Broadcasts

DRAF Broadcasts is a platform to explore in more depth the research and practice of artists, curators and other practitioners. Broadcasts brings you:

Podcasts, discussing cultural practice to open understanding about where artistic or curatorial work comes from and what it means to produce work today.

Live, focusing on conversations around performance.

On Screen, presenting a series of video works from the David Roberts Collection, showcasing a different video every two weeks, to open up and share works from the collection.

01 On Screen: Quilla Constance - Working Lunch (6 - 19 August 2020)

2006, video installation, dimensions variable
00:03:04 minutes

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A packed lunch, banana and all, ready for the working day. But this is no ordinary 9-5, as despite the patterned carpet throwing us off the scent, these sandwiches are brought in to be consumed in a strip club. The artist, Quilla Constance (or QC, an exoticized, punk-feminist persona) was known as Jennifer Allen at the time of making this work – though it’s quite possibly Quilla Constance who we see performing here.

With this work she has created a scene of purposeful discomfort laced with humour, with the camera moving in sweeps from the floor to close-ups of the ‘client’ for the dance, glancing uneasily whilst sipping his water. Quite literally putting on a performance to expose the performative nature of identity and power relations, the objective is “to locate and assert new and empowered modes of being for marginalised identities such as BAME, female and working-class subjects.”¹ Humour and discomfort are thus employed defiantly, to disrupt the patriarchal framework, tease out contingencies, and to centre marginalized narratives.

This feeling of discomfort visible in the male client and perhaps evoked in the viewing experience of this work is heightened by the technical choices made when filming it. Shot on a Mini DV, it is a lo-fi way of filming, even for the time (2006), when there would have been more advanced technology readily available. Talking about this intentional disregard for industry standard technical film language Constance states this “doesn’t allow the viewer to escape and take refuge within familiar cinematic tropes or formulaic humour as employed in mainstream entertainment. In this respect it’s also important to acknowledge that satire is already co-opted into popular culture, which often reduces the critical efficacy of this language – however, it’s the job of the artist to retain critical efficacy.”² The choice for this handheld, candid cam feel is both to afford greater intimacy and antagonize the usual air of ‘glamour’ and titillation that surrounds strip club settings and their soft-form translation into popular culture. Late 90s and early 00s hip-hop music videos come to mind, where similar dance styles were depicted alongside slick production values.

Instead, Constance is paying tribute to a completely different subculture; punk. She describes elements of her practice as “picking up where punk left off”, considering that punk is a counterculture from the late 70s which got almost instantaneously co-opted into dominant popular culture. Drawing on punk’s DIY aesthetic and spirit of protest, what is posited or activated is a contemporary interpretation, a ‘new punk’ that has some activist strategy at its core. Quilla Constance views the origins of punk as seeking to create confusion, for instance, by mixing things up or disseminating messages across different platforms, akin to her very interdisciplinary practice where painting, performance and costume can take on new meanings altogether. Hers is an intentional adoption of these activist strategies that resist any singular meaning, instead welcoming interpretations that challenge the norms or rewrite the narratives. One way of doing this is to purposefully remove things from their usual context – in this case a stripper in this carpeted context rather than in a slick strip club, or sound-tracking the film with Mariah Carey’s sentimental ballad My All (1997), rather than a ‘sexier’ song – so the meaning can’t be as easily pinned down into a neat account. Embracing multiple meanings can thus be read as an activation that gives agency to her biracial identity and the working female in general, by subverting stigmatized (gender) roles.

Working Lunch oscillates between sense and nonsense, uneasy tensions and overt sexuality, showing an astute understanding of the systems of power behind these definitions.³ Constance’s willingness to take risks and disrupt convention is aimed at spurring on societal progression – one that does not oppress and marginalize people. In doing so she takes on the role of the trickster; a character who uses cunning and knowledge to defy ‘normal’ behaviour. Starting from a biracial, female identity position that is crucially lacking representation within the hegemonic, patriarchal status quo means the trickster is the perfect figure and strategy for navigation, since Constance has less to lose in this position. QC the trickster can ‘plot’ to mobilise new understandings of subjectivity and unfix meanings.⁴

QUILLA CONSTANCE (b.1980, Birmingham) works across live and recorded performances, costumes, lectures, paintings and video installations. Quilla Constance, QC or #QC is the “post-punk, neo-glam, gender-questioning performance persona” of Jennifer Allen, adopted in 2009. This work was made under the moniker Jennifer Allen, but informed QC and can clearly be traced in that genealogy.

Working Lunch is a slightly earlier edit of what became Strip Show (2006), which is the version held in the David Roberts Collection. Upon the artist’s request, Working Lunch is the version being screened because in her words “it has more grit!” Both versions were shot and edited whilst Quilla Constance (then known as Jennifer Allen) was completing her Master of Fine Arts at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Currently she is creating a new large-scale painting, performance and costume installations for a socially engaged project called Teasing out Contingencies (2019 – 2022), taking place across Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, and The Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford.

 

video still, Strip Show (2006), courtesy the artist


Footnotes:
1        Quilla Constance, in discussion with author, July 2020.
2       idem.
3       Alexandra Kokoli, “Read My QR: Quilla Constance and the Conceptualist Promise of Intelligibility”, Conceptualism – Intersectional Readings, International Framings, Black Artists and Modernism at Van Abbe Museum, November 2019, pp. 36 – 53. .
4       Constance, dissussion / Dr Mo Throp and Maria Walsh, “Double Acts: Oscillating Between Optical and Haptic Visuality in a Digital Age” in Revisiting the Gaze: The Fashioned Body and the Politics of Looking, ed. Morna Laing and Jacki Wilson, Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020.

02 Live: with Harriet Middleton Baker and Sriwhana Spong (30 July 2020)

Thursday 30 July 2020

Live from 5pm
Sign up here to receive the access link. *

Harriet Middleton Baker and Sriwhana Spong will be discussing thoughts around power structures and how they both work with performance and collaborators.

