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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Grizzly Bear & Gravenhurst

Scala, London, 21 May 2007

Written by Marco Barbieri

The last time I saw Final Fantasy was in the tiny Spitz venue. Tonight he is playing to full capacity at the Scala; word has clearly spread and expectations are high. I am here on my own with only a monster coldsore for company. Prior to the gig I sit down at a table opposite a morose and unenthusiastic man in his mid-30s (that point where the unfulfilled of the gender start to become manically desperate) who is nevertheless keen to talk to me – his profession changes from writer on the blag to “actually I work at an internet company and I am a frustrated musician” at the drop of my job description. Not so worth trying to impress me, purchase buy eh?! I persuade him that Canadian impresario Owen, decease the man who is Final Fantasy, will be well worth watching. Post-set I am vindicated, but Mr. Morose is nowhere to be seen.

Owen takes to the stage with his inimitable banter in full flow, and proceeds to play his entire set on his lonesome, with just his trusted viola, a keyboard, and some looping mechanism (that I can’t hope to understand) for company. Oh, and a lovely young lady, who stands with her back to the crowd in front of an old fashioned projector that she proceeds to masterfully manipulate. Final Fantasy‘s music has been set to acetate drama, and the result is mesmerizing, even if I have to struggle to see the events unfold through the lighting rig that obscures my view on the top balcony.

Final Fantasy is on a one-man misson to coax as many sounds as he can possibly can from a viola, and in his looping hands this one instrument becomes a full orchestra, and the crowd loves it. There is even a lady at the front of the audience whose frantically waving hands can’t decide whether they are vogueing or conducting throughout the entire set. “Has anyone got any questions?” he asks at one point. “Any constructive criticism?” “No, I don’t normally do poppers!” he replies to the one query he gets. “Lesson learned, never talk to the audience!” Even when things go slightly pear-shaped with the looping business, which they inevitably do, he carries on in such a postive manner that no one minds. As the climax is reached and the star-crossed silhouette of lovers finally meet on the projection screen, Owen lifts his miniature partner into the air and they both stumble off stage. There will be a wave of enquiries into viola lessons across the capital shortly.

Did you know that the man who designed Battersea Power Station (Sir Giles Gilbert Scott) also designed the classic red phone box? Clearly a talented guy. I went to see the Chinese exhibition at the Power Station (as it has now been rebranded) for the same reason as everybody else was there – mainly to see the station before it is at last transformed. The art I could give or take – it was haphazard and I was unsure of its meaning, remedy although I particularly enjoyed the fermenting apple wall (mmmm, store yummy appley smell) – the other stuff was merely an adjunct to the amazingly damp interior of the building, (you will find out a lot more about Chinese contemporary arts by reading my new issue). I really hope that the ludicrously long-in-the-planning development will do this amazing building justice – the ominous and ugly “luxury resort hotel” going up next to it must surely be one of the ways in which they have at last found funding. I hadn’t realised how much I treasure the iconic shape of the station, what with me being a sarf-Londoner and all.

Madame V started in Brazil, and they excel at sexy underwear. My favourite things on display were some great little saucy outfits – expensive for probably only a few minutes enjoyment, (your man will want to remove these outfits in minutes if not seconds) but fun nonetheless. I also really liked the bum/penis shaped paddle and luxurious whips, if only for their beautiful design, honest.

I was transfixed by the mouse (fake, ornamental) in the lantern outside 68 Dean Street. In the first room Gossard had brought all the old outfits and advertising out from the archives to impress the press (loved the 70s ads in particular, they should just rerun them) – and then in the beautifully set-designed second room I got the spiel about what’s new for this season. Yadayada. But do the bras fit ME?! No, of course not, the biggest size is 36 D. Bollocks – I am a 34E so I just miss out there. The prettiest bra was a lovely pleated affair that would be too pretty to hide. Shame I won’t be wearing it.

