Beyond The Turner At The Baltic.
By Glo Riggioni on November 29, 2011 in Art & Design
Now that the initial hype and the 60 minute queues are over, if you’re planning to visit the Baltic in the near future here’s my suggestion on how to proceed: give the Turner Prize a quick once over just so you can say you didn’t miss it, continue to the cafe and have a little sit-down until you’re sure the mystified expression has properly left your face, then smile, because that’s when the fun begins.
The open plan space on level 4 has been put to wonderful use by American artists Mike Kelly and Michael Smith, with their installation: A Voyage of Growth and Discovery. You’ll have the honour (such as it is) of meeting IKKI, a man/child aberration who walks around in nappies, and of sharing his experience as he discovers the debaucherous world of the Burning Man Festival in Arizona. 6 metal structures, shaped somewhere in between climbing frames, festival platforms and a tent, are interspersed with 6 screens to form a circle.
As soon as you step past the first structure you feel engulfed. Bunting, colourful spotlights and the music complete an immersive environment convincing enough to give a sore head and ringing eardrums. The carnival action spills past the screens and inhabits the objects that surround you: sleeping bags, cuddly toys, stray items of clothing; all tokens of a surreal landscape that can only describe the mind of a child inviting you to play, to drop your moral judgement and enjoy life in all its deviant glory.
At the far end of the room, presiding on the scene and locked in a pose as winning and extravagant as the party that inspired it, a 30ft junk effigy of IKKI himself brings home a sense of disproportion. Behind him, away from the action, the survival essentials lay almost forgotten.
A camper van and a row of porter loos seem a bit too matter-of-fact to fit with the rest of the setting. That is of course until you have a peek inside the van and find the cuddly toy-upholstered armchair (I want it!), so bizarre and unexpected you can’t but grin. I can only say I was disappointed to find that the loos didn’t open to reveal hidden scatological mysteries… but then maybe that’s a good thing.
Now if you would like to proceed back down to the ground floor, you’ll find Bani Abidi’s Section Yellow just as humorous, if a bit tragic. A film and a series of captioned photographs occupy the main room; their subject, the visa application process in Pakistan. Long lines, tedium and inefficacy are the order of the day; a tale of frustration revealed through sharp focus on the details: individual faces, specific anecdotes, an edge of ridicule to it all.
The vivid and well groomed aesthetic belies the association with a real life documentary, and instead the impression is of watching one of those arthouse films with minimal dialogue and a lot of background noise – with one difference – this one actually captures your attention … or at least it did mine.
It reminded me of queuing up for similarly tedious and ineffectual official transactions back home in Costa Rica, so that I can very sorely empathise with the misery and comedic value involved. But so can anyone who’s ever tried to pay for some last minute Christmas shopping in a busy department store, I’m sure.
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