Friday, 23 May 2014

Rolling together Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and The Magic Roundabout. It makes sense to me!

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd 'Diorama' at Nottingham Contemporary 
Moments where you are reaffirmed that you are on the right artistic track are like buses; you can wait ages for one and then several come along all at once.

Or maybe it is that they suddenly make sense all at once.

I was lucky enough to get over to Nottingham Contemporary to see Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s first solo exhibition at a public gallery in Britain. I managed to visit not once but twice.. 
On my first visit I had only 30 minutes to do a whirlwind visit. 

However I was so excited and so struck by the completely luscious and gorgeously sensual aesthetics of the work that I knew immediately that I would HAVE to get back before it closed.

Claws from Marvin Gaye Chetwynd's Catbus. These claws are worn by several performers when her Catbus is part of a performance. The Catbus was originally a character in Hayao Miyazaki's animated film, My Neighbour Totoro. 
On my second visit, in the show’s closing week, Chetwynd’s work’s uplifting effect on me hadn’t dimmed at all. It was fantastic to be charmed by Cousin Itt (from Addams Family fame) and also good to see the Brain Bug (during one of it’s mid-day animated phases) but for me the absolute winner of the show was the sequence of scaled-down dioramas of film sets. 

Surprised by Cousin Itt
The Brain Bug... a character taken from the, not very successful, sci-fi film StarshipTroopers 
This time I sat and listened to the soundscape which accompanied the dioramas and it was fantastic! 
For me the obvious fun that the two people giving their interpretations (both in basic schoolboy French - and the English translations of this) was so much fun. 

The fragile and precarious nature of the construction of the Diorama somehow just makes it all the more appealing. 
It is obvious that despite the serious issues that she tackles in her work (personal debt being one current theme) Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is very happy (in-fact she encourages) a good dose of irreverence and humour. Her work can be read on several levels so if you simply love textures, materials and a sense of the dramatic then her show at Nottingham Contemporary was perfect to visit. But if you are also intrigued by how an artist can make videos, performances and sculptural works which reference, low-brow B movies, bad sci-fi movies and juxtapose these with classical Greek philosophical treatises and literary classics then Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is the artist for you.

“She is at home with the classics and with popular culture – and she uses one to give new meaning to the other.” 

Performance is at the heart of Chetwynd’s practice so actually everything that was in the show at Nottingham supported either previous performances or was used in The Greenroom, the performance that was specially commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary. 
You can watch an excerpt of the performance online. 

In the exhibition booklet it says that Chetwynd likes the excitement of problem solving when on a low budget and also the sense of autonomy and spontaneity that comes from working on her own or in a small team. 
One of the gallery attendants told me that Marvin Gaye Chetwynd has a troupe of people who work with her, these are people that she has made an emotional connection with- people who are on the same wavelength as her. I understand this approach as her work is so individual and definitely energy driven and I can see why people want to not just watch it but to also be part of it. The gallery attendant also said that the members of her troupe are very loyal and many have worked on several versions of her performances and filmed pieces.

Her work has an energy that I am very definitely attracted to.

I also like when we don’t know the whole story I enjoy when things are not completely explained; when there are loose ends in a story or performance. I have been an avid fan of street theatre for years and very definitely a fan of the absurd.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd says, “I like Carnival Comedy and Nonsense”. Well me too!

I am drawn to the anarchic and the surreal and so (as I have said in previous blog posts) my touchstone in life is The Magic Roundabout. After confessing my love of the Magic Roundabout I always very quickly add, “Not the animated film but the original Magic Roundabout, the one with Eric Thompson as narrator.”

I now have a video player which I have kept for the sole purpose of being able to watch my VHS Magic Roundabout tape. If I am ever feeling sad or low the completely nonsensical Magic Roundabout stories help me regain my equilibrium. Of course life is messy and ends are rarely neatly tied up (as in sentimental Hollywood films or 'CSI Miami' - or 'CSI shitty' as I prefer to call it.) 

