Bloomsbury Foyer With Ken Done Prints (2008)

Tuesday 18 November 2008

(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)

New photos, new music

Thursday 30 October 2008

I’ve got the pictures back from the Hobart incarnation of the Redrawing show, and uploaded a new mp3.

In addition to the main elements of String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta) installed in Melbourne, the Hobart version included an extra video, showing my live performance of the piece at the Melbourne exhibition.

I’ve also uploaded a spiffy new recording of the String Quartet, a 23-minute mp3 which gives a good idea of how the thing sounds in its present state.

The main projection and automated version of the audio still played live in the gallery, while punters could also listen to the recorded, human performance over headphones. Two similar but different performances of the music could be heard at once, thus adding a further layer of duplication and imitation to the work.

Wyndham Lewis: Portraits

Wednesday 15 October 2008

It’s just about to close, so I finally got around to seeing the “Wyndham Lewis: Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. A quick walk through the permanent collection to find the show reminded me why I usually avoid the Gallery: wall after wall of British slebs-du-jour (wow, a photo of Kate Moss!) depicted in portraits alternately fussy and simplistic. The relative sizes of the print on the title cards gives away that the subject is more important than the artist.
In the case of Lewis, we have the unusual situation of artist and sitter frequently being equals. Fortunately, a survey of Lewis’ art restricted to portriature still includes many of his greatest paintings and drawings, and they’re well served by this exhibition. The punter is greeted at the entrance by the striking self-portrait Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro, confronting the viewer in his frequently adopted persona of the antagonist, the provocateur, the Enemy. It looks cubist at first glance, but no cubist of the time would have accepted it. The stark colouring, aggressive composition, and grotesque characterisation stamp it with Lewis’ unique style of Vorticism.
Laura Cummings’ review of the show concludes, “No matter how much one admires these portraits, they don’t make one curious about the sitters so much as Lewis himself.” Lewis shunned the contemporary enthusiasm for psychoanalysis; knowing that art had no ‘inside’, he wrote “the lines and masses of a statue are its soul”. He believed in character, not personality. Examining prehistoric cave paintings in the south of France, he observed that “the artist goes back to the fish.”
Lewis’ portraits go back at least as far as Heraclitus’ statement that character is fate. His sitters wear the masks they have chosen to present to the public, and bear the burdens the masks impose upon them. Ezra Pound (above) presents himself as the still point at the centre of a cultural whirlwind; the background accoutrements, presented as conventially as the symbolic props that have littered portraits since the Renaissance to date, depict a confluence of historical forces that would soon swallow him up. More telling is the portrait of T.S. Eliot, his cultivated image of the anonymous, respectable bank clerk hemmed in by the organic scrollwork that surrounds him.
The final room of the exhibition includes several excellent portraits of Lewis’ wife Gladys “Froanna” Hoskins, in particular the haunting Red Portrait. The scene of intimate domesticity becomes a forbidding icon; Lewis never painted another face so expressive and so insubstantial.
Equally talented as painter and as writer, Wyndham Lewis is still grievously underrated as either. Despite his numerous books referred to and displayed in the exhibition, the large gallery shop had only a small corner of one table devoted to Lewis. Besides the catalogue and a welcome CD of Lewis reading from his works, the only two books available was a collection of his poetry and plays, and an eight year-old edition of The Childermass, quite possibly his most difficult novel. Everything else is out of print.
(Incidentally, the colours in the photographs on the NPG website are pretty washed out compared to the originals.)

The Weekend that Wasn’t

Monday 15 September 2008

By now I should have just come home tired and hungover from a weekend across the channel catching up with some friends at Happy New Ears in the bustling Belgian burg of Kortrijk – or Courtrai, depending on which Belgian you ask.
Except, I had my ticket booked on the Eurostar on Friday morning. So instead I spent the last couple of days sleeping, drinking alone (whoopee.) and sorting through a small pile of CD-Rs. One of these contained some photos from a trip to Berlin in 2006, which are now on Flickr.
A bunch of these photos are of the sound/painting/lighting installation psc by Michael Graeve, who was at Happy New Ears. Ah well. More sad stories as the week progresses.

