It’s that time again. The year turns and I conclude it might be time I got back to writing about art a bit. This year I plan to be better at keeping it up but I’ll aim for regular(ish) but not especially frequent posts, perhaps two or three a week but with no long gaps. Maybe. And, probably inevitably, I’ll start things off by thinking back at the work I’ve seen over the past year and withering on about the works that have stayed with me. As usual, I’ve managed to miss a lot of shows I really wanted to see and some of the shows I did see were forgotten pretty much as soon as I’d left the space. So what managed to work its way into my head and stay put? The first thing that comes to mind is Untitled (Human Mask), a film work by Pierre Huyghe which I saw at Hauser and Wirth in October in Huyghe’s exhibition IN. BORDER. DEEP. Huyghe is an artist whose work I know rather less well than I should given that I think I’ve liked pretty much everything I’ve seen by him and writing about this work reminds me that I would love to get to know his work rather better.
I’ve written about Francis Alÿs going for a walk here before (that time in the form of his Pradox of Praxisfor which he pushed a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City until all he had to show for his efforts was a rapidly drying water mark of the pavement) but this week, given the awful news from Gaza, it’s his 2004 work The Green Line: Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic that’s worked it’s way back into my mind.
I can’t pretend to have anything more than the most rudimentary understanding of the politics of the middle east but this is a work that at least helps with some basics by taking us back to the division of Jerusalem after the end of the Arab-Isreali war in 1948: the green line drawn on a map of the city by Moshe Dyan.
Encountering favourite works again by chance is always a real pleasure. My visit to the Exchange in Penzance while on holiday in Cornwall was brief but unexpectedly enjoyable. Apart from seeing the title of the show, I hadn’t really checked what was on before pitching up there (I also hadn’t checked what time the gallery closed, hence the brevity of my visit; why do I never learn?) so beyond thinking 3am: wonder, paranoia and the restless nightsoundedlike my kind of exhibition, I arrived, as is so often the case, essentially clueless. In the main the works I liked the most were the ones I knew already but that’s hardly a problem when those works included some real favourites, especially Francis Alÿs’s The Nightwatch, seen here as a single channel video but sometimes shown as a bank of monitors. Francis Alÿs is probably one of my favourite artists (I’m fickle, it’s an ever changing list; but he’s usually on it, I would say) and The Nightwatch is one of the main reasons why.
What made me start thinking about Ceal Floyer’s work was the idea of emptiness and of the work making the whiteness of the space. And in that respect the work that came to mind was from an exhibition I saw at the Lisson Gallery rather longer ago that I first thought. It seems on the whole improbable that it’s three and a half years since I saw Facsimile – though the evidence is unambiguous – given that it remains very clear in my head. The projection – almost completely white – fills the wall. It takes a while to get the significance the slight trace of movement that constitutes the image: the video is of a fax machine; the paper being passed through it seemingly blank. If the fax is sending rather than receiving a message, there could of course be all manner of important information on the other side of the page but there is no visible trace so it reads as a transmission of emptiness. In the days when fax machines were commonplace – and I don’t know about you but it must be years since I’d sent a fax even in 2010 when Floyer made the work – it seems entirely possible that I regularly got confused about which way up to put the paper and send page after page of nothingness to confused (non) recipients but the deliberate whiteness of Floyer’s Facsimile is intriguing. I find myself enjoying the emptiness rather than wondering what message I might be missing.
Chris Marker, A Grin Without a Cat installation view
I guess it’s seeing the two within a week or two that means that Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now reminded me in a way of Chris Marker’s Silent Movie which is included in the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat. The connection is a simple but somewhat tenuous one: both works feature five monitors. In Grayson’s piece, these run in a horizontal line across the front of the space using the full width of the building. In Marker’s Silent Movie the monitors are in a vertical tower. The tower is a bolt together structure which is both the simplest solution to housing the monitors and also, in its industrial simplicity, somewhat constructivist in feel.
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.
Susan Hiller’s Witness, which I first saw in a disused chapel in north Paddington in 2000 – and which I wrote about for MostlyFilm a couple of years ago – is one of my favourite artworks, I think (yeah, yeah, it’s a long and ever changing list, but Witness is always there). There’s something about the weirdness of the narratives – recordings of tales of encounters with the unexplained, stories about strange lights in the sky told in many different languages – the beauty of the installation and the oddness of trying to carry on listening even when the story is told in a language you don’t understand, that I find compelling.
Coming across some of those same voices in a different form – as part of the soundtrack to a work called Sounding – in the Box at Pippy Houldsworth was an unexpected pleasure (I’d known about the main exhibition in the space; the Hiller was a bonus). The Box is a small booth space, here containing a small screen housed in a box frame; three sets of headphones hang just outside the booth (though the work is best experienced solo) and it’s these that add sound to the video abstraction on the screen.
A Brief History of John Baldessari, 2012 – title screen
In a way it’s just a short leap from Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell to the three things John Baldessari believes every young artist should know, though rather than painting these he chose to impart them to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the directors of the short – very short, we’re talking six minutes here – documentary A short History of John Baldessari. It turns out it’s possible to find out quite a lot about Baldessari in six minutes, though I suspect knowing a certain amount about the man and his work before hand does help.
Koki Tanaka, installation view of exhibition in Japan Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2013
One of the frustrations of art fairs, biennales and the like is the intense time pressure of trying to see everything you want to see in a day (or contemplate buying another ticket to go back, an unappealing option even if one has an extra day free to make it possible), making video and performance works really tricky. On the plus side, the excuse to have a bit of a sit down is often welcome so it’s not all bad. Certainly at last year’s Venice Biennale some of the works I enjoyed the most were time based including a number I really wanted to go back and spend more time with given the chance (didn’t really happen in the case of the things I most wanted to revisit, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes really). I’ll write more about some of the works that have stayed with me most clearly in the coming days, I hope, but I’ll start with a show that mixed video and objects in a space that still bore the traces of the previous year’s architecture biennale. None of which is what interests me most about the work.
It’s just possible that art informs my understanding of the world a bit too much.
On holiday last month while driving through the Cornish countryside, conversation turned to the nature of farming in Cornwall. I knew there was arable farming from buying Cornish vegetables in the supermarket. Fair enough. But I realised that it wasn’t the cream teas or the plentiful local ice-cream that brought dairy farming to mind. No. It was art. Tacita Dean’s 1999 film Banewl to be precise.
Banewl is hardly action packed. Made during the total eclipse of the sun visible – albeit mostly masked by clouds – in the West Country, the hour-long work shows the edited highlights of a couple of hours in the lives of a herd of dairy cows on the day the sky went dark.