Originally mounted in 2015, this one-man performance work is enacted with intense, edgy commitment by Simon McBurney, featuring a revolutionary binaural soundscape that places the actor directly (and spectacularly) inside each audience member’s head-individual headsets were handed out in the theatre to facilitate this 3-D aural phenomena; the home stream requires nothing more than personal headphones. The result is an experience akin to a vivid waking dream, a magnificent delusion. McBurney encourages you to close your eyes through most of the running time and allow the sound to transport the imagination-the stage itself is mostly a spare collection of technical material . Based upon a memoir of the journey of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre into the Amazon and his encounter with a local tribe-and subsequent experiences of mind-bending alterations of time and space, of opening to (and embracing) new possibilities-is mimicked structurally within the work. Like Carlos Castanada’s recollections of his adventures in shamanism, perhaps these events are nothing more than the sum total of regional hallucinogens, but the fundamental principle is allowing the self to ascend in loss of the routine and the assumptive (a lesson this current crisis offers to a global population severely displaced, isolated and dislocated-a new way to see). McBurney has shot some new footage for the stream that playfully extends the perceptual themes and tricks explored in the feature piece, an abandonment to the sensual and the intuitive. The Encounter is available to view through 25 May
Produced especially for digital platforms, directed by artistic director Michael Longhurst, written by Adam Brace specifically for actress Diana Quick, this pithily observed 30-minute piece concerns retired lawyer Judy, a member of the smart Islington set, as she makes a series of increasingly strained video calls to her daughter who is in Palestine doing charitable work. Her demeanour varies wildly between the nervously chatty to recriminatory to trepidatious in accordance with her daughter’s availability or aloofness. It becomes clear as the story progresses that a confrontation at the holidays has led to a bitter estrangement (that her daughter has kept in contact with her father and brother is a source of not-so-masked indignation to Judy). Casting about for relevance (she details the corporate-like intrigues and stratagems in practice with her colleagues at the neighbourhood women’s auxiliaries, internecine battles at the local level of governance), Judy is desperate to wrest any degree of control from her environment including, it would seem, her daughter’s life. There’s a mad race in the neighbourhood, she relates in one call, to be the first people to invite the new Afghan refugee to supper-resentfully beaten to the score, Judy nevertheless proudly claims (without awareness of her own condescension) her instruction to her guest as to the proper way to perceive the troubled politics of his homeland. Quick keeps her character just this side of sympathetic: good hearted, well intentioned, but her genuine concern is hopelessly, reductively entangled in her ego and (un) self-reflective privilege and conceit. Her tone is one of harangue and lecture. A failure to communicate successfully, the distance and alienation in relations with her daughter, is not merely a matter of geography. Midnight Your Time is available to stream through 27 May
It’s back to basics for the group of creatives commissioned for this online initiative from Thorp Stavri gallery hosted on World of Fad’s Instagram account. Invited participants are representative of artists with whom the curatorial platform has established relationships as well as newer individuals who were initially scheduled, of course, for more tactile exhibitions. The show’s title, Contact, holds within itself the tension of present circumstances-unable to interact with close physicality, we are left with the beguiling proximity of the virtual, a mimic of the immediate masking the remote-but it is what is available, and we must continue to communicate and relate.
