Thursday, 22 July 2010

The moths romp home

Moth Theatre image © Graeme Miller 2010

Latitude Festival is proud to reveal that the winner of the first Latitude Contemporary Art Award is Graeme Miller for his visually stunning Moth Theatre installation which was announced at the ceremony on Saturday 17th July at 4pm in the Lavish Lounge, in the beautiful setting of Henham Park Estate on Suffolk’s Sunrise Coast. Miller's was one of Latitude's first four commissioned works; Tim Etchells, Chosil Kil and Graham Hudson also made new works.

Miller received the prize of £10,000 after the LCA judges – founder and creator of Latitude Festival and managing director of Festival Republic Melvin Benn, broadcaster, journalist and Radio 4's World At One presenter Martha Kearney and young British artist Gavin Turk – took an onsite tour of the exhibits of all participating artists.

The piece, which can only be seen at night, is “theatre for moths, by moths”. It uses video feedback triggering monochrome pattern from the shadows of insects, which are drawn to the bright lights within the installation at dusk.

Miller said: “By night the moths are drawn from the woods by the bright lights of a miniature theatre whose stage is saturated with the irresistible pleasure of ultra-violet illumination. They settle to bask in the limelight of a white screen – drawn to a kind of shared stardom of silhouetted insects. In this world the human observer is a guest. What they are drawn to is the intense bluish radiance and in the quiet auditorium of the trees they can eavesdrop on this unwitting performance.”

Graeme Miller is a London-based theatre maker, performer, composer and artist. On winning the prize, Miller was overjoyed and commented how he would now begin the process of creating his installation piece for Latitude 2011.

Melvin Benn has always intended contemporary art to be an integral part of Latitude Festival. Speaking on Saturday he said:

“It was always my intention that contemporary art would be a key element of the programme at Latitude and that art would be given the same platform as the music, theatre, literature and poetry. We have always had spectacular works displayed throughout the site and in the woods and this year, working with the team involved in the LCA, has given me the confidence to take art at Latitude to a new level. I’m really thrilled Graeme Miller’s installation was chosen as the winner and I look forward to seeing what his next piece will be for Latitude 2011.”

The LCA comprises Melvin Benn, independent arts writer Louise Gray, Tate Modern curator Ben Borthwick, curator/deputy editor of ‘The Wire’ Anne-Hilde Neset and managing director of Lavish Ami Jade Cadillac.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Checkpoint 303 - crossing boundaries -- New Internationalist Blog

Checkpoint 303 - crossing boundaries -- New Internationalist Blog

Posted using ShareThis

Only An Expert

Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Because half the problem is seeing the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So if there’s no expert dealing with the problem
It’s really actually twice the problem
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now in America we like solutions
We like solutions to problems
And there’s so many companies that offer solutions
Companies with names like Pet Solution
The Hair Solution. The Debt Solution. The World Solution. The Sushi Solution.
Companies with experts ready to solve the problems.
Cause only an expert can see there’s a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only and expert can deal with the problem

Now let’s say you’re invited to be on Oprah
And you don’t have a problem
But you want to go on the show, so you need a problem
So you invent a problem
But if you’re not an expert in problems
You’re probably not going to invent a very plausible problem
And so you’re probably going to get nailed
You’re going to get exposed
You’re going to have to bow down and apologize
And beg for the public’s forgiveness.
Cause only an expert can see there’s a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now on these shows, the shows that try to solve your problems
The big question is always “How can I get control?
How can I take control?”
But don’t forget this is a question for the regular viewer
The person who’s barely getting by.
The person who’s watching shows about people with problems
The person who’s part of the 60% of the U.S. population
1.3 weeks away, 1.3 pay checks away from homelessness.
In other words, a person with problems.
So when experts say, “Let’s get to the root of the problem
Let’s take control of the problem
So if you take control of the problem you can solve the problem.”
Now often this doesn’t work at all because the situation is completely out of control.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So who are these experts?
Experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials
Or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught
To focus on things that might be identified as problems.
Now sometimes these things are not actually problems.
But the expert is someone who studies the problem
And tries to solve the problem.
The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance.
Because often the solution becomes the problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now sometimes experts look for weapons.
And sometimes they look everywhere for weapons.
And sometimes when they don’t find any weapons
Sometimes other experts say, “If you haven’t found any weapons
It doesn’t mean there are no weapons.”
And other experts looking for weapons find things like cleaning fluids.
And refrigerator rods. And small magnets. And they say,
“These things may look like common objects to you
But in our opinion, they could be weapons.
Or they could be used to make weapons.
Or they could be used to ship weapons.
Or to store weapons.”
Cause only an expert can see they might be weapons
And only an expert can see they might be problems.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And sometimes, if it’s really really really hot.
And it’s July in January.
And there’s no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities.
And hurricanes are everywhere.
And everyone knows it’s a problem.
But if some of the experts say it’s no problem
And other experts claim it’s no problem
Or explain why it’s no problem
Then it’s simply not a problem.
But when an expert says it’s a problem
And makes a movie and wins an Oscar about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree that it is most likely a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And even though a country can invade another country.
And flatten it. And ruin it. And create havoc and civil war in that other country
If the experts say that it’s not a problem
And everyone agrees that they’re experts good at seeing problems
Then invading that country is simply not a problem.
And if a country tortures people
And holds citizens without cause or trial and sets up military tribunals
This is also not a problem.
Unless there’s an expert who says it’s the beginning of a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Only an expert can see there’s a problem
And see the problem is half the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