Both have been selected to develop new work with DRAF as part of our Live Art Commissions programme, initiated with the belief that those who can must keep creating opportunities for artists in these difficult times.

Through informal conversation and by drawing out parallels in ways of working, this Broadcast is an opportunity to get to know the artists invited for the Live Art Commissions programme, but also for the artists involved to get to know each other better.

*without pre-registering it is not possible to join us live, but the talk will be recorded and uploaded to our shared YouTube channel

03 Podcast: with Anne Hardy and Aura Satz

 

 

Artists Anne Hardy and Aura Satz discuss the role of sound, noise and silence in shaping our environment, for example during lockdown, and how they work with it in their art practices.

04 Live: with Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom and Lloyd Corporation (25 June 2020)

 
Originally Broadcast on Thursday 25 June, live from 5pm

Recording now available:

Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom and Lloyd Corporation will be discussing connections between their approach to performance as integrated into a wider sculptural and installation practice.

Both have been selected to develop new work with DRAF as part of our Live Art Commissions programme, initiated with the belief that those who can must keep creating opportunities for artists in these difficult times.

This event is part of series of online conversations co-hosted with Performance Exchange, born from the desire to keep supporting live practices during the lockdown. They feature artists, curators and other cultural practitioners involved in the production of live work.

Subscribe to our shared YouTube channel as new content is added regularly!

05 Podcast: with artist Shezad Dawood and Professor Madeleine van Oppen

 

 
For this podcast, Shezad Dawood was invited to discuss themes connected with his Leviathan project. Here Shezad talks to ecological geneticist Professor Madeleine van Oppen as part of his ongoing research into the connections between ocean conservation, migration and mental health. Van Oppen’s work around finding ways to enable coral reefs to adapt better to rapid changes in ocean conditions and her approach to making her findings more accessible to the public have been a key touchstone for Dawood’s thinking.

Their discussion introduces van Oppen’s work in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and why it is of interest to Dawood, as well as examining the impact of climate warming and the ethical implications of an interventionist approach.

06 Podcast: with Laura Smith, Curator at Whitechapel Gallery


 
Laura Smith, Curator at Whitechapel Gallery talks to DRAF Curator Ned McConnell about her work with audiences both in and outside of London, curatorial approaches to collections and the role of the curator in building trust.

07 Live: with artist Zadie Xa and curator Amy Budd

 
Zadie Xa discussing her performance practice with Amy Budd, curator, Projects and Exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford.

Originally Broadcast on Thursday 21 May, live from 5pm

Recording now available:

This event is part of series of online conversations co-hosted with Performance Exchange, born from the desire to keep supporting live practices during the lockdown. They feature artists, curators and other cultural practitioners involved in the production of live work.

Subscribe to our shared YouTube channel as new content is added regularly!

08 Podcast: with Joe Hill, Director of Towner Eastbourne

 

 
Joe Hill, Director of Towner Eastbourne, and Ned McConnell, curator at DRAF, discuss approaches to collections, building narratives with communities and how museums can be more social spaces.

09 Live: with artist Sriwhana Spong

 

DRAF Broadcasts: Live, a conversation between visual artist and dancer Sriwhana Spong and Ned McConnell.

Talk was live on Thursday 7 May, 5pm.

10 Live: with choreographer Holly Blakey

 

DRAF Broadcasts: Live, an online conversation between choreographer and artist Holly Blakey and DRAF curator Ned McConnell. They will explore notions of liveness in her work and what that means in today’s context.

Talk was live on Thursday 23 April, 4pm.

11 Live: with artist Nina Beier

 

DRAF Broadcasts: Live, a conversation between artist Nina Beier and Ned McConnell.

Talk was live on Thursday 9 April, 5pm.

12 Podcast: with artist Lina Lapelytė

 

 
We are excited to share our first podcast where artist Lina Lapelytė and DRAF curator Ned McConnell discuss Lapelytė’s performance practice, the benefit of time and the importance of re-presenting performance.

 

13 On Screen: Ulla von Brandenburg - 8 (23 July - 5 August 2020)

Ulla von Brandenburg, 8, 2007, video still, courtesy Gallerie Art:Concept, Paris

 
ULLA VON BRANDENBURG8
 

2007, 16 mm film transferred to HD video, b&w, no sound
00:08:10 minutes

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Two men fishing in a man-made boating lake, another with a walking stick and dog greeting a group lounging in the grass, and now the camera moves back, revealing that this scene is set in front of a huge mansion. The opening shot is a close-up of the painting Vue du Château de Chamarande, now hanging in the interior of that very same French castle and painted in 1785 by Hubert Robert¹, who also landscaped the château garden. Located in what is now a southern suburb of Paris, this castle garden scene idealises the life the life of Enlightenment intellectuals and aristocracy, made even more grandiose by being painted in the Romantic style, with Robert adding in ‘sublime’ elements like rocky cliffs in the background, which in reality are much softer hills.²

In Ulla von Brandenburg’s 16mm film 8 (2007) the camera moves in one fluid motion, in what seems to be one continuous steady-cam take, away from the shot of this painting through a succession of ‘living’, yet perfectly still images. The movement of the camera traces a figure of eight through the interior of the château, a motion hinted at tracking past a man holding an elastic band between his fingers, stretched as sideways eight, or an infinity loop.³

Each of the baroque rooms of the Château de Chamarande reveals another tableau vivant, which translates from French as ‘living picture’. These are stationary and silent scenes made up of posing people, often with props or costumes. Combining aspects of visual arts and theatre, usually they are re-enactments, either for educational or entertainment purposes. From the late middle ages onwards the painting-like tableaux were seen on the streets in a similar vein to contemporary living statues, especially to impress crowds at big processions, weddings or coronations. They also have a strong tradition in the Western art historical narrative of painting and sculpture itself, with artists in movements including Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelites placing models in tableaux vivants in their studio to create their highly stylised scenes. In the late 19th and early 20th century they became commonplace in the musical halls, fairgrounds and variety shows with (almost always female) models imitating Old Master paintings, classical statues or more contemporary scenes.⁴ Around the same time censorship was in place that forbade actors to move on stage when nude or semi-nude, so the tableau became a way to circumvent this or present more risqué or erotic entertainment for the masses within the confines of Victorian morals.

