Artists from Palestine don’t need to go looking for subject matter and daily reduce complexity to concrete materiality in order to exist. Smart and sophisticated, already working against type, seasoned in circuitousness and daring directness, they’re delivering some of the most intriguing art of our times.
This is why her films feel so casually alert; they resemble in content and their form how we live and make now; the promiscuous solutions of our common workworlds. This is true of her apparently bookish essays too, rewilded by serial fragmentation… It is work I feel fierce kinship with, but it is also kinship-at-work in the unfenced present.
1/Index Cards collects fifteen of the essays Moyra Davey has published since 2003 into a single volume for the first time. Two began as talks; most of the others generated the self-narrated voice-overs of her films, of which i confess is the tenth since Hell Notes in 1990. Usually, Davey’s texts appear in busily illustrated volumes with modest print-runs to accompany the films, which have become annual productions. The latest example of that is I Confess, which marked her new film and retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2020. Index Cards, however, is a definite departure with its twenty-seven small black and white images cleverly punctuating 264 pages.
2/ Davey is primarily a visual artist and ‘a maker not a thinker’, she says, but her outputs dissolve such distinctions. Born in Toronto in 1958, she enrolled in the Whitney Programme in 1989 when it was at its most theoretically proscriptive. Critical discourses around the politics of representation constrained her relationship to the body in image-making for many years. This is a frequent reference, even central thread, of her writings and films in their anxious, whittling and iterative way. For a decade or so her photographic images have taken the form of aerograms; printed, folded, taped and posted C-prints (35 x 45 cm), opened-out and assembled on gallery walls where they own a frugal worldliness.
3/ Davey returns obsessively to quotidian elements; the ‘general squalor of the domestic scene’  as she says; dust and disrepair, heaped possessions and papers, as well as text; images of highlighted quotes, books in whole or part; The Private Diaries of Stendhal being relieved of lavic dust; words and names inked by the artist’s hand, blown up from receipts or the correspondence of Alice B Toklas, ornate letters from the first Greek edition of the Iliad set in moveable type. These intersperse with cyclical images of herself, her sisters, undergrad-age son and friends, and dogs and horses – all naked by degrees.
Moyra Davey, Nine Photographs from Paris (Group 1) (mailers), 2009, inkjet print on Fuji Film Crystal Archive Paper with ink, tape and postage stamps, 30 × 45 cm, courtesy of the artist
‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ deserves so much more than wilful bewilderment from cocky white art critics with an obsolete worldview. It is the most inspiring show I have seen in London for years, linking, seeding and growing into all the physical and intellectual, desiring and imaginary dimensions of life post-2020.
Cameron Rowland has a distinctive way with titles of exhibitions, land and property, which he demonstrates with great impact in his current ICA exhibition. I caught it in February before the pandemic hit, and before George Floyd was lynched and British broadcasters responded to Black Lives Matter protests in London and Bristol by asking what they had to do with events five thousand miles away. And also before I read white, male art critics carping about the work not being legible enough for them, missing its fine detail, crystallised opacities and actual substantiveness but dismissing it as paperwork-about-paperwork anyway. This is the significantly over-entitled worldview that Rowland takes apart in an exhibition that already was – and will re-open as – the most exhilarating show of 2020 in London.
Rowland’s ‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ might have been designed as a final riposte to the ‘five thousand miles away’ sleight about slavery and its ongoing legacies. However, there is more than that at work in this exhibition of small but not minor objects, and expansively quasi-epistemological works that foreground judgement. ‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ generates a very particular eschatological arrest. While it delivers on the level of affect, it also addresses a further rhetorical question put by Saidiya Hartman when declaring herself ‘agnostic’ about one-way struggles over reparation.  The answer is that slavery, the transportation of at least twelve million people as chattel from west Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, was a Crime Against Humanity, as presently constituted and understood. I have written about Ariella Aisha Azoulay’s rigorous problematising of pseudo-humanitarian laws,  and this exhibition entangles itself with legal declarations that were loaded and abused. Yet Atlantic slavery was a crime on the largest conceivable scale, a crime that remains unprosecuted and for which only the perpetrators were compensated at ‘abolition’ in ways that continue to accrue benefits.
In a guest post (for the Green Party, 6 December 2020), Guy Mannes-Abbott celebrates Tree Week with stories of the Foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa), one of many species that make up the Heygate Legacy. He led what became a community campaign to force Southwark Council and developers Lendlease to recognise the public welfare or commons value of the urban forest of 458 trees on the old Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle.
Early in the first lockdown this year I decided to tweet a Tree of the Day from my @leaftoleaf account; images and notes about a new network of trees that I had an intimate relation with in my neighbourhood. Those trees included Persian ironwood and silk trees, Indian bean and horse-chestnut trees, oaks, hornbeams and field maples, black pines and poplars, and the trusty London plane in estates, streets and parks centring on the Elephant and Castle.
