EYE MUSIC FOR DANCING review by Gina Buenfeld
When John Latham lived in Flat Time House, he conceived of its layout as an organism through which visitors journey, beginning with the face, moving through the mind, hand, eventually arriving amongst the inner workings at its core. If Latham’s house is to be understood as a body-event, EYE MUSIC FOR DANCING is a bodying-forth of language, where we come to realise even our most abstract cogitations are subject to the sentient life of the body itself. Taking its title from a work Bob Cobbing produced in 1972, the exhibition brings three younger generation female artists into dialogue with Cobbing’s language experiments, in which the body, language, sound and form immerse and enact themselves in one another.
Anna Barham’s ongoing word-game propagates phrases that invite us to sense meaning in spite of their nonsensical syntax. During an afternoon of live acts within the exhibition, she performed a reading of her book - ‘Return to Leptis Magna’. At once a script for her performances and a piece of concrete poetry, the text consists of a dizzying array of anagrams derived from the work’s title. The eponymous Roman city, now ruinous in Modern Libya, is the womb of modern writing and her ongoing project explores an etymology of language as a participatory, living practice, contesting its ostensibly stable written form. Her phrases derive from self-imposed rules that re-arrange the components of the work’s title into seemingly inexhaustible alternatives. Reiterations and occasional coincidences give rise to incidental meaning: ATTAIN PORN STRUM GLEE / TITS LURE PORN MAGNATE. At times funny, at others erotic, it is easy to get lost in the undulating rhythm and relentless pace as she delivers them with the familiar grace of an afternoon radio play. This register carries the listener away to a foreign realm, where words are set adrift from their familiar associations, unbuttressed by conventional sentence construction their signification giving way to gestural meaning immanent in the expressive tonality and texture of the words.
Barham’s ‘Slick Flection’ (2009/12) is a light and sound installation based on a live performance that featured a tap dancer responding to movement-commands stuttered and reiterated aloud, the figure of the dancer interrupting the beam of a circular light projection, pulsing, expanding and contracting with hypnotic syncopation. At Flat Time House, the tap dancer is absented, replaced by gallery visitors whose bodies are immersed in the reverberating sound of quasi-technical dance lingo whilst the projected light that taps out in visual form the sonic beat of an imagined dance is interrupted by their silhouettes. Cobbing, who was both a concrete poet and a sound artist, similarly used esoteric jargon and texts as scores for performance and this opening work in the exhibition succinctly draws out one of the exhibition’s key themes - language’s synesthetic qualities, to see with the ears and hear with the eyes. Cobbing’s visual works proposed that any mark on the page no matter how incidental - even a lipstick print of a pair of lips - is readable as a sign, the shape and texture suggesting sound and felt experience.
Alongside Barham’s ‘Slick Flection’ is the first of three video installations by Heather Phillipson, each situated as organs in Latham’s domestic-corpus. ‘Zero-Point Garbage Matte’ (2012) is a video displayed on a flatscreen, its face aimed to the ceiling, viewable by ascent of an aluminium ladder. This obligatory posture is about as uncomfortable as the video itself: an attention-deficient montage that flickers and stutters through synthetic surfaces, kitsch plastic figurines, artificial colours, street slang and audio feedback, riffing, reversing and playing-back through the detritus of urban life. This ‘ear gravel’ is a sort of sampling technique, perhaps externalising the effect of shifting technologies on the shape of consciousness. The signs, images and sounds are threateningly vortex-like, vacuuming out mental space and with it the possibility of free thought, just as the narration evokes the tyranny of mental chatter, an incessant, paranoid internal monologue.
Whilst ‘Zero-Point Garbage Matte’ is cerebrally infectious, polluting the mind with the stuff of the world, ‘Torso Portions’ (2012) pervades the body viscerally with a despairing view of human consumption. Embedded in a narrow corridor - the metaphorical viscera of the show - the video is displayed on a totemic assemblage of concrete, synthetic pink paint and an effigy to fast food, a Pepsi cola cup. The video is a repellent representation of our food and drink industry: a montage of unspecified extruded substances, an abattoir, a hacksaw, minced meat; a tongue; blubber; opaque white milk-like liquid. The horror of this grotesque nightmare is narrated by a female voice, whose occasional shrieks are visually translated to vibrating liquid.
In contrast to the seduction of Barham’s performance, Julika Gittner’s project deploys the instructional voice of governmental command. Inspired by Frank Gilbreth’s early 20th Century ‘Motion Study’ directives such as load, search, select, release, position, assemble, suggest observations of work-based motion decoded into a language of efficiency. In her performance and sculptural works, Gittner demonstrates how the body’s motility can be commanded by a hypnotic language via direct transmission, lived through the body as an autonomic action, an open circuit in which the organism completes itself in the world, compelled by involvement and attention. ‘SBWA (Sector Based Work Academy)’ - ‘Aspire, Achieve, Sustain’ (2012) is an interactive sculpture, a soft, biomporphic form, that could easily be mistaken for an Ernesto Neto. Hidden in its folds and cavities are buttons which, when pressed, activate audio commands that repeat, speed up, overlap, ultimately breaking down into a state of entropy, depleted of their instructive value.
One of Cobbing’s signature duplicator prints included in the show - ‘Five Vowels’ (1974] ‘invokes one of the earliest forms of written word: ‘Among the Jews vowels are called lettersouls’. In ancient Hebraic writing, vowels are not notated, and as such, communication relies on the active interpretation of the orator. This tension between the supposed autonomy of written language and its incarnation as performance is at the heart of EYE MUSIC FOR DANCING.
EYE MUSIC FOR DANCING was curated by Bridget Crone and ran at Flat Time House 29th September’28th October 2012