Monday, February 01, 2010

Various Types of Loy,
Skulls For The Cracking Of.


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  • Thursday, June 12, 2008

    ART: The Research Group (NCAD Media Graduate Show, meeting, June 2008)

    Hello...everybody...here is the text of what i was thinking of saying at the conference / meeting to mark the Graduate show of NCAD's Fine Art: Media Degree Show. Check against delivery, as they say.

    What i was hoping to do was to say a few words about what i saw in the show, and then as quickly as possible get to the questions and general discussion. I hope to say something at least about the work of everybody who is part of the group, which is everybody who is graduating from Media this year.

    I hope, then, that everybody will have some response to the terrible misunderstandings of their work that I will accidentally perform. And maybe even have some more general observations to make.
    This struck me as something that was novel for me, to perform this kind of review of a show in the presence of people who can fight back, rather than back at home, safely hiding behind my own screen.

    I hope you will forgive me if speaking in this forum means i'm not as tentative as i could be in print.

    Forgive me too if i don't say "seems" enough. But, as i say, there is plenty of time set aside to rebut and rebuke.

    And if you'd like to start that process while im speaking, please don't feel you need to wait.

    A word first about what might be the most contentious area, that is ideas that seem to unite the work. I hope doing this doesn't tend to underplay the individuality of people's work, but all the same might say something about what effects and occupies an artist choosing to work in the most experimental, contended area of contemporary production.

    Many of the works channel something which behaves like a perennial in the digital garden: a certain anxiety about the future of the body, its viability in a world of data, code and network topologies.

    I saw, or thought I saw, several times a sense of worry, of preoccupation, with what is to become of this complement, this surplus, this thing that we can't get rid of.

    Or can we get rid -- or in the more utopian formulation -- escape this incarnation and still have something, still be a something, stil be a subject? Or is the world of screens, the world of networks too impossibly thin, or too impossibly policed, or too impossibly owned for any 'us' to slip inside?

    And, of course, is the discourse in which this is all expressed destined to be energised by desire or panic.

    And if panic, which of those twin figures of contemporary fear does our interaction with these media represent: a terrorist attack or a virus. And are we the ever-mutating virus, ready to infect, or the terrorists ready to outrage the otherwise Edenic space on the other side of the screen.

    I'm thinking there of David Chandler's installation, which dices and remixes the city of Dublin we think we know, describing subterranean passages which collapse familiar geography into a series of apparently playable levels. But as that happens, it leaves the human subject in a situation something akin to a pinball (an artefact that reappears elsewhere). But a pinball, it might seem, in a game of cards. That is, something that the rules fail to envisage.

    The idea of screen as a mirror focuses this idea once more: as though we have already redistributed the surplus and lodged that other us inside the machine, the network, an idea which haunts Andrew McGill Coggin's treasure hunt, a hot pursuit of any atavistic magic inhabiting new media, as we watch our onscreen bodies dissolve and turn inside out, replacing externalities with interiors, an action which prefigures the sudden collapse of distinction between the here and the there.

    A similar figure of externalised internals appears in Cian Fanning installation, in which a kind of autopsy of the television set is performed. The disorientation here comes from the fact that the television, the machine, is apparently, conducting its own autopsy, using the transubstantiation of text-to-speech to speak its bodies, to describe its own systems of systems out loud, in a kind of masturbatory diode porn.

    And speaking off diode porn, in Ruth Chadwick's dream chamber (which calls to mind Michel Gondry's Science of Sleep) the solid world itself proves to be every bit as insubstantial as the virtual world, a skin on which functionless organs have been tatooed. But the image that presides over this fantasy office space, the most embodied aspect, is a pin up of a tangle of libidinally unshielded twisted pairs.

    Next door, Dillon Joyce uses the younger technology of video to perform partial -- and temporary -- erasures of an older one: that of paint on canvas stretcher, igniting abstract gestural work with the flickering movement of light itself.