Von Brandenburg is interested in the art historical and theatrical lineage of this format. She is exploring the different facets and historical development of the genre, with each of the twelve tableaux representing motifs or figures from 19th century European theatre, painting and literature. There are nods to the canvasses of Edvard Munch and Caspar David Friedrich, notably the latter’s Woman at Window (1822) represented in the first tableau, the ‘muse’ in Greek comedy and tragedy, symbolised by the woman holding a mask (tableau 4), as well as the plays The Father by August Strindberg and Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekov.⁵

There are some humorous moments too, for example the ninth scene, where two women are holding up a floorplan of the castle that clearly shows a mapping out of the tableaux order and actors. The props that are used in the early scenes, such as a pair of gloves, handkerchief and chess board can also be seen dotted around the floor in later rooms, giving the illusion that those present in the scenes dashed off in a chaotic panic as soon as the camera left them. Indeed, this may be the case, as most of the same people are present in one of the final rooms, where there is the largest tableau vivant with many spectators gathered around what is probably a death scene.

The one take that fluidly goes all the way through the castle interior, the inability to spot even a tiny movement (other than the odd blink of a twitchy eyelid) and the decision to shoot on 16mm all point to a high level of craft and attention to detail. These are aspects that characterise von Brandenburg’s objects and moving image works. Her often used motif of the large draping curtain points to a fascination with what is purposefully concealed or revealed. With the film slowly and quietly ending up full circle, back at the opening canvas, only adds to a fascination as to what noises, directives and movement that must have taken place out of shot.

ULLA VON BRANDENBURG (b. 1974, Karlsruhe) works in film, photography, installation, and performance. Von Brandenburg uses what may be viewed as archaic artmaking traditions within these media to investigate the unspoken rules of contemporary society. Her often bold, eclectic and large works can in part be traced back to her formal training in set design and keen interest in the history of film, photography, literature, theatre, and psychology.

Von Brandenburg’s favoured format for video is black and white, presumably referencing the origins of film making. In contrast, many of her drawings, performances and installations use bright and primary colours. There is however another black and white editioned print, titled Ruban (2008), held in the David Roberts Collection. Both works entered the collection in 2008. A different reconfigured edition of 8 formed the core element of Ulla von Brandenburg’s 2009 solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, London. She currently has a solo exhibition in Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, which due to lockdown has been extended until 13 September 2020.

 

Hubert Robert, Vue du château de Chamarande, 1785, oil on canvas.


Footnotes:
1        Robert was an interesting character; a celebrated painter and landscaper, he also helped design Versailles’ gardens having been appointed “Designer of the King’s Gardens” and “Keeper of the Kings Pictures”. During the French Revolution he only managed to escape the guillotine because another prisoner with a similar name got executed in his place. After the fall of Robespierre, Robert was then one of five on a committee in charge of changing the Louvre from a palace to the new national museum.
2       “Hubert Robert”, Domaine Départemental de Chamarande, 2014. [Accessed 20 July 2020].
3       Jens Hoffmann, “Theatre and It’s Double”, CCA Wattis Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2008. [Accessed 23 July 2020].
4       Elena Stevens, “Making a Spectacle of Themselves: Art and Female Agency in 1890s Music Hall”, IATL vol 6, issue 2, University of Warwick.
5       “Ulla von Brandenburg”, 2009, Chisenhale Gallery. [Accessed 20 July 2020]. and “Ulla von Brandenburg – Eight”, Kadist, 2007. [Accessed 20 July 2020].

Credits:

Camera / Steadicam: Fabrice Sebille
Camera assistants: Marion Rey, Prune Brenguier
Actors: Sophie Bossulet, Mel O’Callaghan, Nerida O’Callaghan, Louison Chandon, Gabriel Desplanques, Julien Discrit, Franziska Duebgen, Franck Thésée, Aurel Frayssinhef, Julia zu Knyphausen, Thierry Leviez, Seb Ronarch, Annesophie Terrillon, Fabienne Touzi di Terzi, Benjamin Vailleau, Marion Verboom
Produced in collaboration with ADN factory, Paris, Christophe Acker, Nicolas Duroux, Agathe Nony
Executive producers: Marine Acker, Magalie Meunier
Costumes: Amandine Chalony
Thanks to Magalie Gentet, Laurent Montaron, Judith Quentel, Alexis Vaillant

14 On Screen: Junebum Park - I parking and III crossing (9 - 22 July 2020)

 

6 video stills depict a giant hand regulating traffic, overlayed onto a busy parking lot where black and white suvs come and go

I parking [6 video stills], courtesy the artist and Hamni Gallery, London


 
6 video stills depict a giant hand regulating traffic, overlayed on arial shots of a busy intersection and pedestrian crossing.

III crossing, [6 video stills], courtesy the artist and Hamni Gallery, London


 
JUNEBUM PARKI PARKING and III CROSSING
 

both 2002, single-channel video, colour, silent
I parking: 00:04:58 minutes // III crossing: 00:01:29 minutes

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A city’s urban architecture and spatial design often dictate the primary mode of getting from A to B. In LA the done thing is driving, whilst in Amsterdam you get on your bike, and in Tokyo the main means of transport is rail. In these two video works Junebum Park hones in on two distinct forms of getting oneself to a new location: on foot or arriving by car.

Filmed from above, both works show the graphic patterns of urban planning in the form of the white lines of zebra crossings and parking lots, being used by city dwellers. Seen from this birds-eye view the humans become like bugs and Park plays with this scale further with the introduction of his hand, about ten times larger than the ant-like people, directing the action. As the viewer we see the scene from Park’s viewpoint, as the omni-present, all-seeing entity in charge. Like Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal in the 1986 World Cup as a moment of claimed ‘divine intervention’, Park’s giant hand is there to give a last little push in the right direction.

