Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pussy Riot Freedom compilation

As the year winds down, spare a thought for the two members of Pussy Riot still detained in Russia. While there are noises that they may be released before year's end, there are still legal fees to be paid, as well as costs for the young children separated from their mothers.

The electronic music music producers female:pressure are releasing a compilation. Here's what they have to say:
 [The] electronic music producers of female:pressure offer their music in solidarity with Pussy Riot  calling for freedom for imprisoned Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina. We have heard that they may be set free, and hope that this effort increases exposure for their cause and celebrates their liberation.
All money raised from this compilation will be donated directly to the Voice Project who is managing the International Support Fund for Pussy Riot. 

Let's hope the remaining members of Pussy Riot are free soon.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Factory Acts in London

Factory Acts at Surya, London; photo by Val Phoenix
A rare gig outing for me  last night, and even then I had to leave early in order to be up for my IT class this morning. Ah, times have changed since those long-gone days, when I could go out to two or three gigs in one evening, stop off for some donut holes on the way home, go to sleep at 4 and be up again at 9 (or 10 or, more likely, 11).

Anyway, this rare live music venture was to see the London debut of electronic duo Factory Acts from Way Up North (or Salford, as the kids call it) at a venue new to me, Surya. I've heard a few of their songs (they were featured on one of my podcasts last year, along with an interview with keyboardist/vocalist Susan O'Shea), but was keen to check out how they sound in a live arena.

It was a short but satisfying set, running only six numbers, but seemed quite full, actually. With only two people on-stage, multi-tasking Susan and bassist Matt, one might think the sound would be thin or the presentation lacking, but they created quite a racket and were also backed up by some arty visuals flickering on the screen at the back of the stage.

Matt's bass was very reminiscent of early '80s post-punk, and Susan handled the complex keyboard set-up with aplomb (I especially liked her elaborate hand flourishes while triggering some kind of effect) while also delivering a Siouxsie-esque wail that rendered the speakers redundant.

The final song, "Americans With Guns", featured snippets of NRA nutjob Charlton Heston in all his pomp. That gave me a chuckle.

So far, their recorded output is limited to a few singles, but they are hoping to rectify that soon.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jack Smith: Cologne, 1974

An intriguing little exhibit on now at Space in London is Jack Smith: Cologne, 1974, featuring a film of the artist by Birgit Hein, as well as photos by Gwenn Thomas.

In the corridor outside the images is a photocopy of a typically contrary interview with Smith that also appeared in 1974, in which he rages against "Uncle Fish-hook" (Jonas Mekas) and offers many poetic and somewhat incoherent opinions.

I have always been a bit bemused by Smith, as well as his work. I do wonder if he didn't suffer from some kind of personality disorder, given the way he conducted and expressed himself and seemed possessed by so many grudges that seemed to drive his work. Certainly, he vented his spleen in a most expressive way, but was he a well person? I have my doubts.

The film by Hein, which is shown on a television, depicts a visit Smith made to the Cologne Zoo, in which he holds court by some cages and calls for an end to the selling of artists' work to galleries and museums that exploit them. "Art should be free!" he demands, calling for museums to be open all night or filled with something useful.

On the walls of the bright white room (I could still smell the paint) are black and white photos by Thomas of the same appearance showing Smith in an elaborate head-dress or pith helmet interacting with the cages, as well as with a human figure. Not sure who that is. Did Smith identify somewhat with those caged beasts?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Words Over Walthamstow

It's not every day the Poet Laureate pops into the 'stow for a gig, so I was hasty about getting my ticket, even though I am no poetry aficionado. Her visit came courtesy of the new "words festival", Words Over Waltham Forest.

Carol Ann Duffy's name has reached even my ears, and I was curious as to how I would find an evening of her work in the company of musician John Sampson. What did that even mean?

Well, it worked out surprisingly well. A short stroll to the Assembly Hall, which I have never visited. Quite an impressive space, even though, peeping through the open doors, I thought it was set up for a Christmas pageant. Sampson warmed us up with some comic woodwinding before Duffy read from The World's Wife, her collection of poems taking on the personae of various other halves to famous men. Very witty it was, too, with her dry asides drawing warm laughter from the audience of about 700.

Sampson returned for brief comic sets, while the poet, suffering from a cold, relaxed her pipes in a comfy chair before returning for more readings from her collections, including the most recent, The Bees.

Kudos, too, to the opening act, Warsan Shire, the new Young Poet Laureate of London. At first I found her delivery too understated and quiet, but quickly realised the power of her words as she warmed up, offering deceptively simple comments that added up to mostly unspoken horror stories about living in a war zone and as a refugee. The woman in front of me buried her head in her hands and wiped away tears.

A bit of everything. Not bad for a Saturday night. And I was home in 10 minutes. Bliss.

Words Over Waltham Forest continues through 17 November.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Mendieta / Singh at the Hayward

I've been thinking a lot about the joint exhibit currently running at Hayward. While the Ana Mendieta retrospective, Traces, received all the advance publicity, it was Dayanita Singh's more low-key display that I came away appreciating without reservations.

If I'm honest, I was a bit bemused by the Mendieta exhibit, underwhelmed even. While she had a prolific practice spanning 1972-1985, it's difficult to assess her work without dwelling on the extraordinary circumstances surrounding her death--not even referenced in the exhibit or its catalogue, which I thumbed through. Only brief mention is made of her relationship with sculptor Carl Andre, and one must repair to the Project Space to read some very interesting publications which came out well after her death to speculate on just how she died.

What remains of her work is certainly voluminous, with rooms of photos, videos, and sculptures. But, I found myself lingering at the last room, which showed her personal documentation of her work, as well as some of her effects, such as postcards sent from her on-site locations, amusing descriptions in Spanish and English of her thoughts. Here one pondered: who was this woman and what might have she become, were her life not cut short?

I was intrigued to note, for instance, that she used a whole roll of film to document her early work, but only printed one image when called upon to submit work for an exhibition. And so, we know the image of her in a moustache from her very early piece, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants). But an image shown in the final room shows much more interesting images from this work, including one of her in a full beard with a clean-shaven man next to her. This, to me, illustrates the notion of a facial hair transplant better than the image she selected. It would have been enlightening to see what Mendieta might have selected for a retrospective, had she lived.

As it was, death was a preocccupation for her in her work, with many references to burial sites, wrapped bodies, and the Mexican Day of the Dead, as well as the Tree of Life. I found some of this cultural scavenging hard to take. Mendieta was Cuban, not Mexican, and the blithe descriptions of her going into sacred indigenous Mexican sites and carving on the walls filled me with indignation. Did she go with permission? Did she use techniques guaranteed not to harm the site? Or did she just follow her artistic bliss and damn the consequences?

