Friday, 20 May 2016

Jitish Kallat and Julie Gough: AGWA and LWAG: Language and death

Jitish Kallat and Julie Gough: Language and death.


There are, among the incredible things happening around the place, two shows that seem to demand to be written about. The first, at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, is Julie Gough’s Collisions featuring her two works Observance and Bad language. The second is Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice II at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, as part of the sacred and profane. The relationships of both works struck me, while being subsidiary to each of their qualities and interest, as important. They seem appropriate to be put in relations through their mutual interest in language, colonialism, death and memory. The two seemed relevant to each other, while obviously dealing with vastly different contexts and marginalised and less marginalised voices.

Kallat’s installation is a vast recasting of Mahatma Ghandi’s ‘salt march’ speech, in characters of bone, on bright yellow shelves on a bright yellow wall. Julie Gough’s video is a recording of eco-tourists in her ancestral homeland, recorded without their permission, overlayed with Anglicisations of the last new words of her ancestral aboriginal language, and their translations. Her screen-prints relate to the (abusive and retaliatory) use of English against colonisers by the aboriginal people of Tasmania – in reference to the 2007 headline of the Australian Newspaper: ‘aborigines must learn English’.

The words deployed in Gough’s video work range from the mundane to the sinister, there are words such as ‘flour’, but the video ends with the suggestive ‘gunpowder’ and ‘to hang by rope’. These words, in their gradually darkening connotations, indicate the physical and also linguistic violence inflicted upon aboriginal people throughout Australia’s history – and also in a specific space and place. Meanwhile, the video of the eco-tourists that plays beneath these words re-performs something like the initial contact her ancestors had with white settlers – and speaks of the continued antagonistic presence of white settlers in Australia, who still travel through the landscape and invariably inflict themselves, through their very footsteps, on Gough’s ancestral home. Gough speaks of the words that overlay the video as being ‘the last new words of [her] people’, before military action effectively killed off aboriginal people and culture in Tasmania in a localised genocide. Even without the added poignancy of this contextual knowledge, that many people in the audience – due to curricula and cultural narratives that prioritise western histories – may not be aware of, the words remain interpretable as being about the relationship between colonialism and the production of a living language – with the deadly connotations that each innovation in the language speaks of.  In this way, the work becomes both a testament to aboriginal cultural development in the face of extreme colonial circumstances, particularly its ability and strength to learn and adapt, and also a witness to the violence and aggression of white invaders. The use of language forms and reforms the world, and Gough draws attention to the violent destruction of the aboriginal world through the adaptation of their language through colonialism.

Gough’s works – the video and screen-prints – are especially interesting for developing a fluid understanding of the powers of language as both oppression and resistance. The oppression of language is well known: the classification of Aboriginal people as ‘fauna’ in Australia allowed vast institutionalised injustice and murder to occur, and it is the legal mechanisms of such language that allow this to occur (albeit a definition fuelled by racist sentiment). This operates similarly to how the reclassification of suicide in Guantanamo bay as ‘self inflicted injury resulting in death’ led to a complete reduction of suicide rates. Yet Gough allows us to see language as an adaptive force as well, and takes a position that exposes the violence as evidenced in the production of new words, but one that also permits a voice that is often unheard to speak to us from the past and through the present. Australia is still making the law and language regarding aboriginal people now – most recently with the ‘recognise’ campaign, and the follow up, grass-roots support for a treaty instead. This context makes Gough’s work particularly timely, and very interesting reading, on the relationship of language to violence, and its relationship to the entitlement of western tourists to her homeland.

I would also, in relation to this work, draw attention to Maddie Leach’s work for Spaced 2: future recall, and its relationship to the still-undealt with legacy of the Pinjarra Massacres here in Western Australia. That project also looked at the very particular language of the plaque that stood as memorial to the site, and the project that was politically silenced by local council forces. New Zealand, from where Leach came from, could perhaps offer us some guidance – with its own treaty already in place.
           
