There are bloody thumb prints dotting the desk, with dark drips on a Post-it note and crimson smudges on the photocopied images of architectural caryatids that cover the desk’s surface. A woman clutches at her thumb, alternately covering it with her fingers to quell the bleeding, then nervously biting and picking at it to make it worse. “Of course I want to make you happy,” she placates an irate client over the phone, “I know you have other deadlines”. The bleeding isn’t stopping. “Look,” she emphasises. “I really want this. Absolutely. Yes, yes, yes, I can do that. I want to give you what you want. OK, tomorrow, I’ll get it to you tomorrow.” She ends the call, hangs her head and curses.
This is Helen: she’s a freelance advertising producer of some sort, who likes pastel blazers and button-up silk shirts, and lives in a light and airy first floor apartment in Berlin. And she likes cooking, in the pitifully small convection-oven that sits on a counter in her grimy kitchen; she once cooked a whole chicken in it, lasagne, birthday cakes and… cookies. She made cookies, would you like a cookie? This is the incessant refrain throughout Rosa Aiello’s taut and nerve-wracking 47-minute video Caryatid Encounters (2021), as Helen repeatedly practices and delivers her spiel for a series of prospective flatmates: “The wallpaper is all original, and we get lovely light in here in the mornings”; “I absolutely love the views here, you should see it at sunset, it’s just magic”; and on.
documentary, fantasy and dreamers as activists of our time
In late October last year, a neon-yellow envelope came through my letterbox. Inside was a thick black card embossed with the sentence, ‘The gradients of fascism are diverse in their predictable dullness’. On the other side was a business-card-size USB drive, printed with a patchy green pattern of what might be an ivy-covered wall, punctuated by a figure covering their face with a black-and-white mask printed with the features of director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The sentence and the image both appear in the nine-minute film contained on the drive, Men of My Dreams (2020), by Los Angeles-based Iranian artist and writer Gelare Khoshgozaran. It’s a patchwork of dream impressions and pointed observations, opening with a passenger’s view of a drive down a street in LA. Armoured vehicles and rubbish trucks line the road, while shopfronts are graffitied with ‘ACAB’, ‘BLM’; a bank on one street corner has ‘George Floyd’ written across its window. Subtitles describe the artist’s move from Iran to the city years earlier. ‘I miss my home, but everywhere is so ruined on this planet I feel at home anywhere.’ What follows is a set of a vignettes, the artist sporting a range of masks depicting the titular men that appear in her dreams: poet Federico García Lorca, singer Farhad Mehrad. In one scene, she sits by the sea holding a mask of theorist Edward Said in front of her face, her hand covering his mouth as if stifling a giggle. In another, she mimes playing a game of tennis, the mask she wears remaining an unidentifiable blur.
Aki Sasamoto, Judge Mentals 7.18.18, performance documentation at White Rainbow, London, 2018; Copyright Aki Sasamoto, courtesy of White Rainbow, London and Take Ninagawa, Tokyo, Photo by: Damian Griffiths
It is precisely because the unsaid always remains in the background of what is said, and the not understood always remains in the background of what is understood, that the yearning peculiar to linguisticality will always be unfulfilled.
– Donatella Di Cesare, Utopia of Understanding [i]
Consciousness is – or might be – a thing in formation. Or, at least, not a solid. The Greeks considered thought to be gaseous, something like a cloud. During the Enlightenment, it was a thin, heatless flame that shot along ventricles throughout our bodies. All the while, the Buddhist conception of consciousness was as an unceasing stream, a restless current, sometimes muddied and crowded, with its own tributaries and eddies. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Locky Morris, The Drop, 2007/16. Image courtesy the artist, Naughton Gallery. Photograph by Simon Mills.
Strewn about the hallway is a trail of debris; lights, brooms, boxes, and other obstacles in a semi-organised sprawl. It’s like someone tried making a shop out of the bits in their attic, sifting through the junk, arranging it into small, improvised displays. The skeleton of a mostly empty postcard stand is propped in one corner, while a clear container with the inevitable, unsolvable tangle of electric wires sits in another. Propped up on one stand is a brown and grey photograph; what looks like a scuffed-up, dirty floor, with a hand truck and some rubbish scattered around. A metal grille runs across the image, with a thick, dull, chocolate-coloured sludge underneath it. Behind the propped-up photo is an odd set-up, with a work light dangling from a sideways soap dispenser – even more improbably, with a pair of sunglasses you can make out held inside. A text installed just beneath gives a winding explanation: ‘at the mechanics…hovering over the body wash pit out came the camera and almost at the same moment as taking the shot the sunglasses disappeared into the pit’. Pulling back, the quarantined sunglasses might now make more sense, displayed in a sort of makeshift mini-version of the car workshop. But then the photo itself, you can’t help but look again and try to stare into the impenetrable depths of whatever forsaken globs of mank had gathered in that drain over the years. Continue reading →
Colin Guillemet, XXL. Mutt, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.
Transcription of a lecture recorded on April 23, 2015:
Let us begin with a look at that most emblematic of Romantic poets:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
Consider, for a moment, where the poem places us, the reader. The titular opening line of Wordsworth’s oft-cited poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (1807) gives us a simile that presents the image of an anthropomorphised, forlorn cloud. As if we are outdoors watching the poet on a pleasant outdoor stroll, it puts us firmly in the role of a standby spectator, or maybe a fellow rambler. But as we approach the closing lines above, it turns out instead that we have the whole time been indoors, as he lounges dejectedly on his sofa. More specifically, inside his head: the vision we’ve been subject to is that of his ‘inward eye’. We finish the poem trapped in this space, standing next to a dancing, stuffed heart, as if we’re at some sort of internal organ-vegetation wedding party. Continue reading →