Flare, the second of a programme of three exhibitions curated by Rebeca Halliwell-Sutton under the Beacons moniker, was fittingly advertised on the road with fire emanating from a drum of burning planks, through the crying skies of February. The gallery should have no dearth of scrap wood; Jenkin van Zyl’s ‘Occasional feel-good’ (2018), one of the four pieces on show, is a large (perhaps eight-foot) wooden aircraft crashing catastrophically through a billboard, made out like a clay wall buttressed with crude wooden scaffolding.
The Beacons programme seeks ‘to communicate our experiences of time, existence and our bodies through empathetic exchanges with objects, emotional archives, traces left in artefacts’. Though the beacon — with its associations to guiding lights — is an image of succession, progression, and optimism, it is telling that all of the works reference violence, psychological or industrial, in concept or form.
Two days after the opening of Flare, anti-aircraft fire from Iranian-backed forces downed an Israeli F-16 reportedly scrambled in reaction to an Iranian drone discovered in Israeli airspace. The two pilots ejected and were injured, one critically. This news was a fitting reminder that to truly communicate a contemporary experience of time, existence and our bodies, the experience must be contextualised against the mold which made it: escalating political and ideological tensions, apocalyptic brinksmanship, and the civil war in Syria — now gone supernova into a global proxy. The flare, after all, is a beacon for distress, which has been fired high and blinding to accompany those escaping the barbarism of Assad.
Does nuclear war excite you?
Does nuclear war excite you? is the refrain from artist Liv Fontaine’s prose poem ‘Cold Whore Crisis’ (2018), an extract of which appears as a print in the exhibition, and which the artist performed in full at the preview evening. In her crosshairs are Eve: just eat the apple and condemn us; self-congratulatory liberal men: would you like a certificate? (take note Justin Trudeau), and Zeus (by way of Echo): shut the fuck up, Echo. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to close your mouth or close your legs? It is a ferocious performance which makes intrepid parallels between the lot of the domesticated wife as enforced by her tormentor-husband, and the precarious destiny of a new Lost Generation — a term coined by the writer Gertrude Stein (who is also mentioned in the piece) in reference to those who came of age during The Great War. The new Lost Generation contends with the whims of the artless, witless, chinless Trump and Kim Jong-un — to whom Fontaine makes allusions with regard to their gluttony for war and their gluttony for gluttony.
What the exhibition does well lies in its serious invocations of collateral, to whom the word ‘collateral’ refers, and what the ethical consequences of such a political position are. This is in no small part down to Fontaine’s tragicomic excellence, but a small detail of van Zyl’s plane, which I initially missed, consolidates the manifesto. Draped from each of the fighter-class aircraft’s wings is an array of neckties, some yellow, some turquoise, but predominantly blue. The necktie is the accoutrement of the suit, the city, and the autocrat. It has become the noose of a generation.
Beacons | Flare, Caustic Coastal, Salford.
8 February – 3 March 2018.
Jordan Harrison-Twist is a writer and designer based in Manchester.