Hackney in East London is an area which could easily be compared to Brooklyn: it is also Londonâ€™s poorest borough and has become a breeding nest for artist.
I get off the bus and the wind almost knocks me off my feet. Sophie Adams, an artist whom Iâ€™d pitched tonightâ€™s event is following. The streets are silent; everyone is wrapped in heavy winter jackets since a five day blizzard has been sweeping away any hope of summer.
Our destination is an old Inn I thought closed for a long time. The Islam green paint is peeling off and scaffoldings are plugged onto the pubâ€™s faÃ§ade like a fixation ring on a triple fracture. Through the window, there are no more chairs, no tables, the juke box is burst open; panels have been ripped off the wall and the paper is shredded; what was once a warm public house has been lynched and hurled in a corner left in shock. As the door opens Sophie hides behind me.
We are here for Black Metal Chicken an event organised by the band Corporate Psychosis, an apocalyptic noise band funded by Henrik Heinonen with Oscar Gaynor and Matthew Peers. At first it looks like the building is being squatted and these events are not common in London. Since squatting was made a criminal offence in the wake of the 2012 Olympics as part of a right-wing â€œclean-upâ€, it is tough: facing a maximum imprisonment of 6 months and a hefty Â£5.000 ($7600) fine, most places would avoid promoting their cultural stand unless acting for the community. But this is not a squat, itâ€™s a rented space that will be knocked down in a month and turned into flats.
It is colder inside than outside but at least weâ€™re off the freezing wind; booze will be de riguer. Two sofas, a large wooden table and a huge brown chrysalid mounted on the wheeling stem of an office chair are what makes the furniture. An empty television with a mannequinâ€™s face in it is lit by red spotlights; wrapped in the leg of a womanâ€™s tight, little hooks are stringed to tiny engines pulling on the fabric; the face swells. Itâ€™s repelling, edgy and bleak.
â€œMutation and identity is whatâ€™s center to my work, it is noisey, a kind of kitsch overload,â€ tells me Victor Ivanov a tall and broad bleached blond man. â€œWhatâ€™s the plan tonight? What are we meant to see?â€ I bluff. â€œWe donâ€™t knowâ€¦yet,â€ he answers secretly. â€œWe have been asked to be here but we donâ€™t know what we are meant to do. Although we have ideas but we are just waiting for them to be called into action.â€
For the next 20 minutes I will be talking with Ivanov and Andie Macario – another of the artist who wears a luxurious violet wig she combs with her fingers. We discuss London and how much we all struggle to afford a living. Sophie comes back from the corner shop with a bottle of vodka and a mango juice carton.
People slowly arrive and I can tell looking at their faces that I am the only one who knows what is going to happen: risky masochistic performance, violent creative clashes mocking humanity, Noise – but in what order?… The lights are dimmed and candles are lit up. There is no music but the constant hubbub of people conversation as the place is filling up.
Itâ€™s nine pm and it seems that nothing is in the way to start. Artists have mixed with the crowd, and they donâ€™t know what is meant to happen. They seem to be waiting for the curator, Heinonen running around hectically, like a Gerbil in a small cage. In fact itâ€™s all in the role play heâ€™ll later tell me. â€œAre you the ceremony master?â€ I ask him. â€œI got Ivanov and Macario to be present here tonight because I trust what they do and I like the way they work, they are very serious.â€
â€œTonight there is a collection of people who are concerned about what is happening to us. But I wouldnâ€™t call myself a curator. I hate the word curator; my work is more like â€œorganising exhibitionâ€. It starts with a space, place, site and it always has some particularly meaning, narrative, its history and also ideological connotations that comes with the space, which you have to take into account. I donâ€™t work in a studio, I am not into this tradition of gallery space and so on. I think we have to figure out something else, something different from art with a big â€œAâ€.â€
Suddenly, weâ€™re told itâ€™s time to eat and that â€œblack foodâ€ will be served. On the table are smoking breaded lamb hearts, fried calves liver, haggis, roasted aubergine and black bread, all free of charge. It feels like a feast of vanity. “Why Black Metal Chicken?” I askÂ Ivanov. “Because we wanted to stuff speakers into that cooked chicken and play Black Metal through it.”
