Jesse Darling presents solo exhibition Support Level at New York’s Chapter NY opening January 26 and running to March 11.
Showing new paintings and sculptures, the works will draw from ‘the clinical as a structural and social form of abjection.” Mobility aids, hygiene curtains, health posters and chairs to name a few embody a form of uncertainty and vulnerability that sit as a “precarious force somewhere between marked resilience and physical decline.”
The digital and print publication unbag (that “promotes dialogue concerning contemporary art, cultural practice, and political action”) is releasing their second issue of visual art, critical essays, web-based projects and other literary works that explore the idea of ‘end’ and featuring 19 contributors including Morehshin Allahyari, Jesse Darling, Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Baseera Khan, Precious Okoyomon and Ashwin Ravikumar among others.
The evening will feature readings and performances by Justin Allen, Thea Ballard, Shawné Michaelain Holloway and Baseera Khan.
The opening night included live performances by vocalist Elaine Mitchener, as well as artists Potter and Hall.
The works brought together explore language and words to unpick “the legacies of imperial scientific fundamentalism” and the violence of naming (and therefore claiming) bodies. Through its power, symbolism and obscurity, the exhibition looks at “propagandist deployment of slogans” and words within digital capitalism and legibility as a form of control as well as its place within divinity; “the unsayable equates to the sublime.”**
The works brought together explore language and words to unpick “the legacies of imperial scientific fundamentalism” and the violence of naming/claiming bodies. Through its power, symbolism and obscurity, the exhibition looks at the way the “Word is itself a stand-in for divinity; the unsayable equates to the sublime.”
The opening night will include live performances by vocalist Elaine Mitchener and artists Claire Potter and Gordon Hall.
Two exhibitions, both called The malignancy of Stupidity: the cutest evil (la coscienza sporca), le perroquet…Yesterday sounded too sentimental…once more: repression/negation/vulnerability… BOTH SHOWS SHOULD HAVE THE SAME TITLES… I like your note about friendship., are on at Paris’ Lily Robert, opening May 11 and running to June 17.
The press release features a creative text with a copy-paste aesthetic that ruminates on art and friendship, gender and intersubjectivity, with cross-textual quotes from some of the artists involved: “but you loved me most. don’t lie. you tell your friends.”
The speculative-fiction-but-uncomfortably-close-to-real-life satire is published by Arcadia Missa and comes with a blurb that cites a definition of Big Data:
“Big data (n) is high-volume, high-velocity and/ or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.”
Raising funds for the future endeavours of their disability-led arts and non-profit organisation, Shape will host a postcard exhibition and sale, a series of workshops and opening and closing parties.
The postcard sale, open all day on Friday and Saturday, brings together work made onto postcards to be sold at 30 pounds each, with over 70 participating artists including Jesse Darling, Linda Stupart, Liv Fontaineand many others.
There will be two workshops led by writer Bridget Minamoreon creativity and depression, and Charlotte CHW who will host a “participatory visual, image-based brainstorm and group composition of short performances relating to performing the body in trauma.”
For one wild moment, I see the stash of electric torches lined up beside Rachel Harrison’s plaster kettle-bell and think to myself ‘those are for when the electricity fails’. It’s a way more fun program for viewing art, to consider which would be most useful in an apocalypse. We’re spared the Brexit art, for the most part, and in fact, it’s depressingly un-apocalyptic, business as usual with the prediction of good sales due to the drop in the Pound. I do overhear a group of New Yorkers greet each other like kids back on the first day of school: “It’s so nice to have you back in Europe!” says one brightly. “Well, near Europe, anyway”, is the offhand response. I don’t know why I somehow expected some sign of the times, but for the most part the 2016 Frieze Art Fair offers inoffensively scaled, inoffensively sited wall-based works. Not that anyone should ever use a temporary mall spruiking trinkets for the rich as a political barometer.
Speaking of apocalypse, everyone I meet mentions Jon Rafman’s huge ouroboros set for virtual reality headsets in Seventeen Gallery’s bright yellow room, which I unbelievably manage to miss even upon repeated circuits of the fair. When I finally seek it out and, though skeptical of the thirty-minute queue, I’m pleasantly surprised to find it worth the wait, belying the couple behind me who leave, sniffing: “They don’t look like they’re having much fun in there!”
