Sunday, 25 February 2007

Chelpa Ferro at FACT, Liverpool, 8 Dec - 21 Jan. Review by Dany Louise

Founded in 1995 as a collective of three artists, Chelpa Ferro have built a distinctive artistic identity that can loosely be described as sound art. However since two of the three members have a visual arts background, (and the other was a video editor) their work often takes on sculptural as well as aural qualities.

Characterised by the notion of “creative resistance”, Chelpa Ferro utilise performance, audio and installation modes, often commenting on our collective commercial mores, in particular that of mindless consumerism. Their work is in direct opposition to those artists who strip-mine popular culture for easy content and this gives them an interesting stance that has led to considerable success in a relatively short period of time. Their CV includes an array of Biennales: Venice 2005, Sao Paulo in 2002 and 2004, Havana in 2003, and they won the 4th MTV Video Music Brasil prize in 1998.

Conceptually, their art is set against a Brazilian background of political upheaval, fast social and technological change and rapid commercialisation – all elements present to some extent in Liverpool as it literally builds towards its Capital of Culture year. (The £920m Grosvenor Development is currently remodelling a sizeable section of the city centre to make 154,000 metres squared of new retail space). In a first for the UK, FACT has commissioned Chelpa Ferro to make a piece specifically for the Liverpool context.

On paper this commission looked terrible: the use of disposable plastic bags attached to motors to recreate the “rhythms of Liverpool’s streets”. It is almost impossible to imagine the aesthetic, unless you have seen previous works by the collective, (notably Nadabrahma, 2003 for the Sao Paulo Biennale, which uses a similar model). The publicity blurb also reheats the tired inward-looking paradigm of Liverpool as a mythic centre of outsider genius. Or perhaps the collective were slyly suggesting, given the preponderance of plastic bags and other litter on the streets, Liverpool as a rubbish city?

But these prejudices evaporate immediately on entering the Gallery. Jungle Jam creates a Zen like environment that envelops the visitor and triggers instant and genuine pleasure. It is immediately charming, working on levels that are firstly sensory and only afterwards intellectual.

Thirty unbranded plastic bags, alternating in black and white, are ranged at equidistance and similar height around all four white walls. There is a pleasing minimalist visual aesthetic. Bags twist and rustle, hit the wall with a quick thud and continue their furious crackling perambulation against a soft background hum of whirring motors. Several more bags twiddle on opposite walls, the sound directional like early stereo. A half silence, a couple more flaps, then many, all, revolve at once, a cacophony from all four walls. It richly evokes the sound and image of a flock of birds on a telephone wire, shaking out their wings at will and in various combinations, getting ready to fly. The sound is crisp, determined, rhythmic.

Programmed by computer in group sequences on a ten minute loop, each motor is set to turn at slightly varied speeds, allowing for unexpected texture. Aurally, it is rhythm, not melody, but harmonious, in pitch, resonant. Visually, the motors work to animate these bags to a surprising degree, so that they become something weird, more than their banal actuality. They are at once completely recognisable as functional commercial detritus, and yet transformed into some far more interesting other. It is an aural and visual representation of experimental sound, well executed and effective.

These are all well trodden themes from Chelpa Ferro, and Jungle Jam combines seamlessly with their previous body of work. It is a useful and pleasant introduction to these artists for a northwest audience, but it doesn’t progress the Chelpa Ferro oeuvre much.

FACT, on the other hand, is fast becoming the coolest venue in town, with the visual art equivalent of reliably high production values. Under the guidance of Director of Exhibitions Ceri Hand, it has been curatorially sure footed in the last twelve months, mounting bold, critically convincing exhibitions that have also proved accessible to big audiences. Since opening its shiny new city centre building in 2003, it has relished the role of being Liverpool’s fifth visual arts institution, dedicated to commissioning and presenting film, video and new media art forms. It is now coming of age with some style.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Marcia Farquhar: ‘Acts of Clothing: 7up’