            The screen-prints outside the video work relate to the use of language in a colonial context as well – they are taken from archives that show Aboriginal people using English to insult and threaten and retaliate to their oppressors. This is presented beside the Australian’s headline ‘Aborigines must learn English’. Perhaps we are, with NSW offering aboriginal languages as an option to study, seeing a turn in the tide of sentiment towards aboriginal languages – but which is, for many of these languages, much too late. Genocide and forcible removal and relocation have effectively ripped many of languages out at their roots. Yet against this, Gough presents the parallel history of innovation and appropriation – having learnt English, aboriginal people incorporate it with their own syntax and words, creating a hybrid form for their expression. Language is revealed as something of a double-edged sword. It can be used for unjust purposes, and often to oppress, but it bears no allegiance, and can be developed upon, and used to fight this same injustice, and to insult it. Yet Gough’s work secondarily gives us a vision of a voice that is silenced not only politically, but also literally, by the necessity to learn a second language to be heard. To have ‘justice’ in Australia, it seems you have to speak the language of the powerful invaders. We can see this sentiment still runs deeply. An example that somehow popped up on my Facebook feed recently being Pauline Hanson’s somehow continued political career, and an advert that stated that 'you don't have to be white to be Australian... we only ask you learn to read and write english, respect our flag, abide by our laws and constitution and join in with the rest of us'.

Words fighting injustice provides an appropriate place to move to Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice II. Ghandi’s words are transformed into a monumental scale, and are cast of letters jointed to appear to be bones. The artificial materiality is reminiscent of his other works that use the shape of burnt out vehicles to create skeletal sculptures (the Aquasaurus series). Like those works, the appearance of the bones here seems kitsch, somewhat illustrative. The simplicity of its devices, however, leads it to some success. The political motivations behind his work, coupled with its immensity and strange honesty, allow them a space beyond looking like the design of a bad tattoo. It is the particular speech and its context, though, which make these works at all poignant. Kallat’s recasting of the language, particularly on such a monumental scale, seems to position us to admire the magnitude of someone as influential in world history as Ghandi, whilst undermining the idea that we can live up to their ideals. Like most monuments, Kallat’s work seems to speak of something that has passed.  Having said this, it is worth our time to read the texts of the past, written and spoken language is there to allow us access to a cultural memory. Kallat’s gesture in response to this is a challenging one – a suggestion that we have forgotten the hopes of the past, and to remind us what they were. In the face of double-speaking political rhetoric and a 24-hour news cycle, it is extremely helpful to witness the wisdom of someone like Ghandi. Words coupled with acts can free us from our present moment – and also free people from oppression.

What do we make of the fact that it was said in English? That a colonial language was used as the weapon of the deconstruction of colonialism? Is used for a fight against oppression? It is undoubtedly part of this that both these works are presented in institutions where the principle demographic is a Western, English speaking audience. There is also another issue that I wanted to raise in relationship to Gough’s work, and the role of video and cinema in colonialism, and its reappropriation by marginalised groups. It is summarized in a fascinating conversation between Ava DuVernay and Bradford Young for aperture, wherein Young states:
“[Film] is not like jazz or hip-hop—art forms that started as expressions of dissonance and resistance. Filmmaking isn’t part of our organic narrative as black people in America. We’re asking people who were very much interested in making sure film communicated white supremacist values, like the founding fathers of the film experience—D. W. Griffith, Thomas Edison, these people who were very interested in white supremacy—we’re asking the sort of grandchildren of those people to allow us into the filmmaking experience with a whole counterpoint to why they started it. You know what I mean? It didn’t start off as an art form of resistance. Actually what you said earlier is the real purpose of why we do this. It’s like trying to etch in real time our mind’s camera, our mind’s image-making capacity. It generates images so that we can deal with life. So the way I navigate it, I think, is that I’ve just got to stay focused on the possibility that one day it could be completely turned over on its head and transformed.”
This I have quoted at length as it summarizes much more clearly the ideas that I reflect upon while watching Gough’s work. This is an attempt to carve back a space – a space of resistance, a space in the land, and a space in language and discourse. The use of the particular form, and its representation to a predominantly privileged audience is part of its mechanism. It is part of a mechanism towards transformation. To transform law and language and form is something that can be done from outside or inside, and this work, by operating inside institutional structures, continues the work of transforming them. It is particularly poignant next to the Berndt Museum’s Mowaljarlai: vision and voice : legacy of a bush professor, where a small wall text repeats Mowaljarlai’s statement that he is no longer the future nor the past, just the present. Gough’s works could perhaps be seen as attempts to take back some of that time in a different form.

