Sessions

Commenting from London

Simon Callery & Torgny Wilcke: Yellow

The youts don’t know how good they got it.

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In their joint show at FOLD Gallery based on the element of ‘yellow’, British artist Simon Callery and Danish artist Torgny Wilcke treat the colour as a physical entity in itself to bridge their geographical gap and entirely reinterpret the medium of painting.

The result is a sophisticated playground, with its canary vibrancy and accessibly low bench-like structures. The repetition, of wooden slats or hanging tarpaulin reminiscent of P.E lessons, gives the sense these objects are easily replicated and mass-produceable. But it’s a friendly way of seeing replaceability, rather than the typical industrial, superficial beast idea (a concept that’s getting pretty trite now, guys).

The paintings suggest support, whether in the wall fixings suspending the material, or the upwards force the wooden structures offer for the sitter (or stander, like me, nearly breaking it of course).
You can almost feel a kind of bulging supply of potential energy in the air. The structures seem to exist on the sidelines, as an auxiliary to some other entity yet to come, it feels as if they are waiting. Back to playground antics, I guess it’s that same sense of calm stillness before a raging group of kids swarm the space, hurtling themselves towards these apparatus for a climb-fest.

But let’s go back to the moment when you’re looking at the work, before these dreaded screaming pre-pubescents arrive. It’s hard to tell whether the sensed patience is a result of the way the material crawls around and drapes the space, or the sheer life-force and spirit of the yellow. It creates a kind of yearning, but please God don’t let it be for my youth.

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Peter Doig

Is this the so-called “art world”?

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Aside from the exhibitions themselves, the best part about going to see shows at Mayfair galleries is getting the chance to eavesdrop on earnest dealers spouting shit to potential buyers.
“Americana.” “Folk!” “Folk Americana. Reminiscent of early American painting.” “Early American realism.” – a verbatim conversation held today at Michael Werner Gallery, between a translucent lady wearing her US accent as stubbornly as her Mary Jane mules and a much more bronzed man in an ill-fitting leather jacket whose ego must’ve been heavier than Saturn.

Frantically labelling, categorising, packaging up into a swallowable new item all ready for its proud owner to boast all over the shop about. It feels so removed from the paintings themselves; were those oily gems really created with this conversation in mind? Witnessing them gesticulate in front of the static paintings is like watching loggerhead parents negotiate over the future of a wide-eyed child rooted uncertainly to the spot.

I hear her say it takes Doig “ages” to do anything, motioning towards a large painting that supposedly took him two years. I wonder whether it could be finished in a quarter of that time by someone who had more urgent mouths to feed. But then again, they’d be making a different painting altogether. But then again x 2, what do I know.

Perhaps that elite menace. That same searing guilt that accompanies the steps through Mayfair’s streets you feel unworthy taking.

The works themselves are beautiful disfigurements, reaping the same incandescent lilacs, turquoises and rusts as Michael Armitage did in his recent show The Chapel. Doig’s textured, layered forms look like he’s collaged with paint pigment, then rubbed away vigorously at the surface, like a strong sunbeam discolouring fabric.

The details are hazy but the edges are defined and confident, these paintings are both present and dreaming.

Karla Black

I would normally balk at the prospect of describing anything as “girly”, but Karla Black’s newest body of work showing at Stuart Shave/Modern Art on Helmet Row is a foray into a coral lipstick, Vaseline and gold leaf paradise that classes itself as feminine in a way that lacks patronisation or gender disparity.

Her sculptures are like the pretty keepsakes dotting a teenager’s room: glitter remnants from after a night out (resolute in its ability to avoid being cleaned), discarded rags hand-torn for a fancy dress party, the ever-present and ever-confusing cotton wool fluff, used wax strips, shower drains clogged with hair conditioner, the full lady works.

The pieces look like they’ve been attended to with the kind of care and effort that goes into a project that is destined to be immediately discarded after being seen, like make-up being painstakingly applied only to be briskly wiped off by sweat, or spending weeks saving for shoes that are agonisingly beautiful yet make feet scream cold murder on the first wear, so subsequently spend forever at the back of the cupboard.

Work is hung like necklaces, transparent and delicate yet staunchly in the way, objects of obstruction, like an unsettling memory.

They float, they are creamy and tactile to the eye, I want to touch everything and expect it all to smell like the sugar of Turkish Delight and Cher from Clueless.

