Day 4 of Tempting Failure featured 6 artists at D:NA, a performance venue in the home of Ernst Fischer in Herne Hill, London. One performance was performed on the street, as well as a durational piece by Daniel Nicolae Djamo called Territorial marking (2015) at DescARTs in Croydon. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 24th.
Robert Watts – Uncertainty Principals (2016)
By David LaGaccia
Music in the modern age has become an isolating experience. Ipods and smartphones keep people tuned-in to their favorite tracks, but keeps them isolated in being able to share it with others. Robert Watts’s performance, Uncertainty Principals, brought together antique and modern technology.
When invited up into the flat, each person was given a pair of headphones and a screwdriver to “draw” with. At first you don’t fully understand what this means: Did they mean to make scratches on the floor? The surreal nature of Ernst Ficsher’s house throws you off and adds a relaxed and playful atmosphere with toy hamsters in balls running around. Robert then walks in silently holding a case full of records. He makes some arrangements on a device that I couldn’t identify (it looked like an old tape recorded) then he places a record on a record player. It becomes clear that we’re all hearing the same music through each of our headphones. Watts then begins handing spectators a vintage .45 rpm record as well as a screwdriver. It becomes clear that he wants us to “draw” or scratch on the records.
Scratching the vinyl in this way effectively destroys any pragmatic use the record may have had; In general, I’m leery of the term transformation, but in this case, the destruction of the object transforms the object. The record may have been sitting around unplayed collecting dust somewhere (which itself effectively destroys its “use”), but when it is used in this performance, it is given new purpose, and not only that, it becomes personalized to the person who created it that then can be shared to the group listening to it. This manipulation of the object is a kind of retroactive “sampling”, where the destruction of the old recording creates the new personalized recording; it can also be seen as a pun on the term “scratching”, a musical technique used on records by DJ’s , and in Rap and Hip-Hop music.
After the spectators are finished drawing, we hand the “destroyed” records back to Robert, where he begins playing them on a record player; the songs are oldies, like Hank Williams or the band ABC, and they crack and fizzle and skip, each distorted by the unique markings each person made. After he finishes all of our records, he stops, and begins to give back the records to each person. I was given a record with a picture of two elephants drawn on it. It was a simple performance, probably too simple, and I wish Watts went further with the ideas in this performance like playing with technology and art, as well as the shared experience of music. Perhaps he will revisit these ideas in the future.
Ernst Fischer – Toorchen Tours (2016)
By Lisa Stertz
In remembrance and honor to friend and artist, Anthea Toorchen, Ernst Fischer invited for a walk through his neighborhood Herne Hill next to Brixton in South East London. Toorchen had been working with found materials and objects. Her recent work composed of orange- and red-colored objects that she would puzzle together to organ-like sculptures to confront and question her disease that she deceased from in 2015.
Fischer chose only a few stops for his 2-h-walk, but smartly planted several seeds of knowledge at each of them. Bit by bit these seeds grew and transmuted into a bewildered garden of consistent information around rubbish, debris and junk via locality, myths, secrecy, etymology, self-care, fantasy, camp, art, home, sociality, responsibility, the public and the personal, the unwanted and the odd and so forth. One could follow Fischer at all times, or linger in a thought that he triggered in you. He would not forget to remind you of anecdotes, he told you earlier on, weave in specificities of the spaces you visited, or name other TF2016 artist’s work, here Sue Fox’s photo series “The Forgotten”, to encompass his talking tour from always another angle. With his gentle circumspection to everything, Fischer created a satisfying, temporary whole. His enthusiasm and openness gave an easy access to listen and to be with him along this pleasing and captivating Sunday afternoon.
Alanna Lynch – Concealed & Contained (2016)
By James Sherman
We walk into a room in which Alanna stands in a central position, and we are invited to take seats around her. She is crocheting her own hair around her naked body; she has started from the head down, and the laborious process taking place sees it come lower at a snail’s pace from around her shoulders. Her entire head is covered – contained and concealed – and no doubt, her thoughts are elsewhere, lost in the sway of menial gestures and muscle memory.
In this durational piece, Alanna performed over the span of an hour and the audience were able to come and go as they pleased. I came in once at the beginning for a long period, took a break, and returned for the last ten minutes to find Alanna’s back now shimmering with sweat. She has been working with her own hair for the past ten years and has begun this particular project in 2009 – only exhibiting it as a live performance once before in Sweden last year. When I asked about the possible motivations to begin this work, she told me that she had always been interested in materiality – and when the desire for materiality as a medium came, the natural choice was her own hair as she was in an environment where it stood out – perhaps acting as an emblem, at once of her dissimilarity and her identity.
