates a tone of savage black comedy, fashioning it into a tough, alarming, adroitly bleak sensibility and worldview, this slick skirt of surface is shocking. The casually profane dialog doesn’t really sting or offend as it never pricks at anything deeper or truly troubling (Andersen’s protracted stay at Dickens’s home, a matter of historical accuracy, unfurls as a expletive-filled pantomime sitcom, a portrayal which demeans both men). The purpose of the play, its essence, is obstinately opaque, and I rather wish that McDonagh had pushed matters to the limits in either direction, gone full gonzo absurd, or scaled back to vulnerably human-instead, the script hovers awkwardly between the two states with no clear direction.

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Tom Wait’s scratchy, burnished dusk of a voice narrates a few passages, like the devil musing into your soul, and I rather found myself wishing to follow his voice on a voyage to the netherworld. The production hardly utilises the potential of the central environment, the dusty, high-raftered attic with a plague of puppets hanging from the beams, corners stuffed with furnishings and knick-knacks. A duo of time-travelling slain Belgian soldiers and a haunted accordion also figure into the crazed action because…why not? A Very Very Very Dark Matter continues through 6 January

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https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-very-very-very-dark-matter/

 

ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWERS: ELAINE WILSON @ ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION 

In Eye-to-Claw-toBeak, formidible clay sculptures, set high atop steel platforms, loom with hawkish menace over the heads of gallery spectators, in form suggestions of both domiciles and possible armament housings, omniscient and unknowable bunkers-the intention, ill or beneficent, is withheld. Most are conceived with identifiable apertures-windows, doors-that soften threat, but even these reveal little beyond themselves (in the extremest case, Wilson offers a monolithic block, solid except for a single, covered opening-it could be the trigger for, or the promise of, a lethal event). In architectural appearance, the towers vary in cultural and ethnic intimation, as the themes of surveillance and domination echo out to a global net statement. Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon is referenced, the 360 degree centrally located  “control tower” within a prison that proposes an omnipresent gaze and the nefarious simplicity of its uses for order, containment and subjugation in a population. The domination, the slow erosion of perception of self, the victimisation, works across all borders-gender, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious-no one of us safe from ensnarement and entrapment in systems of institutionalised scrutiny. An occasional ladder offers a chance of apprehension, but the scale stops well short of comprehension or mastery. Gender conflict is more explicitly addressed in Wilson’s Don’t Touch! series of porcelain figurines that playfully subvert the gestural traditions of the demure, delicate, recessive beauty in favour of gun-toting, assertive “Charlie’s Angels” stances, female figures in full autonomy, authors of their own agency, not enrobed in fragility, a common encumbrance of the male gaze; a lone female figure, ascendant on a pedestal, proudly and defiantly defines her physical presence in space and time, surveying the environment, throwing back the gaze, seizing a new one for herself. Wilson’s first video work, Knowing You Are Near, opens with a murky (almost dystopian) image the viewer struggles to decipher , which eventually coalesces into the figure of an advancing fencer, soon to spar with a partner, all the while an amplified soundtrack of industrial clang and crash swirls about the encounter.

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The epees themselves are mostly obscured in shadow so that a viewer’s concentration remains on the thrust and parry of body, the tension of behavioural movement, a pair locked in a cycle of conflict, a failure of communication, an inability to see. The conflict ends, no clear victor, the figures once again claimed by the murk (the refrain from an innocuous 60’s musical takes on sinister implications as the film closes). This is a show stripped-down in the most powerful ways-lack of embellishment reveals with merciless transparency the embedded core of privilege and position that underlies how the whole of history is structured, mostly for the benefit of those in power, and how best to redress the balance (and conversation) with the possibilities that recent movements and shifts in the cultural landscape provide.  Corps-a-Corps runs through 2 December 

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

PRODUCTION LINE: MIKA ROTTENBERG @ GOLDSMITH’S CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART

EXHIBITION 

With a great exuberance of surreal humour, Argentinian artist Rottenberg explores serious and disastrous issues of global consumerism and dehumanising labour. Assuming a deadpan style, her filmwork concentrates on elaborately complex machinations of production processes, pushing her imagery far past absurdity to make sharp points about the distortions between production and consumption, and the manipulation of the human entangled within the merciless gears (Rube Goldberg certainly is a spirit guide).

