The event is described as “An Evening of Ambivalent Debauchery” that the two artists are hosting as a closing event for the Feral Kin group exhibition at Auto Italia. The event also marks the launch of their radio platform that will be available for free download. Playing with the the definition of ambivalence, and its opposing nature that suggests ‘both,’ it will be a night of feeling ‘torn.’
“Subcultures can both recreate the values present in their time or reject them, in a multitude of different ways,” writes Ruth Angel Edwards via email about her practice, centred around a fastidious exploration of music subgenres, youth culture, sex and the politics of visibility. About to present a performance on April 8, with Emily Pope and other collaborating artists as part of the Feral Kin group exhibition programme, at London’s Auto Italia, Edwards renders youth and counter-culture as a reflection of the historical and geographical environments in which they appear. Focus is placed on the trajectories and lineages of subcultures as popularised, accessible articulation of a politics; alternate worlds within societies, distinct from mainstream culture, with their own conventions, shared value systems, and coded modes of expression.
An underlying personal criticality structures Edwards’ insights into the current landscape of subgenres — particularly EDM and dubstep. For her research and performance, what is important is “trying to get to the bottom of where the impulses for these various developments in human history come from. At the same time, exploring the flaws present in these movements, as well as thinking about what was admirable, what mistakes can be learned from, and what’s useful to think about in relation to now.” As these cultural peripheries undergo processes of commodification, accountability and ethics must then be addressed accordingly. When does an act of resistance reflect the intentions of the purveyors? Or, when does it become a manifestation of augmented systems of control?
Addressing these concerns directly in the group exhibition Info Puraat The Residence Gallery in June of last year, Edwards presented textile-based, wearable sculptures adorned with beads and friendship bracelets characteristic of ornamentations and relics worn by EDM festival-goers. In so doing, these objects directly enter a conversation in which individuality and originality is observed and understood against the mechanisms of late capitalism and neoliberalism — a system fundamentally concerned with redefining its own contradictions through the exploitation of accessible social relations in order to survive.
Despite an ambivalence toward the ability to form a formidable resistance effort to the insidiousness of late capitalism, Edwards maintains that, at its core, there is something still present in anti-conformist and antagonistic movements and festivals, which is emancipatory, or at least reassuring and somehow necessary. These spaces serve as a kind of confirmation of themselves that people are reaching for, even if it’s no longer present, or harder to find in similar spaces. It’s with this in mind that Edwards discusses her continued research into the neoliberal landscape and alternative ways of living that exist at the intersection of fantasy and political praxis.
** Have you always had an interest in EDM and or dubstep?
RAE: I became interested in EDM, Dubstep and related subgenres for several reasons. First, I grew up around festivals and music subcultures, and have participated in them in various capacities. Second,there are traces of various historical underground dance music is still faintly present in today’s EDM – many of which originally held some political or oppositional meaning. But those traces have been divorced so thoroughly from their original contexts that they have been completely neutralised.
In terms of the production of the music, it’s this clean polished product made with absolute contrived precision. The club spaces and festivals that host EDM acts are sanitised, controlled environments. It’s cynical, apolitical music for a nihilistic, cynical time.
I have this conspiracy idea of EDM – that it’s propaganda made to encourage conformism under the guise of hedonism. It’s lyrics, the production, instrumentation, automation and the techniques used to emotionally and physically manipulate an audience can be read as an implementation of this. I feel like these genres perfectly reflect an era of late capitalism where recreation, communication, sexuality, personal expression are supposedly ‘free’ but are in fact highly mediated and augmented by systems of control.
** You contextualize female physicality as a way to explore the hedonism of dance culture. But also underlying dance culture and festival culture at large is a sense of free love / queerness / community and openness. How do you negotiate this complicated aspect of festival subculture, if at all?
RAE: ‘Festival culture’ has become a whole different phenomenon in the last 20 to 30 years. They have always been complex spaces — I never want to be seen as blindly romanticizing the past, and have looked a lot at subcultural histories from a feminist and queer perspective, aiming to expose the inconsistencies so often present with subculture/counter-cultural ‘utopian’ movements. But festivals were always, in theory at least, unregulated spaces –Temporary Autonomous Zones; Dionysian free spaces.
In recent years, there has been a massive shift toward the acceptability of these spaces, with certain festivals like Glastonbury, for example, in the UK, taking on mainstream status. But this mainstream acceptance and popularity has happened alongside the increased regulation of these spaces.
For me, the experience of festivals flips between a kind of horror and a deep affection. As a worker, music performer, and just attendee for a lot of my life, I have a complex relationship with them.
