Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whitstable Biennale 2016

This is a bit late, as I attended opening day last Saturday and the festival closes tomorrow. Nevertheless, it's always a pleasure to visit the lovely seaside town of Whitstable and take in its arty offerings, this year with my chum, C.

beach chairs; photo: Val Phoenix
In addition to the cultural pleasures, I was on a mission to visit Mystic Chips, celebrated as something of a touchstone by my friend, B., who couldn't make it this year, though we did attend in 2014. Her memory had converted Mr. Chips to Mystic Chips, and I promised her I would make the pilgrimage. In the end, eating chips on the beach while watching the tide go out and finding various crawly creatures in the retreating surf was a blissful interlude in the trip.

Of the works visited in one full day my highlight was Louise Martin's film, Lossy Ecology, on show at the Museum, which coincidentally was also the site for my 2014 favourite. Martin's elegant, beautifully realised work darts from one subject to another, from an acrobat to flowers on a rostrum, puzzling the viewer but making connections to her subject of embodiment, of interest to me as I am currently working on a project also combining art and science. C. and I agreed we were not clear on the connection to autism but thought it was a gorgeous film. One annoyance: not enough headphones to go around, necessary to hear the ambient soundtrack which added much to the work.

Viewing conditions proved to be something of a theme on this visit. Trish Scott's beach hut installation Medium was an audio work experienced while seated in blackout conditions, except when someone pulled back the curtain and audience members were exposed, blinking, to the outside world, while the would-be listener gaped in astonishment at being in such close proximity to the audience. Many backed out while others pushed in, disturbing the ambience of the event, which was a very clever multi-channel work with a great deal of humour not always present in contemporary art. Scott had contacted numerous mediums to ask what they thought would be her work for the festival. She had then voiced their replies, which were played out through speakers in the space, creating a delightful sound art performance. Meeting Scott later, I learned that she had intended for only three people to be in the hut at one time, to preserve the intimacy.

So, not what the artist intended. But, what did Tessa Lynch intend? We never even got into her performance of Green Belt? The door of the venue rose, the audience stood in anticipation, pushing into the Boatshed. And then we stopped, as the artist sat on the floor and spoke into an under-powered microphone, some kind of tablet in her hand. C. and I looked at each other. "What is she saying? Can you see her?" The performance was scheduled to last 75 minutes, but we left after about five, frustrated at not being able to hear or see anything. It was later suggested to me that she may have deliberately created a frustrating experience. Hmm, I though. Did I miss the point? Possibly.

On the other side of challenging was Marcia Farquhar's jamboree, Rooty Tooty, including Jem Finer on guitar and Dempsey, ex-Dolly Mixture, on vocals. The artist's theme was ice cream and she handed out free samples to various children and held up signs with lyrics, while doing some goofy dancing. Truthfully, I was not clear what the significance of ice cream was, but it was a very enjoyable performance and I became fascinated with some tiny birds flitting about and chirping loudly in the background. Sue Jones, director of the festival, suggested they might be some type of sparrow, possibly hedge sparrows. They contributed greatly to the feelgood factor the day, as did the weather, which was hazy the entire day, sea and sky merging at the horizon, which was a bit disorienting but added to the mysticism of the experience.

Whitstable Biennale continues through 12 June. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


If ever a film rested in the spaces between its hypenated words it's Mustang, a "comedy-drama" according to the reviews I'd seen. Intrigued by the idea of five sisters being the leads, I went to see it today and emerged shattered. It's comedy if the idea of girls being so oppressed they have to resort to locking themselves in their own home is funny. There are moments of levity, but it is a gruelling watch--part family drama, part suspense thriller, much coming of age awkwardness and a lot of gender oppression. I would recommend it, but a trigger warning would not go amiss.

What is most interesting about the film is the time it takes to let the audience get to know the girls, who live with extended relatives somewhere in Turkey 1,000 km from cosmospolitan Istanbul, the dream destination for anyone who doesn't enjoy living a rigidly controlled life where modern comforts are locked away, lest they lead to degeneration. The youngest, Lale, gradually emerges as the audience's eyes and ears and unexpected heroine as she seeks to escape the constrictions. When she slams a door and announces, "We are playing hard to get!", it's hard not to raise a fist in solidarity. A surefooted debut from director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang lingers long in the memory.