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.

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Sound and vision

Susan Hiller Sounding 2013-14

Susan Hiller, Sounding, 2013

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.

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Lift music

Lift arriving at Level 2

The lift in the Royal Festival Hall is my favourite lift by a country mile and though in all respects it’s a perfectly nice, if a little ordinary, lift, it’s not about the lift’s appearance or the views of the Southbank afforded by a journey in it, good though those are. No, this lift contains art.

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Relentless information underload

Kris Martin, Mandi iii, 2003

Writing about Bruce Nauman’s Days yesterday put the idea of sound and the way information is communicated firmly in my mind, so coming across a leaflet for Fade In/Fade Out – a show I saw at Bloomberg SPACE a few years ago – while sorting through a pile of random paperwork felt like a very good coincidence. There were a few great pieces in the exhibition, but the work that’s stayed with me most clearly is Kris Martin’s Mandi iii, a station information board loudly and relentlessly updating to make sure we have up to the minute information. But as the flaps clicked over the lack of information remained; every surface on the board was plain black.

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Simple confusion

Bruce Nauman, Days, 2009

There is a beautiful simplicity to Bruce Nauman’s Days at the ICA. The space is empty but for two rows of plain white squares suspended at roughly head height. Walking between the white panels – seven in in each row – it’s clear that they’re loudspeakers and that from each a voice can be heard speaking the days of the week. So far, so simple. The space is almost empty and what’s in there is simplicity itself – my liking for art that’s minimal and preferably white can be no secret to anyone who’s been reading this on even a semi-regular basis – so predictably enough I’m in favour of  Days from the start.

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Casting a long shadow

Mona Hatoum, Current Disturbance, 1996

The whimsy of Noble and Webster’s use of shadows is witty enough but ultimately – for me at least – the work is unsatisfyingly slight. I enjoy it well enough at the time but the work never really gets under my skin. But shadow is a powerful force and it’s one that Mona Hatoum uses to really good effect.

In installations like Current Disturbance – which I saw at the Whitchapel Gallery in 2010 – Hatoum uses shadow as a meaning force. The bare lightbulbs fade in and out and the crackle of an electric current gives a sinister edge to the changing light levels. The gridded structure – reminiscent of the cages occupied by battery hens perhaps – feels prison-like. The installation has an architectural feel, but if this is a city space it is a densely-populated and uncomfortable one.

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The sound of melting ice

Katie Paterson, Vatnajökull, 2007

Vatnajökull in Iceland is the largest glacier in Europe. But it’s melting into a lagoon, thanks, one assumes, to climate change. For a week in June 2007, artist Katie Paterson submerged a microphone, attached to a mobile phone, into the freezing waters of the ever expanding Jökulsárlón lagoon making it possible to listen to the sound of the ice melting.

For the work Vatnajökull (the sound of), Paterson displayed the phone number – in the form of a neon sign – at the Slade School of Fine Art in London as part of her MFA degree show.

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