BE TRUE TO YOUR OBLIVION
8 July – 10 September 2011
(PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND IT WILL BE AMENDED)
BE TRUE TO YOUR OBLIVION brings together newly commissioned work alongside key works from the artist’s past practice. Ergo Ergot, for example, is an installation which was presented as part of the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain in 2006. Amongst its many influences are the roto-reliefs of Marcel Duchamp and the optical illusions of the Vertigo record label. Be angry but don’t stop breathing was originally presented as part of the Art Now series at Tate in 2003 but has now been reworked for this show. Also on display is a selection of sculptural works including So much noise to make a silence (2008), a pair of gigantic metal wind chimes which are rendered silent through their own monumentality. Sound and silence are recurring themes throughout the exhibition.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
The exhibition is presented as part of Home of Metal, a celebration of the music that was born in the Black Country and Birmingham.
(All images by Jonathan Shaw, unless otherwise indicated)
Also included in the exhibition are a series of charred wooden wall reliefs. These hand carved reliefs are given a darker and more sinister edge through their blackened and burned surfaces. The hand gestures and demonic shadow in the work ‘The Other Spring’ originate from a drawing by Austin Osman Spare. Spare was an artist who developed idiosyncratic techniques including automatic writing and sigilization in which words of a statement are reduced to an abstract design. This symbol is then charged with the will of the creator.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
A further series comprises four works entitled LOVE, AIDS, RIOT and HOPE. The intricately hand carved surface recalls the work of the Arts and Crafts movement as well as Celtic love knots. They are also derived from Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE painting of 1964 and its subsequent re-interpretations in General Idea’s AIDS, Gran Fury’s RIOT (both from 1989 onwards) and finally Indiana’s own re-invention of the work in HOPE (2008) which was used to support the Obama presidential campaign.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
An additional commissioned work is the banner entitled Breezeblock in which digital image manipulation is combined with the raw structure of a breeze block wall. Each of the breeze blocks has been individually rendered and digitally etched with what were originally neologisms (the juxtaposition of two seemingly random words) relating to sound. Neologisims originate from literature, for example, in the poetry of Paul Celan (1920-1970), but it is also common for rock bands to generate their names in this way. Titchner has mirrored the text to create a Rorschach-style design, a stylistic device often found in the visual language of Heavy Metal. The text is now largely indecipherable and bears a resemblance to sigils (symbols associated with magic). Sigils have been particularly influential to the visual style of Led Zeppelin. Many metal bands have embraced a visual style that tends towards the Baroque, encompassing notions of darkness, mystery and magic. Heavy Metal bands have also been associated with subliminal messages such as backmasking where sound is recorded backwards, thereby creating a kind of sonic mirroring.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
‘Ergo Ergot, 2006, menaces and bedazzles the viewer on a grand scale. A whirling kinetic sculpture at the centre of the work exposes the unreliability of human perception. Part crude experiment, part sensual operation, it’s arrangement of spinning disks tests two scientific hypotheses: The Ebbinghaus Illusion (also known as the “Titchener Illusion’), which maintains that the size at which we see things is dependant on what surrounds them, and the ‘perception-versus-action hypothesis’, which states that visual information is processed in two different streams, one for visual awareness and one for movement. Recalling ‘rotoreliefs’, the optical illusions design by Marcel Duchamp in the 1920’s as well as the logo for the ‘Vertigo’ record label, the rotating disks induce a dizziness in the viewer akin to the moment before a fall. Information is presented against all this spin, in the form of dates that flicker hypnotically in a migraine-inducing animation amidst a pulsating sequence of lurid patterns. These silhouettes are in the shape of a Rorschach psychological test, Ink Blot No.4, which is supposed to subliminally suggest male authority, whilst the speed that they flicker is designed to stimulate the brain’s Apha wave activity, lulling the viewer into a trance-like state. The twenty-two dates depicted derive from Liberty’s ‘Human Rights Legislation Audit’ – a public record of all the acts passed by parliament since 1999 that have worrying implications for human rights. Titchner’s installation suggests that, like our perceptions, our civil rights are not a given but are vulnerable to manipulation.