At what point does art become vandalism? This goes double for the famed Untitled (Chicken Piece), in which two accomplices chop off a chicken's head on video and throw her the body, which she holds by its legs, while it flaps its death throes. I found myself repelled by the harm caused to the chicken, not entranced at her oneness with nature.

The piece by Mendieta that most intrigued was actually a very small item hidden away in Room 6 or so, dwarfed by the large prints. It was a handprint burned into a book cover. I wondered how she did it and what it signified to her, leaving her mark on a piece of human creation, rather than the earth.

Then it was on to the reflective photo-based pieces in Go Away Closer by Singh, many of which are delightfully arranged into display archives or museums. Practising in India, Singh has visited many archives over the years and snapped collections of papers and books, which she pored over to select images for thematic displays.

There is also a selection of her portraits, most notably of eunuch Mona Ahmed (whom she has photographed for over 20 years and whose autobiography she helped publish), alongside some of the books that have come from Singh's work. Did the books precede the exhibits or vice versa? The juxtaposition of text and image is well-judged and piques interest in Singh's body of work.

I'm not sure why these two exhibits are included in one ticket, for Singh and Mendieta don't have too much to say to one another, artistically, but certainly both are worth seeing and, no doubt, arguing over.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Crystal Palace International Film Festival

Venturing south of the river for an evening's cinematic viewing, I found myself in quite a nifty venue in The Triangle (as the locals deem it), Crystal Palace's entertainment hub.

The evening's offering was student film, with six films and a Q&A on offer. They were, indeed, international, with South Korea, USA, Sweden, New Zealand and the UK represented. Violence was the dominant theme, with five out of the six fixated on acts or threats of violence. Students, eh?

By far the standout film was the Swedish entry, Annalyn (dir Maria Eriksson), the only one more interested in the minutae of human relationships than violent action (and the only one directed by a woman!). Eriksson's bittersweet but highly comic film runs 30 minutes and was by far the longest film on show, but absolutely flew by, as Agnes came to terms with her crumbling relationship and stumblingly tried to get to grips with her feelings for the new woman in her life--her father's new wife. Comedy of embarrassment didn't cover it. My companions were especially impressed with the dialogue, which covered a lot (in three languages) in quite short order.

Of the other films, the two US offerings were pretty good, as well, with excellent cinematography. The Painter (dir Nate Townsend) presented a middle-aged man reflecting on a turning point in his life at a remove of 35 years and offered a poignant twist that stayed with the audience. Awwww was my reaction.

Never Gonna Break (dir Thomas Backer) also had a twist, but the climax went a bit melodramatic for my taste--screaming and guns played a role.

The final film, Ugly Night (dir Won Kang) from South Korea, we all agreed, was well-shot (or even, eh, executed), but proved to be a blood-drenched, pointless exercise. Its director will no doubt go on to be a millionaire.

Crystal Palace International Film Festival continues through 9 November.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Far from Home

Kristin Hersh; photo by Val Phoenix
Got in late last night after an epic day, during which I finally, FINALLY made the acquaintance of one Kristin Hersh after a generation or so of listening and quite a few interview requests. The interview happened, of which more later (should be an Odd Girl Out podcast). And Ms. Hersh couldn't have been more self-effacing and brilliantly poetic in her musings, which included never really being at home anywhere.

Which strikes a chord for me, not just because I am a long-term expat. But, there are some people in creation who just don't seem to fit their surroundings. Like me. I've long pondered the notion that I am some alien being beamed in from goodness-knows-where in order to survey this strange planet and its inhabitants. My report is forthcoming. Beware.

Anyway, after the interview it was on to sunny Wood Green where Kristin was doing a reading/mini-gig in a bookstore. I do love me an independent bookstore, and so it was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of Big Green Books, to scan its shelves and then settle in for an all-too-brief set by Kristin of new Throwing Muses tracks, plus readings from the accompanying book. 'Cause this is the way of the world now, kids. Since the music biz collapsed, it's all about the crowdfunding and bundling of activities.

I quite like the notion of a book-cum-record, and Purgatory/Paradise by Throwing Muses is an intriguing proposition. 32 tracks is a bit much to take in in one sitting for me, so will have to return to it. But, the writing, by Kristin, is brilliant, full of insights into her world and what I call her pancake philosophising. She takes quotidien events and objects and expounds on them in a way that makes profound points.

The set was actually two new Muses songs, plus a traditional spiritual, "The Wayfaring Stranger", which reflects on the journey of life and trying to get, um, home. Kristin remarked it was written by God. Looking it up, I see it appeared in Cold Mountain, which I, by chance, have just seen on DVD. Do like a bit of hillbilly music, when it isn't too God-oriented. There is an aura of melancholia and world-weariness that hangs over such tunes, and, indeed, much of Kristin's work, as well. Soulmates, they are.

After the gig, I joined an erstwhile classmate of mine, plus his mate, for some home-made risotto in a reclaimed old people's home. Now that was weird.

Kristin Hersh will launch Purgatory/Paradise on 28 October at Rough Trade East in London.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Visitors to Intervals by Ayse Erkmen; photo: Val Phoenix
Paying a visit to the Barbican yesterday, I swung by The Curve to check out the new exhibition, only to find I was too early, an unusual occurrence for me. But, when I returned after 11 am, I was greeted by an open door leading down to a screen covering the space. Hmm, I thought. This could be a short visit. I hovered uncertainly at the top of the stairs, wondering if I was allowed to venture closer. As I registered the wall text accompanying the exhibit, the invigilator drew my attention to a brochure that he said had the same text. I took the brochure, read the wall text and ventured in, as the screen lifted to reveal another.

This is Ayse Erkmen's intriguing installation, Intervals, making clever use of The Curve's position and shape as part of the backstage area of the most complex complex, The Barbican. A series of painted screens lifts and falls, drawing the visitor in and keeping one there for the duration of the randomly sequenced movements. I joked with the invigilator, "Has anyone gotten stuck?", to which he replied, "Not for long." I found it an entrancing experience, gazing on the elaborately painted screens, imagining the works that had prompted them, everything from Italian opera to modern dramas.

But, when I reached the eighth screen, I was puzzled. The brochure described it as inspired by the work of Turner, but the green leaves on the screen bore no resemblance to the brochure's description. As the screen lifted, I saw the next one over looked more Turner-esque and also depicted stairs, which would make sense if it was inspired by Turner's The Grand Staircase, From the West. Once I could get under that screen, I sought out the nearest invigilator to check, and he was none the wiser. I wondered then about the next few, as to whether they were correctly named, as well. In the end, we concluded that 8 and 9 (Turner and Morris) had been switched in the brochure, if not on the wall caption at the start. Funny nobody had noticed this before!

