Maximum Overdrive, a review by Louie Young

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and you’re reading the news in bed. Or perhaps it’s Wednesday afternoon and you’re hurriedly scoffing away lunch in order to get back to the office in time for the next meeting. Little do you know, the world is about to change. Machines, household appliances and gadgets across the planet are becoming sentient and they intend to overthrow human civilisation. This is the premise for Stephen King’s cult movie Maximum Overdrive, from which Southend’s Focal Point Gallery departs in its latest exhibition. Released in 1986, King’s movie tapped into a cultural fear of emerging technologies, that, following the subsequent three decades appears to be returning in full swing. Focal Point Gallery’s exhibition asks us to draw parallels with this earlier time, and challenges how technological innovation is both perceived and utilised in our most precarious present.

Though there are five artists that make up the show, for the sake of brevity I will not attempt to address them all individually. Instead I will focus on Thomas Lock’s film Within, 2017 and part of the exhibition’s outreach programme.

Lock’s film is a four-channel floor to ceiling projection whose arresting animation recalls the work of Pipilotti Rist. In an alternate future, intergalactic sentient beings have visited earth. Like an anthropologist conducting field research they have studied humanity and concluded that though we are an intelligent race, that intelligence is misused in the reinforcement of hierarchy. The aliens propose swapping genetics in order to save humanity from itself. Whether the aliens’ intentions are sincere, or they are hiding some ulterior motive is unclear, yet it raises pressing questions about how humanity might survive in an ecologically, politically and economically unstable future. In a perverted way, perhaps it’s somewhat comforting to imagine our paradigm of humanity does not stand alone in its relentless pursuit of self-destruction. For now I’m left awaiting our own aliens with open arms!

However, before encountering any of the artworks in the gallery, one is greeted with a large wooden flower bed in the lobby. Inside the flower bed are growing an array of different vegetables, their growth monitored by sensors and cameras. When the soil becomes too dry, the gallery attendant is alerted. As Maximum Overdrive draws to a close in early September, Focal Point Gallery intends to take the produce grown in this flower bed throughout the duration of the exhibition and host a meal open to the public of Southend. Some might see this as no different to the relational aesthetics work of artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, yet unlike New York (where Tiravanija originally exhibited), Southend is largely a working class town with little engagement in contemporary art. When I visited Focal Point Gallery, I must admit I was perplexed about the conceptual entanglement between the works on show and the emphasis on community engagement. I couldn’t separate Maximum Overdrive from the myriad of other exhibitions that have been staged on technology which never breached the walls of the gallery.

Artists are imperative to the ever-changing discourse surrounding technology, yet so often in cities such as London, New York, and Berlin these debates are confined to extraordinarily small circles considering the global scope of the subject. More than anything else, Maximum Overdrive is therefore a stark reminder that contemporary art must go beyond its traditional modes of dissemination in order to tease out its emancipatory potential.

Maximum Overdrive is on at Focal Point until 10 September 2017.

Written by Louie Young, videoclub intern, July 2017.

An interview with Hong Kong-based artist Choi Sai Ho

An interview with Choi Sai Ho following his residency in Brighton in August 2016, and the making of his work Brighton is Our Playground, commissioned by videoclub and Royal Pavilion & Museums, for the exhibition Experimental Motion. Brighton is Our Playground was created using found footage from Screen Archive South East.

To start off with, can you tell us a little about the work you make, and what inspires you to make it?

In regard to found footage, it really depends on what found footage you’ve got. The structure I was editing, in fact, involved a very primitive “story” or “narrative” structure – a man goes to the car, then car journey, Brighton, introducing people at the beach, and so on. I started thinking about what musical style would fit the work while watching the footage.

Your work often involves a combination of visuals and sound – is either more important to you? How do you decide what kind of visuals go with what sounds?

In making this work, I treated it as making a film. Both visuals and sound are important to me. While I was watching the found footage (most of it is silent film), I had some ideas about music genres such as Triphop, Downtempo, Ambient, etc. within Electronica style, and that it should not be too complicated, and should not have too many instruments for the soundtrack.

