‘A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions’
Serpentine Sackler Gallery, 8 June – 10 September 2017
Arthur Jafa, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions (installation view), 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Serpentine Galleries.
The most common form of colour blindness in the human eye is the inability to see red or green. In one corner of Arthur Jafa’s dense, swirling exhibition of photography, video and objects at the Serpentine Gallery is LeRage (2017), a large stand up cut-out of the comic book character the Hulk angrily pulverising the ground on which he stands. The normally radioactive-green figure is here rendered how a colour-blind person might see him: in a dark greyscale, in turn suggesting that Hulk, with all his explosive fury, is a black man. Save a few clips of grainy video, most of Jafa’s installation is similarly in stark black and white, with a sense of underlying rage that is anything but colour-blind. Surrounding us with countless images of bodies – from icons like Mickey Mouse, to self-portraits and historical photographs from Jim Crow-era America – Jafa insists we notice skin colour, and acknowledge the politics of its presence and presentations. Continue reading
We all too frequently seek to save the emotional content of past epochs, without first thinking what use it is to us.
Hans Poelzig, “Fermentation in Architecture”, 1906
- A highway:
A young girl sits in the back seat, staring sideways out of the golden Volvo at the highway and landscape going by. She’s developed a game of sorts to amuse herself, watching the electricity wires that run parallel to the highway bob up and down from pole to pole. The game is simply imagining a line, or beam, projecting from the string of wires out into the landscape, a line that would cut into any tree or hill that it encountered. It would take elliptical slices out of tall houses, trim the tops of pines, and remove semi-circular chunks from outcropping land. Continue reading
Helen Cammock, still from There’s a Hole in the Sky Part I, 2016, digital video. Image courtesy the artist.
‘A sea eagle screams from the rock, and my race began like the osprey, with that cry, that terrible vowel, that I,’ a female narrator intones evenly over waves crashing against a rocky shore. It is the opening scene of Helen Cammock’s short video There’s a Hole in the Sky Part I, 2016; that ‘I’ invoked goes on over the course of the video to visit a sugar factory and a sugar cane plantation turned tourist destination in Barbados, musing all the while self-consciously about what she sees and is told, occasionally breaking into mournful song. The video carries many of the threads that run though Cammock’s work, such as using photography and documentary film methods to explore the intimate bonds of history, often of colonialism, racism and cultural appropriation – in this case, tracing the slavery trade created to prop up the now-disappearing sugar production in the Caribbean – and first-person accounts of the disjointed experience of those ‘subjects’ who moved from the West Indies to the UK. The voice that narrates and binds these images shifts from spoken-word poetry-like litanies of evocative phrases to confessional anecdotes. When she asks at one point, ‘What can I see when I look, and through whose gaze do I see?’, the fact that this is not just one ‘I’ becomes clearer – it is an impossible ‘I’, a multiple ‘I’. The voice is the artist’s, but the ‘I’ being spoken constantly changes, shifting from her own lines and a patchwork of quotations, such as the opening lines which come from the late Saint Lucian poet Derek Walcott’s ‘Names’, 1976, and authors like Maya Angelou and Jamaica Kincaid. This fragmented narration underlines Cammock’s videos, performances and installations – quoting, singing, ventriloquising, a procession of voices that successively inhabit the artist. Continue reading
Sternberg Press, 2016, 128 pages
How many great artists have there been that passed by totally unknown? It is a recurring idle pub question, but one which casually brings up some heavy stuff: of working processes, careers, visibility, networks and power. No matter what some like Dave Hickey might like to believe, I don’t think talent just rises to the top like some genius double cream; recognition is a collusion of luck and lust, of determination and dollar signs. Martin Herbert’s latest collection of essays, Tell Them I Said No, is premised on artists who had it, whatever it might be (talent, promise or a steady career), and turned their backs on it; artists who were known, seen, acknowledged, and then – for whatever reasons – disappeared. Continue reading
Tintype Gallery, London, 10 March – 13 April 2017
Marion Coutts, Aiming or Hitting, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and Tintype.
Tucked in an alcove at the back of the gallery is a cluster of drawings, one of which, in a shaky, pale blue hand, simply spells out the words Actual Size (all works 2017). In the context of ‘Aiming or Hitting’, Marion Coutts’s first solo show since 2008, the pointless tautology appears as a gentle reminder to try and focus on the world as it is, a reassurance that everything has its own scale. The exhibition’s careful photographs, sparse drawings and slight sculptural installations evince a sense of hesitant detachment: a wandering eye and sense of curiosity, tempered with a deliberate step back, a wary distance. In the main room of the gallery, Curtain is a line of black vinyl strips that runs from shoulder height to the floor, bisecting half the room like odd, funereal party streamers. Two rounded pieces of chalkboard occupy the opposite wall, each shaped like the conjoined circular outline of an image as seen through a pair of binoculars. There are no ghosts of words or remnants of anything ever having been written on them, just the residual faint lines of chalk that always stays behind when you try to to wipe a chalkboard clean. This deliberate blankness sets the tone for the whole show, while the work’s title gives us our stage instructions of where to remain: The Middle Distance. Continue reading
Multiple venues, 14 January – 11 February 2017
Oscar Murillo, Human Resources, 2016. Image Courtesy Carlos Ishikawa and the artist.
A circle of blank, wide-eyed faces stares at you, a wooden seating arena filling up the Carlos Ishikawa gallery peopled with puffy, scarecrow-like bodies. They have round, papier-mâché heads painted shades of brown and black with felt hair and eyebrows, most of them outfitted with rubber boots and factory uniforms. The living people sitting on the structure blended in, adding to a sense of unease, then one burly man sauntered in and began to sing in what sounded like a medley of love songs in Spanish. It was as if we had temporarily tuned into a faraway radio station. After a few minutes, he finished, muttered a small thank you, and left. Oscar Murillo’s installation Human Resources, 2016, is one of the highlights of ‘Condo’, if only simply because it is the biggest. As per the usual for the ‘socially engaged’ side of Murillo’s practice when he’s not painting, these figures have supposedly been made by people in his home town in Colombia, as apparent representations of themselves. At the centre of the room was a miniature Aztec ziggurat encircled by a crudely assembled roller coaster. ‘Azteca Ride’, letters on the side of Japanese artist Yutaka Sone’s untitled 2016 sculpture proclaim (brought by Tommy Simoens gallery of Antwerp); here, we were in a sort of South American amusement park, entertained by exotic workers and ancient history. The pairing of works might have been intended as a critique to such fetishisations, but it felt like more a joke at the artists’ expense. Continue reading
Hardcover, published by LUX, 2016
The title of Ian White’s posthumous collection of writing brings to mind the comments and instructions posted on social media since the American election last November, accompanied by lists and databases detailing which civil rights organisations to support and which politicians to hassle. The ‘information’ in this book, edited by Mike Sperlinger, White’s former colleague at LUX, isn’t so directly practical as the directive to ‘mobilise’ might suggest, but it does detail its author’s working and thinking methods, with texts on video, film and moving image that are concise, sometimes sharp, politically minded and always self-conscious. Continue reading