Saturday, August 30, 2014

Disobedient Objects

I had been meaning to check out this intriguing-sounding exhibit at the V&A, but the confluence of my schedule, an out-of-town visitor and the happy coincidence of a late event swung it for me. So, Friday was spent in the salubrious surrounds of South Kensington.

First, the exhibit itself: many, many objects crammed into one room that didn't really seem big enough to hold them. It was busy, making for much manoeuvring around curious bodies, stooping for a look, craning necks to look up at banners and much photography. (Not too many selfies, though I did indulge. I wanted to position myself next to the blank space that was waiting to be filled with future disobedient objects.) So, what are disobedient objects? Well, they seem to be anything associated with protest, whether that be the arpillera textiles of Chile or the inflatable cobblestones of May Day in Berlin. A film played on a loop above our heads, and merged with the sound blasting from the bike bloc (and instructions on how to assemble one could be taken away) parked nearby. I reminisced over the ACT UP buttons and mused on the possibilities of book blocs.

Later, returning to the V&A in the evening for the one-off Making Trouble, Influencing People event, I found a techno rave in progress by the information table, and a series of lectures and performances dotting the museum. We queued for Guerrilla Girls' lecture, but missed out. We tried our hands at assembling book blocs and were chuffed to see our work realised as the cover of Animal Farm.

Book blocs; photo: Val Phoenix
We listened to barefoot music from Gaggle in the Raphael Room in front of the imposing altarpiece, wandered from room to room seeking amusement and finally sat outside in the vain hope of seeing a fully-formed cobblestone float into the sky. Instead, we saw what looked like a large bin bag being pumped full of air. Oh, disobedient objects!

Disobedient Objects is on at the V&A until 1 February 2015.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Upcoming Screenings

It's been some months since I have had any screenings to announce, but now I have two coming up in the next seven days.

This Friday in Hamburg my film In Bloom is part of a "swarm viewing" at the opening of a new exhibit, Fliegende Gärten. I have never heard of a swarm viewing, but, apparently, it is an interactive, personal type of film viewing in which visitors to the space get personal DVD players and exchange films. Wish I could be there to see it in action.

Then on Saturday is the first night of Wotever DIY Film Festival, and my films will be part of the closing night on 2 September at Royal Vauxhall Tavern as part of the Defiance programme. Very much looking forward to that.

I made a podcast for East London Radio to promote Wotever DIY Film Festival.




Friday, August 08, 2014

Yvonne Rainer: Dance Works

Over the years I have reviewed work by Yvonne Rainer, including her filmic and choreographic, but have never seen her dance work performed live. The show at Raven Row, curated by Catherine Wood, provides an opportunity to see four works performed, as well as see some of Rainer's notations and documentation of previous performances.

She's a puzzler, Yvonne Rainer. Not being knowledgeable about contemporary dance, I cannot say where she fits in or doesn't with standard practice. The dancers appeared before us in everyday clothes, five women and one man, and performed a series of moves, each one preceded by a spoken command. "C," for instance, was the aching back (my title), as they gripped their backs and dashed across the room. This piece, which dragged a bit for me, was Diagonal.

The second featured them using the second chamber, adjacent to the first, which was intriguing, as I had wondered when they would make use of it. They were also joined by a seventh dancer, a woman who appeared from the audience. She danced in jeans! I think this was Trio A.

The third piece featured the man alone (to the disgruntlement of my companion, Bev: "How feminist is that?"), tumbling through his moves while describing an essay he wrote about his great-grandfather and whether he should change it to fit the facts. That amused me. That was Talking Solo.

And then to the last piece, Chair Pillow, which alone featured musical accompaniment, the exquisite "River Deep, Mountain High", as the dancers brought out chairs and pillows and used them as partners. I was delighted by this and bopped along in my seat.

We took a turn through the exhibit, on three floors, in a gorgeous Huguenot building. I wanted to move into the fireplace, it was so roomy.

On the way home my back was complaining, and I gripped it, wearily. "C," I said.

Yvonne Rainer: Dance Works is on through 10 August at Raven Row, London. 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Women's Activism Film Night and East London Suffragette Festival

Four Corners; photo by Val Phoenix
No matter how long I have lived in East London, there are always things to learn about its rich and complex history, and last night's Women’s Activism Film Night at Four Corners gave me some new insights into the history of feminist activism in the area. Raised in the USA, I am familiar with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth and so forth, but haven't really familiarised myself with the Pankhursts and their agitations in the UK, first for the vote and then for multiple issues. Chief in this regard was Sylvia Pankhurst, who established the East London Federation of Suffragettes in Bow in 1914, working on a multi-pronged strategy to provide food and opportunities for East End women while the war raged abroad.


