Patrick Goddard

Contemporary high finance according to Patrick Goddard’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap online at Opening Times, Dec 8

8 December 2017

Patrick Goddard presents new video Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap at Opening Times online platform on December 8.

The new work includes “spoken and musical elements that looks at the abstracting tendencies of contemporary high finance” and is the final commission of 2017. Exploring an imaginary where “money no longer bears any relation to the production of useful goods or services,” the work also includes a doom metal cover of ABBA’s Money Money Money by London-based band Henge.

Previous commissions this year included Alice Theobald‘s library of collated sounds Taking Stock which was “composed and recorded by the artist in response to different states of affect” and released November 13. Steph Kretowicz + Kimmo Modig released interactive multimedia text Somewhere I’ve Never Been on November 24. The project brings together video, field recordings, soundscapes and text excerpts from Kretowicz’s recently released book Somewhere I’ve Never Been (2017) co-published by Berlin’s TLTRPreß and London’s Pool.

Visit the Opening Times website for details.**

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Patrick Goddard on failure, the language of critique + the redemption of the hypocrite

22 June 2017

“When I say my character is fictional, I mean it’s based on all the negative attributes that I see in myself, so it is fictional in that it is based on a caricature of what I already see present in myself” explains Patrick Goddard about his role as a video artist/documentary filmmaker in an interview at my house, “In that sense, it’s a parody or a confession of my worst attribute.”

Patrick Goddard, ‘Gone to Croatan’ (2014) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen, London.

Here to discuss his recent solo exhibition at London’s Seventeen, which ran April 23 to June 3, Go Professional is presented as a trilogy, where each 30-minute video occupies its own room, an individual narrative unfolding through documentary-style language. Pre-scripted and with a GoPro camera attached to his head, the artist engages with the subjects in a fictionalized one-on-one scenario. Both playful and politically charged, the work highlights the complexity of one’s position and the didacticism of critique through a humorous undermining of self.

As you walk into the space, the first room you enter has been transformed into a half-ass wilderness; the floor is covered in dirt and there are logs dotted around for the viewer to sit on. An old rusty barrel and a stack of crates become shelves for speakers; ‘Gone to Croatan; (2014) features Adam Burton, an old friend of Goddard’s who opted out of society to live in a cabin in the woods. Cynical of the character’s attempt to live by his morals, Goddard positions his camera to become the  judgemental lens to his inner thoughts, ‘scoffing’ at any hint of hypocrisy and highlighting the fine line between bullying and critique. The second room, playing ‘Greater Fool Theory’ (2015), is lit red and stuffed full of office chairs; the installation has me laughing before I’ve even seen the work.

“And you’re going to shake the very foundations of capitalism with your edgy banker-bashing artist film. And you’re hoping that I will, erm… that I will play the villain in your little morality tale of good verses evil,” says Sam Solnick, who plays a childhood friend now working in the Canary Wharf business district of London as an analyst. Goddard’s attempts to make a video about banking are met with a ping pong match of passive-aggressive attempts by both characters to one-up each other; a dead-end. The third room, completely carpeted in beige, plays ‘Tune into Sanity FM’ (2017), featuring a self-described “witch, life coach, empath and single mum” as the protagonist who Goddard spends time with at her flea market job, trick-or-treating in her neighborhood, as well walking around Frieze Art Fair.

Each film is varied in relationship dynamics, moving between the behaviours of bullying, to banter, and opting out of competing completely in the final one. They all share an underlying dissection of authority, turning the focus of subject around onto the artist himself, to question (as Goddard notes) “the presumption that you are somehow outside of the situation in which you are talking, discussing, viewing or observing.”

Patrick Goddard, Go Professional (2017) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen, London.

** Can you expand on the role you play in your work?

Patrick Goddard: I’m playing myself, but I’m playing a version of myself. I’m still Patrick Goddard ‘The Artist’ but full of naiveties, bullying tendencies and manipulativeness – essentially a version of myself minus redeeming qualities, hopefully. So I’m kind of performing this parody of a liberal bourgeois artist, which is part of who I really am, but I am definitely using myself as an example of this. So hopefully in the films, it’s not so much that I’m following around a subject. In many ways the subject, certainly in the first two films, becomes the character of this presumptuous, at times self-righteous, artist character who’s also a bit of a bully, a bit of a would-be-alpha male, which I kind of wanted to poke fun at – at certain documentary, or ethnographic, or even artistic stances of removal.