Titchner’s title conflates the most famous of philosophical statements, René Descartes’s ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (‘I think, therefore I am’) with ergo, a poisonous fungus with hallucinogenic properties that was instrumental in the invention of LSD. Consumption of ergo causes the sickness St Anthony’s Fire, which leads to insanity and death in the sufferer. It’s name derives from the visions that tormented the third-century saint, a subject o many artwork and the focus of the French nineteenth century novelist Gustave Flaubert’s life-long work. Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony 1874, sees a succession of monologuing deities appear like hallucinatory visions, testifying to man’s powers o invention and to the mysteriousness that reigns everywhere. An early influence on Sigmund Freud, the book also deeply impressed Titchner when he read it at art college, and there are parallels between the succession o fantastical ideas given expression in Titchner’s works and Flaubert’s monstrous visions.
Through it’s insistence on our susceptibility to visions, Ergo Ergot emphasises the unreliability and contingency of the knowledge and codes by which we live. Yet far from discrediting what is visionary, Titchner embraces thoughts that lie beyond the realm of the ordinary in order to show the world in all its perplexity.
Gair Bose, Turner Prize Catalogue 2006, Tate 2006
Be Angry but don’t stop breathing (II) is a new version of a 2003 installation in which visitors were encouraged to engage in a group primal scream exercise which made visual the vibratory nature of sound. For this version however, sculptural elements have been stripped down and simplified, shifting the focus of the work towards a more open, performative piece. The artist invites visitors to use the work as an open public address system, creating a unique and ever-changing soundtrack to the film N (I) B which is shown nearby. The work also contains a hand-painted banner in the style of a traditional trade union banner. Be Angry but don’t stop breathing becomes a rallying cry and a declaration of unity and defiance, encouraging individual expression.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
‘In his installation BE ANGRY BUT DON’T STOP BREATHING, Titchner situates the gallery between the experimental forum of the laboratory and the devotional space of the cathedral. Through sculptural and text-based works, he conflates the philosophies of our cult figures whose theories were planted firmly outside scientific orthodoxy: Wilheim Reich MD, Marxist psychoanalyst and pioneer of Orgone energy; Arthur Janov, pioneer of Primal Therapy; Hans Jenny, natural scientist and inventor of Cymatics, and Emmanuel Swedenborg, philosopher and theologian.
The central component of Titchner’s installation is a laboriously hand-carved contraption, the latest in an ongoing series of semi-functional works that explore notions of ritual and devotion. Visitors are invited to shout into one of the six arms protruding from its hexagonal base and watch as their collective screams, with the help of electronic amplification, become a manifest as vibrations in an adjacent tray of liquid. This totemistic sculpture parodies a number of dissonant ideas. Jenny’s theory of Cymatics, the idea that all matter in the universe vibrates and therefore through it’s study we gain a mire complete understanding of existence, is combined with Primal Scream Therapy, a popular misreading of the natural therapy pioneered by Janov in the late 1960’s that linked the repression of mental pain with physical breakdown. A third strand is presented through the introduction of Swedenborg’s proposition that the original communication was a pure expression of divinity from which language was subsequently generated. This further abstracts the procedure into an investigation into the true nature of the word. The sculpture therefore functions as a multi-faceted experimental mechanism, the language of logic applied to an illogical interweaving of theories, which relies on the viewer for activation. Titchner links disparate elements of the installation through the repetition of the hexagon, the graphic symbol for benzene, which is a key solvent used in organic chemistry. The motif is further disseminated through the number six. The six vertical free-standing banners surrounding the sculpture echo in scale and form the religious standards common to churches and cathedrals )a swallow-tailed silk flag suspended from a pole). At the centre of each a hand-carved wooden plaque is inscribed with a single word introduced by the word ‘and’, suggesting an infinite accumulation of information. Contrasting with the roughly hewn surface of the sculpture and acting as a sort of altarpiece for the space, a huge digitally printed banner confidently asserts BE ANGRY BUT DON’T STOP BREATHING. It’s typeface is reminiscent of early computer graphics and is offset by a digitally generated starburst that is an attempt to suggest spiritual redemption and deliverance.
