Despite its clear homage to slapstick silent film and the likes of Jacques Tati, Rumba (2008) is most strikingly an exercise in colour theory. Careful and detailed art direction focussing on wardrobe, framing and set design are used to heighten the contrast between the film’s alternate tonal directions: fortune and misfortune.

The plot is at once simple and convoluted; perfect for its simplicity, not in spite of it. Fiona and Dom are school teachers whose lives are somewhat banal and ordinary by day, but whose vibrancy and verve emerges en force when they rumba by night. Having entered and won a dance competition, the couple are temporarily on top of the world, but a case of wrong place, wrong time instantly and irreversibly changes the course of their lives.

Despite their newest ailments – Fiona is missing a leg and Dom his memory – the pair muddle on as best they can, determined to make the good a bad situation. In true slapstick style, even the smallest of mishaps sets in motion a sequence of cause and effect lunacy paralleled only by the likes of Buster Keaton and his contemporaries. The hint of pantomime is well matched to the quirky sensibility specific to French farce, which is naturally and seamlessly brought into the mix.

Immediately after the incident there is a turn in the film’s visual style marked by a stand out sequence whereby Fiona’s beautiful, bold red rumba dress literally unravels, revealing a stark, drained colour palette of neutral tones; white underwear and sallow skin. From this moment on what ensues is a series of images drained and faded from the saturated reds, blues, yellows and greens that came before.

Gradually, as events resolve themselves, the pair rediscover and rekindle their love in accordance with a slow and strong re-saturation of colours onscreen. No sooner have the pair reunited, the plot resolved itself, and another dance sequence ensues; prime colours coming together in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of promise and joy.

The wit is very dry and occasionally errs on the side of acerbic to great comedic effect. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon are unfalteringly straight-faced throughout the most absurd happenings which is a credit to their abilities not just as actors, but as writer/directors in equal measure. Well observed and well measured in every way Rumba is careful not to lose its audience and the film runs at a short but sweet seventy-seven minutes.

Not a film that will change your life, Rumba is like a perfect pudding or a holiday fling; the sensation of indulging in a guilty pleasure left to linger at the level of flirtation. Light hearted and removed from any sense of false sentimentality, Rumba is a vibrant interlude of visual entertainment.

Rumba is available on DVD from March 22nd through Network Releasing. Special features include deleted scenes, bloopers, trailer, Rumba: step by step and a Q&A with Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon at the ICA.

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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.

26. Bear. Print, £12

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).

Paper, thread & spray paint on wood.

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?

Art?no.fini

January 19, 2010

However poignant or poisonous, pointed or pointless, Art is born of contemporary political circumstance, and reflects it, whether it chooses to address it or not. The climate is changing as CO2 is increasingly trapped within our atmosphere; this fact is nailed on to the political agenda of our day. As such, we already have some sobering reflections of the changing world (Edward Burtynsky, Oil 2009). We also apparently have OCEAN EARTH: Situation Room currently showing at Bristol’s premier contemporary art gallery, the Arnolfini

E. Burtynsky Alberta Oil Sands #6

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.

Food for free?

 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?

To Be Consumed.

January 17, 2010

“Contemporary art exists in a state of continual flux and evolution. For this very reason, personal interpretations of artwork vary considerably from one viewer to another. In bringing together an extremely varied collection of artists, this exhibition reflects the richness and diversity of contemporary art and the multiple emotions and personal interpretations it elicits. There are after all no right and wrong interpretations, only matters of opinion, judgment and aesthetic preference. Ultimately the meanings of these artworks are “to be confirmed” by you, the viewer.”

This statement accompanies the notes for The Bristol Gallery’s newest exhibition, To Be Confirmed. What is most striking about this particular gallery space however is not its presentation of the artworks themselves; rather, it is its all too obvious need to make a sale.

Ranging from £15 (for a small desk calendar) to £6150 (for a large bronze statue) just about everything in the gallery is for sale (including the selection of art reference books on the coffee table). Perhaps the emphasis on selling the artwork is reflected in the quotation abovementioned; perhaps the exhibition is suggesting that the process of commodification that art undergoes gives it (or perhaps the artist) some variant of confirmation (status, wealth, acceptance, and possibly even on some level, meaning).

Of the artworks themselves, as exhibited at The Bristol Gallery, they are made up of eleven individual artists whose works are as varied as their abilities to engage or elicit response.

Alison Black who, “deliberately rejects assigning narrative titles to her work in order to free the viewer to explore their own imagination and individually interpret her vividly coloured abstractions” creates mixed media images on canvas paper and whose use of colour and materials is attractive and something of a highlight in the room.

Alison Black

Alison Black

Mark Boyce’s hand carved ceramics are intricate and undoubtedly the most skilled works in the room. Similarly, Julien Masson’s work is evidently time-consuming for its application of paint onto canvas via syringes and pipettes and its three dimensional use of ordinary materials such as masking tape, though the images themselves fall somewhat tonally flat. Hywel Livingstone is another artist concerned with process rather than product and I daren’t argue with him for I am sure the creative process was far more intriguing than the end result. Bob Gale’s acrylic coastlines are rigid for their jarring geometric shapes and Nick Davis’ bronze sculptures claim to comment upon Americana and Graphic Novels. Luke Mitchell’s photographs are possibly the least interesting visuals in the gallery giving the expensive modernist sofas something of a fighting chance in their wake.

MAF Räderscheidt’s work, A Painting a Day Keeps the Doctor Away, was provocative for the boundaries it blurred bringing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter into the gallery space. The nine-month project itself was intent upon conveying through social networks across the cyber plain “a midget insight in an artist’s reality, a painted diary”. The body of work certainly communicated the urgency and immediacy that is at the heart of Internet social networking sites such as those aforementioned. The only reservation I hold is that the works themselves become inherently problematised through the process of renegotiation that their terms of reception have thus endured. Having now become items for sale, the good-natured sharing that social networking sites promote, and indeed intrinsically encourage, is obliterated.

Jimmy Galvin’s works stood out in the exhibition; bold abstract paintings capturing one’s eye from across the room, though I found the comparison to Rothko reductive on many levels. But it was his series of photographs, Electric Chair, Series of 3, that was most striking; with reference to Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even or The Large Glass as it is also known, Galvin highlights and reiterates the suffering that is brought about by the hand of man.

Jimmy Galvin

Jimmy Galvin

The most troubling piece in the exhibition is Chantal Powell’s Wonderland, Age 4. Encased in a beautiful antique wooden chest we find glass, acrylic, paperweights, feathers, fairy lights. Though these items do reflect her personal statement, explicating “romantic obsession…simplicity…often focusing on the small insignificant moments of life”, one wonders at the price point: £850 quid for what is essentially a child’s treasure chest.

The skepticism that I put forward is intrinsically linked to the issue of liminality in terms of the space which this particular gallery, and many more like it, occupy; something between exhibition and retail. The view I attended was private but yesterday the space was opened to the public. Perhaps this view is too cynical, but surely it is valid, for it is both private and confirmed.