I haven’t written anything for a while but I felt compelled to do so after bearing witness to the breathtaking performance by Cassils at the National Theatre last night.
Having been a fan of Cassils for a while, initially due to their work Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture, their work using bodybuilding and a passing into a hyper-masculine physique through it. I also had the pleasure of attending a talk by Cassils in New York at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and hearing about the film Inextinguishable Fire I was so excited to see a live aspect of this piece, not entirely understanding how this would materialise.
The performance began with Cassils topless on the stage with clothing paraphernalia around them, there was a good seven minutes or so before the professional looking men in boiler suits began methodically dressing Cassils in wet clothing which look liked thermal layers, as Cassils began to shake it became clear that these garments must be freezing cold. The soundtrack started to become impossible to ignore around the third layer of these wet items as what began as a low drone, similar to a helicopter flying low overheard, took on an even more bass like rumble, adding even more to the tension and feeling that something awful or wonderful was about to happen.
The preparation for the actual self-immolation took about fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity as our heart rates sky rocketed and you could see audience members clutching at each others hands. The whole theatre was undoubtably nervous, is there a possibility this could get out of hand and go wrong? Do our desensitised minds actually want that to happen, for us to be witnesses to a true self-immolation? As the team of three men finish preparing Cassils, with the last smearing of a vaseline looking substance to their face (it definitely can’t have been vaseline as that is flammable!) one the technicians lights a torch, like a wooden staff used to burn witches of old at the stake, and shouts ‘You’re on fire’.
The fire itself only lasted about 14 seconds but the act itself was so powerful that these 14 seconds stretched to an eternity as we all realised we were truly spectators to someone setting their-self on fire, no matter how many safety aspects were involved, this was truly happening, to a live human being, and we just sat and watched.
We were then led haphazardly outside, myself and my friend shakily walking at this point, to the other side of the National Theatre where the film of Inextinguishable Fire was projected on an outside wall. One of our key observations, that highlighted even further the importance to Cassils work and left us with a kind of desperate feeling for the human race, was that the passers by took no notice of the film, a few people would look up but no one stopped to see what was going despite the brightness and intensity of the film, the only people not from the original audience that seemed to be transfixed were small children. It was just such a poignant example of our desensitised selfs, the fact that we do see so much violence and pain inflicted on people and really just don’t care because it isn’t happening to us. It was also interesting to think if the film would’ve had the same effect if I hadn’t seen the live action immolation moments before.
I have never had such a strong reaction to anything in my life! And I think this was the purest and most engaging way to remember, on the apt Sunday of Remembrance. When something is ingrained with so much suffering and history, monks setting themselves on fire in protest, women being persecuted because men fear them, children in agony because of another pointless war, it just cannot fail to change your way of thinking, even in the slightest way. I often think that our generation is the least capable of empathy because in the Western World we are in danger of having no idea or connection to what it feels like to truly suffer and any suffering that happens around us is so disconnected from us in that we only engage with it through a screen, which we can ultimately X out of at any point.
‘When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you’ll shut your eyes. You’ll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you’ll close them to the memory. And then you’ll close your eyes to the facts.’ – Harun Farocki
In the lead up to our departure from Dalston Underground studios (read this interview with the studio founder Calum F Kerr for more information) Photographer Ansell Cizic emailed me and explained that he was in the process of photographing as many artists as possible from this area. Partly inspired by the gentrification and therefore higher rents that are being demanded of artists in this area, Cizic is documenting this potentially dying breed of artist.
Check out the rest of the images here.
©Huw Bartlett 2014
For the final week I invited Actor/Artist/Bodybuilder/Documentary Filmmaker Arnold Pollock to exhibit. His was a unique situation in that he is from Manchester so would be making work from scratch or using whatever he could bring down with him. But this gave Arnold the chance to truly create something in response to the gallery space as initially the space was all he had.
Using his current interest in acting (he’s been on Corrie don’t you know!) and previous experience in documentary film making Arnold created a film that combines his interaction with Brighton and its inhabitants. He accurately describes the film as ‘… the result of pursuing every meaningful coincidence during my stay.’ Most of these coincidences revolved around, and occurred due, to his incredible charm. This charm made it possible for Arnold to swipe personal text messages off of strangers phones which are then used as scripts, acted out with new strangers.
The film also depicts local scenes which perhaps locals would normally overlook, and all pretence is somehow stripped away from whimsical beach scenes such as in the clip below and replaced with an endearing honesty.
It was the perfect way to end the residency. The film left me with a new love for my hometown and showed the true potential of CAC when someone enters it with a blank slate and only their interests as a starting point.
Also screened during the exhibition was Arnold’s documentary of him and friend James walking the Trans Pennine Trail:
© Huw Bartlett 2014
For the second week I invited Spanish photography and moving image artist Nazare Soares to exhibit as I had previously seen examples of her work and loved the experimental realness to her films. I also envisaged that the closeness of the gallery space would compliment moving image work.
Nazare revisited her existing moving image work Hic Non Est, created during a residency in Palestine last year, and reconstructed the work in response to the space. The rooms were set up as a visual diary of her Palestinian memories and experiences and the theme of the tree of life was repeatedly visually present, even in the form of an actual olive tree which transformed the space into an organic part of the show. This is one of the best things about CAC that it has the ability to shape shift with each show, if you brought a tree in to a conventional white cube type gallery it would very much be apparent that it had been deliberately brought in an artwork. At CAC the tree looked as if it could’ve grown out of the ground and perhaps the whole exhibition had come about around the tree.
