News at last: a brand new website, an upcoming show and a quick review for good measure!

by Helen Barker

Beginning to emerge from recent MFA Degree Show traumas, I have finally got around to publishing a website on which my art work and articles can be seen/read. For more details, please visit www.ehcocker.com (where you can also see images of my degree show work).

In other news, yesterday I shuffled my way out of the shadows of my house, where I have long been hiding in the debris, and into the sunlight of a sunday afternoon. I took a train to Southwark Park, over to CGP gallery, where I dropped off some small paintings for show in their open exhibition next week. Pop along to see them – and other wonderful works –

Preview: Sunday 31 July, 2pm-5pm.

Exhibition: Wednesday 03 – Sunday 14 August.

Times: Weds-Sun, 12pm-6pm.

Venue: Cafe Gallery, Southwark Park, London, SE16 2UA.

Upon exiting CGP I made my way east to the ANDOR Bureu, where Gandt (whom I previously held a residency with) were performing their Civil Partnership. Here’s a bit of background on the project from their website:

“For their exhibition at ANDOR Gallery London the art collaborative GANDT have transformed the series of complex moral obligations associated with the gallery’s request by taking the hand(s) of ANDOR in a civil partnership. Throughout the opening evening guests of both GANDT and ANDOR have been invited to come and celebrate the partnership and offer a gift to the group taking inspiration from a standard John Lewis wedding gift list.” [waffle omitted here] “GANDT’s practice continually absorbs and entertains a wide range of different activities and artworks …questioning the institutional structures and obligations inherent in artistic practices as well as the groups and organisations that play host to them.”

It was one of those events that was pretty hard to quantify, being as it was on the edge of anything – of even being. It felt something like the convergence of a social gathering, an open-mic night and a game of pre-party charades. Having witnessed first hand the organic and evolving nature of Gandt’s practice, it was in many ways much as I’d expected. Performers took the floor in a roughly sketched out order, commanding attention by either being casually introduced or shouting “excuse me” as loud as they could.

First up was Sam, a banjo playing boy with a slightly self-effacing act. Or perhaps, self-erasing. As he endearingly stuttered his way through what could potentially be a quirky little collective of songs, the “canjo” (banjo made from a can…) he strummed and plucked drew the crowds into a pleasant lull. No one minded when he forgot the phrase, or missed the next note, or felt too shy to whistle….it was a friendly reception for a friendly performer. It did make me wonder, though, despite the charms of the almost-there aesthetic of his work – whether this act was part of the dubbed “mid-life-crisis” moment of Gandt and ANDOR’s civil partnership because it had reached an uncertain wobble, or whether it was merely one man called Sam having a strum in the sun.

Next up was a duo, Jenny and Simon (surnames were irrelevant), who sang a bitter-sweet song about their ever decreasingly doting marriage. Words such as “spew”, “wrath” and “misery” littered the humourous ditty and it was sang with zealous drama. Short and sour, the song caught the imagination of the topic behind the afternoon – stating clearly what it meant to fall into a loveless partnership whose only civility was its willingness to maintain the status quo, even if that status quo was a pitiful hatred and mournful emptiness. There were moments in the writing when I felt that words could have been stretched a little further, verses could have been shoved off the tracks and into the dirt road to really roll around in their intentionality. But the song remained succinctly confined to its rhythm, reliant upon the structure for moments of wit to shine through. a little timid in its final draft. I thought back to when I first heard songs by Johnny Cash like “A boy named Sue” and “One-piece-at-a-time”. Songs where stories hit punch-lines hard, unafraid of their need to elaborate and exaggerate whilst maintaining a build-up of tension, expectation and, of course, delivery. Perhaps its hugely unfair to compare Gandt’s wistful Sunday afternoon with a Johnny Cash song, after all the two are attempting two very different things. But it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the forms that others use when producing work that sits (intentionally or not) within their tradition.

A monologue was read in which language seemed to whip past my ears and lash against my eyelids. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a grip on what was being said, though there were moments when mentions of what it means to read and let go, to hold on and to listen, came tumbling down onto the floor. Emotion seemed wretchedly overwrought in this performance, and I struggled to see the relationship between the text and the concerns of the event. I put this down partially to the nature of the event, which was so laid back it was both easy to witness yet hard to enter into. Performance suffers greatly in contemporary art from a mis-understood conviction that anything said, seen or happened upon can be performance. Often, a clear demarkation between the edges of the performer and the form of the work would greatly benefit the audience. Consideration of the works intentions, the reception of the audience and how best to manipulate those are so easily overlooked. An audience is taken for granted, or assumed to be passive. A reading is a reading, so who cares if it’s a little dishevelled? A performer is a person so let them look ill at ease in front of a text. Confusion ensues. Time sets in. We are lost. And all we ever really needed was a light, a command, or a rehearsal….

Finally, a quirky little performance which, for all its faults, was enjoyable. Two girls manoeuvred the space in leotards (the less said about the leotards the better), and danced to the sound of a sax being played (back-lit) from behind a curtain. Words and questions “Do you love me?” playing against subtle landscape imagery and awkward movements made for a Miranda-July-esque experience. The highlight being when a rendition of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” was sung, reaching humorously squeaky high pitches and marrying appropriately 70s flared hand waves, all the time the performers backs remained to the audience. The piece repeated in a slightly futile manner, emphasising what can only be assumed to be the moment in a relationship when naivety and doubt rail against each other to produce ill-fitting harmonies. Do you love me? Here’s a song. I’m quirky – isn’t that why you love me? The piece ended with the girls walking off stage and leaving a vamped up rendition of their lyrics playing in a tinny fashion on the projector. The moment passed like a piece of gum blown into a bubble of sugary pink air and eventually popped. A light satisfaction, followed by a chewy aftertaste. I felt reluctant to call this a “performance” – and it certainly wasn’t framed that way. If there’s one thing I love about Gandt, it’s their constant willingness to keep the field open and name nothing that can’t be named. Where that leaves me, I’m not sure. Something happened on Sunday….and perhaps that’s all that can be said.