 ** Is it the same with the people you choose to film, are they inflated versions of themselves? Or do you write the script according to someone’s pre-existing personality? And do you know them beforehand?

PG: In ‘Gone to Croatan’ with Adam, I knew instantly with the concept that he would be perfect, because he’s softly spoken and charming and various other things, and the politics aren’t that far away from his politics, and actually my politics, as well. There are moments of things that aren’t scripted, cause he’s quite a charming, funny guy. Sometimes he’d fluff up the script or get it wrong, and then just go off into some sort of surreal tangent, which I then keep in the edit.

Some of the characters are based on having chats with people I know who work in finance, or not necessarily friends but, you know, your mate’s new boyfriend who she brings around for dinner one day and turns out he’s a banker, and you get drunk and pin him in the corner and ramble at him and sort of trap him. Then I base a lot of the characters or things that were said, on those moments, which wasn’t always necessarily deliberate research for the films.

** How did you get to this place of making in your practice, a place of almost anti-making. Did it come from a place of dissatisfaction with hearing your own voice and critique, or being embarrassed with being an artist?

PG: It started a few years ago with some other artworks – I believed in all of these things I was writing about, but this sort of self-righteous pomposity of the voice that I would have when writing, I kind of wanted to keep that to a degree but also poke fun at it. So rather than toning down the didactic tones of writing, I would bring in a second voice that would decry the pomposity of the primary narrator, of me. So that happened in a film I made in 2013, ‘Free Radicals,’ which actually had Adam as the second voice, so there’s a kind of free verse poem and I got him to do the voice for that, who heckles my character.

** I found myself trying to figure out your position the whole time in ‘Gone to Croatan’ but it’s a nice tactic because our inner judgements are already being played out by you, they almost cancel them out.

Patrick Goddard, ‘Tune into Sanity FM’ (2017) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen, London.

PG: Adam’s character keeps coming up short, he’s not equipped to live in the wild, and from the viewer’s point of view, you could quickly denounce him as being simplistic or naive or whatever else, but I found that to be too lazy a conclusion the audience would take. So instead of saying, ‘no this guy’s actually really great and he’s actually trying, what the fuck are you doing?’ and holding him up as a hero, I try to embody the would-be criticisms of the audience in this kind of smug, city-slicker, supposedly liberal but essentially a bit self righteous and a bit dismissive filmmaker. When Adam says things like, ‘oh yeah, well last winter I went back to my mum’s house ‘cause it got cold,’ if my character didn’t say anything then the audience might be like, ‘oh it’s like that is it.’ Re-scripting that would-be criticism into the film and into the mouth of quite an obnoxious character. When I say what the audience are all thinking, ‘bit of a middle-class luxury isn’t it’ then hopefully it kind of holds up the laziness of criticism in relation to Adam’s political endeavour.

But I was also fascinated at the time of how people who are making no particular effort to live out a kind of politics or professed ethics are so quick to denounce anyone who tries for being naive, or like, ‘oh you know it can’t work or it can’t be effective ‘cause of this, that and the other’ are always quick to point out the impossibility of living an ethical life. I wanted both those characters in the film. My own political views are probably closer to the portrayal of Adam in that film.

** It’s interesting that there’s this back-and-forth pendulum motion in the work, because I see you as a very political person.

PG: I’m very vocal about my politics and my ethics outside of the artwork, or amongst friends, or in an expanded art practice in talks, or in other public roles. I think it’s obvious roughly where I sit in the films, but the character in play doesn’t necessarily have the lines I agree with. So I may even give my opinion to another character, the character’s in the film might alternate with who gets the best line or who gets the lines that I agree with. You might agree with some of the things Sam says. At first, in the script, my character had all those lines, and I thought, ‘no, this banker guy is just seeming too one-dimensional, and too dislikable, or too apolitical. I’ll give him some of the seemingly left-leaning lines,’ and then I just kind of literally take the lines from one character and give it to another. And I know in the end it seems like they’re up against each other but they’re not.

