Ear & Eye

Please note: This page will be updated as and when I encounter new things which catch my ear and eye. As a result this page will change over time, the posts I make may be taken down and archived or published elsewhere. Its an experiment in which I can publish my ongoing research and interests, explore what's going on and speculate. Should you readers like to see a more permanent place for these writings, or have any comments on these posts please do let me know...

MARCH 2015

On Friday 13th March I experienced It said a performance by Patrick Coyle at ANDOR. Having pre-booked a slot, I was joined by one other participant, and at 2:30pm the performance began.
Patrick Coyle, 'It said', 2015
Image courtesy of the artist and ANDOR, 2015

Patrick Coyle (PC) led us anti-clockwise around the small gallery stopping every now and again to deliver parts of an edited script which in a roundabout way, and with timely gestures from PC, directed our attentions to an installed object within the gallery. The parts of the script once read were then attached to the wall in situ before PC led us to the next area. The script, which PC explained used correspondence with a variety of people as a point of departure, was delivered as a rapid monologue of statements each beginning with the prefix “It said”. PC added that whilst each of the five scheduled performances of that day were essentially the same in content, each performance would address where possible each participant by name and some aspect of the performers’ relationship to the participants, and that after each performance slight edits were made to the previous script as a result of new thoughts on the previous statements.
Patrick Coyle, 'It said', 2015
Image courtesy of the artist and ANDOR, 2015

The experience was simple and beguiling. Working in a similar, if not a wonderfully ironic way like a museum audio guide in which one feels led by the nose (and ears and eyes) to an “Experience” and an “Appreciation Of Art”, PC employed a number of textual, aural and visual misdirections gags and play which kept the performance relentlessly tight and very well-executed. In particular, the words, their delivery, gestures, objects and PC’s responses to us and our journey throughout the space (further enforced in the repetition of the prefix) created a superb rhythm which was maintained throughout. This rhythm, which was very striking at certain moments, such as when PC would pause between a torrent of words to move to another area, gesture to some innocuous object, or to change inflection on a certain word to be repeated. PC’s delivery of these statements, made of words that seemed to be spat forth endlessly, would be punctuated periodically by a breath, movement, or more naturally by our hilarity at some comment. This almost became metronomic, as though each section of the journey consisted of a constraint, a certain preordained number of words and pauses, gestures and steps, the whole experience made to a specific duration, so that one almost unconsciously felt a larger machine at work here.

It said was (paradoxically?) delivered personally by PC in the present as a monologue, made and further edited as a result of a personal dialogue made in the past. I wondered if this might relate to a sort of triumph of the individual over the negation of responsibility? Just as that we may heed or disregard safety notices on products we consume (“may contain nuts”) or encounter public information notices (“we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause”) that purposefully avoid assigning an author and cynically use language in a way to evade responsibility, what PC achieves as performer and in giving voice to these statements is to take on the responsibility by himself being present whilst simultaneously (and needfully absurdly) also distancing himself from the objects inferred and the content which is read using the gender-less ‘It'. This embodying of the ‘It’ that PC says ‘It Said…’ and giving the inanimate ‘It’ a voice is an act of appropriation which at once stakes a claim to ‘It’ whilst also specifically avoids naming and identifying the ‘It’ in question, placing the inference of meaning upon those that hear rather than those that say. This back and forth, and this rhythm again, that of PC as creator, conduit, re-interpreter and mouthpiece, suggests our complicity when we listen. When we refer to a thing when perhaps we should refer to a person, do we lose something, and in turn, do we gain something entirely different in return?

I’ve included an excerpt from the performance I experienced to give an idea of the content and its delivery, and I’ve tried to compensate for the gallery’s natural reverb somewhat with a little EQ. You can listen to the excerpt on my Ear&Eye page on SoundCloud here.

The following day I visited Cubitt to see a group exhibition entitled The Cipher and The Frame, featuring works from Beth Collar, Tim Etchells, Anna Uddenberg with moving image work by Juliette Blightman, Mike Kelley, Malcolm Le Grice, Stuart Marshall, Eléonore Saintagnan and Leslie Thornton. The show, curated by Fatima Hellberg and Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz had a peculiar rhythm of its own, in which the works were orchestrated in such a way as to often spill over into one another, making connections through not only their juxtapositions but also seen and heard in simultaneity.
The Cipher and The Frame, exhibition view, Cubitt