Danh Vo, Photographs of Dr. Joseph M. Carrier 1962–1973, 2010 Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Nick Ash
London’s Urban Forest; an Art of the Ongoing
By Guy Mannes-Abbott 23 May 2020
It’s the third Urban Tree Festival in London and I’ve been asked to write about what it means to celebrate and make art from a tree or trees in the South London Gallery’s world [for* the SLG; thank you! LINK]. I take the latter territory to have been tagged by William Blake, long-term resident of Lambeth’s Hercules Road, between the dark satanic mills of endlessly churning capital at Blackfriars Bridge and trees on Peckham Rye which hosted the angels of his creative resilience.
What is a tree, though? It’s an ontological question I’d like to prune into handy shape so that we can attend to the intangible qualities which enliven and expand more recognisably concrete ones. The tree as a rooted object is a marvel, of course, but it is so much more than that on multiple ecological, political, and cultural registers; smells and ‘looks’, rhizomatic roots and crowns, as well as an embedded commons. London is now formally classified as a continuous urban forest, which adds another dimension to its ambient realms, remembrances of things past and unlikely future hopes.
My first association is with Danh Vo’s landmark survey exhibition at the SLG in September 2019, and the related show at Marian Goodman Gallery. Common to both was the timber from a plantation of Black Walnut trees gifted to Vo by Craig McNamara, son of Robert the gung-ho Defence Secretary during the Vietnam War. When Vo acquired some of the latter’s effects to work with, Craig made an approach which grew into one of Vo’s many miraculous friendships. Art critical responses to the work lingered on the woody odours in both galleries, and I remember a tangy encounter with a room dressed in walnut to display a collection of ambiguous photographs of Vietnamese men and boys.
Mourid Barghouti (مريد البرغوثي) died in Amman on Sunday 14th February, and is survived by his and Radwa Ashour’s son Tamim, to whom I offer my love and heartfelt condolences.
Mourid made this series of humble recordings between June and September 2020, reading a range of his poems in their own language. I was struck by each of them as they appeared, appreciating them for what they are, recognising many but more than that recognising the remarkable man, poet and memoirist in the voice and many gestures that were so very Mourid.
“Powerful and unconstrained conceptual and poetic tools establish the shorelines of Khalili’s sea, then, and it is here that global capitalism takes its tightly woven place. Sinews narrows its focus to the northerly Indian Ocean world, the Arabian and Red Seas, as well as the Persian Gulf itself … a stimulating read and a surefooted introduction to the subject, with deep pockets of research.”
Laleh Khalili announces the raison d’être of her new book, as well as its primary call on our attention, in the second sentence; ‘Ninety per cent of the world’s goods travel by ship’.  Within this overwhelming figure, 70 per cent of global cargo by value is carried by container ships, and 60 per cent of oil trade travels by sea. The resulting system of marine transportation is not, she continues, ‘an enabling adjunct of trade but is central to the very fabric of global capitalism’ (p 3). Sinews of War and Trade traces the histories of a fast-developing present, now centred on China as the ‘factory of the world’ and the Arabian peninsula as the infrastructural heart of flows through post-Independence era ports, with ‘Dubai’s Jabal Ali foremost among them’ (p 2).
Late summer 2019 -a plague and a bit ago- I conducted a written exchange with McKenzie Wark around Capital is Dead which was published in TANK magazine’s Autumn Issue. It was a privilege to do and peculiarly intimate as well as inherently exploratory if not aleatory. Wark’s work has a promiscuousness which I wanted to engage across its liberating range, and more clearly establish what that is. I had not been the interviewer rather than interviewee for a decade and it happened to take place during Wark’s transitioning; she later remarked upon the strangeness and no doubt unwelcome intrusiveness of this first interview…
TANK is a wonder for having the capacity for a piece like this and the process produced some interesting digressions, which distracted from the main conversatonal thrusts and so we nipped them out. I was seeking dissolution -if not end- points of certain intellectual trails (some of which Wark set out on in her General Intellects series, which emerged from her teaching practice), towards the muddying world of rivers and related planetary concerns and work of my own through this period. I’m always interested in where lines of thought and allegiance spill over or expire…
(UPDATE; Next day, I am very unsure if this works; it’s intended to share these close ups/visual notes as lightly as possible. I may have failed! If so, please scroll down to the two ID mag links, which are excellent. I may delete this virtually private reflection on further reflection, and after all…)
Nope, not going to do that. That thing of taking up public space out there with nice-white-guy thoughts on Basquiat. I’ve had my (notional) chances after all! When Boom for Real came to London’s Barbican in 2017, after very few actual opportunities to write (the UK could not distinguish him/his work from the celebrity-gloss-at-a-distance around him/it), I realised it was too late. Definitely, definitively; I should not be writing about him or it, positively or negatively. No more white intros to be essayed. Tricky, but I’m not being nice about being a nice-white-guy, it’s just done (which ought to preclude publicly saying so nice-whitely at one’s next book event/or panel, no?).