Colin Guillemet, XXL. Mutt, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.
Transcription of a lecture recorded on April 23, 2015:
Let us begin with a look at that most emblematic of Romantic poets:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
Consider, for a moment, where the poem places us, the reader. The titular opening line of Wordsworth’s oft-cited poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (1807) gives us a simile that presents the image of an anthropomorphised, forlorn cloud. As if we are outdoors watching the poet on a pleasant outdoor stroll, it puts us firmly in the role of a standby spectator, or maybe a fellow rambler. But as we approach the closing lines above, it turns out instead that we have the whole time been indoors, as he lounges dejectedly on his sofa. More specifically, inside his head: the vision we’ve been subject to is that of his ‘inward eye’. We finish the poem trapped in this space, standing next to a dancing, stuffed heart, as if we’re at some sort of internal organ-vegetation wedding party. Continue reading →
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and Cabinet, London
‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!’ So the flustered old man shouts while fidgeting with the partition that kept him, and the controls for his distracting light and sound displays, hidden. The old man is, of course, the supposed Wizard of Oz, the scene from the 1939 film providing the starting point for countless books and essays on the qualities of sound and narration in film (yes, including this one). The authority of the wizard, an apparent god-like power, who is revealed to be merely a nervous man tinkering with an amplifier and a smoke machine, gives a concise and classic example of the trope of the unreliable narrator: when what we are being told is bending things a bit, misleading us, or just plain untrue. The unreliable narrator is a concept with which we are all familiar – whether in the form of boastful exploits in the Life and Exploits of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, 1759-67, or in Kevin Spacey’s voiceover from the grave in American Beauty, 1999. The dissonance between what we are being told and what is being made revealed has long been used as a tool in fiction and art; but what happens when the unreliable narrator becomes ubiquitous and all narration is untrustworthy? What happens when the unreliable narrator becomes the only narrator in town? Continue reading →
John Latham, Two Noit. One Second Drawing, 1970-71. Image courtesy the John Latham Foundation and Lisson Gallery, photo by Ken Adlard.
Halloween, 1954: an astronomer and animal ethnologist couple, with an interest in the paranormal, invite artist John Latham to create a mural for a party in their Hampshire home. In response, Latham gets a spray gun from an ironmonger and spurts their white wall (or, in some accounts, their ceiling) with black paint. The resulting burst of dots sets off a series of associations for the artist: a sculpture, performance, drawing and painting all at once, that looks like an inverse night sky. The spray gun becomes a regular feature in his work, but also a tool to think through his growing theory that physics has got it all wrong: the basic unit of the universe isn’t the particle, but a minimal, time-based something, anything, happening – what he later called a ‘least event’. Latham’s widespread influence hasn’t been so much the result of his early splotchy part-figurative paintings, or his later muddy, messy assemblages and destructive performances, but is more due to his persistent promotion of the artist as a sort of eccentric natural philosopher. Continue reading →
Rachel Pimm, documentation from Garden City, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.
The words have become prominent in recent decades: recycling, sustainable, ecological, organic. The words are markers of moral aspiration, things that we should be aiming for in order to be more at balance with the planet that we inhabit. With almost 7.5bn humans alive at the moment, how we make use of this planet perhaps hasn’t changed so much the past one hundred years, but the rhetoric with which we justify it certainly has. It’s a dark irony that is legible in the stacks of plastic laminate signs thrown around countless hotel bathrooms reading, ‘Help save the environment: please re-use your towel!’, or the absolution of throwing your empty beer tin into the recycling bin only for it to be freighted halfway across the globe and eventually melted down in a high-energy exchange process. Take a look around you right now: we palliate the industrial web we have woven around ourselves with potted plants, ‘daylight’ bulbs and Taste of Nature® snacks. Continue reading →
Multiple venues, London, 16 January – 13 February 2016
‘Artists’ Clothes’, installation view, Carlos Ishikawa, 2016. Image courtesy the gallery.
Some readers might have seen the recent film The Big Short, the Oscar-nominated semi-post-modern comedy that attempts to explain the exploits of a few profiteers from the 2008 housing market crash in the US. Spoiler alert: these guys saw a collapse coming, and decided to profit on it, and then it happens. It’s only after you’ve left the cinema and the jaunty tone of the film wears off that it becomes clearer: they weren’t underdogs, or crusaders or visionaries, as the film attempts to portray them, just hedge funders finding a way to profit from a situation. Sure, there’s a bit of hand wringing, which is perhaps the most remarkable part: we’re supposed to empathise with these guys. The moral of the tale is much darker, a sort of Russian doll abyss that might be handily summed up by a blog title from Dallas’s International Risk Management Institute: ‘Taking Risks to Create Value – It’s What Capitalism’s All About!’ Continue reading →
Anna Barriball, Silver Sunrise / Sunset with Fluorescent Orange III, 2014. Ink, paper, acrylic paint, acrylic spray paint on board. Image courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery
If you had walked into the room, you would have seen the charred, darkened husks: windows, doors, a fireplace. It would have seemed oddly silent, punctuated only by a wind you would not have felt. You would have encountered scarred surfaces and rippled textures, giving off illumination only indirectly as they perhaps glinted bluntly in the dull light reflecting off them. It would have been unsettlingly still, but with the held breath of an action completed only moments before you entered, a temporary, just-struck stillness. It might, on second thought, have seemed like the aftermath of an unknown event, one that created a world in the unexpected murky contrasts in photographic negative, an event that turned entrances and exits, and bays for light and air into portals irrefutably cut off. Together, these apertures in reverse would have provided the setting of a transposed room, would have marked the boundaries and traced the outlines of a confined, impossible indoor space. All these openings; but there would have been no way in, or out. Continue reading →
Nathan Coley: To the Bramley Family of Frestonia, Anomie Publishing
Jessie Brennan, A Fall of Ordinariness and Light (The Enabling Power), 2014, Graphite on paper, 55 x 70 cm. Image courtesy the artist.
This is a tale of two housing estates; or, rather, two artists working within two housing estates. One estate is a well-known Brutalist behemoth, Robin Hood Gardens in East London, designed by Allison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972. The crumbling estate has repeatedly failed to gain listed status and, as soon as the last tenants leave, is set to finally be demolished. What is going up in its place, eventually, is what has become the neoliberal landscape norm: mixed-use residential/retail schemes backed by private developers. The second estate, Silchester (with the catchy sub-title ‘More West’), is in West London near Ladbroke Grove; it is newly built, due to open by the time this goes to print with over a hundred new apartments, ‘including’, as the developer’s website claims, ‘some five-bedroom homes for social rent’. Out of each estate has come an artist’s project, and two subsequent medium-sized publications: Jessie Brennan’s Regeneration! and Nathan Coley’s to the Bramley Family of Frestonia. Both provide glimpses of artists attempting to engage with problems of what housing represents at a time of change – musing on social ideals, gentrification and historical models – but what role they each take within that offers two very different outcomes. Continue reading →