What is keenly felt in the majority of these works produced while in lockdown is the return to pure, primal materials and concerns, an earthy reliance on (or digital recreation of) wood, cloth, yarn, cement, thread, wire, a direct reflection of a sudden stripped-down, spare existence, a celebration of modest but durable elements. An emphasis on folklore and myth, those sustaining and foundational tales that are the backbone of culture, are pushed to fore (the tight cosmos of symbols and patterns of Anna Perach’s My Braided Hero, a pair of gloves given extra contemporary currency as avatars of security and defense); Tess Williams’s rough, raw and ungilded industrial Sirens is an ascendant statement of the plain-spoken; Christopher Stead’s Jungle and Catriona Robertson’s Chute repurpose detritus into new empowered forms of reference, soups and stews of rubbish reconfigured; Anna Readings’s Augury, a cement and oyster shell rendering of a cormorant fanning its wings, harkens back to mythic fables of avian messengers, bearers of ominous, apprehensive news, oracles of doom;
Kieran Leach’s trippy Mean Pills foregrounds a foggy-brained Casper the Ghost against a hazy background of splotchy paint spray, mental eruptions of colourful frisson and unease; Veronika Neukirch’s Coral Connect 4 flailingly attempts to find a coherent pathway or connection; Andrea Wright’s Maquette for Future Sculptures 3,4,6 beckon towards the comfort of the analogue, the simplicity of the hand-crafted, not so much an escape into nostalgia but a confirmation of the strength of the rudimental; Katharina Fitz’s Memory Palace-Hollow, a series of empty, delicate latex vessels, echoes the present state of ethereality, ungrounded and unsupported, an abrupt loss of weighted ness; Jack Evans’s Nostalgia depicts a particular “recreational” tree found in pubs and parks in the East Midlands of his youth, now lost to time, reimagined digitally as a Viking-type warrior seemingly covered in (and withstanding) a cape of shit, an apt image for a Covid-infused population;
Rob Branigan’s Checkout heralds a sinking of commodified culture, a penetrated concrete interruption of the accelerated; Mike Ballard’s Letraset-style sheet of transfers (Coast to Coast) crashes in like an outmoded language, a series of manic arrows and scratch-outs creating a lexiconic cacophony of direction and movement, as if certainty and assumption-normality-have suffered breakdown. All the works throb with the unique frequency of viral-loaded times, anxious and unresolved. Contact can be found-indefinitely-on World of Fad’s Instagram feed
Commissioning digital art works in direct response to the current pandemic, focusing on the particular anxious melancholy that has been stirred awake in its vortex, these enterprising galleries are able to showcase projects of immediacy and force borne of a still-emerging and unfolding catastrophe, reports and reflections from within the realm of besiegement. Form and content encompasses a wide range of impressions-sober, humorous, anecdotal, bemused. Both Annka Kultys’s [the art happens here] and Edel Assanti’s Contactless Deliveries initiatives are releasing weekly works for the indefinite stay-at-home future: Toronto artist James Knott’s campy video works Crisis du Jour: Petty Déjeuner (featuring Knott’s drag persona), spoken to camera seated at table, take as their ostensible form that of the tutorial, the first of which (Eggs, slightly re-conceptualised from a pre-Covid existence) details the proper way in which to eat a plate of fried eggs, matter-of-factness drifting off into strange philosophical riffs and unnerving, unsettling alleyways of apocalyptic ruminations-dead flowers and rotting bananas litter the table, indicating a sure presence of death, unconscious and underlying psychological disturbances crawling and grating against the spirit, compromising strength in isolation, throwing up reflections of tremendous terror and fear; Beans in Isolation, delivered in a mock-Wild West accent (as if thrown back to a more elemental, civilly uncertain, time) amusingly descends into nihilistic, violent observations and musings, a quiet, seething psychosis slowly being willed into being from lack of significant contact and interaction.
Jillian Mayer’s preceding piece, You’ll Be Okay, a four-minute video of prodigious fragility and tenderness, presents wispy smoke trails as if from a sky-writing plane spelling out the titular words, which begin to disassemble in the relentless onslaught of wind and pressure, breaking apart and losing integrity, although never quite completely relinquishing their presence -the ghost of the lettering persists against all effort to erase them (the video concludes, rather optimistically, before total loss of body). The first of Edel Assanti’s program, text-based works set against static shots, opens with the phrase “I can’t breathe”, words spoken by African American Eric Gardner while in custody, dying words which became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, now transposed powerfully by Jesse Hlebo to encompass the dire situation affecting the respiratory systems of both world and individual (political and commercial systems, cultural assumptions, as well as one’s own lungs), allowing for both panic and perhaps profound contemplation that the silence, the pause, offers us.
