Saturday, May 11, 2013

BY NOW EACH OF US ARE SEVERAL at the Bruno Glint Gallery, 10th May 2013

My bus gets to the end of the line in Clapton, and here, at the top of a flight of black wrought-iron stairs, nestled in the decomposing carcass of a former tram depot is the Bruno Glint Gallery.  Rusted industrial machinery lies in pieces in courtyard, the walls are plastered with signs strictly telling me that it's illegal to smoke here.  I find myself wondering why they care so much.  Are they making explosives here?  Is the whole place about to go boom if I toss a fag end in the wrong barrel?  Ah well, there are worse ways to go out than exploding at an art gallery.

Last night is the private viewing of BY NOW EACH OF US ARE SEVERAL; a showcase of what's going to be on in the gallery for the next fortnight.  At this viewing I got to see several performance pieces and a dynamic (and hot!) light installation by Kate Mahony. The philosophy behind the exhibition is laid out thusly:
"We live in an ordered Apollonian world Nietzsche tells us, to mask our inevitable fate. But every-so-often we dip into the orgiac energy of Dionysus to remind ourselves of why order is necessary and chaos should be contained. The merging of Apollonian and Dionysian drives in our mind produces different versions of ourselves; each of which attempt to become the dominant. Embedded in an abstraction of forms are the findings of multiple eccentric actions and production processes, produced by Winter and Glint."
And no, I don't know what the hell it means either.  But if you go to performance art events in disused tram depots stuff like this goes with the territory, and you learn to be deeply thankful for the 'death of the author'.  Fortunately this night wasn't the load of cold-hearted conceptual bollocks you'd imagine from that precis, it was about sinewy physicality, splattering organic fluids and things being smashed headlong into each other.

A photo of Matt Calderwood's 'Suspension'
The first piece was a video by Matt Calderwood: 'Suspension'.  We begin with a pretty non-descript heap of stuff: bashed-up buckets, crates and two spades leaning against each other.  Calderwood stacks the buckets up, ties them with bungee cords to hold them together and gingerly balances the whole thing on two spades.  Finally he removes the bungee cord and suspends a paint can of water on a strap underneath.  The weight of the water keeps everything tense, and suddenly there's a stability to what was wobbling precariously a moment ago.  Then a hole is poked in the bottom of the paint can and water starts trickling out.  We know the structure is doomed, but not when.   Then *crash*; the elegant piece collapses back into the junk from whence it came.

Calderwood works a clever bit of alchemy here, transmuting the mundane into the stately and back again.  The piece works effectively as a video, but wish I could have seen it done live.  The process of construction creates a nervous, Jenga-like tension -tension being the most appropriate word to use given the nature of the sculpture.  Seeing the creation of something beautiful but fragile and its inevitable destruction elicited a definite emotional response from me.  But seeing it on video removes some of the unpredictability; I want the visceral thrill of being there, watching it wobble and not know if it's going to fall or not!  But that aside this is certainly the most interesting thing I've seen done with buckets and spades lately.

Bruno Glint on drums, and woman whose name I can't remember in pink (if you know it pop it in the comments!)
Next on was what felt likee the centrepiece of the night.  In the middle of the gallery space, was a big, black clad booth lit by pink strip lights with a set of drums in the middle.  On a plinth just outside the room was a bowl of earplugs for people to wear.  We were warned that this could get loud.  The prospect of a performance giving me permanent physical damage pushes my buttons, so it was with great anticipation that I jammed them in and waited for it to start.

After a knock on the a wooden door, two figures emerged, a man in voluminous black robes that concealed his face, and a woman in a tight pink body stocking.  They climbed into the booth, and while the man began playing the drums, the woman moved around, pressing her head against the fabric of the booth.  As the drumming got louder and more insistent, the more she fiercely she pushed against the walls, eventually breaking them and thrusting her faceless head at the watching audience.  

At one point I was standing up against the wall, with the booth about a foot away from me.  It was a sensationally weird experience standing under queasy pink light with a fuzzy featureless head thrusting at my groin while drums beat loudly and insistently; the overall effect being a confusing cocktail of horror and eroticism.  I found myself thinking of the pink woman as the tulpa of the drummer.  A tulpa is a concept from Tibetan Buddhism; materialised thought given physical form - in this case the pink woman functioning as the physical representation of the drummer's actions - a creature embodying his destructive, confrontational and sexual passion.

The only downside of this piece was that it wasn't quite as loud as I expected it to be.  I was expecting something akin to a jet engine taking off next to my ears, but it wasn't much louder than anything I've heard at hundreds of gigs over the years.  Although, having written that, the obvious alternative explanation is that going to hundreds of gigs has made me a bit deaf.

Richard Wilson
Oh well, a mountain of brilliant experiences is worth a bit of hearing loss. Brilliant experiences like what was up next; a performance by Richard Wilson and his son Aldo Z Wilson.  I saw Richard performing at LUPA back in April 2012, where (as I recall) he created a terrifyingly unsafe looking musical instrument that spewed flames and stank of oil.  This piece, entitled '"Failing Better" Sometimes Conscious Thought Can be Too Slow' ran along similar exhilaratingly dangerous lines, culminating in one of the coolest climaxes I've seen in a very long time.