My precious Magic Roundabout VHS tape
I identify with the cheerful, optimistic and mischievous Brian (the snail) and a favourite Magic Roundabout moment is when Brian is wearing his headphones and acting as an air traffic controller ‘trying’ to guide the runaway flying carpet (which has kidnapped Dougal and flown away with him). But Brian isn’t trying very hard and is actually loving seeing the grumpy and cynical Dougal getting dizzy as he is whizzed about on the carpet. 

Moments of mischief are at the heart of the Magic Roundabout because the narrator Eric Thompson (being a bit suspicious of the French) took it upon himself to rewrite the original French scripts that went with the puppet production.

“His calm tones, at odds with the hyperactive animation, lent a curiously mismatched feel.”

This 'not quite rightness' of the Magic Roundabout is one of the things that makes it appeal so much to me. 

As a visual person most I often make connections based on visual qualities rather than themes. When I encountered Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s show, ‘The Encampment of Eternal Hope’ at The Baltic, Gateshead UK in October 2012 I almost felt that I was in an alternate version of The Magic Roundabout; the simplified spikey inflatable trees were the link in my mind. 

I felt like a small Florence in the Magic Roundabout garden. 

Me (Kirsty E Smith) enjoying the participative aspect of The Encampment of Eternal Hope
My view from one of the Encampment of Eternal Hope shelters 
Although Neil Bromwich and Zoe Walker’s work was on a serious note looking at ways of coping with possible future apocalypse - (Making apocalyptic predictions for 21 December 2012 – the end date for the Mayan Calendar – as an imaginative catalyst, the project envisages a post-apocalyptic utopian community, a kind of ‘garden of earthly delights’) you can’t help but be lured in by the colours, simplified / childlike forms of the trees and the meditative and so possibly calming and hopeful vibe of the processional performance (videos of which were playing in the gallery space) that were part of the show. 

Photograph from the Baltic website 
Rolling these all together in my mind I ask myself what is it that I am drawing from these three disparate creative works and artists? 

My thoughts on this so far are: 
- positive energy, 
- a maverick approach, 
- anarchic humour 
- eternal hope.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Anthropomorphism and The Absurd; so much to learn from William Kentridge.

Universal Archive (12 coffee pots) by William Kentridge 2012
Things linger with me and if I am ever in doubt about what is important to me I just ask myself what has been hanging about in my subconscious for a few weeks or months. Important things stand the test of time. 

Back in January last year I visited The Tanks at Tate Modern. William Kentridge’s 8 channel video, 'I am not me, the horse is not mine', was the inaugural show at The Tanks and it made quite an impression on me.
Surrounded by 8 huge screens in The Tanks at Tate Modern.
I was most likely drawn at first to his appreciation of the absurd; something which has always interested me. The idea of a man’s nose taking on a life of its own and then the nose's life becoming more important than the man’s is definitely absurd and strange and interesting too.
(This storyline makes up much of, 'I am not the horse, the horse is not mine'). 

I did make a short video of it however this one by erased culture is a better snapshot than mine. 

 Later in March 2013 I went to see 'A Universal Archive: William Kentridge as Printmaker' at The Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. The show is a Hayward Touring show (Southbank Centre London) and it’s next venue is Aberystwyth Arts Centre 8th March- 16th May 2014.

The show is a fantastic overview of William Kentridge’s (printmaking) career and includes over 100 prints from 1988 to the present. However his work is almost completely monotone and I personally need colour in my own work so I was still a bit puzzled as to what it was exactly that was drawing me to this artist’s work. 

Throughout the prints, drawings and etchings in the show there were some recurring visual motifs including: typewriters, telephones and the very classic Bialetti facetted metal coffee percolator. 

'Self-Portrait as Coffee Pot' 2012 says it all. For me it is a perfect combination of the concept of the anthropomorphic and also a wonderful enjoyment of the the absurd.

Self Portrait as a Coffee Pot by William Kentridge 2012
It has been said that my own sculptures (Frillip Moolog beings) have strong anthropomorphical qualities and I also have to admit to really liking the faceting on this style of coffee pot. Maybe I also enjoy seeing a solid shape sectioned into similarly shaped components?

Hooty 2012 by Kirsty E Smith 
While walking round the show at MAC (Midlands Arts Centre) I got a strong sense of the absurd. And this is something that is given special mention in the excellent learning resource which accompanies the show.