Then thereâ€™s a move. As about fifteen of us are sat around the table, the Benny Hill tune is hurled out of the speakers from the back of the pub and I see Ivanov wrapping his hands around Macario’s neck, strangling her. Macarioâ€™s face has turned a reddish mauve; she coughs, a touch of white foam forming at the corner of her mouth, gasping for air like a fish out of water. It doesnâ€™t feel real but I can tell by the sombre air behind Ivanovâ€™s mask that he is choking her. Â Everyone has left the table, and stand around the performing couple. Should it be stopped?
â€œWhy are we watching that? Are you all right?â€ erupts Sophie. Macario is about to pass out.
And release. The music stops and a long silence floats thick in the air. It was somewhere sexy but very grotesque and we watched. Till the end. He could have left her dead. We wouldnâ€™t have movedâ€¦
But it was meant to be a performance; something shocking that was played to aggress. Adrenaline had kicked in and it was hard to go back to the food. We wanted more. Suddenly, the whole place roared with discussions.I hear that it was the first time theyâ€™d performed in front of other people. Ivanov is shaking, speaks very fast and occasionally stutters. â€œIt was a good feeling but there were dangers. It was good because nobody knew what was going to happen, then this girl asks â€œare all right darling?â€ It was quite something.â€
He seems hard for him to stay focus. Sophie appears on my back: â€œI thought the timing was good,â€ she says. â€œJust as the audience were eating, helping themselves to food. If I didn’t know it was a performance, I would have been concerned, it relied heavily on our knowledge and trust that this was a performance. I think, they were trying to communicate the uncanny, notions of sadism, the erotic.Â Perhaps, too,Â how vulnerable we are to another person’s decision to harm us?â€
â€œIt was nerve racking,â€ says Macario very slowly. â€œI didnâ€™t know when it was coming. We decided not have control when it was actually done so the curator put on the Benny Hill theme tune and we got cued in.â€ The anticipation as well was quiteâ€¦But I have quite a high tolerance. I am in the fetish theme and I have this character that has a name, she is a performer and she likes to be looked atâ€¦itâ€™s kind of pieced to my art practice; it is a separate theme but I like to do things in public. Throughout my whole life I have been fed this idea that women are baby making machines and need to serve their man; I like to play with the idea of over-performing feminine identity through the use of drag and creating various characters for myself.â€
â€œIs it artistic?â€ I ask.
â€œI am an artist first and it is part of the world of the artist to perform a character as well; or a caricature from themselves. Because thatâ€™s only the way you are able to be free and to be truly yourself. Because itâ€™s okay for an artist to be crazy; itâ€™s acceptable.â€
â€œYou are quite limited, you have quite a lot of boundaries as a person. When youâ€™re an artist, or a performer it gives you this elevated freedom that perhaps you wouldnâ€™t have normally.â€
The second act starts. Heinonen puts on his baby mask and follows destructive sound performance with made up guitar, keg drumming and screams and shouts.
At that point I just wandered where Iâ€™d walked into. I was baffled and very much wandering whether this had any aesthetic sense or any meaning really. It felt as if weâ€™d come to a point of transition, that moment when genre mutates and itâ€™s dirty and we put everything together and, chew, eat and digest; aesthetic was being stretched beyond rupture point to find its limits and ours. Theory and beauty mixed with the bloody guts of feminism, artifice and hyperreality. I saw rituals, erotico-porno art; hazy narratives and no reliable truths.
However, I felt the whole a bit too clumsy. As if playing too much with the shock factor in a way that â€œthis shouldnâ€™t be shown, so here it comes.â€ I saw their approach as a sort of unfocused radiating violence; they don’t speak; they shout. They don’t cuddle; they choke. They recycle the streets, they “attack” morals, social behavior and contracts, all at once and from every direction. A bit like a campaign without program.