2000 Guitar Solos

Monday 25 August 2008

I love and hate the guitar. It’s the only instrument I more-or-less know how to play, and I’ve always wanted to write music for it. However, years of playing it left me jaded with its possibilities and feeling constrained by the limitations of my technique.
Attempts to apply other compositional techniques I’ve used on the instrument produced results I found too dull to pursue. Trying out my extended free improvisation chops seemed futile, given the plethora of far more talented and imaginative guitarists out there. For a while I gave up on the instrument, but found that the need to compose for guitar wouldn’t go away.
2000 Guitar Solos is an extensive series of compositions in progress, that aims to map comprehensively one section of the guitar fretboard: a kind of ‘Return To Zero’ before approaching the instrument once again with any creative intention. In writing these pieces I am learning to embrace the guitar’s inherent qualities while at the same time crushing its accumulated rhetoric and mystique.
The pieces’ conscious antecedents are the exhaustive permutational compositions of Tom Johnson, Tom Phillips‘ paintings of paint companies’ colour catalogues, and John Cage‘s act of making a detailed drawing of a tape recorder he was about to work with for the first time.

The series acquired the name 2000 Guitar Solos because it was begun in that portentous year, 2000, but as the compositional process became more systematised I decided to aim for a total of 2,000 pieces. In fact, I have now sketched 2,556 solos, and from time to time return to the series to write out another batch of neat, final versions.
The beginning of the series, some 120 solos, was exhibited at TCB Art Inc. in Melbourne in 2003. Their simple, linear, obsessive nature makes them as suitable for display as ‘visual music’ as they are unprepossessing for public performance.
In addition to the multiple sheets of music, two other elements made the exhibition. On the wall facing the solos was a large poster printed with The Obsolete Guitar manifesto. Also in the exhibition space was a chair and a guitar, ready for use.
To help promote the show I made up hundreds of small, photocopied flyers, which took advantage of some other joker called Ben Harper who happened to be touring through town at about the same time.

Whenever 2000 Guitar Solos, or any part from it, is exhibited there should always be a guitar and a chair present with the sheet music to reassure punters that these pieces can, nay, should be played.
Whenever possible, I would come into the gallery for an hour or so, pull the chair up to a random section of wall and start to play, as an adjunct to and extension of the visual display. These appearences were never announced in advance, so that it was a matter of chance whether or not visiting punters could hear as well as see the work.
Like I said, the music is unprepossessing, and these somewhat furtive performances reflected the internalised nature of the musical results.

Beautiful Waste

Wednesday 30 July 2008

In a splendid act of procrastination, I’ve been flipping through the photos I took while in Melbourne I found that I spent a lot of time taking pictures of old cars around the place. You don’t see many interesting heaps around Britain, what with the annual testing and British cars having all pretty much rusted away or otherwise fallen to bits. Anyway, I went slightly OCD and uploaded them all to Flickr.

New on the Art pages

Thursday 17 July 2008

Two of my art exhibitions now have pages up on the main site, with some background information about the shows and a few photos to pretty it all up.
Redrawing: String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta): All about the audiovisual installation I made for the Redrawing exhibition last month. Who’d have thought so much could be said about a blank screen and a D chord?
Mock Tudor No.2 (Why doesn’t someone get him a Pepsi?): “Every once in a while Don would scream at his mother ‘Sue! Get me a Pepsi!’ There was nothing else to do in Lancaster.” My first live sound installation, generating feedback with two loudspeakers and a microphone. Presented at Bus gallery in 2002.

Pavilion Plot Thickens

Sunday 29 June 2008

Two months after the mystery pavilion appeared in Bedford Square, another one has started to spring up on the next corner. The first one, the AADRL TEN Pavilion, finally has a sign posted beside it to explain what it is. This new one will probably also take a few months to explain its existence.

A few pics of the construction site are up on Flickr. Meanwhile, one of the two warning signs stood beside the first pavilion has been disappeared, and the other is fading to an interesting colour. Well after their job was finished, the unemployed barrier poles are still hanging around like Ken Livingstone (TOPICAL HUMOUR!)

