b-side at the seaside

b-side runs until 14th September, do go to Portland and see it, it’s the best year ever.

Going to the b-side Festival in Portland, Dorset, was a real treat. It was launched by the peal of the bells in the lovely old St. George Church next to Tout Quarry, followed by a soundwork by Duncan Whitley. As the soundwork crescendoes from quiet birdsong to the loud hammering sounds of rock being shaped, the audience became grounded as to why they had come – b-side Festival is all about Portland and the people that live there.

A brief stroll down to the local community hall and there was a real sense of gathering. The artists, the curatorial team, local people, volunteers and those who had travelled especially all enjoyed what was on offer. There was Talkaoki (film clip) for those who wished to voice their thoughts loudly on art – which went down very well – and an Arts Confessional for those that had more intimate words to share. As the sun went down, families began to gather outside to have themselves and their bikes dressed with LED lights and soundboxes. As they moved off together as a group, led by Luke Jerram and his team, Lullaby (film clip) floated out into the street and up to children’s bedroom windows. People waved, watched and even cried – a simple idea turns into a moving experience when it is shared. I caught a little movie on my iPhone as they returned, one of those unexpected events that was more magical because it was a surprise.

Alex Hartley @ b-side
Portland Erratic by Alex Hartley

Saturday morning I went on a tour with other b-side supporters to view some of the works. There simply wasn’t time to see them all, so when you go, do make sure you plan things well. We began with Alex Hartley’s work Portland Erratic near Portland Castle. Sited on the harbourside looking out to sea, the work emerged from a sea-mist and seemed to be part of the place already. With it’s window frames painted as white as the fog and the stones it displayed seemingly the material of Portland, it was a surprise to hear that these objects were alien to Portland – had arrived as ballast, or were dumped during industrial works. In the distance, on the headland behind the sculpture, my eye kept travelling to view the dome at the Verne Prison. Another place that will be soon be processing unwanted arrivals on the shores of the UK, when it becomes a holding centre for asylum seekers, following the closure of the prison. The domestic scale and the use of up-cycled window frames made the experience of viewing the works through the windows, and beyond to the sea, a melancholic experience. A longing for a lost home.

A drive up to the Verne followed, where we were welcomed by Simon Ryder and shown his various works, which make up Passage, within the prison walls. Simon weaves stories with objects and histories and creates previously unconsidered links between seemingly disparate behaviours. Struck by a Pathe film he saw online of prisoners wearing masks to conceal their identity while they talked about keeping birds in the prison, Simons mind saw a relationship between the hoods that birds of prey wear and those donned by the men in the film. Another parallel discovery was that the game of squash was invented in prisons and was once a lowly game made by men locked-up and surrounded by high walls. It is now a game played by people with higher social status and is no longer allowed within the prison. The film Simon made, using infrared cameras, re-enacts men inside the prison playing squash, with resounding echoes of the balls as they thrashed against the walls. Confinement and freedom, leisure and echoes of history are all captured by a series of works installed within the rocks of the island.

Later the same day I witnessed an underground movie collaged from a historical collection of films that have featured rabbits. One must not mention the word rabbit on the Isle of Portland, because of its implications. Artist Alistair Gentry has been wandering around dressed as one – this snippet of a serious discussion observed by the underground dweller shows him infiltrating the Talkaoke. The films, powered by bicyclists behind the seasons due to the lack of electricity, revealed spoke peculiarities about rabbits in films – especially that they attack people, wear bow ties and are rather fond of white glove and time.

Talking was a key feature in two other works. Ellie Harrison shared a beautiful and moving set of personal stories from The Grief Series. Presented in a local home these works allow the viewer/listener to empathise with the storytellers as they responded to a number of questions written on cue cards. They got to choose which questions they would answer and the outcome was very emotional for as visitors sat in a chair opposite a photo of the speakers and listened carefully and privately on headphones.

Inside the cinema performance artist Tom Marshman presented a heartwarming set of stories in Everbody’s Auditiorium. Tom enacted charming conversations with local residents that told stories of their lives, with minimal props and subtle lighting and sound Tom warmed the cockles of anyone visiting this seaside cinema. Not to be missed.

