GOSSAMER: [UN]SEEN @ ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION

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The three participating artists’ delicate works exert a fascinating effect upon the gallery space that hosts them, lifting it of any material weight or sense of solidity, collaborating in a tender crime of ethereality in which a viewer can’t help but become enmeshed. A sense of being grounded is gently ceded in favour of a keen drift, a frolicsome flotation.

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Hanna ten Doornkaat’s wooden block pieces adorn the walls like primal communications that flirt just at the edge of definition (unfolding inscriptions of a secret language that spiritedly elude comprehension or garbled broadcast signals), the physical bodies and marks of which speak and reveal sudden confessions and evasions, admissions and erasures, lights and shadows.

Annamarie Dzendrowskyj’s spectral, gauzy studies (which find their apotheosis in her Between the Space I-IV series) tease through a haze of awakening consciousness, caught at the intersection between memory and imagination, a skein of half-remembered landscapes and states of feeling existing with tenuous grace and fragility, forever at the precipice of being lost and overridden.

Sinta Werner’s architectural “interventions”(both on-site and in a collection of manipulated photos) playfully and wilfully exploit perspective and assumption of the knowable dimensions of a space. Both her Broken Line (a row of tiny mirrors that runs the floor length of the larger room of the gallery, creating a decorative, transitory  border that invitingly diverts attention to new spatial encounters) to her Echoes I-XIV, a series of 14 “false” painted shadows inset into the corners and crooks of the walls so as to create a double exposure (and a true trick to perception), drag an immobile gallery space from its usual formal reserve into active engagement-it is now a subject, a relation.

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Her photo “collages” stage 3-D projections onto staid images of public and private spaces, evoking unforeseen dimensions, connections and covert angles, directing the senses to multivalent possibilities. In the nurturing realm of Arthouse1, far from an inhospitably blunt, uncultivated and obvious external world, these pieces are allowed full expression and flourish to contemplate lines not so well-drawn and boundaries diaphanously dissolved-an exaltation of the substantial insubstantial. [Un]Seen continues through 3 August

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

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LABOURED: SWEAT@ GIELGUD THEATRE

THEATRE

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Not to disparage a Pulitzer-Prize winning script and a production that has been praised to a near-celestial degree, but this tale of the travails of a group of working-class labourers at a steel-tube factory grappling with downsizing and sudden unsteady fortunes flirts dangerously with agitprop in its absolute and studied refusal to invite any larger perspective than the one needed to score its points. This is, of course, a valid choice, yet the consequence is a failure of dimension or depth.

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Much of the material was birthed out of a two-year residency author Lynn Nottage spent with the denizens of the tarnished post-industrial town of Reading, Pa., so perhaps much of what is related is truth-but it doesn’t then seem to be properly expanded to the imaginative or poetic potential of theatre. Much of the first act proceeds at the casual pace of a weekly television series, the main cast of characters meeting at a local bar to caustically, but affectionately, grouse about work conditions and personal crises, all the while a resentment (fuelled by racial and ethnic tensions, a troubled sense of the demise of tradition) festers and foments into dangerous agitation.

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The whole of act 2 plods along, the same scene enacted by different sets of characters, until a crescendo of shrill violence, long simmering, explodes. Although the performers bring what nuance and subtlety they can to their individual personas, Nottage does a disservice to the main body, as most everyone (except for a sainted few) default to the worst aspects of character (drug addictions, violent indulgence), although certainly in crisis some find reserves of strength and resolve, seek out productive alternatives or become politically engaged.

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The person with the most sense, sanity and hope is (doubly) victimised, the second time savagely and irrevocably. The immigrant is canonised as the most capable of human compassion, which, quite beyond all the other emotional struggles of conflict and dissension, is seen as the most important trait-admittedly, this is startlingly (and unexpectedly) communicated to great effect in the final, heartbreaking scene. The corporate sector (not given a voice at all) is demonised as an unfeeling, remote, conscienceless  monstrosity concerned solely with the bottom line and profit, when circumstances that give rise to such tragedy are a much more complex set of arrangements and scenarios than this particular script would credit.