Kittish’s work also aims at transformation, yet it feels more retrospective and to compound its death in its own bone-like form – it is finally a gesture that feels at odds with the continued power Ghandi’s words can exert over us, though this dissonance is crucial to the artwork’s eventual success. It does not have the urgency or conceptually concise finalisation of Gough’s. It is too monumental and ornamental in appearance. However, this work is important for its bold attempt to bring the artful and potent language of Ghandi back into the realm of visibility, and back into the realm of contemporary discourse. It reminds us that the invoking of language from the past, of using its spectre, can be a tool in the ongoing fight against injustice and oppression.

Monday, 11 April 2016

No Confidence: SUCCESS

SUCCESS 1 is over, and now seems like an appropriate (though slightly too late) time to take stock of what was, and look forward to what will come. To all intents and purposes, the first instalment of the new space in Fremantle, under MANY’s showroom, lived up to its name. There were no less than four shows put on in its vast interior, and these few words can only hope to glance over the surface of what was an enormous undertaking. While the other shows on in the space deserve another essay each, this article will concern itself with the headline show. There is a great deal of difficulty in writing about SUCCESS as everything, in each of the four shows, is conceptually considered and materially interesting. There is difficulty not in finding something to talk about, but in deciding how best to approach something so large, and choosing what to omit – a testament to the curatorial and artistic decisions in each work and their assemblage into a whole.

The main space, with the PIAF show, No confidence, consisted of six video installations all dealing with political disillusionment and growing discontent in representative democracy. The nature of politics in art is a fascinating issue to address, and yet it is often a difficult one for art to succeed at. The realm of art, as Rancière reminds us, is always separated by an ‘aesthetic cut’. This, unfortunately, can often lead to a certain meekness among artists, now that what many people see as the great civil rights movements of the sixties don’t seem to be reappearing any time soon. The possibility of direct representation of social injustice to effect change has lost its power to produce widespread popular effect. This is also helped by the appearance of laws that restrict political gatherings – and thereby voids the development of politics itself. The dire momentum of America, perhaps best exemplified by the rise of Trump, has not got much by the way of resistance. So what does No Confidence offer us?

The first thing I would note is that all the work is quite passive. Either static or slow moving cameras dominate, and there is little by the way of political agitation – the most active is Jennifer Moon’s ironic mock-up of a TED talk (Jennifer Moon on revolutionizing revolution), which ends with a shot of an empty theatre anyway – and seems to suggest (only half-ironically) that the only revolution possible is to retreat thoroughly inside yourself in some neo-liberal nightmare, and just put up with whatever fascistic regime is around you by retreating into yourself. Though ironic, few answers, or even responses, are to be seen here – though the work is a powerful and sometimes funny take down of that bizarre, bite-sized TED talk narrative of social and political and technological progress.

The best description I could offer of the mood in the space is something nearing ennui. This is perhaps exemplified by the hundreds of little panels that make up Felix Kalmenson’s A year in revenua: from sunrise to sunset: a television installation repeating the clapping, sparkling beginning of every new day on the New York stock exchange. The endless roll of businesses and characters, films and firms, each of them selling themselves, and clapping, clapping, endlessly celebrating. It is not as overwhelming visually and aurally as it could be, but it is still extremely effective when looked at in any sort of proximity – the thousands of faces beaming and recorded (among which is the keenly spotted face of Tony Abbot, declaring Australia ‘open for business’). This work, though, seems only to be a depiction of a circumstance, even if it is extremely effective at it. It does not present anything that goes beyond this. It stops short of suggesting what it means that we do this, and barely seems to deal with the act, outside of presenting that it happens a lot.

