With Castlefield Gallery’s current Launch Pad exhibition they present DANCEHALL 11, the latest iteration of the publication DANCEHALL, the product of collaborators Hannah Ellul and Ben Knight, who work together as Psykick Dancehall. In this instance, DANCEHALL consists of a newly published editorial alongside a group exhibition, both exploring the act of listening.
In spite of this being the eleventh edition of DANCEHALL, Ellul and Knight admit that they are uncomfortable in the role of editors, and the publication that accompanies the exhibition contains their first written editorial. There’s an unwillingness to actively discuss the artists participating in the exhibition, as they don’t want to direct the reactions of the viewer. However, in spite of this noble intention, it ultimately creates a gulf between the editorial and the exhibition itself, and in trying to provide a general context for the exhibition, they provide no specific context for the works within. This leaves pieces such as Amelia Bywater & Rebecca Wilcox’s Verbal notes and A sheet is always already inscribed as dead objects that offer nothing to the viewer without the artists on hand to elaborate. The layout of the exhibition throughout the gallery further emphasises this gulf between the editorial and the artworks, with the editorial presented alongside an archival display of previous issues of DANCEHALL, with almost the entirety of the artworks presented separately in the lower gallery.
Ellul and Knight contribute to the exhibition itself with Brief things, a series of sculptural interventions spaced throughout the lower gallery, functioning as platforms for use by viewers as well as the other participating artists. Self-described as ‘an invitation to perform’, the platforms mostly provide seating, with the exception of a stage-area for performance, which was clearly designed as such. Brief things is a piece where the individual viewer is given total authority over how to activate it as an artwork, the nature of its open-invitation meaning that the artists themselves offer nothing and take no responsibility.
Tom White’s piece for the exhibition, Inventory, sees him working with deaf actor Stephen Collins to produce a sign-language inventory of objects within the gallery space, presented as an audio recording, removing the visual stimulus of sign-language and leaving us with only the fragmented sounds that accompany it. It is an intriguing proposition, leaving us with the unintentional audio-accompaniment to a visual form of communication as we hear various popping, shuffling and breathing sounds emanating from Collins. It leaves the viewer questioning the role of sound within sign-language, and how it might relate to visuals (such as gesturing) within speech.
With Stone Circle, Giuseppe Mistretta similarly examines the boundaries between sight and sound, where his film in two parts shows an actress describing the sensation of wearing a pair of noise-cancelling ear defenders, and then repeating this process while wearing blackout goggles. While she wears the ear defenders she seems to mirror the viewer, as you stand there with your headphones on to listen to the film. In this section, she speaks less than when wearing the goggles, perhaps as a reaction to not being able to receive audible communication, while she speaks more when she can’t see, perhaps to reassure herself that she’s not alone. Taking place within a stone circle in the midst of secluded woodland, Mistretta brings to mind notions of mysticism and magic, enhancing the sheer strangeness of having one of your senses temporarily removed.
Katherine MacBride’s film Present Moment sees a group of individuals discussing what we presume to be an overheard conversation on a bus. MacBride presents the conversation in text for the viewer’s information, while leaving the participants in the discussion to fill us in on the subtext, as they explore this minor scene in excruciating detail. The scene itself appears to play out as a brief moment of passive aggression between a mother, a father and their child; the mother appears to be dealing with some sort of issues that she does not elaborate on, the child either doesn’t know this or is ignorant of the issue’s importance, and the father plays the role of peacemaker, as this unfolds in public. The discussion that goes on between the various players allows us to consider the minute detail of even the briefest conversations, how there is much more being communicated than the words that are being said. Or then again, perhaps this group discussion is simply a case of reading too much into something, as at least one of the participants expresses doubt about her supposition about what’s going on, leading us to question how much we can really know when we overhear something, and how much of ourselves we project onto these conversations.
Tom Emery is a curator and writer based in Manchester.
Image courtesy Castlefield Gallery.
DANCEHALL 11, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.
13 – 22 November 2015.