    Liam Ward and Philip Kennedy have created work that feeds on the forms of contemporary mass media, Ward's research leads him to ride shotgun into the night, hitching a lift on the death drive, while Philip Kennedy creates a kind of art world science fiction, imagining not flying cars and engineered humans, but instead an art career that spans -- almost despondently -- into the future perfect. Engineered humans do make an appearance in Michael Lathrop's work, which blocks off the exits by which we might escape our responsibilities in a world of exploitation, graphically implicating the viewer in the machinery of instumentalisation.

    Phoebe Dick closes the gap even more, in a tiny image which loomed, for me, over the exhibition. It's an image of a human in the form of a circuit, its brain a tiny diode awaiting current. It's an image of massive change reduced in scale until the detail of foreboding blurs into charm and humour. As a counterbalance to the levity of Phoebe Dick's engagement, we might add Enda McNally's apocalyptically pessimistic approach, which refuses even dystopia as somehow too idealistic, taking solace in mark-making as an activity that threatens to reunite the ages, as though the US promise to "bomb Pakistan back into the stone age" might be some sort of desirable form of time travel.

    It also calls to mind Bourriaud's insight, that fruitful thinking often comes "from artists who worked on the basis of possibilities offered by new tools, but without representing them as techniques" -- which is maybe something we will return to in a couple of minutes.

    Sinead McGuinness and Leigh San Juan use the diorama and the toy theatre respectively as analogues, or perhaps prototypes of monitors, effective for exploring relationships with screen images. Both coincidentally also conceive the domestic interior itself as part of thought chain. Leigh San Juan reconfigures toy theatres to reframe a world, to take it home and place it on the mantelpiece of memory. Sinead McGuinness is hacking the eye, seeing how it can be made to fail creatively in task of discerning the world about it, in the interests perhaps, of seeing if it is indeed the eye that fails, or the world. Her's is a process that also reclaims photographic space as a virtual world.

    Sharon Phelan watches as patterns form, wondering why they do, taking note of the steps in what Andrew Pickering calls "the dance of agency" in complex work that quickly leaves behind as unimportant all questions of media, in favour of an engagement with emergent content. It is a work which is occupied with rethinking the nature/culture divide in ways that might reformulate many of the anxious questions that we keep asking about the relationship of one to another.

    On the face of it, Fintan Ryan does pretty much the opposite. he uses performance to activate the projected screen - activate in the sense of throwing the switch on a machine we already thought was running, but which proves to have been inert all the time. Content here dwells in the act of driving content out, an activity that happens all around us, though is seldom so usefully acknowledge. But as that happens, as content is evacuated, another richness floods in. Content, after all, is not susceptible to extinction.

    The title of Sarah Lawson's thesis -- which i look forward to reading -- The Obsolete Body, crystallises for me many of the ideas that seemed to emerge in one form or another from many of the works here.

    Animation is a curious word. it represents a technique by which life is breathed into the undead, the never lived, turning objects into subjects. And as such "Animation" may, i think, propose (as it does here) a powerful and acute fashion of observing fears and aspirations, involved as we busy ourselves softening the boundaries between the human and the non-human.

    Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    REVIEW: Love Letters (Tivoli Theatre, Dublin)

    What is this thing called celebrity, that even crumbs of which can turn a play into an event, a few pages of script into a going concern?

    The shtick in AR Gurney's Love Letters, a play written in the form of a lifelong exchange of letters between two posh Yanks, is that the show has been built to allow big name stars slot into it easily, since the action requires them to be "on the book" -- reading out loud the 'love letters.'

    Preseto! Gone is the irksome need to commit the thing to memory before it's time to catch that first class flight outta here.

    That, at least, is one view of Love Letters, a just-add-celebrities drama along the lines of The Condemned, or even earlier, The Vagina Monologues. But the truth is – and it's not a big secret – there is a bit more to acting, and to making a show, than knowing the words.

    David Soul plays Andy, a studious boy who grows into a stolid Senator, while Jerry Hall slips into the role of Melissa, a restless, Paris Hiltonish gal, given to booze and 'necking'. All of this we glean from their letters, for they rarely meet.

