After dark: The Night Watch

Francis Alÿs, The Nightwatch, 2004

Francis Alÿs, The Nightwatch, 2004

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 night sounded like 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.

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Page after Page

Ceal Floyer, Facsimile, 2011

Ceal Floyer, Facsimile, 2010

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.

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Sitting pretty

installation view of Japan Pavilion, Venice 2013

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.

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Learned behaviour

Hetain Patel, Dance Like Your Dad, 2009

Hetain Patel, To Dance Like Your Dad, 2009

At some point, all children copy adults. Admittedly, this doesn’t usually take the form of restaging a parent talking about their work, but that’s the basis of Hetain Patel’s To Dance Like Your Dad, a simple but effective video work shown at Frieze by Chatterjee and Lal. Shown on two screens, the work consists of Patel’s father showing us round his place of work and explaining what happens. Patel himself appears on the right hand screen, performing his father’s role in sync with the original. The parent and child relationship is seldom simple and while we may be fiercely proud of our parents they also have the capacity to embarrass. Here there is a sense of pride and respect in the act of restaging – and in filming Patel senior at work in the first place – but the notion of potential embarrassment is right there in the title. Dad dancing is generally not a good thing, after all.

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Closing the gaps

Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979, 2012

Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 (still), 2012

With the end of the year rapidly approaching and with the start of the academic year having provide rather too hectic for me to manage regular blogging as well, now seems like a good time to close some of the gaps by looking back at some of the art I’ve seen but not written about this in 2012. And where better to start than with the Turner Prize – which in fact I have already written about but for MostlyFilm rather than here – and with the work I correctly predicted would win. Of the work in the Turner Prize exhibition, other than Paul Noble’s Nobson drawings which I’ve seen from time to time over the years that he’s been making them, it was Elizabeth Price’s The Woolworths Choir of 1979 and that I was most familiar with having seen it quite by accident at MOT International earlier in the year. That encounter was an intriguing one; I’d headed to Bond Street to see, I think, Nancy Holt or maybe Jamie Shovlin at Haunch of Venison and had a enough time to spare to pop in to MOT without having checked what was on there.

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In painful pursuit of beauty

Marina Abramovic, Art Must be Beautiful, 1975

Marina Abramović, Art Must Be Beautiful, 1975

The female nude is an all too familiar figure in the history of Western art. There is a lot that is troubling about representations of the female form in art and the notion of beauty as an essential facet of art. Seen in the context of this, Marina Abramović’s Art Must Be Beautiful is an intriguing work. Abramović is seen brushing and combing her hair, repeatedly and with an intensity that makes the performance – or the video documentation of it – really hard to watch at times. Abramović accompanies the often violent hair brushing with a mantra ‘art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful’. The notion that art must – or at least, should – be beautiful remains a quite widely held belief albeit one that has been widely challenged over the last hundred and fifty years or so.

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The other side

Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000

If there’s a hellishness to When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity that makes it possible to see  Mark Wallinger’s journey through the underground as a journey to the underworld, then his work Threshold to the Kingdom can be seen as representing an altogether better passage to a different world. The journey here is a simple one – through a set of automatic doors into the arrivals hall at London City Airport – but it is made in slow motion and to the accompaniment of glorious choral music which gives the arrival an uplifting feel. Some are greeted by friends, others pass through to continue their journey alone but there is a feeling  of calm even when it briefly looks like paths might converge and collisions occur.

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