Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Infinite Mix by Rebecca Hughes

An iconic brutalist office block on The Strand becomes the perfect venue for the Hayward Gallery’s new pop up space. This concrete maze offers up a weird, engaging, moving, and hilarious assortment of installations down each disorienting dark corridor. The Infinite Mix is devoted to experimental video, image and music, blending these elements to achieve total celebration of diversity. The feeling of entering a dystopian, futuristic universe is appeased by the nostalgia yearning of many of the installations, commonly rendering the bygone times hyper-modern, infinitely mixing past and present, concept and vision. This is an emotional and cerebral gallery experience that demands and rewards immersive intraction with all of its components.

A self-confessed Martin Creed fan, I was already delighted to be edging slowly down the first dark corridor towards the pop-punk sounds of the artist bellowing his song, “You Return”. Work No. 1701 lands us at a crossing on a New York intersection as we begin to watch people battle their way in various ways across the busy street. A guy with a prosthetic leg crosses nimbly, absorbed in the delicate dance of forward motion and instability. A woman crosses with the rising and dipping of a palsied gait. A man hops agonsingly over the striped crossing, foot waddled in a vast bandage. Themes of Creed’s sculptures reappear during this poetic video of the everyday - a celebration of motion, endurance and fortitude with an injunction to pause and see the world with fresh eyes.

Staying in New York for the next installation, we are catapulted into Stan Douglas’s Luanda-Kishasa - a painstakingly recreated 1970s recording studio. There are some brilliant musicians in this fictional jazz-funk session, that seems to loop endlessly. The sound mix highlights each player, clad in a costume so meticulous it feels as though entering a sepia-toned time-capsule. The endlessness is simply a construct, each variation carefully edited and remixed by Douglas, the seeming improvisation nothing but a clever trick, the infinite fusion of sound and culture provoking feelings of timelessness and endurance, in a strange parallel with Creed’s overarching theme.

The third room, for me, is worth the visit alone. Ugo Rondinone’s Thanx 4 Nothing, featuring beat poet John Giorno, is humorous, compassionate and engrossing. Four large screens surround us, with tv monitors placed on the floor like stage footlights, providing different views and profiles of Giorno, standing strikingly in the proscenium of Paris’s Palais de Glace theatre. Elegant in black suit, white shirt and black tie, his feet stranegly unclad, he begins an affecting performance of an autobiographical spoken word piece thanking past lovers and friends for good sex and wild times, their intimacies and betrayal, the depression and joys of an underground life. Accompanied by glorious immersive music, Giorno is mesmerising, in equal parts funny and heart-breakingly poignant. Everybody who entered was enraptued by this bare-footed poet until the final puff of his contemplative cigarette.

Perhaps the most incredible use of space was Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Opera in which we are confronted with Maria Callas flickering in a narrow alcove of the building, behind an almost invisible barrier. A holographic apparition, Callas is played by the artist who lip-synchs to arias from Cherubini’s Medea, Verdi’s La Traviata and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. The echoes of the cold, concrete space around is threaten to absorb and overwhelm her plaintive howls, heightening the sensations of loneliness and wistful desire. This is a meditation on urban loneliness, a mesmirising yearning for something more, a soul roped off from the rest of the world, destined to play out this melancholy scene in darkess, untouched and unnoticed. If no-one is there to witness your creation, can you call it art?

Down in the basement, 3D glasses are donned to watch Cyprien Gaillard’s Nightlife. This complex video is the perfect example of interconnection. As a sequence of images alone it’s stirring stuff but it requires a few viewings and concentration to unfurl all the layers. Taking us from LA to Nazi-era Berlin, we end up floating above the Olympiastadion amongst an immense firework display, all accompanied by a looped, distorted line from Alton Ellis’s Black Man’s Word: “Aww-wah, I was born a loser,” Ellis wails, over and over.
The imagery all connects: the shattered Rodin sculpture we light on was bombed by the Weathermen, a Left-wing group connected to the Black Power movement; the Berlin stadium was Nazi-built and the spotlit oak tree is the one that Jesse Owens won in 1936 in that stadium. The quaking trees and illuminative fireworks are the images that remain, and that hanting refrain, “I was born a loser” - this is an ambiguous  and meticulously thought-out installation, combining scultpure, music and 3D visuals to incredible, provoking effect.

Kahlil Joseph’s m.A.A.d fills two-screens in a panoramic and intimate film; a chaotically disturbing but hauntingly beautiful portrait of Compton in LA. The pacing and suspense of the film keeps you hooked, swimming in the unnerving sensation of violence about to erupt, the jarring juxtapositions of street life and police brutality with gentle, warm scenes of domestic life, and the unbreakable bonds of friendship. The scenes veer from intensely realistic and shocking to a kind of macabre magic realism, that is stunningly matched with Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics, heightening narrative tension and propelling us towards an abrupt, but not uenxpected, finale.

Bom Bom’s Dream by Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea shows the fantastical adventures of a kamikaze dancer competing in a Jamaican dance scene. Her hilarious contortions are interspersed with deliberately crude fantasy scene of a chameleon, who eventually swallows her whole.

Cameron Jamie’s Massage the History, a title taken from the Sonic Youth track, documents bizarrely erotic dance routines revolving around furniture. The unexpectedness of this film, the incongruous elements of costume, set and music all align to make a a surreal and hallucinatory experience, where it is as much fun to watch the reactions of other visitors as it is to watch the film itself.

Elizabeth Price’s retro-feeling K is an ominous sci-fi confluence of CGI images of yellow stockings on a production line, flashes of footage of the singer Crystal Gayle, and an unnerving, synthesised voice promoting a fictional troupe of “professional mourners”. these disparate elements combine to create an unsual reflection on collective emotion and mechanisation of the modern world.

Rachel Rose’s Everything and More has all the right elements of a soaring, trippy installation, but somehow fails to move entirely. 1960‘s style psychedelic fractals swarm over a translucent screen that allows a view over London’s South Bank, a wonderfully imaginative use of the building, that should induce feelings of weightlesness to match the narrative, but somehow doesn’t. These galaxies of bubbles, and indeterminate liquids are used in conjuction  with a voiceover of US astronaut David Wolf’s descriptions of the jarring effects of returning back home from space, and being crushed by the weight of gravity (“I thought I had ruined my life, gravity felt so heavy, the watch like lead on my wrist”) and Aretha Franklin’s soaring vocals.

I entered the gallery as a trepidatious technophobe but emerged totally overwhelmed by the vast scope of vision that had been encountered and left with the certainty that audiovisual work is one of the most consistently creative fields of modern art.

The Infinite Mix is at the The Store at 180 The Strand, WC2 from Friday until December 4. 
Admission free
(Text by Rebecca Hughes 2016)

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