The film night was the kickoff of a ten-day celebration of her legacy and that of others in the East End, which culminates with a day-long event at Toynbee Hall on the 9th. It should be fascinating.


Last night's film programme, organised by the dynamic duo Barrelstout, started with footage of the suffragettes marching through London, but then moved on to other areas and time periods, seeking to make connections to labour, anti-racism, and other struggles that continue to the present day. It definitely whetted my appetite to see the excerpted films in full, which included Rise Up Women! and Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything Is Possible. Even the titles are inspirational! There were plenty of history I knew nothing about, such as the 1970s Grunwick strike, led by Asian women, and interviews with women who supported the miners strike and found they could do more than they thought. This is a familiar refrain with women's activism.
Suffragette rap sheet; photo by Val Phoenix

An exhibition of posters from several eras of women's activism in London is on display for the next week at Four Corners. I found the photos of the suffragettes and descriptions of their activities most intriguing. Such fierce women!

One interesting theme I picked up on in talking to other attendees was the vast energy and agency these women seemed to tap into. Could we ever see delegations from local estates pouring into a demo at Wapping? Labour organisers bussed down in their thousands to support a local strike? Women firebombing churches in order to obtain equal rights?

East London Suffragette Festival runs 1-10 August in London.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sites of Collective Memory

Roz Mortimer; photo by Val Phoenix
Opening today in the atmospheric and ever so secluded grounds of Southwark Park is the group exhibit Sites of Collective Memory, featuring works by four artists (including one pairing) on the theme of place and memory. Quite intriguing as it follows on from my visit two weeks ago to the day-long symposium Anxious Places, featuring one of the group, Shona Illingworth, in conversation with two of her collaborators.

Illingworth's talk that today focused on the process of developing the piece showing here, 216 Westbound, a recollection by John Tulloch of being on board one of the Tube trains that was blown up on July 7, 2005. Unfortunately, on the night of the private view there was so much chatter from the assemblage outside the room where the work was showing, it was difficult to hear what Tulloch said. Then a message flashed up onscreen that the computer showing it was scheduled to shut down in nine minutes! Those of us in the room watched the clock counting down with mounting anxiety. I did have a thought it was part of the artwork, but I don't think so, and went off to ask someone to reset the machine. It definitely deserves a more sympathetic viewing and full attention. Later, I spoke to Illingworth in the lovely garden adjacent to the gallery, and we chatted about her process. "I'm not so interested in making objects," she declared, before turning the conversation to allotments. She has a plethora of courgettes.

A cosy living room was the setting for CHUVIHONI, Delaine Le Bas & Damian James Le Bas's multi-disciplinary work on collective memory, in which voices reflect on seeing ghosts, as a pastoral setting with flickering animation is shown onscreen. I noted with alarm that the photographs book next to the plush chair had some liquid on it, as if a careless guest had dripped his or her drink on it. I shook the book and the liquid slipped off. Thankfully, the photos were unharmed.

It's interesting to walk in on works shown on loops. Sometimes it's hard to tell the beginning from the end, and in the case of Jordan Baseman's Little Boy, I actually came in toward the end, an explosion of manipulated film, with holes and burns marking it. When it restarted, I heard the brief testimony of a survivor of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima, which gave context to the subsequent abstract morass.

But, the most thought-provoking work for me was also the longest, Roz Mortimer's This is History (after all), which juxtaposed quite lovely, painterly compositions with a reflection on a hideous war crime, the slaughter of Roma by the Nazis in Poland. To this day, there are unexcavated mass graves under fields and in forests sitting side by side with a seemingly placid village. And people remember what happened, but there is no official recognition. It is one of Mortimer's "rebellious archives", as she explained to me afterward, aware of the tension between beautiful images and a grim story that is part of her working practice.

Sites of Collective Memory continues at the CPG Gallery in London through 10 August.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Whitstable 2014 Biennale

Whitstable; photo: Val Phoenix
My return to Whitstable was an afternoon sojourn rather than an all-dayer, but the weather was highly cooperative, and I had some company in the form of my friend Bev, who pointed out the abundant bird life as we made our way through town. First stop was the beachside HQ, where Collaborative Research Group were doing some demos of surveillance equipment. We returned later to pick up a map and find our way around.