A bit of backstage mystery never went amiss. Other visitors didn't seem to take such a close interest in the individual screens, striding under them, or in the case of the many kids, approaching at high speed and doing a stop, drop and roll. My knees aren't up to that at present, but it was certainly a high-energy approach to art.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gloomy Wednesday

Sailor Girl from Entangled2 (Theatre II) by Lindsay Seers
What better way to spend a rainy day than to visit some galleries and take in some art? So, that's what I did yesterday, as the heavens opened in London. Unfortunately for me, my journey required a lot of walking between venues and I was one soggy figure on my arrival at Matt's Gallery for a viewing of Lindsay Seers' Entangled (Theatre II), a version of a piece I viewed last year in Margate.

The viewing requires an advance call to book a slot, and when I arrived early for mine, I had to wait for the previous viewing to finish, even though nobody was actually in the room. Once it was ready, I was handed a pair of headphones and beckoned into a small booth, which resembled nothing so much as a peep show booth which faced a red square viewing area. It was an odd juxtaposition for me: why the booth? The space in Margate was open between audience and the two spheres that formed the screen, so I am not clear on why she has set it up this way. In any event, there's nothing sleazy about the piece, which details testimony from two performers about their lives as male impersonators.

I am not sure if this is any different from the piece in Margate, but the space being discussed (and suggested in the viewing conditions) is the Mile End Genesis, rather than a Kent stage. Seers likes to localise her stagings of pieces, and as the Genesis used to be a live theatre before it was a cinema, she did some filming there and it gets a brief mention in the piece. I don't know if it's better or worse than what I saw in Margate, but I really like the use of the spheres to take on various characters in the stories the performers tell, from eyeballs to wombs. Most imaginative and evocative. Leaving the performance through an anteroom, I saw photos of the performers who inspired the work, Hetty King looking especially dapper as a sailor. Lucky the recipient of her signed photo!

Then it was onto the Whitechapel to see Sarah Lucas's retrospective. I felt I was entering the living room of a very eccentric relative as I opened the door to the first gallery: mobiles, wallpaper, and an array of tables, chairs, and mattresses greeted me. But, what furnishings! The mattresses were stained with food, the wallpaper was lurid newspaper headlines and the settees were made of MDF and breezeblocks. I warmed to the latter, even testing them out, once I was sure it was permitted. Sadly, taking photos is banned, a shame, because the most interesting aspect to my visit was watching the reactions and behaviours of the other visitors. Gleeful laughter, pointed fingers, frowns and grimaces were the order of the day, as everyone got to grips with Lucas's oeuvre. I found myself bemused and charmed, actually.

What is her POV, I wonder. Her use of food to convey markers of sex is well-known, but what point is she making with her giant plaster penises, which, er, popped up in an array of locations on the ground and upper floor? Though the exhibit contains warnings about graphic sexual material, I found it most unsexual, actually, more a presentation of grubby humanity. There is something a bit bleak about her equation of body parts with the detritus of human failure.

Upstairs I quite liked the brass casts, which echo the textile ones downstairs, twisted shapes perhaps recalling legs or even turds, I suppose. And I also really liked the cigarette portraits, which seems an apt form for someone who is often pictured with a fag jutting out of her mouth. An odd character, Lucas, who has abandoned London for Suffolk, but seems no less productive or more optimistic in her post-enfant terrible years.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Neon Wonderland

sign at God's Own Junkyard; photo: Val Phoenix
On Friday I made a very belated visit to God's Own Junkyard, the neon gallery-cum-junkyard that calls Walthamstow home. In truth, I never even knew of its existence until my friend Bev said she wanted to visit. We then discovered that GOJY is threatened with eviction (currently scheduled for 21 September), and while various rescue plans have been floated, its existence is still under threat.

Our visit, while brief, was an exuberant stroll through the very warm interior space (heated, the proprietor said, by the same ionization that occurs with tumble dryer fabric sheets!) and the very English summer drizzle of the outside space, which was a real treat for Bev and me. We both love detritus, and this was some Grade A old school Americana detritus: signs for motels and diners and the odd Jesus statue, among them. Great stuff.

This may have been the last weekend to see God's Own Junkyard, in this or any other location. But, here's hoping it finds a new home in the area very soon.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Totally Girl Powered screenings in Berlin and London

Still from Totally Girl Powered by Val Phoenix
I am pleased to announce that Totally Girl Powered will be screening this Friday at LaDIYfest Berlin in sunny Kreuzberg. Apparently, the venue is an adult education facility. Cool.

Then TGP moves south of the river to screen at Wotever Festival in London on the 27th.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Sounding the Body Electric: Experiments in Art and Music in Eastern Europe 1957-1984

A pretty specific title, that. And yet.... I have been meaning to get to this exhibit in sunny Shoreditch for ages and finally made it down this week. Most enjoyable it was, too. It's often difficult to appreciate sound art in the confines of gallery spaces so associated with visual art. Calvert 22 made some effort to display the works in accessible and aesthetic ways, with displays of notations, music stands showing scores and quite a lot of associated visual material.

In fact, the newsreel footage of Poland's Experimental Sound Studio was among the most strking--gorgeous black and white shots of gleaming equipment. One darkened room was showing Kalah, a film with Richter-esque visuals accompanied by bleeps and blips that reminded me of video games.

What was missing for me was context. Who were these artists? What conditions informed their work? The time span encompasses the post-Stalin era to the Solidarity movement, but there is very little in the captions to explain what was going on. I wasn't even clear on what countries some of them came from, although quite a lot of the artists seem to be Polish. And, where were the women? I counted only three female names (Katalin Ladik, Dora Maurer and Zofia Hansen) from more than 25.

The accompanying sheet does drop tantalising bits of info about "happenings" and the downstairs exhibit mentions post-Prague Spring movements, but the captions don't really relay this. Perhaps one needs to read the accompanying book mentioned in the notes, but not having seen it, I cannot say.

Definitely worth a visit, but you probably need to do a lot of research pre- or post-visit to get the most out of it.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

In Herne Bay

View from Neptune, Herne Bay; photo by Val Phoenix
Gingerly applying cold tea to my rather red skin today after a gloriously sunny day yesterday in Herne Bay. Following on from last summer's expeditions to Margate and Whitstable combining sea and art, I turned up hoping to see some of the attractions from the Duchamp in Herne Bay festival (tagline: I am not dead. I am in Herne Bay), celebrating the artist's summer stay in the town 100 years ago. It didn't quite turn out as I expected.