There is more at stake here though. It is telling that hardly any of the cars that park manage to do so straight or in their assigned parking lines, sometimes even blatantly double parking and ignoring the allocation of space all together. Similarly, in III crossing it is significant that Park’s hand spends more time holding the pedestrians back, despite the presence of traffic lights and zebra crossings, rather than pushing the cars along. However hard city planners might try to dictate human movement with these kinds of directives and rules, the inhabitants will, to a certain extent, just keep going where they want to.

The chapter called ‘Walking the City’ in Michel de Certeau’s book The Practice of Everyday Life (1980) looks at this phenomenon. For de Certeau it is the pedestrians of a city that make the space they inhabit by the very act of walking through it. For him, walking is a type of language that gives meaning to place from the ground up, with the everyday users both reading and rewriting the city. To be travelling from a here to a there is a “pedestrian enunciation”, which can affirm or transgress the ‘spoken’ trajectories, for example by taking a shortcut or making a detour.¹ What de Certeau brands as ‘voyeur-gods’ are the cartographers, urbanists and anyone that enters the skyscrapers of towering corporations to access viewing platforms. Like Park’s own top-down perspective, they are all trying to gain a “celestial eye” over a city.² Simply put, de Certeau thinks that those who ignore these schematized rules and change direction create “liberated spaces that can occupied”, taking back some power from a panoptic regulating of movement and reclaiming the streets through these minor acts of autonomy and defiance.³

Following this logic, the unruly jaywalker or the parallel parker who is just popping to the shops are both figures to be celebrated. Park brings into focus these very routines that shape daily activities and give a bustling city its character. By calling attention to the upscaled hand, he also puts a spotlight on to the impact of the ‘invisible hand’ of systems and regulations that shape any given society.

JUNEBUM PARK (b. 1976, Seoul) is a video artist whose work also includes photography and video installations. In the initial years after Park completed his BFA at Sungkyunkwam University in Seoul, South Korea in 2002, his video works were characterised the abstraction of everyday life into patterns, semi-organised movements or schematized gameplay. With his distortion of natural scale and use of sharp camera angles, Park brings in a sense of humour and playfulness to these scenes.

I parking and III crossing are part of the same series, which also includes II buildings, showing tiny construction workers and IV escalator, where the scales are reversed and the human hand gains independence by walking upright along the handrail of an escalator.


Footnotes:
1        Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, ed. 1984, University of California Press, p. 99
2       Idem, p. 92 – 94
3       Idem, p. 103

15 On Screen: Nicolas Provost - Stardust (25 June 2020 - 8 July 2020)

 

 
NICOLAS PROVOSTSTARDUST
 

2010, video projection, installation dimensions variable

00:19:52 minutes

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As a roller coaster train rattles past a facsimile of the Statue of Liberty, the words ‘New York New York’ flash in bright lights. Las Vegas screams, the sounds of thrill literally flying through the air. This neon-studded city is well-known to all who are familiar with American culture, partly as the city has become a familiar location in Hollywood cinema. Spectacle is palpable everywhere on the streets, be it in Little Venice, by the Great Pyramids or around the Empire State Building. Las Vegas is an environment that prides itself on being a loose fabrication of another reality.

The built environment underscores and amplifies what Stardust (2010) unpicks; the make-believe of cinema. The film lays bare the apparatus that constructs stories and dreams. Provost’s shots of residents, workers and visitors going about their daily business have been dubbed with excerpts of dialogue taken from famous American thrillers, their lip movements almost matching but revealing a purposeful disjoint. It’s all CIA agents, vault keys and double crossings. “You have no idea what men in power can do!”, someone shouts down their flip phone. In actuality, his was probably a more mundane conversation, but this audio suddenly gives the man speaking a slightly crazed look about him.

Stardust stacks up cinematic tropes from genres like the heist movie or film noir, particularly tricks used in these films to create suspense or an air of mystery. The most obvious of these is the swelling music, but the edit also has a big part to play. What in film theory is known as the ‘Kuleshov effect’ has been put to good use.¹ This is a montage technique where associations are created by the way two sequential shots interact with each other, the loose images together creating a narrative or emotion. Clever montage combined with excessive camera panning and slow zoom keeps the frame centered on individuals, busy deliberating on their phones or just waiting around.² Seen as a singular image there would not be that much happening. The way these images have been assembled means the whole twenty minutes of the film is constructed as if we are on the cusp of something big happening. Any minute now.

The links to Hollywood cinema are shown even more literally. Stars of the big screen make appearances throughout. We see Danny Trejo and Dennis Hopper in the midst of intense discussions whilst eating McDonald’s fries, Jon Voight having a drink and someone resembling Jack Nicholson being driven around in a limousine. It remains unclear if these are actual cameos, coincidental ‘off duty’ captures or, in the case of Nicholson, merely a good look-a-like hiding behind sunglasses. Although their presence is shrouded in the same sense of mystery the film is creating, the point of their appearance is not lost. These are all actors largely known for roles in films that follow a well-trodden good guy/bad guy path and more often than not they play the anti-hero or villain.

It is clear that on surface level Sin City is full of seduction. Scratching beyond that though quickly reveals it is only a thin disguise. Provost contrasts the gold glittery façade and the make-believe of the Strip, with the surprisingly bland and generic interiors. Once his cameras are positioned inside hotel lobbies, by gambling machines and bars, the uniformity and slight abject sadness of the place in emphasised. None of the interiors have windows or sunlight, some are decked out with office panels on ceilings and walls, security booths and reception desks look uncomfortably small; the glitz and glam suddenly seems far removed.

So, is this a film about film? Stardust certainly breaks through the spectacle of the silver screen, showing how easily elements like plot, suspense and stardom can be manipulated by an edit. It’s fitting that this mirror being held up to cinema itself is placed in a setting that makes no secret of being a capitalist fabrication.