Meet Seixya

Tuesday 24 June 2008

String Quartet No.2: The Installing

Saturday 21 June 2008

I’ve put up some photos of the Redrawing show (plug!). This is the first installation I’ve done where I didn’t have to provide all the material, equipment, logistics, and labour myself – thanks to the curator and gallery staff of two.
The Spare Room, a small, separate room inside Project Space designed for video work, seemed like the natural location for my work in the show. This way the work had an immersive environment of its own, and could still interact with the other artists’ work in the main room by being clearly audible through out the space – and in the building foyer, too. I was assured the other artists didn’t mind this.

The room has two speakers set into the ceiling, so it was relatively simple to set up the work without an excess of intrusive equipment. The speakers don’t have a great sound quality and are getting a bit clapped-out, but the loud, consistent sound of the work helps to disguise these defects.
Because String Quartet No.2 originated as an attempt to emulate Phill Niblock, I thought it was only appropriate to add a video component to the work for exhibition purposes. Fiona Macdonald kindly made me a video of a blank, white screen, which plays on a continuous loop in the room while my cheap Malaysian laptop performs the music. This way the installation further emphasises the structural connection to Niblock’s work, and its substantial differences.
Visitors familiar with Niblock’s music have all commented that my piece isn’t nearly loud or grating enough. That’s partly because it’s pretty much as loud as those speakers in the ceiling can go but as I said, I knew that my piece would inevitably end up sounding different to a Niblock piece, even when imitating him as closely as I could. The volume is a flexible matter, in any case.

Mock Tudor No.2 (Why doesn’t someone get him a Pepsi?)

Saturday 7 June 2008

Now that my work is on display in the Redrawing exhibition (plug!) I’ve started a new page about my art exhibitions on the main website.
I’ve mentioned before that:
Rather than try to be original, I have worked for some time with the idea that each of my works should be consciously modelled on another composer’s works or techniques, and so instead of attempting an original work that unwittingly imitates an older one, I might create an imitative work which, in its divergences from the model, allows some genuine originality to emerge.

This has already happened with String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta), which is on show at Redrawing, where people have been remarking on the differences between my work and the original it seeks to imitate, as much as on the similarities.
I recently discussed how David Tudor was forced by material circumstances to recompose his live electronic work Microphone. In 2002 I made my own homage to Tudor’s work, in an installation at Bus gallery in Melbourne.
I wanted to try to create for myself, using only the sound equipment I had readily to hand, a live sound installation that worked along the same principles as Microphone. The sound would have to be generated live, caused by feedback between two loudspeakers and a microphone. Furthermore, the sound had to continually change, without falling into stasis or obvious, repetitive patterns.

Mock Tudor No.2 (Why doesn’t someone get him a Pepsi?) differed from Tudor’s piece by producing a constant stream of sound, which produced varying patterns by splitting the signal from the microphone into two streams, each of which were treated to a series of interacting processes such as flanging, phasing, modulation. The two different types of rather broken loudspeaker acted as filters, as did the cheap microphone used, which selectively picked up sounds to recombine into the feedback signal. Any sounds made in the room were quickly subsumed into the feedback hum.
Mock Tudor No.2 was another work of radical amateurism, producing distortion away from a pre-existing model by trying to copy it as closely as possible. The piece functioned as a tribute both to Tudor’s compositional thinking, and his general, practical approach to his work.

Australia decides that 15 year olds may look at other 15 year olds after all

Friday 6 June 2008

As was to be expected, I’ve been too preoccupied to update anything since arriving in Melbourne for the show (plug!); but now I’m sitting next to a guy looking up Lesbian Upskirt Spanking Parties on YouTube in the back of an IGA in Swanston Street which doesn’t seem to bother charging anyone using the computers.
Also to be expected, a host of pundits have crawled out of the woodwork to miss the point completely about that whole Bill Henson tizzy. Their main point of arfument: yes, we know he’s a child pornographer, but how much porn is too much? Pity they all forgot to think about whether or not Henson’s photographs were pornographic in the first place.

The Classifications Board has now declared the picture “mild” and safe for many children…. Considered one of the most confronting in the Henson exhibition, the picture came to the board for classification when it was discovered in a blog discussing pornography and the sexualisation of children. But the classifiers found the “image of breast nudity … creates a viewing impact that is mild and justified by context … and is not sexualised to any degree.”

“I don’t know what that means but I think there is a suggestion of indecency about it.”