The first surprise was the lack of signage at the train station. No indication as to which way to turn to find the seaside, let alone the festival. I eventually made my way to the museum to see what was advertised as a free exhibition, only to find there was an admission charge. Couldn't find the festival shop and the HQ showed no signs of any festival doings either. Most puzzling.

My first 99; photo by Val Phoenix
I did, however, catch the live music-live cartoonist combo at the very lively Bandstand. I thought the pedal-powered cinema was also meant to be there, when I saw a poster for it right next to the cartoonist one. Only later did I catch the tiny, tiny print listing another destination, one I'd passed some two hours earlier! Ach. So, no cinema for me. I did at least catch some of the artfully designed bicycles parked in various locations. I didn't get the sense that most visitors had any idea why they were there.

Still, I enjoyed my ramble through Herne Bay, from the mesmerising Neptune outcrop stretching out to meet the pier (with its giant Fountain a la Duchamp), to my unsteady attempts to wade on the edge of the sea. I eventually made my way to Kings Hall on the eastern stretch of shore to watch a couple throwing a ball for their dog to fetch from the sea. Quite tiring for the dog, I would have thought. As I returned to London, I thought how handsome the city looked, bathed in pre-twilight sunshine.

The Duchamp festival continues through the 17th. Catch it if you can.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Walthamstow International Film Festival

On one of the sunniest days ever seen (possibly) in London, I cycled over to the Orford Road Social Centre to check out the offerings of the WIFF. Last year this was screened as part of the E17 Art Trail, but as that has been postponed, WIFF is a stand-alone event running across the weekend.

Each bill loops over an afternoon, and while they are meant to be alphabetical, some of the films I saw are showing in the programme as being on tomorrow. Possibly issues with translated titles.

And this is quite the international bill. Probably one-third of the films I saw were in Spanish. Not sure why the WIFF has cornered this market, but E17 has a global reach, clearly. With his grandiose productions, earnest voiceovers and sweeping orchestral music, Roman Reyes is bidding for Hollywood. Either that, or he has a future in perfume commercials. Ten Years After by Jose Ramon Carralero Herrera was an amusing reflection on shyness and smoking.

Two films featured ghosts of dead people. And many, many were accompanied by banal tinkly piano music that seems to code: sensitive. Is this a new rule for shorts?

My favourite was not properly credited in the programme. A French film on a 20th century faker, it featured beautiful black and white animation and a witty script. Not sure what it was called or who made it, though.

A different bill is on tomorrow from 14-17. Will it rain?

Monday, July 01, 2013

Back to The Wick

The view from Mother Studios over Hackney Wick; photo by Val Phoenix
As we now mark the first full year of the much-touted Olympic legacy, it's sobering to consider just how much the face of East London has changed. Though deemed unsalubrious, unlovely or any other property market euphemisms, the area has always provided a home for the resourceful, the quick-witted, and, indeed, at times, the desperate. I count myself in all of those categories, as I have moved around almost all of the E postcodes during my time in London in search of some place to settle.

So it was that I found myself last night standing on the fifth floor of Mother gawping out the window across the canal at the Olympic site, tracing the path of a road I lived on many years ago crossing over the tiny bridge and.... stopping dead in its tracks at the gate to the site. Everything on the other side levelled and reduced to pavement. Wow. I hadn't seen it that way in my head.

My visit was occasioned by a screening at The Lab, an experimental film festival in Hackney Wick's booming artistic quarter. The screening started late, hampered by good weather (oh, the irony) and another screening next door. But, eventually the audience, some ensconced in inner tubes on the floor, was treated to a few of the week's winning films, as well as a selection of locally produced shorts. I had heard a lot about Hilary Powell's The Games but had never seen the whole piece, and found it a mix of amusing absurdity and trenchant comment on the nature of gentrification. Clays Lane, the allotments, those strange tyre factories. Gone.

This is what has become of Hackney Wick since I left ten years ago. Artists' warehouses, a party scene, and on the other side, the commercial behemoth of Olympic regeneration. It's an uneasy mix, even if the hipsters flocking to Crate and other businesses can enjoy better transport links and amenities than in days of yore. Still..... one sometimes yearns for the sense of post-apocalyptic tranquility that used to hang over the area back then.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Groodoyals on air

Here is Jude Cowan Montague's recent appearance on Resonance, bringing her poetry collection The Groodoyals of Terre Rouge to the airwaves. Some months back I saw Jude read from this volume at the book launch, but this multi-media version includes music and conversation, as well.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Back in Town: Abstract Random

Coming soon to a country near you (if you're proximal to Europe), it's Toronto's dubhop trio Abstract Random in full tour mode.

Last year my encounter with them featured my fledgling attempts at freestyling. Sadly, I shall not be on the mic, but they are playing Wednesday the 5th in sunny (really!) London before heading off to Paris and beyond.

Check 'em out.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Perestroika Reconstructed

An interesting afternoon's viewing of this epic film by Sarah Turner. Not having viewed the original piece, I couldn't say what the remix amounted to, but this work, a three-hour journey, does test the viewer's attention.

The first two hours amount to Turner's retracing of a 1987 train journey from Moscow to Siberia, her motives becoming clear over time: she wants to remember a lost friend who accompanied her on the earlier journey and later died there. She is also recovering from a bike accident.

Over the course of the later journey, it becomes clear that she is operating under certain rules imposed by "You", the unseen and unnamed companion who seems to be part film producer and part lover. "You" proves to be a testing foil for the narrator, checking she has taken her medicine and telling her stories that she comes to question about her own past.

And the film unspools as the narrator's attempt to reshape her own past and try to move on from her trauma. So far, so good, if long. But, the last hour traces another journey, this time by "You", as in "You are constantly watching the meter." It took me awhile to realise that this new "You" was in fact the narrator herself. This journey was a cab ride from London to Land's End, that I found quite comic in its haplessness, but I was the only one having a chuckle at this late moment in proceedings.

Sprawled on my beanbag, I watched my filmic companions, peering over my knees at the screen flickering with endless miles of Russian scenery, which finally resolved to mesmerising waves of mist rolling over Lake Baikal. It was strangely relaxing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

20th anniversary of MOW

My, how time flies. 20 years ago today I was strolling the Mall in Washington, DC, along with about one million other queer folk, at the oh-so-catchily monikered March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. The name was debated for MONTHS before it was agreed upon.