** With direct and indirect political considerations, your practice functions as an anthropological study. You often relate aspects of subculture to various key moments in culture and government policy. What notable developments have you been looking at recently?
RAE: I’ve recently been looking a lot at New Age Travelers in the UK, the different waves of the movement between the 70s and the 90s, and it’s continuing links with activism. After having spent a lot of time in California earlier in the year, I think a part of me was really interested in looking at something quite specifically British. Also, there’s been so much talk amongst London’s arts and political communities about alternative ways of living recently — the housing crisis, ideas of being driven out of the city, or rejecting the city, communality, rejecting the ‘normal’ setup.
RAE: The New Age Travelers movement was linked to squatting. Especially when it came to mass unemployment in the 80s, it was a logical choice for those affected to start living in vehicles. It feels relevant to look back on this movement now in these precarious times. Also, the movement’s political fragmentation feels interesting to reflect on — it was decentred quite literally in that it was not based in any one locality. It was also politically fragmented. It failed; for a variety of different reasons. That lifestyle was more or less completely shut down by the state.
My responses when researching the movement, and thinking over my own interactions with it over the years, was conflicted. But to me there’s definitely something inspiring and courageous about people attempting to live in that way-in a very literal and extreme way by today’s standards. It felt important.
** You’ve mentioned instances of cultural appropriation as they appear in festival culture, most recently within the New Age Travelers movement. What do you make of this tendency?
RAE: Looking back at New Age Travelers in the UK, some of the fashion and politics is definitely relatable to now, but this is one of the stand-out things, which makes it seem dated — dreadlocks (on white people), ‘ethnic’ clothing as fashion, and people living in Native American-style teepees completely out of context. It’s cringey at best, and at worst just offensive. The movement itself was born out of a rejection of mainstream Western society’s values, so I imagine it felt logical to look to other cultures as alternatives and to try and identify with them, to learn from and recreate them. Even as I’m writing this I’m hyper conscious of coming across as some kind of fucked up apologist(!).
In terms of what I make of this tendency, in this movement but also as it occurs in subcultures more broadly — of course I think it’s necessary to expose and put a stop to disrespectful, ignorant or offensive instances of appropriation. But, essentially, I always try to look at subcultures and the individuals involved in them with some level of humility, while staying critical.
** Two of your recent shows, Derivatives and Futures at Los Angeles’ Human Resources, and your solo exhibition, Ruth Angel Edwards, last year at Arcadia Missa, have accompanying written work. What relationship do you have with text?
RAE: With the show at Human Resources I was stressing-out massively. I wrote to Emily Pope, who is an artist friend who uses writing, to get her thoughts on the show and to help me write a blurb for the gallery. But then I just thought — why am I trying to shoehorn my actual thoughts on this into a particular, acceptable mould, to make the show conform to some accepted idea of intellectual authority or prestige? So I decided to just print the entire email out, with spelling and grammar mistakes in, and used that as the hand-out instead.
I’ve definitely felt constrained by the pressures to conform to certain writing styles — where artists are expected to write like academics. I guess I want to position myself against this. There are definitely some artists who do it really well, and that’s great. I just don’t think as an artist you should be expected to have to adopt this language. I’m anti-hierarchy, anti-elitism — I feel like multiple voices should be allowed in. And I’m definitely anti-professional performance! I think there’s a violence to this expected professionalism, which is making us all insecure, self-censoring, anxious wrecks with stunted communication abilities.
** Seamlessly moving between art and music — approaching each with careful research and criticality — you’ve recently ventured into radio with your project Got 2 b Radio. Can you please tell us more about the project and how broadcast factors into your creative production?
RAE: I’ve moved between art and music since as long as I can remember, really, but it was only in the last maybe two to three years that I ended up with a practice, which kind of merges both. Radio is great because it’s such a nice way to connect with an audience in whatever space they’re in, as part of their day. Got 2 b is a monthly radio programme I started with friend and artist Emily Pope. It airs on Resonance FM every fourth Monday of every month. Me and Emily work on at least one new sound piece together for every show, as well as mixing it up with music, other individual sound and spoken pieces, and other’s guest contributions. I guess it’s more pop cultural than the sound work I do on my own, and looks at culture more broadly, at what we describe as ‘neoliberal landscapes,’ like advertising, film etcetera. The tone is slightly different. Emily is an incredible writer and spoken word artist, with a very unique ‘voice’ within London’s emerging artist scenes. The show moves between humour and being really abrasive! It’s a fun project to work on.
I feel very lucky to have got to know some of the most incredible communities and individuals through music, who have had and continue to have the most inspiring and positive influences on my life. I believe in music communities so hard!**
The selection of new works on show is a culmination of Edwards’ time spent during a one-month studio residency at the gallery. The press release is left empty and the accompanying image is pixellated with four figures holding a flag who are rendered abstract.