** You make both characters hypocritical in a way; is that something at the root of your work – the hypocrite?

PG: I think a lot about hypocrisy, and I think hypocrisy gets a really raw deal in society and I think people are very quick to criticize the hypocrite. There are different types of hypocrisy obviously, there’s hypocrisy where somebody seems pure in word but makes no effort to back that up and that’s obviously problematic, but there’re also hypocrites who are trying, but fail, or trying and succeed sometimes, and fail other times, or who have ideals but have to compromise for various reasons. It’s better to be a hypocrite who actually tries to live an ethical and political life and falls short sometimes than somebody who recognizes the inevitable hypocrisy of the ethical project and just doesn’t even try to make or have ideals.

Patrick Goddard, ‘Great Fool Theory’ (2016) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen, London.

Because of Adam’s character in Gone To Croatan, what I really want to get across is like, at least he’s fucking trying. It’s so easy to point and laugh at his character, but like, you know he’s trying. This idea that once you are born into consumer system or just liking Pringles say, or salty food, or whatever it might be, it’s very difficult to just suddenly cut it out, and go live in a hut in the woods without any withdrawal symptoms from contemporary metropolitan consumer life, “once you pop you can’t stop” to a degree but like, you know you can try and stop.

The second film is all about evading accountability, so Sam’s character, this quantity analyst working in the city, in some ways he seems to come out winning all the arguments, but he really, in my opinion, doesn’t because the main formula for writing the script was that he’s never accountable, he never answers the questions. If my character has a problem with the ethics of the place where he works, instead of responding to that he goes, ‘oh yeah, well you think you’re so fucking good? We can’t all get sent to art school.’ He’s constantly avoiding ethical accountability, in a very clever and kind of natural way – ‘oh, we’ve all got to get a job, so is the secretary also complicit, is Rob the sandwich guy?

Patrick Goddard, Go Professional (2017) Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen, London.

** Do you think the language of critique is irrelevant?

PG: I think portraying a critique makes it sound politically illustrative or academically illustrative, which I think a lot of work can be and often can be a bit boring, didactic.

I don’t necessarily want to criticize contemporary art and I do in the films a bit via the characters, or going to Frieze Art Fair. While I do think a lot of art is shit, and so does everyone, I would say the profession of art is of course smirched by capital, and money, and art fairs, and all the rest of it. The idea that once the artwork leaves your studio it’s somehow no longer your responsibility…I’m perhaps more critical of, rather than perhaps what other people choose to make work about.

**Yeah I guess I was referring to critique as a form of nihilism, where there’s no route out or a feeling of being stuck. Even though there is this aspect of being in a ’whirlpool’ with your work, you manage to somehow bypass nihilism in a nice way. In a way it feels hopeful, it lets in room for faith or belief. Would you agree with this?

PG: The gap between faith and nihilism – both seem to be crystallized opinions. Faith is belief in something outside of, that can’t be confirmed. I don’t have some sort of consistent faith, or even necessarily some consistent ideology or underpinning philosophy that is at the driving heart of my practice…

It’s not all doom and gloom, but we don’t necessarily need to take those things as an ideal model for the future. It can be temporary; temporary victories, temporary beautiful things that are just as worthwhile as if they lasted forever. Hakim Bey’s criticism of certain other ways of political thinking that if something doesn’t last forever then it’s somehow failed, rather than no, this beautiful commune (for example) sprang up for a year then dissolved into bitterness but while it lasted it was great and worthwhile, and the world is made richer by these things. We shouldn’t bemoan its losses as being not a viable mode of living and existing and communing together, but rather see that its transience is actually inevitable and beautiful in its own right. And there will be other beautiful ideas and communes and modes of being and existing that will spring up in the future, and they should be allowed to live and to also die, without thinking they are some type of failure.**

Patrick Goddard presented solo exhibition Go Professional at London’s Seventeen, which ran April 23 to June 3, 2017.

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Beyond human time scales: Vulpes Vulpes on geology, territory and exploring through non-linearity

