Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Richard Billingham : The Zoo

Today I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak to the (once Cradley Heath based) artist Richard Billingham of Saatchi & Young British Artist (YBA) fame. He gave a talk about his work to a selection of staff & students at Halesowen College, where he used to go. During the talk he talked about his early paintings, and the photos of his family, urban exteriors and zoo photos and videos.

It seems painting was his initial interest in art, and as a small child he would sit and draw in his parents flat. When he managed to get a camera from a club book (which he never paid for) he used it to start taking photos of his father, as studies for his painting. As he continued, his interest in photography and people's reception to it developed, and he was lucky enough to get a deal through a visiting lecturer at Sunderland Uni where he was studying with a publisher, which (i think) became 'Ray's a laugh'.

I asked him what his parents thought of his photos, he said they were pretty much indifferent. He'd drawn all his life and then started to take photos of them. One of the few that that they did not like was this one of them eating;

Many of his lesser known, early photos contained staged actions (which was news to my ears). Above the flat his parents lived in, lived a guy he called 'the hippy' who would bring his alchoholic and jobless father Ray, litres of superstrength homebrew. While there, 'the hippy' had a tendency to pose for the camera, resulting in some bizarre pictures such as one with him threatening Ray with a knife and a hammer, in a comic and slightly disturbed image, while Ray stands there looking rather forlorn. I asked if he felt part of the space or detached while he took the photos. He seemed to say he felt part of it, but maintained some detachment, presumably for artistic insight.

Billingham's younger brother had been taken into care and Billingham contacted him "to see what he looked like". Billingham also mentioned he was in a way jealous of his brother and "wished I'd been taken into care too". His brother eventually moved back home after having his A level application form was ripped up by his foster parents in case he acheived higher than their children. Billingham seemed to value education and stated that it had got him where he was now. His brother seemed to enjoy playing up for the camera, resulting in the following recognisable image of Ray having a cat thrown at him:

Billingham's photo's of Zoo's were interesting. Although I found his videos much more so. He said he now used video more frequently than still photography, and his videos of animals showed very sad, and unhappy repetetive behaviour by them.

I couldn't help (at the danger of sounding possibly a tad aloof and cruel) but feel a strong link between his Zoo photography and his early family shots. The Zoo images showed saddened animals in cages or run down pens, unable to escape and trapped in a cycle of unhappy repetetive behaviour. The figure trapped in an environment was similar and the mood also; Billingham as the photographer - the sympathetic but objective onlooker.

He said he liked the movement in a video of a squirrel bounding endlessly left to right in a cage - he was interested in the image, but was disinterested in 'the zoo debate'. He seemed to see video almost as a moving painting, and distinguished art-video from TV or cinema, most notably by a confinement of narrative and lack of editing.

On BBC TV I saw his film 'Fishtank' and have always been bemused by a long and dizzying scenewith his brother playing with a small battery-powered ferrit & ball toy, dodging endlessly across the floor, but after seeing the zoo videos of phychologically distraught animals, this kind of made sense in a weird way.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Noise, Out and AV Art

Well lovely to have a week off work, although it really dosn't feel like I've done much. Time for an update then I suppose on the life of young Ben. Actually I seem to have done quiet a bit...

Hmmm.... I finally bought 2 tiny CCTV cameras (which I've been meaning to do for ages) and spent a day taping them to my head, hands and guitar and then projecting the result on the wall - much fun. I linked up with Concrete Belly for his gig at The Rainbow the next day (Feb 3rd) and intended to do the same for him, but he ended up being ushered on stage while I was at the bar, so never got chance to truly wire him up. We did project a view of him tweeking his knobs, changing pedals and messing with his modified toys above him which looked cool and he played a wicked set of noise, drones and grunge influenced soundscapes. Also nice to hear some new elements of dub and sub-bass working into his new stuff.

It was good to finally see Meet me in St.Louis, sadly minus their vocalist but still pretty amazing. If only the bands would have stuck around to watch each other then the audience would have been better. Good on It's Just Noise for continually putting on great events with genuinely great, talented and surprising new music.

I intended to use the mini-cams at the next Jazz Thrash Assassin gig at Bar Academy and tape them to both Splak & Walt's mics, but I ended up taking loadsa gear down there and realised that that back wall of the stage is a glass window out onto the street so wouldn't really be that great anyway. Bit of a non-story there. Anyway, Last Chance at Rampton were immense once again, and nice enough to gimme a free cd too. Last chance are intense live - angry, tight as fook and threaten to tear your face off should you venture to close.