The Horsebridge Gallery was a useful stopping-off point for a refreshing lunch, as well as site of two exhibits. I was quite keen to see the VALIE EXPORT film showing as part of Mark Aerial Waller's Welcome to the Association Area, but we ended up in the midst of the Sapphire & Steel clip, which featured a youthful Joanna Lumley and David McCallum bellowing at people in a cafe. I was quite taken with it, as I found their 1960s hair mesmerising, but Bev wanted to move on, so we went into the other gallery space to see Louisa Martin's film, The Lighthouse: Scenes 1 and 2. Despite two additional visits to the first gallery, it was always Sapphire & Steel, so never got to see EXPORT.

Moving on to Dead Man's Corner, we visited Laura Wilson's installation, Black Top, which makes use of the site-specific industrial conditions, i.e., a mound of black earth. Then we went for a stroll on the beach, taking in the beach huts. Bev was disappointed that the beachside bar stopped serving at 3pm, which is precisely when we arrived. So, it was off to find refreshments, and finally we made it to the highlight of the visit, Louisa Fairclough's Absolute Pitch, which was way off the beaten path at the Whitstable Museum and Gallery.

Because it is at the back of the museum, which charges an entry fee, one needs to get a token to see the installation, a film sculpture, but we had picked up our tokens from HQ earlier. Featuring five functioning projectors linked by crossed strips of film, Absolute Pitch is reminiscent of Lis Rhodes' Light Music. Pulleys hanging from the ceiling assist in the crossing of the strips of celluloid, while the projectors also emit streams of light, sometimes coloured with gels. And then there is the interimittent sound, an explosive female pitch. Bev and I wandered in and out of the patches of light as they hit the wall. It really was a marvellous experience and I could have stayed a lot longer, but we had a train to catch.

Much, much more is happening on the weekends, which is when the performances and live events are on, so it is worth checking the programme.

Whitstable 2014 Biennale runs through 15 June in Whitstable, Kent.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lost Endings and Hidden Meanings

Since I was in the area, I popped into the current exhibit at Space, Cherchez la Femme, about French feminist activist videos. Since there were no captions for any of the myriad screens, I wasn't sure what I was watching and since none of the headphones worked, I couldn't be sure what was being said except for the English subtitles on the screen. But, a familiar face caught my eye. "Is that Jane Fonda?" I wondered and sat down to confirm or deny my suspicion. Yes, it was, and she was discussing one of my favourite films, Julia, so I stayed put.

Well, it was most interesting. Jane, in translation, was talking about the representation of the female friendship in the film (between her and Vanessa Redgrave) and how it made the crew uncomfortable. The director, Fred Zinnemann, actually COUNTED how many times she touched Vanessa in their scenes together, because he didn't want anyone to think the characters were lesbians. Well, no doubt, their emotional intensity and the ambiguity of the relationship is exactly why the film made such an impact on me as a child. How often is a female friendship the anchor of a film? Jane's thoughts, exactly, as she elaborated on how rare it is to see two women behave "naturally" with each other and her realisation that that behaviour is so threatening to men.

Recently, I have been checking out films on DVD, including those I have seen before but many years before, as well as some I have missed. Last week's viewing included the commercial DVD of Desperately Seeking Susan, with director's commentary by Susan Seidelman, as well as three women involved in producing the film. Most illuminating were their comments that they had great feminist intentions for the film and wanted the two women to stay together at the end of the film. "I hate to say it," opined Seidelman, "but it's a love story between two women." A lot to ponder in that statement. Why "I hate to say it"? Presumably, because that implies a lesbian relationship between the two leads, Susan and Roberta, and that's (as Jane had stated) just not allowed, because it makes men uncomfortable and threatened.

Most startlingly to me, and I may be the last person on earth to realise it, but the ending of DSS was actually changed after shooting, because it "tested badly", i.e., audiences reacted badly to the two women RIDING OFF TOGETHER ON CAMELS at the end. This ending is actually included on the DVD and made my jaw drop. It totally changes the meaning of the film. How the %&*$£"! was that allowed to happen? To please the studio, presumably. And this is how female relationships are edited out of cinematic history. Cherchez la femme, indeed.