BBZ Black Book: Alternative Graduate Show 2019 @ Copeland Gallery
Emoji summary: ✈️🥰🆒
New Contemporaries has been lowkey busted for a while now, and in this soft closure, I (i’m sure amongst others) have been thinking: what’s even the point of a graduate show anyway? BBZ have an answer. Last year I went to their graduate show (done in collaboration with SYFU) & filmed a whole walkthru that you can find on our instagram highlights, and this year the show is on for while, so I can very sincerely tell you to GO AND SEE FOR URSELF. I will now tell you why, here we go ✈️ review of BBZ Black Book: Alternative Graduate show 2019.
There are 10 artists in this show, and while I would love to write about my thoughts on every single one of them, I saw this show on Saturday so this review is being written at lightning-speed. I’m just going to touch on the works that I feel I have the most solid thoughts on.
As soon as you walk in, immediately on your left is a wall covered in
little clips of text from floor to ceiling. I stood back, it is Ebun
Sodipo’s ‘in the thick of it’;
‘though you embarked a long time ago
the deep is all this form remembers’ //
‘this body made to look
this body made to look upon
this body shudders and falls’ //
‘this body I make to look upon
this body rumbles and shakes
this body rises and quakes
this body bursts from the deep’ //
‘losing your edges and bounds’ //
I think I love it, always, this deep textual exploration, this repetition, of describing a body in grammar and word. It is spiced (u know how adding spice is a careful, accumulative process, balancing and slowly bringing things out in relation to each other). This work kind of begs the presence of a body near it; be it in reading the words, stitching them together in to cogent sense, or of the artist as an authorial memory. It begs a body’s presence, but it kind of also rly rejects it when it’s close. This work has strong scorpio energy, lmaooo. It wants to feel you close, but not have you compromise a vulnerability. It wants your proximity to not compromise its opacity, which is never at any point rendered able to be punctured. It is a gentle arms length, veiled. I am glad to be handled with this kind of care. I am always in awe at Ebun’s work & their ability to make mystery and awe out of banality. I think this work needed more space, some emptiness either side of it? I wanted some room for it to move away from me, so when we collided I felt it with a force. But honestly, I can’t even really be mad at that, because grad shows are group shows and space is a premium quite honestly. My experience of the work wasn’t worsened bc of a lack of sparseness. It was still a fragrant blend, gentle hand, deep textual tissue matter.
Rene Matic’s film, ‘Brown Girl in the Art World III’ is behind a curtain on the right. It’s accompanied by a voiceover of her speaking about and around the work and its frame of reference. I just - really want to take a minute to like really fucking stand in awe of the aesthetic? That’s at play? In the film? It’s something that Rene touches upon in the voiceover, that she’s being forced to speak about blackness, black materiality, the white gaze & reciprocal viewership; rather than stuff that white filmmakers are able to speak about without interruption. So, I just wanna take time to dig into the actual aesthetic bc,,, m8. The film is shot in front of a vacated pub in Cornwall. There’s a sign above the door, a waterproof printed sign, that says ‘LEASE THIS PUB’ in massive letters as wide as the building itself. Of this, Rene on the soundtrack says, ‘they’re literally inviting me in’, the words are affirmative, definitive, specific. LEASE. THIS. PUB. They speak to YOU without addressing YOU, without specifying that the YOU they are implying is both singular and plural, both you individually, and you collectively. The actual imagery of the pub, with its waterproof vinyl printed banners, its picnic tables out front, the ‘FOOD SERVED DAILY HERE’ with a picture of a Sunday roast, the magnolia exterior walls, the sky sports logo, and its 3 St George’s flags. It is all *chefs kiss* perfecto. I feel like I gravitate towards the same aesthetic (if u look @ my personal instagram - please don’t - but if u did, you’d see that there) but with Asian typifiers, rather than British: Beige carpets, plastic wrap, foldable chairs and coloured lighting in restaurants. There is something about the aesthetic of these communal spaces, where we eat & drink, when it is without pretence. Something about taste and class and ambience, and t b h - about aesthetic theory. And also something about the universal, the comfortable and the identifiable. Something in the aesthetic itself, in the articulation of that taste, that draws a boundary between inside & outside, something that allows you to identify us//them, Self & Other. It is subtle, and also, so ubiquitous in our England that it’s almost a subconscious background humming. But Rene has identified it, and turned it into a backdrop for the site of her performing body, in such a way that even as a backdrop, this subtle implicit construction of inside/outside, us/them, self/other, centre/periphery,,, this is rendered palpable and legible. It is, tbh, kinda rudely masterful. To then add more on top of that, the voiceover moves on and beyond that. To weave between addressing the white gaze that will inevitably consume the work (& her performing body), the violence of imagery, the political implications of black perfomativity, what her work means, could mean, would mean, should mean. It is really achingly heavy, but at the same time a completely transparent generosity; it at once lifts any kind of authorial opacity (like the opacity I could identify in Ebun’s work, which there acts as a kind of agency, a go-away-come-closer agency) and grasps at a transparency that acts, imo, as a rly handy political tool for agency in this awkward violent transaction of exhibiting & viewing an artwork. It doesn’t tell you how you should view this artwork, it just tells you how the artist views it, in a multitude of ways and potential possibilities. That is not just generosity for the viewer, it is also a firm ownership of the narrative the work speaks to.