Gushing into the largest of the Tramway theatres to reach the front row of seating around Farquhar’s catwalk we reach our seats and prepare for what is quickly unravelling as destined to be guiltily enjoyable: a hanging rail of deliciously moth-eaten, tattered, or well preserved garments stands alongside the foreshortened catwalk. It looks simply displaced from the kind of charity shops it is a true pleasure to find, if you’re that way inclined. Inclined to ignore the skins those clothes have previously touched, the people they’ve adorned, and the histories they hold. ‘Acts of Clothing: 7up’ is the tale of Farquhar’s clothes.
She enters a poised, raven-haired, pale-skinned, red-lipped, pearl-wearing, woman bedecked in her ‘famous Flamenco dress’ of Farquhar tartan. She proceeds to dance unlearnt steps of, first Flamenco, then Scottish, gawky, brash and energetic (gracefully ageing as she is she’s not as young as she used to be, and she lets us know that she’s well aware of this throughout, especially as this is the repeat performance of this work seven years on). This introduction that was generous, vivacious, and dashed with the kind of self-deprecating humour that suits British, middle class funny women, set-up her style succinctly. It was almost overplayed though, compared to the outpouring of the informal, seemingly loosely scripted monologue of narratives that accompanied each dressing and undressing of the 49 items of clothing along the rail.
Let’s state both our positions now, as Farquhar did in the opening sentence of her performance, she’s forty-nine, I’m twenty-six, and the evening is punctuated with feelings of offspring wonder for the parent. I can’t stop myself from fantasising about her in the role of the brilliantly eccentric middle-class mother, the kind with stories of youthful wild abandon at the feet of soon-to-be the biggest rock stars of the 70s. The kind who has a wardrobe full of designer gems that twenty years on she’d pass down to me and I would emerge the coolest retro kid around, eliciting envy while I recounted her stories.
There are little things that punctuate her performance, details and mishaps that mirror the details and mishaps in the stories. There are two gigglers in the intimate audience, and I like them, they are shrill and one constantly tries to muffle them into her friend’s shoulder. Farquhar drops her chewed gum on the floor and picks it up and carries on chewing. Who has the gall to chew gum on an occasion like this? The kind of woman who’ll tell that this was the dress she wore to a wedding when suddenly and unexpectedly menstruation came upon her and she passed the wedding under tree, most of which with the groom’s mother. The kind of woman who’ll stand up and cry “yes” to muffs – the furry sort you place your hands in, but can also fit 10 Euros, a key and a condom in the zip pouch. The kind of woman who doesn’t mind admitting that she got through post-natal depression by dressing well, and at least she looked good in all the pictures. The kind of woman who’ll squeeze herself in and out of outfits too small, down to silky slip, sturdy pants and nylon 60 deniers with the gusset for all to see, at 49 years old.
Some of the humour is almost cliché, but I like it all the same, as does everyone else appear to be. It’s graceful and elegant and she’s wonderful. I want those clothes and that life. I wonder if everyone else does? I’m a girly-girl and I have my clothes that’ll I’ll pass to my as yet imaginary daughters ready and waiting in the attic with my stories. That her performance bases itself on this simple, pleasureable, delicious, middle class stereotype doesn’t bother me. Maybe I should lend a more contextualising, critical eye, but like Shirley Bassey would say ‘something in the way she moves’ doesn’t make me want to. Guiltily enjoyable it is then.

