more of an avalanche @ Wysing Arts Centre
08/04/18 ZM + GDLP
Emoji summary: 👀🤔🔥
Wysing Arts Centre is out on the edge of cambridge and yet it still gets 44K ppl there a year bc of their exhibitions and music festival (idk why that is mad to me or why i don’t believe the scale. zarina had driven us there v early, and we met the director who v kindly took us around. i wanted to kno if anyone else came so I just asked). Wysing seems to b an incubator, eVeRy (london) artist has done a residency there, made new work in hiding; it has this image of a soft retreat, online anyway;; a little claw machine extraction from the smoke smog pressure of London, a place to go where the air is clearer, ppl are politer, and the tapwater probably tastes better, idk.
we went to see more of an avalanche n i knew the gist of the exhibition took the snowflake slur as a starting point to bring together art about activism, politics, n the toll that can take on marginalised identities. And i was so ready to fall into that conversation but the art was standing with its backs magnetised to the walls, nervous 2 step fwd like year 6 kids at a school disco. I felt sad for it, I think? We each spent time going piece to piece and when we debriefed at the end, we were on the same page, that: when curation sticks artists together around a venn diagram with a concept labelled at its centre, it doesn’t always lead to a good exhibition. curation needs sth special, it can’t follow a formula or the room can end up looking prescriptive, like a museum-exhibition more than a gallery-exhibition, an overcast sky. the artist’s original sincerity in making their piece is spoken over by curatorial noise and that’s the reason for the sadness, bc it might have been able to stand alone, outside of the group hug, i mean show.
a lot of stuff in one room but still too much air; loose curatorial theme, good work, good press release n chat but a gulf between the two. Where they met felt like sandpaper. I do wana take some time to chat about individual works,,, but there were quite a lot and going into them all would b too dragged out so i’ll j nod at the 2 that I know I have words for.
1. Raju Rage’s table setting was good - a multicoloured flow-chart with related items on top of it like memorabilia for thoughts on the Under/Valued Energetic Economy. We had actually been introduced to the research last year when Raju spoke at a CREAM dinner crit, where we could use the diagram as a placemat under a bowl of some v good Rajma they made. The work in the gallery was an entirely different work to the one we’d seen before, with two v different needs n contexts. the first one we saw was dialectic, neutral-good (we were given pens to scribble notes and grow the diagram, we were fed and the conversation was round, emotional, personal: a true Work in the way we were at ease, engaging with it on its own Terms). Yes, although the first encounter was good n activated quickly by the dinner talk that it became a prop for,, this 2nd was different, tilting. In its blown up scale, low-lighting, centrepiece position in the gallery (for me n my eyes), the work was museumified, a tablecloth for other objects: Headphones instead of plates, a manifesto instead of a fork. same comfort, just different terms/ formal but still familiar. As I am writing this I am glad I liked it so much, bc works like this one often don’t make the jump from Social to Presented all too well. Raju, if u r reading this, i am glad ur work did make that jump well, i loved it n it truly made my face light up, my heart happy, seeing it in a gallery w that kinda focus.
Liv Wynter’s work Housefire felt jarring in the space. I feel heavy saying that, bc i did like the formal aspects of it - a collection of screens in a corner with an armchair right up close, moving blanket, and quiet narrative as subtitles that tell the first-person story of somebody whose house keeps setting alight. the first time, the neighbours run to help, the 2nd they are better prepared n come with water, the next and next and next they sit back and watch the spectacle. But a girl whose house catches fire repeatedly, that as a conduit for the activist treatment and fatigue, that eventually you’re on your own, burning while everyone watches - - - I think i was not rly ok with the narrative of activism and house fire as allegory. bc is it a fair analogy?**(see note @ end)** Your politics and action become spectacle rather than disaster (or ~> affecting, in the analogy). Maybe that is sound, and still this analogy felt weird post-grenfell bc of the difference in scale. Not all the way towards insensitive or bad taste, j jarring as I said - like when i rub my finger over the scar tissue on my knee and my body clenches waiting for it to pass. Is it awkward to use found footage of other ppl’s personal tragedies? is that where the modesty implodes? Or maybe modesty is not the right word, rather the self-effacement? the woe of it all? and now is our critique tone policing, me parading my subjective opinion as the standard all should follow.
Maybe i am not being fair, turning my cheek at someone’s cry that they’re not ok, But i also don’t think i believe that art is the best place for that to be expressed? i remember how the conversation Raju facilitated round a kitchen table at the CREAM crit was honest and powerful, ppl were real... and when art is this formal, its pants belted this tight, it is not the best conduit for pain. The formality of the work looking Finished, at an end point, isn’t right for the message, nor the tension it’s holding. It needed an in-between bc otherwise it’s this one voice delivering an allegory a la brothers Grimm or the Bible that the audience must learn from so we don’t also make the same mistakes. It was didactic in a way that didn’t fit,, too comfortably polemic when rly i wanted it to be a complex tangled conversation rather than a sermon. singular in a way that activism (at least the activism I know) never is.
These r winding thoughts so i hope they make sense. but with the show in general, I am disappointed - not that i had expected much but bc i had come all this way to cambridge (of my own accord, lol). For the curation it’s a case of something sounding better on the menu; and us enjoying the press release more than the final execution, liking/loving/avoiding little bits separately on the plate but knowing the whole meal isn’t quite right. Not quite harmonious enough in the mouth for me to think this is a good meal. arching review is: my type on paper but not irl.
**** after publishing artist Liv Wynter got in touch to say, 'HOUSEFIRE is not about being an activist, it is about living with an abusive partner every day, and the way in which activist communities let you down by pretending they don’t see it.' We missed that intention bc of press information and also not knowing the artist personally or their particular situation to read that from the video. the larger questions we raised about the activism-specific analogy are still valuable to artists working through politics esp in exhibitions like more of an avalanche, but we ofc understand that the scale of the work is changed through this information and the points made on modesty have thus shifted.