After building a very rough piece of music, I edited the footage following the beats and rhythms of the music piece. The music always decides the tempo and rhythm of the film. So it makes easier for editing. The good thing about being a composer and filmmaker is I can make changes immediately during the creative process if the footage does not match with the music or vice versa. I can change either one of these in order to fit with the other. When I watched the old footage, I found that the beach footage was so beautiful, basically this old footage was so beautiful, and they were real and existed – the people at the beach [Father Neptune Ceremony on Brighton Beach, 1951, Roger Dunford], the young couple, the cameraman and the director inside the film [Local News in Brighton & Hove, 1951]… I knew I had to include this footage to show these beautiful images. And I needed the beautiful melodies to match with this footage so I composed it and put it to this film artwork.

In August, you took part in a residency in Brighton with videoclub, and worked with Screen Archive South East to produce a new work for Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Brighton is Our Playground. Can you tell us a little about the film, and how you decided on which archive films to include in your final film?

I saw that so much footage was from car driver seats, train windows, trams or other transportation in UK. I’ve always liked the point-of-view shot from driver’s seats. I wanted the audience to also experience what it was like a few decades ago journeying in a car or train. A bit like music structure, the beginning and the ending is the same or similar, so you would see the POV shots were used at the beginning and the ending of my film artwork here. Furthermore, I tried to include different eras of Brighton and UK while deciding upon the archive films.

What was it like working with the Screen Archive?

They were so helpful and they manage the archive and access to footage very well. Normally the general public may not be interested in watching these films unless you are film scholars, film lovers, researchers or artists, etc. It is a very good way for the public to watch the footage through my work. I guess it is also a kind of cultural preservation, preserving the old films and cultural activity as well. I hope my work can bring this old footage to life again, showing the beautiful things that exist in history.

The soundtrack to Brighton is Our Playground is quite fast-paced, quite in contrast to what people think of a soundtrack to archival films, why did you decide to compose this type of music?

To me, making music is similar to editing films. Practically, electronic music is more convenient for me to work on. The spectrum of electronic music is so wide. I hope people have a different perception about electronic music after watching my work. It can be fast-paced and soft downtempo too. For the beginning of my work, you would hear my own field recordings of Brighton beach. The contemporary electronic music mixing or colliding with old film footages may be a good mixture here. Making artworks always involves experiments. Creators are always trying different combinations to see if it works or not.

Choi Sai-Ho《Brighton Is Our Playground》 from Sai Ho Choi on Vimeo.

Seoul Mediacity, MMCA Film & Video, Doenjang-jjigae

Seoul is an energetic, exciting city, with a lot going on; commercial galleries, large museums, and many private institutions, which are run as not-for-profit spaces. Artists’ moving image can be seen at most types of space, whether government funded or privately financed.

Our first stop was at Seoul Mediacity Biennale at Seoul Museum of Art, which included moving image, installation and photographic work. It’s a curiously curated show, fragmented and difficult to navigate, with artworks intruding on others – a moving sculpture occludes a collection of photographs – and sound bleeds, making some work unintelligible.

An installation by Marguerite Humeau, an ugly yellow room with incomprehensible singing, vexes and confuses, and does little to satisfy, even the deadly black mamba venom mixed into the paint on the walls fails to grip. Other works sit in odd positions, screens hidden or in cocoons. Though there are some great works throughout the biennial, it just needs a little time and space.

One work stood out for me, João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiv’s installation of several 16mm projectors showing ordinary objects in glorious states; in one film, Chopping Fruits and Vegetables (2015), shows fruit and vegetables being thinly sliced, projected at speed, revealing the undeniable beauty of everyday food. Not perfectly installed, the fluttering of the 16mm projectors flew out to bleed over other work, but it pulsed beautifully on the lens.

Later that evening we went to the opening of MMCA’s Film & Video programme, opening with a film by Vincent Meessen, ‘One.Two.Three’, which crescendos inside a fiery rumba club after some slow-paced tension. MMCA’s deck overlooks the mountains, and we were treated to a blushing sunset. We met with Eunhee Kim, Assistant curator, MMCA Film and Video. Followed by dinner with Jangwook Lee, Director of EXiS Film Festival – a rich and comprehensive experimental film festival in Seoul – at his family’s restaurant for some traditional Korean food. Spicy bean soup (Doenjang-jjigae); the best.