The phrase is taken from the poster for WR: Mysteries of the organism, the controversial 1971 film by Dusan Makavejev loosely based on the life and work of Wilheim Reich. Found text features largely in Titchner’s practice, eclectic phrases pilfered from miscellaneous sources and transformed into philosophical proclamations that seemingly demand a response. However an ambiguity surrounds the tone of the delivery of these phrases as they are presented, devoid of context, as slick graphic posters or lightboxes with the vapidity of mainstream advertising. It is unclear whether we are to interpret them with sincerity, cynicism or humour. Titchner sees these proclamations as a sort of ‘cod-philosophy, scavenged from the collapsed space that used to keep disciplines like philosophy and pop music apart’.*’
Lizzie Carey-Thomas, NOW AND THEN Art at Tate Britain , Tate 2004
* Mark Titchner interviewed by Mark Dickenson in Playing amongst the ruins, Royal College of Art, London 2001, p90
This work also provided the backdrop for the performance ‘Self Portrait with Drum Solo’.
Titchner has recently created a series of layered metal reliefs using steel and aluminium and we are delighted to bring some of these works together for this exhibition. Their bold and emphatic statements derive visually from the language of advertising yet these phrases are culled from a variety of sources. No Them Only Us for example is taken from a presidential address by former US President Bill Clinton. Removed from their original contexts, these statements appear to hover between poignancy and meaninglessness.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
One of the new works commissioned for this exhibition is a video portrait of Nicholas Bullen, a musician, sound artist and founding member of Grindcore band Napalm Death, a band whose intensely political songs condensed the human voice into primal, guttural screams. The Napalm Death song You Suffer from the Scum album of 1987 is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest recorded song ever, its duration being less than two seconds. It actually contains the lyrics You suffer but why but these are barely indecipherable beneath what sounds like an emotive, desperate scream.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
N (I) B is a silent, large scale projection in which we are presented with a close up shot of Bullen’s mouth as he performs a work written by the artist. This work combines a list of LGA banned word s transformed through the use of a Gematria calculator which gives numerical values to words and phrases. The values of the banned words have been calculated and matched with other words and phrases of the same value. The film footage is slowed down to an extreme degree revealing the minute muscle movements that produce sound. The title, N (I) B refers to the Black Sabbath song of the same name (purported to stand for Nativity in Black) and to Billie Whitelaw’s performance of ‘Not I’ by Samuel Beckett . In this seminal work, the actress is filmed reciting a work with the camera focusing exclusively on the movement of her lips, teeth and tongue. In N (I) B, the sound is removed completely.
(Text from Exhibition Guide)
A free fanzine-style publication was produced to accompany the exhibition. An interview discussing the fanzine and DIY aesthetics in general can be found at The Aesthetic Trust. It is reproduced below.
“I’m very much inspired by both the use of language and DIY graphic design. The amateur graphic designer can reach some very interesting conclusions!
“When I was a kid my friend and I used to draw our own comics, which were basically set in the world of 2000AD’s Judge Dredd. We would write our stories and place them in that universe pretty much for our own gratification. I have no idea what happened to any of them. I actually collect religious tracts, which I actually have quite a lot of now and in the most interesting cases are self-published.
“The use of the ‘fanzine’ tag for the publication was just something that took hold early on. Probably because I gave the Curator at New Art Gallery Walsall, Deborah Robinson, a copy of a French fanzine called Conservative Shithead as a present at the beginning of our discussions about the show. ‘Fanzine’ just became shorthand for a publication with a certain kind of aesthetic, the most significant being that there would be no graphic designers involved. It all came from me, as it were. My graphic design sensibilities are probably unschooled at best, and that seems to be the crux of the fanzine – the enthusiasm of an individual for a certain subject.
“Blogs are definitely the new fanzines. I was super enthusiastic about mine when I started it but gradually have felt less and less like I have anything to say and just tend to focus on archiving work. This is partly from ‘blog fatigue’ when you realise there is just so much out there and I don’t really have enough time as it is, let alone just adding to the whole mess of unprocessed information. I question whether there is any real point of adding to the whole mess of information out there. I admire those who are treating this whole phenomenon as something vital, experimental and unexplored though.
