Tag Archives: art appreciation

@MIfestival #TreeofCodes 05 July 2015 14:30

At the delightfully avant garde opening sequences of Manchester International Festival’s Tree of Codes I felt a little cheated.

In 2012 I had run around Arthur’s Seat in a lightsuit – and not once, since a practice session was necessary to the choreography (Speed of Light, Edinburgh Festival). I then emailed the innovators behind that performance hoping to borrow a suit to map one of the expressive dimensions of natural sign language poetry performance (Signart). Sadly my request fell on stony ground.

It was at least heartening to see such suits well deployed by the Paris Opera Ballet and Company Wayne McGregor.

The next sequence, involving angled mirrors, had me wishing all my deaf and sign sensitive friends were in the stalls alongside me (and no, that number does not include Mr. Tumble, unless his purpose is to offer umbrellas at the farthest reaches of the foyer).

And then sorcery gave way to beauty – the chromatography and chroma-graphics; Jamie xx’s formational soundscapes; refractions of reflection upon reflection; layered dimensionality….

Yet the real 3D human bodies remained somehow trapped – if not in dimension, then in plane – and, indeed, in only the lower reaches of the vertical (as if footnote or subtitle).

Despite the virtuosity and funk of dancers and choreographer Wayne McGregor, towards the culmination of the revolving circular windows one longed for some lift – perhaps by such choreographic stage management as vertically revolving panes lifting individual dancers to an exit amongst the higher boughs.

Or for some underscoring of depth. This latter, in particular, could have liberated the embodied text by occasioning the dancer to emerge from those unreachable parallel dimensions, through the coupéd scenery and out toward or even into the auditorium in which we featured. Foer’s book made such manoeuvres possible for the word.

Small frustrations not withstanding, I was not disappointed to have made the pilgrimage for such a gem, and left dreaming of chats with Olafur Eliasson.

photo-9        Highly recommended.

Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together

The second of a series of three posts written before, during and after an event curated by yours truly, supported by The Afterlife of Heritage Research Project and hosted by the the Royal West of England Academy.

A version of this post first appeared on the Afterlife of Heritage Research blog. All photographic images by Alice Hendy.

The weather forecast lied. The galleries of the Royal West of England Academy were pretty quiet on the Saturday afternoon of one of the few gloriously sunny bank holidays in living memory. This did not bode well for the first of the two Research to Public events I had been busily planning. Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together was scheduled as one of the activities running through the RWA’s Drawn exhibition. It was designed as an interactive visitor experience, and it wouldn’t work without visitors.


I was relying on a host of folks to help the event along. The most important members of the cast were the Signartists Richard Carter and Paul Scott who had agreed to perform the poetic works they had created in the visual-gestural medium of British Sign Language. Then there were the interpreters, Pascale Maroney and Naomi Bearne, without whom the Signartists and visitors would not be able to communicate. Finally there were the members of the research-through-drawing collective HATCH who had volunteered to lead the graphic responses to Richard and Paul’s work, and Alice Hendy who was to record the event with her camera.

After arriving to arrange the ‘Drawing Lab’ gallery space far too early and sweating through the superfluous empty minutes supported by my partner who had generously elected to lend a hand, the cast began to arrive. Fifteen minutes before the start of the event we were all assembled. All that was missing was a ‘public’.

‘Assemblage’, but not yet ‘Action’…

But I needn’t have worried. Once the Signartists began to perform, their movements conjured visitors into the space as if by magic…….



The Drawing Lab quickly filled. What’s more, the visitors didn’t leave. Most stayed for the entire two hours of the event.


IMG_0388 IMG_0422

As an inveterate wimp (see my first blog on this subject), the bravery of others never ceases to impress and I was bowled over by the readiness of casual visitors to engage with drawing practice. They drew, they wrote haikus, they asked questions, they made comments and appreciative noises, and observed long intense silences while Richard and Paul performed, and I scribed provocative quotes on the blackboards. And as the event drew to a close and artists and visitors mingled and chatted, the voluntary contributions box began to fill with drawings, comments and those haikus.




The success of the event was all the more rewarding because the whole was designed as a performance of the activity of my doctoral research. I’m looking at image in sign language poetry, and asking whether analyzing this ‘Signart’ through art epistemologies can offer a greater understanding of the form than purely linguistic or literary analysis permits. So Richard and Paul were performing the subject of the research, the visitors were performing the research practice by drawing, thinking, writing and commenting, whilst I was performing academically by relating all of these to existing knowledge.


