So it seems that writing a blog is a lot like that gym membership: It gets a little harder to get motivated after the initial enthusiasm wears out…. Actually to be fair it has been a busy week plus the Sun’s been out ,so that extra hour on the computer at the end of the day is slightly less attractive than usual.
There is another factor and that is a sudden feeling of the distinct lack that reflection and criticism has compared to the actual experience of seeing or being with art. This is isn’t necessarily always how I feel or even to demean the importance of such things but I’ve been lucky enough this week to be confronted with two works of art that hit me squarely in the gut. The first was Eva Rothschild’s ‘Cold Corners’ that opened on Monday night and is the latest of Tate Britain’s commissions for their Duveen Galleries. The second was a performance of Dennis Cooper’s “Jerk” made in collaboration with director and choreographer Gisèle Vienneand and performed by Jonathan Capdevielle, which took place at the South London Gallery last night. (Incidentally, before I go any further there is another performance tonight and I would strongly advise anyone in London to get on the phone right now…)
Two very different works of art. One graceful and fluent and the other obscene, visceral and literally dripping with sweat but both left me with that warm feeling of inadequacy that great art does. This is a sense that despite however we might feel at any given moment, human beings are still capable of producing things of power and significance whether they repulse us or enrapture us.
A very brief and deficient description….. Eva’s work is a huge series of interlocking triangles that fill the classical Duveen Galleries climbing up and down the walls and bouncing of the floors and ceiling. Go see it. I’m sure that it was a technical nightmare but in the end that doesn’t matter because it seems as simple as someone drawing a line through space, cutting the rooms to pieces. A giant sigil. The incredible thing is that it seems so effortless which of course it’s not. In relation to Eva’s smaller work which tend to charge and contain discreet areas of space which we look into, here we become the molecules buzzing inside the space, giving it its charge.
Enough of that. Eva said to me on Monday night that the work ‘didn’t look good in photographs’, I thought that she was being a little tough on herself. I took a pretty lame photo on my Blackberry (see below) but when I looked in the papers in the morning I noticed that the professionals hadn’t done much better. The point being that this is a work that suffers from attempts to make it into an image, too much is lost. This is amazing in a world that relies so heavily on mediated, second-hand experience. The world is still out there, “Cold Corners” makes this point very clearly. On leaving the Tate a thought popped into my head…. A female artist had finally come to kill all those heavy metal, male sculptors that had haunted the Duveen for years.
A couple of nights later and a few miles further South and I’m watching “Jerk” at the South London Gallery. I’m kind of biased as I’m a massive fan of Dennis Cooper and all the obscene abjection, beauty and violence in his work. I read the books in a fairly metaphorical way which may well be some kind of defence metaphorism for dealing with the consequences of his imagery.
As I mentioned the piece is a derived from Cooper’s collaborative book with artist Nayland Blake, “Jerk” (1994). The work is a fictionalised depiction of the exploits of real-life 70’s serial killers Dean Corll, David Brooks and Wayne Henley who murdered twenty one boys. David Brooks narrates the story as a puppet show which is where the performer Jonathan Capdevielle comes in. This is my first taste of something that I probably couldn’t even imagine before seeing but you could perhaps describe as ‘extreme puppetry’ as we see the boys puppet equivalents, rape , mutilate and murder their victims.
The gallery is incredibly hot and the air is heavy as we sit before the performer on his lonely chair. From the beginning we are pulled into the narrative of the work as ‘David’ invites us to read a fanzine he has written. Then it’s straight into the action that begins with Dean, complete with Panda mask, fisting a teenage male victim. Worse is to come, and repeatedly so. Very quickly the performer becomes a sweating, spitting blur. We can feel the heat coming from his body. The work is horrifying and comedic and completely entrancing, I am gone.
During the second half of the performance, Capdevielle dispenses with his props and performs the final twenty minutes as a ventriliquist without a dummy. Barely moving, screams, songs and the sounds of evisceration issue from his unmoving lips. It’s uncanny. We are both, if not all, possessed.
The work finishes with a recording of a psychology students D-grade, as we are informed by his tutor, attempt to dissect our murderous, narrator, David Brooks. That’s us. Outside we talk to our friend about the piece, Clare and I loved it but our friend wasn’t so keen. Hearing our conversation another couple join us. They weren’t convinced either and aren’t even going to stick around for Dennis Cooper’s reading. I can’t believe what I’m hearing, they try to analyse something which I felt was so visceral, I was completely consumed by the experience of it. I connect to the heat, the smell and the spit. Then again I’m just the same as I’ve decided that it was brilliant and that was that. Words fail us all, we all sound like someone jabbering post-trauma. Best just shut up and take it.
This point is underlined as we go back into the gallery. Dennis Cooper gives us a short but great reading from his book “Ugly Man” and then it’s a Q and A for the writer, director and performer. There are some interesting points and then the inevitable that anyone who as ever given a Q + A is waiting for: The question that is not a question but rather it is a statement that is used to illustrate the intellect of the questioner, so, in fact, completely pointless. It goes on and on. Mr Cooper simply responds, ‘No.’ That’s probably why I didn’t feel like writing too much today.