Heinonen would later tell me that it started as a joke during a video show of Raymond Petitbon until it evolved into Black Metal Chicken.
The group believes that we are all â€œun-dead corpsesâ€ or â€œhuman being without a subjectâ€ since we live in a world preconditioned for social performance. Comparing liberal democracy to a totalitarian regime like Soviet Communism, Fascism or National Socialism, they engage the crowd to discuss and react within their own socio-political â€œtraumaâ€ in order to redefine themselves.
In a very Adorno-istic way, the group concentrates on cultural criticism and itâ€™s modernity: machine, violence, hyper reality and Post modernism exclusion: we have wandered too far out of the cave and lost our sense of humanity and the best way to re-identify as human beings is to test our morals; our emotions; our senses and nerves, all of what makes us humans.
â€œI am little bit more optimistic,â€ Heinonen cuts. â€œThis is what I try to express, I donâ€™t know if I succeed but our identity, ourselves is passed on to us by our parents and family and our identity is a form of power, limitation and control. Out of this we have to go â€œtoo farâ€ if we are seriously gonna have some form understanding of ourselves. Seeing shocking images on the internet, where people are almost abusing themselves, as hard as I can, I try to see humanity in there. I try to see something beautiful or touching, or something that tells about this person, what is inside him or her. Â See, I take Harmony Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers) work very seriously, I think he manages to do something good out of this crazy jumble of stories, Itâ€™s grotesque but itâ€™s beautiful.
There is a fox in the museum. It is the only thing that moves in the whole space: is this why the fox’s presence is so striking? Because it alone is unpredictable within the camera frame? Because it might do something to the paintings? No one else is present. Nighttime is inferred. The title of this work The NightwatchÂ suggests some kind of threat. Perhaps we are witnessing footage from anÂ apocalypse. More likely, the museum is just closed. The stillness of the room adds to the potency of our fox. It passes like a shadow through the National Portait Gallery â€” the only representative of flesh and blood. It doesn’t notice the fine work hung on its bounding walls. And why should it? It has no relation to these figures, or at least it didn’t before it entered the museum. It stops and pokes its head through what might be a fireplace. Looking for a way outside? When one discovers a mouse in a high rise apartment, one imagines an unknown, or secret, exit. One, perhaps, not built to the human scale. In the case of our fox, the artist is the entrance and the exit. This is the fox of Francis AlÃ¿s â€” the man who ties magnets to his feet and walks around Mexico City collecting metal. He has similarly pushed a giant block of ice around until it melted to a nub the size of a stone. There must have been a crook in his back by then. He also chases tornadoes and has lead a flock of sheep around a city square like a Pied Piper. The Nightwatch Â was one of seven works commissioned by London-based Artangel, wherein AlÃ¿sÂ was asked to make work in response to the city. I saw a striking video at PS1 last summer that was part of this same series, in which AlÃ¿sÂ videoed the English guard marching, at first alone, though the deserted city, and then slowly finding one another, growing every more comfortable as their number grew. The sound of their feet grew louder and louder, echoing through the empty corridors. Yet, I am most interested in his fox at the moment.
The fox articulates a non-human space within the cultural architecture of humanity. It is not simply that the museum was built by human enterprise, but that it functions as a temple of sorts, a house for historical works. The museum is a proper place, full of oil paintings and serious faces, poised with solemn and practiced grace. These works have survivedÂ the test of time. In that respect their presence is partly due to chance, for it is likely some have travelled great distances, across the sea for instance, barring wreckage, flooding, fires and sunlight. They hang now, like static vampires in gold frames, very much preserved. They are representatives of posterity: examples one might find inspiration in. The fox disrupts their solemnity, destabilizing whatever authority they might possess. The animal is so dynamic by comparison, trotting around with speed and self-possession. What is that statistic? In a matter of weeks the jungle would encroach upon New York City if human kind were not present to fend it off. It would take so little time to be gobbled up by trash, vines and rats â€” and then the larger beasts would come to sniff through our bodegas.
