All posts by Mulholland Dr.

Rip it Off and Start Again

It’s ten years since opera critic Jeremy J Beadle penned Will Pop Eat Itself?, detailing the plagiarist tactics of the Kopyright Liberation Front, M/A/R/R/S, Technotronic and Jive Bunny. Believing they had overcome the hip-hop copyright crisis, record corporation lawyers suddenly faced bigger battles. Increasingly Baroque copyright breaches were aided by the explosion of cheapo samplers based on the £13,000 Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (1980), once the exclusive preserve of Her Majesty The Kate Bush. The early nineties were a musical carnival, during which the reproduction of cultural history became exponential to the swiftly escalating rate of consumption.

This account of pirate pop culture tells only half the story. Programma 100, a Soviet plan to replace 100 Western products denied in the embargo that followed the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, overshadowed maverick breaches of copyright in the West. Knowing that their technological research was lagging behind the capitalist countries, the Soviet Union dispatched KGB spies to steal Western technology plans. Meanwhile, denied access to basic home computing by exorbitant prices, Soviet citizens took matters into their own hands, smuggling in small bits of Western computer technology and making back-room copies. Since the Soviets had no domestic software or pop music markets and no laws to protect imperialist copyright claims, Western software was regularly hacked and recorded music freely bootlegged. By the late eighties, Soviet gamers were enjoying Cyrillic versions of Manic Miner (1983) on machines such as Hobbit, Moskva 48, Bajt, Spektr 48, Dubna 48K and Fanny – homemade clones of Sinclair’s 1982 ZX Spectrum. With Spectrum clones used widely in schools and even on the odd nuclear submarine, one time samizdat Soviet culture was churning out instant nostalgia for the masses. Glasnost helped to accelerate the bedroom mores of pirate video games, music bootlegged on vinyl and exposed x-ray film and apartment-based Sots Art.

If Beadle’s harbinger of future pop correctly predicted the trend towards piracy and über self-consumption in the West, it perhaps overestimated the continuing appeal of pop glamour, a bastion of Official Culture. Browbeaten by the pantone boyish girl bands of the nineties, the plagiarist pop world of the early 00s more closely resembled the black market of the USSR’s twilight. If pop music was finally buried in the later nineties, it was being regularly mourned by a magpie möbius strip of retrofuturism aided by the speedy distribution of eighties computer simulators, MP3s and MP3 mixing freeware. Retrogaming on 8-bit simulators regularly breeched software developer’s rights, and the utopian polyphonic minimalism of the Commodore 64 SID chip bounced of the bedroom walls of the world once more. C64 superstar composer Rob Hubbard played live gigs, the Internet filled up with SID files and Commie rockers such as Ladytron did good business with their Uncle Robert’s analogue Moog, Trio’s Casio VL Tone and a Speak and Spell once swapped on Swap Shop.

Bastard Pop made headway on the airwaves in the early 00s, skilfully broken into the mainstream by XFM’s Remix Show, which encouraged young listeners to send burnt CDs. Home mixers sporting pseudonyms such as Freelance Hellraiser, Girls on Top, French Bloke and Soulwax pulled off inspiring and often hilarious mixes, combining metal with hip hop, grunge with R&B and new wave techno pop with, er, R&B. Totalitarian Superstar DJs were placed under house arrest as the masked masses took to their PCs. Inspired by Orc, the spirit of Revolution, the firstborn of Los and Enitharmon, they pulled up the spiralling roots of corporate pop, and shared the spoils among the lepers of Soho. ‘Destroy originality’, they instructed as they dug their polished nails into the eyes of Whitney Houston. Despite the DIY democratic energy, sticking to the rules of ironic juxtaposition quickly threatened to transform Bastard Pop into a musical equivalent of Dogma film. Luckily for the majors, this restricted the sacking of the back catalogues. Unluckily for the listeners, unnecessary dogmatism transformed Missy Elliot’s whining acapellas into the James Brown back breaking beat of Bastard Pop. The customary litigation threats piling up under XFM’s letterbox soon came in perfumed envelopes, S.W.A.L.K as the record companies whiffed the sweet stench of cultural sterility. Sporting MBEs awarded for charitable contributions to the world’s fastest burning subculture, by 2002, the major players of the bootlegging blip were signed up as Kylie and Cher’s superstar megamixers. Those who remain