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Matter transfers from one state to the next: fingernails alchemise into Marascino cherries, pearl cultivators pedal wheels that release pollen into a hay fever sufferer’s nose who then sneezes out plates of noodles; in another piece, businesspeople sneeze out rabbits; an oesophageal tunnel connects streetcart vendors along the US/Mexican border with workers at a Chinese plastic commodities market who seem all but consumed by the sheer scale of the cheap and tacky produce peddled.

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Suggestions of migrancy and economic exploitation proliferate, an entire class of people bound into thankless drudgery, no benefits. I will not soon forget the felicitous and effervescent movements of bubbles in NONOSEKNOWS, which in their freedom of form, switching effortlessly from the solid to the fluid, choosing the moment of their own extinguishment, mocks the humans within the same claustrophobic spaces, all too weighted by their own brutal physicality.

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The show is carefully crafted and curated, the experience of each room extended to the ways in which a visitor arrives-thus, a tunnel in one instance, a pearl shop in another, a rotating door into another space unspooling a film about the dull desperations of the bingo hall. There are intriguing installations as well, including a slightly unsettling ponytail mounted onto a wall through a peephole, undulating wildly, releasing fierce speculation as to the unseen activity that may give rise to such agitation; a single finger with taloned nail emerging from the wall, forbidding and siren-like; in a darkened room, a series of frying pans sizzle in orchestral arrangement, the domestic suddenly untamed and sinister.

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This is the inaugural show at this new campus space, formerly a bathhouse, and I appreciate that it hasn’t been entirely scrubbed of its erstwhile self-much of its civic and industrial veneer remains intact and integral, and much has been thoughtfully arranged as a gallery goer moves about, surprises at many turns (a piece mounted over a doorway, another over the stairs), which leaves no corner or angle devoid. Based on this opening project, I have high expectations for this to become a premier gallery space. The show has now closed, but please keep this shining new space in mind-the programme is very promising. Over on Instagram, I have posted video footage from the various films, the proper way to experience Rottenberg’s vision-the movement is essential.

http://goldsmithscca.art/

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AGAINST THE WALL: A GUIDE FOR THE HOMESICK @ TRAFALGAR STUDIOS

THEATRE 

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Unmoored, two strangers meet in the lounge of an Amsterdam hotel, driven ever closer in one another’s impartial company to confess recent experiences that have guiltfully revealed failings of character and conscience in regards to people under their care. Both are reeling with immediate crisis from these personal lapses, undermining any sure sense of self, opening enormous gulfs of loathing and desolation. An erotic tension desperately undergirds their interaction which both variably attempt to sidestep or ignore.

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The hothouse environment of the hotel residence is fairly well sustained, but playwright Ken Urban unfortunately diffuses the fervour of building pressure by continually slipping through times and geographical zones, revealing the stories and situations which have led both characters to such critical junctures. Although well acted by the two leads (who assume the roles of the doomed in each other’s tales), Urban does them a disservice by not keeping focus on the moment-to-moment flux in the main space. The aggrieved revelations would have greater force if told solely in dialogue, the enormity of tragedy and defeat registered through voice and face, a crushing knowledge of shortcomings spoken into the quiet, impersonal arena, a long distance from the crucial moment when action may have saved a soul (both actors are more than capable of communicating the subtlety needed). In fact, either one of the expansive narrative themes could easily have been spun off into its own separate play-as is, the script teeters unwieldy under the weight of ambition, the brief 80-minute running time barely able to support the serious burden of material.