“Dennis Cooper’s blog is a good example. One slight issue is with the look of blogs. I mean, WordPress is great and simple (why would you bother with a website now?), but it definitely pushes you towards a certain aesthetic unless you want to start writing code. The QR codes on the back of the fanzine are a kind of further reading, with links to some sites, video, images etc. My main interest in QR codes is to do with the way that language is legible and also its visual encryption.
“It was really interesting to see Nic Bullen’s early fanzines in the Home of Metal exhibition in Birmingham. I was really familiar with some of the images through second hand sources, such as a book on grindcore called Choosing Death, then you see the originals with the Sellotape and the felt pen and it reconnects the whole thing with the reality of where these things were produced. These are objects imbued with the simple necessity to make something, the creative act, which is something very simple and vital. The blogosphere is something else which can be infected with commercial aspirations or the simple desire to be famous….for writing a blog!
“The intended low-quality production of the fanzine, and the smaller scale compared to some of my other work, didn’t make me feel free to make more mistakes. I spent actually spent a long time on the fanzine. I initially planned to have quite a lot of writing in it, but I found myself so drained from the show (and having a young son!) that I didn’t really feel like writing. Instead the fanzine became a set of complimentary visuals for the show. There is a lot of layering of the reference and working material for the show, so what I ended up needing to make was 16 coherent images that then worked in sequence.
“This involved a lot of back and forth to have some sense of balance between the images. That said I don’t think that I’m that precious about any of the digital works and they have to maintain a certain pace. Generally the rule is: if it takes more than two days it’s not working, so it goes in the bin. There are some exceptions though, like the largest digital work in the show Breezeblock, which took several months to complete. You have to remember when I started making these digital works I had never used a computer before so I was truly an amateur and I’d like to hold on to some of that.
“It’s nice to make something functional, which is of course essential with a publication. When I made the book Why and Why Not? a few years ago the scale of the book was based on the size of a book that you could fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Scale wise, a lot of my work is large and that is because it has a direct relationship to advertising, but actually, during the working process, everything big or small is kind of equivalent as I’m working on a computer screen. That’s quite liberating because everything has a potential to become something else. It is only at the moment of output it is fixed and that could equally be an A4 printer or a 5 metre wide commercial roller printer. There is probably more detail in the in the A4 fanzine than in the large banner that faces out from the gallery. That is because of the close scrutiny that goes with holding something in your hands rather looking at it from a distance.
“I think my text pieces are probably at there weakest when they are read as sloganeering, my idea with these works has always really been to do with the essential emptiness of language. The noisy and baroque works are actually supposed to depict a kind of silence. That is the kind of silence that exists in a situation where you have an absolute array of information let’s say, for arguments sake, horizontally, and in the vertical plane only the surface itself i.e. no depth. Everything has an equivalence but, beyond the point of reception, little longevity. The phrases offer what seems like a lot, but are essentially empty vessels.
“I’m trying to mimic the sensation one gets when you see a new advertisement that is an ecstatic moment of reception and then nothing but unfulfilled desire. I have strayed into the political with some projects because of certain convictions I have, but that has not always served the work well. Generally I have no personal connection with the texts other than they connect with an aesthetic that I need to project. Whether it’s Nietzsche or Britney Spears it’s the same to me as far as source material for the work goes.
“I am interested in the idea of opposition, but often I have to think about what that means in the larger framework i.e. how we can generally be opposed to certain things but then allow them to go on in other forms through structures like economics? How can an artist that engages with the art market be critical of the art market? These are contradictions for us all to face. If you engage you’re in it. That said dissent is good and the fact that a fanzine can be put together with the simplest of means grounds it in the aesthetic of resistance.
“I haven’t really had any feedback about the fanzine, not really. Generally people have said they like it, but it is free! And generally it’s been my friends. If I were a bit smarter I would have put a QR code on the back that led to a site where you could leave feedback.”
A selection of Press and articles relating to the exhibition