22 May 2017
“For us they seem to ignite consideration of beyond-human time scales” explain Vulpes Vulpes when I ask them about their current interest in ancient standing stones. Via an email chat, we discuss their recent two month residency at Bath’s The Edge which ran from March 2 to May 6, where they spent time exploring the history of land usage and ownership around the area. Researching geology, folklore and migration among other subjects, the residency took the form of urban explorations, mappings and spending time with both the local community, culminating with exhibition Gang Days on May 6 and an accompanying performative walk in costume.
Stanton Drew research walk (2017) Courtesy Vulpes Vulpes + The Edge residency, Bath.
The London-based collective is Carla WrightAnna Chrystal Stephens, Hadiru Mahdi and Laurie Storey, with former members including Ben Garrod, Scott Massey, Adam Burton and Patrick Goddard. Living communally for over a decade, the group have also run a number of artist led spaces since 2009, hosting exhibitions, workshops and events. Interested in “social histories, the built environment, notions of community, education and social structures,” their work often takes a very hands-on and cross-disciplinary approach to learning.
Their socially engaged projects seek out and create gatherings, where diverse knowledge combinations can “cause shifts in perspective” and allow for a process of ‘undoing’ through doing. In a conversation about non-linearity, the group talks to us about their investment in continuous discussion, the politics of communal living and tools for resilience, as well as the complex relationship between geology, territory and ownership.
** Really into this ancient (and contemporary) stone vibe, the way they get activated through our engagement with them, yet we cannot directly communicate. Can u talk about your interest in (mis)communication and exploring relationships with the land in this way
Vulpes Vulpes: Maybe we could see them as evidence of attempts to communicate with the land, or as the residue of a time when humans had a closer relationship with their surroundings. Or as communication between different kinds of humans – encountering an ancient standing stone you are in receipt of a gesture made sometimes thousands of years ago, but is the meaning of the gesture and of the stone itself transcendent or is it somehow lost? For us they seem to ignite consideration of beyond-human time scales; when you touch a geological form which has not only been a part of that landscape for millions of years but has been the site of human contemplation for thousands. These are elements of geography elevated visually by a shift in position but maybe that feeling of disorientation and awe of time and matter can be brought about by any stone;  by the very nature of what it is. People attempt to communicate with past generations as well as to commune with the stones themselves.
Bushy Norwood research walk (2017) Courtesy Vulpes Vulpes + The Edge residency, Bath.
On our visit to Stanton Drew ancient stone circle we all had extremely different reactions and experiences ranging from cynicism to wonder (delighted, amused, respectful, fearful, confused, upset). This demonstrated for us the breadth of reactions which can be provoked by traces of prehistory. Boundary markers were honoured as peace keeping emblems and decorated with garlands, honey, wine and other offerings in an acknowledgement of tolerance (the stones preventing violent disputes). However, at times, sacrifices were performed on boundary stones and disregard for them could lead to conflict so they are also a reminder that where there is territory there is violence. They can function as a simple language but also be a source of miscommunication and misunderstanding when belief systems clash, reminding us that our current assumptions about land: use, ownership, and geology are often confused.
** I like your approach to non-hierarchical learning, and the way you form relationships across communities and generations, piecing together fragments of research from so many diverse sources. Research in general seems to be such a huge part of your work, and at the same time feels like a process of unlearning, of anti. What’s your relationship to knowledge, what are you trying to ‘find’? 

VV: We are very curious, our practice allows us to explore many different kinds of knowledge and perhaps process information in nonlinear ways. Although we may be a-jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, that position of naivety is sometimes useful. We are interested in diversity of viewpoints and approaches, but also of objects and medium. We feel that we learn from everyone we encounter and we don’t know exactly what we provide in return but perhaps it is as much to do with undoing as doing.  

Gang Day performance walk (2017) Courtesy Vulpes Vulpes + The Edge, Bath.

Sometimes we take a pseudo-specialist approach to performative actions, for example acting as scientists, gardeners, architects, historians, not with any lack of respect for experts (who we greatly admire) but as a playful methodology for learning and discussion. A tangent of this latest project was an interest in Julian Cope; post-punk and power-pop star turned antiquarian. He became a self-taught author of Neolithic culture, often coming at archeology from a perspective of rock culture and road trips, he talks about how The Ancients were very concerned with the drama of the landscape, his take on standing stones and neolithic sites as theatrical stadiums reflects his knowledge of musical performance and the behaviour of people when they congregate.

We are interested in difference and how cross-disciplinary knowledge combinations can cause shifts in perspective, research is important to us and sometimes it seems that the more time we have for it, the more time we crave.

** In relation to this multidirectional form of research, is there something unifying about your findings, or the opposite?

