Saturday, May 30, 2015


I made the briefest of visits to this exhibit at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in West London. I arrived with great expectations and left rather bemused at the minimalism of the presentation. The text on the gallery's website is far more revealing than anything in the gallery: no brochure, no captions, no supporting materials were to be seen for Ishiuchi Miyako's documentation of Frida Kahlo's personal belongings, long stored in a bathroom at the painter's home.

The photos could be similarly brushed aside, shorn of their context. But, if you do know anything of Kahlo's extraordinary life, the photos do reveal some stark realities, tenderly realised. The vivid dresses. The chic sunglasses. And the shoes. One image stuck with me, but I can find no reproduction of it: two shoes shot from behind. Bright red. And then one notices that one has a much higher heel, stacked, than the other. These were shoes that must have been custom-made for the artist, to compensate for one of her legs being shorter than the other. I stopped short and stared at this image, struck by its poignancy.

The other notable images include hammer and sickles that seem to have been hand-drawn on her corsets, often sewn into her dresses. To me, these speak of a defiance and a sense of humour: often confined to her bed, Kahlo made her mark on her immediate surroundings and dressed for the stage beyond them. Even her clothes were a canvas.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Taking Flight

A Murmuration; photo: Val Phoenix
Having attended the last day of the Brighton Festival yesterday, I left feeling very tired after a day's walking round but rather charmed by the limited offerings I attended. In truth, it was as much about a day out from London for me, but I still managed to tap into the festival theme of taking flight. Guest-curated by author Ali Smith, the festival wanted visitors to imagine themselves as birds in migration. The bird theme certainly resonated in the exhibits I visited, most notably in A Murmuration, a series of installations at ONCA Gallery. On the ground floor, visitors tucked themselves into a hide and watched videos discussing Second World War surveillance of seabirds. Moving downstairs to the basement, I found myself in an extraordinary crypt- or bunker-like structure arranged with sound recordings. Quite atmospheric. One could also check out artists' archives of notes and slides in an upstairs area.

Across the road was the Agnes Varda installation, Beaches Beaches, which certainly tied in with Brighton's seaside location, if not so much with the avian theme. Varda's array of brightly coloured plastic objects stuck to the wall created a rather camp feel, not so much in keeping with her very serious film footage. The hut in which this played was so crammed with visitors, I couldn't get in, but found myself peeping through a gap in the curtain. Photos adorned the walls, though I was not so sure of the connection of the different elements.

Around the corner in Circus Street was the highpoint of my visit, the multimedia immersive installation, Gauge. Themed around water rather than birds, it was fun, atmospheric and rather thrilling, as I picked my way around a dilapidated indoor market dotted with curious contraptions and enthusiastic visitors--a playground for all ages, I thought. Each gadget was hooked up to microphones, so that visitors' engagements were played out through the speakers, creating an ever-changing soundscape. I got my hands dirty in some mud, just so that I could faintly make out the swishing sounds of the water. A cascade of water suddenly dropped onto a piano, startling everyone in the vicinity. Finding no keyboard on the piano, I plucked on the strings, and was joined by a little boy who tried his hand at making some sounds, as well. An impromptu duet. Steam issued from a small pool and people tried running round it in unison to make a tornado. I wanted to move in there, but left to wander along the beach and enjoy some quiet time before making my way home in the evening, sadly missing out on the enticingly-titled Fleeting, a performance on the beach involving lights and birds.