My visit to Frieze 2016 was my first visit to Frieze ever, and was also my first experience of a proper, large-scale art fair. This allowed for a rather overwhelming experience - so much work to take in, so little time. My accepting the mass of the work and how little time I knew I had to take it all in, I managed to take a look at the majority of it, putting more time into works that caught my eye. This unfortunately meant that I had to base all my expectations of the work on what attracted me aesthetically, seeing if I could pinpoint my own interests within these aesthetics. Nevertheless, I saw a LOT of work I really really enjoyed.
A Journey to Fitness or How to Lose 30 Pounds In Under Three Weeks (1993)
This piece was a twelve channel installation using original monitors from the 1980s and 1990s. All the monitors were turned upside down, simultaneously playing different vintage workout videos.
The piece resonates with me because it seems to explore the language of instruction - how we can steer people towards c
ertain ways of living through the language that we use. Each of these videos is driven by a real energy and enthusiasm, creating the overwhelming impression that these routines are fun, almost effortless.
Fleury emphasises within the work - which is really quite substantial, due to the mass of aged monitors she is using - that there really was (and perhaps, still is) a whole culture surrounding this practice. This culture is constituted by an entire fashion sense, and an entire vocabulary.
I’m certain that this piece attracted me purely because of its use of a material originally produced for child’s play.The work consists of a mass of faces, reducing in size as the piece moves upwards. Made entirely of plasticine on board, I loved being able to see the attempted intricacies within the malleable but extremely stodgy substance. In this sense, the piece was a great example of figuration being limited to the material being used for it : for instance, all the facial expressions are corse and exaggerated. I found myself almost experiencing the fun that the artist collective must have experienced whilst making it, just by looking at this piece.
Missing Pieces From A Fall of Corners
Eating as a highly revealing part of human activity has been a fascination of mine for a long time - what can we teach others about ourselves by the patterns we leave in our leftovers? In this work, on show are three tables, each with four seats, each with full meals (perhaps partially tucked in to) laid out for us viewers to examine. What really struck me was the overriding knowledge that the people who were supposed to be eating these meals are were absent from the table. They seemed to have left an energy, a heat behind them. It felt as though I had entered just moments after their departure. Because the food has not been eaten completely (or in some cases, at all) I felt as a viewer as thought I had interrupted something, the mealtime I had walked in on was in the midst of something significant. However, I did not have the knowledge of whoever was one sitting there to inform me.
Jon Rafman’s virtual reality work was undeniably the most impressive part of the fair that I was able to experience (although with VR work I am very aware that whilst being impressed by the work, it is important to distinguish whether I am being impressed by the actual content or whether I am being impressed by its technological advancement). The VR experience, which began with myself and a few other people sitting within the curves of a snake, took us through a few alternate environments. There was a precise moment I thought was particularly successful - at one point you are taken down the back alley of a bustling city at night, and two figures begin walking towards you. The figures make you uncomfortable not only because it is dark and you are isolated from the surroundings but also because the figures are an uncomfortable size : they seem small enough to be human size at first, but as they approach it becomes increasingly evident that they are not. As soon as the figures get too close for comfort, scene is paused suddenly by a click, you are inside a computer screen, and so you are saved. I think this tension between the human and the non-human is what solidifies the eeriness of Rafman’s work for me, as he creates a reality which bears similarities to our own but is skewed to different degrees at different points.
Probably the most significant - definitely the most engaging - part of Frieze was the talk we attended featuring Yuri Pattison, Lauren Cornell, and Gill Magid. During this both artists discussed accessing larger social and institutional structures through their work. Of particular interest to me was the work of Magid, who spoke about the way the importance of speaking the languages of specific systems in order to successfully function within them. Magid described how after working with institutions such as the police force and the government, she has realised how systems themselves are languages, and that you have to speak the language to be heard. She posited that learning the language of the system in turn undoubtedly brings you closer to it. We can establish strange, “site-specific” relationships with people working to run certain systems which allow us to understand and take information from the situation we are working in. She said that whilst we may have complex relationships with institutions such as the police-force and the government (sometimes we want them, sometimes we don’t), sometimes it is important to sympathise with them. This can allow for co-operation, empathy and criticism : in terms of using their time and information, in her case, for her artwork. Speaking the language of an successfully working within a system occurs throughout her work Evidence Locker (2004), in which the artist documents a month spent in Liverpool during which time she was in close cooperation with the operators of the citywide CCTV system. She carefully choreographed and edited actions in public and then requested this footage by filling out legal documents - footage which by law she was entitled to and was given accordingly.
I thought the way that Magid described language as a tool, not just to communicate within, but to actually access and function successfully inside institutions, was truly compelling.