‘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
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
‘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
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
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
The words have become prominent in recent decades: recycling, sustainable, ecological, organic. The words are markers of moral aspiration, things that we should be aiming for in order to be more at balance with the planet that we inhabit. With almost 7.5bn humans alive at the moment, how we make use of this planet perhaps hasn’t changed so much the past one hundred years, but the rhetoric with which we justify it certainly has. It’s a dark irony that is legible in the stacks of plastic laminate signs thrown around countless hotel bathrooms reading, ‘Help save the environment: please re-use your towel!’, or the absolution of throwing your empty beer tin into the recycling bin only for it to be freighted halfway across the globe and eventually melted down in a high-energy exchange process. Take a look around you right now: we palliate the industrial web we have woven around ourselves with potted plants, ‘daylight’ bulbs and Taste of Nature® snacks. Continue reading
If you had walked into the room, you would have seen the charred, darkened husks: windows, doors, a fireplace. It would have seemed oddly silent, punctuated only by a wind you would not have felt. You would have encountered scarred surfaces and rippled textures, giving off illumination only indirectly as they perhaps glinted bluntly in the dull light reflecting off them. It would have been unsettlingly still, but with the held breath of an action completed only moments before you entered, a temporary, just-struck stillness. It might, on second thought, have seemed like the aftermath of an unknown event, one that created a world in the unexpected murky contrasts in photographic negative, an event that turned entrances and exits, and bays for light and air into portals irrefutably cut off. Together, these apertures in reverse would have provided the setting of a transposed room, would have marked the boundaries and traced the outlines of a confined, impossible indoor space. All these openings; but there would have been no way in, or out. Continue reading