Then, I think, this is the magic of grad shows. As I went through the other door into the larger gallery, I was met by the work of 3 artists whose work I’d never seen before. Kengy, Davinia-Ann Robinson & Miranda Forrester. Their works really grabbed me, in this space, as works that spoke to each other so fluently. Kengy’s ‘Heal and Adorn (3)’, a digital print on copper, a true-red border, with a smaller image mounted in the centre, close up of two lil bum-cheeks. Tightly-cropped & in that tight restriction, it was sweet and tender, but also really powerful and aesthetically punchy. Like somewhere between album artwork and altar. Foreground shifts to Davinia-Ann Robinson’s sculpture, ‘Plasticised Sensation’, a pinky-nude box that dripped wood-varnish through a long black plait of hair. The varnish looked like treacle or sticky sweet, and it hung from the bottom of the plait, this tangible material, it was haptic-looking, I could feel it as I saw it. The gut-wrench refusal of stickiness in hair and that feeling that’s like disgust but softer. It dripped down onto a raw wooden board, but spilled over and off onto a pool on the floor. This fucking! Work! Was so sophisticated in its craft, its soft-disgust, its revulsion and tender beauty, a gentle kind of eroticism in the saturation of stickiness, and the shape of the plait, limp and stiff at the same time. It took all of me to not reach out & grasp at the bottom of the plait, I think that’s powerful though! To have made something that so desperately wants to be touched, but that would not be pleasant to touch at alllll. fuckkkk. So good.
Miranda Forrester’s paintings are, I believe, the only paintings in the show? They are delightful and tbh just what I wanted. I have said before (in my Frank Bowling review) that I only ever enjoy paintings in the Summer. I think it’s something to do with heat & light. They just look better in bright daylight, blue sky no clouds. They interact with this physical transparency, that’s a really nice curatorial carry-on from Rene & Ebun’s work. Not just in the transparent canvas, and the open unpainted spaces between figure and object, but also in the scratchy translucent brushstrokes that made object of themselves. I think, like Ebun’s work, they needed way more space, I would’ve been happy to see them spread across the entire long gallery. But, ye, I get it, space is a premium & it’s better to have them there than not at all. I want to know if any of these sold. If not, I’m game to buy them - I have nothing clever or academic to say other than that my enjoyment of them was purely visceral. Maybe one day I’ll be able to articulate why I like the paintings I like, but until then, I have to be content with saying; ‘it’s just a feeling, a happy hum in the bottom of my stomach and the middle of my chest’. Like satisfaction but lighter.
Finally, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s room-wide installation. Fuck me. It was a gut-drop plunge into a theatricality, an enclosed flavour. FUCK. This room, the video, I cannot really put to words yet what the feeling does to you. I can only say that Danielle’s film on the far wall is masterful, a really skilful balanced act of reclamation and control. Like Ebun & Rene’s work, there’s this interplay between opacity and translucency, and in this work, it is a switch between the two states that becomes a site of work in and of itself. It is something you just have to go and see. I haven’t got cogent words for it, but maybe you will. Danielle is doing a performance tonight (Sunday 25th Aug 6pm) and next Saturday (31st August 6pm). I urge you to go, this is really not to be missed.
What BBZ have done, this year & last, is absolutely incredible. Not only are the artists & their works all worthy of a visit in their own right, but the grad show as an event in and of itself is urgent, necessary, and quite frankly mindblowing. This year, they’ve managed to raise funds to pay the artists a fee, which is such a tangible and solid step towards sustainability. If we, as a community of POC in the arts, are sat here knowing that things are dire, that resources are scarce, that we are often forced to choose between stability-sustainability-resources and creative fulfilment-agency-control over our own narrative; we can only see this show, a display of what happens when you’re allowed BOTH those things, as a good incredible thing to be supported and nurtured. I want to see the BBZ grad show in 2020, 2021, 2035, 3076. I want this to become an institution, of sorts - a soft institution, institution in its stability and the reassurance that it’ll be back year in-year out, a powerful alumni and network beyond exhibition, because while we are all on the outside of these other institutions, dying inside and dying outside, it leaves us with only one option: to make our own, and to make them sustainable. I am so full of genuine joy that BBZ have done that, and I challenge u ALL to go, support, and to let this inspire u to make your own too. We are stronger together when we all put our hands in to construct. I will be there, screaming ‘well done’ @ u too.
BBZ Black Book: Alternative Graduate Show 2019 was co-curated by Deborah Joyce Holman, it is on at Peckham's Copeland Gallery until 31st August. Make sure you don't miss Danielle's performance on the closing night (SATURDAY 31st).