As a counterpoint is Julika Rudelius’ Rites of passage, a two-screen video of politicians grooming younger politicians, and actors repeating the same lines, pretending to be politicians. Here, there is an interplay of what is real and false – in a manner that may have very real consequences for us. It reads a bit like House of Cards when seen, only done much more convincingly and with a much better sense of its connection to what is. While we can pass House of Card’s Machiavellian deviance off as drama, it is less easy to pretend that these faces and figures are separate from the world of politics. The hyperbole that undermines House of Cards is absent here and there is, rather than clear antagonism, an insidious and pervasive uncertainty, a fluidity of language and action that confirms the fear that we might experience when politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull suggest we must care more for each other – when what he presumably means is for large companies to pay less tax and only opt in for how much they would like to donate to charity, depending how much they care. This sort of subversion is the space that this work deals with in a careful and critical way – not overtly questioning the words of the politicians, simply putting them in the mouths of people who are pretending, and letting our own inability to distinguish the copy undermine the statements of each. It presents back to us, and builds on, our own uncertainty in the duplicity of politics.

While many of the other works deserve a mention, and some unpacking, it is also worth, at this time, mentioning the installation strategy of SUCCESS, which seems to be ‘make the video as big as possible, so it touches the edges of the space’ while it is worth it to showcase the extraordinary space that is now there, the choices that seem more considered – the television with Yuri Patterson’s 1014, and the installation of Felix Kalmenson’s A year in Revenue: from sunrise to sunset stand out a great deal, and are more engaging in this most impressive of spaces. Although perfect for video art, the possibilities of the space have yet to be used to their full extent – and I look forward to what the next few instalments will bring.

To return to the issue of the remaining video works, namely the Institue of New Feeling’s Pressure systems, Stefanos Tsicopoulos’ Geometry of Fear, and Yuri Patterson’s 1014, I would like to probe the relationships of these artworks to the political events they appeal to. The video of Snowden’s hotel room in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong is frightening, but opaque until contextualised. The video of the Greek parliament standing empty is similar, but seems more purposeless as a video, and does not imbue the space with any of the terror that Patterson’s video of Snowden’s room seems to accrue by virtue of careful visual construction. A lot of its power relies on two text slides at the beginning of the video, that describe what we are seeing, and forms the poetics and politics of the video. Though not a bad strategy, and the artwork is an impressive conceptual exercise in making visible the invisible and absent, it begs some consideration of what exactly the relationship of the empty Greek parliament to this video work is, other than an illustration of a moment – or perhaps an ‘anti-moment’ in history. The institute of new feeling’s seductive visuals and voice-overs are a good addition to the show, but the ‘istockvideo’ footage watermark gives a certain amateurish air to it. The issues at stake: the hollowness of stock footage and of the political commentary on particular legal and political issues, and the seduction of news and media is all interesting, and present, but does not appear to be capitalised on in a visual manner – the audio for this work giving it a potency that the visuals do not seem to reciprocate.


However, the show as an entirety, and every work within it, firmly places itself at the top of my list of visual art shows for PIAF. The opening of SUCCESS has been wonderful, but I look forward to the capabilities that the team there will now have to bring forward more incredible art. I can only hope that people see the quality and power of this installation, and the three others that accompany it, and consider the potential for a space like this to exist and remain in this city. However, if I am to offer one final critique, it is as a friend said to me: that the major problem with the show is that although it fulfils its brief, and makes an impressive show, it only fulfils its promise – it is conceptually rigorous and appropriate and ambitious in scale, but it goes no further. Though No confidence is nigh on impossible to critique, as it is so well thought through and executed, it (overall, as there are exceptions in the artwork – and if I might point idiosyncratically to another gallery, in Fernando Sanchez Castello’s A rich cat dies of a heart attack in Chicago) lacks the excitement of something truly engaged in this very abstract of topics. At points, it feels as if political uncertainty was chosen, as war has been chosen before in Theatres, as being a topic that is socially and politically important, and will therefore make the artwork important to show.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Bharti Kher: In her own language: Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.

