Essays

‘Allied and Amalgamated’ at Tramway, Glasgow (24th March 2018) Edward Bruce & Stephanie Black-Daniels.

By Douglas Welch.

It’s the reverberation in the school gym, hastening footsteps evoking a departing steam train. I feel sadness and loss. There are five dancers dressed as netball players and according to the letters on the blazons two positions short for a team. Since the dancers are wearing opposing colours I must be looking at the goal third. Awkwardly the Centre player has an orange blazon not blue or green. The court isn’t marked correctly for netball or is it only part of a multipurpose court? I feel frustrated by these inconsistencies.

Abruptly I am assaulted by a grating noise of metal being dragged along concrete. As if a gear has been thrown in reverse the dancers reverse their movements. I backtrack too. I see that the dancers have yet to move like dancers. There is nothing to differentiate their movements from netballers in training. I’m going to call them players from now on. Is this actually training? Would players practise their team celebrations so mechanically in a context that precludes spontaneity?

Edward Bruce and Stephanie Black-Daniels have dismantled the movements of sport and removed them from the dramatic narrative that a competitive match unfolds. It feels like training but is it really? It feels like work but for what function? Since I’m unsure about context I am left with sequences of movement. Movements still recognisable as those from netball but no longer functioning within a set of rules that constitute competitive sport. Disruptive metal industrial noises announce the end of a sequence and the start of another, functioning as stage cues for the players. That first cue was if someone had hit the rewind button and I think of the signals as potential video playback cues. I could splice the sequence at each cue and rearrange the blocks of movements according to my sense of play. This might seem a strange thing to consider but there is no dominant organising principle determining the narrative. As previously noted any expectations for a sporting narrative had been denied but no other arcing narrative has taken its place.

On one particular audio cue the players uniformly jump towards the centre whilst blocking imaginary high shots and passes. Close up they individually turn differing tight circles desperately marking and simultaneously evading opponents. Now acting as a team hands in front warding off imaginary opponents, hands up high blocking passes and shots on goal. The group in sync turn clockwise four times and I see this short sequence as a series of spinning cogs inside a machine. Initially the cogs are freely spinning but eventually they engage as a group. I’m seeing the performance as a mechanism that will play out.

Another sequence has the letter ‘T’, as high as the tallest performer, brought centre stage by the ‘C’ blazoned player. His hands rest on the letter’s cross stroke and I momentarily see him in stocks. The ‘T’ looks like a giant key that will wind up a clockwork mechanism and indeed the player winds it with each footstep. However, I realise he’s travelled anti-clockwise so maybe he was being moved by the spring’s unwinding? Hands grasp the letter in different positions whilst feet shuffle confidently or tentatively. The letter is passed between players smoothly or haphazardly, female players rotate clockwise and males anti-clockwise. The Wing Defence completes only a half rotation before walking off with the letter unexpectedly. This and many other inconsistencies are deliberate, just as you establish a pattern to the movements your expectations are frustrated.

And what of the letters? They are rotated on differing axes. Some complete their paths other fail for arbitrary reasons. They add a geometric dimension to the mechanised dismantling of sport. They frame the players forcing us to re-evaluate the human figures through what could be considered a ghostly outplay of language. At times they are used in ways that fit a sporting theme; attackers charging forward forcing a letter against the retreating defence, letters dropped transforming into training ground obstacles to be negotiated at speed. Despite being manipulated by the players the letters have another purpose as they don’t belong to the sporting system. Some of the letter movements remind me of Gliders from John Conway’s ‘Game of Life’, a mathematical model of cellular automaton run on a computer. Gliders were arrangements of cells that moved themselves across a space. I get a sense that the letters have their own behavioural agenda and on occasion direct the players according to the rules of a different system.

This system is the ghostly presence of heavy industry evoked by the soundtrack and the players spelling the acronyms for two trade unions, ‘RMT’ and ‘TGWU’. The letters dramatically clang when dropped and the players congratulate each other as if victors. Has the weight of industrial history been lifted from their shoulders? Are they oblivious to the eroding of Trade Union power that would have represented them? Or is this just another mechanical routine? The players run off through the audience before the lights dim.

 

Review: Ed Bruce, Stations Ends

Art In Liverpool

Ed Bruce, Station Ends at the Bridewell

Ed Bruce, Stations Ends
Bridewell Studios

Words, Josie Jenkins

I’ve known about Ed Bruce‘s work on the ‘Station Ends’ monoprints for a while. Earlier in the year I visited him in his studio and he showed me what he’d been up to. I thought it looked very promising at the time, but the final execution far surpassed my original expectations.

There’s a real difference between liking a piece of art and being in love with it. I don’t think the feeling happens very often, but I left the exhibition feeling compelled to write something. You can see some photographs of the exhibition in this article but this work really needs to be experienced in the flesh.

If you didn’t get to see it, contact Ed and find out when and where he might be showing them again. It’s not the sort of work that’s going to end up in the back of a cupboard with nowhere to go, it’s asking to be seen.

This is a bit of a backwards review – It began with my judgement, because my excitement about the work is desperate to come out. The exhibition features monoprints of stations. It’s a simple concept, it has simplicity in its execution, but there was nothing simple about the making of these pieces. Ed’s been working on these prints, and the techniques involved, for the best part of 2 years and he’s not the sort of person who likes to settle for less than perfection.

Ed employed the skills of fellow Bridewell member and cabinet maker Ken Hughes to craft the specific frames that he had in mind to display the artwork. They allude to the traditional Japanese panel screens which present delicate prints and re-define interior spaces. When I visited Ed in his studio, he showed me how he was printing each rectangular section onto thin Japanese paper, which is actually incredibly tough. Ed uses a solution of charcoal and water painted onto glass. The rectangular prints come together to form one large image of a station.

The image you’re presented with is faded, perhaps from bright sunlight or from the mist of a freezing cold day, either is possible and neither would be incorrect, because they are the sort of artworks that are telling you to make up your own story. They are simple and leave much to the imagination. Your mind is left to wander over thoughts of trains and the excitement of travel and for me, the history of the stations, the coming and goings and all that these functional beautiful buildings have seen.

The artworks have the feel of photographs, but as with the wonderful nature of monoprints, each is a ‘one off’ and their hand crafted nature is apparent in the marks you see, including brush strokes and sometimes drips, which come into and out of focus as you take in the work.

The exhibition includes a number of one piece prints along with a singular drawing in charcoal. They are smaller glimpses that a buyer could (and did) take away more easily. The smaller pieces have a great impact of their own, but for me the excitement of seeing something truly exceptional comes from the larger forms.

Think about those times when you’ve been alone waiting for a train, the forced solitude, but with people all around you; space and time to enter into a thoughtful state, but without loneliness. I found this experience again in ‘Station Ends’. And for me, when a piece of figurative art makes you feel you’re experiencing the situation that it itself portrays, it has done its job.