    The performances are perfectly adequate – anything more, it feels, would be superfluous. And while Soul initially seems a little overawed by the occasion, even that hiccup can make sense here. A good laugh from the audience, and soon he and Hall hit a storytelling stride that gains momentum as the evening progresses.

    Earlier dramas have often used this 'on the book' form as a way of rounding up celebrity names to generate publicity for social causes. But Love Letters has no real political axe to grind. It is, finally, a simple love story in a broadly humanistic vein, the strongest message of which is that the rich have feelings too. A point with which the celebs, presumably, enjoy some sympathy.

    But none of that really diminishes this superbly-designed piece of writing, utterly without flab, in which the gentle story flows so gracefully between the lines that the sharp concept fades into the background, leaving a clear and emotionally resonant tale.

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    Sunday, March 30, 2008

    Circo del Sombra circle The Abbey

    It had to happen. There have been so many 'new circus' companies through Ireland lately, eventually somebody was going to think up the daring wheeze of calling their company a 'traditional' circus. And that is exactly what next month's visitors to the Abbey, Circo de la Sombra have done. Around these parts, of course, you have to be pretty precise about what you call "traditional". Don't look for any bears here.

    "Circus arts are expanding really fast since the past 20 years," says Johnny Torres. "Today we can find all kind of types of shows involving circus skills. Every circus has his own magic, from the most little and simple to the most complex. Our desire is to build a bridge between traditional and contemporary circus. An homage to the travelling women and men bringing illusion everywhere."

    Although Torres sees Circo de la Sombra as following in the line of The Traditional Circus, founded by Philip Astely, in England in the 18th century, Sombra's style uses strictly human performers, displaying some of the traditional techniques of the game, from acrobatics and trapeze, to rolla-bola (in which a somebody balances on a board which is balancing on cylinder), and the German wheel (a big wheel shaped frame, which one or more people can get inside and spin across the floor).

    Circo de la Sombra was formed three years ago from several smaller outfits who had been plying their trades around Europe. "We met in Geneva and Madrid training at the circus schools. We were basically three very different and particular duets at the same level of understanding, the same tune. We spent a year and a half meeting and doing acrobatics, then decided to jump together into the ring."

    What the company has to offer, according to Torres, is an approach to making performances which is very intimate and human scaled. It is a style which evokes a golden age that perhaps never quite was, but which people are feeling a lack. The best term to describe that might be, then, nostalgic.

    "Yes, we call our show nostalgic. We think we can make people fall in love with traditional circus, with the charm of hand-made and simple things..."

    While the company avoid the narratives that have became common in "new circus" as a way to give coherence to a group of disparate acts, Torres and his fellow performers have given themselves a storytelling crutch to lean on, involving a mysterious character called Alejandro Sombra, from whom the company "inherit" his collection of sets and props.

    "We have to bring it to life again," says Torres. "The thread is to make it possible, to entertain people with everything we find around. The starting point of the narrative is the doubt, the accident, the fall. It is an exercise for the audience and for us, we evolve together to the final act."

    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Selina Cartmell's Macbeth

    "The thing about Macbeth is…" Gasp! It is a few minutes into our interview, but there it is: director, Selina Cartmell has done it. She has used the "M" word that generations of actors have superstitiously avoided, fearing that it would bring ill fortune down upon their productions.

    But Cartmell, director of theatre shows that plunge unflinchingly into the dark side, has no such fear. So are the actors in her forthcoming production of "the Scottish play" also using the title willy-nilly?

    "Yes. I took that curse out of their hands. It had to be done. Otherwise you are just walking on egg-shells all the time in rehearsals."

    As it transpired, the actors were walking on something more solid, if every bit as unusual for a stage. Cartmell's Macbeth will be stage in The Empty Space, an 'empty space' theatre established by Michael Scott, which has the pretty much unique featuring of using the bare earth as a stage.