Bharti Kher’s work is a definite low point of the Perth International Arts Festival. The reason for this is that the work is simplistic, and problematic. Kher is obviously a contemporary artist, who speaks the language of international contemporary art. Yet she has appropriated languages and used her own ancestry as an Indian woman to create these works – and this is at the heart of their problematic. Their failings seem to be in the very title of the show – that it is purportedly ‘in her own language’ yet that in fact, the work is anything but. Kher, in the Sydney Bienalle this year as well, is symptomatic of tokenistic inclusions in international arts festivals, where international artists, trained in western contemporary art schools, are representative of positive hybridisation. The simplest symbolic quotients of Indian womanhood – the bindi and the sari, are everywhere. Yet there is nothing of the lightness of the garment or the spiritual of the circle left in them, they are returned to dull objects, used for visual effect alone. The single strongest work in the show is the small bronze bowl filled with rice, each grain inscribed with words from the classifieds section, apparently adverts for wives. This fascinating work is written quite literally in another language – in Hindu, and its unreadability is crucial to its carving back a space for itself. It is, unlike the other works, something powerful but delicate, not ostentatious and simplistic.


Kher’s Saatchi gallery profile ends with the comment that Kher is ‘challeng[ing] cultural and social taboos in India’ and that ‘With [another work using the bindi as a central motif], the artist is signaling a need for social change and challenging the role of the women entrenched in tradition, whilst also commenting on the commoditization of the bindi as a fashion accessory.’ The ambiguity of this ‘commenting upon’ is at the heart of the problems of the work. Kher is not passing any sort of ‘comment’ upon the commodification of Bindis, but simply re-performing it, playing the part of cultural exoticism. The social change that Kher is advocating is, I am sure, made with noble intentions against the oppression of women, yet there is here only the transformation of the traditional woman into an object – a process best exemplified by the sari works, where the sari quite literally (as stated in the wall vinyls) ‘stand in’ for the women who were there. It is the transformation of the idea of a ‘traditional’ woman into a commodity, into a sign of traditionalism, and not in any way actually ‘challenging’ their role - simply hollowing it out. Kher’s Saatchi profile states that she is ‘Likening herself to the well intentioned ethnographer investigating her culture’, and it is hardly any surprise that it does not end well.

This post has attracted some criticism, in particular criticism regarding my background and position in critiquing Kher on these matters. Although I have not been given permission to republish the criticisms, my responses I have copied below. The original discussion can be found on the Facebook page. The article is a problematic one, and although I wish I could revoke it and write a more considered approach to the work, I will leave it, and my responses, as an testament to the difficulty of thinking through issues of culture and difference.

1.I thought this may be a problematic piece, but I really wanted to post it, because I do perceive something frustrating in Kher's show. I was trying to argue for there being NO such thing as positive hybridisation under the regime of global capital, which this show seemed to be a proponent of and (frankly) propaganda for. I am sorry if my critique of Kher was not clearer in outlining this, but the main element that I wanted to question was the transformation of living tradition into fetishised object. I can attack the ability of someone, even from that same culture, to do something like that. It is not based on nothing, and not based on my privilege, but on reading the catalogue, the wall text, and the art. As to my ability to call out cultural appropriation (your main point, and an ironic position for me indeed, this is true) that is used to fuel this regime: it is perhaps wrong of me to do so, especially as I based it on my (very limited) knowledge of Bharti's life, through her biography, and her Saatchi profile. This is not conclusive, and is flimsy as a point for me to argue, it is true, and I concede it is problematic for me to draw them in as points of reference. However, I based most of it on her art's form and media, and its absence of content: implicit, and from the vapid wall text to the empty catalogue essays. These, to me, are the hallmarks of taking and emptying out; of appropriating. Having said that, I may still be wrong, and it is an indication of this that I agree with your criticisms. one day I may read this and be ashamed I ever thought it, but I am still convinced that there is something fishy about this show.

