Everything at Once at Store Studios is nominally accurate – an assortment of installations, from a trio of Marina Abramovic’s films,Freeing the Mind, Freeing the Body, Freeing the Voice (1975) to Ai Weiwei’s gilded, enlarged coral-like sculptures, there seems no unifying cognisance to the curation. Rather, it is gathering of work from some of the most influential artists of the last 40 years – influence, rather than cohesion, is expected to be enough. Having said this, it might be seen that the works are united through a similar exploration of the experience of being corporeal in a dimensional universe (though doesn’t most work examine this, in some way?)
Anish Kapoor’s At the Edge of the World II (1998) evokes the feeling of inter-body detachment achieved when the eyelids are squeezed so tightly shut that the internal vision passes through blackness, to the deep maroon of blood shading capillaries. Though Kapoor’s sculpture appears as an oversized bell, or bowler hat – suspended above head-height, its outside painted a mildly shining black which contrasts against the velvet burgundy interior – any perception of the structure’s depth is obliterated when beneath. Its colour serves as a kind of vortex, disturbing assumed expectations by serving the eye flattened feedback. Kapoor works with colour and dimensionality with the same philosophic play of Rene Magritte – ceci n’est pas une pipe // this is not depth.
Richard Long’s ‘Pelopennese Line’ – a 60-metre long artwork, seemingly made from fingertips clawing through a flat projection of mud, sometimes dripping, sometimes clotting – similarly evokes a sense of disturbing dimensional boundaries. The sheer length of the work suggests the existential, the endurance of the work evoking the lifelong labour of man, always clawing, sometimes falling, still it continues. In contrast, Cory Arcangel’s MIG 29 Soviet Fighter Plane and Clouds (2005) provokes a sense of the fleeting – pixelated images of fighter planes artificially ‘fly’ through equally pixelated clouds on a series of screens; some with planes, some shooting bullets, others just sky. Arcangel’s aesthetic is more Small Soldiers (1998) than Singer Sargent, yet by making a few of the several screens two-way, making the shadow of the visitor projected through to the other side, makes the viewer a part of the work. They are inculcated in the game of war. They are a guilty player.
When presented with Everything at Once, only a few are able to make a lasting impression. Rodney Graham’s Vexation Island (1997) was not one of them. A film of a shipwrecked sailor, stranded on a tropical island with only a parrot (and a coconut) for company, the work bypassed profound and landed up in Muppet’s Treasure Island territory. In contrast, Arthur Jafa’s essential film, Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death - screened in a shed-like structure on the roof - was remarkable, and harrowing. A compilation of found footage (including internet watermarks, a testament to the modern age of digital self-reportage and documentation) from the past several decades, Jafa’s work celebrates black culture, while contextualising the contemporary African-American experience against historical and present racism.
Pain and joy and love and death merge, are encapsulated in an image of the burning sun with which the film opens. The seven-minute film is set to Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’ – an ideal union, considering not only Kanye West’s mainstream popularity, but the track’s confluence of multiple voices. From The-Dream and Chance the Rapper to Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin, along with the sampled voice of a child and West himself, this convergence echoes the varied assembly of the video – as in a beam of light, it reveals a spectrum of persons, experiences, emotions. ‘You can never go too far when you can’t come back home again’. West’s lyric seems to reverberate with Mississippi-born Jafa’s ambition – to go home, explore what home is and was, what is means and looks like, to facilitate the freedom to go far, without fear. If nothing else, 180 The Strand is worth visiting for Jafa alone.