The End Is Nigh! Apocalyptic Visions In East London

A recent trip along the Regent's Canal to two of East London's best contemporary art spaces led me into two dark, apocalyptic video installations filled with the terrors of imminent catastrophe: Jennet Thomas's All Suffering SOON TO END! at Matt's Gallery (currently in its final week) and Melanie Gilligan's Popular Unrest at The Chisenhale.

Jennet Thomas All Suffering SOON TO END!
Matt's Gallery
42–44 Copperfield Road, London E3 4RR
April 14th - June 6th 2010
Wednesday - Sunday 12 - 6 pm
Screenings begin on the hour and at 30 minutes past

Jennet Thomas's All Suffering SOON TO END! is a two-part installation based around the end-of-world predictions disseminated in an evangelical Christian pamphlet delivered to the artist. Extrapolating from the Revelations-esque Last Days prophecies, Thomas has created a menacing character in the form of The Purple Preacher - a combination of an imagined embodiment of the writer of the pamphlet and the Marvel Comics villain, The Purple Man, a character who possesses the ability to control enemies through incredible powers of persuasion.

The 30 minute video features The Preacher paying a visit to an elderly couple and detailing the evidence that our increasingly secular world has lead to an enormous increase in the amount of suffering experienced by humankind, that we have angered God by ignoring Him and that he is punishing us for this. But do not worry - for all this suffering is to end very soon, thanks to His salvation. Following this, a car journey and a rather unnerving trip to a model village with a stern Green Nun character, and a few poorly performed musical numbers act as features of The Preacher's evangelical repertoire, before life-sized living dolls of Adam and Eve wreak havoc in the pensioners' home and attempt to recruit school children to the cause.

Strangely (probably unintentionally?) reminiscent of absurdist left-field comedy sketch shows such as Big Train and Chris Morris's Jam, the video is blackly comic and by turns quite unsettling and somewhat endearing. Spliced with flashes of destruction and doom, the video meanders through repeated scenes of the purple figure preaching his message, edited to a soundtrack of pulsing glitches, ambient electronics and reverberating dialogue. Images of a hypnotic TV screen featuring an animated motif reminiscent of both a cross and that biblical root of sin, the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil. The image becomes central to the work's visual language when it recurs in filled-out sound-emitting three-dimensional form as the centre-pieces of the adjoining installation.

The film is compelling and at its heart thoroughly enjoyable, creating a comical parody of these doom and gloom religious ramblings. It manages to do what good satire does best, and subverts what is actually in real life a scary and sinister practice (frightening the elderly and indoctrinating the young) into a ridiculous and bizarre farce.

Melanie Gilligan Popular Unrest
Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road, London, E3 5QZ
7th May - 20th June 2010
Wednesday to Sunday 1 – 6pm
Thursday 3rd June until 9pm

Melanie Gilligan's Popular Unrest is a 5 part film-installation with a total running time of 75 minutes. Spread across 5 flat-screen monitors divided by office screens, visitors are presented with wireless headphones and may move between the various episodes playing in sync, tuning in to the sound from each as they go.

Taking on the form of an episodic drama the series tells the tale of a not-too-distant future in which a digitised system known as The Spirit monitors and manages human life the world over. As the plot unravels we learn of a mysterious spate of killings being carried out across London by a seemingly super-natural force, and of a bizarre phenomenon arising across the country in which groups of people are mysteriously drawn together by an uncontrollable urge to be with one another. I won't say any more about the plot for fear of spoiling the suspense of the work for you if you see it yourself.

Reference points claimed in the accompanying literature fail to gel with me - claims of allusions to David Cronenberg's Body Horror films don't wash; while the first death we see is remarkably violent and genuinely quite shocking I'm wondering if they blew the budget on it. The remainder of the film's fatalities seem to be made up by repeatedly using one technique (knife stabbed through clothing into dummy/blood bag) to unconvincing effect. Again, the claim of taking cues from American crime dramas such as CSI, Dexter and Bones doesn't really work for me, the final effect, I must say, is more like the BBC's poor cousin of these (think more Spooks than HBO). I can't help wondering, however, if these reference points were Gilligan's own, or were added by the gallery as their reading of the work.

While I understand that realism is not the aim here, and this exhibition was clearly not produced on a Hollywood budget that ran into the millions of pounds, the work requires a certain suspension of disbelief in order to achieve some of the effects it seems to be trying to get to. The wooden acting doesn’t help, and blatant staging of the filming in the gallery (complete with Florian Hecker’s speakers from the last show) doesn’t either, and comes across as poorly done rather than knowingly flat.