The guys from The Fairytale were friendly and bought a JTA CD after hearing just one track in soundcheck! They put on a good show after Last Chance, which we understand is pretty intimidating - we followed them at our debut show.. man that was a kick up the arse. Gig was well funny anyways and Anna was on form, she emerged at one point from the ladies wearing a toilet roll hat. I will say no more. She crazy. Thanks to the peeps who came down - you nuts! :D

Went to see a play in Reading which made a nice change,but totally missed out my opportunity to see the musical squirrel's video installation I worked on with Juneau/Projects/ that is installed at the Marksman Gallery which runs until March 8th. Maybe I should go back..

Had a soundtoy created for Juneau lads installed in Birmingham museum and Art Gallery (gallery 20) as part of the Essence - Through the Fretwork show. The piece is a Santur - a virtual instrument you can play through a touchscreen. Brian Duffy (of Modified Toy Orchestra fame) is also involved in the show and produced some music by 'completing' a kids keyboard which had never had it's asian scale connected. Apparently the show is going to Tate Britain next!

After the show the Crowd6 gang and I were hussled by a self-proclaimed 'Piss Artist' - some homeless guy who could have easily been a performance artist in retrospect, were he not obviously off his head. Anyway he wandered into the bar and sat himself down next to me, and prodeeded to insult people with perculiar 3 year old insults like 'celery head' (?!) and then do a portrait picture of them. So he takes the piss, then does you some art, hence 'Piss Artist'. Better add a dose of alcholism to that too I suppose.

After that I was introduced to a guy called Dave who was playing a banjo.. and to cut a long story short, I missed my bus, a random German got his tackle out, and me and Dave figured that the world was just getting too weird and so hit the Tap & Spile for refreshments.

Bloody hell, I'm having to refer to my rather useful 30boxes online calendar to work out where life took me next.. apparently it was Hott Date at the Rainbow which was flippin' amazing as always. I had to laugh at the live Blind Date piss-take. Well funny. I met the lovely Charlie Levine there and Tony Blair's son apparently. Speaking of Ms.Levine - her curated show Step (mentioned in previous blog) has a closing party at Crowd6 this friday in Bearwood.

I also had the oportunity to get to Walsall Art Gallery where the Juneau lads have a music studio in progress - you can go and record tracks as part of their residency. Had chance to chat over a few ideas with the guys and was actually inspired to produce a set of soundtoy multimedia experiments that mix noises in different ways.

Here's one for you to play with - Turn Your Speakers On!!; SOUND TOY

And heres an old one i made just for fun:

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Adventures in Art

Crowd6 held a show the other day in Bearwood called 'Step' currated by Charlie Levine. The premise of the show being that in order to view art works need to be seen independantly of each other so as to avoid contamination from other works. Thus the show is split into 3 steps. Each 'step' replacing the single work of art with a new one which is the only piece in the space.

The first offering is from Will Clifford, a bottom-lit plinth with what appears to be a small plastic cup set on top. The cup is actually created by layering paint inside it then, finally, removing the cup to leave the cup-shaped painting. It's quite striking in the small space especially as the plinth is the only source of light in the evening.

There's a crit on the piece tonight at the gallery at 7pm if your interested. Step2 is Beverley Holden (8th - 14th Feb), Step3 is Caitlin Griffiths (15th - 21st Feb)

Well anyways after the Private View people made their way over to the becoming-ever-so-familiar Snooker hall over the road for drinks, and a good mate of mine turned up and decided, since we were there he'd take full advantage of whipping my ass at snooker, and did. As we played, we noticed the occassional person would dissapear or appear from a small door at the back of the large hall. So, naturally, we decided to explore ;P and after making our way through a small adjecent pool hall found ourselves wandering down a small flight of stone stairs into what seemed to be a cellar, where we found a room with a large glass window.

Through the glass we could observe a room of teenagers carrying each other around piggy back, there was also a drum kit, and a dwarf speaking into a microphone. They didn't seem to notice us, I have no idea if the glass was one-way or not, but we watched for a bit, then left.. before they started speaking backwards. After this, we rode an armchair back home, across the ice.