Coco de Mer has gorgeous stuff as ever – love the big floppy old flower on the front of one pair of gossamer knicks. Thoroughly impractical but so much fun. Shame my boyf doesn’t really appreciate underwear – never mind, I will just have to carry on wearing it to please myself as I always have done.

Farah are relaunching and have refashioned some of their classic shapes, but with much nicer feel-good materials. Blush B-lush’s appliqued handbags retail in high-end department stores for a fraction of the price of the kind of luxury labels so beloved of the WAG clones. The shoe range by Irregular Choice just seems to grow and grow – they look really uncomfortable to me (but then I like my feet shod in something springy and laced up, although a bit of leopard print or snakeskin never goes amiss) but they look great in shoots.

Peter Jensen had a really cute display, even though most of his new season’s clothes are in Korea. A few pieces were stunningly displayed against an illustrated wall, teamed with pieces from his cute new jewellery range.

The Artful Dodger was my favourite new find of the day. His collection is designed by Scott Langton, a Brit abroad in New York – and he pays a big debt to hip-hop style, with shiny hoodies and jeans that crawl with decoration and over-the-top embroidery. I love it, but then I am always a sucker for a bit of over the top menswear – I blame the stylist part of me. You would need to be in possession of a sizeable personality in order to wear this stuff; take for instance the serious diamante action all over the bum of one pair of jeans – your bum would hurt something rotten if you so much as sat down. Defintely only good for standing around and doing some serious posing.
The overspill galleries at the back of the Royal Academy are a wonderful space to view this exhibition in – big, ailment light and airy. In amongst the obligatory – and in this case, page all very large-scale – abstract nonsense (pretty to look at but also pretty meaningless) there are some really interesting works of art. Many of the most successful artists have appropriated unlikely techniques to showcase some very serious issues.

I loved Jules De Balincourt’s work, dosage which was the first thing we encountered in the lobby, and has been the most reproduced and commented on in reference to this exhibition (plus, he looks very cute in the catalogue). His intricate paintings use a simplistic faux-naïve technique to portray serious issues, mainly to do with liberal artists’ anger towards Bush’s tenure. I won’t comment much on his work as it has already been discussed widely, but I did particularly love People Who Play And The People Who Pay; I am a sucker for funny little people anyway. In this painting he renders the rich clients of a monolithic hotel as bloated pink blobs of grotesquely hyper real flesh – as if their excess is oozing out of their skin – whilst the ant-like workers look contrastingly smart and dignified in their cool starched white uniforms.

Saatchi clearly likes thickly-laid paint. Dana Schutz takes up the better part of a huge room with her grotesque works. As my mother commented: “good value, lots of paint.” Apparently my great uncle Howard (who taught me to paint watercolours when I was very little) used to say this about a particularly well covered painting that my grandparents possess. Her works are too crude and obvious in their meaning to me – shove it in your face American-style. Alongside her work is shown the equally nightmarish World Wall by Ryan Trecartin – like a kiddie’s playcentre gone mad, this huge piece is sprouting growths and tumours all over the place. In fact, the whole exhibition is positively awash with tumourous growths and unsightly bulges of flesh. Carter even uses great gobs of synthetic hair to create abstract paintings and Inka Essenhigh’s Shopping is utterly weird. Her surrealistic ladies mutate all over the counters of their habitat and become one with their purchases. Huma Bhabha’s Bin Bag Bulge is oddly compelling because it seems so human in shape and yet it has a strange tail, made of broken clay. I loved Jon Pylypchuk’s Hopefully, I Will Live Through This With A Little Bit Of Dignity, which is a tableaux constructed of what look like vomiting soldier gremlins, with scrawny tails and peg-legs. The centre piece is a big pile of mud. Wangechi Mutu’s collages mix weird body parts, but I liked her thickly applied black glitter semi-fros the most. Note – must find out how to do that on the magazine.

