Fig-2 at Bicester Village – 29 October 2015

One cold October day a bunch of journalists and I and the whole of Gaggle were shipped off to the Baudrillardian Bicester Village where ’tis forever Christmas . . . 

12189644_10156188631880181_6023941664043227912_nFig-2 is a great project taking place at the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA). For fifty weeks in 2015 an artist is selected each week to create a new exhibition that is only in place for seven days. It’s a curatorial ultramarathon that has seen the ICA studio transformed into a dizzying range of different uses and appearances from a paint-splattered art studio to a gleaming white cube.

12187835_10156188631540181_5435690224447651839_nOne of Fig-2’s sponsors is Bicester Village, and part of the deal was that four ‘Fig-2 artists’ would be asked to respond to Bicester Village in Oxfordshire and produce site-specific work there. From the forty-some Fig-2 artists so far the four commissions were a performance on October 29 by Deborah Coughlin and Gaggle (from Week 9 of Fig-2), a film by Annika Ström (Week 10), an immersive animation by Shezad Dawood (Week 13) and a sound and light installation by Vesna Petresin (forthcoming Week 46).

12187856_10156188632250181_3897223237525310803_n
Bicester Village, Oxford

Bicester Village is a kind of open air shopping mall in the visual style of a village in a Christmas movie. When we arrived it was even snowing! (Courtesy of a snow machine). Regular villages have post-offices and pubs, or used to, but Bicester sells luxury goods, mainly designer clothes. Each of the major fashion brands has a house in the village but you can’t get a drink anywhere. It’s busy too. Aspirant Brits and affluent tourists flood in via the purposely built station, getting their Christmas shopping done early. They’re served by staff dressed like bellhops to mimic the American retail experience’s visual class distinctions. At 4pm the bellhops entertain the village in a dance performance.

120322WearingDance_5968452Dancing and shopping have been paired before in art. In Gillian Wearing’s classic video “Dancing in Peckham” the Turner Prize winner dances uninhibitedly by herself without music in a London shopping precinct. It’s hilarious, but very few of the shoppers walking past even turn their head to look. Noone points and laughs.  Everyone is very British about it and ignores her. Presumably they think she is a crazy lady. There is a disparity between the unabashedness of the dancing and the refusal of the shoppers to step away from their purposive walking and shopping. The video is from 1994 so perhaps today everyone would be filming her with their smartphones, as they were the bellhops at Bicester.

02212012_EDU_1998.1.709_LargeFashion and shopping have been a source of fascination for artists, as you can see at the current blockbuster show ‘The World Goes Pop’ at Tate Modern where pop artists like Andy Warhol both celebrate and satirize modern consumerism and its obsession with the latest thing. Art itself is subject to the vicissitudes of fashion and the reputations of artists often rise or fall in parallel with the prices their works command at the auction house.

Sylvain_Deleu_Fig-2_10.50_-14Annika Ström’s work explores encounters between people. Just as Gillian Wearing’s video worked by dropping her into a public space, Annika Strom likes to set actors out into public spaces to interact with people. For Week 10 of Fig-2 she directed six actors to act in a lovely manner toward everyone they came into contact with. Her friendly film ‘Changing Rooms’ depicts two women who only meet at Bicester Village. Their friendship is in a sense based on the act of shopping, which you might see as a devaluation of their friendship or as an ennoblement of shopping!

12195975_10156188631710181_5276000071257545234_nShezad Dawood created an animation that you view through eyeholes in a colourful shed-like circular structure in the centre of the Village. It depicts digitally generated characters from the animation he made during Week 13 of Fig-2 and in watching it the viewer enters a kind of virtual reality. Is shopping also a virtual reality?

CSe__jLWwAA_HedWe are looking forward to Vesna Petresin’s week at Fig-2 (from 16-22 November). Her sound and light installation at Bicester is playful and challenging. You enter a white phone box and are immersed in pink light with flashing lights running up and down like Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator, soundtracked by a female voice sexily whispering. It was too much for a couple I saw who emerged after barely seconds slightly perplexed. Art can take you to another (virtual) world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like that world.

CSgt-IxWEAAdJAvDeborah Coughlin’s work with her all-female choir GAGGLE is also challenging, with an explicit feminist purpose of female empowerment. In Week 9 of Fig-2 they performed in between readings of classic speeches by great women including Virginia Woolf. In Bicester each member of the choir carried a rock made out of paper and wire and sang ringing harmonies to her source of burden, “I wish my rock.. were you!” The choir carried their rocks through the crowds along the whole length of Bicester Village.

10178099_10156188632215181_2974744521471714333_nWe fell about when we saw a dad successfully goading his children. “Those women must be so strong!” he said, provoking their incredulous reply “It’s fake rocks, Dad!

Fig-2 continues until December at the Institute for Contemporary Arts.

AJ Dehany is blogging about every single week of Fig-2 at fig2loyaltycard.wordpress.com.

12115645_10156188632220181_7579547295633919088_n
I was bad & I bought a suit..

Week 8 – Edmund Cook – 23 February-1 March – ‘Enumerators’

“The Lumière Brothers were a hundred and twenty years ago! Come on lads, step up..”

