I wanted to talk about emotion but I didn’t know what to say
I can’t tell if I feel shaky because of the caffeine or the experience, though one probably helps instigate the other…
But I should begin….
The purple’s nice…let me get that out of the way, a yoghurty lilac backdrop to land a heavily screenic show in, to cushion your gaze, after slipping through an excited gaggle of relatively young viewers directing their screen-orientated gaze towards a clear screen through which sits a trio who you probably know, on screens, I should add. This is Act 1 of the glowing, slightly odd but excited humanity that unexpectedly seeps through #Follow.
The show sets up a supposed dialogue of the “problematic context” online existence provides - easily clipped from a post-net manual it sits like a heavy weight as a pre-amble to the show, a buffer slogan for the 89+ gen, yet a slogan that seems stuck 5 or 6 years back in discourse (I accept hands up that this is within an institution, away from the emerging/mid-level art spaces and it’s parallel dialogue, and FACT’s wide audience may or may not have reached this discourse yet *disclaimer over*).
Anyway. I was sat a few hours earlier in a pub down the road watching as my Twitter feed became drenched in #TOUCHMYSOUL, images of familiar faces and semi-familiar artworks acting as a backdrop to the irrefutably familiar trio of Shia Le Beouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö & Luke Turner, call centre like poses facing inwards towards each other and their triangle of bleach white screens .
So it was kind of hard to enter without a knowing gaze. But then I’ve started to feel that this is where Le Beouf, Rönkkö & Turner have a desire to head to (and lead us towards), with each hash-tagged project the trajectory of actualising emotion, deconstructing celebrity and humanising art activity have been consistently amped up. And it’s starting to work.
Online it’s initially easy to forget the fact that this is a group exhibition, and the surroundings IRL do feel like a moulded backdrop from the main act. However the lead experience does bounce from its constituent parts. Simon Whybray’s branding work does what it does, acutely and engagingly (maybe FACT should employ him full-time js), and leads enjoyably to the lilac flooded space i’ve already mentioned. Inside Candice Jacob’s work on the exhibition design seems to engage in buffering, dissolving and distracting your experience, at first I thought it was cheap tactics, but the more you dilute yourself in the space, the more it clarifies its presence. The mirrored wall performs as your own personal hazy anxiety ***watching you, watching me la la la*** in a space designed for spectacle, whilst flanked opposite by gesture-dappled clear PVC drapery (swishes and the likes), spotlight in hot pink and further flooded with more swishes, this time in glaring hot white neon opposite. It works, better when populated by larger mass of people, and whether too well or not is debatable, but it works ✓
But outside of Jacob’s work the rest inevitably became wallpaper (and soundtrack) to the action. Heavily screenic seduction proves less than enticing in an atmosphere playing out the lives of real people. Annoyingly knowing and slightly ramshackle, little can breathe, and even without #TOUCHMYSOUL I'd struggle to reconcile this chaos into anything other that umbrella curating. Action, however, is distracting: action that actualises emotion and delivers something its surroundings can’t, inevitably disintegrating into identity or packagable selves, brand, icon, it-thing, controlled subject, slick production, bordered by screens, leaning, projecting, sitting, being…idk you get what I’m saying. It's not bad, it just is what it is, and maybe in more airy, scenarios with room to breathe, and space to relax in to everything could work (post-show I checked out Cécile B. Evans video again online and enjoyably preferred this one-to-one interaction, sometimes the gallery might just have to admit to things it can't do against the intimacy of the screen).
So back to the action, the live action, a call line, picked up in tandem, 3 receivers, one subject - or as Shia said to one caller “That makes 4 of us…!”
What plays out IRL is as mesmerising as what you expect, in it’s nothingness during down periods of waiting, in it’s odd tensions when all three are collectively writing on a shared Google Doc or notepads on the desk, an in the half-conversations you’re witness to.
“Hi! You’ve reached Le Beouf, Rönkkö & Turner. Can you touch my soul?” is the opener for any of the three, and then the anxious wait for each response. Smiles often gleam off their faces after a few seconds, frustration at other times, hang up, next… “Hi….”. Shia IRL tends to respond more theatrically, whilst Rönkkö & Turner seemingly sit quieter, still openly emotive. There’s some super ecstatic moments of collective excitement at getting someone, a good one, a talker, an emotion spiller, as each dive for their notepad or rapidly hammer out text on the Google Doc…
“Ah, man there’s a lot of emotion” Shia says putting down one call, half overwhelmed, half excited to dive back in for more.
Up on the screen are some gems, jokes and one liners, and more that lever the project towards emotional helpline territory. This is the point where you start to witness an opening of humanity coming across.
“It is possible to communicate with people [cut off]” transcribes Turner online...
and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper.
What plays out IRL though actually feels like a pretty beautiful live friendship, maybe Rönkkö & Turner feel like emotional bodyguards, Shia obviously being heavily requested on the line, and they act noticeably beyond artist collaborators but rather as friendship buffers for a world ready to throw emotion over the phone, often joyously ecstatic but with the potential to easily fall dark. There’s an obvious childlike delight in the process, and the trio feel like they have a complete desire to ride Shia’s position in a positive human direction, germinating something beyond the surface of the screen, towards as many individuals as they can reach. The tapestry of beautiful, odd, funny and emotion-filled soundbites cascading from the live Doc above Shia’s head seem to confirm this, and leaves a glow with pretty much everyone present.
In the end it's kind of hard to sum up, you come out and just actually feel pretty good…
You sit on the train back and start to stare at those people staring at screens. I tried to call again but number busy...You start to think about how the backbone of the art world relies around moderated distance and disinterest, where a show is the emotional desert to its parallel afterparty outpourings and aftermath of online content emancipation. I tried to call again but number busy...
Sometimes you forget why you bother to find an oasis.
Why you toy with objects and theatrics and journey miles for *content*
But then at the end you find neither, just people, a sea of people and a bed of stuff.
And that’s the oasis I s’pose.
As I walked out I picked up one of Jacob’s fortune cookie’s :
“Others will say you are too idealistic”