A Case for Art in the Moment
Illustration by Himarni Brownsword
The major gallery shows in London broadly shape culture and taste, meanwhile smaller events are not given the same value but are equally as important. Art on a community-scale and experimental events have always had a greater impact on me than any exhibition at the Tate or Royal Academy, and I have found greater inspiration at live events or club nights than with a beautiful sculpture or painting. Those institutions are beginning to appeal more to youth cultures and Millenials with an increasing number of gallery ‘lates’ which are more instantly gratifying with the multi-sensory experiences on offer. One example of a move in the right direction is Turner-Prize winning artist Mark Leckey’s major exhibition at Tate Britain ‘O’ Magic Power of Bleakness’ which ran for the second half of 2019, which gave me a new conception for interdisciplinary art. A demand for instant gratification among generations must not be sneered at, live events or art performances are intellectually stimulating, and a greater expression of how we live consumer culture in the modern today.
From my initial fascination with Leckey's Tate show, I was excited to see the artist engaging with alternative formats for communicating his art, such as a recent appearance as the supporting act for electronic musician Klein at the Camden Underworld last month. Klein’s label, Hyperdub records hosts nights at Corsica Studios in Elephant & Castle, the Ø (pronounced ‘Zero’) series pairs art performance and media with pioneering DJs. In January Kode9 played all night accompanied by visual artist Lawrence Lek’s new feature-length film Aidol, with mesmerising results. These two events proved to me that art in the urban nightlife works because it is an important space for experiment and practice.
Leckey’s performance at the Camden Underworld evoked the same unsettling emotions as The large-scale Tate exhibition that constructed a version of the motorway bridge on the M53 near Birkenhead, Merseyside, where the artist grew up. In the gallery space played three of Leckey’s films; Under Under In (2019), Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), and Dream English Kid 1964–1999 AD (2015). In an interview with Dazed magazine, Leckey says the exhibition is about how post-war architecture can be intense and depressing but possess a magic in this aura. Under Under In is filmed on iPhones and CCTV footage to capture a group of boys huddled under the motorway bridge, dressed in Nike and Adidas outfits adapted in a medieval style, they breathe-in car fumes and sniff lighter fluid which induced weird magical encounters when one of the group seems to become possessed. The show was captivating and the crowd as a mass watching in the vast space would follow the projections and films across the room. The Leckey show was unlike anything I’d seen at a major institution because it was fully immersive, theatrical and impactful. The three films were not an art overload, and there was no confusion about the display. Leckey employed the same directness at the Klein gig, but in a different setting, the art became even more resonant.
Leckey’s work is often described as a nostalgic and fractured memory, this feeling was condensed and elevated at the Klein gig, which had a full audience standing shoulder-to-shoulder, eagerly anticipating the main act, and totally entranced by Leckey, dressed in an Assassin’s Creed-esque Nike outfit, narrating over dissonant sounds mixed live with inverted fragmented footage from Under Under In (2019) projected on stage. At the Camden Underworld Leckey walked the line between ambient music and art installation carefully, which curated an experience more intimate than at Tate. Leckey was a perfect warm-up for Klein who appeared on stage with flashing strobe lighting and levitating on a contraption like those used by street performers, tap dancers moved around her, and the lighting suddenly flooded red. The ambiance created by Leckey was not lost, and the audience remained still and focused on the visual display, but as Klein began with her music the crowd began to dance to the unusual samples and respond to Klein’s energy and entertaining presence on stage. The relationship between the performer and the audience in this setting means both possess an appreciation and thoughtfulness alongside the entertainment which is not present at most music events or art shows respectively.
Klein produced her 2017 EP Tommy with the Hyperdub label. Curated by DJs ShannenSP and Hyperdub founder Kode9, Ø takes place monthly at Corsica Studios and presents its audience with a similarly experimental and forward-thinking experience with the addition of ‘The Zone’ where artists and performers show work (Leckey screened Dream English Kid 1964–1999 AD in early 2019). Hyperdub was founded by Steve Goodman a.k.a Kode9, who gained a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Warwick University where he was a member of the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit (CCRU) that advanced techno-orientalism theory and experiment; elements of this background seep into Hyperdub’s repertoire to add another dimension - you can simply dance to the hypermodern music, or you can get lost in the theory.
The night I attended Ø was on the rare occasion that Kode9 performs, this time alongside visual artist Lawrence Lek’s new feature-length film AIDOL. Lek’s video essay Sinofuturism (2016) explores the history of China and its role and perception in the modern-day. Touching on AI and Western anxieties over China, Lek’s practice discusses the same themes central to Goodman’s CCRU studies, which sees Ø take on new meaning when the artwork and Kode9 are charged with layered meaning. Trained as an architect, Lek’s virtual reality worlds are constructed using video game software to create magnificent settings. The deliberate use of echo, reverb, and stereo effects in ambient techno induce a sense of spatiality which is amplified by the ideas and sense of virtual space and simulation introduced in Lek’s film. AIDOL follows the story of popstar Diva who is looking to reignite her music career using the help of an AI songwriter. The physical display of Lek film in a club is art being communicated through more visceral channels; the same atmosphere and intensity of the music and the setting could not be replicated in a gallery, though Leckey at the Tate came close.
The event will be archived on Facebook, immortalised through photos and videos posted on Instagram, and then the ephemera will be digital too when Instagram stories 24 hours later disappear. It is difficult in a social media age to experience the moment fully. I took a few recordings of Kode9 to remember how insanely good it was, but haven’t gone back to listen because of the terrible quality. I regret only taking one recording of Klein’s performance but was so lost in the moment. I’m not arguing for people to put their phones away when something is happening live, but I think more value should be given to live art events because it encourages exploration of new experiences and places, and an appeal to all the senses.
Art forms are changing for the better. When an event occurs, if done right it can resonate with maximum effect. Gallery spaces are not accessible and efforts to deliver art to the public in new, exciting and effective ways is slow. Ø is a strong example of a changing force, that I hope will be noticed outside of the music industry and by in-the-know artistic groups, and be picked up by an institution with more funding that can respect the cultural value. Art will defy and parody the gallery space but all too often submits to existing solely in the white cube or a collector’s home. Artists can and do find sustenance outside of the art market parameters. Leckey performs in support of Klein because of an optimism for creativity in new art, audiences and spaces. This transforming and evolving vanguard is finding its footing underground. Underground art and music is no new revelation but it is nonetheless refreshing to see serious experimental music, performance, and film existing without gallery-backing, alive and immediate because of its ephemerality.