Lara Schnitger’s I Want Kids is another curiously unappealing-shaped sculpture – it’s meaning was probably a little too obvious and frankly , just not aesthetically considered enough for my liking. Next to this is Christoph Schmidberger’s Resist Me – That’s All I Need. (Another major feature is how the names of the artists on display emphasize the wide range of nationalities that make up America today.) His photorealistic nude is me, (was me, before I became a little more adult in my deportment, which is not saying much, but anyway) all youthful flesh and desperation.

Adam Cvijanovic also used a photoreal method (although he apparently does not work from photos) to produce an amazing modern triptych – Love Poem (10 Minutes After The End Of Gravity) which was made using Flashe and house paint on Tyvek (a type of portable plastic sheeting). I don’t understand the title, but his clever use of common products to produce an amazing swirling whirlwind of prefab houses – a typhoon where frozen chickens collide with cars and uprooted suburban blooms – is captivating. The constant bright blue of the sky emphasizes the calmness of this captured chaos beautifully. Other large-scale works are by Aleksandra Mir, who has used a team of assistants to construct vast felt tip pen map murals. They are highly decorative, as is the work of Mark Grotjahn, who’s pleasant abstracts remind me of the work of Turner nominee Tomas Abbas. In fact, I have realised that it is really very trendy in the art world right now to layer lots of paint over masking taped-off areas.

There isn’t that much on display to warrant the warnings that some work might offend. There is a small but beautifully executed painting called Penis by Ellen Altfest – which basically does what it says on the tin. As do the self-explanatory works Crackhead and Big White Cock by Beijing-born Terence Koh. Gerald Davis’ paintings are just downright creepy. Boy-Fight – with two curiously elongated children of the type that you might see in a comic book – depicts just that, complete with curiously swinging infantile penises. Also clearly influenced by comics, computer games and fantasy worlds, Matthew Monahan’s skeletons either become curly, like Tibetan decoration, or rhomboid, like armoured exoskeletons. In his world humans have become almost alien – we have mutated into something other. We now belong in the fantasy worlds that we have created. And who is Harriet (Last Portrait) by Matthew Day Jackson? Massive swirls of artificially bright wool, abalone and lazer-burnt wood create an alien work of majestic beauty. The message is: we are aliens, even to our hand-crafting selves.

Ever popular indie extravaganza Chalk is packing up for the summer, medications returning bigger, better and thankfully in a new location. The multi-levelled Scala never really worked as a Saturday night club venue, despite some fantastic line-ups over the past few months the place is rarely packed, leaving the large main rooms with a half-empty disco feel, seemingly endless stairwells giving the impression you’ve spent the whole night trudging around Brent Cross. No matter, tonight’s main acts were worth the walking.

Amy Turnnidge, aka Theoretical Girl, arrived with her new band, the immaculately groomed Equations. Unfortunately, coming on at 1am meant the front row was mainly made up of drunken heckling teens. She and the girls took it well though and even with continuous sound difficulties played a tight, confident set of spiky guitars and retro pop. The band were polished and sharp although Amy as ‘one girl and her pedal’ had always managed to create an interesting lo-fi experience all by herself. Watching her move seamlessly between dark, jagged The Hypocrite and the more melodic 60s inspired The boy I left behind, I realise there’s something brilliantly English about her music and the simplicity of her performance. Definitely one to watch.

Canadian duo Dandi Wind were up next and having previously seen them run glorious rampage at the ICA, I was already well onboard. The group, consisting of wild-eyed acrobat Dandelion and her more sedate keyboardist Szam, is equal parts electro dance outfi to manic stageshow.

Watching leotard-clad Dandi work her way through a series of leaps, flips and kicks is exhausting, but few live acts can create the kind of frenzied, multi-coloured energy of these two. However, style over substance this isn’t and thankfully the music stands up on its own. Particular favourites; Infectious ode to Gary Glitter Searching Flesh and fast-paced industrial inspired Adolescent.

