Monday, August 07, 2006

'British Art' Bristol Fashion

We went to Bristol at the weekend to see Crazy G's Mum who has recently moved there from Lancaster and tie in the British Art Show. My geography is rubbish but it was an amazingly easy journey, only an hour and 40 from Paddington. Once you've read the papers and had a couple of gins you're there.

The British Art Show is a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition that has already called at Gateshead, Manchester and Nottingham. It happens every five years and is an attempt to highlight current practice trends among artists living and working in the U.K. The intention is that it is not a survey of college prizewinners or 'tips for the top' and one of the things I found so valuable about the show was that the majority of the artists being shown were well into their mid-late thirties. In my humble opinion this is actually one of the most interesting periods in an artist's development. If you've not dried up, burnt out or just got bored at continually plugging away by then the chances are the work has fallen into a weighty stride. I think this is why I enjoyed it so much. Interestingly, about half of the 60 or so artists featured were born outside of the UK.

The show is spread across Arnolfini, Bristol City Museum, the Royal West of England Academy and several smaller sites. It doesn't show in London but hey, why shouldn't we travel out from time to time!

At Arnolfini I was bowled over by Ergin Cavusoglu's four-screen video installation 'Tahtakale'. It's set in an bazaar in Istanbul. Two screens focus on a small group of contraband money changers, a third screen sets out their speech and activity in rolling text like credits for a movie, and a fourth screen shows porters carrying baggage. The screens are suspended in a darkened room with a booming soundtrack of a male voice choir singing some kind of early religious choral music. The music is cleverly set at an inescapable volume and the effect is like walking into a small cathedral or chapel. I liked the way that the projected screens are suspended in such a way that you have to move around as they're not all visible at once.

I also enjoyed Anna Barriball's found photographs, blurred sepias of unknown people made sinister with ink filled soap bubbles lightly burst over them. The little ticks and splashes catch the features of the unknowns as though bouncing off them, like little pops of ectoplasm. Very nicely framed too, which sounds glib but I'm sick of seeing work on paper pinned up with those clear archival pins.

At City Art Gallery I enjoyed Mark Titchner's lightbox, typography like political sloganeering and presented mandala-like. I was interested to read that he calls on elements of Austin Osman Spare and the Golden Dawn. I like the idea of Occult informed billboards and there's not enough of the Occult in modern art in my book.

At the Royal West of England Academy we enjoyed Hew Locke's huge queen heads, built up of plastic tatt from pound shops, glistening swords, insects and gaudy flowers. I found I wanted to spend more time with them, they're made up of so much sheer stuff it's hard to tear yourself away.

Our highlight of the entire show, also at the Academy, was Phil Collins' 'They Shoot Horses'. Young palestinian teenagers disco-dancing to loud Ricky Martin and suchlike on and on for as long as possible. Two screens in a pitch black room, five dancers tightly cropped into one, and a smaller screen with I think four dancers. A mixture of girls and boys, different shapes and sizes. Some take breaks, some get bored then find a second wind, some keep on and on inventing their own little disco interpretations. Some even do back-flips. It's brilliantly funny and very quickly trance inducing. They're always in shot and must have been dancing in roped off rectangles to keep them from straying.

It's the second piece I've seen by Phil Collins. The other was 'Dunya Dinlemiyor' in New York, of Turkish teenagers singing along to the Smiths in a similarly marathon excercise. From my blog at the time:- " was shot in Istanbul in 2005 for the Istanbul Biennal and features various 'disaffected youths' singing karaoke Smiths songs. Some are clearly fans, like the camp young shirtless teen with plastic roses (in lieu of gladioli) sticking out of his back pocket who flounced his way through 'Ask' (and was actually rather good). Some however have almost certainly never heard a Smith tune in their lives (like the two girls who stumbled through 'Panic')… At first sight it's deeply, rivetingly hilarious, but a few songs in and the lyrics and vulnerability of the singers come together to make a deeply touching piece...".

This piece was similarly affecting. Underlying is that Collins' work is rooted in areas of conflict and political difficulty and after a few minutes I found my grin had subsided, and I was thinking about people's lives half a world away.

We also saw some 'other art' at the City Museum, including a Richard Long slate sculpture unfairly crammed in a corner but worse was that the gaps between the slate chunks were filled with dirt and detritus. Someone needs to get their feather duster out! They had some fantastic pictures tho, including a great Wyndham Lewis and a Scott-Tuke which seemed fitting given that Bristol is brimful to bursting with fresh faced boys with 'roll in the hay' West-Country accents.

Talking about Bristol itself I'd never been before and quite enjoyed it. The harbour area is pretty but crammed full of chain bars and so probably carnage by closing time on a Saturday nite (marauding youths, decorative but dangerous). Luckily we had local knowledge and so found some great bars and restaurants.

It's a great place for a nite or two and the British Art Show is on until mid-Sept.