Mention that you’re off to a video art show and people will often wince on your behalf. The medium has a reputation for being turgid and pretentious, trapping visitors for hours in front of screens of incomprehensible nonsense. But ‘The Infinite Mix’, a new show created by the Hayward Gallery in conjunction with The Vinyl Factory is likely to change your mind. Filled with fresh and complex work, it proves that video art can truly be a force for our times.
As the Hayward is currently being refurbished, the show is held in The Store, a vast if slightly rundown building near Somerset House, which is being turned into an arts venue, with ‘The Infinite Mix’ its first show. Its size allows for the ten works here all to be given ample space and the presentation is impressive, with some of the more performance-based works able to truly show off. In OPERA (QM 15), for example, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster presents a Pepper’s ghost-style projection of herself as Maria Callas, lip-synching to three of Callas’ most famous arias. Appearing 30 metres from the viewer, she is ethereal and, initially at least, deceptively lifelike.
Ugo Rondinone also presents a theatrical piece, showing beat poet John Giorno (who appeared in Andy Warhol’s film Sleep) perform a humorous, emotional and bitchy version of THANX 4 NOTHING, a poem he wrote on his 70th birthday which looks back on his life. Giorno appears on large screens surrounding the viewers, as well as on smaller TV sets lining the floor, making it impossible to escape his frank, if heightened, performance.
Music links all the works here, and Martin Creed’s Work No. 1701 demonstrates clearly how a soundtrack can completely affect a film’s mood. His work shows people individually crossing the same New York street. All have varying degrees of mobility but perform the action without any supports, meaning that the final figure, who presumably would normally use a wheelchair, is shown shuffling slowly across on his bottom. The film is set to an upbeat, punk-like song performed by Creed’s band – had it been more moody or emotional, the resulting atmosphere may have felt unsettling, but instead it becomes a joyous dance that shows off the glorious variety and endurance of the human body.
Humour abounds elsewhere, with Stan Douglas presenting a six hour-long film depicting a fictional 1970s recording studio, showing a band performing an endless Afrobeat jam. It looks live but is in fact a carefully edited construction with Douglas recombining shots throughout to create the scene, which quickly takes on the appearance of a funky Spinal Tap.
Jeremy Deller has collaborated with Cecilia Bengolea to create Bom Bom’s Dream, a brilliant and surreal pop-tastic film following the Japanese dancer Bom Bom, who specialises in an impressive mix of gymnastics and twerking. The film journeys with her to Jamaica where she impresses in a local dancehall competition. Those visiting the show with Deller’s recent, poignant WW1 commemorative work We’re Here Because We’re Here in mind will experience a sharp gear change with this work, with the film more in keeping with the artist’s past examinations of fan culture.
Dance of a different kind is central to Cameron Jamie’s film Massage the History, which features low-fi footage of young men performing sexually charged dance moves on furniture in otherwise immaculate family homes. These scenes are intercut with found footage of violence from suburban American streets. The resulting piece is dreamlike and unsettling, again with the mood heightened by the use of music – Jamie has set the piece to the track Massage the History by Sonic Youth and the rock sits at odds with the young men’s hip hop grinding.
There are moments of arty pretension: Elizabeth Price’s K, which brings together footage of disparate objects, including a stop frame animation of the sun and a CGI animation of the production of nylon stockings, appears a little cold and impenetrable, and Rachel Rose’s film Everything and More, which matches narration from US astronaut David Wolf with scenes shot at a neutral buoyancy lab and then in an electronic music concert sits a little at odds with the other works here, despite how fascinating Wolf’s observations and the imagery are.
For me, the two most compelling works in ‘The Infinite Mix’ came from US filmmaker Kahlil Joseph and French artist Cyprien Gaillard. Joseph has received awards and renown for his music videos for the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, and FKA twigs. He teams up with Lamar again here, for a two-screen installation titled m.A.A.d, inspired by the musician’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city. Joseph’s style – which mixes beautifully shot, documentary style filmmaking, here chronicling the often-violent streets of Compton in LA, with surreal scenes – translates effortlessly into an art context, with the 15-minute work proving gripping throughout.
Gaillard’s work is discovered last, displayed in the building’s car park. He uses 3D filmmaking – a medium that until now has seemed resigned to blockbuster movies rather than anything more experimental – to great effect, depicting a number of abstract scenes, including a bomb-damaged sculpture in Cleveland, swaying trees in LA and fireworks over Berlin’s Olympiastadion. The imagery appears disparate but is in fact linked by themes of race, and when set to a repeating loop of the words ‘I was born a loser’ from Alton Ellis’s Black Man’s World, it is an intense, hypnotic experience.
It provides the perfect conclusion to a show that takes visitors across continents and even to outer space, providing a set of astounding images that will stay with you long after you’ve stumbled blinking out of the car park and back into the everyday world of the city.
‘The Infinite Mix’ is on show at The Store, 180 The Strand in London until December 4; entry is free. theinfinitemix.com
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