February 24, 2010
It’s been a couple of weeks now (which is probably a good thing because sometimes a little distance can be a blessing) since the Desert Island Slapstick evening at Jesters (though recently renamed Metropolis the festival still listed the venue as Jesters). The Desert Island evening brought a timely end to the blink and you might miss it mini-festival that was Slapstick 2010. Another local festival for the cultured middle classes who reside in Clifton, Redland, Cotham and even so far away as Bishopston, Slapstick 2010 was Bristol’s sixth silent comedy festival.
Advertised in the likes of Venue Magazine, The Evening Post and apparently over some local Bristol radio station, I was surprised to hear about the festival only through a chance discovery that my place of casual employment was one of its official sponsors. In lieu of our supposed support for the festival I thought it a good idea to go ahead and attend at least one of its events.
Consisting of a ‘panel’ (though I use the term lightly) of three British comedy heros, each of whom selected a silent film that they would in theory take with them to a desert island, the evening – slowly – revealed itself to be really rather more slapdash than slapstick. Though it had been advertised and printed materials crafted, the three Radio 4 ‘celebrities’, Graeme Garden, Time Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer all seemed to be suffering a bout of Alzheimer’s as they fuddled rather than talked their way through the films they had selected, Garden openly admitting that he’d chosen a film he’d never actually seen before. Pleasantly accompanied by live sound (albeit a keyboard rather than a piano) the venue itself was a fine choice, having originally (96 years ago) been Bristol’s first silent cinema.
The films themselves were for the most part very enjoyable, the selection including; Boobs in the Wood (1925) starring a less commonly known Harry Langdon, Coney Island (1917) with an overwhelmingly camp Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Neighbors (1920) exhibiting the charms of Buster Keaton on a simpering Virginia Fox. The content of these three films was, again, for the most part, very enjoyable: all except for one particularly squeamish sequence in Neighbors where Buster “blacks up”. Audacious and offensive as this act is there is always a possibility that an audience might make allowances for such content if the context of the film is accurately and carefully outlined prior to its unveiling. Beyond disturbing therefore is the way in which Brooke-Taylor contextualised the sequence in question, stating, “It’s fine. It was fine at the time and I think it’s fine now.” His latent racism, received without protest from a mirror audience is just one of the many unbearably obvious signs that the festival is in crisis and needs to make some drastic changes if it wishes to have any kind of longevity, let alone creditability or accolade.
Sadly I was amongst a minority in the audience (perhaps only a handful of us at an age before menopause) as I gasped with disdain at such remarks, the lady behind me chortling till her sides split at the sight of a ‘blacked up’ Buster. Clearly the organisers of Slapstick have a great challenge before them as they attempt to keep running a festival whose life span, if its audience is anything to go by, is all too near its use-by date. Perhaps if they were to market the festival through the guise of ‘silent film’ rather than ‘slapstick’ more youths would understand its content, though saying this, the success of its marketing is only so useful as the outlets through which it is advertised. Given that Bristol’s ‘arts hub’ consists of a small circle of individuals no larger than most people’s telephone directory (a circle I like to think I know of even if I sit judgementally outside of it) it is peculiar to me that they managed to get it so laughably wrong. But then again, slapstick or slapdash, as least something about it made me laugh.
January 23, 2010
Here Shop and Gallery, situated on Stoke’s Croft, central Bristol, though a sizably small space, tidily houses a plethora of printed images, illustrations and photographs published in and on just about every type of trendy paraphernalia that might be saleable; zines, books, bags, toys, stickers, badges, et al. But despite the fact that everything is for sale, Here Shop and Gallery remains a space one can visit just to look at artful things – something of a rarity in these highly commoditised times. Entrance is at ground level and immediately positions the visitor well within the ‘Shop’ section of Here. Down an extraordinarily narrow staircase is a space no larger than a public toilet which then constitutes the ‘Gallery‘ section.
The gallery is a rentable space which means it costs the artists a flat fee for exhibition in addition to the commission Here Shop and Gallery take from sales of their works. Factoring in the costs to the artists, the works themselves are (for the most part) reasonably priced; items in this particular exhibition span a price range of £3 to £350.
The current exhibition, titled Land & Sky, showcases the work of illustrator Lizzy Stewart and mixed media artist Christopher Bettig. Stewart’s work consists primarily of detailed line drawings of Victorian houses alongside bears, wolves, birds, and other such woodland creatures. From humans with animals coming out of their heads to animals with houses coming out of theirs, Stewart’s designs are imaginative and charming if a little sentimental.