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Douglas Booth and Clifford Samual twitch and convulse suitably as the pained protagonists, admirably agitated, although Urban’s (overworked) device of having Booth’s character announce his departure with great regularity, frantically lunging for his continually discarded rucksack, grows tedious, creating false drama. The script works best when it quiets down and allows the characters to work vulnerably and tenderly toward genuine connection, risking emotional candour. A Guide For the Homesick continues through 24 November 

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http://trafalgarentertainment.com/shows/a-guide-for-the-homesick/

ART CRAWL: WEST END

EXHIBITION 

After the Explosion, Before the Collapse: Conrad Shawcross @ Victoria Miro Mayfair

A series of sculptures which artist Shawcross has titled Fractures twist and spin from a delicate base, whirling into elegant ascension, suggesting aesthetic cyclonic or terpsichorean fever dreams. His ethereal use of commonly hard materials (glass, various metals) lends the works an intriguing visual dissonance, a conversation between strength and fragility. Shawcross speaks of tetrahedral structures and tesseracts in reference to his work, a clear connection to scientific theory, and it’s quite easy to notice studies of energy dispersal, entropy, order, collapse in each piece (given the exhibition’s title, each sculpture is a still-frame of a model blown apart yet still holding its integrity). Beyond all the complexities of the scientific manifest, however, the works succeed brilliantly as mere and simple artistic creations. After the Explosion, Before the Collapse closed on 27 October 

https://www.victoria-miro.com/exhibitions/530/

Ndidi Emefiele: Pets, Parties and a Cuddle @ Rosenfeld Porcini 

Sisters are doing it for themselves at this Fitzrovia gallery, nary a male in sight in these panoramas of feminine fabulousness. Emefiele provides collaged portraits of women unfettered, free of the constraints and conventions of the standardised male gaze that would at once reduce and disrespect (or misrepresent) them-this lack of disruption allows for a funky, relaxed sense of play, posture and attitude. Women are gloriously autonomous, in both the public and personal realm. Set like a theatrical stage, the production of each painting is a wonder of textural detail and rambunctious energy, riots of colour and props, beating with tactile melody. There are many specific resonances with Emefiele’s Nigerian identity, but the pieces are more than universal enough to cohere for all. These women are fierce, free and eminent-Emefiele felicitously grants the senses full liberation. Pets, Parties and a Cuddle runs through 10 November 

https://rosenfeldporcini.com/

Colourscapes, Ian Davenport @ Waddington Custot

Brilliant methodologies aside (a concentrated schematic study of the expansion and contraction of line in his colour landscapes, a deliberate aesthetic drive and direction from each mark and angle), Davenport’s Puddle paintings exist foremost as investigations into the possibilities of colour to induce primal excitation upon both soul and spirit. The large-scale works exert a hypnotic pull, the colours from the frame dripping and pooling into coagulant, rapturous extensions at the bases, sinuous carpets that flow in natural, complex rhythm from the image above. It’s linearity corrupted by sudden chaos, loss of form, yet managing to retain a sense of coherence even in the dissolution. Another series addresses the warp and weave of coloured line across the frame, wavy transmissions pulled by some force off screen, seas the water of which is being consistently suctioned-it is easy to get quite lost in their spirals and whorls and eye-popping patterns. The Splat series, less reliant on intention, allow Davenport to experiment more with openness and chance-although the product of aggressive applications of paint, he permits imperfections to remain on the canvas, the traces of errant pigment left to dribble and leak down the frame as accidental legacies. Colourscapes closes on 8 November 