(some repeats in no.2 as no.1 was in response to a private message)

2.The implication I hoped for was that no 'positive hybridisation' could be reached under the auspices of global capital that this show appears, at least to me, as something of a harbinger for. The problematic remains within the art, its form and material use, and absence of content (from not only itself, but the essays, catalogues and wall text accompanying the show). Is it inappropriate for me to claim that someone is using their cultural roots as an exoticism? someone in Kher's position may have to switch codes, but I have no doubt she also has a better understanding of an international art market, and her audience, than any of us. I spurn the idea Kher is in any position of disadvantage due to this 'switching codes'. What Kher would require is simple: a purpose to be doing these things (perhaps even referred to somewhere, in any form, as opposed to hyperbole and what appears to be glorified marketing in the essays and catalogues) and the very doing and making of these things to involve some more consideration or sensitivity to form and materials.

3.I am glad it is making you think, I am still thinking too, and writing responses. However, this comment is one I think I do have an answer for. It may double up on my eventual responses elsewhere, but it is perhaps worth posting here. At a certain point it is no longer worth defending quick quips, and this is one of these times. There are problems with my article, it is insensitive and crass – admittedly just as it was meant to be, but none-the-less offensive. The lines about the show not being in Kher’s ‘own language’ were not critically robust, but an attempt to play off the exhibition title. Mostly my accusations of cultural appropriation are innapropriate, as Kher does have a stake in her own culture, however much like an ‘ethnographer’ she may admit to being. BUT, without edging gingerly around the exterior of the issue, what is it about Bharti Kher, and other artists that use what is ostensibly their own cultural heritage in a similar way, such as Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian, that stir my discomfort? For although it may not be cultural appropriation, the point of my article should have been to point to the similarity of the processes that cultural appropriation, and this use of culture produces. It is not a process based on any assumption, at least I believe so, but observation: that these objects are transforming traditional garb, traditional forms, into commodities, and in the process, emptying them out. There are of course positive instances of traditional methods and techniques being used in a contemporary art setting, even in a global capitalist setting, I would even point to Fremantle arts centre ‘new Indian textiles’ as a show that moved around western influence in a playful and political way. I don't think it has the same aspirations as Kher's work, but it is also much more successful in those it does have. I feel one symptomatic element In Kher’s show is that moment when the wall text state that the sari’s ‘stand in’ for the women, as opposed to being worn and lived in, they are fixed in resin, no longer are they thought of, or considered, as the cloth of Zamthingla Ruiva's 'Luingamla Keshan' is considered, political, and powerful - and a powerful use of tradition. They have become objects of appreciation and value, and seem to do little else. Of course Kher has a right to use her culture in whatever manner she chooses. It was wrong of me to accuse her of something like cultural appropriation, but I would still like to accuse her. I suppose it is worth taking stock of what seems to be consistently an issue here: namely my own privilege and possible prejudices as a white man. It causes many of the problems surrounding this discussion. That I do not, as a white man, have the place to call cultural appropriation on Kher or Farmanfarmaian. And I do not, it is true. However, it also makes no sense to be silent in the face of an observation, and so I will ask: if it is not cultural appropriation, what is it – if it is the use of a culture that is theirs? Is there no problem at all? Am I wrong in thinking that their work is problematic – that it in fact does not engage with cultural history simplistically? That it empties things of their significance and repurposes it towards the commercial appeal of art? Of course, one could simply sidestep the whole issue, and tentatively walk about it, but this is no way to go about criticism and the thinking through of art. The issue that is specifically at stake in Kher and Farmafarrain is their use of their cultural heritage. It is the central content of their work. To avoid it would be to avoid their central motif. 

4. sorry, that wasn't in reference to Abdul Abdullah's work. I have not yet thought that through.

