Ritual Without Myth. Review by Max J Liu
In to the dark. It was disorientating, and slightly annoying, not being able to see where I was going when I entered Ritual Without Myth, an exhibition of work by ten artists, put together by students on the Royal College’s MA Curatorship. Perhaps unease was intended, perhaps there was something in there about the enigma of arrival. I did feel like I’d slipped past security, that I should creep lest I alert anyone to my presence. In the distance, as though the show was situated in one big tunnel, looping opera could be heard as well as lively chatter. The Austrian writer Joseph Roth claimed an empty school in summer time as the most beautiful sight in the world. An art college in full, mid-term flow is an intoxicating sound.
From somewhere came a clanking of celluloid. On the wall, a man, his fair hair cut into a boyish bowl, appeared against a black backdrop, shuffling as though trying to wipe something from the sole of his shoe. He shaped, shimmied, movements tentative, playful, enigmatic. The film threw light on wall text: To navigate, in a genuine way, in the unknown necessitates an attitude of daring, but not one of recklessness (movements generated from the Magical Passes of Carlos Castenada). Magical passes, South American name, so were the movements related to football’ The man in the film looked nifty, short and self-contained like Lionel Messi. But no, the man in the film was a Danish actor/poet and Castenada was a Peruvian anthropologist who studied magical passes, which are a form of shamanistic theatre, in the 1960s. The film is by Joachim Koester.
Mistaking a Danish poet for an Argentine footballer demonstrates both my ignorance and the way that audiences project their own meanings on to works. So why agonise over the hanging of an exhibition when somebody is likely to let what’s on their mind determine what they see in the gallery’ To what extent can a curator control audience responses, in the way that, say, the best theatre directors do’ Unfortunately for Ioana Nemes, I spent the hour before arriving at Royal College reading an excellent novel about displacement, tribal ritual, the impossibility of closure - some of the themes that her Relics for the Afterfuture explores. ‘Bloody artists,’ I huffed, ‘merely scratching the surface of depths plumbed by writers.’ This recurring, remedial prejudice usually remains in check, but I stood for a long time - between the devil masks, concreted rope, folkloric symbols - trying to think or feel something more profound.
Downstairs, Danai Anesiadou’s installation, which combined classical references with Hollywood chintz, was at first visually overwhelming. Her film had lo-fi charm and smart juxtapositions, but some lingering shots - such as the studenty one which interrogated the inside of a roasted turkey - were tiresome and the Euro symbol in the corner, with its grim resonance for modern Greeks, looked tacked on. Not very clever cerebral art.
Far more successful, and the highlight of the exhibition, was Patrizio Di Massimo’s Una Turandiade Buzziana (in forma di note). Resplendent in purple polo shirt and red loafers, Tomaso Buzzi’s nephew provided an irreverent, impassioned tour of his uncle’s architectural folly in Umbria; this was combined with an animated performance of Puccini’s Turandot at La Scarzuola. In a lovely moment, the nephew - having told us, ‘Here in the garden there are no roofs so an infinite amount of bullshit can be spouted’ - faded and, as the landscape around him blurred, Prince Calaf, the questing lover of the opera, rode in to view and floated above the clouds. Then the sky filled with spikes, claiming Calaf, the scene so graphically devastating that I felt engorged, a luminous, sensual feast of the surrender I’d tried to summon elsewhere. The nephew flew a toy helicopter through starry night while singers told of ‘Infinite, black humanity.’ The nephew bettered them: ‘It’s like Michelangelo said, ‘The statue is already inside each one of us.’’ Calaf eventually solved each of the three riddles that he was posed at the outset. With his film, Di Massimo had achieved everything, and more, that I was looking for.
The unfinished was a recurring theme but one of the strengths of Amalia Pica’s Final de Fiesta was how easy it was to miss. You could keep walking through it without noticing, going back, searching, doomed to arrive too late, as in an anxiety dream. Faded, dishevelled garlands hung, strewn and bedraggled, suggesting the end of a festival, celebration. Who were the revellers and where had they gone’ Had there even been a party’ Or were there only the after effects, the hangover without the high, all crash no boom’ We’re told that we have been living in an age of excess and now we must pay for it, but life was always hard. Some have only ever known the ruins, the mess, the wreck.
And then it was back into the dark for a second film by Koester, again featuring the Danish poet/actor. His hair had grown and he was in what looked like a dark basement, the type of room which initially appears invigorating but proves claustrophobic. He nodded, nodded, nodded. I nodded, jutted, nodded, wondering if some Joycean ‘Yes’ was being uttered on the other side of the silence or whether he was making a statement about complicity, the way we assent, compulsively affirmative. Statement or no statement, it was disturbing, I saw myself and others I have known on the screen; a short, haunting work which made sense of the entire exhibition, marshalled its concerns and energies, breathing tension into art which hadn’t moved me, all the way back to the darkness before Koester’s first film, forging a coherent ritual of the whole.