Remake/Remodel: Mike Rickett’s The Vessel

Mike Ricketts, The Vessel, 2013, video still

Mike Ricketts, The Vessel, 2013, video still, image courtesy the artist


All buildings are predictions.

All predictions are wrong.[i]

The Fun Palace, Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood’s proposed centre for London’s Lea Valley, was to be a fluid framework that would engage and educate the masses liberated by incipient technology. It was to be a ‘university of the streets’[ii], with one promotional pamphlet for the space promising ‘Kunst Dabbling, Genius Chat, Clownery, Fireworks, Rallies, Battles of flowers, Concerts, Science Gadgetry, Juke Box Information, Learning Machines.’ The project, begun in 1961, was a descendent of the idealist modular, mobile structures of Constant Nieuwenhuys and Yona Friedman, and heavily formed by the still-new discipline of cybernetics. The building itself was essentially a hollow structure which would hold building units that could be shifted around the site with gantry cranes as needed.

These units were the central essence of the project; Price’s design relied on the compartmentalisation of activities and individuals. Reyner Banham regarded this ‘containerisation’ of architecture as appropriately anti-monumental, and necessarily adaptable for an age uncertainty.[iii] His notes were prompted by the fact that that very same characteristic was transforming global trade networks, and rendering the architecture of transportation at ports and rail stations that had preceded it obsolete. Standards for international shipping containers were agreed in the late 60s, not only intertwining sea, rail, and road in a way that had never been done before, but also further regulating and restricting the human labour required to run that system. Artist and theorist Alan Sekula’s wide-spanning Fish Story (1989 – 95) project maps these movements; in his essay, “Red Passenger” he writes: ‘Factories become more mobile, ship-like, as ships become increasingly indistinguishable from trucks and trains, and seaways lose their difference with highways.’[iv]

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Profile: Jonathan Hoskins

Detail from Catallax Point, 2014, a social project; the illustration is an unrendered projection of a fictional building design

Detail from Catallax Point, 2014, a social project; the illustration is an unrendered projection of a fictional building design

An article published in the Hackney Citizen on 23 May last year featured a digital rendering of a high-rise apartment block under the headline, ‘Is this the future of Hackney’s iconic Rose Lipman Building?’. The article announced a one-day event the following month to discuss ideas, plans and desires for the future of the former library turned community hall, a site which the local Council had ear-marked as ‘suitable for redevelopment’. The accompanying image was a fictional proposal, commissioned from an architect by artist Jonathan Hoskins to represent one potential future: a blocky, jaunty building not unlike any of the other new-build apartments popping up frequently around London. Some readers, however, took the article as a statement of intention and the image as a confirmed plan. Property developers, residents associations and councillors were soon in touch – concerned, curious, angry. ‘No is the answer to your headline,’ was one comment to the online article. ‘A vanity student project is hardly news,’ ‘No and no again!’ tweeted Councillor Philip Glanville, the head of housing for Hackney. In response to the attention the article generated, Hackney Council also issued a statement that they had ‘no plans to demolish or sell the Lipman building’.

The article was an accident; Hoskins, then an associate at Open School East in the Lipman building, had been in touch with the Citizen to try to get his event listed in the paper and wasn’t aware of the story until it was printed, but it remains one of the few visible points of his project Catallax Point, 2014, a series of collaborations and events revolving around the uses and fate of the Lipman building. The project is symptomatic of Hoskins’s work, in that it exists primarily within a set of long-term relationships and concerns, addressing political efficacy, social groupings, urban change and folklore, and gentrification, looking at the history of housing associations and intentional communities; these processes eventually shape performances, texts, publications and events. Catallax Point, like much of Hoskins’s recent work, also revolves around his own east London neighbourhood of De Beauvoir. The newspaper article marks a point where the project achieved its own dubious success by removing it from the artist’s hands, the fiction of the not-yet-planned building instigating a wider, heated discussion. After the June meeting, two local residents’ groups assumed control of the project, forming an action group to ensure that their vision of the future of the site might be the one that prevails. Continue reading

Our Digital Servitude: Viktor Timofeev/John Gerrard

John Gerrard, Farm (Pryor Creek, Oklahoma), 2015, still from digital . Image courtesy the artist.

John Gerrard, Farm (Pryor Creek, Oklahoma), 2015, still from digital projection. Image courtesy the artist.

An acquaintance of mine works for a successful video gaming company, producing their short, film preview-like teasers and advertisements. Generating footage using free-floating perspectives within the worlds of the games, he considers his work as factually capturing those worlds, and refers to himself as a “documentary maker.” This is a peculiar spin on machinima—the term used for videos produced from within video game platforms—but video games are a reality we have long invested in, so why not treat them as such? It highlights the fact that our world is habituated and crossed through with digital processes; they don’t exist in opposition to the “real,” but as equal fact on the experiential spectrum. The politics and possibilities of so-called virtual realities have been increasingly explored in galleries and other platforms (the work of practitioners like David O’Reilly, Jason Rohrer, and Benjamin Nuel are notable examples); two recent shows in London presented very different versions of this landscape, to ask where within it we might stand.

