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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HOOKED @ SCIENCE GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

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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 

https://london.sciencegallery.com/news/hooked

 

 

PINTER AT THE PINTER 2 @ HAROLD PINTER THEATRE

THEATRE 

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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.

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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.

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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 

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https://www.pinteratthepinter.com/about-the-season

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SMALL TOWN BOY: THE END OF EDDY @ UNICORN THEATRE

THEATRE 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 

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https://www.unicorntheatre.com/TheEndOfEdd