Aldo Z Wilson
Throughout the piece, Aldo wailed away on an electric guitar and effects pedals, producing a Hendrix-like psychedelic freak-out atmosphere.  Meanwhile Richard stood behind a drum kit and produced a seemingly endless parade of percussion instruments which he swung, banged, tapped, wound, swept, wobbled and beat.  The exhibition space is a bit cramped with the drum booth in the middle, meaning that to get a good view you had to get right to the front of the performance area.  This meant that when Richard pulled out a blowtorch and begin burning a lit lightbulb people scurried out of the way.  I guess understandably so, because as cool as this was, taking a splinter of hot glass to the eyeball is going to put a damper on your night.

But when it comes to applying fire to live wiring Richard clearly knows what he's doing, and the bulb merely cracks rather than explodes.  Panic over everyone, back to your seats.  Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and settles in to watch the rest.  Then the lights go out.  A second later there's an explosion of glowing, green liquid all over the front rows.  As the drums beat down tiny radiant speckles appear all over the walls, the floor and notably the audience.  I look down at myself to see a phosphorescent green constellation spattered across my chest and groin.  Someone sitting on the floor next to me gets it worse, ending up looking like the victim of a cartoon nuclear catastrophe.  All the while Richard keeps pounding the drums and cymbals, sending glowing green trickles over the equipment and through the air.  Then the lights come on and it's all over.

In the middle of this neon fury is Richard Wilson
Now I don't want to seem pre-occupied with sex, but realistically there's only one meaning I can take from an intensely pounding musical piece that climaxes with a joyous spray of fluid. The piece felt liberating, but it was a tangibly retro bit of liberation.  The distorted guitar solo recalled freak-outs from the 1960s (or at least freak-outs from films set in the 1960s), and the open embrace  of sexuality.  In some ways this nostalgia is a bit sad, after all, it's an echo of a more tolerant, open and less uptight past.  Perhaps this past is a myth, but it's a myth I want to believe in.  So I loved this, and if anyone out there ever wants to win me over just play some wigged out music, cover me in glowing paint and I'm yours.

The final performance was by Annabelle Stapleton-Crittenden, who performed alongside herself.  A video was projected on the wall of the gallery showing a previous performance, and I think the idea was that the Annabelle and her recording would compliment each other.  But as it stands what the real Annabelle did was so interesting I couldn't pay her past virtual self much attention.

Annabelle Stapleton-Crittenden and an apple.
In dim light she walked out holding the hem of her long dress.  Tucked into it were a bunch of red apples which she slowly stacked on a plinth in front of her.  A red apple is such a heavily loaded symbol that there's two ways you can go with it; Adam and Eve or Snow White.  She picked up one of them and walked straight for me, handing it over and whispered something very softly and very insistently in my ear.  Then she picked up a scalpel and sliced her arm.

Oh shit things just got fucking real!  Now self harm isn't necessarily big or clever, but let's face it, it's a great way to let people know you're serious (just ask Thich Quang Duc).  With red lines snaking down her forearm, Annabelle began hacking away at the apples with the blade, cutting pieces from them and then hurling them furiously at the floor as the acidic apple juice mixed up a cocktail with drops of her faintly alkaline blood.  

Red Hair, Red Apples and Red Blood.  
What's going on here then?  By removing apples from within her dress, by cutting both the apples and herself with the same blade, even down her to red hair Annabelle links herself to the apples and the wider symbols of what a red apple represents.  So she's tying her physicality up with ideas of temptation, poison or, slightly more cheerily, knowledge.  If you're on board with this, then the handing out of the apples is a representation of giving up parts of herself to others and the effects it has on them.  This can range from her being an object of temptation, a teacher, or a malign, damaging presence in the lives of others.  But this reading ends on a bit of a depressing note: the fact that she viciously mutilates and smashes the apples underfoot suggests a certain level of self-loathing.  Although admittedly you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that when the person is cutting themselves with a scalpel right in front of you.

But I added my own personal coda to this piece.  Nuts to these apples being some kind of negative symbol! I ate mine on the bus home and it was delicious.  You can load your apples up with as much negative symbolic weight as you want - but put it my hands and I'm going to turn it into a tasty, crunchy and nutritious treat.

After a night of being splattered on, thrusted towards and bled at I walked out of there with a smile on my face.  I got to see some fascinating things, thought some interesting thoughts,, chatted to a whole bunch of smart and interesting people and got my brain prodded and poked every which way.  And that's just how I like my Friday nights to go.

The exhibition is open from the 11th to the 24th of May 2013, with a closing barbeque (with presentations and discussions) on the 24th between 18.00 and 22.00. 

The gallery address is 38-40 Upper Clapton Road, E5 8BQ.

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