FringeReview UK 2019
Sculptor and artist Bruce McLean and filmmaker Gary Chitty present their film The Decorative Potential of Blazing Factories. At the Coronet Theatre till June 22nd.
Imagine the Chapman Brothers storming Valhalla in cardboard, then setting bits of it alight. To Wagner. That last bit happened to the Chapman Brothers’ figurines and model landscapes in the disastrous Saatchi fire that saw Tracey Emin’s bed go up too.
Imagine if Emin was daddy-rich, entitled, called Sara and could on a whim decide to set her father’s factory alight and create from it ‘the greatest landscape in the 21st Century’. From a style out of ‘Turner, Miles Davis and Barnett Newman’.
In fact there is a bit of Newman here, all that red, but renowned sculptor and artist Bruce McLean (b. 1944) and filmmaker Gary Chitty have tongues firmly lodged in orifices as they set about satirising artistic ambitions, its relations with ego-manic-politicians and eco-maniacs as manifested here with salted assortments of world leaders, a board of 17, the British army, and ‘displaced disgruntled, dismayed, destroyed, deleted, dismissed’ workers.
Still, proceeds will be donated to the displaced workers. That’s a comfort, should the painting actually sell. Three plumes of smoke to be captured, Sara working fast, before the Environmental Agency turns up to thwart and prosecute. Possibly.
It’s the first film commission from The Coronet Theatre – in association with Razor film & Video Production and Azimuth Post-Production. Anda Winters’ powerhouse of diverse theatre-centred performances breaks new ground here, though the showing’s a brief five-day spectacle, in the exquisite and not too severely-restored Coronet (previously known too as The Print Room).
Starring 18 sheets of cardboard with ingenious use of figures cut out and either connected by cardboard or ingenious levers, it’s influenced by Japanese Bunraku puppet theatre with the camera closing in on a variety of postures or right up as the artist’s painting is subjected to ‘scumbling, scraping or smearing’ and overlaid in a palimpsests: first of orange and red over black, then later blues and greys. Oh and there’s the artist’s mega-expensive dress, splattered over its Ingres-Second-Empire white with decorations, in orange, a kind of Jack-the Dripper finish.
Quite apart from the voiceover, there’s a frequent use of subtitling throughout satirising the plight of, amongst others, the impotent workers. If this film was shown north of Watford it might invite being set alight too.
Use of de Wolf-type aggrandised chorus-orchestra kind gives place to Wagner’s Die Walwure then Rheingeld. (It sounds pretty vintage, and in nerd mode I try to identify it as the experimental 1955 stereo Keilberth Bayreuth recording, usefully out of copyright!).
There’s much to enjoy, though much concatenates too. Satire’s a flat form, these are flat people. The tone rightly never varies, the pricked grandiosity of lowering a mega-ton fireplace to lend grandiosity of the doomed board meeting (deliberating on filtered water as the place falls in on them) melds with the arrival of politicians in cavalcades, the eco-magus and finally army. It’s a feat of such puppetry revisiting many of McLean’s preoccupations from the late 1960s when factories really were collapsing or beginning to.
McLean doesn’t excuse himself or an of his targets. He’d really like to send them up in smoke, and has more than a point. The undressing of art in front of business isn’t a pretty sight, and those targets are neatly skewered. The only problem is the undifferentiated tone and same refractory material doesn’t quite allow us to relish different nuances, since one cardboard size doesn’t fit all.
The problem is the unvarying thrust and different registers of the elements satirised. This can’t be avoided: the medium dictates a sameness even in its wondrous mix of painting and cardboard, actions of hand-shaken idiocies morphing to sexual acts latterly, and the necessary use of close-ups however ingeniously mixed with smoke and puppet movement. McLean works wonders as it is, and Chitty makes ambitious use of everything in his own palette.
This does prove unrelenting – but there’s little remedy with such a medium here pushed to breath-taking extremes. McLean though realises this and the film at just under an hour is compelling in its dour humour, playing with a daft sublimity in its downright seriousness. And McLean and Chitty in case we missed it, are sending themselves up too. Uproariously. It’s time we had more of this.
There’s an attractive Print Room exhibition of some of the illustrations and models.