Birmingham Open Media, 1 Dudley St, Birmingham B5 4EG

Davis Freeman: Karaoke(ART)

Fierce Festival


11 October 2015

Review by Cathy Wade

As cities are recreated they shed their older skins, exchanging existing communities for newer ones. Passing by the newly imagined Birmingham New Street, you cross ‘The Crown’ public house. It is now permanently closed and awaiting its turn for a brighter future. Like any pub it has had many lives, one of them was karaoke. Walking through its doors you will alight on a community of disparate families (and pets) gathered expectantly to witness one of their own sparkle, be made better; voice soaring, glorious under the lights. Karaoke gives each of us the possibility of magic, to be, for a short while, transformed.

For the closing act of the festival, Fierce brings Davis Freeman’s ‘Karaoke(ART)’ to BOM, a work that meshes artists’ videos, song and performance together - inhabiting the space we know and understand as karaoke, while offering a proposition that there is a lost opportunity at its core. What we do not see in the phenomenon of karaoke is the video, it is but a background eyewash of mountain ranges, soaring eagles, sports cars and other such banally aspirational fictions. ‘Karaoke(ART)’ activates the accompanying video through invitation - for contemporary artists to reinterpret this available space, to use it as they wish, to add, unbalance, distort or reveal truths that can be pulled from the undercurrents of their chosen song.

The videos are chosen by the audience that wish to sing them from a catalogued list. To view a work, you activate it or leave seeing it to chance. As songs are taken up the work is revealed: Laure Provost weaves a deft narrative of family members’ hospitalisation and obsession with the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’; Steven Cohen expresses his love for Nomsa Dhlamini (the woman who raised him) bringing depth and complexity to Whitney Houston’s saccharine cover of ‘I will always love you’; Antonia Baehr drag kings up to kill a screen softly to The Fugees with her tongue; Bjorn Melhus seeks shelter from tense times by sinking into the watery depths with Meg Stuart, a passive acceptance to just ‘Let it Be’. Artists’ works disrupt and re-progamme their accompanying songs. Chris Kondeck asks us to collectively sing ‘Are you Lonesome Tonight’ as a message of love to a group of miners preparing to ascend into a mountain and Tim Etchells performs the Stones ‘Paint it Black’ as an instruction to dissolve media images of politicians and celebrities under opaque brushstrokes that void out fabricated truths. Phil Collins gives Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ the video it always deserved and with this extricates himself from the remembered ridicule of sharing a name with the drummer from Genesis. The performance ends with a collective rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ accompanied by the works cunning deconstruction as both pop and socio-historic architype by Visual Kitchen.

The structure of Karaoke(ART) adapts to manifest layers of spectatorship, conversation and humour, blurring borders between the audience and performer, the intentions of the song and those of the video artist. Towards the end of the performance, the inside and outside of the venue also shift, as an audience of train station security guards gather by the window of BOM to have their night shift enlivened by videos that they perceive to be interchangeable with those of the Adult World store over the road. They are slowly joined by the works’ audience and performers, gathered to voice the precariously dizzying experience of manifesting song. The work embraces the speculation and risk of open invitation. Its strength works to create a new space from these collisions, an open place in which artists’ videos inhabit the world, add to its contents and become accessible to the diverse mythologies of daily life.

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