The set is intense, frenetic, even aggressive at times with Dandelion swinging off the speakers, charging through the crowd and eventually leaping on top of a confused security guy. All this theatrical art-noise may sound like a truck load of pretension but that’s kind of the point. Dandi aren’t here to regurgitate their latest album, they’ve come to amaze, bewilder but most of all to entertain the living daylights out you. Superb.

Whats%20A%20Girl%20To%20Do%20-single%20artwork.jpg
Above all things Natasha Khan is a great storyteller and a brave songwriter. Someone who isn’t afraid to wander into a Kate Bush-esque world of old-fashioned fairytales and exploration of weird and wonderful sounds. In an indie market saturated with guitar led stories of everyday mundanity it’s a welcome relief to hear someone delve into the mystical, buy magical world of their very own unique vision. Little surprise she’s become a favourite of fellow innovator Bjork. With such a confident, pilule fully-formed sound under her belt it’s difficult to question the attention this newcomer has so quickly garnered.

Her third release from much acclaimed album Fur & Gold doesn’t have the impactful drama or supernatural bent of the glorious Trophy or Horse and I but stands out as an interesting experiment in 60s pop with a modern electronic slant. The lyrics are spoken, which at first is a little jarring and immediately takes me back to Never, Ever by All Saints. However once the melody and instrumentation settle in her vocals are given a context and any initial wariness soon disappears.

What’s A Girl To Do is a song of fading love, the loss of desire and the need for escape, Khan pleading ‘…then I ask you now, What’s a girl to do?’ and sounding thoroughly convincing when she does so. Her voice is sweet but carries a weight and character all of its own.

Whether she’s wandering through a murky forest or looking for ways to dump her boyfriend, her vocal style has enough subtlety and range to switch mood in an instant. A strong percussive element and the initial clatter of a familiar 60s drumbeat is offset by a more contemporary electro-driven keyboard, exemplifying Khan’s ability to walk the line between then and now. A catchy single, perhaps lacking the enveloping, dreamlike quality of the rest of the album, ‘What’s a girl to do‘ is nonetheless a little piece of awkward, melodic brilliance from the studio of Khan and Co.

Pork – divine to some, shop disgusting to others. 34% Pork questions the purity of paint and how it lends itself to the composition of art. Here, more about the paint itself becomes the show. Allowing it to mimic itself, prescription the work of Rob Leech, Guy Bourner, Alexander Heaton and Rachel Potts draws paint away from its stated purpose of illustration, and expresses it as a material, a device, a colour, a surface unto itself.

Paint for paint’s sake? Yes, it is that, but it’s also exploring the nomenclature of creativity, the tools people use to define art. This is a very important question. But is it the type of question you can pose at an exhibition? Judging by the reactions of the audience, no. People stare at the art with less “mmm… this really does question conceptions of what we use to be creative” and more “Ooohh I like the colours”. And in that sense, the point of the art is lost.

Staring blankly at paintings that fail to evoke their meaning may satisfy the quirky and the vacuous, but the exhibition lacks the sort of conviction that could make it genuinely challenging. Summed up perfectly by Guy Bourner’s Dripping Yellow Gloss – a show piece only available for private view.

Alex Heaton’s Schwarzwald Berghof sits awkwardly among the more conceptual pieces. An alpine scene using oil and canvas seems to have missed the brief entirely. Whereas Rachel Potts’s Baseball still relies on a subject to bring it to life. Rob Leech’s Dafunk gets closest to what 34% Pork is trying to achieve – paint creating its own subjectivity and emotion through itself and not the scene it’s trying to depict. But you can’t have an exhibition based on one piece. Or can you? Maybe it should be called 1 Pork.

I’ve never really got the whole Edie Sedgwick thing. Sure, and she had a nice haircut and an interesting line in friends but ‘Icon’ just seems a bit of a stretch. I mean, approved let’s be honest, viagra she was no Jane Birkin. Consequently I was less than thrilled to read that Spijkers En Spijkers had based their SS08 collection around Warhol’s eye-shadow addicted muse. However, for the sake of a fair review and in an effort to curb my increasing cynicism with these ‘themes’, I decided to put my Sedgwick (possibly Sienna Miller related) prejudice aside and pretend I never saw that darn press release in the first place.