Sebastian Hau-Walker – Ausculta (Vision Serpents) (2016)
By Alicia Radage
On entering a living room in Herne Hill, we are greeted by Sebastian Hau-Walker dressed in a white shirt, white trousers and a graduation hat. He offers us a cushion, a choice of a mango, lime or orange and a pair of wireless headphones. We are encouraged to lie down. Hau-Walker presses play on a home video from 1995, which documents him as a child growing up in Mexico. The video is screened on both a TV set and a projection upon the ceiling. Through the headphones the sound of the video is amplified. We see a 6 year old Sebastian in a tinier version of his white attire and graduation hat, amongst a sea of other children dressed identically. For the duration of the piece the video spans school life, home life, trips to the sweet shop and visits to other local kids at their homes.
The artist searches around the space for a piece of fruit from an audience member. The fruit, having just been handed to them, is asked to be returned and he sinks his teeth into it. Fruit in mouth he picks up a VHS tape from a pile in the corner. He holds it in right hand and beats it against his left folded elbow until it cracks open. As though extracting a seed he snaps out a film reel, climbs up to the projection on the ceiling and sticks it upon the moving image. The film from the reel cascades down upon the audience in a rapid swirl of dark ribbon. The artist moves around the space repeating these actions, simultaneously embodying primal actions, institutional rigidity, the foreign body, the local body, the imported, the appropriated, the obsolete. It is magical and astounding to witness their body fluidly moving between and amongst these states.
As the hour goes by, Hau-Walker buries us in tangled film ribbon and hands us back bitten fruit.
Having installed a new layer of earth out of discarded, now useless VHS tape, he tries to gather up his trails and binds them around his head. As he pulls upon the ribbons he brings everything that he’s entangled in the gradual burial. People’s toes, legs, fingers, bags, hair, fruit are pulled and the tape is slowly dragged towards a vortex where the artist is placed. He gradually moves to exit. An audience member refuses to let go of what is being pulled away from them. There is a suspended moment of tension and they both pull. Hau-Walker wins and walks out onto the street. We watch him walk away through the living room window.
Phillip Bedwell – Echoes (2016)
By Daniel Holmes
A length of rope bookended by two nooses. One ensnares a mammoth block of ice. The other, Phillip Bedwell’s neck.
In Echoes, Phillip attempts, and inevitably fails, to lift and suspend the block using himself as a counterweight. He strains and adjusts as the ice dangles before him. We witness his struggle as the weight becomes too much. The ice falls. He breathes. He sets. Sometimes he weeps. Then he tries again. The cycle continues.
Phillip beautifully delves into dichotomies. Warmth/cold. Life/death. The attrition which melts the ice, making it easier to lift, simultaneously breaks his body. Mostly however, it is Phillip’s disrupted identity which captures the mind. His body is a form of hyper-masculinity, he is a Roman legionnaire, swelling and muscular, a demonstration of the power and strength conceptualised to the male form. Yet, in his struggle, he exposes his frailty, his vulnerability, his weakness. These are the antiseptic of conditioned manhood, that we have been told to be so afraid to admit.
The melting ice stains his skin as it turns to water, leaving traces of the battle in which he forges himself. Perhaps he too is changing state, defining himself a new man in the conflict.
James Shearman – IN/OUT (2016)
By James Shearman
IN/OUT is a small noise piece I devised with the help of my mentor Clive Henry in the mentorship programme for TF2016. It began with noise and writing. I was doing a lot of home recording with a contact mic to amplify objects and I was using distortion/gain- and a host of other manipulations- to bring this source into its fullest noise splendour. I wanted to build a ‘noise ritual’ which could allow me to lose myself momentarily – to confront life and death and the small spaces in between. I took some inspiration from Butoh, the Dance of Darkness, in its clawing mindless atavism I saw what I wanted for the ritual – and I found a long umbilical string extending from it to my practice and scribbles with automatic writing and noise.
I think it did meet my expectations. I was meant to be responding to the theme ‘In Utero’, and I’m not sure many could guess this without being told – consciously or unconsciously I always seem to evade the very thing I want a piece to revolve around. Just because it was central in my mind does not mean it should, or has to be, in yours.