'BINGO AND SOCIAL CLUB'
Michael Hess is a Berlin-based photographer who I discovered when first exploring the world of Bingo. After a chance visit to a bingo club in Southampton he began a four year project which culminated in his book 'BINGO & SOCIAL CLUB.'
"Around 1pm, every day of the week, nearly 600 bingo halls across the UK open their doors to thousands of loyal customers. But, although they can be found on almost every British high street, surprisingly few people ever see what goes on inside." Through photography Hess has attempted to open up the bingo world to a new audience, something I am similarly attempting with 'HOWSE'. His beautiful and nostalgic photography exudes vibrance and draws attention to the strong characters and quirky details found beneath the often crumbling exteriors.
What I love about Hess' way of working is his almost obsessive documentation of a section of society that is otherwise ignored. I have previously talked about these provincial areas of England where Bingo brings together communities of (serious) competitors, whilst entertaining and satisfying a cultural desire to gamble. I wanted to go to a Bingo gala to collect images and references but London proved bare of bingo so I had to rely on my hometown, Maidstone, to provide me with the goods. At its peak, the live bingo industry in the UK boasted more than 600 venues, however, as interest in the game began to wane in the 1990s, the number fell sharply. Today, less than 400 bingo halls are still in operation and most Bingo is now in fact played online, which makes the venues all the more interesting to infiltrate (through the art world.)
I contacted Michael Hess directly when first approaching the world of Bingo and he was happy to collaborate with me on the inflatable and provide me with the image. Subsequently I stuck to taking my own (staged) images but I have learnt a lot from his approach to his project and his patience when building up a trusting relationship between himself and the Bingo community. By doing so he has managed to capture some incredibly inquisitive and rich moments in British Bingo history.
Mika Rottenberg talks a lot about showing the process and the way things are made, revealing the surreal underbelly of society : "....if you peel the skin away you see all these processes..all these things...observations...underlying things that are trapped beneath the surface of everyday things." So what she is regurgitating in her work feels real and familiar but it's also strangely warped. It is an interesting space to explore as an Artist because your reality becomes integral to the practice, the work has to be run parallel to real things and the internal logic has to be present for the 'social surrealism' to connect to an audience. In her own words "..reality is so much weirder than any video I'm going to make..."
Rottenberg manages to talk about her work in a really honest and relatable way. There are no outrageous philosophical theories floating around her descriptions of the work, she is simply exploring what it means to be alive. "Bodybuilders sculpt their bodies...externally, you see the veins...almost like the inside of the body wants to pop out. You notice more that the skin is just this layer that protects all these things underneath. Always breathing...materials expanding, exploding, imploding..in and out." A lot of what she is saying here runs parallel to my exploration in 'WSM', her elaborate visual narratives take on artistic forms but she is simply and acutely observing human behaviour and the material/landscape that surrounds us.
Bedwyr Williams - 'The Gulch'
Barbican - The Curve
Bedwyr Williams' exhibition at the Barbican featured a series of theatrical immersive installations which both transported and disorientated me as a viewer. From a depressed hypnotist to a pair of singing running shoes to a talking goat I found myself completely immersed in Williams' warped reality. I felt an instant affinity to the work for several reasons. His effortless sense of humour is something I treasure within my own practice. When talking about his process of working Bedwyr has said : "Things strike me, then they stay in my head and I put them in a piece...I can't help but use humour. When you laugh it's like an involuntary function...like sneezing...not many other emotions are so involuntary." His work is pure in the sense that he takes his position in the world, the ordinary objects, the mind-numbing scenarios and transfers it into a piece of work (without the overanalysing and pretentious excess.)
Witnessing his singing running shoe piece also ran parallel to my making of 'Sharapova vs Williams' (take a speaker and stick it in an object, transform the object and trigger the viewers imagination.) The song that emerged from each trainer in the pair was 'While There are Two" which is a Welsh song that "...considers all things that you would value in life, and says all of these things are nothing compared to just the fact of being one of two." What a beautiful and romantic thought when bending down to listen to a running shoe. Whilst the obvious links to my work would be his references to sport I connect with his obvious obsession with the provincial. With my recent works 'GET IN' and 'HOWSE' I have subconsciously tapped into a community that is otherwise ignored in the art world, the football fans and the bingo fanatics are usually rife within smaller towns and suburbs where they provide a form of escapism.
Williams' interactive elements within the show allowed the work to attract and intrigue a wider public sphere. Visitors were lured down the "less-travelled B roads of human behaviour" because of his dismissive approach to the white gallery space. Again this is something I hold in high regard within the art world, why should the viewing space be restricted by invisible viewing rules? Williams' work is accessible which is a really important factor for me when viewing work, if we continue to make art that is inaccessible to the public, why should we expect them to understand our value as Artists?