© Laurie Anderson. "Only An Expert" is on Homeland (Nonesuch CD, June 2010)

Monday, 22 February 2010

David versus Goliath, 29 November 1996


A blast from the past. Published in the Guardian in 1996, this was the first ever major interview with David Hoyle. Posted here in anticipation of the premiere of Uncle David (2009) on 25 March 2010 at the London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Rapunzel, Rapunzel

Alice Anderson outside Riflemaker, February 2010. © Alice Anderson

When one afternoon in 2007 I found by chance a copy of The Dolls’ Day in a junkshop in Spitalfields, I knew that the novel – published in 1915 in the early years of the First World War by Carine Cadby – should be bought for my friend Alice Anderson. What I didn’t know was that, in Anderson’s hands, the book would become a springboard for something altogether new.

It was Cadby’s illustrations – photographic scenarios featuring dolls and other animals, the latter, dead and stuffed – that alerted me, even though by the standard of her times, they were not extraordinarily bizarre. In some of Alice Anderson’s earlier art works, she had experimented with immured body parts – at one installation in Burgundy, the smooth walls bulged with the plaster-cast shapes of her limbs; and more recently she had been working with waxworks. We had had conversations about puppets, toys and homunculi and the power they exert and the ambivalence they generate in both the popular and fantastical imaginations. In any case, the book became a present and it was a good present, although the coincidence of a book published in wartime for a birthday that falls on Armistice Day was not one made consciously by me at the time. The book itself needed something more, to be wrapped in context and Anderson was insistent that she be told the full story of how the book came into my hands. A junkshop in the historic East End of London, next to the Ten Bells, a pub where, over 120 years ago, some of the victims of Jack the Ripper drank and a place where, today, contemporary Jack the Ripper story tours regularly drop off. And so a storybook begat a story, and, as is the nature of storytelling, resonances are created, slips are made and networks of association are constructed and mangled and broken, but never ever dissolved.

Unlike those of Jack the Ripper, the victims of Alice Anderson are not (at least in any legal sense) real, but there is no doubting the violence done to her puppets nor the rigours of the world in which they are situated. In the assembly of artworks – drawings, models, installation and film – that make up Anderson’s The Dolls’ Day (2008), there are pictures in blood, red-headed dolls – facsimiles of the artist herself – encased in either a high tower, its interior studded with pins, or a wire towers. While these dolls have not been completely abandoned (indeed, in Time Lag, one element of the larger exhibition, two dolls, each captive in their own wire tower, are linked brutally, by a single rope of red hair) , the parental figures that feature in the film of The Dolls’ Day have no potency – there is no hope of rescue or contact or communication. These are Freudian tales, stories of oedipal rifts and poisonous mothers that Anderson has deliberately – unavoidably – inserted into a framework that recalls the great European fairy tales – Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty, for instance. But in the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, the audience has no trouble in identifying the good actor and the bad one. The structure and narrative of these stories demands that good and evil are clearly delineated.

