Monthly Archives: April 2013

Last week the new issue Garageland on Collaboration came out. Pick up a copy to read my wonderful entitled Practice Prism (thank you to the editor for that brilliant title), an interview with multimedia artist Conrad Ventur. Here is the unedited version for super-keen readers.Ventur_Conrad_13MostBeautifulthumbsConrad Ventur’s definition of collaboration is clear and all-encompassing: “Anytime I work with a living person, this is collaborative to me. These are relationships, even if the interaction was a split-second long.” But as with everything Ventur does, this split-second holds the possibility of expansion; if there is anything I learn from my discussion with multimedia/disciplinary New York artist, Ventur, it is that the boundaries of the collaborative process are awkwardly blurred.

Collaboration appears to have a number of different values attached to it: temporal, material, economical, deeply personal and individual. Ventur is certain, for example, that the Youtube videos he uses for his prism installations do not amount to a collaboration with the deceased, and yet if he is working with an archive or an estate (as with his recent 11 person group show and tribute to Mario Montez, Montezland), he supposes that this can be seen as a collaborative effort.  The problem, of course, largely comes from the sticky discomfort of the question of ‘authorship’, the hierarchy of artist and source material, and a post-Warholian hang-up which stems back to the exploitation of the Silver Factory.

Ventur writes that it is “characters” which interest him, and the ways in which “people build and record themselves”, there is a strong emphasis here too on recording  in a “contemporary technological landscape” where “users generate content and/or ARE the content through a complex layer of electronic global distribution and self-awareness.”

Although my interview with Ventur amounts to an email exchange across continents and time-zones, it feels like another kind of collaboration: a fractured sparking of stories and thoughts cascading through my inbox. The zoom-narratives of tangential clarifying questions and visual picture walls of informative footnotes; are all rich material for our virtual collaboration.

Ventur’s prism pieces use archive videos in an immersive expanded cinematic installation, he explains: “you walk into the space and immediately see a kaleidoscope of imagery coming from the video projectors and the motors, from which the prisms hang. The spinning crystals fracture what is being projected.” Ventur’s prism, which he flashes before me at different points in the interview, is the ideal metaphor for his collaborative process: his work is a prismatic display of time and character, distilled through the artist as medium.


Ventur sees this work as “reclaiming” the original performances he uses: “[The videos had] been squished and down-sampled to such a point to get them online (reducing their file size etc.), and here I am, fracturing them and expanding them in a darkened space – giving them some kind of new agency.” Ventur acts as artist and prism in all of his collaborations.

The types of characters he chooses are usually displaced or dispossessed, down-sampled to become forgotten icons: “I appreciate a celebrity if their star is sort of faded, or not-quite right – niche. I would look closer at the archive of that person if there was something redeemable, something magical to recycle and expand about their story, their life: a lesson to multiply in space.” We have only a fraction of their story until Ventur reanimates in a fractious expansion of sound, light and colour.

He is, ultimately, a portrait photographer in the ultra-sensory world of new technology: he tells people’s stories by using all the synesthetic equipment he has at his disposal. Somehow this ‘expanded cinematic narrative’ brings us a little closer to that first experience of the cinema, when audiences ran in terror believing that a steam train would crash out of the screen and into the audience.  Across Ventur’s projects and in different media, narratives are communicated as expanded experiences.

Ventur’s act of collaborating is a means of readdressing an imbalance of power which works outside of his own interests for the vindication of the collaborator. Ventur writes that: “I feel like I’m articulating something, in my own time that they couldn’t do in theirs. I feel like I’m an extension of them in that way, or an echo”. The fact that a part of these stories was left untold is also an uncomfortably loaded issue of exploitation.

With 13 Most Beautiful/Screen Tests Revisited, it is the faded stars of Warhol’s Factory that Ventur returns to, but he is resistant to the idea that this might just be an extension of the Factory model: “my work, I believe, is more sensitive than that”. The initial compulsion to work with the dispossessed of the Factory came from the belief that he “could unhinge the subjects from some nostalgia they were mired in,” and that he could add another layer to that myth. The Factory’s appeal is as a “a brief platform from which a few characters, each for their own reasons, performed,” but Ventur’s primary interest is in “the subjects themselves (and their own place or displacement).”


