A couple of weekends ago I was in Nottingham for Nottdance, a biennial festival of new dance. If I had the time I would write about everything I saw, because it was all brilliant, but things being what they are I’m going to have to focus on what were probably my favourite performances of the weekend, Rosanna Irvine’s Ah Kissing and Odori-Dawns-Dance’s Forest and Clearing.
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.
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.
“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.
The dérive was invented by the Letterist International in the 1950s, so it is said, though its roots go back much further, to Baudelaire’s notion of the flâneur and probably beyond. Pick an orientation, start walking; change direction on an impulse, an intuition, drawn by the name of a street, the shape of a traffic island, the forlornness of a tree. Be led by the city. This practice is central to Laura Oldfield Ford’s work as an artist, and the starting point of her new exhibition at Birmingham artist-run space Grand Union.
I’m in a darkened space, watching actors in another darkened space act out dreams and memories. I hear a conversation between a woman and her therapist: the woman describes a dream in which porcelain plates rain from the sky, at first floating gently like leaves but gradually falling harder and harder, until she is cowering beneath a deluge of porcelain. She also discusses her younger sister, who was violently killed at the age of nine by unnamed ruling forces, and who sometimes still appears to her in her dreams. On screen, I see two girls in what looks, to my untrained eye, like traditional Middle Eastern dress; the older girl reaches out to the younger, who turns away.
An onslaught of images: boats sailing, drifting, floundering; waves surging and crashing; schools of fish and flocks of birds darting and dancing in shapes and patterns that sometimes resemble whales comprised of hundreds of individual gleaming parts; pineapples and coconuts hanging from branches by pieces of string; extremely graphic scenes of whales being slaughtered and butchered, huge slabs of meat the size of breezeblocks being pushed down holes or suspended from crane hooks; people dressed in exquisite period dress, posing almost immobile in a series of tableaus vivantes, dozing and dreaming on picnic rugs, or writing intensely with quill and ink; fat rain drumming on an intricately-decorated silver helmet, making a dull pinging rhythm.
Across town at Grand Union, They Are Here (Harun Morrison and Helen Walker) have established a Precarity Centre with an interdisciplinary programme of talks, videos, performances, and installation exploring the theme of precarity. Half of the gallery space is taken up by an enormous floor-to-ceiling sculpture by Ioanna Pantazopoulou, which resembles a precariously-stacked pile of giant Flumps. Helene Kazan’s stop-frame animation ‘Masking Tape Intervention: Lebanon 1989’ is on display on a tiny tablet screen behind the office, and the artist dropped by last night to deliver a performance lecture that gave further insight into her practice and her perspective on the subject of precarity.
After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, today is a tumultuous mix of rain, hail, high winds, and occasional blue skies. Right now, in the distance beyond the bedroom window, I can see two lines of clouds. The closest is thin and wispy, moving across the rectangular cut-out field of view at some speed; the second, over the edge of the distant hill, is thick and puffy, and moves ponderously (though this apparent difference in speed might just be a trick of perspective). This latter cloudline slopes upwards into peaks, a snowy mountain range crested with yellow winter light.