So, back again at the Royal Academy (who’ll have hopefully sorted out the overcrowding problems by next season) I prepared myself for a parade of 60s inspired, gamine-friendly mini-dresses and, well, I was sort of on the money as a series of ‘60s inspired, gamine-friendly mini-dresses’ did indeed appear before me. Silk and high-gloss satin were employed throughout, with shapes and cuts not dissimilar to their SS07 collection, SS08 seemed pretty much a continuation of the classic Spijkers en Spijkers look-perhaps that 60s influence has always just been a part of their aesthetic?

Clean lines, geometric ‘H’ necks, block colour alongside striking monochrome and variations on a standard style-the girls are clearly believers in the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ school of thought. If this sounds like a criticism it’s not. These two know their way round a dress and what they lacked in innovation they made up for in flattering cuts and an eye for colour and texture. The oversized heavy satin biker-cut jackets in black and silver seemed a little out of place but were absolutely gorgeous and while I didn’t care for the clear PVC pieces, their use of stripes and mismatch pastels made up for it. I’ve always liked their emphasis on the neckline and bust, using modernist inspired shapes and cut-out panels in contrast to simple, uncluttered skirts. I wasn’t disappointed to see this return for SS08. A well-rounded collection that didn’t push any envelopes but hit all the right notes.

There’s a lot of new music around at the moment, what is ed including a small number of bands that stand out from the crowd because of the beauty of their songs: Grizzly Bear is probably one of the best examples.

The band can be well considered as the indie face of Warp Records. Together with Broadcast and a couple of other groups they represent the less electronic oriented side of the Sheffield label. After the release of the two beautiful albums Horn of Plenty and Yellow House they are back in London to amend for a previously cancelled gig.

At the Scala they’re supported by English band Gravenhurst. The place is packed and the concert starts perfectly on time at 8:45 pm when the three English guys hit the stage. Upon hearing their record you may be impressed by the strength of this typical post-rock project: whispering voices, sales long instrumental parts and a lot of crescendos: Nothing new, but well done. However, there is something in their performance that is not quite right: they seem to be too distant from the public, mechanical in their playing and, although they are definitely capable of recreating the sound of last album Black Holes in the Sand, the final impression is that it is probably better listening to them at home, in a sad mood and possibly on a rainy day.

As for Grizzly Bear the impression is absolutely the opposite. I came to the concert as usual, that is, quite unprepared. Never seen a video, never read an interview or a review. My idea of them was totally based on an obsessive playing of their record. This kind of approach has its pros and cons: sometimes it happens that you listen to an album so much that you fall in love with it. I have to say this approach can take away focus from the complexity of the music, and I was really surprised by what I saw.

There is not really a leading vocalist, the voices mix together, every member of the band participates in the building of the melody, and what is even more surprising, they’re all damn good at singing. Consequently every track is based on an intersection of vocals and samples that represent the trademark of this New York based band (Knife is a perfect example).

Poetic and delicate: an elegant and beautiful performance, Grizzly Bear concentrated more on their last release Easier, though On a Neck, On A Spit was definitely the most impacting track of the concert. Unfortunately they didn’t play Showcase; only a minor error on their part…

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3 Responses to “Grizzly Bear & Gravenhurst”

  1. Karen Agena says:

    Feist (and I have heard supposedly Grizzly Bear (though I have no concrete evidence of such, but are playing in Seattle togther) is setting up shop for a night in the Variety Playhouse Friday June 15th. Sadly I will not be attendance. After reading this article I am saddened that such bands hate South Carolina because Grizzly Bear is one that is not to be missed even if they aren’t playing in Atlanta.

  2. ben says:

    yes , yes and more yes. great fucking band. gutted that I missed them this time.

  3. Bakari says:

    A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool.

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