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
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
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
Jessie Brennan: Regeneration!, HS Projects
Nathan Coley: To the Bramley Family of Frestonia, Anomie Publishing
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
Jerusalem Chapter I, August 2012
A journey is in the telling. From the waves of crusaders to Palestine to the treks up to the healing hilltop town of Lourdes, the long history of religious pilgrimages was created, and perpetuated, by the tales of exotic lands and miracles told by those who returned. The waning of religious paradigms and waxing of scientific views hasn’t quite precipitated the same votive rituals; we don’t, as yet, have a steady stream of devoted followers, wearing white lab coats and lighting their way with small LED lights, gathering at Cern once a year to celebrate the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. But a quick thematic survey of the desires and journeys represented in cultural texts, scanning our narratives for equivalent tales of transformation and affirmation, shows we might not be mistaken to think that the contemporary pilgrimage is that of the journey back in time. We’re more than familiar with Back to the Future’s flux capacitor, the impossibilities of La Jetée, the time paradoxes presented by films like Source Code or Looper. The 2006 Tony Scott-directed, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced and Denzel Washington-led film Déjà Vu tries to play it with a CSI realism: FBI operatives have found a way to look back exactly three and a half days in to the past, via a television-like viewfinder that happens to work a lot like satellite surveillance. “Basically,” one of the technicians casually explains, “we’re folding space in a higher dimension to create an instantaneous link between two distant points [in time].” They know what’s going to happen—the past (in this case, an explosion on a New Orleans ferry) is a fait accompli—but they are using the window to locate the perpetrator. The pilgrimage itself is, in this case, a journey into the seen but not known, the fact of the already-occurred made re-familiar from a new perspective.
Marian Goodman Gallery, London, 11 September – 24 October 2015
Most gallery-goers have had a Kentridge moment, spellbound by his drawings, films and installations that treat History as a dream from which we never awake. I would bet most often that moment would be, as it was for me, watching one of his Drawings for Projection (1989–2011), the well-known series of animations made from layered charcoal and pastel drawings that veer between floaty allegory and harsh directness in attempting to come to grips with modern-day South Africa. Crucially, the method carried the message, the erased lines of charcoal still visible as the drawing struggled to change, the animation carrying a homemade honesty that also spoke silently about how memory and meaning accrue. The Kentridge moment is strongest the first time; there’s a constancy to his shadow plays, cartoonish live-action videos and, yes, the operas he’s directed, as they continue to pick at the threads of the past, to layer and tangle them. Kentridge is assured at sounding, again and again, the tragicomic note of unrooted jumping back and forth that seems to define our contemporary understanding of history. And while it’s never the wrong note, it just always feels like the same note.
From: Input Volunteer 255738
Date: 15 October 2012 17:55
Subject: Re: Prime Volunteer Opportunity
I’m sorry I can’t help you further. Please remove me from your records.
On 6 May 17: 43 <email@example.com> wrote:
Our client has requested further data submission for this transaction. While our budget does not permit further compensation for your participation, it will distinguish you as one of our prime volunteers, which may secure further participation in our clients’ recall requests. The client has requested particularly personal information, emotional sensory input and events in your private life leading up to the event in question.
This may include:
From: Input Volunteer 255738
Date: 15 October 2012 17:03
Subject: Re: EXTENDED SERVICE PO E4436580
Please find below my ‘expanded event report’ for submission. I hope this might satisfy the client this time:
I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for. I’m too aware now that the ironies of providing recall details for an event about memory are readily at hand. My initial notes towards this report – my expectations of some of the speakers, particular songs and musicians I was listening to that marathon weekend, as well as a count of how many times the word ‘madeleine’ was said – are lost when my computer is wiped. The dome of the marathon closes with Douglas Gordon leading a go at the Scottish folk song ‘Bonny Glen Shee,’ singing like a wistfully out of tune school boy, ‘with their broadswords on their shoulders and….damn.’ Forgetting the next line: With their muskets on their shoulders and their broadswords hanging down. But the particular, and maybe predictable, gaps, lapses and failures of talking about memory aren’t nearly as interesting as their textures. I guess that’s what you guys want. John Giorno might have left out the last line of his impeccably long recital of ‘Where were you in ‘63 when JFK died,’ but recalling the death of William S. Burroughs, I see the way he steps back and forth on the balls of his feet, and though he is born in New York, all I hear is a Midwestern accent. They buried Burroughs with his .38 snubnose revolver; ‘The gun,’ he says, ‘was my idear.’