Thomas Dane Gallery, Green Park
Paul Pfeiffer's show at the Thomas Dane Gallery last June happened to coincide with my making of the 'Boxing Stare Downs' video series. The show consisted of a number of video pieces and photographic works. The first room featured his perhaps most recognisable video work 'Fragment of a Crucifixion (after Frances Bacon)' which depicts a celebrating sports hero on a basketball court, seemingly wildly tormented as he moves back and forth (pre-Instagram: Boomerang), caught in an endless video loop. This 'monumental moment' of heightened elation is referred to continuously throughout my practice but this piece also seems hugely ritualistic and God-like to me. All surrounding elements have been digitally erased (there's no line markings, advertisement, no referee or even a ball) and all that is left is a perpetually hypnotised crowd, amongst camera flashes, fixated on a lone sporting hero, screaming indefinitely as if trapped in a state of immortality. I also really liked the fact that the video was projected on a small scale from an old miniature video projector. This scale, for me, questioned the players' untouchable predatory essence and brought in an element of vulnerability. Though it may feel like pure ecstasy at the top, its a long way to fall.
Overall, the exhibition's presentation was well considered. The 'Long Count' series lacked impact for me but the apparatus of the work emphasised and asserted the video onto the viewer. Each video (of the four) was shown on a tiny four inch screen, which protruded absurdly a meter from the wall towards the viewers eye line, "mimicking the thrust of Ali's glove...and foreseeing the invasive reach of this type of apparatus (iPad) and spectacle (boxing) into our daily lives."
I found his most recent work, in the back room, gripping but equally difficult to watch. Part of the series 'Caryatids', Pfeiffer had selected scenes of boxing where world famous fighters were being beaten aggressively by their opponents, who had been digitally erased. Our gaze, as the spectator, is unflinchingly squared on the body and suffering of the fighter being beaten to a pulp. The primal brutality of the sport is plain to see. Referencing religion and ritual the lone boxer appears as a saintly martyr who, as the work's title suggests, stands as solid as a column taking punch after punch and meeting his fate.
"You are in a social arena..."
In the words of Nicolas Bourriaud "the Artist dwells in the circumstances the present offers him so as to turn the setting of his life...into a lasting world", in other words the art we make undeniably evolves according to the social context surrounding us.
Bourriaud outlined this theory in the 90's when work from the likes of Phillipe Parreno, Gillian Wearing and Douglas Gordon was allowing the audience to become more involved with the work. The prominence was on an exchange between the artist and the viewer rather than a more hostile white space viewing of art. Learning to inhabit the present world in a better way rather than relying on the past to offer your work constructs.
I have often found that my work sits in this social arena context.
In relation to my own presentation of work, when considering Nicolas Bourriaud's theory and its practical point of departure being "the whole of human relations and their social context", what could be more relevant than showing the work on the viewers' phone screen? In modern day society, unfortunately, a lot of human relations are founded, developed and maintained online. On average, people spend 4 hours a day on their phones, which may be (extremely) depressing but it also offers a creative opportunity to ''exchange information between the artist and the viewer." When I released my 'Boxing Stare Downs' series on AVD (refer to Professional Showcase) I have used the digital realm to give the audience "access to power and the means to change the world" (or see two boxers almost kissing.) This idea of [Digital] Relational Aesthetics isn't entirely in consonance with Bourriaud's original theory. Rather than encouraging social interaction it is asking the viewer to look inwards (into their phone) into "an independent and private space" so to speak. I did find that exhibiting with the digital platform, AVD did allow me to break with the traditional physical and social space of the art gallery. Relational Aesthetics also takes as its subject the entirety of life as its lived; rather than removing an object from daily life and calling it art it is creating a social circumstance and "the constructed social environment becomes the art."
For my 'Boxing Stare Downs' exhibition on AVD I broke from the 'traditional white gallery space', I created a 'social circumstance' between the artist and the viewer, I gave the audience 'access to power' by allowing them to navigate the space and i constructed a 'social environment.'
Arthur Jafa - 'Love is the Message, the Message is Death'
Store Studios, The Strand
When talking about his work Jafa refers to the agony and ecstasy of life, a concept which consistently runs through my practice. He talks about the moment when you throw a basketball and it stops going up in the arc motion but it hasn't yet started to come down the other side - it's caught in the apex - in that space of suspension. In this space, he says "you can disentangle something that's incredibly beautiful and something thats incredibly painful, something majestic and miserable (blackness.)" His video 'Love is the Message, the message is Death' (which I viewed on the roof top of Store Studios) suspends you in a certain place so that you are forced to address what's in front of you and reflect upon the horror of it. As a white person viewing it I felt a certain sense of guilt, there's no benevolent whiteness in the film and this is foreign territory to most of the viewing public. This makes the piece very important, poignant and effective.
Jafa introduced me to this new term 'apex.' Apex definition : the top or highest part of something, especially one forming a point, the highest point of achievement, a climax. This is interesting to keep in mind when considering the installation of my work. The video was in fact being viewed on an apex (the roof of the building) inside a tent, "inspired by revival tents, a custom from the southern United State where Christian worshipers gathered in a marquee erected specifically for meetings, healing missions, church rallies or simply to hear a preacher speak." This form of installation feeds into this idea of Relational Aesthetics, Jafa has not only provided the preacher (the video) but he has allowed you to sit (comfortably) amongst an extremely historically loaded landscape. What you are viewing is emotional, full of pride but wracked with heartache, its defiant and independent but also makes you face the potentially evil underbelly of humankind. Although by entering this church setting I was emerged in a sense of hope (these tents aimed to revive hope and healing), after watching this video I was left in tears. I believe that this is what art should be; powerful, emotional and sometimes painful (like life).