Laurie Robins: ‘Free Trade or ELSE’*

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Laurie Robins, ‘FREE TRADE OR ELSE’*, 2019, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg.

South London Gallery, London
8 March – 26 May 2019

 

The age of Airbnb and crowdsourced local knowledge is meant to have made travel more insightful and more ethical, but Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid’s words from her book A Small Place (1988) still ring true: “A tourist is an ugly human being.” Free-floating consumers devoid of responsibilities, the tourist flaunts their ability to move around the globe freely, dispensing their disposable income. British filmmaker Laurie Robin’s new fifty-minute film “‘FREE TRADE OR ELSE’*” (2019) takes as its starting point German writer Heinrich Böll’s Irish Journal (1957), his collected writings based on being a tourist in Ireland throughout the 1950s. Using an edited selection of excerpts from the book as voice-over narration, Robins revisits the cities and sites that Böll described in order to see how Ireland has changed over the past sixty years, while at the same time implicitly asking if the tourist’s gaze, rather than their wallet, can reveal anything about a culture. Continue reading

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Afterwards: Reminders and Run-ons

There are words that stick with you. Some that have, not that I particularly want them to:

The day after the performance, one thing just niggled. It had been the lead up to a sketch in the middle of the set, where you’re meant to ask the audience to randomly provide a word and a sentence. The word would be the title and the sentence the first line of a ‘poem’ that would be made up on the spot. One member of the improv group would do the talking, their arms folded behind their backs; another member, their hands on either side of the first, would provide the gestures to punctuate the delivery. It’s designed to be flippant.

Can anyone give us a title?

The Wasteland, one man calls from the back.

Well, there’s a poem that already exists. Anyone else?

The Wasteland, he repeats with a certain smugness. Continue reading

James N. Kienitz Wilkins: Hearsays

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James N. Kienitz Wilkins, The Dynamic Range, 2018, VR film still. Image courtesy the artist.

Gasworks, London, September – December 2018

‘I’m tired of moving images,’ the narrator of the short video Indefinite Pitch (2016) tells us. It’s easy to sympathize: the twentieth-century avant-garde dream of everyone being a filmmaker is upon us, incessantly uploading videos of ourselves eating and unboxing tat, surrounding us constantly with loops and flashes. ‘Hearsays,’ which is the first gallery-based exhibition by the filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins, is a refuge from this deluge, with a single photograph The Second Person (2018) presiding over two moving image works in a mostly empty space. The photo, a lunar selfie, captures the 1969 moon landing as reflected in a space helmet, a photo drawn from NASA’s archives, but apparently, the press release claims, slightly modified – though the artist’s manipulation seems invisible. Similiarly, in Indefinite Pitch and the virtual reality (VR) film The Dynamic Range (2018), the artist seems to be absent from the picture, with both works featuring austere and largely inert visuals. The movement is instead provided by male voice-over narrators, each video defined by dense, meandering monologues. Listening to both men go on and on, the audience is cast as a therapist of sorts, listening to two neurotic but smooth-talking patients describe their doubts and troubled projections as they both try to negotiate a relationship with cinema. The artist might be trying to give up on moving images, but he apparently hasn’t given up on the “movies,” as he calls them. Continue reading

Mark Leckey: Affect Bridge Age Regression

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Mark Leckey, Affect Bridge Age Regression, installation views, Cubitt Gallery, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Cubitt Gallery, photo by Mark Blower.

Cubitt Gallery, London, 23 June – 30 July 2017

The ‘Hey Man’, as we called him, used to roam the train tracks that ran behind my house as a kid, regularly calling out a long, mournful “Heeey”. We never saw him, though we did come across a matted tangle of sheets under the adjacent bridge that must’ve been where he occasionally slept. Once, hearing his cry, I yelled a similar “hey”: he immediately returned with a shorter, almost cheery, “hey!” Maybe, I thought at the time, all he’d been yelling for was a response, for some sort of communion. Continue reading

The Collectors

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Human Biology display, Natural History Museum, London, 2018.

So, over thirty years later, these things are still pretty close to the surface:

The translucent chest of the Transformer in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex opens up, letting you fold the shiny head of the techno-beast into the cavity. But none of the other limbs or parts go anywhere; all it seems to transform into is a headless mecha T-Rex.

Adam, He-Man’s princely alter ego, is notoriously cowardly. But then why does the toy of Adam have such a broad chest? Such massive biceps? He-Man, conversely, is a slender, trim barbarian. When Adam calls on whatever power the castle Grayskull donates to him, does it exchange muscle mass for strength? Continue reading

Adventures of the Orange Square

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Once unwrapped, the surface is diffusely shiny, reflecting only a dull haze. Millions of this minimalist, monochrome sculpture exist across the globe: a thin, floppy bright-orange square, almost eight centimetres across, representing a race against the sun, a denial of time. It is made up of around 97 per cent dairy, or more accurately solid materials that were once dairy: whey protein concentrate, anhydrous milk fat and dried milk powder. The other three per cent is a cocktail of hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, preservatives, additives and dozens of other intermediary ingredients that don’t legally need to be listed, including a vitamin D supplement derived from Australian wool.[i] This consumable ready-made is the true icon of our era: the processed cheese slice. Continue reading