I attended some of the Bay Area organising meetings, which were excruciating at times. Whom to include? Whom not to? How to appear? So much attention given to not offending the mainstream. Sheesh.

Still, the trip was glorious, especially the first Dyke March the night before the main march, with a trip past the White House and the Lesbian Avengers eating fire. Sent shivers up my spine.

CSpan has a recording of the stage. But this is a short clip.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Movement in Light: Pure Figures in Motion

The third in the series (I missed the second, owing to Fringe!) exploring the work of Man Ray and his followers, this programme of shorts at the NPG went in surprising directions, as it took in the many possibilities of cameraless cinema.

Or should that be para-cinema? The first work was Light Time, a performance by Amy Dickson of candles being lit behind a screen, the black covering burning off as the flame generated heat. So, this was all about the light and its movement.

Other works actually involved film, such as Joanna Byrne's Manifestoh!, a clever work juxtaposing increasingly panicked news reports of the 2008 (and beyond) financial meltdown with text from the Communist Party Manifesto. It might have been even more clever, had we been able to read the words, which scrolled across the screen as mere abstract graphics.

Luke Aspell's Luminance Gradients was a feat of endurance, which really should have had an epilepsy warning, as the flashes of white light were accompanied by a soundtrack of tape hiss. I shut my eyes for this one.

Half of the films were silent, and the audience was polite enough to remain silent, except for the event photographer, who did not make use of the camera's quiet option, the shutter noise punctuating the atmosphere with a "ba-jee-ka" every 10 seconds or so. Most irritating.

The closer was another live performance, The Glass by Jamie Jenkinson, a series of glass sculptures forming patterns on the walls, as they rotated around what looked like a turntable (old skool!), with varying effects.

Quite enduring, this play of light in a darkened room. It could have legs yet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fringe! pictured

School of Fringe! entrance; photo by Val Phoenix

 Still recuperating from my weekend, even though I didn't actually get to many Fringe! screenings.

Rio Cinema ticket booth; photo by Val Phoenix

 The nervous energy expended anticipating my screening and Q&A on Sunday sapped me.

Julia Ostertag; photo by Val Phoenix

The sun, while not helpful for bums in seats, did provide a welcome accompaniment to some post-screening fellowship.

Julia Ostertag introducing And You Belong; photo by Val Phoenix

I also spent some time in a walking tour of Dalston seeking out elusive Vietnamese noodles for
 filmmaker Julia Ostertag, ahead of her closing night film, And You Belong.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Roll out the red carpet

Still from Totally Girl Powered by Val Phoenix
Making short films is not a glamourous exercise. There's none of the romance of the feature, of being recognised as a proper filmmaker with a cast and crew, although that can be a slog.

So, it's a rare pleasure to be able to say: "My film is having its world premiere next week at a cinema in London." OK. I've never been able to say that, but it is true. My film Totally Girl Powered is having its world premiere next week at the Rio in Dalston, as part of Fringe! festival.

This is great on two counts: it's showing in an actual cinema. Not only that, but it's a cinema I know well and have attended. It was my local when I lived in Dalston in the '90s. And it has a fabulous history as an Art Deco Hackney landmark, including hosting punk gigs in the '70s. Marlene Marder writes in her book about playing there. I can't remember if it was with Kleenex or LiLiPUT.

Anyway, TGP is the taster for Itty Bitty Titty Committee, which I have always felt is a bit of a Riot Grrrl throwback, although released in 2006. So, it'll be a bit of a RG afternoon, with fantastic music and fiery women on the silver screen.

There's loads of other great stuff at Fringe! this year, including art, performance, and plenty of features and shorts! It's pleasing to see work by Barbara Hammer, Rosa von Praunheim and Derek Jarman getting an airing alongside new filmmakers. And I am moderating a closing night Q&A, the world premiere of Julia Ostertag's documentary on Scream Club,  And You Belong.

Once TGP has had its premiere, I can put it back up on Vimeo. Until then, hope to see you in sunny Dalston or thereabouts.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movement in Art: the Art of Movement

On Thursday I visited the National Portrait Gallery for screenings of Dada films connected to the work of Man Ray, who has an exhibit at the NPG (not yet seen). A healthy queue had built up before the doors opened, and it ended up being quite a packed screening. Not surprising as: the films were shown on 16mm and had a live accompaniment by the quartet Collectress.

While I had seen some of the films (including Richter's Rhythmus 21 and Rhythmus 23 and Eggeling's Symphonie Diagonale), I had never seen them with musical accompaniment, let alone a live score. So, I was rather giddy with excitement. In truth, the first few films (see above) didn't seem to really benefit from the score. But things picked up with Moholy-Nagy's gorgeous Lichtspiel Schwarz-Weiss-Grau and Man Ray's La Retour a Raison, even if there were some problems with the projector. We held our breath as a long pause between films (during which the musicians gamely kept playing) was followed by some grinding noises and then.... Silence. Then.... the machine sputtered into life and voila: light and movement on-screen. Such drama.

The programme concluded with two delightfully witty pieces, Richter's Vormittagsspuk, with its dancing hats, and Clair's Entr'Acte. I had seen the former but in this showing was more aware of its use of gun imagery, perhaps a warning of the violence to come in Germany. The concluding film was one I have been keen to see and it didn't disappoint. Watching the assemblage of great and good of the Paris art scene prancing in slo-mo after a runaway hearse gave me a good laugh. If only there were captions to identify the artists!

The series continues with two more programmes to be announced. Here's hoping the later years bring some women filmmakers into focus.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Susan Hiller: Channels

I've been meaning to visit this exhibit since it opened last month, and making light of the snowy air and the rather remote location (I've never been on that side of Mile End Park before), I met up with a classmate to take in this latest show by the veteran artist.

Opening the door to the room, one is confronted with a bank of televisions, which I immediately wanted to approach, as though they played either a blue screen or grey static, there was a babble of voices coming out. But, other visitors were seated on a bench at the back of the room, and it seemed rude to block their view. So, I leaned against the adjacent wall and watched the changes on the screens. Eventually, the voices died down and there was just hum. I sat at the back and waited. After some time, everyone else departed and it was just my classmate and I, and so we debated the meaning of the work: the arrangement of televisions, the voices speaking of near death experiences, even the colours on the screens.

The pattern of the TVs reminded me of really bad 1970s wallpaper, and I wondered if the reference might be apt, as that time was when television seemed to come to the fore as a communication device and promise of a utopian future that never materialised. It's a difficult work to take apart, owing to the number of televisions and changing programming. At various times, many of them are in synch, displaying the waveform of a single voice. But, mostly, they are disparate channels, broadcasting many voices. Quite fascinating, but puzzling.