The Nose gets ideas of grandeur; here it is on the horse. 
The Nose as a ballerina. William Kentridge
“Many of Kentridge’s works make reference to the idea of ‘the absurd’. Explored through literature, theatre, and art, absurdism was a philosophical movement linked to surrealism and existentialism, based on the idea that beneath the logic and structure by which we attempt to live or lives, there is meaningless to human existence. As well as exploring the idea that tragedy and disaster can befall us all, absurdism also makes evident the ridiculousness of the habits and structures by which we exist. Kentridge’s explorations also extent to the absurdity of apartheid; a system that had become brutally lost in its own ridiculous logic."
Absurdism also plays with coincidence chance and possibility. An aspect of this is the process by which meanings are created when random objects are put together.”
Excerpt from Education Pack written by Fiona Godfrey

Kentridge says that objects have suggested themselves to him (there is no political intent) and he and the audience project their own meanings onto these objects. 

Putting my own work in situations which might be interpreted as absurd is also of interest to me. 'Mi Wawa with Cows' and 'Hurgle Lenz: donkeydays'; do these photographs have absurd qualities?

Mi Wawa with Cow. sculpture and photograph by Kirsty E Smith 
Hurgle Lenz: donkey days. Sculpture and photograph by Kirsty E Smith 
In the show there is a huge print of a woman with telephone in place of her head. 'Telephone Lady' (2000) At the time I didn’t realise that it was in fact a lino cut print; one on a very large scale 216cmx 120cm. 
Anyone who portrays a woman with a telephone as her head is definitely very interesting to me! 
Photograph: © the artist and David Krut Fine Art, New York and Johannesburg
As I walked through the multitude of prints what became very evident is that William Kentridge is fantastic at story telling and so that was another big reason why I was intrigued and interested. 

“Kentridge's prints are a theatre of the mind: you see his imaginary world performed on a small stage, with all its familiar characters – Ubu, Felix, Soho; even the objects that feature in his work amount to recurring characters. Soho's Bakelite telephone morphs into his neglected mistress, waiting for his call. The studio coffee pot doubles up as the artist's own buzzy head. And the film camera strides the landscape on its tripod legs, a heartless, if watchful machine.” 
Laura Cumming The Observer 25.08.13

Although the show is a show of William Kentridge’s prints (and he himself says that whether it is his work with ballet, opera, theatre or animation, always at the heart of his practice is printmaking) what I see is a storyteller who has a strong sense of the theatrical in his work.

I am especially interested in this as I too am very interested in the theatrical but at present I am struggling to find ways to introduce more performance into my practice.

But I should not be too hard on myself; William Kentridge’s practice has developed over many years and things didn’t happen over night for him either. In the 1970’s he spent five years acting and directing theatre in South Africa and then he spent several years studying mime at L’Ecole international de Theatre Jaques Lecoq in Paris before returning to South Africa in 1985. His practice became truly multi disciplinary when he started to work collaboratively with Handspring Puppet Company in 1992.

There are various videos online of his presentations, some which feature snippets of his animated drawings projected behind him and others which which actually feature himself having a conversation with himself. These videos give a brilliant insight into an artist who enjoys the creative process, who has refused to restrict himself, who keeps an open mind ... even to the extent that while making his animated drawings he develops the story during the drawing process. He says that the the story unfolds (even to himself) during the physical process of drawing. Ideas develop and evolve during the short walk between the camera and the drawing and these then dictate what he draws or rubs out, re-draws or amends.

"Kentridge’s art is an extended thinking process; a fluid intelligent and playful reflection on the world, a constant capturing of experience, of making connections. In his printmaking process this journeying occurs from the initial creation of the plate, to what arises in the printing process, to where this may lead next. In the animation process this journeying occurs from frame to frame, while over his lifetime we see it evolving from art work to art work”. 
Excerpt from Education Pack written by Fiona Godfrey

If my enthusiasm has resulted in me writing a blog post which seems a bit confusing then just watch this 3 minute video where the artist speaks very eloquently and engagingly himself. 

William Kentridge as Printmaker continues at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 8th March -16th May 2014