Joseph Beuys brought a coyote into a gallery in 1974. The interaction between Beuys and the coyote became a work of art, the performance of a developing relationship. It illustrated the process of equilibreum as it was discovered between a four-legged beast and a human being. Between two cultures, one wild, the other civilized. The coyote, of course, is endemic to American mythology â€” a trickster, a mirror, a scavenger. AlÃ¿s’ fox, on the other hand, is closer to English lore. There are any number of pubs named after it. For Sunday sport, English gentry used to set out on horseback to hunt it. But foxes are also tricksters, though these (apparently) can sometimes climb trees. InÂ Nightwatch, the artist is absent. Instead the fox interacts with the object of art-space; that physical space becomes a conduit for history, not, as in the case with Beuys, the artist and his props.
AlÃ¿sÂ began his project with the idea of using CCTV footage from surveillance cameras all over London. While it is legal for any member of the public to watch the footage, it is illegal to use it for some other purpose. AlÃ¿sÂ adjusted his plan and focused instead on the National Portrait Gallery as a site. They have state of the art surveillance cameras. To test this, to engage our interest in the strangeness of animals, he set a fox called Bandit loose in the museum at night. What is it that we are looking for when we watch this fox? Go here to watch an excerpt from this piece.
Emerging in the late 1960s alongside artists including Richard Long and Gilbert and George, Hamish Fultonâ€™s work began to explore new possibilities for sculpture and for a direct relationship between landscape and art, shifting the focus from the resulting art as an object on to the experience of the landscape. With influences ranging from American Indian culture to the subject of the environment itself, Fulton began to take short walks and take photographs to document the experiences of these walks.
After a monumental journey walking 1,022 miles from John Oâ€™Groats to Lands End Fulton made walking the sole subject of his art claiming to then make â€œonly art resulting from the experience of individual walksâ€. He believes that each walk has a life of its own, and this cannot be rendered into a physical artwork; as the artist says â€œan artwork may be purchased but a walk cannot be soldâ€.
Fulton undertakes these walks by himself and so is the only person to directly experience them; however the images, photographs and text allow viewers to engage with the artistâ€™s experiences.
Born in London in 1946 Hamish Fulton studied at St Martinâ€™s College of Art, 1966-1968, and the Royal College of Art, 1968-1969, both in London and has had numerous solo shows at various institutions, amongst them Tate Britain and Kunst Museum, Basel, and has exhibited internationally including shows in New York, Tokyo and Munich.Â Fultonâ€™s work is also kept by collections ranging from the British Council and the Victoria and Albert Museum, to the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Versailles art show hit by injunction bid
From the wet dreams of the marketing people behind Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami’s show at Versailles aÂ descendant of the man who built the Versailles Palace in France is seeking an injunction to prevent modern works by Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami from being shown there.Â The legal battle is fronted by Sixte Henri de Bourbon-Parme in defence of “respecting the chateau and ancestors.”Â The ultra-conservative royalist has united with a group, the Versailles Defence Coordination, to file the suit, in which they stake a claim for the “right to access to heritage.” Read more here
Prince Charles offers to oversee London architectural planning
This week in “What could possibly go wrong?” Prince Charles offers to take on key architectural planning role in the vaccum created by the quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation that had its funding axed in the comprehensive spending review.Â The offer, announced by the foundation’s chief executive, Hank Dittmar, has been met with dismay by leading modernist architects who fear Prince Charles may use the role to advance his own traditional tastes in design. Read more here
Studio Manager Anne McIlleron talks about her boss William Kentridge
William KentridgeÂ who is the focus of Art:21’s first feature length documentary (recentlyÂ reviewed here and just broadcast on PBS this week) let his Studio Manager Anne McIlleron speak on what looks to be B-roll of the Art:21 documentary, its interesting but I am still of the opinion that William Kentridge wasn’t the best subject in the world to get this kind of treatment, just me I am sure. See more here
Kronos Quartet Interviewed
I cant get enough of Art Babble I admit and Â double so for theÂ Kronos Quartet (which Duncan & I caught in concert last time they were in ChicagoÂ and were amazing) so when you merge the two together it’s PB&J perfection. See More Here
New Yorker cartoonist Leo Cullum died
Leo Cullum, whose cartoons kept readers of The New Yorker laughing for 33 years, has died. He was 68. Read more here
The art world’s own Bernie Madoff
Lawrence SalanderÂ Read more here
Google DemoSlam is previewed
Google has previewed a new site called demoslam built toÂ encourageÂ the creation and rank the best tech demonstrations on the net, part of me has long thought this was something the art world should have created a long time ago, free idea (hey get what you pay for) to whoever has the time and wants to put the work into it, Youtube was built for the Art worldÂ and aÂ projectÂ like this (even though we all wish it looked like Vimeo). Have at it and God bless at this point I just want a life for a while lol.Â Read more here
Artist Tony Fitzpatrick Runs for Mayor of Chicago
Read his facebook postings to follow the story but with Daley stepping down after 21 years the race begins and Tony Fitzpatrick has some fun points to be made. read more when someone makes a website for him?