Two-bit bobs worth

There is an extensive repertoire of blog-style meanderings urging to surface here. Tales of early morning dashings from cancelled flights, to over-draft inducing last-minute train tickets, to cancelled trains and onto 12-hour journeys (eased by a Tom Cruise DVD trilogy and some Marks & Spencer food hall luxury) to reach the chilly North with it’s thankful lack of ‘adverse weather conditions’, about expectations and preconceptions before the 5-day onslaught of National Review of Live Art, about the sea of familiar faces, gossipy tit-bits and so on. As a virgin blogger maybe I should go straight to the ‘good stuff’ and leave the self-indulgent rambling of ‘I’s’ and ‘Me’s’ for a more melancholy day?
‘Good stuff’? I only caught two performances from the second day of this intensely packed, international festival of the “most radical type of art today.” Silvia Ziranek, an exquisitely graceful, veteran (if that’s not too rude) artist and David Izod, a stocky artist-cum-English teacher from Herefordshire, or somewhere equally wayward and suitably suburban romantic. In questioning whether there is some gesture towards curatorial programming that would disuade taking every work of the festival in isolation, I’m writing them together.
When two works are so close in form it becomes more difficult to see the lines of enquiry one might make. Both solo performances by performers in total command of themselves, their stage and their audience. Both carefully scripted, rehearsed works with powerful panache in their delivery, that assured you that you were in good hands, weren’t going to be embarrassed, and didn’t have to try very hard.
Izod’s expulsive first-person monologue ‘The Bill Dixon Memorial Tour’ comprised of an academically crafted script, telling a narrative personal and exhaustively painful in the description of emotion. Starkly set in a blacked theatre Izod was simply lit, simply wearing white T-shirt, jeans, brown leather shoes, behind a desk equipped with water and printed script (used occasionally but unobtrusively to prompt). The suspension of disbelief in regard to his work was a curious question. All evidence pointed to the fact that this was his real life story, dramatised into the epic proportions of a story-teller, but nonetheless real. To make beautifully, funnily, candidly written stories of your life and deliver simply is confusingly frank. I just don’t know where to contextualise this in a history of theatre.
In Ziranek’s ‘MORE OR LESS ORder’ similarly personal ideas were camouflaged through indulgent layers of costume and kitscherati fluoro papers & Post-Its, tiaras, glittery silver platform shoes, Twix’s, pinks, purples, and all things to be found in a small girl’s version of a Pound-Land store. These layers were stripped off, put on, thrown out to the audience, and placed at intervals across the stripy wall-paper grid laid out on the floor. The stilted script of skipped, silenced, said, and plumily pronounced verbs (and maybe adverbs and even some nouns?) was accompanied by an intermittent finger-pegged nose dictating “Poodles and dictionaries first” , an Alabama drawling: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man” , and a system of signage accompanying her words that lead to a tale insistent on order and structure that edged towards pseudo-feminist meaning. I think. It was funny in places, complex, and generous.
Perhaps you can’t curate works together in the writing of them, perhaps that is to do disservice to the individual works. But there has to be something beyond a string of disparate works held together under one boiler-house roof, beyond a free-for-all ‘go forth and see’, beyond joining the dots of the fairly simple constellations that make up the chapters of performance books in this condensed world of the NRLA.

Mary Paterson - Claire 'Flagrante Delicto' 9th Feb

Claire is slamming doors. She will be slamming doors for four hours. Head shaved, wearing all black, she goes round and round her specially built contraption: four doors at right angles to each other, raised on a short platform. A small group of people watch her, leaning on walls and flinching every time another door is slammed. Claire, unlike us, is wearing ear plugs.

There is something repellant about Claire’s performance, and it’s not just the noise. We’re looking at her, but she won’t look at us. She looks at her feet, watching each step as she goes round and round. She keeps her own time, even paced footsteps to go with the relentless, repetetive thud. There’s a bottle of water at each door, which she occassionaly drinks with a strange elegance. Claire picks up the bottle – thud – Claire unscrews the top – thud – Claire takes a sip – thud – and returns the bottle to its place. It becomes clear that this durational performance is also a testing workout, and not much more pointless than running on a treadmill or heaving a rowing machine.

But it is pointless. There’s nothing intrinsically interesting about the doors themselves: they’re cheaply made but fit well. There’s nothing intrinsically interesting about the lighting, even as its altered with each opening and closing door. It’s not strong enough to make a difference to the room, and Claire casts no shadow. As hypnotic as the rythym is, the sound it makes is offensive. And the implication of the action – slamming doors to release anger – is all the more inane for the fact that its impersonal. Who or what is Claire angry with? It’s not us, the audience, because we’re being ignored. Perhaps she is battling some inner demons, or perhaps it is a generalised protest at the outside world. We’ll never know, because Claire – or, to be correct ‘CLAIRE’ – employs a ‘deliberate strategy of anonymity’, so the programme says.

Her action must be a physical and spatial experiment, which would explain the specialist equipment (gloves and earplugs) and her concentrated frown. But an architectural experiment doesn’t need to be repeated for four hours to an audience. The object itself – the four door contraption – could be an interesting piece of sculpture, but Claire’s action is too theatrical to display it well. Her persona distances her work from the audience, so the only reaction is to walk away and let Claire slam doors on her own.

