So did you miss me or what? New Mac, back online, fucking sweet. So where was I? Oh yeah - the current exhibition at Kraak - Lost Language. If you're in or around Manchester you really should take a look - you're going to regret it if you don't. Maybe not now but give it a year or two. That should be all you need but if you really want persuasion wrap your eyes round this:
When you first enter the space the impression is that it is sparse and empty. The works are up against the walls or out of sight in hidden areas. The next impression is of voices. Singing speaking and wailing voices from all directions help to create a perhaps mildly unsettling atmosphere.
I'll take you round the space clockwise as that seems to be the direction most people tackle it. Louise Woodcock's piece is the source of some of the disturbing sounds - slowed down moans and wails. But the sounds are only part of it, an accompaniment to the large woollen biomorphic form hung in the centre of the small space it's in. Like a combination of heart, kidney, stomach and intestines grotesquely enlarged it reaches from the ceiling to the floor where it coils rounds. And the form curiously appears much simpler than it is.
The next artist is Gary Fisher, but at this stage easily missed, so I'll return to him later. It'll make sense then. Probably.
What you actually notice are the pieces from Debbie Sharp and Graham Dunning. Debbie's pieces are four photographs arranged in pairs attached to pillars. Each pair consists of a photograph of a public bench, with a small brass plaque reading In Memory attached to the picture frame, and facing that, what appears to be the view from each bench. What the memory might be, or the significance of the benches and views is unclear from the pictures. There's an explanation of sorts in the catalogue, but really your understanding of the piece is dependent on what you bring to it.
This is perhaps what I was driving at when I was talking about Lou's woollen biomorphic form appearing simpler than it is. It's also true of any art. But I think this particular exhibition is more dependent on you doing the work yourself than many I've seen. Whatever the themes of the exhibition or the individual works the overriding impression is of work that's self-contained, self confident and makes no concessions to the lazy viewer. And work which is mainly low-key.
Graham's piece on the floor behind Debbie's consists of three old reel-to-reel tape players, which on closer inspection are not plugged in or turning. But they are producing sounds. Mostly singing. Children and untrained singers offering versions of rock n roll tunes, blues tunes, and other half-remembered fragments. They may have some relation to the tapes on the players but once more this is never clarified one way or another. Be careful if you spend a long time in the gallery - and I'd advise that you do - having spent two days invigilating I've found some of the tunes lodging in my mind and returning throughout the week when I'm in work. It's a welcome distraction, even if I don't particularly like the tune.
Lucy Campbell's Hair is next. A short film without sound that shows women brushing and cutting their hair. But there's somehow something unsettling and odd about it. Perhaps just the fact that such a simple everyday activity is foregrounded, perhaps that the women are only shown from behind, or perhaps that the film is so affectless. Not only are the women not objectified, not watched in the way we see in so much cinema, they're barely present. Everything on screen feels unreal, as though you can't actually see it, as though it never happened.
Jennifer McDonald's installation is both the simplest idea in the exhibition and the most complex. It could also be the most obvious, but I think it manages not to be. It's simple because it's a set of screens or walls on a cross-shaped floor plan, tall enough to stand up in, wide enough to walk into, with a roof too it, and draped with a heavy, fitted red cloth through which you can enter the dark space inside. Not entirely dark. There is a cross-shaped hole in the centre of the ceiling, and some light comes through the red cloth across it. It's complex because - well, it's a complex and time-consuming build. The inside walls have chicken wire through which sticks are laced from floor to ceiling. The ceiling too is woven with sticks. The centre, the arm of the cross you enter through, and the arm facing it are dimly lit. The two arms at right angles to these are surprisingly dark. You can stand or sit in the centre, reach out a hand and touch the end of either arm, but not see it. The effect is both unsettling and calming. I spent some time sat in the centre of the (surprisingly warm) space. It's almost like an ideal den - the kind of hide-out you dream of making as a child but never quite manage. The obviousness is in the shape, the allusion to Christianity. But then what's actually being said about Christianity, if anything? There is something distinctly feminine about the installation, something that seems quite at odds with the way we've come to view Christianity as hierarchical and male dominated.
From here we move to secular rituals. Andrew Locke's video piece shows two films side by side. In one lights spin above a darkened, empty dance floor. In the other a man dances alone in the middle of a sunny field. And when I say dances this is not the kind of dancing in Sam Taylor-Wood's Brontosaurus for instance. This is a particularly awkward, confined and shuffling dance that you might do in a nightclub. Especially if you're sober. Meanwhile on headphones alongside there's a soundtrack of dance music.
Rebecca Taylor's work I find hardest to make anything of. On the face of it it's pretty simple. A board with three moulded oval plastic shapes, one above the other. Within these transparent moulds are a collection small objects, including foam, what appear to be mushrooms, thread, and more. These are lit from behind. They give the impression of wombs, of things growing, but it's hard to make any sense of the objects selected.
Then it's Gary Fisher again. But it's just a speaker on the floor. Except there's a wire that runs under the floorboards. And you remember previously, where Gary was marked before there was a box of something or other with a that ran under the floorboard. But there's nothing coming from the speaker. So you walk back across the floor, and there somewhere between the two there are loose floorboards. One of those loose floorboards is louder than the others, amplified out through the speaker. But not so loud that it's immediately attention grabbing. You could miss it if you weren't paying attention. It's just that little bit louder, just a slight modification.
Kate Hughes' photographs show her in costumes performing different jobs, but somehow unreal. A combination of high gloss and quotidia. I'm also reminded of Heaven 17 and their deadpan take on eighties political and social mores that at the time were taken as genuinely supporting everything they attacked. I guess the link here is that while the roles portrayed are poorly paid - railway engineer, nurse, clerical worker - they also have a certain authority. They represent worlds from which you may feel estranged.
The influence of going back to reading The Morning Star - I almost launched into a political rant about the way New Labour and the previous Tory administration broke apart and privatised so many public services. The way they have destroyed communities and replaced them with self-interest and consumption. The way that through PFI even those socially valuable services that remain are often partly run by private companies, in infrastructure owned by private companies but paid for by tax-payers at a higher price than the public sector would have managed. Just as we rewarded financial institutions for their failures. Whoever you vote for, if you vote Tory you're voting for an even greater assault on public services.
Okay. Whether any of that is meant to be in Kate's work, or relates to it in any way is a moot point. Oh, and don't forget, the Tories were the party of Section 28. That's unforgivable. Just so you remember.
Anyway. Sorry. Helen Shanahan's video piece is next. On three screens three separate videos play. In the top screen two people (okay, Helen and Gary) carry out everyday tasks like washing dishes and messing with the outlet pipe from the sink. This film has sound - you can hear Helen and Gary talking, hear the water, hear the pans clanking. In the middle screen two people (okay, Helen and Gary) sleep, sometimes moving. This has been filmed at low speed and played back at normal speed, so movements are sped up. In the bottom screen two people (oh, you get the point) become entangled in wool at slower than normal speed. The colours here appear heavily treated, flesh tones yellow, the wool and the shadows a single deep blue, devoid of any internal detail. In these various scenes we get impressions of closeness, of tension, of being self-contained.
And that's it. There are performances and workshops next Saturday (17 April), and the exhibition closes after Friday 23. That means you have precisely two weeks to get down there, Monday to Saturday between 11am and 5pm. Go to Stevenson Square and face Hula Bar. Take the alley alongside on the right, then take the narrow alley that comes up on your left very quickly. Look to your left for the door and ring the bell. You'll be let in. For free! Which means you can afford the meagre £4 the catalogue will cost you. You see, now you've got no excuse.