The exploitation by Warhol of those involved in the Factory seems to swamp any definition of collaboration in a debate about money and alternative measurements of value. Having worked with a whole spectrum of Factory characters, Ventur’s understanding of this is sensitive and inquiring:

“In Warhol’s case, I feel he was collaborating, but his success was so eclipsing, and don’t forget he was a rich person by the time he started the Factory, that this unsettled many of those he worked with (especially if/when he didn’t pay for their participation, or he paid too little). If he’d been a commercial failure – if he’d actively, glamorously resisted commercialisation like Jack Smith, how would we have seen it differently? It was still collaborative even though the change in contexts and his own ambitions created a disproportionate exchange of value.”

Ventur’s relationship with Warhol is consistently critical and yet it has come to define the parameters of his own collaborations. He sees himself as being “in the service of others” and hopes that his work will add a “welcome flourish of activity”: a resurrection and rejuvenation of those dissatisfying 15 minutes of fame perhaps (expanding that fleetingly temporary time-frame too).

Ventur views “people as both material and as relationships, even though I am seen as ‘author’.” There is also a “tension around that hierarchy” but Ventur feels that “we all get something equal out of being together when you measure the potential outcomes and what we each bring to the table.” Deeper thought and attention has been put into each of Ventur’s collaborative relationships than can be found in any of the momentary Factory clutches at fame. Ventur’s critical approach to Warhol has offered a springboard from which he can make those relationships as fruitful as possible.

It was through his Screen Tests Revisited that Conrad Ventur came to work with the Boricua drag performer, Mario Montez. His three year collaboration with Montez will now come “full circle in a durational month-long performance project in Fall 2013 in New York,” where they’ll be working with “a multi-generational cast of actors in a largely improvised live exhibition environment”.

Ventur now sees those “split-second moments” of collaboration, “made more complex”. The influence of Montez, (who was a founding member of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre Company, the only living link between Smith, Warhol and Ludlam, and a collaborator in the 60s with many other artists and photographers) has moved Ventur beyond the individual to collaborate with ensembles and think “about a larger consciousness as it relates to lens and media.”

The collective has always been in the frame for Ventur but the development of his practice, set in motion by his work with Montez, has helped him to realise this in large-scale collaborative performances. There is after all, something of the anthropologist about Ventur too: and if not an anthropologist exactly, then at least, an “artist/catalyst with a new-age-y anthropo-fetish”. His work spans a chain of social histories which stretch from the people who came of age in post-War 50s and 60s all the way to post-911 Obamania and technology culture. Perhaps this is all too close to make sense of at the moment, too fractured, but with fame and posterity Ventur sees himself, “there eventually – melted, if I live long enough, and maybe I planted seeds in the 00s that will grow and wilt with me – shifting my material and my own narrative in the coming years.”



It’s just a little over a year since i first saw Mark Melvin’s exhibition at the Cob Gallery, and now I am returning to write about his work again. There is an appropriate sense of deja vu involved in the process of writing which strikes a chord with the intentions of his Berlin exhibition at Galerie Sherin Najjar: Forget to Remember, for which I am writing a catalogue essay.

In going to meet Melvin for a second time, there is a foundation of conceptual knowledge I must remember and works of art which I must try to recall in recognising the progression of his practice in this fresh show. The exhibition will open on the 26 April, and here’s a little extract from the essay on the experience of deja vu in forgetting to remember.

“The experience of Forget to Remember after remembering to forget is akin to looking at somebody else in the mirror. We look at our own image every day with such blind faith: we take what we are given; but in seeing somebody else contained in the glass we understand that the picture reflected is always slightly distorted, that the symmetry is not quite right.

The works in Forget to Remember have been carefully selected and curated to echo the works included five years ago in Remember to Forget, recreating the ‘feeling’ of that exhibition: but the echo is never harmonious, it is distinctly jarring. The reflection has slipped slightly to show something only fractiously remembered and now newly realised.

For second time visitors the exhibition presents a déjà vu founded upon an accumulating sense of recognition and a growing uneasiness: a video piece swapped for another here; words removed from their contexts and replaced elsewhere; themes, energies and philosophies all shifted into new frames. The echoes are as subtle as the palindromic movement of the clock (Time Piece –bury your head in the sand or bury the sand in your head 2012), but they are nevertheless present. Melvin has very deliberately manufactured an experience of déjà vu for the viewer of Forget to Remember.