One of the most pertinent moments comes roughly 15 minutes in, when the camera stops on a person standing frozen amidst bustle and shops selling tacky souvenirs, a look of complete disillusionment on their face. Suddenly the underbelly of the city is rendered fully visible again and the spell is broken.

The shots that follow include a long zoom on the face of a croupier, his nametag identifying him as Peter, who cold stares the viewer down the lens. His silence also indicates a shift in the pace and feel of Stardust. Plot twist! Moving from suspense film to disaster movie, suddenly the entire crowd in shot is seen gazing up at the sky. They might be bracing themselves for the arrival of superheroes or monsters, but my money is on an alien invasion – bringing real dust from the stars down with them.

NICOLAS PROVOST (b. 1969, Ronse) is a Belgian filmmaker and visual artist whose works are often inspired by film language, abstraction and collage.

Stardust (2010) is part of Provost’s Plot Point Trilogy, comprising two other films; Plot Point (2007) shot in Times Square, NYC and Tokyo Giants (2012) filmed in Tokyo. In all three he manipulates and assembles footage that sprinkle enough breadcrumbs for a viewer to construct a narrative and question what is false or real. Stardust was acquired by the David Roberts Collection in 2011 and has since been shown as part of a DRAF x Art Night 2018 screening.


Footnotes:
1        see how the technique works: “The Kuleshov Effect – A Silent Experiment”, YouTube.
2       The insights in this paragraph are mainly thanks to David W. Pendleton’s essay “Cinema Between the Real and the False: Nicolas Provost’s Plot Point Trilogy”. Published in Dream Machine – Nicolas Provost, Uitgeverij Lannoo, 2015.

16 On Screen: Shezad Dawood - Leviathan Cycle, Episode 4: Jamila (11 - 24 June 2020)

 
video still with a man and woman standing amongst red sandy dunes holding weapons
 
SHEZAD DAWOODLEVIATHAN CYCLE, EPISODE 4: JAMILA
 

2018, single screen high definition video with sound, commissioned by Arts Council, England, Barakat, Seoul, HE.RO Amsterdam and Leviathan – Human & Marine Ecology

00:10:36 minutes

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THE DRUMMING HAD
THRUMM TOM TOM
DUM DUM DHUMM
BEEN GETTING LOUDER 

These are the first lines of Shezad Dawood’s Leviathan Cycle, Episode 4: Jamila (2018). This ominous opening sets the tone for the remaining minutes; with this episode perhaps being the darkest of Dawood’s Leviathan Cycle so far.What will be a cycle of ten films in total uses the first five episodes to present tales of migration, climate crisis and mental health issues from a human perspective, before switching to that of marine life. So far, each episode is centred on one character’s inner world and experience, largely expressed through voiceover that moves from English, French, Italian to Arabic as the character changes.

Ben and Yasmine, the main protagonists introduced in the first two episodes, are journeying south together. They find themselves in a near-future, some  20 to 50 years from now, with the world thrown into chaos after an inexplicable solar cataclysm. Having left behind the Bacchanalian orgies and excess of a newly formed community in a Venetian lagoon (Episode 3: Arturo), the duo is now on the coast of Morocco, stuck after their car breaks down.

Episode 4: Jamila was shot on location in Sidi Ifni, far down Morocco’s North Atlantic coastline. The rugged beauty, empty beaches, and vast cliffs, described by Jamila as “a soft hazy red, that mirrored the bleeding sunset”,  form the backdrop for a desperate fight for survival as Ben and Yasmine fall victim to a violent attack by the eponymous Jamila and her group of three other ‘parasitic’ bandits.¹ Images compare this assault to sharks slowly circling prey or fish being gutted by fishmongers, eyes wide as their heads are discarded. The quick edit style and graphic images criticise the prevalence of sex and violence in media and mediation, with Dawood noting it is “almost a mirror, to that fast-paced acceleration of newsfeed algorithms”.² Meanwhile, Jamila’s voice reflects on her group’s motivation to stalk the shores, looking to rape and kill: “It also allowed us to focus our rage, impotence and unknowing outwards onto these poor souls foolish enough to wander into our former lives”. It does not take long though before the roles are reversed, with a new armed duo intervening and killing all but Jamila. The episode’s coastal setting and exploration of predator-prey relationships in both human and marine species all stand in direct references to the cycle’s title.

Leviathan. It’s quite the weighty word. With the meaning pointing towards either an autocratic state; a sea serpent in the Tanakh and Old Testament; any large aquatic creature, particularly a whale; or Hobbes’ 17th century book on social contract theory, it is safe to say Leviathan is a many-headed beast. The same can be said for Dawood’s version, which manages to simultaneously touch on the mythical, social, Biblical and oceanic connotations of the term. He says he chose the title specifically to add to the vast bank of knowledge that the title evokes.³

Equally, the project is sprawling in many ways. Whilst ten moving image works may sound like an ambitious enough project, Dawood’s Leviathan also encompasses installation, neons, painting, commissioned research papers, VR and a vast public programme. It is through this programme of talks that the voices of the hundreds of oceanographers, climate scientists, trauma specialists, academics, environmentalists, migrant rights activists and neurologists that lent their expertise to Dawood are made visible.

This is how the research started out, with Dawood going out to meet these experts driven by the question “is there a connection between mass migration and marine conservation?”. Turns out some of these connections are even more direct than might be expected. Sandro Carniel, a scientist at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Venice for example highlighted that the route used in the recent migration crisis from the North African coast to Lampedusa goes right over a hump in the ocean floor, which displaces water and creates squalls and currents.⁴ These form a large part of the reason that crossing this part of the Mediterranean is so dangerous.

In other words, Dawood is attempting to draw parallels between the top and bottom of the oceans.⁵ His Leviathan does not only move through history and place, it also places human stories on par with those of aquatic beings, all with relative visual ease due to the clever use of expansive archive footage. It may be a many-headed beast, but one that moves the term ‘Leviathan’ out of the depths of history and connects some of the most urgent issues of contemporary time together in one body of work.

