Week 33 – El Ultimo Grito – August 17-23

“Genius is an error in the system” – Paul Klee

photographs by benjamin cosomo westoby

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe Birth of the User is two inflatable sculptures in one: a figure, called the User, within an outer womb: a space within a space (within a space). As the outside structure inflates with air from the machine the pressure of the environment compresses the User and a struggle occurs between them which is only resolved when the mechanical air inflow switches and the structure within starts to inflate, which causes his uterine environment to start to collapse around him. This creates a glitchy ecosystem of one against the other: fighting for air, or fighting because of the air. Balance is not consistently maintained.

People going into the gallery can’t help but touch it, which adds another feedback loop. You can feel the inflatable structure resist your hand as the air pushes back against your fingers or when it bucks and yields to your prodding.

Fig-2_33_50_1Design duo El Ultimo Grito is Rosario Hurtado and Roberto Feo, who have created this sculpture The Birth of the User during Week 33 of Fig-2. Rather than displaying finished works at the start of the seven day show, they set the ICA studio space up as a workshop in which to improvise and develop ideas and create a unique Open House setting in which the public could interact with a production environment.

ultimo_mexico_04A fantastic illustration of their working methods is their account of creating a public seating installation in Mexico City. It’s fascinating to see the skeleton-and-muscle structure made of bubblewrap and foam taped over plywood that looks like junk (“when we left the first day [they asked] ‘are you going to leave this here? for how long? what is this for?’”) transformed by the addition of a skin of circular stickers into something bright and brilliant.

ultimo_mexico_03Their spidery fantastical sculptures are colourful and tangly and semi-organic looking and are often designed to be sat upon and interacted with in public spaces. The use of ‘packing materials’ comes from a decision they made to create a design and manufacturing system free from “traditional methods of production” using their hands and bodies and readily available inexpensive materials: a DIY aesthetic or rather a design aesthetic with a DIY implementation.

File 17-10-2015, 18 41 39‘El Ultimo Grito’ apparently means ‘all the rage’. Literally translated it’s ‘the last cry’ which I think is from the phrase ‘the last cry of fashion’ which makes ‘all the rage’ make sense: this season’s show-stopping be-all-and-end-all (until next season). Their use of ‘El Ultimo Grito’ as a moniker is clearly an ironic comment on the transience of fashion.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westoby“It was a week of work in progress. Mainly to develop ideas and works that explore the idea of glitch, glitch as a malfunction in the system that allows you to see the structure in the system, how the system works,” El Ultimo Grito explain in their audio interview with Fig-2. There is a day-by-day written account by El Ultimo Grito on the designboom website.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe show included a number of digital prints developed from images created by encountering ‘glitches’ in Apple Maps while walking around London. This is similar to Clement Valla’s project documenting ruptures in Google’s Universal Texture mapping system: those images of melting bridges when the texture mapping has gone wrong. We encountered this in Fig-2 Week 12 (part 6) and one of Valla’s ‘Postcards from Google Earth‘ was on show in Week 29. The phenomenon has clearly struck a nerve.

valla-5In Clement Valla’s work ‘glitch’ exposes the algorithmic principles involved in how our digital realities are constructed. El Ultimo Grito are more interested in the political and social factors exposed by ‘glitch’: the historicity of glitch. We are in the middle of both a housing crisis (caused by our rich keeping supply of housing down to boost what they can charge us to buy or rent) and a migration crisis (caused by our rich selling weapons to indiscriminately arm every side of every conflict worldwide, which leads to people trying to flee these places to survive).

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe construction and reconstruction of our cities is a document of political will. There’s no social housing, but ugly cheesegraters keep springing up in the city. Estates are knocked down, and spring up again as megastructures of gentrification. Sometimes our maps won’t update in time, and we will experience ‘glitch’: an uncanny sense of displacement, walking through two different realities at once, two different periods of history.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyWith the accretion of vernacular building in a city we in fact find countless levels of periodicity simultaneously. A new glass structure bolted to a medieval wall dominated by a prefab made of ugly. Each layer reveals the ‘ultimo grito’ of its period. Currently everything is glass that is largely flat, the next fashion will probably find this bending and twisting as new technologies develop, and then there’ll probably be some rage for sixties style stone cladding.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThese architectural paradigms (fashions) are temporal but internationally uniform, and part of El Ultimo Grito’s method in their week was to render a number of different but recognisable styles together to create the forms and surfaces of a single United Estates conflated from images of London’s ‘iconic’ Brutalist housing block Trellick Tower, other buildings in Montevideo, and London housing estates. The United Estates sprang up over the week as a number of structures representing a glitched dystopic city that you can’t live in, just as you can’t live in a city without housing or a country refusing to accept immigrants.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyEl Ultimo Grito‘s fictional character The User is intended to represent “when the consumer becomes a citizen”. The sculpture’s rise and fall that dramatizes the pressure of an environment over the individual. El Ultimo Grito developed their DIY approach to the construction as well as just the design of their works. If each of us is ‘The User’ it is up to each of us to try to take a more active role in it, becoming a citizen rather than a consumer Otherwise the larger structure will crush us all.