Trading Spaces: Switchspace and The Chateau, Glasgow

Sorcha Dallas and Marianne Greated opened the countless doors of Glasgow’s nomadic gallery Switchspace in February 1999. Dallas’ West End tenement became host to the first of over 15 shows. Tiring of appeasing stairhead neighbours and of watching telly in the kitchen, the duo curated 9 exhibitions at a disused space under the Offshore Cafe the following year. Subsequent fundraising events allowed the organisation to curate the launch of Glasgow arts and music venue The Chateau, an old dilapidated Gorbals warehouse. Refurbishing the 5,000 sq ft venue, covered in dead pigeons and broken glass, was a gargantuan task eagerly tackled by Switchspace and Chateau volunteers. The independent space opened in December 2002 with a huge extravaganza featuring the work of ten artists in addition to live cabaret from Franz Ferdinand, Uncle John & Whitelock, Scatter and Park Attack. Since then, The Chateau has provided cheap studio space, Pointless Cinema film screenings, barbeques, firework recitals and a Hogmanay bash, as well as celebrated exhibitions such as Big Friendly Show.

Switchspace continues to programme innovative venues, encouraging grass-roots cooperation rather than competition among artistic peer groups. Edinburgh artists such as Craig Coulthard, Tommy Grace, Dave McLean, Julia Schnabel and John Mullen have all exhibited under the Switchspace umbrella at the Glasgow Project Rooms, an artist run space willing to accommodate Switchspace’s interest in the East coasters. Lorna Macintyre recently exhibited in an East End tenement loaned to Switchspace by property agency Fab Flats. Switchspace and their artists clear the place up, paint the walls and use the property as their gallery, before the organisation moves on to another Fab Flat. For nearly five years, Switchspace have relied on ‘subsidy’ provided by part-time work, fundraisers and the generosity of exhibiting artists. Recently, Dallas and Greated’s hard graft was awarded a grant by the Scottish Arts Council, something that will finally allow Switchspace to pay artists, writers, invigilators and invest in an education programme for locals schools. Regrettably, Scotland’s cultural commissars giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. In the future, the sweat equity of the Scottish art community may have to know no bounds. Glasgow’s Tramway 2 – Europe’s largest contemporary art space – has been threatened with anschluss by Scottish Ballet, an dreadful slight on artists’ enormous contribution to Scottish culture and a clear signal that outmoded aristocratic cultural hierarchies endure. As Scottish Ballet enjoy their new underfloor heating at Tramway 2, let’s hope that Scottish artists are warmed by the friction burns caused by scraping pigeon shit off windows broken from both sides.

Switchspace www.switchspace.co.uk

The Chateau www.chateaugateau.co.uk

 

Edwardwoodwardianism: Ryan Doolan

Ryan Doolan, Born 1976, Irvine, Scotland.

“Lois Lane was a Modern Athenian” – Robert McCall, Vanity Fair, July 2001.

Shallow, catty, flamboyant and image-obsessed, the Earls of Marchmont had an inside joke called ‘Modern Athenia’, two worlds which they invoked whenever things got rather, well, Modern and Athenian. At no point did they suggest that the Modern Athenianism featured in a recent 25 page special of Vanity Fair was maintained for any other purpose than to create danger in their rueful laughter. Contemptuous, guilt-ridden and disgusted by the treachery and hypocrisy of their profession, they decided to go to Duddingston Loch, for a penitent publicity shoot, armed with Soviet Lomos. Making sense of Modern Athenian mores is a trickier endeavour now that Modern Athenian chic, that 2001 phenomenon in which every magazine from Cosmopolitan to The Daily Record discovered Modern Athenianism, has shaken up our world. After the heady thrill of seeing Modern Athenians on the cover of Rolling Stone, Rev. Doolan experienced the distinct impulse to head for cover; and wished the Earls had never sought so much visibility. Suddenly Modern Athenian life became Modern Athenian lite. With tongue firmly in chic, Rev. Doolan, a great man all but at the top of the tree, voyaged with Modern Athenians of varying races, abilities, ages, regions, and proclivities as he unhinged the Kingdom of Fife en route to Warsaw. These genteel characters are drawn from actual life, not from books and fancy; and they are presented by means of brief, decisive yet always most discriminating touches. As Rev. Doolan preaches: ‘I proclaim unto thee that these milieus represent wildly mongrelised freaks of culture deparagraphised stolen standardised non sequiturs, glorified neologisms of unpunctuated run-on births of an historically unprecedented Modern Athenian identity.’ His is a modish cross-country trip across Modern Athenianism, with stops ranging from striking Loyalist Ayrshire miners to androgynous Polish Catholic nuns. Rev. Doolan is a Titan, so strong that he can afford to perform with calm the most Herculean feats. The result is a look at contemporary Modern Athenian life that is thorough, honest and aloof.

