Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Broadway Cinema, Nottingham
14 January 2009
Reviewed by: meg tait »
I wasn’t wholly won over by any of David Blandy’s performances, and I’m not entirely sure why. There is a level of absurdity in it that I relate to in my own practice, and he too is the protagonist in both video and live performances. He also uses humour; a tool he described as being as valid and successful as shock tactics or beauty at attracting that attention that art sometimes needs to do.
Perhaps it is because his context doesn’t interest me, I have never been particularly stimulated by computer games, comics or fighting and it all felt very autobiographical.
What I did find rousing was the conviction with which he works, and it was the earnestness with which he created his alter ego, the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim, that made the character all the more believable as a person in his own right. This ambiguity where the performer and the character overlap interests me, and it is a fantasy. It’s almost parallel to childhood fantasy game. What his performances suggested to me was a possibility that perhaps for the duration of the filming, he actually had become that kung-fu fighter, the son of Darth Vader, the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim.
To imagine and act out being this other person you aspire to be, be that a character from a film or even a pop star, you can almost attach to yourself that glory and awe you have for the original artist. You only need to explore YouTube to recognize that impersonations give people a certain satisfaction, and Blandy’s videos could easily be compared with those classically found on such websites. He even said something by way of acknowledgement of this and noted, as if to save his work from the slander of that less ‘artistically contextualized’ connotation, that his work differed because he approached his videos as an artist with artistic intent.
And there is defiantly something in this. Be it a performance, a painting, a sculpture, if it is made to be art then it is art and has every right to be, that doesn’t argue it’s case for whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And comparing Blandy’s ‘From the underground’ against the YouTube-famous ‘fat kid singing nama nama yei’ is quite difficult.
I was properly introduced to David Blandy’s work by David Blandy himself, at a live lecture in Nottingham. This is an unusual way of coming into contact with work for the first time; it is rare to be shown it and have it and its context described by the one person who knows best, and mostly before you actually get to see the work. It is therefore possible that this excuses my main criticism; and that is that it all felt just too immediate and unsurprising, as if what was missing was a challenge; a puzzle almost, to figure out and to then take something like satisfaction from in doing so. It also felt over thought, perhaps loaded as if to have more to it than it does. The Way of the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim: The Search for Mingering Mike left me quite confused. 1
What I did understand of David Blandy is that he is a man, your classic ‘geek’ for lesser use of the word, lost in a world of popular culture, aware of clichés and self critical enough to recognize that he doesn’t always ‘fit in’.
More remarkable than any of Blandy’s work was his inadvertent example of how empowering a façade or mask can be. If you contrast the videos of himself as himself; this fairly awkward, young man, miming to Star Wars or the Wu Tang Clan, against the charisma that is expelled in his performance as ‘The Black and White Minstrel’, you would be forgiven for insisting that they were different people. Even the confidence with which he carries out his life as the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim has an air about it that doesn’t chance being questioned. There is daftness and a futility in both that could easily be shot down, but conviction makes almost all performances impenetrable, however little is understood of them.
Conviction, humour, futility and the exploitation of the ‘mask’, Blandy’s work on paper has everything going for it. But on the whole, I found his work lacking any witty cleverness. It was almost too explicit, not allowing the audience a level of satisfying participation.
1. ‘Mingering Mike’ took the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim on an adventure. In The Way of the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim: The Search for Mingering Mike Blandy pays homage to another man’s character, an American soul singer. Recognizing that both he and Mingering Mike make comic book drawings, and share a passion for soul music, he draws parallels between these two identities and embarks on a journey to find him. One fantasy character in search of another had the effect of alluding to a new and authentic reality; like two negatives equaling a positive. The contextualization of this piece and how it concluded in the eventual tracking down of Mike had a roundness to it that felt satisfyingly resolved. Still, however satisfied I was by how well I felt the piece concluded I only felt happiness for him that it did.
Broadway Cinema »
14 Broad Street, Nottingham NG1 3AL
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