This is deliberate. Anderson said as much in an interview published in 2008: “My tales are like those of Angela Carter or Marina Warner, with no moral, no princess and no Prince Charming. My heroines are strong women. They’re never passive. The opposite of Walt Disney women characters, for example. In that type of tale, women are projections of masculine desire. In mine, women are the projections of masculine desire.”

But, this loss of any moral compass poses challenges for the viewer – and Anderson, in framing her narratives in the strange, bewitching landscape of if not fairy tales, then something like fairy tales, acknowledges this. In the last chapter of the film of The Dolls’ Day, the daughter breaks and destroys the doll representation of her parents in an act of violence described by Darien Leader in his introductory essay as “so powerful that no ‘realistic representation could do it justice”. This is Anderson’s sleight of hand: any of the usual natural justice inherent in most traditional fairy stories is refused. The terrifying aspect of Anderson’s Dolls’ Day is that there no reparation is either sought or allowed.

In The Secret Life of Puppets, writer Victoria Nelson suggests that human-made images operate today in “a lost field of perception”. It is, she says, impossible for us to look on images – she offers us as examples Christ on his cross and a statue of Krishna – and see the coincidence of the supernatural and the vital. Although Nelson (whose book is a cultural history of the grotesque stretching from pre-history to the contemporary) is working within a different space to that of The Dolls’ Day, The Secret Life is nevertheless germane to a study of Anderson’s work. If puppets were once experienced as gods (as Nelson theorises), then what of this sensation still lingers in their contemporary presence? If parents might be considered the child’s first gods, then Anderson, with her models and her puppets, is an artist who is also an iconoclast. And out of such destruction comes the separation necessary to work.

© Louise Gray, Introduction to Alice Anderson: Sculpting Time.
2 March to 24 April 2010, Riflemaker Contemporary Art, London W1.

Monday, 28 September 2009

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are all beautiful…"

David Hoyle, Gay Icons at the National Portrait Gallery, London, 11 September 2009

Given David Hoyle’s considerable body of work (to say nothing of his fearsome reputation), the untitled work that he presented at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) might have seemed a slight one. In the context of an evening’s entertainment to celebrate the gallery’s current Gay Icons show, the Manchester-based Hoyle was one of many artists providing entertainment to the invited guests. And yet, it is the entire notion of entertainment – a pleasant pastime, a diversionary tactic? – that Hoyle questions. His work, from the days of the his most iconoclastic creation, The Divine David (mid-1990s-2000) onwards, is an art form thoroughly rooted in the social and political and is all the more humane for it.

Hoyle’s appearance at the NPG was deceptively simple. He was there, with a long black dress and his trademark melting make-up (applied always in a excessive fashion), in appearance a cross between a wraith and a society hostess. He milled about, hermetically involved in his own demeanour – holding a glass, exchanging a few pleasantries, walking, being attentive. This was a performance about performance. At times he paraded a poster of Sid Vicious about, perhaps as a way of pointing to the way that the media goads on, and then sanitises, revolt. You could say that he installed doubt in the midst of the celebrations and turned its guests into a mass of J Alfred Prufrocks. This was as elegant and poised as Franko B’s harrowing one-to-one works of live art or of Marina Abramovic’s economical works of attention.

But Hoyle is also a clown, and as is the way of great clowns, there is an equal measure of sadness and hilarity in what he does. His exit from the party – and perhaps, from life – was performed on the gallery’s escalator. He went up. And then came down again. Then up. And down. Like a bouncing Tosca, it was a refusal to lie down and die. Sad-sounding cocktail music played in the background. Guests either watched him or they didn’t. This was a performance made in full knowledge of its peripheral status. It was a beautifully observed sequence of movements.

And there to the heart of the ambivalence. David Hoyle’s art work – and it takes many forms, from performance at clubs such as Duckie, to painting, writing and video – has always addressed the tension between individuality and the crowd. He understands the lure of the crowd, and he is sympathetic to the difficulties of being alone, in the sense that aloneness needs to be tolerated and negotiated as a pre-condition for any creative act. He has always been an outspoken critic of the clubs and marketing strategies that create a herd out of gay and lesbian people. One imagines that Hoyle has his own ideas on being the gay icon he undoubtedly is. To take a vintage line from The Divine David: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are all beautiful – unt we are all going to die."