It seemed to work. I can only hope my thesis will be as well received.

And perhaps the brightest planning idea – which came from Gemma Brace, the curator at the RWA – was to run the event twice. This offered the opportunity for ‘rewrites’ and ‘corrections’.

The first event put a lot of pressure on the Signartists to perform continuously, whilst the position of the blackboards meant the content of my work could easily have been overlooked by visitors. In short, the three activities of the model were performed but could perhaps have interacted with each other more fully. At the next event, a few weeks later, I punctuated the Signartist’s performances by reading the statements I had written on the blackboards. This helped the ‘academic’ content inform the visitors’ ‘research’ activities. Both the visitor turn out and the responses were just as satisfying the second time round, but the discussion was a tad richer.


I enjoyed the experience enormously!

I can’t tell you how fascinating I found the event.

I’m an artist. I’ve lived in Bristol for six years and this is the first event that has attracted me to the RWA.

 It was really moving, and incredibly inspiring and thought provoking!

Fascinating.Where is the line drawn?

I have never seen sign poetry before, and I didn’t even know it existed

Brilliantly expressive and strong. Mesmerising!

Wow! Really interesting challenge.


with eye,hand,lip

a concentration of


understanding will come soon.


Gilbert, George and Nana

One recent early winter’s Sunday, under a flat and freezing concrete sky, Nana tore herself away from the Sunday papers and an open fire and went to visit Gilbert and George. They were esconced in only one small room in Edinburgh’s Gallery of Modern Art.
No matter.
The large and challenging canvases of ‘Hunger’ and ‘Thirst’, showing bright, bold, naive images of acts of fellatio were a little difficult to engage with at first. Having fought her blushes, though, Nana found herself increasingly stirred and began eyeing her gallery partner and the black leather banquette and wondering if she might make a valid contribution to the artistic message.
Demurely, she settled for observing the reactions of her fellow art seekers for a while. Jolly good fun.
Then her eye was drawn to ‘Crusade’ in which G and G are seated on high backed chairs, clutching the wooden spines of the chair backs as if carrying crosses. In this context, Nana mused, they looked rather as if they were grasping the shafts of their penises (or is that penii?). Presumaby a deliberate implicature created by the devilishly cunning G and G.
The colour and segmentation of image in ‘Crusade’ is, of course, reminiscent of stained glass but sadly the gallery gave no information as to why G and G had made this segmentation a motif in much of their later work, where its application was less obvious.
Nana began to consider the function and purpose of the grid and resolved to play at grid-spotting on the walk home.
In ‘Leaves’ the segmentation looked, frankly, rather trite. Though it did add depth to ‘Faith Drop’. Why oh why oh why, though, did the gallery fail to offer comment on the central gesture in Faith Drop (where G holds his thumbs and forefingers together in a triangle)? Whilst men of the cloth often use this gesture, presumably to symbolise the Holy Trinity, it also means ‘cunt’ in British Sign Language. Surely worthy of comment.
And finally to the video installation, showing three works; ‘In the Bush’,’Gin and Tonic’ and ‘A Portrait of The Artists as Young Men’. The latter struck Nana as suitable Joycean; the pared down mundanity lending itself to profundity, and the inhalations and exhalations of the soundtrack recalling the acts of birth and death.
‘In the Bush’ generated a delightful morphing effect as G and G slowly passed each other, meandering around and through the bush. Despite childhood connotations of the mulberry bush, the simple choreography of the piece variously evoked images of hens pecking outside the roost (aided by the birdsong soundtrack), primitive cave dwellers and early black and white films of anthropological studies. Both the title and the shape and scale of the bush echoed the striking image of the naked woman with bath towel used as an entrance curtain to this Summer’s exhibition at Vienna’s Secession. Both gave rise to thoughts of procreation and the vastness of progenity.
‘Gin and Tonic’ was soporific. The decadent cut glass of the English voice intoning over the piece was indeed evocative of the gentility of an afternoon Gin and Tonic. The British restraint slipping only after some time, and in a most discreet manner, as the soundtrack slowly increases its repetitions of the linguistic intensifier ‘very’.
All in all, Nana felt, a most stimulating, decadent and fertile way to pass the afternoon. And there was plenty of grid segmentation on the way home…..
Hmmm….much to work with….(results to be posted at a later date).

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