This month I wrote an article for the wonderful feminist Collage Magazine on female bodies and political power. The essay begins with the French Revolution and the example of Helen Maria Williams’ political discourse, bodies publicly executed in the amphitheatre of the Tuilleries; and moves to our contemporary political landscape, including Louise Mensch and Kate Middleton. You can read my essay alongside others in the new issue of Collage on Women and the Revolution, by following the link to Issuu here: Here are a couple of teasers for you here anyway.
marie antoinette scaffold

“Within the female body of the Marianne of French Liberty, depicted bare-breasted in semblance of her maternal and sexual power, women of the French Revolution found a utopian ideal for their involvement in, and centrality to, the new politics of La Republique. From the platform upon which a statue (whether it be the Virgin Mary or Joan D’Arc) is raised, to the ‘amphitheatre’ of public executions; the stage of the French Revolution provided women with an arena within which their formerly private bodies (consigned to the sexual politics of the bedroom) could become public and political signifiers.  The new feminine La Republique of France emblematised in the figure of Liberty, appeared to found itself upon feminine values and opened out a space for women to construct a feminised political discourse within a new world of active political engagement. ”

Liberty Leading the People, 1830, by Eugene Delacroix“If it is Liberty and the Marianne who are the seed of William’s statuesque portraits, then it is Liberty we must return to in determining the political effectiveness of such memorialisation. At University my supervisor forced me to scrutinise Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People until I relented: I satisfied his palpable, unspoken desire, and commented on Liberty’s bare breasts. What do you notice? What do you notice about Liberty? He insisted.

That soft curve of pale flesh is the very centre of this painting, it is the most obvious thing – so why mention it? In that moment it felt like I wasn’t just being forced to recognise a naked pair of breasts, I was also being made to feel aware of my ‘otherness’, of my own body. Liberty is powerful, defiant, a glorious and beautiful figure to lead, but she is also a woman and those bare breasts are an incontrovertible reminder: they are her weakness. She is not like Joan of Arc: she is not sexless, she is sexy. That is not to say that heroism must be sexless, but simply to acknowledge the symbolically loaded binarism which divides and excludes.  Liberty leads the people, but do we ever truly see her as a leader?”

Louise Mensch

“There are countless current examples of women using their bodies in a play for political power; whether it is the wives of politicians and presidents who have electoral sway equivalent to the success of their wardrobe choices, or news of highly charged political affairs such as Monica Lewinsky’s ‘improper relations’ with Bill Clinton. The debate about whether women can effectively use their bodies for political power is as relevant now as it was to Williams.

I started out with the idea that my contemporary parallel might come from current female politicians; if Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga MPs seemed too continental, then perhaps Louise Mensch under the glaring lights of an ‘Iron Maiden’ photo-shoot for GQ (all soft silk and leather panelled pencil skirt), could be my new politically revolutionary pin-up. But the problem was that these examples had very little power as icons, a niche magnetism perhaps: obsessive-Menschites and scandalized Berlusconi commentators aside, these bodies hadn’t affected very much change.

If there is any icon capable of becoming the female embodiment of contemporary Britain in the same way that the Marianne represented La Republique of France, it has to be Kate Middleton: an aspirational symbol for recession-beaten and coalition-confused GB.  She is certainly not revolutionary, but she is stability. She is painfully corporeal in the way that the 21st century has idealised: thin and taut like our models and our cover girls but classically feminine with flowing dark hair and now a modestly growing pregnant belly. “

This Friday I head off to Chile for 5 months. It’s funny how long we can harbour a dream for, and how they grow and develop over time. Everybody wants to know why I am going to Chile, but there is no simple answer.  It’s a succession of steps backward, an untangling of threads, which have finally led to this realisation: this flight I am taking across the world, to Santiago.

I have always wanted to learn Spanish, and I have always been an adventurer. But my fascination with Chile has its seeds in the stories other people have told me as well as an exhibition at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid on the Valparaiso Open City Group. On the 5th January 2011 I have recorded my plans to go to Valparaiso here.

lina bo bardi‘The relationship between public space and collective life’ was the idea that struck me, the Valparaiso School used architecture to create spaces which encouraged a particular kind of lifestyle. An artistic Utopialand was made possible through the aesthetics of everyday life. Valparaiso thinking lives by the maxim that an artistic philosophy can inform a way of life.

poetic act Finally I will head out along the coast to Ritoque by the sea, and see the Ciudad Abierta – the utopian architectural realisations from the 60s and 70s still living and breathing alongside new constructions. I am even going to be writing an article about it, for beautiful T-R-E-M-O-R-S magazine.