Channels runs through 14 April at Matt's Gallery.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

LLGFF: Gender Performance

Diane Torr and participants in Man for a Day
These three features are all concerned with gendered behaviour in disparate ways, reflecting Diane Torr's contention that gender is a performance.

Katarina Peters' Man for a Day presents Diane Torr's titular week-long workshop, staged in Berlin with participants cast by the director (this fact emerged in the Q&A), which rather changes how one views it. As drama it's brilliant, with clear narrative arcs as the women proceed through the stages of learning how to be men for a day. But, just before it gets to the big reveal and they take to the streets as men, it cuts to Torr and her daughter visiting Italy, and we never actually see how the women got on. Was this footage not sufficient dramatic? Were the men not able to pass? It's not clear.

What is quite interesting is how some of the participants react to their week-long "training" to be men (which involves stuffing cotton down their trousers, "owning" the floor with their steps, and projecting their voices into the ground). Susann, the beauty queen, takes to being a man so much, she continues in character afterward, even visiting a strip club with one of her new-found friends--and making out together "man on man". Hmmm. Peters acknowledged afterward that the strip club scene was staged, although Susann and chum requested the visit. Another woman, who works in politics, felt she was able to assert herself better and work smarter as a result of the workshop. So, it does seem that the workshops, dependent though they are on presenting very stereotyped masculine behaviour, do allow women to expand their behavioural options, as Torr suggests is her goal.

Unfortunately, very extreme masculine behaviour can easily spill over into violence, as is shown in Taboo Yardies, Selena Blake's documentary on attitudes to the LGBT community in Jamaica. To say it's not very queer-friendly is an understatement: beatings, rapes and everyday abuse are commonplace, and most participants are shown disguised. Interestingly, Blake also interviews many diasporic Jamaicans in New York and finds that many have left Jamaica just to live openly without fear. They love the country, but hate the bigotry. Other Jamaicans who are able to travel also say they love visiting NYC, just so that they can be themselves. There is rather depressing footage of the then-PM of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, comparing the demands for LGBT rights legislation with demands for protection of--wait for it--incest and bestiality. That old trope. And there is truly heartbreaking footage of a disguised Jamaican lesbian describing how she self-harms and just wants to die, so desperate is her situation.

The comments by so-called "experts" are not so illuminating. The sexologists seem locked into very old-fashioned notions of gender, while another speaker makes a passing reference to "300 years of colonialism" as an explanation for why public displays of same-sex affection might enrage Jamaican men. But, this idea is never developed. Nobody can say from where exactly the taboo emerged, or why it remains so fixed, other than tradition and religious affiliation.

On the other side of the gender normative coin, She Male Snails is a curious Swedish art film directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark, in which two "Boy Hag Ladies" take a very long bath together, while one of them recollects how they met and what they mean to each other. This is interspersed with baffling vignettes which mostly take place in the woods and may suggest that true freedom is only found in an enchanted forest of the imagination. Or possibly not.

By the 60-minute mark, I was rather concerned that the protagonists, still bathing, might be getting wrinkled, while there was still no clear narrative or action developing. In the end, nothing much happened, except for a delightful closing scene in which a bunch of gender-queered folk welcomed a newcomer onto their island for a picnic. Why couldn't the rest of the film been like that?

Friday, March 22, 2013

LLGFF: Facing Mirrors

Still from Facing Mirrors
As Facing Mirrors opens, Eddie and a friend are in car that gets cut up in Teheran traffic. Rather than let it go, Eddie pursues the driver and gets stopped by police.

This has severe consequences, as Eddie is using his brother's licence and trying to escape his father's attempts to marry him off to a cousin. That he would get involved in a road rage incident in such circumstances shows his impetuous nature.

As Negar Azarbayjani's film progresses, it becomes clear that Eddie was lured back to Iran as he was in the process of transitioning in Germany. He needs to get back there to complete the process and start living his life. But, his very traditional father can only see him as Adineh, the daughter who needs to be married off to protect family honour. So, Eddie goes on the run with taxi driver Rana, who is driving in secret in order to support her son and get her husband out of jail.

The film cuts from Eddie's to Rana's story, as various family members interfere and many misunderstandings and conflicts ensue. Perhaps the point is to show how gender transgression continues to be proscribed in Iran (even while gender reassignment is allowed). The relationship between Eddie and Rana develops in interesting ways, but I found the attempt to position her as some kind of mother figure to the "difficult child" (there is little difference in age) quite problematic and infantilising. The problem isn't the transsexual. It's society's attitudes.

The shorts programme We Can Be Heroes (alas, not about David Bowie) offered a range of gender-queer shorts, among them the very stylish martial arts drama Lee, the amusing Australian doc Queen of the Desert and the German teen drama Who Am I Happy, which was only marred by the unfortunate inclusion of some god-awful Schlager. Surely, "Helden" would have been a better choice?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

LLGFF: Disunited in Anger

Caroline Azar in She Said Boom
You wait 25 years for a documentary on ACT UP and then two come along at once. Most curious. Viewing the more feted How to Survive a Plague, I had a distinct feeling of deja-vu. And well I might, because some footage, indeed entire scenes, is identical to that seen in United in Anger, which I viewed on DVD earlier in the week. It just goes to show the power of editing, because the two films, while focusing on the same time period (1987- ca 1996) and the same locale (the original ACT UP in New York), go off on radically divergent paths.

While United in Anger (dir Jim Hubbard) takes great pains to show the great width and breadth of actions ACT UP undertook and the emphasis on social justice many of its campaigners pursued, David France's How to Survive moves into the narrow stream of one faction of the group, the Treatment and Data Committee, and its quest to get drugs fast-tracked through the bureaucracy. But, drugs for whom?

In effect, it ends up being the split that devastated the group, between what came to be characterised as the angry HIV-positive white boys and everyone else. I must say that after viewing How to Survive, I felt curiously unmoved. After seeing United in Anger, I felt a great sense of pride: it was a struggle I participated in, albeit across the country in San Francisco, and I felt I had tapped into my activist heritage seeing the archive footage and hearing people describe their reasons for being there and what it meant to them. By contrast How to Survive seemed highly clinical (in both senses of the word) and a bit smug: "We did this", said its small band of protagonists at the end. Neither film really acknowledges the grassroots nature of ACT UP. It was never centralised, but each chapter had its own methods, issues and strategies, which came together brilliantly at the VIth International Conference on AIDS in San Francisco in 1990 (an episode skipped in United and reduced to a conference speech in How to Survive). It laid the groundwork for many other activist movements, including Queer Nation and to some extent Riot Grrrl, as well.

