Tour of the Question

Screen-Shot-2017-11-27-at-19.15.41

Detroit airport is a long, skinny tube that takes around half an hour to cross end to end at a curious stroll. There’s no shortage of food for the hungry: newsagents with bags of flavoured pretzels, bumped-out coffee shops with stacks of sandwiches, and more than a few sports bar-cum-restaurants.

I pass by the steakhouse and the fast-food court with pizzas, hot dogs and fried chicken, eventually doubling back to one; it had a hockey theme, and the smallest thing I could order was a serving of nachos topped with the requisite orange-tinted cheddar on a plate about an arm long.

It was, as it turns out, exactly what I wanted. The first flight had been booked in an unthinking rush to try to get to St. Louis in time to see my grandmother. Up until a week earlier, she had been a non-stop chatterbox with a sly sweet tooth and taste for Irish whiskey, who would lead her care home on day trips out and try and spike the weak juice at ‘cocktail hour’ when no one was looking. The nachos were a comforting re-centring through the familiar tangle of gummied corn crisps bearing dollops of tinny salsa and unnaturally thick sour cream.

The last time I had visited, we had gone to my grandmother’s favourite restaurant where she went at least once a week. Crusoe’s is a ‘family restaurant’, that American invention and gastronomic catch-all, with pancakes to burgers to cheesecake, as if this is the standards of a continent rather than a specific interpretation of Dutch, German and Italian dishes percolated down through cities, suburbs and highways over a few short generations. The weighty beige of starch hovers in the air: trays of garlic bread, breaded mushrooms, and in St Louis, crumb-coated toasted ravioli. Food arrives crowding of those oversized trays equivalent to another table. I think I ordered a fish filet, my aunt some type of creamy pasta and Grandma a Reuben sandwich; all were liberally topped with white shreds of Provel cheese.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Amitai Romm: A Library of Sphincters

Kunstmuseum Bonn

Amitai Romm, Dorothea Von Stetten Art Award 2018, Installation view. Photograph by David Ertl, image courtesy the artist.

Have a breathe in.

Let the mingled molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, argon caress your nose hairs, slip under your epiglottis and tickle the cilia that line your trachea on the way in. Maybe follow one floating pair of atoms, as they drift further into the fluvial outreaches of your lungs, cross over the alveoli wall and hitch a ride on a red blood cell into your arteries. The other, unneeded molecules are ushered back the way they came.

Notions of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are easily theorised, obsessed as we are with the workings of our own heads. Though the thin skin that covers our muscles and tendons is, if flattened out, up to two square metres worth of pulsing fabric; the combined routes of the bronchi of our lungs can have a surface area of up to seventy-five square metres. Which is to say that: an area of us around the size of a tennis court is constantly exposed to the air and elements, incessantly absorbing and exchanging materials. Life is simply, on one level, a thinly delineated set of molecules, filtering and sorting what’s needed from its surroundings in order to cultivate the conditions for existence. Humans are merely another permeable sac, punctuated at either end by muscular sphincters admitting and ejecting atoms. Continue reading

Profile: They Are Here

Twenty Five Seven (2018), They Are Here, custom made digital clock. Image courtesy the artists.

‘Get a puppy, puppies are fucking cute,’ the man says, shifting in front of a microphone. He is improvising advice for dealing with anxiety. The next person offers reasons not to move to California and simply states: ‘Americans. And that I work all day.’ Her last comment drives it home a bit, given that the people goofing and joking here are a mixed bunch of freelancers and migrants who have responded to a call-out, from groups like the Independent Workers’ Union, the Latin American Rights Service and Migrants Organise, for people to take part in a series of free comedy workshops. You could make an easy parallel of the making-it-up-as-you-go-along amid the endless uncertainty of life approach with the do-or-die pressures of the comedy stage: timing is everything, and, generally, it is not within your control. But it might be a way to channel the nervous energy and claim some form of agency back with laughter. The workshop is building up towards ROUTINE, 2018, when this group will present several stand-up comedy evenings as part of ‘Laughing Matter’, the collective practice They Are Here’s current exhibition at Studio Voltaire. Alongside the comedy nights, the exhibition holds a series of motion-triggered laugh tracks and over 50 borrowed ‘welcome’ mats. Laughter Track, 2018, turns the sitcom convention into a politicised group portrait, with the recorded laughs of, for example, people dealing with depression or asylum seekers; WELCOME, 2018, in turn, was sparked from an episode of the Simpsons, where Homer decided to try his hand at contemporary art: ‘steal all the doormats in town!’ Continue reading

Interview: Amos, Cécile B Evans & co.

Cécile B. Evans, Amos‘ World, Episode One, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna.

The videos and installations of American-Belgian artist Cécile B Evans are populated by an ensemble cast including computer-generated dancing teeth, artificial intelligence based on dead actors and anxious robots. Drawing on the conventions of cinema, television theatre and the internet, her work involves layered acts of ventriloquism and collage to give a pop-tinged and troubled portrait of contemporary life.

Her current body of work, a trio of videos under the title Amos’ World, revolves around the various tenants of a decaying housing estate, including a Secretary on her own misguided Joan-of-Arc trip, a former actress known only as Gloria, and the titular Amos, the delusional architect of the project, a composite caricature of modernists like Philip Johnson, Le Corbusier and Alison and Peter Smithson. But in a manner typical of Evans’s work, it doesn’t stop there: the three episodes also include the Nargis, a trio of dancing CGI daffodils, and the interjecting voices of a time-traveller, the building’s manager and, of course, the weather.

Here, the cast of Amos’ World discuss the issues of design, desire and reality raised in Evans’s work, in a conversation following a days’ filming.  Continue reading

Arthur Jafa: What We Don’t See

‘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

Pass

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

  1. 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

Profile: Helen Cammock

screen_shot_5

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