I also heard and experienced the sound installation, Variable 4, by Jones and Bulley on Portland Bill, lovely resonance and mixing of pre-recorded and responsive sounds, melding in the mist with the deep tone of the fog-horn. Enchanting.

There is more, much more, to talk about. But I want you to read this NOW and go and see it SOON. There’s not long and you really do need to go and see for yourself. The support and engagement of the local community s absolutely fantastic – what every socially engaged organisation aims for. B-side Festival is not In Portland – it IS Portland.

review of Mycophilia by Louise Short at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth

Please share this with others, it’s such a wonderful show.

Mycophilia is the first of two shows being presented in the Ceredigion Museum temporary gallery space by Short&Forward and runs from April 17 to May 31st 2014. Alice Forward’s exhibition Swarm Society will run from June 12th till 2nd August and her works resonate well with those of Louise. Both make work that explores our relationship with the natural world and expresses their passion for protecting and conserving it for future generations. They share a love of film, mushrooms, bees and life.

Louise Short’s exhibition, Mycophilia, exhibits exquisite casts of fungi and spore prints as filmic objects. In a temporary space next to the Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth, she has presented a constellation of 3D snapshots of moments in time and place, captured and recorded in plaster, bronze, paper, paint and spore-dust on paper. The title of the installation, Mycophilia, means the love of mushrooms, likewise filmophilia means a love of films. Spore-dust is an evocative phrase that whispers the story of their process in your ear. On entering the gallery to experience Mycophilia viewers are transported into another world. The prints on paper are trapped underneath glasses, lest they should escape like spiders or wasps, and the science-fiction presence of a constellation of plaster casts suspended in a deep blue universe spans the whole back wall. Ian Banks meets Richard Mabey meets Thoreaux. This installation is both 2D and 3D – filmic and sculptural. It hints at mass fields of growth and microscopic detail. Each trace of fungi reveals its own intricacy and uniqueness – together they are a cosmos.

A love of the process of film and a deep understanding of nature is present in all of Louise’s artworks, but not always in an obvious, cinematic way. Mothshadowmovie (1999, 2000) turned an everyday office overhead projector into a screening device in a woodland – attracting and amplifying the ghostly visits of fluttering moths and slimy snails. For Something Else, her one person show at Arnolfini, Bristol in 1997, Louise cast the tender insides of daffodil trumpets, fixing the voids in plaster. In 2001, in the basement of what is now the Exchange Gallery in Penzance, she filmed the walls of the redundant telephone exchange then re-projected the 8mm footage back onto their surface. The projectors shuddered and rattled, returning life to the abandoned architecture. Feeling Faint created a gentle echo on the walls, the images quivered softly like Narcissus’s reflection on water. In Louise’s work solid things are made ephemeral and transient moments solid. Casting is like a 3D camera, the imprint of the brief moment that the fungus manifests itself above ground as solid matter is caught and made tangible.

The spore-dust deposits fine footprints of the mushrooms reproductive potential, they multiply generously but few will survive the process. Their lives are brief, like stars they appear unexpectedly and disappear suddenly, as if by magic. They are indeed other-worldly without consumption – you don’t need to eat them to be enchanted and drawn in by their hallucinatory nature. In the scale of things humans are similarly short-lived. We make art, we write, we create, we procreate, and every moment is to be noted, considered and experienced in our short lifetime. This exhibition of fungi prompts us to be mindful of this and the artwork is the outcome of a very thoughtful and considered process of walking, meandering and being in the moment.

During Louise’s regular forays through the beautiful Welsh landscape, where she lives and works, she was able to immerse herself in her thoughts of the ephemeral, returning with a record of her journey, on that day, of that place. I must let my senses wander as my thought, my eyes see without looking…Be not preoccupied with looking. Go not to the object; let it come to you…What I need is not to look at all, but a true sauntering of the eye. (Thoreau Journal 4:351) Solitude, silence, no signage, wandering aimlessly, like the rhizome of mycelia that appear as fairy-circles below the surface of meadow grass, Louise reflected upon her roots and relationships, walking random routes through the landscape, meandering, thinking and casting her gaze as she foraged, capturing her fragile trophies to keep.