 

SHEZAD DAWOOD (b. 1974, London) works across the disciplines of film, performance, painting, neon, sculpture and virtual reality to ask key questions of narrative, history and embodiment. Using the editing process as a method to explore both meanings and forms, his practice often involves collaboration and knowledge exchange, mapping across multiple audiences and communities. Through a fascination with the esoteric, otherness, the environment and architectures both material and virtual, Dawood interweaves stories, realities and symbolism to create richly layered artworks. His neon Epiphany (2003) became part of the David Roberts Collection in 2006.

This screening is part of a special Leviathan Broadcast Season staged in collaboration with ArtReview, Modern Forms, David Roberts Art Foundation and The Ryder.

If you would like to find out more about the project, follow the Leviathan journey online on Instagram and Twitter @leviathancycle and explore the Leviathan research platform at leviathan-cycle.com. The website includes all commissioned research papers and public programme talks, such as Sandro Carniel in conversation with Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi.


Footnotes:
1        Shezad Dawood, Leviathan Cycle, Episode 4: Jasmine, 2018, single screen, 10:36 minutes. Commissioned by Arts Council, England, Barakat, Seoul, HE.RO Amsterdam and Leviathan – Human & Marine Ecology.
2       Shezad Dawood quoted in @the_ryder_projects IG TV Leviathan Q&A, “Sex and violence manifest themselves in Leviathan as both separate and related forces. Could you expand on how they are situated in the work, as well as our current contemporary condition?” question by Aaron Cezar, 28 May 2020. Accessed 29 May 2020.
3       Shezad Dawood quoted in Shezad Dawood: Leviathan, Bluecoat Liverpool, YouTube video, 18 Sep 2019. Accessed 21 May 2020.
4       Hettie Judah, “I’ve created a monster! Shezad Dawood on his oceanic epic Leviathan”, The Guardian, 7 May 2017. Accessed online 21 May 2020.
5       idem.

17 On Screen: Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler - Night Shift (28 May - 10 June 2020)

 
Two male police officers sit in their car, smiling. - video still
 
TERESA HUBBARD / ALEXANDER BIRCHLERNIGHT SHIFT
 
2006, HD video with sound, single channel projection,
installation dimensions variable

00:08:24 minutes, loop

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Said leave me to lay, but touch me deep
I don’t sleep, I dream
I’ll settle for a cup of coffee, but you know what I really need

– R.E.M. (1994)
 
It’s a cliché of American popular culture that probably holds some truth; police officers fuelling their long shifts with multiple cups of coffee. However, in the video work by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, one of the officers on Night Shift duty, who we soon learn is called Sam, is actually dozing off in his police car whilst his colleague is off ordering the black liquid that is supposed to keep him awake.

The drink’s arrival – Sam drinks it with “two sugars and no cream” – starts a sequence of encounters that fluctuate between seeming real or imagined, as different co-workers step into the driver’s seat besides Sam. It has a feeling of Groundhog Day; same car, same shift, same sleepiness, new person, same topic of conversation. The surrounding noises enhance this sense of repetition, as crickets chirp their night song and a constant “we got a 40/01” police code crackles through over the radio. Every colleague gets in, passes over the cup and launches into a monologue touching on the subject of sleep. Policeman Sam, in his still snoozy state, robotically takes the cup with a “thanks” and then nods, laughs or simply listens to the different inner reflections that are shared with him. There are musings on the difference between “real dreams” as opposed to “being a star or buying a house” or on how that small slippage where you still consciously realise you are falling asleep is “THE most perfect moment”. ‘Real’ dreams, but with lucidity.

This moving image work is intended to be viewed on a loop, meaning there is a conscious play with repetition in the actions but also through this potentially perpetual cycle of moments and exchanges. It blurs an understanding of how time is passing. Is this an actual nocturnal work scene over several nights or we are witnessing a dream about dreams?

In the film Groundhog Day (1993), Bill Murray portrays Phil Connors, a TV weatherman who slowly loses his mind in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as it dawns on him that the perfect endless repetition of his day is in fact not a dream; he is stuck in a loop. As all days become the same, the combination of structured repetition with an endless amalgamation of each moment into one undistinguishable mass, sees Phil struggle to come to terms with his newfound actuality and attempts ways to better himself within it. A situation, one could argue, not completely dissimilar to the housebound reality many of us are currently living through. Incidentally, this comparison is something many internet memes have already taken some glee in pointing out. So, watching Sam and Phil adrift in a semi-conscious, hazy dream state, a kind of suspended reality, begs the question; what exactly is the point of dreaming? Especially reliving recurring ones?

On average a person has around five dreams a night, most of which are never remembered. Dreams tend to last longer further into the night, with most occurring during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is also the terrain for ‘lucid dreams’. Whilst this term was only coined in the early 20th century, the state of being aware of dreaming and deliberately taking some control of the dream’s narrative has been referenced throughout history, for instance popping up in Aristotle, Tibetan Buddhism and Samuel Pepys’ diary.

Subjected to frenzied debate, notably amongst Freud and fellow psychoanalysts, recurring dreams in particular are often seen as indicative of something; the onset of fever or even the processing of trauma. Freud in particular made a big point of relating this recurrence to perceived ‘problems’ in the human psyche, whereas lucid dream theory maintains that it is a perfectly normal phenomenon. In his book The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959) political essayist Arthur Koestler argues that there are positive outcomes to take away from what our unconsciousness might be trying to tell us. He writes that the irrational mind can help us to find creative solutions, particularly when attempting to make intellectual gains in scientific problems. Surrendering control to irrationality, sleepwalking through the day, is actually a state where new discoveries can emerge. Dream big.