In the process of dreaming our plans evolve. I have spent many tube journeys in London reading books about Chile, or by Chilean authors, fuelling new passions and motivations. Roberto Bolano’s novels have filled me with a sense of Latin American literary culture, a curiosity that only travel can eventually satisfy. Here’s a beautiful passage from the literary epic, The Savage Detectives:

“Then everything turned into a succession of concrete acts and proper nouns and verbs, or pages from an anatomy manual scattered like flower petals, chaotically linked. I explored Maria’s naked body, Maria’s glorious naked body, in a contained silence, although I could have shouted, rejoicing in each corner, each smooth and interminable space I discovered.”


Of course, all dreams include cliches, and my cliche has been Pablo Neruda, who seems to have owned houses all over Chile. I’ll be able to mark out a starry-pointed pilgrimage and read his poems from windows facing the sea, or set into hill-tops. Here is his Discoverers of Chile to fill me with an overblown sense of the epic narrative of my wonder voyage:

Descubridores de Chile, Pablo Neruda

Del Norte trajo Almagro su arrugada centella.                                                                                                                       Y sobre el territorio, entre explosion y ocaso,                                                                                                                   Se inclino dia y noche como sobre una carta.                                                                                                     Sombra de espinas, sombra de cardo y cera,                                                                                                          el espanol reunido, con su seca figura,                                                                                                                    mirando las sombrias estrategias del suelo.                                                                                                     Noche, nieve y arena hacen la forma                                                                                                                          de mi delgada patria,                                                                                                                                                    todo el silencio esta en su larga linea,                                                                                                                                                                  toda la espuma sala de su barba marina,                                                                                                                          todo el carbon la llena de misteriosos besos.                                                                                                  Como una brasa el oro arde en sus dedos                                                                                                               a la plata illumina como una luna verde                                                                                                                       su endurecida forma de tetrico planeta.                                                                                                                                    El espanol sentado junto a la rosa una dia,                                                                                                       junto al aceite, junto al vino, junto al antiguo cielo                                                                                                       no imagino este punto de colerica piedra                                                                                                                    nacer bajo el estiercol del aguila marina.

Curated in the light of a series of vintage NASA photographs from the lunar landings, the group show PLURAL, looked at divergent examples of human aspiration within the work of 5 contemporary artists. Amongst the dystopic visions, coded psychology and human curiosity, was artist, Suki Chan’s, video installation, Sleep Talk, Sleep Walk. Suki Chan’s London is a city of interims and increments. It is the movement between places: captured in the soft glow of bus windows catching traffic in the dark, or though tube tunnels in dim evening light, and funnelling up escalators to the exit or the platform, an indeterminate location. It is a world transmitted by the inconspicuous eye of security cameras, remaining constantly under surveillance. Yet there are no events recorded, just the seemingly uneventful moments in-between. Even locations, inanimate concrete and steel; are in a similar state of flux – abandoned buildings and construction sites suggest that the vision we are presented with is still incomplete.


If it is aspirational, it is because it captures the moment in which we are moving on our way to something else, beyond. The installation begins with movement: transportation in wormings of light, the horizon seeping into new colours with the passing of time. In this city, someone suggests, “it is quite easy to spark off each other and pass ideas around”. But as this vision progresses it seems to repeat a pattern of loneliness rather than one of community and collaboration. Empty office spaces and unpeopled views across the city confirm that this comment was little more than a still-distant utopia.

Your installations create fully immersive environments, what is the intention with these?

The installations are immersive because one significant intention of my work is to transport the viewer to an elsewhere, one step removed from reality. However, the work is not about escape, the work and its concerns are from and related to reality. Although I might have changed the pacing of the images by using time-lapse techniques to accentuate movements that you would not be able to see in reality, what we see in the films is ‘real’ – in that it actually happened – physical light really did pass through the optical lens and the recording is consistent with what you see in the work.

The camera lens ‘sees’ the world in a very different way to our eyes and then there is the editing, which of course, is not the way we see the world at all: more like our memory of the world, where the final cut has forgotten all that was removed. I often find the experience of seeing a film in a cinema so absorbing, as though particular parts have imprinted themselves into my memory as strongly as an actual lived experience. The imagery and ideas stay with me well beyond the cinema experience. It’s like oscillating away from reality momentarily, only to return to it and see it in a new light.

These environments seem to present viewers with microcosms, why is this?

The sense of microcosm and macrocosm is because I want to find a rational explanation for everything, in this case a city. There is a sense of zooming into the micro and zooming out to see the macro to understand how it functions: who plays a role, who designs it, who controls what, what are the forces at play, the tensions, the rules and regulations, how this affects the users of the space physically and psychologically, what and where the boundaries are, how one part relates to another part and what weaves in-between. In this way, the work is both socially and environmentally engaged.


