Monday, 23 November 2009

dark afternoon (Sophie Calle at the Whitechapel)

Lit trees above the skating rink, Natural History Museum, South Kensington
The challenge is to get through to the winter solstice without succumbing to depression.
To Whitechapel Art Gallery for ARLIS UK & Ireland (Art Libraries Society) 40th Anniversary Members' Day. Director Iwona Blazwick spoke with respect of the old public library, once alongside the gallery and a venerable meeting-place for artists, activists and local citizens, but long since transmogrified (by the borough, not the Gallery) into an 'Ideas Store' elsewhere. The old large reading room (unrecognisable) is now available for events such as ours, but it also contains a few ideas of its own, orchestrated currently by artist Goshka Macuga. Remembering that Picasso's 'Guernica' was exhibited at the Whitechapel in 1939, Macuga has (amazingly!) borrowed the life-size tapestry version of the painting that was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller and now normally hangs at the UN in New York, outside the Security Council, lest they forget. The same work that was covered by a blue curtain when Colin Powell stood in front of it to make the case for war on Iraq in early 2003. Together with a few other things including a film of young Vietnam veterans testifying regretfully to what they had got up to.

Sophie Calle, Prenez soin de vous / Take Care of Yourself, The Proofreader; taken from
A large Sophie Calle exhibition fills 3 of the galleries, including the work I saw in Venice, 2007. I like it better here, in (I think??) a slightly less lofty space. The huge collaborative project, 'Prenez soin de vous ' (now largely turned into into English), in which Calle engaged over 100 women from various 'interpretative' professions to respond in multifarious ways to the 'break-up' email from her ex-partner, is lush, colourful, funny, rueful, really entertaining, acerbic and ultimately a rich celebration of scores of fabulous, talented, characterful women. It's also a fascinating display of 'readings', of one kind and another. It can even be seen as a sort of expansion of Raymond Queneau's notion in his Exercises du Style, where the same little narrative is rendered in many different versions.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

theatre & all (Chris Goode)

Chris Goode, by Malcolm Phillips
Somewhat off-topic again, but converging maybe. The Oceanographer has restored to its extremely selective blogroll Thompson's Bank of Communicable Desire, the organ of the very wonderful theatre maker, poet, performer and (yes) thinker Chris Goode. A thread of relevance to our concerns is his interest in visual poetry. At an evening of performance 2 weeks ago at Toynbee Studios, part of Chris's Lean Upstream season ongoing through November, he presented 'four panels' by the American poet Michael Basinsksi. Basinski's work typically consists of crammed-together drawing and hand writing -- here's a colourful example (with added 'creatures'). There's a video of Chris with the young actor Jonny Liron doing the four panels together a few months back; on this more recent occasion they were joined by poets Lawrence Upton and Keston Sutherland, two notable creatures (of rather different species) of our Ocean. It was brilliant and delightful: the four voices played wild dodgems in airspace, eight hands stabbing and grabbing towards the pages for the utterance.
Earlier this week, the series saw Chris give a talk at Camden's People's Theatre, entitled 'The Forest and the Field', about his views of/hopes for theatre. Now, the Oceanographer's enthusiasm for Goode's works arises partly from specific admiration for his poetry, partly from personal regard, and doubtless too partly harks back to a personal brief involvement with experimental theatre (early 1970s, Cardiff ...). But more to the point is that there seems to be something widely and importantly applicable about what he does, or perhaps, about the ways he does it, even though characterising himself as someone who simply "thinks about theatre all the time". (His blog gives somewhat of the lie to that mind you: he thinks a lot about almost every cultural manifestation de nos jours.) Inter much alia on this occasion he deprecated the theatre's tendency to imitate anxiously what it perceives as competitors for people's attention: nightclubs, Twitter, whatever. And called instead for it to be itself, do its own work; and to struggle as needful with the problem of what that work might be, if not content merely with remembering one's lines and moving gracefully around the furniture. A determination to find what is really important in the metier, basically. And this isn't easy but is the proper approach, to work and to life. (The Oceanographer observes a particular resonance with libraries, which have lost all conviction and have no ideas other than 'be more like Google and Amazon'.)
The talk was punctuated with 'illustrations' by Sebastien Lawson, another of CG's young actor associates, demonstrating -- doing -- the kind of things Chris gets them to do, to explore and develop work. Get your kit off; with some part of your body, write in the air ... A lovely dance.
There's a new biography of Sergey Diaghilev: in last Saturday's Guardian review Simon Callow quoted a friend of Diaghilev saying that he had "an individual gift for creating a romantic working climate, and with him all work had the charm of a risky escapade". This is what it seems to be like around Chris Goode.
[note added 4 December 2009: Malcolm Phillips has some great photos over on Flickr, such as this of the Ursonate in full swing.