 
TERESA HUBBARD / ALEXANDER BIRCHLER (b. 1965, Dublin & b. 1962, Baden) have been working collaboratively in film, photography and sculpture since 1990. Mainly working in moving image or reflecting on the role of place and cinema, their work interweaves hybrid forms of storytelling. In 2017, they represented Switzerland at the 57th Venice Biennial with Flora, a work about the unknown American artist Flora Mayo, with whom the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti had a love affair in Paris in the 1920s.

Night Shift was commissioned by Art 21 Inc. New York and premiered on the American public broadcaster PBS television in 2005. It was shot on location in Austin, Texas. The work became part of the David Roberts Collection in 2006, where it has since been screened as part of Art Night in London in 2018.

18 On Screen: Nina Beier & Marie Lund - We Grown Ups Can Also Be Afraid (14 - 27 May 2020)

 
A still image of an empty playground with the subtitles 'we grown-ups can also be afraid'
 
NINA BEIER ADN MARIE LUNDWE GROWN UPS CAN ALSO BE AFRAID
 
2007, video
00:04:00 minutes

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“We grown-ups can also be afraid.”

It is a sentence that rings true. And, one would hope, phrased as if said to the youngest in our communities in a reassuring warm tone, not spoken by them. So, it registers rather oddly to hear it sung by a group of young children’s voices. In the classroom setting they find themselves in, their cacophony is underscored by some rapid tapping of a drum and a persistent cough, at moments overpowering the vocals like the clash of a cymbal. It is a stark and apprehensive beat for a song about being afraid of “the black ugly smoke coming from the factory”. They sing on; “I am afraid of the nuclear power plants”, “. . . afraid of what is written in stupid books.” It is the shift from the collective ‘we grown-ups’ to the first-person singular ‘I’ that is perhaps most jarring.

What strange transfer of knowledge is at play here? Why are adults choosing to give voice to Cold War era paranoia and anxiety through the children they are supposed to be nurturing and protecting? It seems like a pure projection of angst onto an unknowing symbol of innocence.

Danish artists Nina Beier and Marie Lund were both taught this song in school when growing up. Their experience was in fact one shared by anyone from Denmark of the same generation as the artists. This song was included in the national curriculum song book, which went out to every single primary school. Written by folk singer Bjarne Jess Hansen in 1978, it was indeed penned as a dark warning of nuclear threat and possible ideological indoctrination, packaged up with pop flair to soften the blow.

Teaching it to children in the early Eighties is perhaps quite telling of a Danish way of dealing with things at that time. Following the wake of the cultural and sexual revolution of the Sixties nothing was taboo. Fast forward some thirty years, the artists, now acting as music teachers in this video piece, can be heard trying to spur the group on as some pupils chatting in the corner are resisting taking part in this transfer of meaning onto them. Children are smart after all. Whilst they may duly perform the task at hand (learn the lyrics, sing the song) under the learnt power structure of a teacher-pupil relationship, the reluctance that this particular song evokes could suggest the children are well aware there is some sort of manipulation happening, or even that fear is being instilled in them. Perhaps not entirely innocent or unknowing after all.

Exploring these relationships – those of being versus representing, or those that give shape to social and cultural fabric – is characteristic of Nina Beier and Marie Lund’s collaborative practice. This video was originally made for their solo exhibition at David Roberts Art Foundation, back in 2008 titled All The Best. It carried the subtitle A Solo Exhibition by Nina Beier and Marie Lund turning into a Group Show. Having only opened its doors a couple of months prior, this was the second solo exhibition DRAF ever presented. Yet, as indicated by the title, the duo took the relational transfer that is present in this video and more widely in their work and applied it to the whole show.

Over the duration of the exhibition the artists gradually replaced their own art with that of others they felt related to. This particular piece was replaced by a work by Simon Dybbroe Møller. The overall idea was that the logic of the exhibition would stay in place, by replacing works with a directly correlating ‘flavour’ or feeling, whilst they simultaneously altered the structure of the exhibition from within, welcoming in a collective process. With their video work shown in this context, the opening up to collectivity is a note that could make its way back into the school. The spirit of intending to teach awareness and empathy remains valid but rooting this in dialogue rather than a one-sided transfer wouldn’t go amiss.
 

NINA BEIER (b. 1975, Aarhus) and MARIE LUND (b. 1976, Hundested) worked collaboratively between 2003 – 2009, alongside their individual practices. As a duo they worked with objects, performance, time and collaboration to play with group dynamics and social infrastructure.

In the 2008 exhibition All The Best, for example, the only piece that remained the same was Beier and Lund’s work of the same title, which was an instruction to leave all the post that arrived in the gallery unopened by the door. Thus, DRAF’s doorway was subtly transformed into the border between a real and fabricated space.

19 On Screen: Jacco Olivier - Saeftinghe (30 April - 13 May 2020)

 
Jacco Olivier - Saefthinghe (video still), 2006
 
JACCO OLIVIERSAEFTINGHE
 
2006, video installation
00:02:35 minutes

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Jacco Olivier is both a painter and filmmaker, using the former medium to create the latter. Photographing brushstrokes and details of the compositions, he turns liquid colour into moving images by animating sections of his paintings. This transformative process imbues the otherwise static images with energy and charm as abstract forms take on recognisable shapes. Whilst Olivier has now moved into working with much larger canvasses his paintings from this period are small, only the size of his hand-span. What emerges after the digitisation process is as intricate as it is bold, with vibrant use of colour and gestural strokes representing the movement of people, natural elements and objects. In Saeftinghe for example, thick drips of grey paint run down the screen, becoming lashes of heavy rain. This depiction of ominous weather is no coincidence, the short animation deals directly with man’s relationship to the sea, making it fertile ground to think through possible effects of human action on the climate.

The work takes its name from what was a town in the far south-westerly corner of the Netherlands. Claimed from the sea in the 13th century, the town and its surrounding land only existed until 1584, when it was taken back by the North Sea and Scheldt river, on whose crossroads the land is situated. The former settlement is now buried under layers of clay, where large bricks have been found displaced on land along the estuary, thought to belong to the abbey that once stood there. Prone to flooding, numerous attempts to reclaim the land have failed. The area is now a swamp known as the ‘Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe’, translating as the ‘Drowned Land’.