Haskard & Haskard – Aubrey & Skylar Haskard

Brothers Skylar and Aubrey Haskard are both artists, one lives in London and the other in Los Angeles. They do not work together, the press release for their current show at Domobaal proclaims, and there is sudden joy and a strange relief that the much-touted concept of “collaboration”, so ardently rife in the creative world at the moment, is either coolly overlooked here, or just plain not welcome.

This concept of actively antisocial behaviour is reflected in Aubrey’s work ATM that sits in a reverberating corner of the room, featuring a still from the harrowing CCTV footage that captured four people gingerly stepping over an old man who had collapsed on the floor of a bank in Germany, placed next to a chirpy popcorn machine complete with glaring butter light and nonchalant-sounding elevator music. The whole thing brings to mind a Tim & Eric gag which plays on that unbearable “everything is just fine” sentiment. It is dark, humorous and telling.

Skylar’s tubular steel structures are riddled with mismatching handlebars and soft appendages that look like they’ve been used multiple times at a physiotherapy unit and smell like moths and stale green tea.

The photographs of the unnerving contraptions “modelled” by his wife, who features as a faceless body clad in a grey tracksuit, feels somewhere between a directionless teenager mucking about in a derelict abandoned playground and a diabetic struggling to walk again at an insufficiently funded hospital. The scathing look at society continues to bear its haughty head.

Perhaps the highlight of the show is Aubrey’s Dead Nature (Chicken Cottage), a wonderfully comedic and well-made selection of work that features genuine hot wings from the late-night-friendly fried chicken shop preserved in resin. The small sculptures look like mystical little trinkets, gleaming with cosmic otherworldliness and precious stone aesthetic, and all they are is rotting fast food in sticky liquid, held up by plumber’s connect piping. True beauty.

James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits

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I know I have a habit of getting into something and whole-heartedly believing everything else is irrefutably and deeply connected to it. The first step is knowing your shortcomings. Alan Watts, the prison-industry complex and oil have all been subjects of such idiocy of mine.

James Holden’s latest release, The Animal Spirits, a collaboration with the live band of the same name, is a new projection target of my interest in AI and the future of tech. Even the album artist’s title “James Holden & The Animal Spirits” sounds a little bit like a children’s tale of a little boy who is actually a circuitboard that gets lost in the woods and is raised by nature. “Mother Nature Board”, or something. Enid Blyton would be loyally on board, was she knocking about.

And perhaps I’m paying too much attention to titles now, but Each Moment Like The First does the same to me that Phantogram’s Don’t Move or -M-‘s remix of C2C’s Mojo does, which is recreating the feeling of meeting someone or realising something that makes your head swell, like grasping what special relativity is, or seeing the film Catfish for the first time.

The album starts with the sound of trying to raise up a huge paper Chinese dragon; lifting something dead from the ground. Its antics are seen through a fixed frame, a screen to another side that we are physically detached from. It doesn’t surround you, it’s presented to you as a one-way street, and feels constructed by code. The fireside chanting sounds like a meticulously planned theatre production rather than stumbling across a rural opening in the wilderness where Holden is stroking the backs of trees with his knee.

Pass Through The Fire incorporates subtly shifting rhythms, it develops from a spinning disc into a full-blown rotating helix, and it pains me to make such a naff comparison but its energy is reminiscent of that bit in Deathly Hallows when Haz and Voldemort have that mega showdown:

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After this, the little lost circuitboard in the woods starts to know you. It reprograms itself into an iterative feedback loop, calculating what you want to hear and when. It gets organised, the armoured little shit.
The slightly overindulgent swells of The Beginning & End of the World is rousing at first and then just sounds to me like Big Data. The music becomes a feral entity, raging down a wind tunnel.

It ends in a celestial shoot-out, meteorite spray catapulted then trailing through the air, trajectories of thrown-out fishing lines and flares.
It feels like someone making someone making music.

Alex da Corte – Bad Land

If Nicki Minaj owned and art-directed The Black Lodge from Twin Peaks perhaps we’d get somewhere close to Bad Land, the 4-room shrine to neon and plastic that US visual artist Alex da Corte has installed in Fitzrovia’s Josh Lilley Gallery.

