Passionate playing in the bath

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Life feels pretty heavy here, how about you, wherever your isolation is?

Writing has always been my ‘way out’ and, failing that, drawing. But both forms of creativity have failed to suffice in the past weeks and I have been floundering around for other ways to keep my mind distracted from its constant chatter, chatter that sends me spiralling into a state of misery and despondency so very easily.

I strongly suspect I am not the only one feeling like this at present.

Last week was Holy Week. As a musician specialising in authentic baroque performance this is pretty much the one week in the year that my colleagues and I can all guarantee we will be working – thanks to J.S. Bach and his incredible Passions. 

I think its absence has hit virtually everyone I’ve been in contact with pretty hard, this sense of empty longing. 

Lots of people have sat and listened – I did it in the garden, in the sunshine – some sang along, but the sense of community, the spiritual experience of delivering this story, the adrenaline needed to sustain such a long performance is all so absent this year. 

Someone once talked about the almost palpable sense of handing the adrenaline (some might call it fear) around the orchestra while performing the St Matthew Passion, being able to see it moving around, we all know where it’s going next, as everyone takes their turn to play ‘their’ aria. In my head, I like to add swathes of colour alongside the movement, bright but with warmth, it’s an experience that is pretty unique to this piece and it physically hurts to have missed it.

Fortunately for some of us, we managed to slip an extra passion into the year with a trip to Boston (USA) last June. It hardly makes up for right now but is a handy link to taking you back into my art world and maybe, for just a few minutes, you can imagine yourself there too. 

 

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Boston June 2019

Unadulterated pure joy.

A morning at ICA Boston. The sky was blue. Very blue. Life is so much better this way, whatever is going on, don’t you find?

This morning, however, confirmed my increasingly regular thought that the art world needs a new app. I am sure there are people who say if you have a good idea you shouldn’t put it on the internet, but in this case if anyone were willing to steal this idea and make it for me, I’d be more than grateful.

 

I had googled Louise Bourgeois Boston many times. Each time it brought up ICA Boston and all the Bourgeois works that they have in their collection. I am clearly still a rookie though, because, despite earlier this week, on another contemporary art museum website, wading through loads of works that said they were not on display, or maybe as a result of this, I went with high hopes, expectations even, that I was in for a treat.

In fact, a treat I got, but not as a result of seeing any Bourgeois – there was none on display.

Just as an irritating and predictable (drug-induced) hot flush arose at the distressing realisation, enter stage right (well, WhatsApp actually) my very useful (lovely) husband, who instantly checked out the ICA website and recommended what I did instead.  And he was not wrong!

 

The ICA Boston has two venues either side of the harbour, a quick 8-minute journey in their own water taxi between them. 

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The Watershed. East Boston. And a six-channel video installation by John Akomfrah entitled Purple. 

Using archival material, from the 1940s to present, combined with new footage, shot in both the UK and various areas with particularly climate-sensitive ecosystems, a huge and at times hypnotic score. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden (the latter an old video recording complete with visuals) woven beautifully into and over the soundtrack, the film addresses the relationship between humans, nature and the planet, particularly focussing on the element of human responsibility.

The impact hits hard. A longing for simpler times, shock, breath-taking beauty, disgust at man-kind, broken people and a real justified fear of what the damage we human beings have done to this planet.

[I’ve just found this rather beautiful short video of the artist talking about making it, and I’m reminded once again of a subject that I find fascinating.

Does knowing what the artist had in mind when they were creating the piece (be it a painting, sculpture, piece of music, theatre, dance etc) – knowing their cultural or situational influences, who or what is the subject, having some background knowledge – make a difference to what the viewer takes away. Moreover, does it affect it in a positive way and is it important?]

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Back at the ICA and a quick trip to the shop (who doesn’t like a contemporary museum shop?), and another video installation.

 

Ragnar Kjartansson – The Visitors. Rarely (never?) have I been in a gallery so full of such beaming people! 

The Visitors is a nine-screen sound and video installation which describes itself as ‘A sentimental portrayal of friendship, love and loss’. Each of the screens shows a musician playing alone, yet simultaneously.

Filmed in a romantically dilapidated estate house musicians wander room to room and eventually out into the open – Ragnar himself having performed almost the entirety of the 64-minute performance playing acoustic guitar in a bath. The work holds such a lot of joy, it was hard not to join in the love for the music, the setting, their relationships and life in general. I left singing and returned a second time. Was really hard to get enough of this installation! 

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That’s what I wrote back in June.

 

I have just sat and watched the video stream of it now, in isolation, and it takes on so much more poignancy. It’s not the same with just one screen (in comparison to nine giant screens) but what, at present, hasn’t changed in life?

Even the title The Visitors – referencing ABBA’s final album of the same name – holds it’s own pain. Ragnar was getting over a very painful relationship break when he made this. But who doesn’t miss having visitors? A knock at the door right now is simply a sign to get the anti-bac wipes out and to check suspiciously through the glass that your ‘guest’ is not too close to the door.

But here they, the performers, are the visitors to the beautiful Rokeby Farm (Upstate NY), where Ragnar invited a group of (quirky) friends and colleagues to make this epic piece. 

Recorded in one take, each musician’s performance is recorded, simultaneously, in different rooms of the mansion. They play the same song (lyrics based on a poem by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir), each bringing their own nuanced performance through voice, instrument and their body movements.

Sound familiar? Isn’t that how most music is being made at the moment?

But the overwhelming difference is, despite the playfulness, the individuality, the freedom that isolation is bringing them, there is actual unity. There is the possibility (and reality) of people wandering from room to room, reacting to each other. And the culmination is that they come together, and they drink together and they wander off into the world together.

And I suppose that is what I’ll take from this installation piece. 

As in Boston, where it gave every person in that gallery a smile, we too may play in our own rooms and in our own isolation now, but we will come together again and play together, and drink together and wander off together.  

Here’s the video. It was voted the best art of the 21st century by the Guardian!

Watch. Smile. And look forward to those days.

(Or to watch in full-screen click here)

 


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