Martin Boyce, Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours, Tramway, Glasgow, Until 19th January 2003.

Adrian Wiszniewski, Dream On, Glasgow Print Studio, Glasgow, Until 24th December 2002.

Boyce’s brooding installation of chain-link fencing, modern steel benches and wire bins currently fills the enormous hangar space at Glasgow’s Tramway. Bright white fluorescent strip lights are fashioned together to produce makeshift electric trees, warming the gallery with their crepuscular light. The calm is occasionally interrupted as the lights dim to allow a short video projection. Accompanied by an ambient looped guitar soundtrack by jazz musician Raymond Macdonald, the phrase ‘THIS PLACE IS DREAMING’ is slowly revealed and dissolved again.

Boyce psychologically transforms the space into a suburban swing park, a playground of adolescent leisure bathed in sodium lamplight. This is a dreaming space, it has an otherworldly quality. The bins that litter the gallery, like vector graphics, veer off awkwardly into space, loosing their shape. At the same time this installation is loaded with referents to the material world, influences that Boyce has reiterated in his work. Reds, yellows, blues, blacks and whites dominate, homage to the work of early 20th century Dutch art and design movement De Stijl. The installation equally resembles the kind of wire fenced nightclub you would expect to find in a cheesy eighties movie set in New York. Just imagine leather bound Mad Max Goths clawing at the wire as a fresh-faced brat packer enters gingerly. Think also of Duran Duran’s Wild Boys video without Simon Le Bonn’s streaked tresses. Boyce’s cues are personally taken from his youthful experiences of early 1980s design, particularly the motorway aesthetic spawned by Ben Kelly’s fabled Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, a look also inspired by 1920s modern design. Early eighties retro-futurism is the source of the show’s title, a line from New Order’s The Village, a romantic electro ditty from their classic 1983 album Power Corruption And Lies. This is a risky move; homages to New Order in contemporary art are as thick as Noel Gallagher these days, common populist props for a weak imagination. Boyce’s installation, thankfully, doesn’t fall into this category. It’s significant that he should pick the moment in New Order’s career when they felt it time to inject some passion into what had previously been a rather austere body of work. Boyce seems to be doing likewise, this being his most impressive and ambitious exhibition to date.

Over on the North side of the Clyde, Adrian Wiszniewski is exhibiting a body of recent works in a small solo show at the Glasgow Print Studio. Wiszniewski is, of course, one of a media-manufactured generation of figurative painters that Boyce and his peer group reacted against in the 1990s. Much has been said of the alleged split between these generations that has served to obscure recent Scottish art. While there may be no direct dialogue between these two artists, common concerns can be detected. Both men share a disdain for the cliché of the bohemian artist. Both are fabricators rather than conceptualists, producing exhibitions and objects that stir nostalgic dreamscapes and imaginative spaces. Each have particularly strong cultural connections with the early 80s romanticism. Wiszniewski was one of the original 80s New Romantics, a figure that author and critic Michael Bracewell has recently celebrated as an originator of the ‘Culture-Vulturing City Slickers’ anti-mode. There’s a common interest in the alleged failures of utopian modern architecture and design. Boyce strips down the work of designers such as Charles and Ray Eames while Wiszniewski creates camp architectural puns, producing An Explanation of the Holy Trinity in the Form of a Chair, a modern three-legged bentwood classic. There has even been the odd point of direct contact, Wiszniewski’s wallpaper School of Linden – a pattern of linden leaves repeated to resemble a shoal of fish – having originally been exhibited at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Art in 1996 alongside a wallpaper design by Boyce based on the opening titles of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Wiszniewski’s chain of associations may have different sources and outcomes, but, like Boyce’s, they are specialist forms of knowledge. Wiszniewski’s wallpaper, for example, is an art joke, a pun on the ‘School of London’, R.B. Kitaj’s term for English figurative oil painters such as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach.