With no partitions the works occupying the single gallery space were Tim Etchells' Spoken Out (2015) on the left and Anna Uddenberg’s sculptural installation It (2011-15) on the right intersected by two different sized video projections, mostly with sound, and a silent video on a monitor Hand of Glory (2013-15) by Beth Collar. The durations of the individual projected moving image works viewed in sequence had evidently been exploited so as to create some ‘spillage’ of both audio and video, at times creating an almost theatrical setting, filled with a tension as to what would happen next. Where Uddenberg’s, Collar’s and Etchells' works had a constant physical presence, at other times, one projection would  project a blank screen sometimes with a feint green hue, whilst another projection without sound ran, and the voice emitted by Etchells' sound installation sprang momentarily into life. Indeed there were moments of inactivity and poor sound quality which made one question whether all was working as it should.
Tim Etchells Spoken Out, 2015, sound installation, 2 chapters, 7min each

Initially I thought Etchells’ sculpture might be devoid of sound or else not be working, but having spoken to the manager on duty she informed me that all the works had been carefully sequenced, or ‘framed’, so as to follow a method: a timed exhibition following a score of sorts. With this knowledge one felt that the exhibition was like a scene that would be played out, consisting of works that acted more like props to a whole, but which would also reward one the longer one stayed. The great thing about this I thought was this sequence, or the loop I should say (had a total running time of an hour), was that one could enter view and hear at any point and connections would inevitably be made given time. Further, there were pauses between works such as in the titles and credits running, or moments when the doorbell of the gallery rang to admit a visitor where one felt in a sort of stasis or suddenly drawn back into the chaotic and non-sequenced world from whence one came. These moments both disrupted and re-affirmed the rhythms at work in the show, making one acutely aware of just how much the show has been programmed and functioning autonomously, playing out irrespective of one’s presence, and yet also when one is present just how easily one’s attentions can stray away from the action, react against it, or alternatively concede. 

To listen to an excerpt from Tim Etchells' Spoken Out (2015) recorded at Cubitt please click here.

Whilst I didn’t stay for the full hour, I viewed first on the left projector Stuart Marshall’s Still Life Animation (1977), a structuralist film with a simple metronomic and percussive soundtrack filmed in a not dissimilar technique to anyone familiar with Michael Snow’s (awesome) Wavelength (1967), although much much shorter. Then, on the right projector I watched Mike Kelley’s hilarious Superman Recites Selections from ‘The Bell Jar’ and Other Works by Sylvia Plath (1999), which sadly I felt too spoiled by the noise of the two projectors often rendering the soundtrack inaudible. Indeed, the noise of the projectors whether projecting video or not added another continual layer of sound which I felt was an unwelcome distraction, an issue which for anyone whose seen Christian Marclay’s new video Surround Sounds would agree needs to be addressed. Following an (unsilent) pause, Tim Etchells' piece began for a spell, a very Nauman-esque voice piece in which two sets of phrases ”I’m Out of the Picture” and “I’m Speaking Out”, and “Laugh Your Head Off” and “Cry Your Eyes Out” are repeated with different inflections from a number of tannoys seemingly sprouting like weeds across the floor from the wall. During Etchells' piece Juliette Brightman’s silent films As a period in which nothing happened (2007) and If I had two heads, Christina of Denmark 1538 (2015) also ran on the left projector whilst the right one remained on, but blank. Then, following a slightly longer pause, I viewed part of Eleonore Saintagnan’s Le Cercle (2009), in which seemingly apathetic teens bathed in projections of rural landscapes glare occasionally at the camera accompanied by an instrumental grunge soundtrack.

Might we perhaps make a more obvious comparison here with how we also hear and view a great deal through the frame of our more ubiquitous frames and screens? Complete with carefully orchestrated pop-ups, fragmentary audio-visual content coded to respond to trends, with cookies and trackers collecting data, making links and juxtapositions based on our viewing and listening habits; is the exhibition a thinly disguised reflection of this? or, is it us that are framed, seemingly with no will of our own, which are mirrored in it? The accompanying press release states “the exhibition focuses on an approach to representation in which the character is secondary to the framing devices that propel the action forward”, so might we in fact be the character that is secondary too? I wonder if the cipher then, (the voiding and anulling cipher) at work here might not too unwittingly foretell the demise (and reanimation?) of The Curator? It’s not a far stretch to imagine a time (if it has happened already in a way?) when works for an exhibition are entirely programmed and synchronised by inputting a certain number of variables such as themes, artists, media etc., when curating becomes automated; reduced to a series of commands, sequenced and played-out to an assumed audience, responses reduced to a register of hits and likes.

