Sunday, February 19, 2012

She Makes War

She Makes War; photo by Val PhoenixLast night hopped down to trendy Hoxton to check out She Makes War at the Underbelly, a venue I have never visited. Wow! Art Deco meets punk seems about right for Hoxton Square.

I had arranged to interview Laura (aka SMW) before the gig, so sat through soundcheck taking some sound snippets for the podcast and then we had an insightful chat in the aromatic surrounds of the ladies loo, as she made herself up. I find gig preparation fascinating, and was impressed by her multi-tasking in applying quite large under-eye sequins while discussing her songwriting.

Then it was time for the gig, by which time I found myself under-powered, so sat in one of the plush chairs rather than standing at the front, which is my preferred position. The sound had improved markedly from soundcheck, though the buzz of crowd chatter still cut through, to my annoyance.

She Makes War is the epitome of DIY and came armed with electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ukulele and multiple pedals, all well deployed. Vocally, she was in fine form. I pondered whom her voice recalls, and it finally hit me: Grog, when she was in Flinch, all those years ago (not her present goth pomp incarnation). It has the same forceful, slightly mannered quality of a voice that demands to be heard.

Her looping technique is quite marvellous, building up layers of sound, both vocal and instrumental, and then breaking it down again. I found myself writing down snippets of lyrics, as well. She was joined for new single "In This Boat", by Mish from headliners BirdEatsBaby, the latter's keyboard adding little flourishes to SMW's guitar and vocals. Bodes well for the second album, due in April.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Joining the Dots

Detail from Obliteration Room; photo by Val PhoenixEarlier in the week I ventured out to Tate Modern for the much-heralded Yayoi Kusama retrospective. Kusama was a name I'd heard but not really known much about, other than that she was name-checked in Le Tigre's "Hot Topic". Recently, Amanda Palmer blogged about Kusama's Obliteration Room on a visit to Brisbane, which piqued my curiosity and, lo and behold, the Obliteration Room also makes an appearance at the Tate. But you have to look for it, as it is not part of the main exhibit.

There is much to be found in Kusama's work. An octogenarian, she has worked in numerous genres, locales and time periods, from Op Art and Pop Art, 1960s hippy happenings in New York, art films and of course, the ubiquitous dots. Her early phallic sculptures occupy a couple of the early rooms. Then there is a series of rather flat, dark paintings, and then it gets more interesting, with photos and film of her performances on the streets of New York, including one outside the New York Stock Exchange. Occupy would love that. The last three rooms offer a delightful juxtaposition of dark and light, with room 13 exploding into glorious colour, showing that in the 1990s she was still moving in new directions, even if the captions offer a rather sobering preoccupation with an inability to find love.

As I entered the final room, a disorienting infinity chamber, the guard at the entrance barked, "Move along, please!", denying people the pleasure of lingering in its wonder. We then found ourselves dumped out in a concrete antechamber, unable to get back into the exhibit. So much for retracing my steps and visiting previous rooms, as I'd intended. A sorry end to the visit.

The biography of Kusama is not really apparent throughout the exhibit, but a tiny glimpse is found in the short film on view outside the entrance. In it, the artist, a vibrant woman with a startling cherry-red bob, is seen at work in her studio in Tokyo, across the road from the mental institution where she lives. It is never explained whether she actually has a mental illness, but she has lived there by choice since 1977. This nugget of information rather leaves questions hanging in the air.

One could make a case for spending a care-free hour in the Obliteration Room, tucked away on level one, and skipping the main exhibit altogether. After all, it is fun, immersive, colourful, and interactive, as well as context- and cost-free. It touches obliquely on the artist's themes, embracing dots, colour and repetition. When I visited, it was half term and numerous parents had brought their restless offspring for a day out. The kids loved it, climbing all over the furniture, stickering the adults and themselves, as well as all of the furnishings.

The bright colours of the stickers are irresistible, and I found myself standing on a chair stretching to put a sticker on the ceiling, enjoying the freedom to do what in any other context would be vandalism. This obliteration feels like nothing so much as an obliteration of normalcy, of filling in something that is blank. But it is called the Obliteration Room for a reason, giving voice to Kusama's fears and fascinations. Not really child's play, at all.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Words and Visions

Needle's Eye exhibit; photo by Val PhoenixThere's been precious little Kunst on Kunstblog so far this year, but I am making up for this slow start, with three exhibits so far this week. Will leave Kusama until later, but tonight I was in Hackney for two private views, both of which were in the same complex in Regent Studios.

First up: Needle's Eye at Transition Gallery, also home to Garageland magazine. Four painters were on show, and I was at first confused, as the paintings had no labels. Who was who? This was quickly ameliorated by the accompanying fact sheet, but I also had my own private tour, courtesy of curator Ruth Solomons, who explained the links between the artists. Aside from them all having some connection with Bow Arts Trust, she explained, they have also influenced each other.

Seeing the works unlabelled side by side, I was able to work out some distinguishing features: Ben Walker works from a very dark palette, Kim Baker's work recalls the Impressionists, and Lisa McKendrick has an interest in science. Louisa Chambers's series can be read either individually or together, and I particularly liked her sci-fi lighthouse, Beams. The show opens tomorrow and runs through 11 March.

Detail from A Pigeon, a Kitchen and an Annexe: Sites of Alternative Publishing exhibit; photo by Val PhoenixThen it was upstairs to Five Years for the wordy A Pigeon, a Kitchen and an Annexe: Sites of Alternative Publishing, which was appropriate, because it was all about words turned into art. The Ladies of the Press* collective set out texts for all of the contributing publications (Annexe, Pigeon, and VerySmallKitchen) to respond to, and the result was a multi-faceted installation crammed into a tiny room, the centrepiece of which was a cardboard column, courtesy of VerySmall Kitchen.

While manoeuvring myself around the space, I bumped into several people with very nice cameras, one of whom turned out to be from Pigeon, and after Ana from Ladies of the Press* made introductions, I spoke to the Pigeon crew about their practice. Still in education, they are concerned with making their process transparent and honest. They also work both online and in hard copy, which referenced a question I had: what is the role of print in the digital age? Some of this conversation should turn up in my next Odd Girl Out podcast, but the answer seems to be: print is alive and kicking for awhile yet.The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through 4 March.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My week

carrot on fence; photo by Val PhoenixIt's been a busy week, with visits to Tate Modern and Occupy LSX, as well as some snowy walks through the 'stow (or #awesomestow, as it's known on Twitter--Cringe).

I have also been on 't social media, uploading films to Vimeo to join my second Odd Girl Out podcast on Soundcloud. Do check them out and comment, if you like.

Am quite enjoying the snow, although I am not too suited to cold climates. I have found, however, that the fingerless gloves I bought for a costume last year come in right handy for typing in this weather.