Activism seems to be having a cinematic revival at this festival, and I wonder if that means the community is awaking from its long slumber. I had two more excursions into reminiscence, with the documentaries Lesbiana and She Said Boom. The first is Myriam Fougere's recollection of lesbian separatist culture in the 1970s and 80s: women's land, womyn's festivals, etc. I wondered if there would be arguments afterward in the Q & A but everyone seemed quite respectful and impressed by the film, which featured recent interviews with women Fougere had first met 25 years ago on her travels as an artist along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. So, there was a lot of material from her hometown of Quebec, as well as New York and the southern states. Women's land still exists, but it seems to have become retirement communities for the Second Wave. I don't know whether to be pleased or depressed.

But, to end on a high note, She Said Boom. Swoon. Kevin Hegge has done a fine job of memorialising Toronto's foremost queer punk feminist band, Fifth Column, who emerged alongside the advent of homocore (a movement named by band member GB Jones). I had no idea what a turbulent history the band had, with members coming and going and a prickly relationship between core members Jones and singer Caroline Azar (a marriage proposal was mooted and rejected at some point. Ouch.).

These days, Hegge revealed, the former members of the band don't speak. But their attempts to ally feminist politics with cinematic and artistic points of view, while positioning themselves in the punk scene take some beating. I do believe this day at the festival pretty much covered my twenties.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

LLGFF: Monstrous Passions

Still from Mosquita y Mari
It's often said that teenaged girls experience emotions in such heightened form as to effect complete transformations in their personalities: little angels turn into hormonal monsters. Or so they say.

Well, taking that notion a bit too literally is Bradley Rust Gray, whose Jack and Diane features two would-be lovers who periodically turn into befanged, beclawed monsters and attack each other. Each stage of the couple's relationship features interludes of menacing hairy ectoplash=budding love. Despite this, I found it funny, engaging and offbeat. But, take away the horror element (which is only a clumsily executed metaphor), and it's not nearly so quirky or standout. Still, it certainly beats The Exploding Girl, by the same writer/director, which I found excruciating. Oh, and Kylie Minogue plays a tattooed dyke cougar type who locks lips with the Jack character. Cue "oohs" and "ahs" from the star-struck festival audience.

Not nearly so dramatic, but a bit more dramatically satisfying is Mosquita y Mari, Aurora Guerrero's delightful SoCal Latina growing pains drama in which two girls from opposite sides of the street try to find a middle road for their relationship. Faced with wildly differing expectations of their futures, Yolanda and Mari use their study time to bond, plot their futures and try to work through their growing intimacy, which finds them experiencing emotions they can't quite express to each other. While foregrounding the girls' relationship, Guerrero is also adept at outlining the family pressures that surround them: the struggle of Mari's mother to pay rent and the hopes Yolanda's family are pinning on her academic prowess. A real find.

Meanwhile back in London, Madrid and Berlin, Andrea Esteban and Paula Alamillo are less concerned with lesbian passions than lesbian definitions in Born Naked, jumping from city to city and chatting to their friends and circles about..... Well, that's where I am slightly lost, because I never figured out what this documentary was about: two 20-something lesbians from Madrid? Or their friends and contemporaries? Or an overview of the queer scene in three European cities? Or was it meant to be a more theoretical consideration of what it means to be queer today?

A bit of back story on the two protagonists would have gone a long way to establishing some identification in my mind. Who are they? Why are they living abroad? What is their connection? It looks great, features loads of people and a plethora of locations, and I spotted several familiar faces, but I really am not sure what the film is meant to say.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

LLGFF: Lives of Artists

Still from Salome
It took a few days, but I have finally assembled the constituent parts of what could be called a Salome trilogy: Salome (1923), Lives of Artists (1972), and Salomania (2009). Mind you, I saw them all ass- backward and woefully ignorant of their lineage, but I got there in the end, and what a puzzling journey it was.

Firstly, Salome, Alla Nazimova's wildly camp, stagey and rather extraordinary take on Wilde's play. Verity Susman's live and very contemporary (at one point, she busted out some dance beats and I bopped along, if my neighbours didn't) score jarred in places, but I quite enjoyed the use of blue light onscreen, as well as reading between the lines of what is rumoured to be an all-queer production.

Coming next chronologically is Yvonne Rainer's Lives of Artists, which is many things, but also contains a solo inspired by Nazimova's film. The film's construction is dense and confusing, containing rehearsals, narrated photos, what appears to be a love triangle and at the very end a kind of photo film, inspired by Pabst's Pandora's Box. Rainer appears to be a very process-oriented director, which can be lost at a remove of 40 years. I actually saw this film in the Atrium of the BFI a few years ago, but I think the sound was turned down, and I had no idea what was going on.

So, to Salomania, which I have already reviewed from its showing at the SLG recently. Now the scenes between Wu Tsang and Rainer make a bit more sense, though I am still baffled as to how these rehearsal scenes fit with other bits of the film.

Speaking of baffling feminist film, what to say about Chantal Akerman's La Captive, also screened in retrospective at the LLGFF? Based on Proust, the film peers into a claustrophobic and tightly controlled relationship between Simon and Ariane, which is as dysfunctional as they come. He is voyeuristic, suspicious and can only express sexual desire through dry-humping her sleeping body! After 85 minutes of watching this expressionless, passionless pair, I wanted to throw myself in the ocean that called to Ariane....

Sunday, March 17, 2013

27th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival opening night

Divine in Pink Flamingos
Yes, Yes, I am late getting to this. I did attend opening night, but other things intervened before I could report back. I have now seen a handful of films onscreen and on DVD and thoughts are percolating.

But, back to opening night. I Am Divine promised glamour and drag and certainly delivered onscreen, but I was surprised how few attendees followed suit: I only spotted one bouffant, thankfully not blocking my view. Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as trash diva Divine, provided the subject for Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary, which was crisply delivered in a plethora of archive footage and interviews. Having only a passing knowledge of Divine, I learned much about his life and working relationship with John Waters, the two growing up six doors apart in Baltimore.

My only complaint was that the clips of the films were so brief that one couldn't really form a judgement on either their quality or of Divine's performances, and as the narrative arc was about his desire to be seen as a serious actor, that would have been appreciated. But, as a document of 1970s underground US and queer cinema, it was a delight.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Totally Girl Powered

I do love an anniversary and yesterday, in addition to being International Women's Day, was also the 20th anniversary of an eventful day in my life. See my new film for a full explanation.
13/3 edit Doing some housekeeping, so this video is offline for the moment.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Ahead of International Women's Day on Friday, Female:Pressure has been in touch with the results of its research into gender representation at music festivals. A group of women electronic music producers and performers, Female:Pressure is concerned at the lack of opportunities for female talent to be heard.