Of course the work, ‘Transdimensional Serpent’, relies heavily on the assured novelty value of new technology, but it does give some real moments of wonder. One highlight is when, inside the VR headset and looking up to see not the white roof of the tent but a host of silhouetted bodies far above as though floating on the surface of water. Without any narrative linking the scenes, it feels a little too much like an opportunity to show off a couple of cool set pieces: a dim alleyway in a menacing city gives way without warning to a desert landscape with figures dancing around a bonfire, or a rainforest to an empty grid.
In the context of an art fair, it’s refreshing to find an artist effectively harnessing the cinematic experience of thrill and awe that still remains in new digital devices. On the other end of the tech-spectrum I find the work of Yuri Pattison, winner of the Frieze Artist Award 2016, frustratingly dense, no matter how long I spend with it. Made up of a series of monitors installed around the fair and, according to the press release, live-updating according to data from the ‘fair environment’, Pattison’s work — perhaps intentionally — almost blends in with the plethora of screens and advertisements already bombarding the viewer from every angle.
The queue for the Rafman came with its own unofficial performance, as a pair with camera equipment are being asked firmly by staff to leave. I gather they’ve been asking inappropriate political questions of the fair denizens and someone’s complained. “You are totally destroying the integrity of the fair!” says the cameraman facetiously. The artist Patrick Goddard is also walking around with a GoPro strapped to his head filming for a future project, though either he’s known enough to be allowed or isn’t asking difficult questions. Nearby, a child is snap-chatting all proceedings too, clucked over by his doting mother: “He’s videoing the video! Oh, darling, that’s so clever!”
Certain single sculptures manage to cling onto some of their un-wordy strangeness, though in the too-bright and crammed booths it’s something of a struggle, like birds in the zoo. Helen Marten’s assemblage of objects appears like a cyber baby-buggy at Greene Naftali and, at 47 Canal, Anicka Yi’s infectious skin-fold lamps have their air of contagion somewhat neutered by the plush grey carpet.
Throughout the duration of the fair, Goshka Macuga’s bunker-like concrete construction at Rüdiger Schöttle apparently serves as a setting for debate and discussion, but each time I pass it’s occupied only by a handful of vases, the silent heads of political figures from the past sprouting greenery. It’s supplemented by a packed performance at David Roberts Art Foundationthe following night, featuring two dancers moving on a pair of enormous conveyor belts.
Ryan Gander apparently curated Limoncello’s offering with a pair of dice, and its lighthearted moments include Vanessa Billy ’s puddles of resin cast in cardboard boxes and Bedwyr Williams’ sweet and weird box made head-like with a wig. David Musgrave’s glass jellyfish at Greengrassiis also charming, crammed in a corner.
Curated by Nicolas Trembley, a special The Nineties section of the fair this year is devoted to re-staging exhibitions from that decade. At Massimo de Carlos’ booth a friend rolls up an interminably large Felix Gonzalez-Torres print, it’s almost blank bar a tiny square of text in the centre, from a stack on the floor, feeling guilty even as the attendant smiles encouragingly. Andrea Zittel’s trail mix pot-pourri next to it is apparently not for public consumption, likewise the inviting Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster installation inspired by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s bedroom, which provides a sexy moment of dim brown seventies decor.
Jesse Darling’s precariously advancing school chairs, March of the Valedictorians, at Arcadia Missa are wobbly in a tough, formidable way, like a pack of small animals baring their teeth, and feel like a reminder of the constant activation of the border in the institution. They shudder a little on their long legs as people pass. Magician Space from Beijing lives up to its name, with shadows and wrought iron outdoor chairs by Liu Chuang, cloth moving lightly from a fan. Even the simplest diversion from the uniform strip-lighting of the Frieze tent provides welcome respite. I’m also caught in the beam of the shifting, flickering star in Rodeo’s booth, flicking over a church noticeboard by Duncan Campbell with a poem pinned inside. The woman in the booth describes it as a vitrine and her use of the word annoys me; this has a grimy, forlorn quality, quite removed from the pristine glass cases throughout the rest of the fair.**
Episode 4: Bathroom, curated by Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, brought together artists Paul Barsch and Tilman Hornig at Münchenstein’s OSLO1O in Switzerland, which ran from November 25, 2015, to January 25, 2016. Under the topic of ‘Bathroom’, devised by “post-gender avatar” and curator Agatha Valkyrie Ice, the project was the fourth of 10 in Ai’s curatorial concept following MTV Cribs.
Moving through the different rooms of Ai house, beginning at the entrance, through the corridors and into further rooms, the 10 episodes host a [sci-fi IRL] story constructed over two years.