Mary Paterson

Rachel Lois - Ginny Reed 'Until my Pencil Runs Out' 9.02.07

‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ is a highly self reflexive durational piece. It both embodies and celebrates that which is buried, assumed or manifested within arts practice. In short, the works subject matter, and its materials are the work itself; the act of making, the labour, the marks made and their duration. The pencil Ginny Reed runs methodically along the studio wall in a continuous line exemplifies all these things in its performance. And it is the pencils performance that counts here, not Ginny’s. Out from the nib the pencil sheds itself in varying line-width steadily and predictably. Ginny’s hand and body are merely a guide. In this context Ginny steers the pencil in the same way one might drive a car; Ginny may be the driver but she is removed from the function and operation of the cars’ performance; the pistons, the engine, the necessary consumption of oil and petrol. Ginny is no more in control of the mechanical and chemical performance of the pencils lead-letting than if she was walking a wayward puppy whose shit cum shavings littered the floor at will.

Perfect by design, the pencil of ‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ never falters. Its function is dedicated to the mark-making task in hand and cannot fail. Any resulting squiggles and blips evident in the output are human error: Ginny is to blame. Ginny is also wholly responsible for the fragmented nature of ‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ due to the ultimate discontinuity of the pencil line. This is because the studio door is open, leaving a gaping door-sized hole in the performance through which flocks of bemused viewers come and go. On every circuit of the studio wall Ginny casually passes over the open doorway, seemingly oblivious to this oversight in her ‘continuous’ line. The pencil, however, feels this void acutely. The surface of the wall, its footing, suddenly falls away from under its tip. The lead stutters and is forced to stop in the path of the vast hole over which it cannot draw.

The factor of the open door in ‘Until my pencil runs out’ was a critical oversight. Had the door been shut and the audience enclosed within the same time and space as the performing line of pencil it would have been a much more productive live encounter. However, as it stands the importance of ‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ as a durational event is negligible. Moreover, given the already missing parts of the line over the open doorway, the exhibition of the spent pencil nubb as the culmination or ‘full stop’ of the performance is meaningless. Ginny could have saved herself the trip to NRLA by better realising the performance on the page.

This piece was originally written with a pencil, whose lead ran out towards the end, soon after the third paragraph….

Rachel Lois Clapham

Friday, 9 February 2007

black market international (ongoing)

Collaborative text about black market international coming soon...

Mary Paterson - 'Pulse' by Francesca Steele

Francesca Steele is standing in a dark, gloomy room, with her back to me. As instructed, I walk over to the chair in front of her and sit down. We’re both facing the wall and this woman is behind me. Slowly, she reaches her arm over my right shoulder to show an elaborate, old fashioned hand mirror, and I can see her face. This must mean, I think, that she can see mine. She asks me to take the mirror. I do. She puts her fingers on my neck as if taking my pulse. I keep the mirror still.

It’s alarmingly intimate, and surprisingly peaceful. Seeing Francesca’s face for the first time – and I feel like I can call her Francesca – was a gentle introduction. Handing me the mirror felt like an act of trust. Now I have all the power, the power to look, and Francesca is naked. I can stare at the strange tattoo on her shoulder, I can watch the curve of her neck and her neat, dark hair. I can wonder if she’s smiling, or if that’s just how her mouth moves when she swallows. If I want, I could move the mirror around her body and explore it, six inches by six inches, in the oval that the mirror allows.

But I don’t. I hold the mirror very still, and look at Francesca’s eyes. Not in them, but at them. I am holding the mirror so that its top edge runs through Francesca’s pupils, and I’m looking at the shadows under her eyes in the hope that this will fool her into thinking I’m maintaining eye contact. In truth, I’m too scared to look at Francesca and I wish to God that she would stop looking at me.

When Francesca Steele gave me the mirror she wasn’t giving me any power at all. This is her room, her performance, and she has her fingers on my throat. When someone feels your pulse it feels like they have access to your heart. Now my heart is starting to panic – and she can feel it. Up until this moment I had been following instructions (‘Walk towards Francesca,’ the man outside had told me, ‘and sit on the chair’), but now, left to my own resources I realise I have none to draw on. The normal distancing strategies that separate one stranger from another have been removed – the comfort blanket of language, the anonymity of numbers, the intellectual and physical distance of standing in a crowd. I haven’t looked at anyone for this long that I’m not in love with.