https://www.waddingtoncustot.com/exhibitions/120/

Michael Landy: Scaled Down @ Thomas Dane

With his career-long enduring fascination with the politics and cultural mechanisms of “waste” (and locating art within a new industrialised global process by which everything is reduced to commodity and product), Landy has taken his past work and practiced upon it the procedures of industrial waste compaction, transforming various pieces into ordered cubes for disposal. Textures vary according to each work’s original components, and in each transmutation may be found the historical traces and evidence of Landy’s output, like layered sediments of manifest and intent. Called into question is the value of any work in a world in which all material is grist, in favour one day, discarded the next, on an ever-revolving belt of acquisitive consumption. The gallery visit begins with an encounter with a very small bundle that rapidly follows to greater and greater size, scale and complexity. Landy has created an archive to his own diminishment and degradation, a merciless compression. It’s a sly, sharp swipe at the new merchants of commerce, the self-appointed arbiters of worth. Scaled Down runs through 17 November

https://www.thomasdanegallery.com/artists/43-michael-landy/exhibitions/

Jan Henderikse: Mint @ Cortesi Gallery 

This noted Dutch artist may just be the patron saint of obsessive compulsiveness, as he takes everyday objects and fetishises them into art through a series of rigourous sequencing and design. Henderikse’s interest is in the lingering emotional resonance of these quotidian objects, loaded with the memories and instances of their use, their meanings and functions within both the personal and communal realm. Thus poetic assemblages of corks, coins, bills, baseball cards, toilet soap containers, license plates, bricolages of consumer packaging, all arranged in tight formations of order and symmetry, still lifes of material and produce. From the castoff articles, Henderikse teases out a human flow, an intriguing energy resulting from the physical object itself and the evocative spiritual intonations they carry. Mint continues through 20 November 

http://www.cortesigallery.com/my-product/henderikse-mint-london/

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BODY ELECTRIC: I & YOU @ HAMPSTEAD THEATRE

THEATRE 

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A seriocomic teenage two-hander with a “Black Mirror”-ish sting in its tail, this piece by highly regarded American playwright Lauren Gunderson is consistently clever and sharp, but ultimately lacks a greater emotional resonance. The last-minute twist certainly shocks the senses, but the refusal to process the moment beyond its immediate upset fails the play on a deeper narrative level. Caroline (Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones” in her theatre debut, appropriately wary, truculent and defensive), a house recluse afflicted by a bodily ailment from which girls from YA novels particularly seem to suffer, receives an unexpected visit (or “ambush”, she might argue) from fellow student Anthony (a charmingly awkward, exasperated and diffident Zack Wyatt) who informs her that he has signed her up to assist him with a school project, which, due to his procrastination, imparts an urgency to proceedings-they must complete it before the next day of class.

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This detail, amongst many more, will come to symbolise something greater than what it initially seems. Their task is to interpret the use of pronouns in Walt Whitman’s epic opus “Leaves of Grass”, and the poem’s concerns with communion and connection in both the material and sensual worlds will come to have meaningful personal apotheosis over the course of the evening. The play’s conclusive spin goes a long way towards silencing many niggling pragmatic questions that may beset an audience as the play unfolds, yet introduces many new avenues of query that will remain unexplored, the audience stung with surprise along with Caroline, suspended in bewildered, astounded awe. From the fumbling push and pull of the night’s encounter, the endless volley of control and surrender, barriers broken (literally-and with impressive sleight of hand-in the final stages), an appreciation and affection develops between the youths that mirrors the themes of the work in which they are engaged in studying, themes which will come to have a singular significance.

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I only wish the twist didn’t feel so  enclosed and offhand-it seems structured only to disorient; although cunning, its finality risks a certain glibness, a self-satisfaction in undermining the audience, but also ill-serves and crudely overpowers the central characters and their great efforts and progress during the course of their interactions. Ending the play on such a disruption, the opportunity is lost to explore the dimension and scale of the events which have truly come to pass. In any case, the end is guaranteed to exert a fascination which will carry on into post-production conversations, both for and against the device. Special mention to the production design, a bedroom that is a fabulous mess and tangle of furnishings and possessions that speak directly to its adolescent cyclone occupant.

https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2018/i-and-you/

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