Navigating the show is like walking through a Rubik’s Cube x Nerds candy dollhouse, and if you’re alone it feels even more like you’re wandering through the set of a film based on something that you convince yourself (and everyone else) is true but deep, deep down you know it’s just a big chubby lie.

…Er, yeah. It’s a bit trippy on your own. Footsteps muffled by pillowy carpet, a huge deconstructed Adidas shoe lurking like an unusually incongruent and massive object you sidle round in a Crash Bandicoot video game, that lingering smell of varnish.
Careful you don’t get too high just from looking at the resourcefully-made selection of bongs crafted from Tic Tac packets and detergent bottles, laden across a table of dimensions that would remind everyone of their university days.

Three basement rooms are each anchored by a TV screen on which the artist impersonates Eminem and indulges in weird plastic exploits that go from sorting PS1 controllers in an orderly fashion to smearing gloopy mustard all over himself under the watchful blinking lights of a huge crown.
Feels a bit like a chronicling of Kanye West’s career, then.

Da Corte recently directed music video for St. Vincent’s track New York, which provides a warming aperitif to the thick colourful sludge of the show, so cheqqit aaaawt.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

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This film did not need its soundtrack. I feel like everything that was wrong with the film – exaggeration, contrived discomfort – is encapsulated in the soundtrack. It was good music supervision but it didn’t need to happen.

Piling on every trick in the well-thumbed book of making viewers feel uneasy, this is Caché, Force Majeure, Enemy, and nothing new.
Despite the genuinely original ideas and cruelly hilarious writing, by playing these hands all at the same time it felt forced and numbed. Too many cooks, too many cooks. Perhaps it would’ve worked better as some kind of strange TV series split into 10 minutes episodes.

We’re used to certain kind of voices, speech patterns and relationships in films – all flowing, coherent and sensical, so funnily enough I didn’t find Sacred Deer‘s twisted and stilted rhythm of speech that disconcerting at all; it rang truer to real life, which trips, pauses and stutters. Especially when confused, which I guess is this film’s whole *~/thing\~*.

Barry Keoghan is some kind of We Need To Talk About Kevin’s Ezra Miller meets Rasputin, a top-notch actor unfortunately coloured by shades of the desperation to shock that similarly characterised (and depleted) the quality of A Serbian Film.

Nicole Kidman puts her usual effort into the role which pays off, and ol’ Colin is as earnest as ever. Perhaps the use of familiar faces was intended to further creep us out, but I reckon smaller-time actors would’ve helped make the escapist nature of the story feel more genuine.

Fever Ray – Plunge

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Plunge is SUPREME.

In it, Karin Dreijer A.K.A Fever Ray errs on the risky side of everything: dancing on hot coals and flimsy rope bridges, running through traffic and juggling iPhones that morph into knives.
The first parts of the album heave with her signature wilderness and aerial views of cliff-scapes, before becoming tainted by a flirt with a corrupted city halfway through, developing into a more controlled and affected discourse.

The first scenes are like an arthouse Michael Bay film set on a factory floor in the middle of a canyon, where giant steel robots talk about alcoholism and hold love ceremonies.
The industrial, repetitive clanking of Musn’t Hurry is overcast by the shadow of a huge, oil-soaked eagle, feathers spread, leaking and leering over a vulture’s dead body.
It is nature functioning in a huge synthesiser, a mechanical system threatened by seismic and earthy forces.

IDK about you features fish-eye vocals on hand-hit-hearts, it’s emotion cut straight from the viscera; hope’s murder scene that only gets muddier and messier, like some abstract equivalent to the body count in Fargo.

The turning point is the album’s namesake song Plunge, which tries to wash its hands of the sodomy of preceding This Country, a song dressed in thigh-high PVC, a face smothered by a flesh nightmare and the reflection of a porn VHS tape in the eye of a child sitting too close to the telly.

Plunge – the song – marks the return to the kind of raw and mystical natural landscape that Dreijer started painting in dun, dark greens and effervescent toxicity, but now it is vulnerable, sounding like the agitated, yearning cry of the maimed deer carcass in Red Trails. Its wounds are then bleached by the dark granular matter that seeps in from An Itch.
Nature feels beaten brutally into submission by the electronics that it once overpowered without question.

That aside, I really hope the lunar reference in the name of To the Moon and Back catches on as a new euphemism for a woman’s private crescent.

