James Thompson and Annabel Taylor-Munt: Parallel Architectures IIIII

James Thompson, Recording Performance - Parallel Architectures IIIII (film still), 2019.

The most persuasive and memorable images have the power to overthrow. A recent still from James Thompson’s performance film featuring Samra Mayanja may become one such image. Filmed on a quiet morning in Hyde Park, the pair push their bodies against the statues of ‘H.R. Marsden’ (1878) by John Throp and ‘The Duke of Wellington’ (c.1855) by Carlo Marochetti in a surreptitious effort to shift or dislodge such civic art. Thompson and Mayanja are twinned in white overalls as if assuming the roles of laboratory scientists or a specialist removal company. Their performance nods to historical moments in 1952 and 1937 respectively, when such statues were relocated from their original settings on Merrion Street and outside Leeds Town Hall.

The Town Hall is the setting for Parallel Architectures IIIII, the fifth iteration of a series of such site-specific, spatial investigations that Thompson has been making into architectural space since he graduated from the RCA in 2012. Programmed as part of Index Festival, and featuring a short text by Sarah Brown (Principal Keeper at Leeds Art Gallery), Thompson’s curatorial endeavour utilises the labyrinthine crypt, former Bridewell prison and court while reaching out and making reference to other local sites and potential spaces, including the Merrion Centre and an unrealised skyscraper.

Thompson cultivates a sustained interest in large-scale inflatable sculptures that coil and expand but his more recent projects are what stand out on this occasion. One of the most satisfying exhibits is a continuous projection documenting his deconstructed scan of another local monument, George Frampton’s ‘Memorial to Queen Victoria’ (c.1905). Thompson’s vertically-orientated, projected scans offer a forensic and deeply aesthetic reinterpretation of this well-known sculpture. Up close, the sheer green of the bronze patina appears to bleed and morph into undulating strands. The overall effect is pleasingly duplicitous, at once both organic and manufactured. Lofty and inaccessible, Thompson’s gesture of scanning the statue’s outline ‘as high as [he] can reach’ surely re-emphasises the need for greater diversity in public sculpture across the city. On another level, I am reminded of the ‘Statue of Liberty climber’, Therese Okoumou, who also aimed to go ‘as high as [she] could’ (2018) in protest against Trump’s immigration policy. Gender, class and race are similarly at the core of Parallel Architectures.

Elsewhere, Thompson documents his productive gesture of hammering large slabs of clay into the sides of this particular public monument, the results of which are displayed in pseudo-ruinous configurations. The authorities did not impose on this sculptural intervention, again with Mayanja, yet their process is far from mere vandalism. Akin to the activity of scanning, these clay impressions reactivate the seemingly quotidian, yet always political, spaces that surround us.

For Parallel Architectures IIIII, Thompson’s work is complemented by the choreography of artist Annabel Taylor-Munt whose feminist practice seeks to invade the traditional domains of hyper-masculinity. Her work comprises a trio of meticulously positioned projected performances. A statement red curtain looms near a former jail cell where a ceremonial and bacchanalian performance can be glimpsed. Writing on Foucault and prison architecture, Denis Hollier tells us that ‘it is not just a simple container, but a place that shapes matter, that has a performative action on whatever inhabits it…’[1] Entitled Unequal Weight, the redness of Taylor-Munt’s costumes and set evoke a transgressive femininity, and provide an intriguing contrast to the patina-green of Thompson’s scans.

Taylor-Munt’s Fading Intentions[2] returns us to the theme of doubling. Here, a projected film of identical twins (dancers Ellen and Kathyrn Spence) performing semaphore-like poses on the coast line creates another kind of parallel architecture, possibly even the inverse. Envisaged as a feminist retort to issues of sexism in the navy, the movements are often mirrored, both dialogic and confrontational. Moreover, the projection is positioned above a reflecting pool, conjuring an uncanny sense of looking beyond the architecture through an otherworldly portal or caesarean. The overall effect is striking to behold and wedges itself into the viewer’s consciousness.

Annabel Taylor-Munt, Still from Fading Intentions, 2019. Film, performance, installation. Photo: Jules Lister.

Parallel Architectures IIIII with works by James Thompson and Annabel Taylor-Munt was shown at Leeds Town Hall, as part of Index Festival, from 21 June – 19 July 2019.

To find out what else is happening as part of Index visit: https://indexfestival.org/

Catriona McAra is University Curator at Leeds Arts University.

[1] Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992), x.

[2] This was scored by nov.y.mir.

Published 26.07.2019 by Holly Grange in Reviews

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