Dependent upon perspective, the cityscape in the frame is either descending into perpetual dark or surfacing into a new dawn. It’s a beautifully composed poetic essay, managing both the best and worst consequences of present circumstances.
One day in the future, humankind will be properly able to study and investigate this most unprecedented time, come to grips with the spectrum of societal fault lines and failings exposed along with the ways in which humanity rose up to express its greatest virtues and compassion. For now it’s enough to spend time with these thoughtful, engaging, heartening artists as they tread bravely through the madness.
Southwark Playhouse was set to mount celebrated playwright Philip Ridley’s new work, Beast of Blue Yonder, from 2 April-6 May, when the Corona pandemic rudely, ungraciously interrupted all cultural calendars. Scrambling creatively, Ridley has written 14 new texts, all in monologue form, for his cast to perform as a series of online releases, meted out in weekly doses (the project is entitled The Beast Will Rise). The first three have been uploaded, running times vary (anywhere from an expansive 18 minutes to a short, sharp profane three-minute punch), all well worth a watch. The structure, confessionals straight to camera from subjects isolated within domestic interiors, is an apt metaphor for the strange times in which the global community is living. Keening hostilities crouch just outside the frame, scratching insistently at doors, scraping through steadily compromised walls. The performers anxiously await a vicious, inevitable visit from without. Gators, the most original and innovative of the initial releases, unfolds an intriguing, curious world in which alligators routinely form affectionate attachments to human beings, and the complex systems which must be followed and rules respected when love is unrequited-and the grave consequences of violating regulations, harmony and natural order blasted out of balance. The narrator, spiralling to ever greater spasms of paranoia and alarm (taking longer, more indulgent quaffs from a can of beer), appears about to crack, the suggestion that she herself possesses gator traits-unhealthy affinities, vengeful spites-acutely defined. Clearly something has decided to bite back with a voluminous, uncontrollable force. The dialogue is enlivened by an on-fire Rachel Bright who wrests every manic nuance from the script.
Zarabooshka at first could be confused with an innocent young girl’s imaginative afternoon idyll in which she creates a perfect fantasy (for herself and her best friend) of living life as princesses in a castle fortress, protected from all ills and inconveniences, until particular details in her tale point to darker adult concerns, desperate needs for wanting to escape troubling, serious exploitations and persecutions, curdling any previous innocuous assumptions. Although more conventional than Gators, the writing (and performance) still carries quite a charge. Chihuahua, featuring the most overtly psychotic character, details a young boy’s disturbing behaviour towards his father’s girlfriend’s dog, unleashing his cumulative anger, frustration and disenfranchisement upon the poor canine. The narration is shocking in its casual cheery dead-eyed candour, the incendiary delivered with calm, unruffled matter-of-factness (the sordid tale is being recounted by the now-teenaged boy). A simple (conclusive) call to supper is chilling in its incongruity given the severity of what has just been told.
Ridley has stated that the monologues are direct reflections of present tumultuous times and in their feverish, cryptic, chaotic, unruly souls beats the heart of a messy, unhinged world. I await the rest of the series, which will run through July.
Ably and deftly managing the comprehensive closure of gallery spaces due to the Corona pandemic (and the indeterminate date at which they may again commence operations), Guts Gallery’s founder and curator Ellie Pennick, as many others, has chosen, with masterful improv, to move online to a brave new virtual world. She has gathered together 38 of her favourite emerging artists for her inaugural Instagram exhibition entitled When Shit Hits the Fan, a series of mixed-media works that coalesce thematically into a study of identity politics and forces both societal and personal that work to at times undermine the self, and the strategies by which an individual finds emancipation from the thicket of disharmony.
