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.
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.
The day after seeing Grace Schwindt’s film at Eastside Projects, I took the slow train to London to catch an exhibition devoted to the choreographic work of Yvonne Rainer at Raven Row. As well as a large number of photos, videos, drawings and texts, a daily schedule of live performances in the gallery presented a rare opportunity to see some seminal dance works by the US artist. The exhibition focused on Rainer’s work from the 1960s and early ’70s, when she was most active as a choreographer; at this time, she and her colleagues in the Judson Dance Theater group were preoccupied with much the same radical critique of power as Schwindt’s interlocutor in West Germany.
When I discovered, on a flying visit before an event elsewhere, that Eastside Projects were screening a film featuring dance, I knew I had to come back for a proper look. The film in question was Grace Schwindt’s Only A Free Individual Can Create A Free Society, a recent commission that takes an interview recorded between Schwindt and a left-wing activist as a kind of score for an elaborately staged choreography performed by eleven dancers. The interview explores the interviewee’s experiences of radical left-wing movements in 1960s and ’70s West Germany, before moving on to how his own views on the nature and practice of freedom have developed and found expression since that time.
Yara El-Sherbini is one of a generation of artists associated with the Live Art scene that blossomed around the middle of the last decade. Her work often humourously adopts forms common to popular culture, such as the pub quiz, the newspaper crossword, and the board game. This has been described by many commentators in terms of taking art out from the art world to where ‘the people’ are to be found, but El-Sherbini’s appropriation of popular forms is in no way driven by the current cultural-political agenda of inclusiveness and accessibility; rather, the games and pastimes are used to channel a sharply intelligent political critique. And perhaps, sometimes, a little frustration, a hint of rage. Take this question from one of her pub quizzes, for example:
There’s two things I love about pine forests, more than anything else: the smell, and the sound. The smell is of a thousand Christmases rolled into one, or being locked in a warehouse full of pine-scented car fresheners — no, fresher, cleaner than that. The sound is of silence. Densely packed trees and meshes of needles make for a very effective acoustic dampening material. Any noises that are heard are clearer, nearer, and stop dead in their tracks, no reverberation time at all.
Katie Paterson’s new work is about time, among other things. Pine trees have been planted in a forest near Oslo; every year for the next hundred years, a text will be written by a different author to be held in trust until the hundred years are up, at which point the trees will be felled and turned into paper for publishing an anthology of the texts.
There seems to be something of a curtain theme going on at Birmingham art space Grand Union at the moment. First there was Maia Conran’s video projection Trace, a loop of swelling and falling lines that was inspired by curtains lifted by a breeze, but in its wall-length proportions came to resemble an abstract breathing architecture. Calming and hypnotic, the work’s expansion out from the wall was aided by the tendency of human perception to infer a three-dimensional space from the most tenuous of cues, a visual habit Conran also explored in her film performance Deep within the mirror we perceive a faint line. Whereas the latter work focused on the uncanniness of the spatial illusion, however, Trace retained the intimacy and the quietness of the situation that inspired it.
I wrote about Jeremy Millar’s film Daphne before, but his new work, showing as part of Whitstable Biennale 2014, feels bolder and more substantial. It features a flat, fog-covered landscape, a bog or fen, clay formations covered in shrubs. The only human presence is that of a solitary man, who sits quietly by a stream or shelters inside a derelict, abandoned concrete building. The film ruminates on the landscape and upon the actions of the man, which range from passive contemplation to patient, focused activity.
Last weekend saw the opening of the 2014 edition of Whitstable Biennale, a festival of new visual art located in a quaint little Kentish coastal town. Having spent a couple of years living in Whitstable, helping out on the production team for the previous two editions of the Biennale, I was much looking forward to exploring this year’s festival as a punter. The main programme for 2014 seems bigger this time round, bolstered as usual by a healthy satellite strand.
While in Oxford for Audiograft festival I had the opportunity to visit Hannah Rickards’ solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford. The show comprises various works made over the past decade related to meteorological phenomena — or rather, to different attempts to describe or otherwise represent experiences of such phenomena. In the film No, there was no red. (2009), people recount experiences of seeing aurorae, sometimes agreeing or disagreeing over the appropriateness or accuracy of particular descriptions, metaphors, or similes; Like sand disappearing or something (2013) is a multichannel audio installation of further (or the same?) attempts to describe and explain similar experiences.