The Space: 21 days later

21st May 2012

Time for another update on the pop-up arts offering The Space (go here and here for earlier bulletins). This is the Arts Council England initiative with the BBC which I gather is likely – after its six month trial – to become a permanent fixture of our media world. Three weeks in, what’s hot on The Space and what’s most definitely not? Well, it still feels like an online broadcaster, with next-to-no capability for engagement, comment, dialogue or personalisation. And given its genesis, that feels like a missed opportunity. But the range of elements is wider than at launch and – pleasingly – many are weirder. There is one out and out triumph, plus some stuff that is intriguing or interesting, one or two irritating things, and then one or two more that have not come off but which were definitely worth trying. At day 21, you can feel that it is beginning to deserve more (and occasionally less) than that fence-sitting adjective, ‘promising’. Across the jump are ten reasons why.

Overworlds & Underworlds (** 2 stars)
This really ought to have worked, but somehow it didn’t. This past weekend the streets and subterranean tunnels of Leeds were animated by dancers, singers and musicians in a festival project co-ordinated by the Brothers Quay. For a few hours each day The Space offered simultaneous live streams from the events which have now been archived without – as far as I can see – editing or contextualisation. The live video quality, frankly, was poor, and it remains so  – and this is all the more noticeable when so much of the other moving image content on The Space looks so good. Plus, it is hard – or indeed impossible – to work out what or who (or why) you are watching. I understand the value of serendipity but I am not sure the way to encourage video flaneurs is to post lengthy, fuzzy streams, whether live or recorded, with no indexing and no indication of content – and then expect an audience simply to dive in.

Pass the Spoon (*** 3 stars)
Not really my cup of tea, but those who like this kind of thing will almost certainly like this. London’s Southbank Centre hosted a contmporary pantomime opera by visual artist David Shrigley, composer David Fennessy and director Nicholas Bone. The conceit is whimsical (and what do you expect with Shrigley is involved?), being centred on a surreal daytime cookery show for television. First seen on 6 May as one of the first live broadcasts on The Space, it is now served up on the on-demand menu.

I’d Hide You (*** 3 stars)
You will not currently find any trace of this on The Space, but on three nights over the weekend video streams appeared from the latest remarkable augmented reality game from Blast Theory, past masters of interactive and participatory events. Except that you could only actually play the online game – which was also taking place in the streets of Manchester – at Blast Theory’s dedicated web site. At The Space you simply watched others play it or, as happened several times when I tuned in, you saw the slick trailer. Which somehow did not seem quite the point – and was really rather dull.

Mind you, even on the dedicated site, while the game there most definitely worked (it involved tracking runners and clicking to snap them when they appeared on screen) I found it fiendishly difficult to play. And as my score remained stubbornly stuck at zero it was somewhat depressing to see the total ascribed to Space supremo Tony Ageh tick into the five and six hundreds.

Will Self – Writing Kafka’s Wound (*** 1/2  3.5 stars)
Now this *is* interesting, in part in prospect, but even now in its current fragmntary form. Will Self has been commissioned to write a digital literary essay. In conjunction with the London Review of Books, this will appear on The Space in July, but meanwhile he is blogging his thought processes and working methods, and there is a short film introduction as well. As to what the essay will be about, it

will be examining [Self’s] personal relationship to Franz Kafka’s work through the lens of the story, A Country Doctor(1919), and in particular through the aperture of the wound described in that story. Self’s initial view is that the wound embodies an aspect of the burgeoning ironic consciousness created in European culture by the experience of the First World War, and his essay will treat of Kafka’s particular forms of irony and absurdism.

Idris Khan – Lying in Wait (**** 4 stars)
Intriguingly, photographic artist Idris Khan‘s gorgeous 2009 three-screen film with dancer and choreographer Sarah Warsop is ‘a donation’ to The Space. That is, it was not a commission (as were most of the other projects mentioned here) but rather had been produced in another context and is using The Space as a distribution channel. Its nine minutes are well worth your time.

Tweet Music – The Listening Machine (**** 4 stars) A beautifully simple idea that I am sure depends on far from simple technology – the ‘machine’ turns out a realtime sound response to the Twitter activity of five hundred UK users. Created by the Britten Sinfonia with with technologist Daniel Jones and cellist/composer Peter Gregson.

Joseph Pierce – A Family Portrait (**** 4 stars)
BFI is contributing all sorts of stuff to The Space, including both of the next two items as well as this. Joseph Pierce’s dark animated fantasy from 2009 lays bare the familial tensions as father, mother and kids pose for a portrait. It is one of a group of BFI Shorts aimed at encouraging new talent. Note, the link above should get you to the film, although at least one of the site’s links to it (from this page) is currently broken.

Nocturna Artificialia (**** 4 stars) Another welcome offering from the BFI archive, this is the first film made by Brothers Quay way back in 1979. A still astounding creation, this was made for the BFI Production Board when – undr chair Jeremy Isaacs – it had a wonderfully eclectic and experimental commissioning policy (and which was a key influence on the early years of Channel 4).

Silent Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (**** 4 stars)
One of the great joys of a good festival is imaginative programming which makes links between perhaps unlikely offerings and so encourages you to sample stuff you might not otherwise. So it is wonderful to discover this short 1909 adaptation of Shakespeare which is in its way as strange as anything from the minds of the Brothers Quay, but which also beautifully sets up the crowning glory of The Space to date…

Globe to Globe (****1/2  4.5 stars)
This is the unquestionably the triumph of the site so far, and as far as I am concerned more than sufficient on its own to justify the project. I am going to save for another post my detailed thoughts about these recordings of performances of Shakespeare productions from around the world. Suffice to say here that the only thing that has let them down to date is the lack of subtitling for most of the dramas – and even when present, as with the rather marvellous Russian Measure for Measure, they are inadequate in being poorly synched and sloppily laid out.

Meanwhile, take your pick from the joys currently on offer in Pericles, Venus and Adonis, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (above).

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