The Fig-2 website gives a day-by-day photographic account of the work in progress, in which you see the elements of plastic and wood used to make the nascent sculptures. When I visited on Friday night there was a smell of paint so strong that even I could smell it, Rosario and Roberto working and another guy making things in the fire escape. They had just about finished making a camera obscura, which they demonstrated to me.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe camera obscura projects an image upside down on a screen. Vermeer probably used one when he painted and there’s a good one in Bristol that let’s you look at the Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge without having to go to the effort of looking directly at them (you have to go to Bristol though). It’s another form of mapping, another way of projecting a 3D reality onto a flat screen.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe camera obscura is a kind of ‘real time cinema’ in which a moving image is antique Chinese erotic porcelain depicting a couple rutting, which doesn’t look dissimilar to the Birth of the User sculpture. In the logic of the show it bridges between the scale of the third day’s large inflatable sculpture and the comic strips they made on the final day in which they synthesised all of the glitch mapping of the digital prints and the three-dimensional sculptural forms of the United Estates, with the User character ultimately triumphing and creating a new reality: “If you control the glitch, you control reality itself” — el ultimo grito!

In Iain Sinclair’s lecture Blake’s London: The Topographic Sublime the earnest psychogeographer describes how there is “a love of the fabric of this multidimensional city and also a cynical despair at the changes now being wrought … New enclosures, blue fences and razor wire topped with surveillance cameras, have sealed off enormous tracts of terrain along the eastern margin. We see the dominance of the virtual over the actual, the computer-generated version over the particulars of locality … What you are creating, in effect, is an electronic Golgonooza. A system predicated on affectless gazing. Therefore Los stands in London building Golgonooza,

Compelling his Spectre to labours mighty; trembling in fear / The Spectre weeps, but Los unmov’d by tears or threats remains. “I must create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s. / “I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.”

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POSTSCRIPT: I made a mistake and accidentally posted this while I was tagging it with “glitch” with the result that the title came up as Week 33 – August 17-23 – El Ultimo Gritoglitch, — a meta-glitch I’m tempted to reinstate.

Week 6 – Young In Hong – February 9-15 – ‘In Her Dream’

On a dark evening, Ann (26, a night worker), Una (22, a jobseeker and a single mum), Jin (31, job unknown) and Elvire (26, a migrant worker, nanny) are having a dinner party. It is not clear whether this is a dream or a real setting. As the party progresses, Ann, Una and Elvire become increasingly drunk and start behaving wildly. They intimidate Jin who finds herself isolated and unable to communicate with the others. She slips away in the middle of the dinner, finding herself left out, starts to talk to herself. This is how her secret starts to unfold.

South Korean artist Young In Hong‘s complex performance piece ‘In Her Dream’ begins with a dinner party, explicitly referencing Judy Chicago’s 1979 feminist masterwork The Dinner Party, in which thirty-nine mythical and historical women were written back into history from an “ongoing cycle of omission”, celebrating many ‘female’ artforms that have traditionally been undervalued and recontextualising them in a work of ‘high art’. Similarly, in Week 5 of fig-2, ‘Lichen Hunting on the West Coast’, Rebecca Birch introduced us to the Gaelic songs that Hebdridean women traditionally used to accompany textile work. Young In Hong’s work this week also focuses on female experience, but while Birch was interested in an ongoing experiential inquiry, Young In Hong explores violence and isolation using historical reference, music, and dance, combined in a single symbolic work.

performance

Two key true narratives inform the piece:

  1. In the red light district of an unnamed city in Korea: women, sex workers, crammed into a tiny room, with windows barred so they couldn’t escape. There was a fire, and nineteen women died. After the fire, a diary was discovered, a poetic diary in which the diarist said: I am looking at a cage outside the window, the birds cannot sing, and I cannot talk — and we see each other, but we cannot talk.
  2. A woman, abused from the age of nine, having suffered for twenty-one years, with two broken marriages and incarceration in a mental hospital, unprotected by Korean law, murdered the man who raped her. In the court case she said “It wasn’t a person I killed; it was a beast.”

The ICA theatre space was set out with two different stages, one centred on the dinner party, the other an abstract space with a tall white veiled enclosure – these are broadly associated with everyday outward life and inward psychological life, juxtaposed to explore the conflict between the two. During the dinner party western elements predominate with a modernistic solo cellist, Zosia Jagodzinska, performing on the edge of the stage, as the scene becomes more phantasmagoric. The dancer who plays Jin becomes alienated from her peers and moves to the second space, through the audience, chanting with more disturbed movements, “It’s not a person. It’s not a person. It was a person.” and “Bird in a cage”. She enters the veiled cage and dances while Korean percussionist Jeung-Hyun Choi issues shamanic chants to the beat of her drum. The cello arpeggio reprises, and she and the other dancers return to the first stage, their faces in veils, and the light fades away.

drummer

Young In Hong explains that she wanted to create a layered work referencing feminist history, using collaboration and improvisation to develop a structure “to make a work you can fear and experience rather than understand based on giving information.” The work dramatises contradictions between real and psychological life, bringing together familiar and strange elements not only through the staging and scenario, but through the use of Korean drums and Shamanic music on one side, and cello and more Baroque informed settings. Making the two work together in one piece is disruptive, but helps to communicate some of the issues of Korean modernity that have created a society in which those women could burn in a barred room, and a woman was driven to murder her rapist.

Modernity in Korea happened fast, creating “a very compressed society, very irrational” in which unpredictable things happen as a consequence. The complex elements of Baroque figure heavily and to Young In Hong, who grew up with these (having been born a Catholic), express questions about the modernity of Korea and its contradictory development. The work is performed by women, but Young In Hong claims that she does not divide men and women along the traditional lines of gender politics, but is more interested in power and how it can be redistributed through making art. Nonetheless it is a piece about a woman’s story and takes expression through female participants, so a male perspective is necessarily omitted. This seems fitting in a work those intellectual and artistic antecedents are rooted in an endeavour to give voice to women omitted from history.

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Official page for Week 6: http://fig2.co.uk/#/6/50

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