Tal R – Sexshops, Idris Khan – Absorbing Light

Neighbouring galleries Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit are on the McDonald’s side of City Road, halfway between Angel and Old Street. Their gallery attendants happily chat to you about the work in a rare way that makes this callow, un-art-schooled noob feel like someone’s not bullshitting for once, and their friendliness is fully worth the mention.

The beautifully-roofed Victoria Miro houses Sexshops, an exhibition by Israeli-Danish Tal R (I always want to put nationality before a name but rarely think about how that affects the work, isn’t that weird?), featuring paintings of jelly-baby figures in powdery eyeshadow worlds, tinted by the kind of Crayola colour and skewed perspective you see with when drunk.
The paintings are always of views across a street. You are an observer, and it’s up to you whether you venture in – these places don’t need your interaction, or even your gaze. They’ll keep doing what they’re doing.

The upstairs gallery exhibiting Idris Khan’s show Absorbing Light made me wonder whether art spaces purposefully orchestrate some kind of distant rumbling bass to further solemnise a room. You know that feeling, of the biblioteca.
I had the same feeling in the Saatchi Gallery recently, in Gallery 10 of the Iconoclast: Art Out of the Mainstream exhibition, which aptly housed some otherworldly sculptures by Kate MccGwire, Douglas White and Alexi Williams Wynn. The room had the spooky hush of a dim church that’s seen much testier times than you have, you mere speck.

Idris Khan’s works were like symphonies you can’t hear: text repeated until oblivion, sheet music obscured by thick black paint, vertical lines in alternating black and slightly-less-than-black. It became a question not of what these dark shadows were obscuring, but what the pieces became when it accepted the darkness and censorship as part of it.

According to the exhibition booklet, Khan’s work stems from the testimonies of prisoners of the notorious Syrian detainment centre, Saydnaya. Despite the menace of Cell, a sculpture arresting in size and stature, the pieces themselves are a bit straightforward and predictable – unfortunately their darkness and inexorability fail to communicate those exact characteristics in an original way.

More stirring and unsettling is the work by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International, now showing as part of the Beazley Designs of the Year at the Design Museum. It is a 3D recreation of Saydnaya informed by prisoner’s memories only.
The work addresses a fascinating tension: the memory of a place such as Saydnaya is so scarring and permanent, yet the recollection of a survivor is often subject to skepticism due to his diminished cognition – diminished only because of those very same torturous memories.
The veracity of the 3D computer model not only trail-blazes a fresh approach to this delicate subject, but asserts belief, support and honour for the sufferers.

Friday’s Holy Trinity HT002

Friday’s Holy Trinity is a weekly review of three films, pieces or records that, when consumed together, result in a state of total cosmic symbiosis.

This week looks at new release I Am Not A Witch from director Rungano Nyoni, blues performances from legend John Lee Hooker and the complete digital works of Sixties’ magazine Eros.

The reason for the pious entwinement of this week’s trio is because they’re all some kind of odd proof that ideas live longer than man. Paranoia, sorrow, morbid lust. Daaaaaamn, girl got a holy trinity and a HALF.

The comedy of I Am Not A Witch fluctuates between farce and pathos; it’s funny because the group mentality of a culture means they truly believe that this pre-pubescent “witch”, dressed up like an avant-garde scarecrow and paraded around by the human equivalent of a blocked artery, has the nasty mystical powers that can smell crime and curse innocents, but it’s also desperately bleak that said blocked artery sees this only as an opportunity to guiltlessly exploit a child, and encourage the kind of stigma that can banish an entire community, keeping them forever tethered away from a normal life.

The ribbon reels strike this exact note of awe, restriction and nominative burden,
and cinematographer David Gallego uses them to structure a frame in a way that will bore right through you, just like the notes of Joe (surname unintelligible): the bassist in some aged live recordings of performances by John Lee Hooker and his band.
The human figures look like a Gerhard Richter painting but the sound is like HD on crack, floating like a delicate mist induced and maintained by its players.

And lastly, Eros.
I like how this elegant and decadent-sounding Greek name spelt backwards can be equated to something much more smutty, but you would be confused by what really is smut when leafing (scrolling?) through the digital version of this esoteric erotica. It’s all naughty postures and dripping language, that coy feeling that gets miserably lost post-courting, or perhaps post-coitus.