Previous works have seen the artist create images and videos that mash politics, the body, sex and music together in a way that complicates the female body and how it is packaged in contemporary culture. Edwards will be showing as part of this year’s 3hd festival exhibition under the theme ‘There is nothing left but the Future?’ in Berlin as well Info Pura at London’s The Residence Gallery in June.
This year’s theme follows the title ‘There is nothing left but the Future?’, one which resists a dominant trend towards “speculating on the future, instead offering potential solutions for fixing the problems of the present.” The artists, musicians, producers, editors, writers and academics involved in the as-ever impressive 3hd lineup include the likes of Claire Tolan, Coucou Chloé, DJ Paypal, Easter, HVAD, Inga Copeland as Lolina, Rianna Jade Parker, Ruth Angel Edwards, TCF, Uniiqu3, Vika Kirchenbauer, and many more, as well as media partners AQNB with a cross-platform video, performance and discussion presentation with Video in Common titled ‘Staying Present’ on October 12.
The festival carries on its impetus as a “hybrid project” dispersed across online and offline artworks and events that include performances, presentations, installations and an exhibition offline during the five day program, as well as texts, music releases and cross-platform video and animation projects released online in the lead up. This first announcement comes accompanied by an essay called ‘Joy 2016‘ by writer and academic Adam Harper speculating and the dangers of polarised extremes, agendas and (mis)interpretations when it comes to art, taking Beethoven’s immortal ‘Ode to Joy’ composition via Wendy Carlos’ arrangement for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian cult film A Clockwork Orange.
There’s a lot happening in the rather small space of London’s The Residence Gallery. With video work and wearable sculptures, colourful engraved acrylic and an Oculus Rift that holds almost pride of place in the centre of the floorspace, the INFO PURA group exhibition, running June 3 to 26, presents an overlaying of media that sit comfortably with the show’s theme. Curated by Ed Leezon, it’s one prompted by an engagement with psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who is quoted in the press release suggesting that “nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the last one”.
Ideas of temporality and its relationship to space permeate the exhibition. A screen shows a hyper-realistic yet fantastical video game-like character, designed by Daniel Swan, seemingly trapped within its frame, wearing chains and perpetually on the point of action that never comes in a space where time is both suspended and ever-present. Jala Wahid’s sculptures appear as time congealed into amorphous forms. From the highly rendered bodily realism of Swan’s figure to the physicality of Wahid’s sculptures, the labour of the artist is inescapable in both sets of works.
Yet for all the suggestion of simultaneity, floods of information/data and technological salvation, it is the materiality of the works that is perhaps the shows most striking feature, or indeed the relationship between the two. Wandering around the desert wasteland of Kitty Clark’s ‘Everyone is Gone’virtual reality environment, the heat and clunkiness of the Oculus Rift technology inevitably draws you back into the physical space of the gallery. The computer, sitting in an acrylic box, powering the VR sits like a reliquary, reminding us that these imaginings still have a physical beginning and perhaps ongoing physical traces.
Similarly, Ruth Angel Edwards’s video ‘HIGH LIFE/PETRIFICATION’, a 17-and-a-half-minute video moving through the streets of Los Angeles acts as an alternative catalogue, detailing the commodification of California’s counter-cultures into material objects. Her accompanying wearable sculptures (‘Untitled I’ and ‘Untitled II’) appear as hybrid clothing and accessories —a purse/chain as well as two t-shirts combined as a form of dress. This set of works undoubtedly plays on the commodification inherent in fashion design and tourism.
It may not be that we are at the end of linearity but rather in a moment of overlapping and multiple circulations, each with their own timeframes: the labour of the artist, the exhibition moment, video, fashion, the market, etc.. These multiple and overlapping circulations are not without points, beginnings and endings, as many of these works in fact attest and bring to light in interesting ways. It is in this intersection of the material and the virtual that perhaps yields the most interesting insights.**
The demurely titled A British Art Show, is the latest curatorial endeavor by artist/curator Joseph Buckley, a native of Leeds and recent graduate from the MFA program at Yale University. Eighteen British artists are featured in the exhibition, many of whom are also from the city of Northern England’s current site of the major survey and inspiration The British Art Show 8. A British Art Show is situated far from the motherland, in Meyohas, a newly-minted apartment gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Fittingly, almost all of the show’s twenty-five works exude a sense of displacement – both at home and abroad, real and virtual, political and spiritual, visual and textual … the list could go on. Indeed, from beginning to end, the show refuses to situate itself, continually doing and undoing its own assertions, creating a sort of no-man’s-land. In a way this survey, and Buckley’s curation of it, tacitly questions its genre, refusing to cast a grounding perspective, just as the high-rise buildings flanking the gallery’s sweeping panoramic windows block the horizon.