You have talked a little bit already about the technology you are using to capture and create your environments, how does progress in technology expand the possibilities of your work?

Indirectly, perhaps. As the equipment becomes more compact, lighter and cheaper, it has allowed me to work in ways that might have been difficult for female artists say 30 years ago, working on their own or with a small team. Some shoots would not have been possible with very large, heavy and intrusive equipment, for example the shots on the night buses in Sleep Walk Sleep Talk were only achievable because the equipment was discreet.

In the installation Sleep Walk Sleep Talk, you present a kind of portrait of the city but it seems to be strangely empty of people. The architecture of London, developments (including the Shard being built), transport and surveillance; all seem to be a focal point. What vision of the city were you interested in portraying? 

When I was making SWST, I was really interested in the ideas of the Metabolists from Tokyo in the 1960’s, who pictured the modern city not in terms of its architectural forms, functions or inhabitants but as a complex environment where different rhythms can be observed. The rate at which things moved: the transport system and the even faster still, communication system; yet the buildings remain static whilst their shadows revolve. I was interested in this critique of modernism and it’s favouring of acceleration, and our place within it: how we inhabit the urban environment and how it inhabits us, as well as the forces at play in the physical environment which have a profound effect on our behaviour and our emotions.

During that period, as I walked around the city at night, I often had the feeling that my every footstep had already been anticipated. Of course, this is partly true as urban spaces are often conceived in great detail by urban designers: discreet details in the fabric of the space welcome or discourage certain groups or activities. But I never feel this when I am in the countryside and this has made me very interested in notions of freedom in a city.

In what ways are you interested in how technology and developments have changed this city, and our relationship to it? 

I think it’s very difficult to live in this city and not feel that everything changes very fast. The urban environment is always changing and our relationship with it is transient. I think technology has helped shaped the city and accelerated the speed in which the changes take place. I remember feeling surprised at the rate in which New London Bridge House (where some of the scenes in Sleep Walk Sleep Talk were filmed) was demolished and the process in which it disappeared – one level at a time, seemingly without creating any debris. When a huge building disappears in a matter of weeks, this changes your relationship with the city in quite fundamental ways. The city also exerts a kind of boldness, through technology we can build very tall buildings and it has become a global competition to see who can build the tallest. It seems so much about how much we can overcome nature.


There is a dichotomy in your work, between the urban and the rural, what’s your particular interest in this opposition?

There are many dichotomies explored in my work and this is a strategy I use to explore how we come to see and understand the world, to see how many things have no inherent or unchanging value by themselves, and to recognize that meaning is often derived from its juxtapositions. For example: light and dark, movement and stasis, permanence and impermanence; it’s difficult to understand one without the other. Both states are important and do not always present themselves in the manner in which we expect.  In my most recent film, Still point, we feel a sense of stillness when the camera is moving and when the camera is static, we feel so much movement. We tend to think of things in a dualistic manner but what are the nuances in between? Where does one start and the other end?

My interest in the urban and the rural perhaps started with movement. Firstly, my own migration when I was a child to Oxford, UK. And also later on in life, becoming aware of other people’s migrations and that as we become more ‘connected’ what happens in the urban environment affects the rural and vice versa.

The city and the countryside initiate very different fantasies. I am simultaneously attracted to and repelled by both the urban and the rural, and I find myself often being in one place and longing for another. These feelings have influenced the way I explore belonging and the nature of our habitation of the world in my work.

The group exhibition you are in, PLURAL, is focused on human aspiration. How do you feel yourself and your work relating to this? 

I think aspiration, as well as imagination, are very important to the development of our personal and group identity – to aspire to, and imagine what is currently not the case. It is a very powerful driving force. We aspire to something more or something else, so we leave the place we may be familiar with in search for something better in an unfamiliar and possibly alienating place. Many of the security guards who I interviewed for Sleep Walk Sleep Talk, who happen to be Ghanaian, have very high aspirations and that is why they have moved here. Even if it looks like they are doing a job with few prospects, inside their heads there are so many plans and aspirations. All aspirations are important, whether it is to travel to the moon as a nation or to obtain a college certificate in English. We sometimes forget that, particularly with the recent backlash against immigrants. We may fall short of our aspirations, but without it, human beings would be in a static place. Michelangelo is quoted as having said, “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Throughout my practice, I think I’ve always aspired to do things that challenge me and as soon as I feel comfortable, whether with a medium or particular modes of production, I usually move on.