Friday, June 12, 2009

A Sportsbar and the Search for Utopia

The Dutch invasion!

Opening night of the Frank Koolen SPORTSBAR exhibit.

126 is currently showing Dutch artist Frank Koolen, guest curated by Maaike Gouwenberg an independent curator also based in the Netherlands. The show is titled SPORTSBAR, a tongue-in-cheek take on sports culture. Primarily that noblest of establishments the sportsbar. Nothing is missed in this installation. From the big screen TV to the almost mandatory parade of garish team jerseys. The show features various mock ups of tables and patrons, trophies to even video pieces of curious sporting events televised on a couple small wall mounted monitors. The show is playful and timely, with the Volvo Ocean Race having just passed through Galway. With the title of the show prominently displayed on the front window of the gallery it has lured unsuspecting passers by into the space thinking it was an actual sportsbar. Once in, smiles start to break on faces and whispers of "what is this" can be heard. The show runs till the 27th of June.

Trophy Penants

Patrons at Koolen's Sportbar

Installation view

Maaike (Curator) & Frank (artist) holding the no smile pose. This was a participatory aspect of the opening night of the show. Polaroids of opening night attendees were taken and then posted on a wall in the gallery. Participants were also told not to smile.

At the Nun's Island Theatre the Galway Arts Centre is presenting "In Search of Utopia" a group exhibition of video artists. Now I have to admit I don't give video enough time. Ironically as I say that I am currently working on showing 2 of Kelly Richardson's video works here at this years Film Fleadh in Galway (at 126). So yes, I confess to not giving video enough time but not to a failing of appreciation. The Nun's Island show is a good example. I admit to a very quick visual evaluation of video work, which by its often time-based requirements of the viewer is exactly the worst possible initial assessment of any video piece. The first piece I stop at is Cao Fei's piece titled "Whose Utopia" (I tried to link to his page but it seems not to be working at the moment) Apparently this work is a part of a larger body of work titled "Utopia Factory"
Initially I wasn't drawn in. It felt like I was watching a promo video for a random factory. Production lines, conveyor belts, employees at work etc. I can hear the readers groans already. To make matters worse after 5 minutes maybe 10 I chose to go and view the other works in the show. I had lost interest. I did come back though. The point of my return was for me more engaging and I cursed myself for leaving. Yes I am my own worst enemy. I left the piece in the end thinking though, about the inclusion of music in video works. I couldn't help but think where is the line between an everyday music video found on television and this work that had a song added to it. Why cant you have music in Video art? Why would you want music? I was surprised by how much the mood of the video changed with its inclusion. This may have also been a little biased, as the viewer was now being directly engaged by the people in the video, where as before the employees were filmed working. I think the inclusion of music in video works is confusing. One starts to read into the lyrics, the tempo or beat, the correlation of song to video etc. There is a change of focus from video to song. Adding a song to a video is almost a cop-out and easy led by the hand-this is what I want to say crutch. But then again I am not a video artist, I dont have the referential background. Maybe some one could argue the case for music/song in art based video. (Note: I am not talking about added sound/s in the video just music)
The piece that I was drawn to was by Ailbhe Ni Bhriain . A stunningly beautiful and melancholy work. I am keen to track down more of her work now that I have seen this one. The video is subtle in its motions and visually rich in earthy tones. Anchored in the foreground by what appears to be a fallen sheep or just the wool itself? A stream like current plays slowly across (or maybe below is the better word) the scenes surface. The piece holds you. I did take a couple photos of the work but they didn't turn out at all or at least not enough to do it justice. Its the nature of the video itself that foiled my camera (or maybe I need a new and better one).


Crystal Mowry,  12:57 PM  

Hi Simon! Just wanted to offer a few video works that, in my mind, have a crucial relationship with music, Shirin Neshat's "Turbulent", a few works by Rodney Graham, and Althea Thauberger's "Songstress". What I love about these works is that the music - performed by the "lead" subjects in the video - is the right comination of sincere and surreal. Like watching a musical and it seeming completely appropriate that the cast can't resist breaking out into song. (I realize this doesn't really cut it as an argument, but I can work on it in the future for you:)

Simon Fleming 3:17 AM  

Thanks Crystal! I will check out those artists. Thanks for posting :-)