As the heated embers of the summer sun are suddenly dashed with September’s miserable icy rain an unexpected feeling of excitement and elation is bestowed upon the city of Birmingham. Perhaps, this is due to influx of young fresh faced students at the start of a new academic year? Possibly. However the sudden rise of the Birmingham art scene has, with multiple projects and collaborations, become extremely successful. New exhibitions are being launched on mass and have stirred up a frenzy of artists and curators descending upon the derelict factories and industrial spaces to spearhead their ideas in to realities. It is here that one of the lesser known, and thoroughly underrated galleries operates. Grand Union is an artist run non-profit exhibition space. Their current exhibition NECROSPECTIVE, is an examination of violence and acting out within today’s society and how this is further portrayed within new age technology and the media. However the underlying theme of violence and conflict is beautifully orchestrated and pushed to the limits with the relationship between mediums and space.
Through the curating Thomas Johnson has explored in NECROSPECTIVE, Bauldrillard’s notion of science and technology produce objects and experiences that embody the “death drive” which Freud said is the drive towards death, self-destruction and to lead an organic life back into the inanimate state. Here it seems Johnson has focused his investigation of this hypothesis on the re-enactment of traumatic experiences through media outlets, which have become a technological infrastructure where violence and the abject have been displaced. At once the view is greeted by the eerie representational sculpture; It’s Uncanny (2008) of a car crash, unsure what to make of it and its reference, one is immediately drawn away from it to Alex Milne’s Riot Part 1 (Multiple Safe Riot 68) (2010) and Riot Part 2 (Ultra Safe Riot) (2010). This is a video projection on the wall behind, showing in a rather comical and tongue- in-cheek manner, a video depicting footage from riots on a back drop as a silhouette from a man in front of the screen joins in, mockingly, throwing chairs and bins at the screen and jumping around. But as soon as one reads past its comic superficial face value the work takes a tragic nose dive deep, deep in to the heart of social unrest. Recent times have seen social media being used in order to orchestrate and spread the word through disassociated youths throughout Britain. The riots sparked from the shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 are a prime example of this. It was obvious that these were people piggy backing on a separate matter in order to give reason for their acting out and allowing them to push the idea of protesting (arguably a democratic way of voicing social unrest) in to full scale rioting, the nation was a slave to dystopian guerrilla warfare.
However, one is far more removed from the philosophies and relationship to the theme through the rest of the work in the exhibition. Curator Thomas Johnson’s own work Mana (2008) shows a sonic assemblage consisting of a speaker set inside a fridge that perpetuates a low sonic boom irregularly. An exciting idea and engaging piece but one is really left to think. Another example is Murata’s Monster Movie (2008) an absurdly intriguing film about datamoshing. Datamoshing is the act of disturbance and disruption within a computer video that uses glitches on the screen to create a digital abstract expressionist type composition. Yet it also draws parallels to op art, producing a vast array of imagery for one to disarm in to a reality. Segregated from the rest of the exhibition in a small, darkened booth, Monster Movie is four minutes of droning acid rock infused with a mind melting colour pallet so psychedelic that watching its swirls and motions becomes so tantalisingly hypnotic and captivating that it borders on an addictive experience. Murata has used a section of the 1981 film Caveman underneath as a back drop that only adds to its surreal imagery, but how does it sit within the theme of the exhibition?
Suddenly one is awakened – it is the exhibition as whole where the conflict really arises. The works do not relate to each other, they are individual aesthetic forms and may well have similarities but only by coincidence. The work is representation of human beings. We are all fundamentally the same but we are all extremely different from one another in appearance and ideas, although we will find similarities with others. Like a heated debate or rivals chanting at a football match, the works abandon any sense of harmony in order to fight to make their views heard the loudest creating tension and animosity within the space. An act which itself is primal and laced with animistic violence far away from the democratic reasoning which has become the basis of 21st century life. It is now that this exhibition becomes incredibly surreal perhaps even beastly. The works in it clash under the dimly lit exhibition space, the sounds echo and crash in to each other causing unprecedented chaos all juxtaposed by the ever stillness of the mediums, the only movement is the flicker of television monitors and the cautious steps of the viewer as one delicately manoeuvre around this 21st century war zone.
Necrospective, runs until October 27, Grand Union, 19 Minerva Works, Fazeley Street, Birmingham, B5 5RS.
1. Motohiko Odani, Rompers, 2003, still from video, courtesy the artist and Yamamoto Gendai.