Important differences remain nevertheless. Wiszniewski’s approach is looser and less consistent, jumping from painting, to neon works, to carpet design, to writing Touching Cloth, a comedy-mystery-musical screenplay. Being a Renaissance man, Wiszniewski’s work is not as clearly structured as Boyce’s. At times, he is willing to wallow in reverie and wistfulness, painting, for example, a Sprite and a Genie. On the other hand, in his best paintings – Two Men at an Exhibition of Contemporary Urban Masks and Italian Popstar – Wiszniewski demonstrates an astonishing command over his world of wilting intellectual loafers and urban sophisticates, in addition to a keen mind for natty, original titles.

Richard Wilson: Irons in the Fire

Richard Wilson: Irons in the Fire

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

Until 14th December 2002

“Personally, I have always considered Richard Wilson to be the finest British landscape painter of the late eighteenth century”, quipped art historian David Hopkins. Judging by the audience, many turned up at the Talbot Rice expecting the sumptuous aristocratic trappings of Wilson’s idealised Italianate vistas. Instead, they were tackled by a Sim City of scratchy diagrams and homemade models mounted on shaky filing cabinets and rusty shelving. “I don’t belieeeve it!”, reverberated around the gallery, but no, it wasn’t that Richard Wilson either. This Richard Wilson is the one that made that monumental lake of recycled oil 20:50 (1987), now permanently installed at the Saatchi Gallery.

Touring Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester, Warwick and London, Irons in the Fire should set a few people straight on Wilson. Far from being a one hit wonder, he has had an illustrious international career as a site-specific artist, from collaborating with the industrial sound sculpture group Bow Gamelan Ensemble in the eighties, to his current grand architectural visions. Wilson isn’t in the acrimonious business of trotting out permanent monuments primed for vandalism and a jumble of angry letters to the local rag. His experience with Bow Gamelan committed him to the transformation of everyday urban industrial detritus into rich metaphor. Wilson has a Zen like respect for materials and environment, making his work by taking things away, producing something from nothing. His best works are quintessentially nineties ambient interventions into the built environment, some so casual they might be mistaken for the work of vandals. Pimlico Proposal for example, involves cutting and replacing circles of concrete and cladding from sections of wall and pavement on the short walk between Pimlico tube station and Tate Britain in Millbank. This whispering campaign subtly draws attention to the very fabric of the city, producing an understated trace of a trail blazed by thousands of tourists every week. Bronze Pole of the North (1995) for Tate Liverpool, is an unrealised proposal to cut a large pole through the gallery’s three floors into the bed of the Albert Dock. The pole would rise and fall according to the tide, confusing inside with outside and bringing the serenity of culture into conflict with the perfidiousness of nature.

Wilson’s romantic cross-examination of material culture seems to underlie this exhibition’s uneasy relationship with the museum, something we ought to expect from a practiced public artist. The Joint’s Jumping (1996-99) is an unrealised proposal for the BALTIC contemporary art space in Gateshead. Wilson planned to set the façade in motion by creating two templates of the former flourmill in orange neon, one placed skew-whiff over the other. By fluctuating between the two, this heavy industrial building would have a danced on the Tyne, a metaphor for the dynamic, metropolitan Kunsthalle culture represented by BALTIC and its many clones. BALTIC would thus have taken the appearance of a go-go bar, a sardonic comment on contemporary art’s status as a leisure industry and New Labour’s vision of ‘creative economies’? Perhaps Wilson’s work is unwittingly compliant with this frappe-drinking culture. “It works, but filing cabinets and Dexion shelving have become moribund media within the overly civilised western art milieu”, estimated artist Keith Farquhar. Farquhar has a point, trashy was certainly chic in art circles in the early 1990s, dressed-down industrial buildings being used for a flurry of artist led initiatives, but now it all looks a little rusty. The post-industrial aesthetic presently belongs to the establishment; think of Tate Modern, BALTIC and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

A further conundrum faces Wilson’s work, namely that is rarely designed for the gallery. Like much conceptual and land art of the 1960s in which it finds precedent, it exists here only as documentation. This could have lead to an absurd fetishising of the minutiae of Wilson’s working practice, consecrating his every mark and remark. Irons in the Fire, however, does an impressive job of representing the complex genesis of his work, utilising witty maquettes, sketchbooks, montages and DVD documentary footage. What saves this from becoming dreary is the amateurishness of the constructions. Wilson’s work has the charm and innocent invention epitomized by balsa kits, Meccano and Valerie Singleton’s sticky-back plastic, the ‘furniture’ cut from an IKEA catalogue in Tumbleroom (2001) being a high point.