Whilst all may seem well in the opening vista, it soon turns out to be a calm before the storm; as a woman in a yellow coat walks off the frame and puts her hood up, the house behind her slowly tears itself away from the ground and floats away. The scene is reminiscent of the start of the Wizard of Oz (1939), where Dorothy’s farmhouse is sent spinning in the air as it is gripped by a tornado, with bicycles and household items flying by. Likewise, in Saeftinghe everything from a classical blue Chinese porcelain vase, the drawer of filing cabinet, a big yellow van and a can of Coca-Cola are released from the gravitational pull that would normally keep them on the ground.

Simultaneously speculative, dream-like and underlyingly sinister, Jacco Olivier’s Saeftinghe feels like a warning from the 16th century to the rising sea levels in our current day and age. The tale can be read as a precursor for what has in recent years become much more widely understood not just as climate change but a climate crisis. The knowledge that in this instance, despite the niftiness of Dutch dike building, the sea may well reign supreme in the end.

Whilst Dorothy and her house are transported to the fantastical Land of Oz, the equally technicoloured ‘Drowned Land’ that this video work is set in shows a harsher reality. The slow right-to-left moving panorama viewpoint stops on a car, fully stuck in the middle of a field of wet clay. It is a familiar image from recent years when flash floods hit built-up areas and leave a trail of soppy debris. As the viewpoint lingers on this vehicle, the motion sucks us down below the horizon. The land is now fully swallowed up by the water.

JACCO OLIVIER (b. 1972, Goes) creates mysterious universes with paint brushes and video technology, animating his paintings to become projected moving images. He currently lives and works in Amsterdam, where he also completed the Rijksakademie Residency in 1998.

This work became part of the David Roberts Collection in 2007, along with two other animations Home and Whale (both 2006). Perhaps in-keeping with the sheer size of the animal, Whale is a departure from his usual single-channel projection, instead using three large screens to reimagine the movement of the animal in its underwater habitat. The works mix moments of daily life with memories and imagination, rendering them more abstract and surreal.

20 On Screen: Zhou Xiaohu - Crowd Around (16 - 29 April 2020)

 
Zhou Xiaohu Crowd Around 2003-04
 
ZHOU XIAOHUCROWD AROUND
 
2003-04, video installation, dimensions variable
00:11:01 minutes

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Where were you when you first saw that image of a plane flying straight into the side of the World Trade Center North Tower? Most of us do not need long to remember the answer. There are certain defining moments in recent Western history – “one small step for man…”, JFK’s assassination, the fall of the Berlin wall – that have been etched well and truly into the collective imagination. These are moments where personal memories and global history fuse together more than usual, in part due to the rapid speed of image circulation that has come to define our current Information Age.

Zhou Xiaohu has been dubbed a “pioneer of video animation in China” and has been using computers and game software as his main artistic tools since the late-90s.¹ His claymation Crowd Around deals directly with image circulation and consumption in ten short ‘newsreel’ scenes, the third of which depicts 9/11. In them, identical crowds of stop-motion clay figurines bear witness to a host of generally unseemly incidents – an assassination, electrocution, high stakes boxing competition, plane hijack, court ruling and so on. The subject and object characters are the only ones that he assigns different formal and facial characteristics to, making them stand out against the ubiquitous but anonymous mass, the us in an ‘us versus them’.

Xiaohu’s simple thin rectangle blocks are immediately recognisable as the Twin Towers, as they collapse into a cloud of debris made of squished clay, revealing fingerprint moulds. The distilled forms pack a punch in effectiveness, leaving no question to what it is you are witnessing. The event is reiterated by being rewound and replayed on a television set, with this framing enhancing the immediate familiarity. This repetition was how these low-res, shaky hand-cam frames were zapped across the world, into our homes, consciousness and history books. Their endless circulation started first through the news cycle, before the images resurfaced in a morphed form as commemorative art and architecture, in literature, cinema, narrative documentary or theatre.

In September 2001 the Information Age was arguably still in its infancy, this being a time before Web 2.0 and sophisticated smartphones. The widespread access to often handheld technology we are used to now has provided even more routes for images to become collective symbols. At lighting speed they crop up and circulate across the web, as bootlegs, screenshots, forwarded messages, memes. These are all versions of what Hito Steyerl has defined ‘poor images’, “a copy in motion”.²

Poor images have significant political currency, especially when considering the sheer amount of people that facilitate their high-volume consumption and distribution. As Steyerl notes; “altogether, poor images present a snapshot of the affective condition of the crowd, its neurosis, paranoia, and fear, as well as its craving for intensity, fun, and distraction”.3 Xiaohu works with the clay equivalent of a low-res copy, DIY depictions in simple shapes where his hand-held camera swoops over the studio sets as he simulates the movement of jerky phone recordings. A crafty remake of broadcast media and popular culture, layered with complex foley and sound design, his scenes have moments of intensity, are laced with a sense of dark humour and provide eleven minutes of escapism into an outside world now only consumable via screens.

ZHOU XIAOHU’s (b. 1960, Changzhou) works mainly consist of videos and installations that take on societal questions with his keen sense of humour and visual puns. Originally trained as an oil painter, he started experimenting with computer animation in 1997 and made the layering of images and objects, between hand-made, generated and animated, his signature style from then onwards. Crowd Around (2003-04) and Gooey Gentlemen (2002), another animation which features Xiaohu’s own torso as a stage upon which a hand-drawn story unfolds, both became part of the David Roberts Collection in 2006. At the end of the year Crowd Around will be on show at the inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale, shown alongside other animations by Xiaohu and a new work using string puppets.


Footnotes:
1        “Exhibition guide, The Real Thing: Zhou Xiaohu born 1960”, Tate.org.uk. Accessed 5 April 2020.
2       Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image”, e-flux journal #10, November 2009. Accessed 5 April 2020.