5.I do think that there is something to do with simplicity. I was reading an interview, not with Kher, but Farmanfarmaian, and she was asked: 'Did you want these works to move people spiritually, as a way to recall or re-express the experience you had at Shiraz?

MF: I don't really believe in these things. I just loved what I saw and tried to copy it and make it something more modern, maybe more flexible and transportable. I try to do something new all the time.'

6.and I don't think any critique of mine could be better

Monday, 4 April 2016

Taylor Reudavey: Awkwardness and conviviality: Free Range: One Night Only.


Perhaps my position is compromised as a participant in the development of this work, and a friend of the creator, but the position of awkwardness, as this show reminds us, is one we often participate in – particularly in the insular world of art.

Last year, Free Range initiated the One Night Only program to encourage experimental and low-stakes exhibitions. Unfortunately the response was hardly overwhelming, and as it is unclear when or whether Free Range will re-open, the program itself is cast into even more doubt. Last year, Cactus Journal launched, Carla Adams performed Devastate Me a one-person show, and Dave Atwood, Alira Callaghan and Nicole Breedon put on Already, (I did not make it to one other show, Tim Burns, Chrissi Crash and Tatjana Seserko’s Zone Aware). The endeavours were worthy of praise, and each show (that I saw), perhaps for the alleviation of some fees, or the fact that it was only for one night, was fantastic.

Taylor Reudavey’s show this year continued in the vein of Adams’ more intimate performance. The video work was well executed, an interesting and eventually nightmarish parody of a 24 hour dinner party, with some terrible camerawork by yours truly. A kind of relational performance and endurance act that many students and followers of the discipline may at some point find themselves engaged upon. The difficulties of relational aesthetics that have interested Reudavey for some time were here centred on relationships with friends. As Claire Bishop reminds us, it was only people in the already insular art world who came to the relational performances Bourriaud used as his examples – limiting the scope of their purported political potential. Reudavey inverts this slightly, by creating something antagonistic within a small group of friends, perhaps the most challenging thing to do – to go against the kind of inadvertent pressure towards that conviviality Bourriaud supposed was somehow beneficial, and towards the more democratic foundation of agonism and antagonism. Reudavey reminds us that without the space for disagreement and discomfort, there is only a false sort of getting along.

The performance work is what is intriguing however. The video work, though strong, is a work that does not require a space, though the response it had there was worth its positioning and inclusion. Reudavey’s performance, dressed in sunglasses in the dark space at night, a multi-coloured disco-ball amplifier spinning beside her as she gave her speech, was a reminder of the powerful possibility of an intimate performance, and what the most minimal and simple of decisions in a space can do. Though the speech’s subject was ostensibly awkwardness, Reudavey shied away from overstaying her time, or delving into disinterest, only taking extensive, though not unrelated detours. Though it was unclear what mistakes were acted or deliberate, even they, in the context of the show, did not create an awkward atmosphere as might be expected.
It was rather the faux pas of the sunglasses worn indoor, the hollow and over-the-top coloured-flashing amplifier that set the theatrics for something simple, yet no less magical to take place – Reudavey’s separation from the audience, and the entrance into the role of performer. An almost perpetually awkward circumstance, here it became the object of focus. The speech, that detoured via a poem read at her grandmother’s 90th birthday, and her desire to speak to the man who gave it, yet her simultaneous reluctance, along with her awkward economic position, and finally, the odd purpose of her speech itself, was an affirmation of the potential of the temporary position of awkwardness to be a position of dissonance, and thereby for action or decision – or even simply to deliver and advocate for the position itself.

The title’s reference to the conviviality of relational art was the clear target of the show. Yet it was addressed in a way quite differently from what Bourriaud’s influential text envisioned. It is not the relation, but the separation that defined the performance, that produced the awkwardness and its power. The convivial is almost always associated with the connotation of falseness for a reason: it is an empty and forced circumstance. It has its own separation, its own awkwardness, which is perhaps better embraced than erased.

Hopefully, when Free Range re-opens, there is another opportunity to make one-night-only works, and for similarly simple and effective and important acts and gestures to take place.