 VV: We often feel a unifying sense when a project comes together… but there is always a simultaneous feeling of expansion as often many points of interest have appeared and the resolved aspects of the work sit alongside the fragmented beginnings of other projects. For Gang Days it felt like the unifying aspect was an exploration of megalithic structures informed by personal experiences and general investigations. We eventually imposed on ourselves the task of making giant paper-mache rock forms which we had to transport from the site of construction to their destination. Visitors had the option to participate by making an offering or coming on a walk which was a take on real and supposed folklore of the area, mixed with a boundary marking ritual which acknowledged the historic and current land-use around the site in question. Our approach doesn’t feel sporadic but our projects often feel endless.

Vulpes Vulpes, ‘Gang Days’ (2017) Courtesy the artists + The Edge, Bath.

** In the press release about a workshop you hosted, you said “a big concern is helping to build confidence for the teenagers so they understand how they can access cultural spaces and realise that these spaces belong to them.”  It made me think of the price of the Bath Springs, and who owns this natural resource. Are boundaries something you seek to dismantle in your work?

VV: We can think of quite a few reasons why people may want to control or restrict the access to sacred places and natural resources – whether we think it positive or negative to do so –  and a number of ways in which this is done. Neither are necessarily static through time. When a building changes over centuries from temple to tourist attraction we see a shift in whose interests it is protected in. Sometimes we feel suspicious of those who profit from what we feel should be open to all. But on the other hand an entry fees might just go to staff and owners for the cost of upkeep and preservation. Or it may be a way to limit the amount of people who come to the door. Those who want to visit and use a site as was originally intended may want to block those who are just curious. Tensions arise when the different interests cross.

The reverence held by spaces and places is hardly static through time either. Archaeology shows us signs of vandalism and graffiti alongside worship throughout history. These thoughts were present as we explored and discovered various sites and were felt differently by each member of the group. Is it ok to touch the stones? What about climbing on them? Does how the sites respond to you depend on the faith and intention with which you approach it?

Bushy Norwood walk ‘Leg’ (2017) Courtesy Vulpes Vulpes + The Edge residency, Bath.
It was interesting to see how myths and stories reflected the times they were from. How we might re-imagine them now. Our work and performance didn’t hide that, it was more revival than period piece, continuing the conversation by mixing eras and references, deciding to play with our responses. That went some way to resolving or maybe yielding to that tension.
** We tend to align ourselves with land and history to understand ourselves more fully, or rather to connect ourselves to the past. Do you find this to be something instinctual or socially learned? Is it something we need, or need to shed?

VV: Perhaps every person, naturally, has different inclinations and interests and if raised in certain environments would learn and understand them through observation whilst growing, drawn to and repelled by certain things. Plenty of knowledge is passed down, the accumulation of generations, or centuries worth of observed and collective knowledge, or belief. But there’s always potential or sometimes a need for these beliefs to change. Just because there is an observed action and reaction does not mean we truly understand why. Even on earth, only 5% of the seabed is mapped, apparently we’ve identified only 14% of species. We know a lot less about the world than we feel, and beyond that, our sense of ‘self’ might balance a bit on the relative belief as to our size and impact in this thing.

So there’s most likely a bit of both in there, instinctive and learnt. But either way, that still doesn’t mean that anyone’s interest in land or history will be ‘whole’. We are part of an ecosystem, but maybe we can’t choose our place as readily as we want, or rather we are both blessed and afflicted with the ability to think and desire a different place. We search for it, so maybe some of the shedding is a battling with the feeling that we should be beyond needing to know our place exactly.

Rave Excavation (2014) Courtesy Vulpes Vulpes
** I’ve also been looking at your work Rave Excavation (2014) in relation to this residency, could you tell us what a Vulpes excavation entails/looks like?

VV: We meet at Keele motorway services on a drab Thursday afternoon in August, armed with spades, caution tape Jiffy bags and rubber gloves. We enter the sight by jumping a large metal gate. We are not sure what we will find. An initial combing of the forest floor uncovers, a pill pot, a drinks can and a sun bleached bag of crisps from 1995. We cordon off an area of investigation for further inspection. The ceremonial nature of the excavation is tongue-in-cheek but we are serious in our belief that forgotten places and uncharted cultural gatherings such as these are of significant importance. This activity and its documentation is a celebration of that.

Exploring further we find a small make-shift dwelling. Inside there are old burnt-out pots, clothing, a beer can impaled on a stick marks the territory, we conclude someone has been living there. We are instantly drawn to this structure, our practice has always been linked to our existence on the fringes of the city – who ever has lived here has committed to this a few steps further. It is strange to think there is a service station 200 ft away, the gentle hum of the motorway is reassuring.