British Artists Protest 25% Cut in Arts Spending
In hopes of bridging the substantial budget deficit Brittan faces the coalition government isÂ proposingÂ a max 25% cut in Arts spending.Â Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and David Hockney, counter that â€œradical cuts to current levels of arts funding will decimate what has been one of the U.K.â€™s chief success stories over the past 20 years, and will bring an end to the U.K.â€™s reign as a global capital for culture.â€ read more here
Ansel AdamsÂ StoryÂ Continues, With a Showdown
A new gallery showing is opening now with 20 prints â€” hand-developed and signed by Adams himself and guaranteed to be authentic by the Duncan Miller Gallery in West Los Angeles, which is putting on the show, shown side by side with prints from the embattled garage-sale find of Rick Norsigian, the Fresno resident who believes he has find of 65 negatives shot by Adams next to the more famous “Uncle Earl” Brooks, the previously unknown photographer they contend is the man who actually shot the pictures in the Norsigian find. If your a fan of Adams this would be a one day chance to make the decision for yourself. read more here
Interesting Tale of Dan Colen’s Career From Gagosian Gallery Bathroom to Solo Show
Read more here
Ireland Sparks Â ControversyÂ Over Venice Biennale Choices
Emily-Jane Kirwan, a director at the Pace Gallery in New York, has been chosen as a commissioner for the Irish Pavilion in 2011, while Corban Walker, who belongs to the same Manhattan gallery, is Irelandâ€™s official artist in Italy next year. The fight begins in 3….2…..1….. Read more here
Charles Saatchiâ€™s Gift of His Gallery & Many of His Works to BritishÂ GovernmentÂ an Offer too Good to Refuse or Trouble in the Making?
Charles Saatchi announced in July that he was in talks with theÂ governmentÂ to create a Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) for London. Turning over his Saatchi Gallery and 200 works of art worth a reported Â£25m to the British public. The offer which has been reported as a suprise to the goverment is now raising concerns about financial stability. Read more here
Danish art pranksters mock Spainâ€™s royal family
The provocative Danish artist group Surrend have placed posters around Barcelona that mock Spainâ€™s censorship laws as applied to the Spanish royal family. The posters depict several drawings that have been made unrecognisable by being painted over. A slogan at the top of each poster says: â€œThings we are not allowed to drawâ€. Next to each obliterated image is a sentence such as â€œThe Royal Family having a lunch napâ€ and â€œThe Royal Family having sexâ€. Read more here
Chicago Typefaces, Unlike Anywhere Else
The NPR picture show name dropped a blog that showcases the comercial typefaces that pepper Chicago, both new and old, and give the city some of it’s unique character. I am a bit biased but having visited/worked/lived many other places I can agree that when it comes to Architecture & public graphics Chicago is on a level of it’s own especially in the States. read more here