Certainly there is a great level of skill here and every third or fourth print offers something of a pleasurable cynicism towards contemporary human existence; one particular drawing of fine directional lines reveals a human silhouette accompanied by the words, ‘They Are on The Insides of My Eyes’.
Christopher Bettig’s works complement Stewart’s illustrations by bringing collage and mixed media, adding a third dimension to the visitor’s experience of the space. Bettig’s main works consist of latex paint, spray paint, paper, plastic and thread on paper or wood. In addition to these more traditional mounted artworks there are several printed synthetic fabrics sewn into ‘flags’ and displayed on string, much like bunting, and installed across the centre most space of the room.
Non confrontational geometric shapes, mostly circles, wheels and fans, are transposed onto squares and rectangles. Subtle rather than abrasive, the shapes in Bettig’s work are contemporary and recall modes of graphic design that are most often seen in high street fashion and Paperchase stationery (it is no coincidence that Bettig’s CV boasts designs for Urban Outfitters).
Most works to appear in the Here Shop and Gallery (past, present and future), will likely fit the adjectives aforementioned; imaginative, charming, subtle and contemporary. Here Shop and Gallery occupies a popular local niche; situated amidst the hub of all things PRSC and all things ‘community’, as it were, Here Shop and Gallery sells and exhibits the types of artworks its customer base can/do create themselves; and what better way to ensure its support and purchase than through the commoditisation of narcissism?
January 19, 2010
The exhibition wants to “achieve climate stability through technology change”, “fundamentally reorganise geographical information”, and “connect ecological imperatives with future-oriented technology and the intellectual capital of art ideas informed by the scientific community.” Navigating my way through these stultifying, inane, rudderless words, I approached the space with unease, just as you would anyone who was trying simultaneously to save the world and alter our understanding of it once and for all, by uniting the unlike forces of science, art and technology.
The eerie-sounding Ocean Earth Development Corporation have made this audacious attempt in one ground-floor room, by sketching the oceans of the world on the walls in crayon, with wall-mounted video installation and an exciting global feed, which is not as exciting as it sounds. The synthesis of ecologist, artist and activist, however well-intended, achieves the feeling of being in a child’s classroom, with cluttered walls, although here, nuggets of complicated ecological research are strewn around the space. The tentative and ineffective use of video and internet, as with many other multimedia platforms, sadly and incoherently seem apart from, rather than a part of, the rest of the thing.
Though I am not a prioi territorial about mixing media- or academic disciplines, or professional pursuits for that matter- I begin to wonder: in what way would an ecologist prefer to put forward their research? It is clear to me that science has developed a language over centuries not best submitted in pastel or chalk, just as an artistic reflection of the changing Earth achieves affect and meaning neither through a poorly-rendered sketch, nor with alarming pretension to new geographical truths, or climatological redemption.
The uneasiness of the artless thing is redoubled by the unedifying rhetoric of Dadaism used to validate it. The exhibition notes claim that OCEAN EARTH co. show how water flow can be collected using Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913)- like a waterwheel… and how the map of Britain in the foyer has been rearranged to resemble something other than itself, becoming a mere physical unit, like The Fountain (1917) , they say, had done. It is all too easy to dredge up art history when pining for authenticity and yet, if it had looked more like a urinal, I should have used it.
The second major exhibition currently showing at the Arnolfini is Craftivism, a collection of Bristolian projects including knitting, weaving, urban foraging, build-it-yourself ‘sculpture’, and design-it-yourself found fashion. The idea behind craftivism is to create with social consciousness, to use individual craft to subvert mass capitalism, to be politically active, ecologically friendly, as well as empowering and available to all.
Among the works on show is a hand-crafted, ten foot-wide dress with three neck-holes hanging, encouraging visitors to try it on with strangers for a new kind of gallery experience. Food for Free presents a map of central Bristol showing the city’s edible plant organisms, although the street names have been replaced with plant names, making the local ‘Food for Free’ particularly hard to find. In any case, it is unclear whether nettle soup, grey squirrel and goose grass tea are likely to fill the bellies of many Bristolians.
The work occupying the main space is bau-Stelle, a construction-site of wooden lattice, nuts and bolts put together by anyone willing to participate. The multiple authorship project mirrors, in a socio-political sense, calls for ‘community’ and ‘grassroots’- everyone can get involved. In a philosophical sense too, the contemporary emphasis upon ontologies would complement the piece, as the always-already valid situated knowledges, interpretations and actions of participants are the driving force. And yet stood before this unwelcoming, messy illogic of cheap wood, and considering the assortment of impassive recyclers, knitters, foragers and OCEAN EARTH CORPORATION minions, I am left asking myself, where is the art in this place?