To quote their statement:

"The members of the female:pressure network operate within a seemingly progressive electronic music scene and its subcultures. However, when compared with other artistic domains such as literature, we find that women are notoriously under-represented in the realms of contemporary music production and performance. The female:pressure group would therefore like to invite you to take a look at the facts and make the mechanisms of this specific market more transparent. We have looked into statistics regarding festival line-ups, record label releases and the appearance of women in several top 100 lists. The results are shocking and disheartening, even for us deeply involved in the scene. Most festivals – whether financed through public funds or not – clearly do not place any value on ensuring an appropriate ratio of female artists, or diversity in general."

You can find out more info at the addresses below. The statement concludes:

"Let's be frank – enough is enough. female.pressure believes there is no justification for more male-dominated music events. We need – and paying audiences deserve – invigorating and entertaining diversity!"

female:pressure worldwide

Sunday, February 17, 2013

This week: Yeastie Girls premiere

I've been busy in the darkroom, printing printing away some of my ancient negatives in anticipation of a film I would like to make (and which may still happen) on my visit to the UK 20 years ago, which happened to coincide with the Huggy Bear-Bikini Kill tour. I only wrote snippets about it at the time, some of which appeared in my newspaper column and some in an article for Deneuve. But, I have held onto the tape and negatives, hoping I would eventually put something more substantial together.

Well, this Thursday sees a tiny part of that realised, as I have some text and a photo in the Yeastie Girls exhibit on the idea of Riot Grrrl. A puzzling title, as the Yeastie Girlz had nowt to do with Riot Grrrl, but I guess the curators liked the name.

I am given to understand that Vyner Street is the hip new art street in ye old Hackney. Not my typical stomping ground. Nevertheless, it is timely to reconsider Riot Grrrl, and for some of us it never went away anyway!

Printing has been delightful. I have been experimenting with various methods of solarisation, with quite varying results (including one accident with a machine solution), and will be pursuing this in future with other subjects, I think.

The exhibit runs for two weeks.
Yeastie Girls exhibit flyer

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Full of Fire

This new video from The Knife, the first from their forthcoming album, caught my attention, as it's directed by Marit Östberg, a Berlin filmmaker about whom I have written. On first viewing, one can only say, "My, my!" It's super gender-queer and bears further viewing.

Full Of Fire from The Knife on Vimeo.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Twenty Three Percent*

Following my visit to the Sanja Ivekovic exhibits (I didn't blog the Calvert 22 visit, owing to non-art developments that day), I was intrigued to see how this conference would pan out. Rather confusingly, the title is a reference to the pay gap in London, with women's earning falling behind men's by that percentage. But, pay was not the concern of this gathering of the great and good of the art world concerned with feminism.

Instead, it was a range of issues raised by Ivekovic's body of work that caught the attention of the assembled speakers, and the day evolved into a set of wide-ranging papers and panel discussions that ended with a call for revolution! We'll see how that works out.

Incidentally, I had the briefest of chats with Ivekovic and found her to be quite charming and humble. A top comradess.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Tanks

Open now for some six months and subject to intense navel-gazing from those in the know about just what they are meant to accomplish and whom they are meant to represent, The Tanks of Tate Modern have become a must-see destination for the devotee. I am already a fan after a scant two visits. Part of it is the appeal to me of reclaimed industrial architecture. I especially like the odd circular structure which does not appear to contain art but is a draw for those who enjoy atmospheric spaces. When I first ventured there in November, someone was shooting a film there, soaking up the red light. The only drawback is the slightly dusty air, presumably a remnant of the refurbishment.
Light Reading by Lis Rhodes; photo by Val Phoenix

My second visit, this week, was to catch a glimpse of Lis Rhodes' Light Music, set to close tomorrow after a run of several months. The installation was closed for "refurbishment" when I visited in November, and despite the helicopter crash, cold weather and a burgeoning cold, I was determined to see it before it departs, presumably to sit in some store cupboard until someone sees fit to show it again. But will projectors still exist in this dimly glimpsed digital future? Rhodes's two projectors, crossing beams, display film that I believe has been optically printed onto the facing wall. [Here is an explanation of how it is made.] The beams of the two projectors carry out their dance or duel in the centre of the room, daring any spectators to cross their path. When I visited, I realised I was alone in the room and kept a respectful distance until my eyes adjusted and I realised there were seats on the opposite side of the room. Just as I walked through the beam, a flood of visitors entered behind me, and they had no such inhibitions. A group of teens, they danced into the centre of the room and started throwing shapes, filming themselves enacting moves more akin to horror than expanded cinema. It was mildly amusing, if a total mood-killer for Rhodes' more cerebral concerns, her whining optically-produced sound lost in the giggles and high-pitched squeals of the yoof. After awhile, I got annoyed and departed, my shadow spoiling at least one photo.

I am not me... by William Kentridge; photo by Val Phoenix
But my mood brightened appreciably with a return visit to William Kentridge's I Am Not Me, the Horse Is Not Mine, a multi-screen installation sited in what appears to be a kind of roundhouse. My first visit was curtailed because my companion complained of being afraid of the dark, and this one really needs to be seen im dunkel. One feels one is in a kind of nightmarish circus, with jaunty music blaring out, strange animations dancing on various screens, and then out of the corner of one's eye, one sees text from a meeting of the Soviet Central Committee in the 1930s and one knows something more serious is going on. This text comes from the show trial of Bukharin, whose name I dimly recalled from my political science studies of long ago. I rather recalled that things didn't end too well for him, and checking up on it later, I found that, yes, he was executed, his life as with the promise of the revolution and utopia snuffed out by brutality and power struggles. 

Both works close tomorrow, so catch them if you can!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

This weekend

After the new year lull, it's time to get out and about and enjoy the cultural delights that await. To that end....

If you are in London on Friday the 11th, Club des Femmes presents its Pussy Riot fundraiser, featuring films by Hito Steyerl, Carol Morley and Cordelia Swann.

Saturday the 12th is Delia Derbyshire Day, being marked in Manchester with a mini-symposium. The Delia Darlings tour then moves on to Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle.

And finally, the Women's Music and Liberation exhibit concludes its London run this Sunday the 13th, with some guests and film screenings.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Mekas Interview

 Happy New Year!

My interview with Jonas Mekas at the Serpentine Gallery is up now on The Quietus.