Thursday 29 May 2008

Last weekend in London Tate Modern hosted photographer Nan Goldin’s slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. A brief writeup in The Guardian mentions, in passing:
In many ways, [singer/songwriter Patrick] Wolf’s input actually freshened up some work which has become slightly over-familiar, and gave extra emotional heft to shots that no longer seem so shocking or transgressive (though Goldin defiantly kept in the picture of two young girls that caused huge controversy last year).

Comments from readers are mostly affably jaded:
Shocking in 1983 perhaps but with the rise and rise of fetishy sex, drag queens, transexuals and Bondage/S&M fans is commonplace imagery today. Still good art though. Perhaps we do need a new Mary Whitehouse, as many Daily Mail readers are suggesting, if only to remind us how much fun decadence is one you de-commercialise it.

The “huge controversy” mentioned was when police seized a Goldin photograph from the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead on suspicion that it was child pornography.
In a few days I’ll be back in Melbourne for my upcoming show (plug!), but the climate there is a bit chilly for artists right now, and not just because of the weather. Right now, Australian Federal Police are investigating the National Gallery of Australia as part of what appears to be a self-appointed crusade against “immoral” art, after New South Wales police raided a Sydney gallery’s exhibition of photographs by Bill Henson. Henson and the gallery owners are being accused by police, politicians and various lobby groups of being child pornographers, and have been threatened with criminal prosecution.
Until last week, there had never been a complaint about Henson’s photographs during his 30-year career, despite it being shown all over Australia and the world, including the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim, and best of all, forming part of the permanent collection of the High Court of Australia.
Commentary in Britain has been pretty much as you would expect:
This isn’t the first time Australia’s cultural immaturity has been revealed in all it’s ugliness, and it won’t be the last…. Freedom of expression has a long way to go in the provinces.

To show its maturity, the British government has just announced its plan to “toughen up” its child pornogrpahy laws to include the outlawing of drawings of child abuse:
When the existing ban on photographic images was enacted, the argument in principle was that real children are exploited and harmed to make these images, which is true. That entire philosophical plank on which the legislation rested has now been kicked casually away. If you, alone in your room, put pencil to paper and draw – for your eyes only – an obscene doodle involving a child, you will invite a prison term of up to three years. There is real scope for vindictive citizens to ransack desks or bins and call the police.

(The title quote comes, of course, from one of the most influential literary critics, Detective Vogelsang of the South Australian Police Force.)

The Secret History of Peckham

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Except for an unwitting pass round the back of one of the sites on a drunken midnight ramble in February, there’s a major London pilgrimage I still haven’t done, even though I’m living right in its backyard. Since 1973 artist and Peckham native Tom Phillips has been working on 20 Sites n Years, one of the great works of rephotography:
Every year on or around the same day (24th May – 2nd June) at the same time of day and from the same position a photograph is taken at each of the twenty locations on this map which is based on a circle of half a mile radius drawn around the place (Site 1: 102 Grove Park SE15) where the project was devised. It is hoped that this process will be carried on into the future and beyond the deviser’s death for as long as the possibility of continuing and the will to undertake the task persist.

As someone who has attempted a similar undertaking – much smaller and less thorough, but based on the same principle – I understand the fascination these projects can exert. The city is revealed as a living thing, continually changing, but with each element changing at its own pace. A temporary sign can endure for years, while the building behind it vanishes. Then again, some scenes will suddenly travel backwards in time, reverting after a succession of revisions to way they were some years earlier after.

Phillips has uploaded all the photographs from the past 35 years on his website, with his own analysis and discussion of the history of each site (although these written observations end at 1992, the 20th anniversary). [amazing late-night observation eaten by dodgy web browser]

Robert Rauschenberg

Tuesday 13 May 2008

There is in Rauschenberg, between him and what he picks up to use, the quality of an encounter. For the first time.
Having made the empty canvases (A canvas is never empty.), Rauschenberg became the giver of gifts. Gifts, unexpected and unnecessary, are ways of saying Yes to how it is, a holiday. The gifts he gives are not picked up in distant lands but are things we already have… and so we are converted to the enjoyment of our possessions. Converted from what? From wanting what we don’t have, art as a pained struggle.
To Whom It May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later.
– John Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, And His Work” (1961).