Abi Palmer <What Now?>, Wysing Broadcasts
Emoji summary: 🌦 🌱 🏋🏾♀️
Last week I made an appointment to go to a gallery. I don’t know what possessed me; maybe it was a deranged optimism that if things out there are open then they’re probably fine, maybe I just really like the work of the artist I was booked to go see. Either way, I got as far as the tube station. I tapped in, went down to the platform, and when the train came, it was fucking packed full, so I turned around and went back up the stairs to tap out again. I don’t want to go outside, I don’t think galleries should be open, and I am scared for the front of house staff being forced back to work with the looming threat of avoidable and unnecessary redundancies across the sector. Since we locked down in March, I’ve been banging out chunky essays and food columns; while it’s nice to write in new ways across new things, I’m lowkey sprawling out to avoid reviewing actual art. All art online feels like a weird thing to be doing right now, a really niche interest for niche weird people; and art in person feels like an imposition and breach of labour rights. So, tl;dr what I’m saying is: this week I am reviewing some art, but I also don’t want to fucking write reviews of art at the moment, because art hasn’t got any ~energy~ or relevance to me at the moment. But we’re doing it anyway, because sometimes you’ve just gotta move through the weird sticky feeling and put it all into solid words, regardless of what gets in your way.
In this sticky middle of art-online, Wysing Arts Centre has got a whole separate site for online bits called Wysing Broadcasts. I don’t know if it existed before this whole Pandemic Moment, or if it was a new addition where they could chuck some good good content in the mad scramble of it all; but honestly it’s a good move from them. Considering they’re out in the arse-end of nowhere anyway, it’s a nice point to engage with the good stuff from the good people they work with - on my end at least, it saves me a journey. The bits they’ve got on there are a bit of a cold mezze and mix grill situation; I also don’t know how many of these works on there are commissions, if they’re in-between pieces loaned over by residents past & present, if they’re even works to begin with. It’s a few films, a few podcasts, a listicle or two, an online? open? studio?, all held together on the homepage by a tbqh baffling categorisation system. I think this jumble of a platform really speaks to like… a lack of understanding about how to host and present long(er)form stuff in different mediums? A lack of understanding about how Real People engage with digital content? Curators don’t actually know how to use the internet, I think. This messy sprawl also comes from the way that twitter & instagram have become the primary point of most institutions’ use of digital mediums, but like… they are kinda lacking in various ways as platforms for art institutions to distribute ~digital content~ through. On Wysing Broadcasts there’s films nestled next to monthly round ups, podcasts posted as series next to artists as category in and of themselves. God it makes me miss tumblr. Tumblr could’ve sorted this all out imo. Bring back Tumblr.
If I put the fact that I want to tidy it up aside (i really want to tidy it up, Wysing, if ur reading this, pls tidy it up), there’s the redeeming fact that Wysing have the sheer dumb luck of a track record working with some absolutely cracking names. And luckily for me, right at the top of the page I found Abi Palmer’s <What now?>
<What now?> is a short clipped moving image work; 3 and a bit minutes of little peeps, phone sized windows into a day, a week, a month. It sits well against the slippage of our collective lives atm, and it holds onto that leaking time with a kind of sincerity and solemnity. A finger, with the nail painted mustard yellow, caresses the length of an aloe vera stalk; it’s just rained and the water pools in a long sticky stretch along the stalk, the finger streaks it across. The film is intimate and sensual, but those are quite boring things for me to say about it. It just speaks in the vocabulary of ASMR - - - that’s not spectacular any more - what is spectacular is the way that this soft sensory vocabulary is being deployed rn, in this work, at this time. A bellybutton rises and falls, the curve of a stomach crests above at its peak, and two legs bent up stretch beyond it. Counting up to 8, softly slowly, and back to 1 2 3; the shot multiplies across the screen and fades in time with the gentle counting. Feet covered by leopard print tights gently pad across floorboards on their tippy-toes; small small gentle steps, and soundless.
One of the benefits of working with good artists in an online space, is that those good artists will think about how to use that online space well. Abi’s film is accompanied by a document that gives you the audio description of the film, separately and with timestamps. It reads like poetry and eclectic script; artwork in its own right. I am glad for it being there, because dimensionally it adds another point through which to caress you; narration that is descriptive and lyrical, personable. It’s like the work has got another limb, another voice track- it’s proof that generosity can be collectively felt, that it’s not just one way, that good things come from sincerity and consideration. I recommend watching the film and reading the audio description alongside it - like a wine pairing.
For me, in the background of my wider life, Abi’s film sat happily. I have maintained a healthy weight for a while or so now, and lads - it is a trip. It rises and falls, I guess. I just have to constantly remind myself that my body is my own, that it’s not a hostile entity I must oppose and push away. It is a clunky vessel that I must look after, care for reciprocally as it cares for me. It is fallible, and imperfect but all the same: every morning I lie on floorboards and stretch my hamstrings, run fast until my breathing is ragged, hot sweat on my back and baby hairs stuck to the nape of my neck. I am relearning what my body feels like; anorexia alienates from feeling and sensation, and rn I’m like blood rushing back to the surface, tingling and new in these thighs and arse-cheeks. Abi’s film felt parallel to this rush, and emotional in that flex; 3 minutes and it centred calm and stillness in a way that made me happy to linger. Body as focus, but not subject. I don’t know, like… can a film also be a verb? Because this felt like that; like it Did Something. Not weird, not niche, just a gentle cover over myself for a brief moment; like tinycarebot popping up on the TL and reminding me to take my vitamins.