I remember an interview with Paul McCarthy which I saw online (maybe this one?) in which he discussed the increasing scale of his installations and the enormous budgets he is able to command for their production. To paraphrase, he argues that if you really want to critique Hollywood and Disney, you need to work at their level. I’m wondering if Gilligan bit off a little more than she could chew with this piece, if the ideas she wanted to get at might have required a bigger budget to execute well. I was left feeling that work failed to establish a strong sense of critical distance from the medium it emulated. A fairly interesting (and compelling) narrative it was, a thought provoking and artistic exercise? I'm not so sure.

While the similarities between the two exhibitions are really fairly few - both are video installations, both deal with a prevailing sense of impending catastrophe present within contemporary society, and both seem to be more inspired by televisual language and devices than those of the cinema or video art - it is interesting that two galleries located in such close proximity should have concurrent shows exploring this terrain in this medium. If art is indeed a mirror to the world, then looking at these pieces you might think we are living in bleak and frighten(ing? ed?) times. Let's take the cue from Jennet Thomas and laugh at how ridiculously over the top all the doom, gloom and worry really can be.

Janek Schaefer, Recorded Delivery


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Janek Schaffer Recorded Delivery (7" Edit)
12 minutes

Janek Schaefer's Recorded Delivery was created by packaging up a voice-activated dictaphone and posting it to the exhibition space. The resulting piece is predominantly comprised of the incidental clatters, rustles and bangs of a parcel passing through the postal system, interspersed with snippets of music and conversation, plus some quite blue language and bawdy backroom banter from some postal workers. This is an edit of the original 72 minute recording of the parcel's 15 hour journey.

London Literature Festival, Southbank Centre, London


Taking place across the Southbank Center for four months this summer, The London Literature Festival brings together a broad range of writers, performers, critics and theorists in what promises to be a lengthy and stimulating series of talks, performances and discussions. Speakers this year include Slavoj Žižek, John Cooper Clark and Bret Easton Ellis.

Alongside this is an exhibition entitled Certificates Of Readership by emerging British artist Sara Mackillop in the Saison Poetry Library.

Tickets have just gone on sale here.

Cory Arcangel, Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11 I, II and III, 2009


Cory Arcangel Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11 I, II and III 2009

In Cory Arcangel's Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11, the artist has remade experimental atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg's piece of the same name (translation: Three Piano Pieces) 100 years after the piece was written out of videos of cats 'playing' pianos that he found on YouTube.

Discussing the piece on his website, he says that the piece was inspired by the increasing similarity of YouTube content to his favourite art videos - stating that the videos there increasingly surpassed those of his favourite artists. He also said that it was "Probably [his] proudest "net" moment ever as it wz featured on Cute Overload."

Be sure to read his page on the piece. He lists the videos used, tells you exactly how he made the piece (even offering the code he wrote for you to use to try something similar) and allows you chance to listen to a specially made comparison piece which plays the cats in the left speaker and the recital by Glenn Gould that he based the piece on in the right.

If you want more on his work, watch this lecture, and be sure to check out his website and YouTube channel.

Ryan Gander, Lisson Gallery, London

5th May - 5th June 2010
Monday - Friday 9.30am - 6pm Saturday 11am - 5pm

Ryan Gander's first show at the Lisson, and also his first London solo show since the excellent Ikon-curated Heralded As The New Black at the South London Gallery in 2008. Gander's oeuvre is never easily defined and intentionally difficult to pin down. Promising a new body of work constructed around the history of art, film and media, I have high hopes for this show.
If you can't make it, you can view it online here.

David Blandy, Choose Your Character, The ICA, London


David Blandy Choose Your Character
The Mall, London, SW1
May 6th 2010
12 midday - 1 am

David Blandy kicks off David Gryn's Live Weekend at The ICA with Choose Your Character. Extrapolating from some of the recurring themes found in his work, Blandy will celebrate a variety of different fan-behaviours and sub-cultural obsessions that reflect his own passions.

The day will include a Street Fighter IV tournament hosted by fighting game tournament organisers Neo Empire, music from Big Dada/Ninja Tune's Infinite Livez and King Cannibal, turntablists Ben Phaze, DJ Shorty, DJ CutWild, g-man and Priority Deluxe, with record stalls from Ninja Tune, Rough Trade, Soul & Dance Exchange and Flashback, and cosplay.

During the day in the ICA Theatre Artprojx will present films and videos including:

Ashish Avikunthak – Kalighat Fetish
Shoja Azari – Windows
David Blandy - My Philosophy
Brian Catling & Tony Grisoni – Vanished – A Video Séance & The Cutting
Mark Leckey – Cinema-in-the-Round & Shades of Destructors
Lynne Marsh - Plänterwald,
Jo Mitchell – Concerto for Voice & Machinery II
Damon Packard - The Untitled Star Wars Mocumentary
Francesco Stocchi - The only system is a sound system
Matt Stokes – Long After Tonight

Entry is free.

For details of the full series of Live Weekends at The ICA this month click here.

View trailer.

Copyright 2010 ///////Postproduced