On New Year’s Eve I went walking up Crookrise Crag on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park with my dad, who wanted to photograph the sunset. Given that it was the middle of winter and quite a dull day, I was expecting quite a grey and muted landscape. Imagine my surprise, then, upon finding a black earth carpeted with mosses of vivid green and red, and stones covered in multicoloured lichens.
It seems like everyone’s complaining about how awful 2016 was, but on reflection it wasn’t such a bad year for me personally. Here are a few highlights, along with some things I’m looking forward to in 2017.
I really enjoyed They Are Here’s ‘Precarity Centre’ residency at Grand Union in the spring. Although the content of the programme was interesting, it was really the ethos of open participation and conversation that I connected with the most. I hope more artists and curators adopt this approach in 2017.
I was warned in advance of attending Birmingham Dance Network’s annual showcase of new dance work that the audience would be invited to provide written feedback to the artists, but somehow I forgot to bring a pen. Here I’ve attempted to answer the questions asked on the feedback form for each of the six pieces. I lose a degree of anonymity, but, well, should’ve brought a pen.
A few years ago I saw a ‘remix’ of a dance piece by Judson Dance Theater alumna Lucinda Childs at a festival in Amsterdam. The piece was titled ‘Radial Courses’, apparently because the choreographer felt she couldn’t get away with calling it ‘Running in Circles’ — which would’ve been a more accurate description of the dance itself. I was reminded of this piece when watching three members of Birmingham Dance Network performing in response to Donald Rodney’s Psalms, a work of art consisting of a powered wheelchair programmed to move autonomously in circles, spirals, and figures-of-eight, all while avoiding obstacles such as people.
VIVID Projects are currently showing an exhibition of art by Donald Rodney, an artist from Smethwick who pioneered the use of technology in art in the Eighties and Nineties. Rodney suffered from sickle cell anaemia, a condition that would send him in and out of hospital for most of his life, eventually killing him in 1998. The first artwork encountered when entering the gallery, Autoicon, delves into this life history through various records and archival materials related to the artist, surfaced through a digital search interface (a ground-breaking novelty at the time). A film showing interviews of others affected by sickle cell anaemia is also included, with a search interface giving access to their thoughts and experiences in the same manner as the Autoicon.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since I joined a group of mutual strangers in the middle of the concourse at Birmingham New Street station for a walk around Birmingham International Airport. The event formed part of the annual Still Walking festival, and was conceived by Bruno de Wachter, who had already organised walks around five other European airports. Bruno’s idea, looking at the way airports are represented on maps as blank white spaces, was that they are essentially ‘holes’ in the landscape — and how else to describe a hole but to circumnavigate it?
“Give me a boundary. I want to know when I’ve arrived.”
These words end Mitra Saboury’s Dry Wall, a short film in which the artist navigates, through words and crawling, floor-bound movements, an empty, dilapidated warehouse space. They articulate a need, pulsing through many of the films on show in her two-part Birmingham exhibition “Pulling Walls”, to investigate, to explore, to test, and to get to grips, in very literal ways, with the built environment around her, in order to know where she is in her own body.
I don’t think the report that the closest neighbouring star to the Sun has an Earth-sized planet around it has received the attention that it deserves. If all goes well, future timelines of human history will have this, not Brexit or economic crisis or the football transfer news, as its milestone for the early decades of the twenty-first century.