Thursday, 19 January 2012


A new year and already at least one half-hearted resolution - blog more - broken. Ooops. Luckily, 2012 also sees me back in the world of the fandangoeing freelancers, which is why I was hoping to start blogging regularly again, as  instead of having to go to the office I have more time to go to stuff. And going to stuff is what I like doing best.

On Tuesday I went to see a lot of stuff, stopping off first at Libby Sellers' lovely new(ish) gallery space on Berners Street. I really liked the previous exhibitions I'd seen that Libby had curated, usually during LDF, in unusual little spaces, so I was really rather pleased to hear she was opening a permanent space. The current show, Fortune, by Mark Braun, is pleasant enough but you can tell it was planned as a holiday-season stop gap. I'd already seen the pieces - a series of beautiful water carafes engraved with one of seven glaciers, seven lakes or seven rivers from across the globe - in Milan last year, so I left wishing I'd seen something more ambitious, but the first few shows at the new space looked intriguing and I'm sure there will be plenty more to come.

Since I was in the area, I popped in to Alison Jacques intending only to have a quick whizz around the Catherine Yass show (a transplant from the De La Waar) before heading elsewhere, but I was bizarrely captivated by Yass's film footage of the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse. It's a peculiar structure: a lighthouse that doesn't look like a lighthouse. A concrete oil platform or the Maunsell Sea Forts, maybe, but not a lighthouse. 
I used to think that it was enough for an artist to do little more than document and present unexplored places and spaces. The explorer in me was delighted to be shown an unknown place. But there are different ways of doing it. Yass's lighthouse and Raphaël Zarka's video essay on Gibellina Vecchia, a Scicilian modernist tomorrowland, are two examples of the less satisfying way. It's nothing more than a 'look what I found' photo or video. These kinds of works just sit there, like marionette puppets waiting for someone to breathe life into them. There is a more interesting way to approach the 'unknown place' kind of work - Stuart Whipps is a good example - which understands that it isn't enough to hold the viewers hand and take them to a new place; you have to tell them a story about it as well. 

The problem with a piece like Yass's video is that there's nothing to think about. There's only a pretty video to look at and when left with a video that doesn't ask you to think about it, I resort to thinking about other, totally unrelated, things. I'm not thinking about the art; I'm thinking about me.

I'm thinking, this is all very hypnotic, these waves. I'm thinking about what kind of flowers I want to have at my wedding. I'd quite like to have natural flowers. I don't want anything flown in from hot-house farms in the Netherlands. Would it be weird if we walked down the aisle together? Wouldn't it be nice if we left the tiny church's enormous doors open during the service. It would be nice to hear birdsong during the wedding. What a scary, unknowable place the sea is. Despite all of our modern technology, our GPS systems, when you get lost in a city neighbourhood it doesn't feel half as alone and terrifying and lost as when you get lost in the ocean. They must have just finished painting in this room. The chemical smell is overwhelming. What does it actually mean in the Schrödinger's cat book when Gribbin says that quantum mechanics says that nothing is real and that we can't say anything about what something is doing when we aren't looking at it? Then I think that it's funny that I'm thinking these things and now I'm thinking about thinking these things and I'll probably write about thinking these things on my blog tomorrow. I should write them down.

So I did write them down, which is why you've just read them. 

After all that, you might be thinking that I hated the video, but I didn't. In fact, I kind of liked it. I don't get very many opportunities to sit in a dark room and stare at pretty pictures and let my mind wander. I still think the piece is problematic, for all the reasons mentioned above, but I sat and I watched the video until it ended and I left the gallery feeling pretty jazzy.