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Revolver II

Matt’s Gallery, 10 September – 14 December 2014

Peter Liversidge, Sign Paintings, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Peter Liversidge, Sign Paintings, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

It is a place, the man says, that is ‘able to inspire messages. Full of energy, full of feeling’. You hear this sitting alone at a desk, wearing headphones, surrounded by high piles of boxes, innumerable files and dusty bits and bobs in the storage area of the gallery. Bronwen Buckeridge’s sound work Occasionally Employing Magic, 2014, is a conversation recorded in situ between the gallery’s archivist and some sort of spiritualist apparently hired to give advice on how to manage the not inconsiderable accumulations from over three decades of exhibitions. The man notes that the spirits in the building have been shifting some boxes: ‘they’re not happy with it all packed away in here.’ Outside, the facade of the building is covered in cardboard with messages scribbled in black paint, creating a jumbled graffiti of facts and commentary. One of Peter Liversidge’s Sign Paintings, 2014, helpfully informs us, ‘Matt’s Gallery is a contemporary art space situated on Copperfield Road in Bow East London. Its director, Robin Klassnik OBE, opened the gallery in his studio in 1979 on Martello Street, before moving premises to Bow in 1993. The gallery is named after Klassnik’s dog, Matt E Mulsion.’ Further down is a list of names that by the end of the exhibition listed 39 people. These transmissions all form part of ‘Revolver II’, which was, on the surface, a set of three month-long exhibitions curated by Klassnik and Michael Newman, featuring installations by ten artists, punctuated by countless ‘trailers’, performances and a bookshop, involving over 50 artists all told. But what is clear, from the shouting signs at the entrance to the trails the works lead you from the back rooms up to the roof, is that ‘Revolver II’ is more about Matt’s Gallery narrating itself.

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View Finder: Niamh O’Malley

It is a sacred place. A site visited by pilgrims and tourists, both reverentially hushed. But by the side of the dusty road there is inevitably a line of tables, each covered with the same objects: small figurines of the holy relic in a range of sizes, postcards, picture books. One has a basket filled with small, 2-inch plastic cameras: through the tiny viewfinder is an aerial view of the surrounding countryside. Looking up towards the sun with the machine over my eye, a button turns through a dozen hypercoloured, grainy images, clicking through a quick snapshot tour of the area’s highlights: seemingly deserted postcard views and panoramic shots that give away only a sense of scale, and possibly good weather depending on where I point the toy.

Giving the imitation shutter button a delicate half-push, I get the excited shudder of making the view settle on the black ‘V’ that separates one picture from the next. Half of a green valley can be seen on one side, on the other an abandoned port, the dark no-space sitting uneasily between them. Like thinking about your own blinking, its normally thoughtless and automatic process becoming slowed and intentional, it is unsettling and revealing. It is a boundary, the limitation of how we see what we see; but this image of the material of the picture slide itself is also another view, another location, another entity. It is this liminal space, its uncertain dominion and hazy substance that is explored in the work of Niamh O’Malley.

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London September Round Up

You would think the more we disappear into screens, the more we would forget about our bodies. Judging by the shows on this summer in London, the opposite seems to be the case. Whether it is the right sort of attention is another question, but it was filled with floating heads, phantom limbs and more 3D-printed objects than you can shake your e-cigarette at. Artist Will Benedict’s ‘Nuclear War: What’s in it for you?’ at Vilma Gold began with bodies on the streets of Berlin. Encountering the figurative, heavily allegorical public sculptures of Czech artist Ludmilla Seefried-Matějková from 1984-85 found in places like the facade of the criminal court, it’s as if Benedict gathered these six artists to retrospectively recreate the laden Cold War atmosphere which led to their creation. The title comes from a 1982 book informing readers about the facts of the impending fallout, and a bomb alarm echoes from a bunker built in the middle of the gallery. Inside, Seefried-Matějková’s On the Edge (1976-77) is a full-size polyester sculpture of a half-naked woman sitting on a bed, looking dejectedly into infinity. The sound comes from a small television in the corner playing KP Brehmer’s short black-and-white video Madame Butterfly (1969) reimagining Puccini’s opera as a raucous essay on transgression: at its close, we see a bottle of Coca-Cola on the ground and a communist star flashing intermittently on the screen. A naked woman walks over the bottle, squats, and begins moving up and down on top of it. This desolate bunker is surrounded by four of Brehmer’s large matter-of-fact statistic-based geographic paintings. Geography 3 Colours Localisation of Yellow/Red (1970) is a simplified map of South America with countries coloured pink, red, yellow and orange under the typeface heading ‘Investment Climate’. An adjacent key explains that Brazil in pink means ‘uncertain’, while Chile in red is ‘troubled’; Argentina and Colombia in orange, it seems, are ‘best’.

'Nuclear War: What's In It For You?', installation view, image courtesy Vilma Gold.
‘Nuclear War: What’s In It For You?’, installation view, image courtesy Vilma Gold.

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Alms For The Birds

Cabinet Gallery, London, UK
21 March – 26 April 2014

“Write down a desire,” comic book writer Grant Morrison advised in his wildly engaging talk at the 2000 DisinfoCon, “take out all the vowels and the repeated consonants, and turn that into an image that looks magical.” Coming up on drugs, speaking to a crowd of conspiracy theory devotees, Morrison describes a simple entryway into magic, trying to revive the sigil practices of people like artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare, a spell of sorts meant to focus a wish into something realisable. “This shit works!” I tried it once. It didn’t work, but it says a lot about the self-fulfilling determination of magical adherents: if you’re looking for something hard enough, you’ll find it in some form. An undecipherable glyph of jumbled letters – an e, an i, a backwards c and k – painted in faded reds and blacks adorns the stained cloth banner of Elijah Burgher’s Mictlantecuhtli’s grin (2013), which presides over ‘Alms For The Birds’, an eight-person group show curated by artist (and Turner Prize nominee) James Richards. This compact but pleasurably elusive exhibition is filled with remnants, tokens and traces that, like Burgher’s sigil, leave us to imagine the desires and strange rituals that led these artists here.

'Alms For the Birds', installation view. Image courtesy the gallery.
‘Alms For the Birds’, installation view. Image courtesy the gallery.

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