The boundaries between us – my boundaries – have been broken, but who broke them? I decided to come here, but Francesca is in control. Sitting in the corner, holding this expensive mirror, I have been manipulated by Francesca so that all I can do is look at her. And by looking at her I’m enabling her to look at me. She is watching me, in other words, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Selfishly, perhaps, this is the most terrifying – and the most thrilling – part of the performance. Looking at Francesca’s reflection, I am of course looking at mine. In fact, I can see part of my head in the mirror: an eye, an eyebrow, a string of unruly hair. I can’t even look myself in the eye anymore. I break eye contact, with both of us, and it’s time to go.

Pulse is a gentle, intimate performance – performed by you the visitor as much as by Francesca Steele. Of course, each visitor’s experience will be profoundly different, and mine was informed by the discomfort I feel at meeting strangers. Stripping social interaction bare, Pulse forces the visitor to examine his or her own methods of communication, but its force is slow and gentle. Francesca’s physical vulnerability at the start of the performance is a generous gift – she relinquishes some power to the visitor. But nudity can also be intimidating, and it gives the act of looking an electric charge that is as inhibiting as it is intimate.

The most significant element of Pulse, however, is not its physical transgression, but its temporal one. Ten minutes is a long time to look at someone – anyone – and especially someone that you don’t know. Ten minutes is in fact a long time just to be with someone that you don’t know. It’s this temporal feature, taking time out of a busy schedule, concentrating on one thing for a prolonged period of time, that feels the most intrusive and also the most productive. It’s an intense, personal intimacy that breaks the cardinal rules of modern living: emotional distance and the ability to multi-task. Pulse breaks all the rules, in fact, that separate us from one another and let us believe in our autonomy. As beautiful as the experience was, it was a relief to leave.

Mary Paterson

Rachel Lois and Francesca

Francesca Steele. ‘Pulse’ 08.02.07

I put my name down on the list and got a date with you. As simple as that. You and I one to one from 2.50 to 3pm. At 2.48 I was asked to leave my bags outside, take my scarf off. Evidently there was going to be close contact of some kind with you. Our touching, it seemed, was to be inevitable.

Inside the room was dark. You faced the wall at the far side. Naked and ample. Your back was turned. There was no face to greet me. No welcome. No signal on what to do or what you were thinking. Your turning away, your bare neck and the back of your head with no face, puts full responsibility on me-the participant-to act. This puts you at risk and leaves you subject to violence. In turn, this makes me uncertain. I am left unsure, scared of my potential to perform an act that you and your body-with-no-face allow and legitimise, moreover invite. Thus the power is reversed: I am the vulnerable one, aware of my own capacity to do harm, whilst you remain naked and in control. Meanwhile, I'm stuck on the large expanse of floor between me and you, afraid to move.

I cross over. Sit down in front of you, my back to your front facing the wall. You choose not to act and so do I. We are silent together. Then your arm moves slowly out across my shoulder. Only now does your face come into view. A second hand image reflected from the mirror you hold out and angle towards me. Through the mirror you look into my eyes, you look kind. Your skin is soft and we smile. You bend over and whisper close into my ear 'take the mirror'. Was this prompt scripted or something special between you and me, a connection?

You place two fingers on my throat. My pulse races against them. In the mirror I see you naked, soft and defenceless yet you are still in command. You watch me watching you. Your face dares my face to look beyond it, to reflect my gaze away from your eyes and down past your chin, over your shoulder tattoo, south beyond your breast bone to piece together the parts of your front previously unseen. But your face never loses its control over mine, it wins. I am unable to look away from it. You say 'thankyou' and thats my cue to leave.

rachel lois clapham

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

The Beginning

Part of WFLA are shortly off to the National Review of Live art and wanted somewhere we could share and collaborate in our writing about the performances we see there. This is the result. hope you like it.

ill email the log on details out to the group so anyone/everyone can post their writing, add their links and alter how the site looks.

if you do take offence at any links or anything please do go in straight away and change it-its only supposed to be an online writing pad of sorts where we can group texts that we feel like colaborating on or sharing whilst at NRFLA, feel free to change any aspect of it.

rachel loisxx