Image © Jennifer Milarski 2014
” Language has unmistakably made plain that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past,
but rather a medium. It is the medium of that which is experienced, just as the earth is the
medium in which ancient cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must
conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to
the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. For the
”matter itself” is no more than the strata which yield their long-sought secrets only to the most
meticulous investigation. That is to say, they yield those images that, severed from all earlier
associations, reside as treasures in the sober rooms of our later insights”
Walter Benjamin: Excavation and Memory
The above Walter Benjamin quote which Nazare cites as inspiration for this piece is particularly poignant when seeing Hic Non Est shown in the CAC setting. Specifically the idea of the earth being the medium in which ancient cities lie buried, CAC is the medium in which Nazare’s show, along with each weekly Work Programme is buried and each artist is an excavator of that which already exists within the layers of the gallery.
© Huw Bartlett 2014
I have just finished an intense 3 weeks as Curator in Residence at the Community Arts Centre, Brighton. Despite a few suggestions against it I decided to start off the 3 weeks myself and invited two artists, whose work I admired and felt could benefit from the space and bring something different, to each have their own week. As I may have previously explained, the Work Programmes at CAC begin on the Monday with the ceremonious handing over of the keys to the artist and finish with an exhibition on the following Saturday.
I am particularly in love with the space and the freedom and inspiration that it provides and enjoy the thrill on a Saturday night of wondering just how differently people will interpret it. As I had already done a work programme last year (click here to see images from the previous year) I was quite apprehensive about how I would interact with the space this time, I was concerned that I would end up repeating things from last year and that it would pale in comparison. In actual fact I did end up mirroring (literally) certain things from the previous year as it felt like a progression of ideas in each room.
Whereas last year I had a physique bodybuilder performing, this year I performed myself. Following on from the confidence I had gained during the LADA workshop the previous week I knew that it had to be me and although this proved to be an extremely daunting experience, and in the week leading up to the exhibition and I constantly questioned if I was making massive mistake, but no matter how nervous I got I knew that there was no way that I wasn’t going to do it. Painting my nails pink, getting a spray tan, putting on the wig and then finally the bikini I covered up the ‘me’ aspects so that all that was left was my physical form, which could be any successful white body in terms that it is healthy, physically able, well nourished, not obese etc.
The performance itself took place over two hours and the audience where invited in for a one-on-one experience. My boyfriend was the bouncer on the door making sure that people waited their turn and I quite like the connotations that go alongside him being the one who allows others to look at me, there’s a kind of pimp dynamic and once inside the room has red lighting and a golden throne chair for the viewer to sit on, making it almost a peep show or lap dance type environment. The emphasis wasn’t on the sexual however, with farcical exaggerations of grandeur such as the ‘gold’ jewellery I was wearing, the clearly not my own hair blonde bombshell wig, the idea was more towards the failure of sexiness. I don’t have abs, so I had drawn them on with eyebrow pencil, I don’t have large bicep muscles so the bodybuilding poses that I was mimicking were exactly that, a mimicry, a parody or poor copy. The fake smile (which I almost lost quite near to the start due a twitching cheek muscle!) and everything about the performance was essentially fake.
Images © Alice Tenquist
After doing a DIY Workshop last year through the Live Art Development Agency I decided to apply for another workshop this year. The one that really caught my eye was run by performance artists The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein and Martin O’Brien.
Along with fellow participants Katy Baird, Sophie Cullinan, Ria Hartley and Emelía Antonsdóttir Crivello, the idea of the superhero as a catalyst for performance making was explored. My boundaries were well and truly pushed from the get go as we learned hip hop dances, frolicked in washing up liquid (not that I could let go enough to do much frolicking!) and recited Hamlet to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star.
I learnt a lot about myself over the three days, particularly about my attitude to success and failure. The tasks were specifically hard for me as I operate under the assumption that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, that I need to constantly be in control of myself and my surroundings and on some perverse level enjoy constantly telling myself that I am doing it all wrong and failing. The workshop helped me to see how ridiculous these notions are and that the most interesting situations that open up a dialogue revolve around things going wrong, almost reaching their goal but not quite and just generally failing.
The three days were finished off with a photo shoot in which we show-cased our developed superhero characters. Mine was Kyphosisa (Kyphosis being the medical term for a hunch back which I have a mild case of). She represents the acceptance of flaws and failure, showing that when we finally do this great, powerful things can happen.
The whole experience was incredibly mind altering and where I had previously been using other bodies in my work I finally realised that my own body signified the same things, generic success in the sense that it’s able, relatively fit and white. I had previously wanted to train myself to the standard of a bodybuilder and use this point from which to create work and a discourse, however I now realise there is much a more interesting space in which to do this with my body as it is now. This has prompted me to do a performance myself which I will talk about in my next post.
For this years Brighton Digital Festival I took part in Bring Your Own Beamer at The Corn Exchange. I was one of about 20 artists who were selected to have fixed installations at the show whilst in the middle of the venue the usual brining of your own beamer took place.
I exhibited my M E N projection mapped project, initially created for my MA show and shown also at my first solo show at Community Arts Centre. I particularly enjoyed displaying this piece in the Regency surroundings of the corn exchange and opted to display the work under the watchful eye of a giant ornate mirror. Mirroring (ha!) the reflective plinths that I used in my first showing of this piece.