Western media representations of the inhabitants of Palestine tend to divide them neatly into two groups, Jews and Arabs, with the occasional vague reference to Christians of unknown origin and denomination. As is usual with such things, the reality is much more complex, with many different groups occupying and overlapping in a highly contested geopolitical and cultural space. Jumana Manna’s film A magical substance flows into me (2015), currently showing at Chisenhale Gallery in London, introduces us to some of these groups through an exploration of their music. Having researched the work of German-Jewish ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann and the pioneering series of broadcasts of Palestinian music he made in the 1930s, Manna sets out to find the communities featured in the broadcasts and re-record their music.
The British Art Show, a national touring exhibition of new art organised by Hayward Touring at London’s South Bank Centre, recently opened its eighth edition at Leeds Art Gallery. Works by 42 UK-based artists were selected or commissioned by curators Anna Conlin and Lydia Yee, and this scale made taking in all that was on offer something of a challenge, especially as many of the works were films of quite some length. As a result, I don’t think I was able to give each and every work the attention it deserved, but here are some of the highlights that stood out.
Zarina Bhimji’s film Jangbar was shot on location in Kenya, at and around various train stations along the Kenya Railway line. In a series of long static shots and slow pans, a series of dilapidated and seemingly abandoned buildings is depicted: train station tickets offices and waiting rooms, signal boxes, houses, and a church. These are interspersed with numerous shots of the surrounding landscape. Bhimji chooses to focus in on details such as the paint peeling off a wooden bench, the broken keys of an old piano, and the bark of a tree. The soundtrack to the film was created separately to the images, and includes both sounds directly related to the image being presented (e.g. wind rustling through trees) and also a whole host of others that have no visible source: voices chattering and hollering, bangs, clatters, and rattles, strains of music, fragmented excerpts of recorded speeches, and so on.
Renée Green is one of my favourite artists, and has been since I saw her solo exhibition Endless Dreams and Water Between at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich back in 2009. Recently I finished reading her book Other Planes of There, which collects a selection of her writings from 1981 to 2010, though most of the essays, articles, exhibition proposals, and other texts date from 1990 onwards. This book documents aspects of Green’s practice with which I was unfamiliar, and also sheds new light on themes and concerns I already associated with her work.
Martin John Callanan’s latest project is a single long, white webpage, in which a vertical list of photographs is presented, all landscape-oriented (width greater than height), with some differences in size and aspect ratio. There is no text other than the heading ‘Martin John Callanan, 2004-2015’, not even alt-text. The filenames indicate that they are arranged in reverse chronological order, newest at the top; metadata is meticulously detailed and uniformly uninformative. When people appear in the images, they are always facing away, engrossed in some activity or looking out of shot. A large proportion of the images have no one in them. Some are striking and beautiful, others are mundane and dull.
I’ve just finished reading Alain Badiou’s Being and Event, a somewhat weighty tome that excited and frustrated me in equal measure. The exciting parts were the numerous philosophical insights that seemed to confirm and extend various vague intuitions I had held for some years, to an extent that no other work of philosophy so far has. The frustrating parts were the ones in which Badiou attempted to demonstrate the logic of these insights using a mathematical language that remained, despite the author’s best efforts and patient encouragement, mostly beyond my ability to grasp.
One evening in late November, as I was walking through the streets of Digbeth with current Grand Union exhibitor Aideen Doran, the artist casually remarked how the area’s architectural profile reminded her of Belfast; specifically, the way in which the hodge-podge of different styles, functions, and levels of upkeep evoked streets damaged by sectarian violence, and then either rebuilt or not, according to various factors. I was struck by this equation, at the level of appearance at least, between the ravages of capitalism and those of armed warfare, though on reflection I don’t really know why I was as surprised as I was. (I’ve since visited Belfast, and the parts I saw reminded me more of the northern mill town in which I grew up than any part of Birmingham I’ve seen, though Doran knows the former city much better than I do.)
AK Dolven’s solo exhibition at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham takes the form of a dialogue of sorts with fellow Norwegian Peder Balke (1804-1887). The two artists share a common interest in the dramatic landscapes of the Arctic north, but while Balke had recourse to a Kantian understanding of the sublime that ultimately reaffirms and grounds the viewing subject, Dolven operates in a context in which such notions no longer ring quite so true — a context of which she is keenly aware. Her contemplation of the figure in a frozen landscape is therefore marked by uncertainty, instability, and disorientation: a ‘becoming-grey’ of everything, all distinctions erased.
Prompted by this article, I recently emailed my Member of Parliament with a few queries regarding the Infrastructure Bill which at time of writing is currently before the UK House of Commons. I have posted the text here for anyone who wishes to ask the same questions of their MP.
“Dear <Member of Parliament>,
My only previous encounter with the work of Marcia Farquhar was an exuberant performance in Margate in 2012, replete with live band and dancing oysters. Larger Than Life, the title of her current show at Birmingham’s Grand Union, therefore struck me as being very appropriate. Installed in the gallery space are two projections of the artist’s head: one is an almost wall-high video of extreme close-ups; the second rests atop a crude mannequin leaning in the corner, slowly turning to grin at visitors. My first impression was one of a performer revelling in the act of performing, almost to the point of narcissism.