Hong Kong: consulates, venues and collaborations

20151211_1341531

As the first port of call and a place of recent collaboration and partnership, I wasn’t expecting to unfold such great opportunities in Hong Kong. Had some great meetings that really contributed to the development of Both Sides Now for 2016, and interesting information on venues/activity, including an educational exchange programme, a residency and super meetings with British Council and Swiss Consulate General.

Erwin Luthi is deputy director of the Swiss Consulate General – we decided to visit him as we’ve previously worked with Connecting Spaces (through Videotage), which is a project of Zurich University of the Arts. Erwin gave us some great advice regarding places we might want to present video work at, or who could be good collaborators, in Hong Kong and Switzerland, here are a few:

Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival (SW) – Visual Art Center (HK) (Apparently inexpensive to hire.) – Hong Kong International Film Festival (HK) – East Kowloon Flyover / Energising Kowloon East (HK) – PMQ (HK)

At British Council we met with Grace Zhang and Meijing Hei, who (very usefully) let us know that only ODA (official development assistance) countries (those in receipt of development aid) will receive funds from British Council from 2017. Which gives an interesting focus. British Council will be doingshowcase of British work in Korea during 2017, where there is potential for collaboration. And then Tokyo/Japan in 2020. We were encouraged to develop a clear digital strategy if we were wanting to approach British Council to get financial support.

While in Hong Kong we managed to outline a couple of good opportunities with partners, one with Hong Kong Institute of Education – a residency for an individual, to work on a collaborative artists’ film with artists from Hong Kong; the other an educational exchange with K11 Art Foundation, to bring together artists and students from the UK and Hong Kong.

Kisses, picnics and film at Art Basel

tianzhou_chen_picnic

I don’t remember seeing much artists’ moving image at the art fairs during Art Basel Hong Kong, which struck me as a little strange, but I always feel strange at commercial art fairs. The shocking lighting, the mixture of appalling art work with some classic pieces that look like they should be in a museum. All this complemented and in contrast with the revved up, label-slicked, money-gownery striding everywhere with champagne in hand. It feels like a mockery of the art world (all that creativity and unique ideas perverted into another reason to get dressed up and go shopping for the rich), but this is a core part of that world now.

The main pillar of artists’ film at Art Basel was the Art Basel Film programme. This is the second year Art Basel Hong Kong has implemented a film programme, which gives moving image artists represented by galleries at Art Basel a platform to exhibit work that exists away from the bustling mall-like fair.

Curated by Li Zhenhua, Beijing and Zurich-based producer and multimedia artist, screenings were held over four days in Hong Kong Arts Centre’s cinema space. Seven themes were explored over the four days, drawing the films into discrete programmes of work.

As the way is with screenings, it was, for me, a mixture of excellent, fair, and not so great work. The first two films, represented by Star Gallery, were in the great category. PICNIC by Chen Tianzhou is a riotous escapade of sexually charged madness; colourful, blissed out, marvellous and delirious. Drug-induced delirium is suggested at the start, and continues throughout. It is irreverent, gripping, a good antidote to the many banal works in the art fair.

A Thousand Kisses Deep by Song Kun is a slippery, sexual film; architecture intermingles with human bodies and octopus tentacles, striving to get closer to each other, increasing in number as they desperately entangle. The film is a sensual meditation on the rapid growth of cities, and growing numbers of people living in them.

A third film I really appreciated was Lu Yang’s Manga-style animation Uterusman, an overview of a superhero whose superpowers derive from a woman’s genitalia, Uterusman himself being made up of the collective elements of the female reproductive system. Superpowers include: blood energy altitude flying, sanitary pad skateboard, blood chain defence, ovum light wave attack, DNA attack, pelvis chariot, baby weapon, plus more.

The film dynamically mixes in archival film of blood flowing, ovulation, birth and umbilical cord clipping, presenting female reproductive processes as super while everyday. The artist denied that she intended the film to be feminist, but confirmed that she wanted to present a character who combined male and female attributes as a way of expressing everyone is equal. It’s a very funny, challenging film, the insightful contents of which, I believe, the artist is still to become aware of.

Art Basel Film programme was a great opportunity to duck out of the kerfuffle of art fair crazy, and to take some peace in knowing that there is some good art for sale. I look forward to next year’s programme.