Four toilets are placed haphazardly around the space. Each titled ‘Toilet Piece’ (2015), the artists describe the medium as “Sanitary Ceramics” and each have been cleanly painted with pigment made to look like graffiti. Hanging above are the three ‘Garlic Piece’ series (2015), made of allium sativum (see: garlic) and bast fiber (also a part of the plant), hung on steel. In the adjacent room, ‘Wall piece’ (2015) takes up the majority of the space and is made using nitro-combination lacquer. The graffiti presents opposite the isolated and minimal ‘Soap/Sink Piece’ (2015).
Accompanying the sculptural assemblage is a written script that expands on the concept through words:
“Hanako-san, Ai realise the first organ to suffer privatization, removal from the social field, was the anus. Ai hole is a positive particle before Ai is the absence of a negatively charged electron, and the movement of electrons toward the positive terminal is also a flow of holes streaming back the other way. Immerse Aiself in a field of anuses, and a collection of small holes and tiny ulcerations: Ai heterogeneous elements compose the multiplicity of symbiosis and becoming. Holes are charged particles running in reverse. Holes are not the absence of particles but particles traveling faster than the speed of light. Ai realise that the anus is that center of production of pleasure. Ai is closely related to the mouth and hand, which are also organs strongly controlled by the sexopolitical campaign against masturbation and homosexuality in the nineteenth century. The anus has no gender.”**
Jesse Darling’s art is hard to describe in words. Perhaps it’s because the artist is already so generous with them, saying so much as an ever-present voice on both real and virtual planes: performative talks, poetry, social media. Darling carries one of the barest voices of London’s current art scene, and for better or worse, their persona always surrounds the work.
The Great Near, running at London’s Arcadia Missafrom March 19 to May 7 comes accompanied by an unconventional exhibition text blending ideas and fragments of socio-political processes. The artist releases a chain of interlaced thoughts which rephrase and (re-)create a life’s circumstances. The mechanism of a post-industrial society of singularity are processed and questioned. Handwritten, photocopied words that could be read as a tale of recent modern historyor the human condition —its meaning and appearance —is one of many materials processed by Darling’s rugged and playful practice. Led by a subject position that privileges artistic process over final product, Darling’s attitude becomes form, and words, and then it expands.
The Great Near is a new series of works, including three floor pieces and six wall pieces, which each actualise the artist’s ability to give form to abject bodies as a way of questioning social conventions. Painfully direct and yet light and with humour, at first the exhibition seems like a gathering in an interior yet urban, public yet private, ritualistic, religious space. Three body totem shapes are scattered across the gallery floor. They’re assembled from various materials and encased by an outer skeleton, a welded steel architectural frame. Walking around these figures, poetic moments of amalgamated materials take form.
Placed with their back toward the gallery’s entrance, a body made from welded steel, wood, chain, castor called ‘Colonel Shanks’ is supported by an aluminium crutch. It could be its tail, a mutated phallus or a third leg. The object, designed to support injured humans, becomes a disfigured organ of power, pride and stability in this figurative animal-headed character. Its foam head looks as if it was torn into shape and has two steel horns sticking out of it. Placed on one of them is a bunch of plastic cherries, a kitsch remnant of mass production taking the place of nature in Darling’s world.
‘Temps de Cerises II’ bears a blossom made out of steel branches and foam flowers. Rising above its a pink board with its flora is a flashing safety light. The sculpture carries a sign saying ‘Private’ on its back, and the bottom is supported by two trolley wheels. This static piece projects a general feeling of instability and movement that is somehow in between ecstatic and frozen, or trapped. The body itself is unset, it refuses to be determined.
Around the periphery, materials and gestures repeat. Taking a central position, the wall sculpture ‘Saint Batman’ is a superhero in metamorphosis. The icon is crucified on a steel welded cross and decorated with a halo. His body is made out of a black bin bag with a leaf pattern and plastic foliage arching around his masked face. Mass-produced nature morphs between two and three dimensions. Here, low and high culture hang out, religion and capitalism are friends, again. In this assemblage, the desire to be saved meets human limitation in the form of a black lollipop stuck to a mask covered by pink foam. Hidden in one of the gallery’s corners is ‘What’s the hole in u Batman’, a painted C-type print mounted on a post. In the flat version the character seems as if his candy is transmuted to a hand-painted hole in his beatific body. Batman is transformed into a vulnerable, pathetic, superhero-saint.
Darling’s urban living creatures are planted in the context of our own haunted history. They tell us who we are, what we are composed of, how we turned out like this and what we wished to be. Their personal and political tone takes pleasurable form, capturing transformations while letting things be what they are.