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Poor Cynthia, promoted from the floor to a supervisory position, has to shoulder much metaphoric weight in this respect, representing all the skewed associations in management structure  (it’s in the unravelling of its central deep-bonded relationship between the three lead female workers as conditions worsen, and as temperaments fray and grow vulnerable,  that the play achieves its greatest power-drink-addled Jessie, quietly lamenting her choice not to exploit the opportunity to travel in her youth, catches on a sudden seizure of feeling that is soul-shredding). Nottage has a surfeit of heart and sympathy for her discarded characters, in the ways in which what is certain and sure may at a moment’s notice spin off into disorientation and despair, in acknowledging the cruelty at the heart of the capitalist machine, but there needs to be more rigour in its head-the way it goes about its messaging has a very self-satisfied and rather smug approach. The suffering characters are more than justified in their suspicions, and the difficulty in being able to see outside their own plight, but it’s Nottage’s responsibility to locate the pain against a wider canvas, not just offer up an array of sanctimony. Sweat runs through 20 July

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https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/sweat/#

 

FLAVOUR RAGE: FATT PUNDIT

RESTAURANT

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Refreshingly free of overdetermined decor and gimmicky menu options, this new Soho spot will rise above the dense kitchen clamour of its countless neighbours solely (and prominently) through the sheer, fundamental, simple beauty of its expertly crafted dishes. Serving up an intriguing hybrid of Chinese/Indian recipes (originating from the Tangra region of Kolkata, an area to which a great number of Hakka Chinese from Canton migrated), the plates offer a seductive, unfurling dimension of taste, spice and herb. Meals commence with tender dumpling parcels (in colloquial parlance called momos) filled with delicately seasoned portions of vegetable, beef, chicken or (for the adventurous) goat in aromatic sauces of soy, garnished with garlic, chilli, cardamom, garam masala, ginger and coriander, supple little pillows of joy.

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Veggie mains were all of high quality (the seafood, meat, poultry and game choices, ranging expansively from prawns and crabs to venison, rabbit and lamb to steak and chicken will keep carnivores more than happy-many an online review confirms this): crackling spinach was a luscious assemblage of ribboned green swirled in a sweet yogurt accented with a tangy plum and date sauce and the finish of crunchy pomegranates; Hakka chilly paneer immersed soft chunks of cottage cheese in a sweet soy dressing with shallots and a kick of white & black pepper; best yet was the sticky sesame vegetables, fritters drenched in a sweet batter, the addition of manuka honey and chilli deepening the satisfaction.

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Either burnt ginger or Szechuan rice provides the perfect bed upon which to place these dazzling savoury specialties. Desserts thrill the senses as well: the sizzling brownie with vanilla ice cream (incongruous menu item though it may be) is served in a hot iron skillet upon which is poured a pot of chocolate sauce, the ingredients cooking into a warm froth of confection.

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Most pleasing to the palate is the mango shrikhand, a cooling, velvety base of hung yogurt mixed with saffron and coated with soft kernels of honey comb (perfect for calming and rinsing the mouth of any lingering throb of spice). A crisp, invigorating Pinot Grigio from Slovenia completed the meal. For certain, the craving and taste for these dishes will assault me with force on a regular basis. And for the area, the food and drink is very reasonably priced. Long a staple of the food-going experience in places such as Hounslow and Harrow, I am ecstatic for this modest yet chic opportunity to acquaint myself with this cuisine.

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A LITTLE SLACK: GDIF 2019

PERFORMANCE

With the exception of a piece or two, the spectacular was absent from this annual festival devoted to performance and movement theatre-unlike previous years, in which many of the works seared straight into the pleasure centre, lodging quite snugly as standout cultural experiences of the year, I struggle mightily in 2019 to recall a truly memorable work. Whether  due to budgetary constraints (the festival, wonderfully, remains a free public event) or the exhaustion and uncertainty of a looming Brexit (many of the participating groups this year, at least the majority of the ones I chose to see, were British-based commissions, whereas in preceding instalments many remarkably gifted European artists were represented), the festival felt very scaled back (there seemed a preponderance of neophytes, student groups or recent graduates just at the start of their professional lives, which may account for the lack of polish and tonal dysfunction). Best of the fest was the very first piece viewed: Motionhouse’s Wild, leagues removed from most every other work in skill and intent, is a vertiginous and dizzying choreography of physicality and poles, as a group of urbanites scurry and crawl and throw their bodies around and amidst a jungle gym of pipes and platforms, a continual dance of connection and discord that spirals into ever-more daring displays of acrobatic heights (the heart is firmly in mouth as the performers clamber and twist along the frame). Contrast this with the narratively confused and bewilderingly paced 9 Minutes, in which a distractingly over-scaled assemblage of performers attempt some audacious balancing feats which inspire fear more so than awe, an anxiety that the endeavour may end in horrible injury. On Edge, a promising blend of story and motion (taking place on a construction site, detailing the mounting dread of a migrant awakening to his lot as a slave labourer, leavening his despair with fantasies of his distant family), suffers the misfortune of a narrative that ultimately hijacks the electrifying parkour energy of its all-male cast-just as the movement should be ascending in fleet speed and mania, the broad outlines of the tale drag the work down into turgid messaging. Oscyl Variation, a series of collaborations between human and chess piece (which wobble and weave with an agreeable sinuousness), is slightly overlong and listless for most of its duration, blasting into thrilling orbit only at the end, with a magnificent dance anthem and a suddenly abandoned, roused cast, sexually charged and pagan with fervour. Catch Me is a tender, modest duet between a younger man and older woman from vastly different backgrounds, discovering (and opening to) moments of interconnectedness and dependence, bridging inter-generational gaps, a hope for understanding beyond age and circumstance. Oscillate desires nothing more than to transport an audience through the sheer percussive titillation of a synchronous group of tap dancers, which it achieves solidly. The three performers of Lifted, a paean to female support and alliance delivered in collaborative choreographies of buttress and support, would rate highly (as many of the troupes in this year’s shows) in the fields of effort and eagerness, if not refinement-dismounting from each display, the women looked genuinely happy and relieved that the routine concluded successfully. I don’t know what to make of Life Is Short. Buy That Dress, which, according to press material was meant to address concepts of the fashion industry, globalisation and avaricious consumerism (and perhaps exploitation of third-world countries), but really amounted to nothing more than a group of women cavorting atop a mound of clothing, picking and flicking recklessly, drowning in their impulsiveness, with no variation or build or progress to a greater point or meaning. Despite the inconsistency of quality, design and concept of many of this year’s entries, the GDIF remains a vital and invaluable festival on the cultural calendar, providing an array of creative and exciting artists to Londoners at no cost, bringing alive the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College and Canary Wharf (and expanding their reach even further this term to the emerging areas of Woolwich, Thamesmead, Eltham and the Royal Albert Docks). I await next year’s programme with unvanquished enthusiasm. GDIF 2019 ran from 21 June-6 July I will be loading video footage (which, of course, is the paramount way in which to experience this material) onto the Instagram account soon.

