The power of song: Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now

Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2014

Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2014 (video still)

There’s something about the image on the Matt’s Gallery website to promote Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now at Dilston Grove that makes me think of The Apprentice. I guess it’s the slightly upward camera angle and the way the group are gathered in front of a building that immediately suggests high finance. The five people in question – Leo Chadburn, Bishi, Laura Moody, Tom Herbert and Sophie Ramsay – are the performers in Grayson’s multiscreen sound and video installation at Dilston Grove, a former church in Southwark Park. The image is a screenshot from one of the five screens that see the performers congregate outside locations that of cultural, political and financial importance. That the act of gathering outside such locations now speaks both of solidarity and protest and of competition and capital and the power of the media is interesting in the context of the work.

Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2014, installed at Dilston Grove, Southwark ParkNothing Can Stop Us Now installed at Dilston Grove, Southwark Park

The work is an extraordinary one that would doubtless work well in a more conventional gallery space but which benefits from its installation at Dilston Grove which emphasises the choral nature of the vocals. Though the space is high and vaulted it is also bare and a bit broken and very far from the slick temples to finance outside which the performers congregate on the screens in front of us.

Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2015

And what of the content? The performers are singing Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’, written by Willie Johnson in 1943 (at the time of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s stand against it) and originally recorded by The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, a group of a capella gospel singers. Notably, the song was covered by Robert Wyatt in 1982 on the album Nothing Can Stop Us – from which Grayson’s installation takes its name – where it serves as a statement of solidarity and as reminder that Cold War enemies were once allies. It’s use here seems to speak, in a way, of resistance and shared aims but the coming together of the performers is a vital one, presented to us on the screens they occupy individually for most of the work. It’s at the end of the piece, though, as both the performers and the sometimes fragmented vocals come together that the piece feels uplifting, with its sound now filling the space.

Nothing Can Stop us Now. 2014. from richard grayson on Vimeo.

Nothing Can Stop Us Now has is a thought provoking work and, like some of the others watching it alongside me, it held my attention for a couple of cycles (at one point there was even a round of applause at the end, and that doesn’t happen often in art galleries). To offset that though, it’s also left me with a serious case of Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ ear-worm that I think could take days to shift. Thanks for that.

Richard Grayson: Nothing Can Stop Us Now is the first in a series of co-productions between Matt’s Gallery and Dilston Grove

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