The following essay by Neil Mulholland was comissioned by The Open Eye Club to accompany The Human Arc at Tramway in November 2008.
Masters of Ceremonies
By Neil Mulholland
Despite the wealth of exhibitions in Scotland, there are, relatively speaking, few that offer a de-facto time-based opportunity (1). Specialist Live Art and Performance events take place with far less regularity than gallery openings and, due to their ephemerality, do not maintain a very high visibility in the mainstream discourses of contemporary art. Live events and time-based arts are encountered frequently enough; more often than not they punctuate the average gallery opening/closing night, providing the evening's entertainment. The shift towards this model discloses that the infrastructures that sprung up specifically to support time-based work are now not always deemed to be the most appropriate (2). Since the establishment of Video, Live Art and Performance circuits in the early '70s a more hybrid approach to practice has triumphed (3). It's now hard to find many artists who do not use elements of new media, video, animation, performance, live or related time-based elements in their work. Artists are not limited to or by these genres - they move freely between them. Despite this, the need to find some dedicated spaces for Video, Performance and Live Art is still pressing albeit that this need is not accompanied by the necessity to establish the legitimacy of 'specialist' time-based genres and techniques that was once paramount.
There is a gap, then, that The Open Eye Club seeks to occupy. The Open Eye Club - Karen Cunningham and Leonora Hennessy - are concerned with appropriating the production and publicity tactics of theatre, creating temporary event spaces that dynamise the display of polymathic works of art that otherwise might be destined for either the equanimity of the gallery or the specialist time-based art circuit. They want to establish a platform for an irregular set of practices, to provide an appropriate environment for works that share a time-based element.
Premiere, The Open Eye Club's first event held at the Glasgow Project Room on Guy Fawkes Night in 2005, was premised on the straightforward insistence that participants show works that were new to Glaswegian audiences - a guiding principle of all subsequent The Open Eye events. This in itself is not an unreasonable or unusual request, most new exhibitions would tend to show new works, but the context it establishes is theatrical. It conjures up the glamorous spectacle of the much anticipated first showing of a work, one that is incomplete with an array of invited celebrity guests. It suggests a performance will take place, during which the audience and able to talk, drink, eat, move and encounter a number of works in sequence. The Open Eye Club is not unlike a café-concert or a cabaret. The cabaret format allows a thematic to be explored in a relatively open way. This has permitted The Open Eye Club to engage with a range of discourses ranging from the latest developments in postconceptual painting (This is not a Painting) to the transmogrification of political correctness (Totally P.C). Staging these themes in a cabaret format enables a dynamic set of relations to emerge between the works. They unfold a collaged narrative, a cadavre exquis that resonates with Serge Eisenstein's association of cinema with montage.
The Open Eye Club works are commissioned sequentially, the elective affinities are elusive, vigorous and boundless. The works are connected like a tag team; the qualities of the work of one participant suggest where to look for the next. The billing emerges, potentially, more from the free associations that the curators make between newly commissioned works than from gamely established social networks, be they friendships, the resident companies of cities or dealer recommendations. This way, The Human Arc generates its own narrative, a story yet to be told. This autopoietically enables an event, an event that is yet to happen, an event that promises to be performative.
How can a collection of premeditated video and art objects possibly be performative? Where is the sense of action and contingency that comes from the spectacle of a live act within a proscenium arch? In The Human Arc projected video works, installations, and performances will be shown for 'One Night Only' within a traditional dark theatrical environment. This conceives of the Tramway 4 theatre space as mise-en-scène; video performs as a tableau to objects while objects help to illuminate and embody the experience of projected video works. Paintings and sculptural works, performances and sound works can develop into sensual cues or props within a theatrical space. Art objects may reappropriate videos through their proximity, producing a distinctive milieu of sensation. Objects and moving images can become affordances; they may gain performative qualities and enable the audience to engage with them differently. The experimental, the mutable, the unfinished, the failed - attributes that are difficult to enable in conventional gallery exhibitions - can be more readily accommodated in this contingent atmosphere.
The Human Arc will include works by Glasgow-based artists Sara Barker, Scott Myles and Calum Stirling designed to be physically installed in the theatre alongside video works by Maze de Boer (Amsterdam), Geoffrey Farmer (Vancouver) Martin Healy (Dublin) and Pil and Galia Kollectiv (London).
Pil & Galia Collective's current show Svetlana - produced following a residency at S1 in the centre of Sheffield - epitomises the fruitful relationships that can be established with a site. S1, a former factory, forms the mise-en-scène for a series of Bauhaus-esque photo shoots that occupy Sheffield's techno-industrial music heritage and its Brutalist architecture in order to invent an archive of photographs. The resulting photographs are as resonant of early '80s retrofuturism as they are of the international style of the mid '20s - they exist in a place between. The Svetlana archive presented in S1 is a record of a series of faked performances, the inauthenticity of which is openly paraded. Pil and Galia Kollectiv's work embodies the kind of playful theatricality and cultural feedback that The Open Eye Club nurture.
Geoffrey Farmer's video’s 7am Bottle Smashers and The Window Meditator and Martin Healy's simulacral jungle video FACSIMILE resonate with Pil and Galia Kollectiv's rearticulation and metamorphosis of familiar objects and local places. Stirling's haptic use of sound and his invocation of DIY architecture and the autodidactic indie culture of the late '70s provides a different connection with the work of Pil and Galia Kollectiv. Engaging with the work of peers to substantiate a public process that is connective and adaptive is crucial to the success of The Human Arc. There are implicit conjunctions between Barker's sculptural structure, which draws our attention to the ways that objects perform in relation to the body, and Myles' rearticulations of canonical works, conjunctions that can emerge and become embodied only during the event itself. The affinities between these works are multiple and all the more transitory due to the time-based nature of The Human Arc.
(1) Relatively being the operative word. There have been a growing number in recent years; three that immediately spring to mind are Flourish Nights in Glasgow, Cabaret: Smell the Glove at Generator, Dundee, and the Embassy's themed Film and Performance nights in Edinburgh.
(2) Ekow Eshun, Artistic Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, recently announced that the ICA will be discontinuing its Live Art & Media Department. This could be disastrous to the health of Live Art & Media in the south of England and is economically rather than culturally motivated. However, it could be that Live Art & Media would be better accommodated alongside the 'visual' arts since they are now integrated practices.
(3) In 1972/73 it also became possible to apply for grants specifically to produce performance art and artists' films when specialist subcommittees were formed at the Arts Council of Great Britain.
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