** It’s interesting in London right now, with the extreme housing situation and prices, there’s a lot of unintentional community living going on just to survive. How did VV form, did you fall into collective living or plan it with intention? What’s the difference between roommates and communal living for you

Vulpes Vulpes, ‘Gang Days’ (2017) Courtesy the artists + The Edge, Bath.
VV: There are elements of practicality of course, keeping rents low, sharing collective burdens can be easier than renting on your own, all these are important factors, but underlying communal living as opposed to being just roommates is a deeper desire to live closely. Attempting to shift emphasis from individual to community, sharing, trying to live sustainably in a way that allows us time to breathe, create and engage with the world around us.

After squatting for a few years in our early days we moved to a big cheap warehouse. We learnt to look out for each other, we had to be organised and resilient. After law changes around occupying property, living in London now is even more challenging for young people. At the time all members of our household were involved in Vulpes Vulpes. We were living together, working together, eating together. This has become more refined over the years. There are now just four of us. But the foundation of our practice is embedded in those early years of precarious habitation together. Any house share includes communal aspects of course, but perhaps there is a degree of intent, exploration and commitment required with communal living for it to work in London today. For us it was and is still political, as well as necessary. 
Our communal journey has reached a juncture at this moment in time, for some of us circumstances have meant it is not possible to all live together right now (strange after so many years), but we have grown as a group in a way which can only be described as family. It is the logistics of life and exacerbated house prices that have complicated our desire live communally in the long term, but our stern belief in the value of community still remains.
Vulpes Vulpes ‘Gang Days’ (2017) Installation + performance view. Courtesy the artists + The Edge, Bath.
** Where are we now  and where are we heading in terms of community and the individual? Are there any contemporary forms of community that inspire(d) you
VV: The idea of ‘community’  has been under threat for most of our adult lives – community centres closing down, a housing crisis, privatisation of public services, parental fear, and many other things that attempt to sabotage communities. But we have followed and been inspired by a strong resistance to this – activist groups like Focus E15 and Keep it Complex have kept us positive.
In terms of where we are now as a collective – things have continuously changed and shifted over the 8 years we have been working as Vulpes Vulpes, we have grown and evolved in some interesting ways and have different ideas but luckily we have desires, principals and politics which have remained in many ways aligned. We have always aspired to be an open, flexible group – with no set rules, not tied down to any constitution, just with the deep understanding of wanting for a better world – and believing in the importance and effectiveness of small and slow change.
More recently it is clear that we are evolving as individuals more than ever, now that we don’t all live together. Each with our own practice (art, music, poetry, theatre etc) developing alongside  important life decisions. We have been able to fluidly accommodate and even benefit from the changes but not without continuous discussion, openness and letting go of the ego.**


VulpesVulpes recently completed their residency at Bath’s The Edge which ran March 2 to May 6, 2017.


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Frieze London 2016 reviewed

11 October 2016

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!”

Jesse Darling, 'March of the Valedictorians,' (2016). Installation view. Courtesy Arcadia Missa, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch
Jesse Darling, ‘March of the Valedictorians,’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy Arcadia Missa, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch

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.

Goshka Macuga 'Albert Einstein', Jesmonite and concrete (2016). Detail. Courtesy the artist + Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich.
Goshka Macuga ‘Albert Einstein’, Jesmonite and concrete (2016). Detail. Courtesy the artist + Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich.

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.

Liu Chuang, 'Untitled (Cyan)', (2016). Bronze. Courtesy the artist + Magician Space, Beijing.
Liu Chuang, ‘Untitled (Cyan)’, (2016). Bronze. Courtesy the artist + Magician Space, Beijing.

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 Foundation the 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 Greengrassi is 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.

Limoncello booth. (2016) Installation view. Photo: Andy Keate. Courtesy Limoncello + Taro Nasu.
Limoncello booth. (2016) Installation view. Photo: Andy Keate. Courtesy Limoncello + Taro Nasu.

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.**

Frieze Art Fair runs at London’s Regent’s Park annually in October.

Header image: Jon Rafman ‘Transdimensional Serpent’, (2016). Image through virtual reality head-ware. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen gallery, London.

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