Fungi is corporeal in nature, soft like flesh, but cold to the touch. Love, tenderness, fragility, vulnerability, the human condition are all here in this exhibition.


20140427-195422.jpg 20140427-195403.jpg 20140427-195345.jpg 20140427-195332.jpg © Carolyn Black 2014

Visited Spike Island yesterday to have a look at the Bloomberg New Contemporaries

Good to see Bloomberg at Spike Island – fresh ideas and works that reflect what’s happening in our art colleges today. My overall response is mixed – the show almost divides into two distinct camps, one which I enjoy more than the other. The camps are primarily the physical, material presence of the objects/sculptures, (which appear to be rather similar in their nature and concept) and the other lens-based media. An overriding memory of both camps is one of a light, enquiring humour, often ironic.

The physical-object works were mostly a little bit messy, a little bit playful, and some no doubt intellectually fascinating concepts, if I could see them. Some are lost on me.  What wasn’t lost on me was smell – the show as a whole hammered my senses into action  – joss sticks burning, pepper and mustard used as a painting medium, video soundtracks overlaying each other, permeating the spaces.

The works in the object group that grabbed my attention the most are definitely the knitted portraits on the jumpers by Hardeep Pandhal. The strange, knitted protrusions that were literally attached to the jumpers, neither 2D or 3D, were head portraits of Tupac Shakur and Bruce Parry. At first sight, my mind immediately drew parallel to something in the news at present – that of the Chinese man who has had a new nose grown on his forehead.

Hardeep Pandhal bloomberg 2013

The mans face hosting his nose, but in a different place to usual, is not unlike a sweater hosting a face that would normally be seen above the sweater, as opposed to attached to it. Facial slippage and misalignment. I understood the reference to 2pac in the title of one of the garments, but had to do a bit of home research to find out about Bruce Parry. Apparently he is a tv presenter on a programme about Tribes. I’m still wondering what is going on there, can anyone help me out?

Another work that haunts me is the short film, ‘Blessed are you who come’ by Fatma Bucak. It was both beautiful and intriguing. Subtitled a ‘Conversation on the Turkish Armenian border 2012’, visually it drew me in. The colours are rich, the rugged landscape framing the ancient ruined architecture, maybe from the Ottoman empire (my knowledge of this history is sketchy) provided a filmic stage for the ‘performers’. A group of about 12 or 15 old men (apart from one child that was probably a great grandson), probably 70+ years old, mostly having walking sticks, stand as a group as if posed for a photo, looking forward at the camera, which is static. The subtitles reveal that they have been asked to behave like this “by the Italian”. The narrative is revealed by the comments the men make about why they are there, what brought them there, and snarky little cultural digs, all with humour but clearly very loaded. Whilst these men are not consciously performing, a barefoot woman dressed in a black is – she has a dramatic presence as she moves between them, they mutter about her when she passes, but do not follow her with their eyes, they do their best to keep looking forward at the camera. One or two get a bit irritated, clearly baffled as to why they have been asked to stand there. I empathise. And like them, I am curious enough to stay and watch this film play out. I wonder why, what historical references do I not know about? Are these men veterans of a battle between Turkey and Armenia? The woman shares bread them, but it is Ramadan, the men don’t eat it. So we know they are Muslims. And of course there is the biblical breaking of bread. And maybe she is Muslim too – she prostrates herself, but doesn’t wear a veil, though her hair hides her face. She is timeless in appearance. This work was powerful in many ways and even as I write this, I realise I need to know more. Or maybe I don’t. I watched it three times, it held my attention and I felt both inquisitive about it and charmed by its visual presence.

spike island bloomberg Fatma Bucak

There were two other works that stay with me. The documentary styled film, ‘Purleus Tales’ by Simon Senn and the photographs by Joanna Piotrowska. Senn’s film challenges both the artist (camera person) and the viewer with the same dilemma – is it appropriate to use documentary film to frame people and provoke and challenge the subjects? It highlights the ethics of that approach, is it an inhumane manner to get the material needed?

Piotrowska provides a wonderful, aesthetic experience – huge black and white photos, mostly of pairs of people, that use clothes as binding signifiers, merging like conjoined twins. Brilliant.