Laura O’Leary reviews Three Models for Change which took place at Stryx, Birmingham from 9-16 June 2018.
Three Models for Change, was a group show of artists Chris Alton, Ian Giles and Greta Hauer curated by University of Birmingham students Ryan Kearney, Alice O’Rourke and Ariadne Tzika in association with Grand Union. The exhibition presented three separate works, all made between 2016-18 that engage with how to form communities and ripple the product of proactive conversations into society.
In Ian Giles’ After BUTT (2018), mattresses were strewn across the floor creating a comfortable bed to watch his thirty-four minute film, in which a group of stylish readers in their twenties enacted conversations that he conducted with the founders and those involved in the making of BUTT, a gay magazine that featured half lifestyle and half pornography content, published between 2001-2011. Questions included why the magazine started, by whom, it’s design, and legacy.
The perspective of the group oscillates around the room, shot in a soft light. In the film, a reader comments that BUTT made it okay “to have a small dick and a pot belly.” BUTT displayed body diversity, instead of the mainstream presentation of men in gay magazines that was “clean” and “commercial”, an aesthetic that was familiar to the founders Gert Jonkers and Jop Van Bennekom pre-BUTT. However, as the conversation draws out, we find out the magazine was not inclusive, and provoked questions regarding the magazine’s treatment of race and gender.
Gay culture is discussed with emotion and humour in this highly organised, scripted conversation. A casual life-like nature to the dialogue is portrayed, due to beer cans sitting next to reader’s trainers, as though I was witnessing a self-reflexive conversation. Whilst sinking deeper into the mattress, re-watching the film, I considered why these artists are brought together in the same room.
Chris Alton’s Still Anarchy (2017-ongoing) is an installation of three embellished leather jackets, embroidered with statements such as “Defend the Sacred”. Copies of his A Quaker Zine #Volume 1 commissioned for this exhibition are displayed, which include snippets of conversations, collages, drawings and small texts made during a workshop in May 2018 at Friend’s House, London, with “a group of former Punks, now Quakers and others.” The zine indicates to resistance, demonstrated in the imagery of police arrests at protests and also, constructions of identity. Such as, “I turn back to the [14-year-old] girl in the denim jacket, the girl who used to be a Mod but now considered herself a Quaker, the girl who admires Edie Sedgwick and gets turned on by Day-Glo running shoes.” The extract is a part of this document which demonstrates the recent exchanges Alton had with the group.
In Alton’s installation of leather jackets, he brings together two seemingly disparate groups; Punks and Quakers, and turns them into a fictional band, imagined and sought by the artist. Typified by a pull-out poster in the zine, with a “MEMBERS WANTED” sign – seek band mates, reminiscent of handmade posters found in the back of music stores. Tabs at the bottom of the poster display the artist’s digits. The (retro) term “digits” used, as the aesthetic of the poster harks back pre-digital times, where these types of messages were not shared online but infiltrated the walls of buildings, where these groups would pass through; forming networks. The leather jackets that hang from chains vacantly await the band, ready to fuse a new narrative.
In Greta Hauer’s work – the final “Model for Change” – her commissioned film Vigorous Activities (2016-2018) sheds light on the fictional activities taking place on Nishinoshima, a volcanic island ~1000km off the coast of Japan. Nishinoshima was confirmed as an island in 2013 and is expanding overtime, consequently broadening the Japanese economic zone. The work lasts for nine minutes and begins with a large title: VIGOROUS ACTIVITIES in the opening sequence and a documentary style aesthetic follows, in which a character that plays “the presenter” details the redevelopment of Nishinoshima as a tourist hotbed, notorious for its seafood delicacies; a by-product of men in suits tampering with the ecosystems of the island. By reflecting on a fictional future for Nishinoshima; a new self-building island, it presents the site of the exhibition as a space to reflect on the formation of communities, which in themselves could be seen as self-building systems and the possibility of re-defining places by investigating their political and cultural remit.
Three Models for Change offered a gateway into prototypes of queer dialogues, the intersection between Punks/Quakers and into possible futures of un-told, uninhabited places. What draws to the surface, is the unrest of desire for spaces for organic conversations, in a structured, harmonious sense. How by critically addressing the histories and futures of communities, even fictitious, can be a good diving board to enter into how to discuss issues through these networks, to quote from Ian Giles’ work – “how there’s not one way to do anything.”
Laura O’Leary (based Birmingham/Derby) is a freelance writer and Programme Assistant at QUAD, Derby.