ROLLO Contemporary Art

My world of art is on the move. From the subtle jolts of Margaret Michel’s motorised collages to the whirling guitars of Stephen Cornford via the long-awaited Kinetica Art Fair 2009 I can hardly sit still. Rollo Contemporary art gallery rolls out its series of feminine art works and presents the finely crafted kinetic boxes of American artist Michel which comes to life as you approach them and trigger their sensors. Made out of found objects such as the old-fashioned fan in L’inconnu whose stretching mechanism barely covers the legs of the naked woman pinned down behind it, Michel assembles objects and images to evoke possible connections in the viewer’s mind, deconstructing and reconstructing them through their mobile machinery. As I kept watching, hypnotised by the slow, mechanical comings and goings of the trees in Le Cycle de la Foret, the motor was getting tired and a plaintive sound was coming out of the box, adding to the bare, desolate narrative of this winter scene. Lamartine’s evocative verse ‘Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé’ (One misses somebody and the world is empty) popped into my head. Standing closeby, Claire Morgan’s frozen sculptures of hanging flies and stuffed birds only reinforced the overwhelming sense of fragility and dangerous imbalance already conveyed by Michel’s frail live mechanisms. The 3374 flies stuck on pieces of string, meticulously arranged to form a 50 cm cube, imperceptibly moved when I came near and made me recoil with revulsion. Morgan keeps the dynamism of her pieces down to the bare minimum of materials and concepts, preferring the use of natural forces to the computer and other electric/tronic devises. This results in artworks striking a very fine chord between stillness and movement. Somehow, one’s never quite sure if the flies are still alive and if a swarm of them is about to zoom over one’s head.

Stephen Cornford’s twirling bass and electric guitar sculptures have the exhilarating and dizzying feel of a fun ride. The one I used to love-and-hate as a kid was ‘les parasols’ (the umbrellas): it would swirl you around in the air in a circle at the speed of a TGV. Two of the three sculptures installed in the Elevator gallery space were spinning dangerously fast, so much so that a notice in the entrance hall warned the audience not to go too near and to keep children away from them. This created a kinetic/sound installation in which interactivity was hit and miss. Cornford’s sound art piece could almost be located within the experimental form of danger music based on the concept that a piece of music can or will harm the performer or the audience. A crowd had formed around the bar and close to the entrance, staying well clear of the pieces and I couldn’t help giggling at the faces and awkward bodies of people who dared approaching them or dodged their way around them. The whole art piece actually came to life when two performers started drumming and generally banging on anything they could reach around their set to capture the sonic waves made by the spinning guitars, and improvise with them. A transmitter, amplifier and speaker were attached to each instrument and it was left to the centrifugal force, vibrations and air flux to produce the whirling sounds, boosted at times by the artist unplugging and twiddling on his guitars knobs. Peter Farmer and Rob Gawthorp’s assault on their drums and our ears made the ensemble work in near-perfect asynchronised harmony – no need to say, this half-man, half-machine quintet performance proved exponentially more entertaining than some of the yawn-triggering laptop orchestra acts I have seen around. The performers’ gestures, crashing cymbals and spinning sculptures created a powerful visual/aural environment, and this tipped the balance between art and technology towards a more human dimension. Stephen Cornford’s impromptu band rocked.

Caught in a moment is at Rollo Contemporary art gallery till 28 February

Three Piece is at Elevator Gallery till 22 February