Often central figures find themselves lost in overburdened psychological landscapes, bowed under by crippling and censorious symbologies of doubt and fear. Others are locked in erotic reveries that shiver with promise and vulnerability. Some fight for definition from within squalls of erratic lines and heavy, rampaging scratches. Luke Riffins’s snarky graphic interstitials appear regularly throughout the feed, amusingly exposing the more dubious motivations of certain individuals at an opening reception (less aesthetic than opportunistic, happily feasting on gratis food & drink, trawling for possible hook ups-or avoiding former ones- situationally manipulating a way into photographs with essential individuals, bound for the social pages or gallery website).
Among the most memorable works: Douglas Cantor’s thrilling collision of yellow and red equines in Keep Some To Miss, a bracing twist of union; Rayvenn D’Clarke’s serenely defiant black face resisting a white annihilation; Victoria Cantons’s What Is Going On Right Now, a possible walk with an unknown part of the self, a quiet endeavour to access the incomprehensible; the pastel disquiet of Joe Bloom’s Departure with its wavy runways, disemboweled airplane and bared teeth on horizon;
the exquisite alienation of Anymay George’s It’s A Nice Day Inside, a delicate face staring warily out from within an encumbrance of what seems patterned blankets and covers, a womb or cave of softly crushing comfort; Sam Harris and Trackie McLeod use consumer detritus and objects (a knitted tapestry of chicken shop window meal decals and repurposed football jersey, respectively) to explore British identity as factored through fast-food culture and wardrobe, the meanings, limitations-and burdens-of institutional and gender characteristic embodied.
Although unable to recreate the experience of being in a live space and physically taking in the exhibition as a whole (in which individual works-potentially- may fizz and pop off of close placement with others in curated conversation), in the absence of this possibility I applaud those managers with an entrepreneurial spirit and imaginative zeal to keep some semblance of continuity and allow, in any form, the gallery adventure to continue. When Shit Hits the Fan continues through 16 April, but I imagine will remain on Guts Gallery’s Instagram feed-a viewer may have to scroll down a length to find it
Once inside the door of an unassuming brick building just off of London Bridge Station, you’d be forgiven for guessing you had wandered into a paradisiacal Spanish or Greek villa, when in fact you have just entered the new gallery space of Kristin Hjellegjerde (set, unfortunately, for renovation-the first item to go will no doubt be its signature arched sky-light ceiling, perhaps not the best complement to each exhibition’s works, offering a constant conflict of excessive natural light). As a visitor rounds up the stairs into the main space, the striking image of a painted series of broad, massive backs, a gravitas of flesh spatially obliterating each frame, accosts the eye.
In these elementally brawn portraits, Ethiopian artist Dawit Abebe inscribes bodies with an overlay of insects, cd’s, cassettes, masks and license plates with number schemes that reflect historically significant dates (a curious fact: Ethiopian calendars are consistently seven or eight years behind the Gregorian template). His process commences with a foundation of pages from educational exercise books placed upon the canvas , signalling the underlying rigour and regulation of “authoritative” teaching, over which he creates tense (mostly male) narratives of more compositionally base societal influences (music, cars, jewellery-tokens of power and position).
His “long-hand” series portrays naked, looming male figures rampaging over landscapes, a grotesquely disproportioned arm reaching out in an annihilating grasp, in some cases an obscenely gleaming gold watch affixed to wrist. The position is one of absolute dominance, crushing the earth with impunity and privilege-all around, a collage of eminent figures from the worlds of politics, sports and entertainment gather along the horizon, unobtrusive but present, avatars of aspiration.
Abebe teases out the pressures, the infestation of cultural myth and fable upon both body and mind, its sometimes regrettably disreputable absorption into character and behaviour, the destructive ways in which it may manifest into a great and tragic misconception. These energised images explode a study of the exploitative uses to which tales are put, how they are consumed by a population, and the consequences for a culture. Exits closed on 14 March and was one of the final exhibitions I attended before lockdown