My companion was not impressed. For Week 8 of fig-2 we’d watched Edmund Cook record a live soundtrack to his short film ‘Enumerators’ in which there is a fictional technology to record people’s thoughts in public space, but it doesn’t work as intended; the video allows us to access fragments from the thought-stream. These were voiced by the artist live, setting up ambiguities and interactions between its fixed text and improvisation and uncertainty in delivery; and between the image and the sound, so for example, it becomes unclear whether the little stones are talking to the man or vice versa, or whether the voiceover can in fact be attributed to either. Guitar pedals were employed to make a suitably atonal sound-based soundtrack.

My companion argued that it “could have been done by anyone over the past fifty years – some noodly sound, non-sequential images and abstract words that don’t make any sense”. I enjoyed his rejection of the work; it seemed a good foil for my tendency to buy into any old thing. Yet I wonder… Is he right, or is he missing the point because he just doesn’t like video art? Does anyone like video art?

Today we’re going to take a look at some of the more irritating characteristics of video art, or to put it another way, some of the characteristics of video art.

Some Typical Characteristics of Video Art

Nothing Happens Nothing quite captures the essence of the nothingness of existence better than nothing, and nothing captures the nothingness of a third of our existence better than Andy Warhol’s Sleep (1963), which is six hours of the camera fixed on someone while they are asleep. You can say video art provides a space in which to dream, by which you might mean it is inspirational, or that it causes you to nod off.

Technical Experimentation – You know when a roadie taps the end of a microphone to see whether it’s on or not? That’s technical experimentation. Video art has taken such humble technological beginnings — Is it switched on? — and expanded them into a vast corpus of work documenting the switched-on-edness of different technologies. A new type of lens filter demands a ten minute demonstration. This is edgy and vital experimental cinema. Jacob Nelson’s Double Vision is a fine example, using combined video signals from two Sony Portapaks through a mixer to provide a stirring insight into combined video signals.

Graininess – The most obvious quality of video as a medium is its lack of visual resolution. While film must be sent to a lab and developed, video is instantly available, though this makes it endearingly crappy; compare the difference between still photos in a silver gelatine print and a polaroid. This instant availability made it possible for Nam June Paik in 1963 to film Pope Paul VI in New York and relay the footage the same day in a Greenwich Village cafe; one contender for the ‘birth of video art‘. In the intervening fifty years, technology has advanced and we have instant access to digital video, which can reveal breathtaking resolution, but, because we’re just using our smart-phones, is just as crappy as ever.

Nonsequentiality/NonlinearityIn an interview for fig-2 Edmund Cook has said “I’ve tried to do narrative loads of times but every time I try and write a story it just kind of falls apart because I’m not interested enough and I don’t want to create emotional characters for people to empathise with and their journey, I’m not really interested in that. its more about a certain situation or a certain tension or a certain set of textures.“

Video art is typically distinguished from narrative/theatrical cinema by avoiding many of the conventions that make even the most hackneyed Hollywood guff watchable: plot, character – even actors and dialogue are mostly abjured. Examples abound, but perhaps interesting is how over the course of his Cremaster Cycle (trailer) Matthew Barney moves away from this and toward both the production values and some of the sequentiality of Hollywood cinema, even if it necessarily remains disrupted in order to maintain his Artistic Credibility.

Selling Out – Many video artists are frustrated movie directors. The budgets, the glamour… if only it weren’t for that pesky storytelling business. Steve McQueen‘s 1993 film Bear, in which two naked black men wrestle-cum-dance in a sexy way and in which nothing is resolved (they don’t even fuck), curiously prefigures all of his more recent output such as Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years A Slave, if not his raft of Oscars.

Contrastingly, it is quite incalculable the damage that Sam Taylor-Johnson (née Taylor-Wood) may have done to her YBA credibility in making froth like Nowhere Boy and Fifty Shades of Grey, though we admire her commitment to turning her back on video art. Let’s face it, most video art is as boring as watching a woman with a fringe being spanked by a man in a grey suit to a soundtrack of Snow Patrol. Hmm, maybe she’s not travelled so far after all.

Gross shit – This is video art’s special contribution to the philosophical category of Abjection, whereby, in Kristevan thought, taboo elements are presented and confronted as a disruption of social reason and the symbolic order. The video work of Paul McCarthy takes a special relish in chocolate sauce, weird liminal characters with obnoxious protuberances, and general unfathomability; his film Painter (1995) is family viewing every bit as fantastic and harrowing as Frozen. For those who like their gross shit more real, there’s Martin Creed‘s Work No 600, which is just unspeakable, but beautifully shot in 35mm.

Drunkenness From Neolithic potters in the Orkneys to Tracey Emin stomping off from the Turner Prize, no artist has ever dazzled us with their moderation. Gillian Wearing’s Drunk (1997-99) has a sobering documentary impetus, and we prefer the commendable dipsomaniac pointlessness of Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk (1972) in which Gilbert & George get gamely plastered on the iconic juniper-based spirit.

photo 2 (4)