If a mechanical rhythm underpinned Patrick Coyles’ performance, and a similar rhythm was sequenced into The Cipher and The Frame, then Thomas Zipp’s weekly performances of the Orwell House Experiments, as part of his exhibition of new paintings The Observer as a System with Feedback at Alison Jacques Gallery brought an anarchic asyncronicity at odds with the machine. Zipp’s paintings of sexual imagery and annotated photographs from previous performances, complete with scrawled texts in white relating to Whilhelm Reich’s text Sex-Pol, have a weirdly muted palette, as if they’ve been languishing neglected in direct sunlight in some dusty building for many years so that you might mistake them for something modern rather than made in 2015. They provided an unusual backdrop to the performance, providing a heightened sense of anticipation, a setting for something unusual to come.
Courtesy Thomas Zipp and Alison Jacques Gallery, London
    Photography Roberto Ekholm

Participants in the performance donned masks, hats, gloves, boots and boiler suits lending them both a sort of utilitarian and absurdly theatrical appearance (not unlike another cipher of sorts) and then proceeded to improvise with equipment displayed in the gallery. The equipment included a microphone with a Binson Echo Rec Baby effect pedal, a Farfisa Electronic Piano with a Tube Screamer effects pedal, a full drum kit, an Akai EWI 1000 Electronic Flute & EWV 2000 Synthesizer with an Echo/Delay effects pedal, and a Rhodes with a Ring Worm Ring Modulation effects pedal, and all save the drums (fortunately!) were amplified. Participants also had access to four black remote-controlled plinths which could be moved within an area designated by several black movable barriers on wheels. Participants were encouraged to improvise freely with one another, swapping instruments and controllers, experimenting with a loose set of instructions or score. 

Courtesy Thomas Zipp and Alison Jacques Gallery, London
    Photography Roberto Ekholm

As I’d arrived early, in part to see Zipp’s paintings and to inspect the scene, I was able to observe that when the participants arrived most had little or no idea of what they were supposed to do which lent to the performance a real sense of experimentation. I had initially heard about the performances through an open call for participants made through social media. This call specified that it was for young musicians, actors and dancers, which prearranged to a certain extent the mix of abilities of those performing, that they would possess some knowledge of what to do, but what I observed is that many had no idea how to use the electronic synthesiser and had little patience to try and this was thus neglected whilst the other instruments such as the drums and pianos were used in its stead. Given the mixed abilities of the performers and one presumed the lack of experience improvising together, the results one heard varied. I’ve included an excerpt from what I recorded on SoundCloud here.

Inevitably most participants opted to play what they knew rather than openly experiment, and I saw little dialogue among them save for the occasional nudge from one to another to stop what they were doing so another could speak. This obviously had a knock on effect that meant that with fewer instruments the participants could exact a sound from, participants left without an instrument waited patiently until one was available, controlled a plinth instead, or as I observed one even accidentally broke an object into pieces through fiddling with it lazily and then tried unsuccessfully to repair it! Incidentally this brought to mind a sort of unconscious Neo-Luddism, so that I wondered if this lack of (radical?) organisation here might not be the intention of Zipp? In the absence of certain ‘rhythms’ do we not recoil? So that in addressing systems of control, which in some respects are at odds with the institution of the white cube of a west-end gallery (albeit adorned with Zipp's transgressive imagery), might the performances in some sense in fact be designed to fail, just as Zipp’s paintings lend to themselves a vibrancy long since lost?
Courtesy Thomas Zipp and Alison Jacques Gallery, London
    Photography Roberto Ekholm

In drawing attention to this lack of resistance between performer and audience, and our mutual attraction toward synthesis and control, does this not reflect the failure of a radical (modern) Art? For my part I could only stay a short while, and when I left I had the sensation of escape and of return; escaping from something contrived and silly but sort of special in its own way: very much a (somewhat dated) world of its own noise-making, or of a kind of re-enactment of a future-past - and then, of returning to the present, to the street and to the reassuringly familiar noise and rhythm outside, but feeling a little empty that I felt as reassured as I did, and wondering, not without some pessimism, what future or Art, Zipp imagines there might some day be...?

All copyrights with the artists.
With thanks to Patrick Coyle, Camille Johnston and ANDOR, Cubitt Gallery, Thomas Zipp, Joanna Harrison, Roberto Ekholm and Alison Jacques Gallery.

No comments:

Post a Comment