    Despite her reckless use of the M word, Cartmell's career seems to have been charmed, so far. She trained as an actor in Glasgow, before deciding that she had a far stronger calling: to direct. She first came to Dublin in 1998, as an Erasmus student, and returned a few years later when had grown tired of being an assistant director in London and "seeing the same faces, the same people all the time..."

    Since then, she has made the kind of impression on certain section of the Irish theatre world that a hot knife makes on a pound of butter, creating blockbuster shows for her own company, as well as at the National Theatre, Project and The Gate, where she recently directed, Sweeney Todd.

    Last year she won the The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which saw her working in LA and New York with her hero, director, Julie Taymor, the woman who created the stage version of The Lion King, as well as a film version of Titus Andronicus, but who also works on large scale opera productions.

    "I'm not that interested in the mentor and pupil side of things. But luckily, we were able to just talk about our work, and thought that we were able to develop a friendship, and a relationship. And then it just became two women working in theatre talking. Which was great."

    Getting to know the legendary director, Cartmell suggests, made her realise that she might so far have been imposing some limits on herself. "I was with her in LA when she was directing Grendel, and there it was in a huge theatre, with 3000 people in the audience. And I thought, I'd like to do that…she taught me you must always, always keep pushing yourself to make sure you are never defined as just theatre director…"

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    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Don Wycherley is a Fool for Love

    "Shepard is a real man's man: there's testosterone all over the play!" says Don Wycherley, of his latest role, as the no-good, two-timing cowboy at the centre of American dramatist, Sam Shepard's Fool for Love.

    In fact, Shepard's play is so drenched in males hormones, it seems, that its writer was rather surprised to hear it was to be directed by Annie Ryan. "'He was kinda incredulous..." says Wycherley, dropping rather smoothly into a cowboy twang "'There's a woman directing the play!!?' But they met after that and they got on great…"

    As it happens, Wycherley sees Annie Ryan's directorial style, an extremely souped up and modernised version of the comedia del'arte made famous by the director's Corn Exchange theatre company, as pretty close to ideal for performing this play. "The play is very heightened theatrically, so that is exactly what it needs."

    "In this play there is a lot of turning on a sixpence as far as an actor in concerned, flipping suddenly from tears to anger, and Annie's style is ideal for that. Flip now! And again! I'm loving it, but my body is rejecting it…"

    On stage with Shepard is proving it seems, far more of a physical challenge that the film and television work which Wycherley has been doing a lot of lately. Ever since his appearance as the likeable loser in Batchelor's Walk, it has been pretty much illegal to make an Irish movie or TV drama without Wycherley. Everything from Showbands, to Shrooms, The Running Mate and Garage, have benefited from the West Cork-born actor's particular charms.

    His first serious television gig, however, was on the dearly departed Ballykissangel. "That was a couple of years on BBC money, which was quite extraordinary. Money has actually gone down since then," says Wycherley, keen to scotch the rumour that if your face is seen as often as his on TV, you must be 'coining it'.

    Next up he will be on the Abbey's main stage, in Conor McPherson's directorial debut, a five-hander, set at Christmas time (though opening in May) and marking the return to the Irish stage of former Druid director, Maeliosa Stafford.

    But until then, Wycherley will be engaged in trying to apply the correct volume testosterone to Shepard's cowboy.

    "I met Shepard for a coffee over in the pub when he was over doing Kicking a Dead Horse. And I just sort of sat there like an awestruck drama student. He said: 'how's the ropin' goin'. And I produced the rope I'd been practicing with from my bag, and he said: 'That's not the right rope -- you can't rope with that, you need a 16 ¼ inch rough chord…' Well, I went and got the right rope now. And It's a grand piece."

    So, did he not do any lassoing back in West Cork, then?

    "God no, we just asked them out…"

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    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    The Wednesdays Nominated for an IFTA

    if you havent heard (and why on earth would you have) The Wednesdays was nominated for the IFTA award for short films. Nice, eh. Even better than that (possibly) it won the Audience Award at Clermont-Ferrand Festival of Short Film, which im reliably informed is way cool all in itself...

    As for the IFTA, who knows. That's Sunday, and a hired tux away....

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