 

A Loner in Triplicate: Old Paint

Sittin’ on down, Old Paint is a little teacherish for his years, but he’s solid without taking himself for his own statue. A Brooklyn guy with 6 pairs of eyes and a heart that won’t lie, a little nasty beauty with a mounting, barking rhythm, he discovered himself in West Humanity in the country of Self. Gaunt, tall, GI-jacketed, Old Paint twanged out rich imagistic guitar in the New York coffee shops. He could afford to be hard and ironic, learned his wounds well, and some of the world’s dishonesty, while in New Jersey stir for 6 years on an armed robbery count. Is subtle as well as lavish. Shy as a shadow also, with a fiendish jollity rising up within the prison walls of his hard-earned loneliness and individuality. You rarely see the cat’s gleaming eyes behind his mother-loving sunglasses. Spooky-real Old Paint! Old Paint is the real thing. Once wanted to be a theoretical physicist but gave into the muse and began his very inside, real, stylish, lethal ultra, honest, terse, hurting in that way that counts. Jail in Frisco, fighting and dodging Arabs in Israel, getting pickled in Harlem. His pants are always three inches to short for his shoes – he’s awkward blue, but, as he’d say, he’s got a good sound. Proper isn’t bright with the bitter glitter of missile-age precocity. Old Paint could be tender, nutty, lyrical, when the mood mooded him. Way down shack town, Old Paint ‘s stuff runs like drunken faucet. Urchin looking, street-bred, his playing gives his living-room style the lie. Full of unexpectedness and unclassifiableness, off beat imagination to burn. A glitter of contradictions, closetful of skills, a dead-end kid commonsense. He’s honest about wanting the dollar and bitter in his appreciation of its Lordship. A flinty, sardonic wiseguy complete with brain. A nice guy with a touch of nasty.

 

Refusing to talk about his Commy past, he flirts with preciousness and never yields, sure sign that intelligence has pinned artifice to the mat, sure sign that we are witnessing the real stunning thing with this unusual kid. Knock-your-eye-out, he could play his way out of a locked trunk at the bottom of the Hudson River. Minority snipers think that if he brought a little Dreiserian holy corniess to his hipness he’d have it made. An extremely hard-working and probably demonic cat under some mighty slick icing.  Best in short takes, he dazzles because of the unforced grotesqueness he shows in our hallucinatory beyond-Mars, cosy little modern world. His chords build like a storm. Skinny Girl Shoe Shine was cut with the cool eye of a rifleman; his second Skin Lowdown Buggy Ride Lover Gal never got the attention it should have; his last Poor Folk Gold Teeth almost didn’t because it was thought to be too dirty for even a dirty age. He stands in an odd relationship to the corner kids of his generation, more inner, older tireder. He has a gnarled maturity encased in a golden boy façade. He has the aware calculation of a deepsea diver; it could and might go deeper. Gentle, fidgety, huge-bearded, he still puts out a wild lick. Old Paint went back in jail for violating his parole – the poor sucker fell in love and got married, which is of course against Democracy’s penal laws. Preacher say his future is an X but his present is inspiringly real. He broke out in 92, and last heard was in Athens, jazzing, playing roulette, making a carnival out of this sweet mystery of life. In a modest way, Old Paint is a credit to the human race, a true lunar talent rising amongst the skyscrapers. His fever is that of thousands, but nobody of his age threw the sick room back at life as he did, and thus redeemed us as well as himself. Society’s fangs await his beautiful phantasmagorial songs, if only to insure their validity; but he who plays the atom age much have a price on his head. The stakes demand it. More power and joy to him.

Barnyard Slut, October 2002