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.
I stumbled upon two folders that I have not seen/touched for maybe 15 years and found a lot of nice things; postings from Sebastian Horsley, exhibition cards/list from Birch & Conran, the Basquiat publications from Serpentine Gallery 1996, a letter of departure from Grant Watson, a copy of UNDERCUT the London Filmmakers’ Coop magazine, number 17 with transcriptions of the entire Cultural Identities 4-day screenings/discussion from 1986 (w Jean Rouch, Black Audio, Sankofa, Rose, Spivak, Mercer, Gidal…), other catalogues of The Music of Cornelius Cardew at SBC (Fri. 13 Dec 1991), from Nicola Durvasula and Liza May Post…
Murtaza Vali Artists & Audiences Photo G Mannes-Abbott
CLICK on image to link to SAF & more images or read on below…
Murtaza Vali moderated another of the central panels during this March Meeting; Artists and Audiences. One which spoke from the UK, the USA/Dubai, Palestine, Taiwan and Qatar to an audience far more diverse in its locations. Vali spoke of a radical “rethinking of the artwork as a situation that requires an audience to complete it”, something which new media has helped generate as well as being some of its sites. As he said, this raises many issues but “the really big one [is] what is it exactly that we mean by the word audience?” If audience activates the artwork then how does the artist/artwork/institution ‘activate’ the audience? How is theory made new practice?
It’s a tough question which the panel bounced around but didn’t ‘dunk’. Louise Hui-Juan Hsu from the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, Taiwan, for example, reminded us that the “translator in this case, is beyond the translation of words”. Abed al Ju’beh, who runs the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre in Ramallah, Palestine, spoke of the singularity of his literally captive audience. I’d not seen him since the leaving party at his home in the South-east of England 5-6 years ago when he took up this post. Ramallah is at the heart of a giant open air prison where, he said, the audience comes looking for confirmation of their existence. It’s an audience which the Sakakini reaches out to with a residency programme strictly for local artists. Continue reading “notes from a meeting, on throwing forth – artists and audiences [day two pt1]”→
I finally made it back to see Cerith’s show at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard which is, I want to emphasise, just off Piccadilly in central London. The show closes on May 22 and I urge you to drop by to catch a stunning and substantial installation of recent works which makes the space live so well that it claims possession of it.
My hopes were high for this show but I had to rush through an opening that was as busy as you might expect to be somewhere else. As a result I didn’t quite trust my impression that CWE had drawn all the currents in his work together into something quite so winningly complete. That is -at its most elemental- influence and intellect, taste and fancy all deliver something complex here that is coherent only as visual art. It’s clarified resonance would justify permanent -or DIA-style- installation in the site.
A peculiarly all over the place month made returning impossible, but the work lingered and I had to see it again especially if I were to scribble something here…