What seems to be the most personal piece in the show, ‘Cavalry’, is a group of horse heads made of clay and sugar. The horse, a symbol of power, is made in the most organic material. The herd has lost one of its members to a higher position on top of the gallery’s wall. Their escape reveals a history of wealth, domination and detachment. The rest of Darling’s steeds almost seem like a field of flowers, a crowd of individuals waiting to be picked.
The Great Near gives fragmented form to a fragmented being, ending with what has become part of the the Jesse Darling signature. When leaving the gallery, one faces Arcadia Missa’s glass door covered in whitewash paint. It’s a reference to the city’s ‘Under Construction’ spaces or small businesses in foreclosure. The viewer is left with the feeling of abject bodies under transformation, thinking about the social lives of now and constant change as a process of construction and destruction.**
Emily Berry writes she struggled with the responsibility as the annual editor of The Best British Poetry 2015, beginning her introduction with a tentative “Hi, it’s quite scary to be the sole editor of an anthology.” It’s an admission that feels distinctly gendered in its hurried disclosure. I felt it beginning this review, knowing no other way to acknowledge my own felt inadequacy as poetry critic than to deflect. The only honest critics, I am starting to believe, are the ones that know how to tell a story.
“On the one hand…who am I,” Berry writes, “to be deciding, on my own, what is ‘best’ (not to mention ‘British’)?” The question barely has time to register before she follows it with: “On the other hand I thought I was exactly the person to be deciding it. I mean, we all think that whatever we like is the best, right?” To be sure, what has made its way into the book is not the best of Britain in any way that is quantifiable or conclusive in its execution, but rather the best of Berry’s research, which proves to be quite enough.
In my mind –where what I like is the best –her results are extraordinary —a 70-plus collection of writings that manages to feel both timeless and patently of this time. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the first five poems of the anthology are written by women, and that the gender breakdown of the anthology itself veers distinctly towards the feminine. That’s not to say that it is a “feminist” anthology, or one of “female writers” —it seems simply that given the opportunity to select content based on one’s intuition, as Berry did, one always chooses that which elicits a personal response. And what could be more personal, I suppose, than one’s gender and its tenuous existence in the strata of society.
Aria Aber opens the anthology brilliantly with ‘First Generation Immigrant Child’, tossing her freedom and religion at each other like firecrackers—her “sucking and studying / another girl’s body, my mind a knot of tinkling beads / tangled inside a stranger’s unwashed hands,” then her headscarf in a mosque, her cousin whispering “Blood is thicker than water, / even for whores, her breath a verve of Darjeeling and Marlboro / Lights.” Astrid Alben’s ‘One of the Guys’ follows like the continuance of one long, interrupted thought (“not too much poetry / should be done by too many girls. You see, or elthe!”), taken up by Rachael Allen like a baton in a relay race with the poem ‘Prawns of Joe’ and this single, devastating opening sentence: “When I had a husband I found it hard to breathe.”
It’s not all women, certainly, nor is it all ‘women’s issues’ (though only the witless —of which there are so many!—would use that term). But the collection has a particular feeling, which, while basic enough once articulated, remains almost absurdly elusive: it seems to hold the experiences and idiosyncrasies of one sex in equal regard to the other, presenting each as nothing more or less than the experiences of a single person responding to the world around them.
One such experience, and my favourite piece in the anthology, is Paula Cunnigham’s ‘A History of Snow’, told in a broken dialect reminiscent of writers like Flannery O’Connor and the characters of antebellum. “It was a wild sudden,” it begins, following a young girl as she falls severely ill and is saved, in a moment of almost banal kindness, by a stranger at the hospital.
There are too many good pieces to enumerate –including pieces by Sophie Collins,Daisy LaFarge,Sarah Boulton, Jesse Darling–and besides: often it is the lines, not the works, that stay with you. There’s “…and I am running out of places to hide…” from Janette Ayachi’s ‘On Keeping a Wolf’; “another part which I can only describe as / the distance between distance / and distance” from Crispin Best’s ‘poem in which i mention at the last moment an orrery’. Then there’s basically every existing line from Kit Buchan’s ‘The Man Whom I Bitterly Hate’ and from Niall Campbell’s ‘Midnight’, which begins with the discovery that “all because I’d held my child, / oh heart, and found that age was in my cup now” and ends with this single indisputable truth: “no heart grown heavy, heavier, with caring”. **