GDIF | Experience something different

TAKE A SEAT: TENDER TOUCHES @ AMP GALLERY

EXHIBITION

On an unassuming neighbourhood street a few roads removed from a main thoroughfare in Peckham, curators Ines Neto dos Santos and Huma Kabakci set up shop (for a six-week residency) of this conceptually terrific and innovative hybrid of gallery and cafe, offering each patron a multi-sensory experience in which every element of the space collaborated in and contributed the central theme:all is art. From the wallpaper to the utensils to the table lamps to the serviettes to the plates on which the food is served (the cafe menu is also curated by dos Santos, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern touches-and sustainable practices) to indeed the tables and chairs themselves, all were created specifically for this installation. Interaction with the various works dissolves the formal principles between object and viewer, rendering art as personal and functional (and usable). The consumption of the food within this sphere transforms the act itself into the realm of performance (and dos Santos, with her delicately layered and dimensional dishes, like all gifted cooks, elevates the food into an art form). Sofia Stevi provides whimsical and jovial napkin prints; Clementine Keith-Roach offers seductive candleholders (two hands gently cradling a gourd-like base upon which the candle flickers, dripping its wax languorously down and along its curves); Bea Bonafini’s crockery, with its map of odd angles and curious swoops and pockets, intriguingly distributes oils and sauces upon the plate; Lindsey Mendick’s chunky cutlery gives colourful agency from dish to mouth. A complimentary cup of coffee was generously provided upon arrival, and dos Santos briefly (and helpfully) explained the foundational ideas that birthed the show-a series of talks, supper clubs and performances were scheduled throughout the run. With just days left before its closing date, I am ecstatic that I was able to visit this most delightful one-off after returning home from holiday, a truly unique experience. Tender Touches ran from 17 May-30 June at Amp Gallery

https://www.artrabbit.com/events/tender-touches-amp-gallery

STRIFE: LI TIANBING @ JD MALAT

I’m back from a rather protracted holiday hiatus, and will briefly cover a few outstanding cultural outings from just before and after my travels.

EXHIBITION

In these charged, volatile images (usually depicting a group or crowd of people engaged in an activity driven by frenzy), a squall of rupture seems to infest the centre of the frame, a clamour towards a sort of white-noise annihilation, a dictation of erasure overseen by authority or, increasingly, avaricious groupthink.  Tianbing’s sizeable canvasses seethe with (and uncomfortably capture) moments of sudden, blurred action, the rapid and quick motions a tumult of expression queasily devolving into the blossom of violence. The pieces pop with Maoist red and bureaucratic grey (uneasy children, gathered in what appear to be internment camps, struggle against being overcome by coiled branches in one series-in another, what appears to be a drawing class has descended into war, the boys’ faces twisted with fury and malice). The world, in fact, appears to be moving too fast to cohere any longer-paint bleeds, explodes, obscures, the individual fights against closure. The frames themselves are subject to scratches, a torn quality.In a world increasingly dominated by the ultra-nationalist (isolationist) and post-compassionate, Tianbing’s pieces have an urgency and immediacy that cannot be shaken. They tear at the vision. Li Tianbing’s Urban Series ran until 15 June at JD Malat

Li Tianbing