This lack of grounding is laid plain in the very first piece in the show, a text piece masquerading as institutional wall text. Hatty Nestor’s ‘A British Art Show – Text’flatly outlines what an exhibition – and with it an exhibition text – ‘should be’, might be, even could be! But probably won’t be … isn’t. It casts a tone of ambivalence that resonates throughout the show, a sort of apology-turned-apologia whose only stance is to place the onus on the viewer for any shortcomings. The text wryly states that the fate of the exhibition lies in the hands of “whoever may come to encounter” its “uncertain ground. A ground,” it challenges, “which beckons your disturbance.”
On the way to the narrow corridor to the main space, one might miss (as I did) a wall-sconce on the upper register of the wall – a flickering, electric candelabra, held up by a live human hand through a hole in the wall, ‘R U Next’ (2014) by Kitty Clark. If one does manage to remark it, this blatant exploitation, literally, carries on, and is quickly forgotten as we consume, and are consumed by the unfolding show. This overtly exploitative, yet functional apparatus becomes a commentary of the one in which we are an integral part.
The exhibition as a whole carries a self-deferential tone perpetually asserting a position, and then promptly erasing that gesture. Perhaps, as a result, the content at times slouches towards self-reflexivity. But make no mistake – it packs a hell of a punch. Each successive piece implicates the viewer, some more subtly than others, holding them to some degree accountable for the general inertia.
A take-away piece by Ruth Angel Edwards starts with a rhythmic, declaratory critique of North American consumerist culture, but then accelerates into a manifesto, or rant, that is punctuated at the end by a link to the artist’s website. Is this just an oversized business card or an anti-capitalist leaflet? Either way, it instantly becomes possession, which we can accept or refuse.
In David Steans’ ‘Villages of Britain’ (2015), a series of speakers read an original text based on Channel 4 documentary Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages – a search for “a rural idyll that may no longer exist”. They fudge and fumble the text as a reel of vintage Reader’s Digest images of English villages troll on, backed by calming, repetitive music also written by Steans.Were it not for its playful, but earnest readers and composition, the piece itself might fall victim to the fate of many of the villages pictured, whose “self-conscious kind of beauty is anathema to our idea of a perfect village”. Instead, the repetitive format with its sonic variations open the work to varying tonalities which evolve and unravel over the course of the twenty-five minute long video. In the end, the predictable, tight-lipped, coy narration releases itself and becomes something other – we are placed with a rider on a headless horse, riding, endlessly, direction unknown. Is this transcendence of the prior, measured speech or is it a condemnation to an endless trot around relentlessly picaresque, fundamentally inert, and essentially English, villages?
Again and again, Buckley chooses works and pairings that raise this type of quandary, leaving us to wonder whether we ourselves are riding a headless horse. The show repeats and folds in on itself, shrugs and excuses itself, points in one direction and the other – condemning itself, and the audience along with it.
But Buckley knows exactly what he is doing. The exhibition layout mimics the neurotic atmosphere created by the work. Buckley conceptually and physically leads us through a spiral. Structures from the work are redoubled in the space. For instance, tudor-style beams from Francis Lloyd Jones’ c-print are blown up and projected onto the main room of the space in a vinyl cut-out, Harlan Whittingham & Benjamin Slinger’s video is shot in the kitchen of the gallery, but prefigures the actual kitchen in its placement. As the exhibition circles in on itself over, and over, one has an acute sense of déjà vu, like a punchline that relentlessly repeats itself.
Buckley has also constructed an actual spiral out of the space, cutting off a wall which would allow it to loop. The dark heart of the spiral is a literal déjà-vu: a dead end, and the rear-end of Clark’s sconce-arm, and perhaps the butt of what has become a not-so-funny series of jokes. An individual wearing a black hoodie and blonde wig hunches atop a ladder, their arm plugged into a false wall. A paper is pinned to their back, reading “Somebody loves you”. This is actually Clark’s second piece in the exhibition, ‘New Scum … Somebody Loves You’. As viewers raid the refrigerator for beers during the opening, the exploitive image is concealed, and re-revealed, over and over. Here, one is not only reminded of the hand-sconce in the corridor – but also forced to face the act of viewing, and looking away, as the treachery that it is. In order to exit the exhibition, one must literally turn their back on the stark image, itself almost a sneer, and backtrack; redoubled images, re-presenting themselves. Finally released into the hallway of a New York City apartment building, we cannot be sure from whence and where we came. And maybe that’s precisely the point. **