Review: Coco Screening “a child friendly, toe-tapping journey”

The cinema screen was festooned in a garland of bright orange petals, a fixture of Mexico’s traditional Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead festivities that star in Pixar’s latest feature film Coco. The screening, which was held in Centrespace Gallery in the Visual Research Centre on Friday 9 November, was a dress-in-theme event. A floor full of children crowded together under the screen, flashing brightly festive Mexicana gear and skeletal themed black face paint adornments – such as skull and cross-bone circles around eyes.

It was a colourful start to a visual exuberance of a film. What might at first seem to threaten sombrero cliché after amigo joke, Coco instead took us all on a child friendly, toe-tapping journey through deeply felt questions like life and death, culture, love and family. Pixar lets this fluorescent annual ritual tell the touching story of 12-year-old Miguel, a young Mexican boy who dreams of being a musician like his long dead idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular crooner who rose to become a screen star and national recording legend.  Before he can even hope to follow in his idol’s footsteps however Miguel has to somehow convince his family that their generations old feud against music can finally be laid to rest. Chasing that dream lands him in the kaleidoscopic Land of the Dead itself where he meets Hector, a vagabond but charming friend with a big smile and a shared love of music, not to mention a disarmingly modular skeleton that keep falling to pieces and clicking together again, like clattering rhythm sticks.

Miguel’s extended family of shoe-makers live in a small town in Mexico, where each year on the Day of the Dead they cover an altar with portraits of dead family relatives, offerings of food and orange flower petals to honour their memory. We soon learn that this memorial is a vital key to welcome back departed loved ones on that one day of the year when they can return to revisit all those who remember them. Coco is Miguel’s great-grandmother, whose fast-fading memories include the long-lost, wandering father who went off to pursue a career in music and never came back, leaving his young wife and child to fend for themselves. This historic abandonment sparked the intense family fury against all things lyrical – Coco’s father’s face has been torn from the family photo portrait and his name is mud.

A twist of fate lands Miguel in the city of dead, chasing this long-lost father’s blessing as his only way back to a life where he can finally pursue his dreams of playing music. Chased by family passions on both sides of life it’s a race against time and not only for Miguel. Once the departed are forgotten, even their bones fade away and they disappear from the land of the dead forever. In the end it’s a song, ‘Remember Me’, that saves the day.  Tempering what is otherwise a quirky family tale about life, love, the chance to make amends and zippy skeletal dance moves after death, Coco’s fading memory becomes a tearful path of loss. I cried – and I wasn’t the only one. This is a zany film (with notably no princesses locked away in towers, or elsewhere for that matter…just earthy, fiery, crooning, wounded, loving and wrinkled women) that may just help children cope with grief.

By Bronwin Patrickson

Image Credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography

How would you interpret this principle? Sustain Your Errors 

Sustain your errors is a series of workshops and events re-interpreting a set of ideas by artist and musician David Cunningham first used for his 1976 album Grey Scale. The project is based on conversations between Cicely Farrer and David Cunningham around ways of interpreting the scores and their guiding principles. Originally designed for sound, this project opens up the Error System for further interpretation across movement, moving image, dialogue and projection.

Workshops: 23 November, 11am-5pm & 24 November, 10-2pm

Facilitated by Saffy Setohy and Adam Lockhart

Performances: 24 November, 6-8pm

Informal evening of performances and experiments by workshop participants and invited artists Saoirse Anis and Atzi Muramatsu

On Friday 23 and Saturday 24th November in the Vision Building, a new set of interpretations of the Error System were created. Facilitators Saffy Setohy (movement) and Adam Lockhart (music and video) worked with a group of participants from a range of artistic backgrounds to react to and interpret David’s playing systems.

The work is based on simple instruction sets, algorithms and heuristics, the foundations of the digital environment we now experience every day. The systems created are intensely repetitive and form potentially never ending loops. A group of performers were invited to input into a system and to attempt the fundamental tactic of sustaining their errors.

A set of provocations run alongside the project: follow despite disbelief; making myself do something I otherwise wouldn’t do; non-intentiality; the structures are clear if you choose to look…

On Saturday from 6-8pm, workshop participants and facilitators shared their experiments with the Error System scores in an informal evening of group performances. Joining the event were be artist Saoirse Anis and musician Atzi Muramatsu who created new works in response to the systems.

Cicely and David are currently putting together a diary of documentation, reactions and ideas which will be published here on the NEoN blog. 

Introduction to David Cunningham’s Error System

David Cunningham’s art work evades visual description as it is mostly real-time sound based and site specific. His installations and performances are experienced across sound, music, light, movement and the architectures of space. He frequently uses a systems approach. This systems approach could be through a sound loop, overlapping cycles, a set of instructions, collaborative conditions or the space the work inhabits.

Sustain your errors draws on an early work of David’s, Grey Scale, for which he set up scores/instructions in the production of his sound work in the late 70s. In its original form, Grey Scale is an album that was originally released as a vinyl record in a grey card sleeve in 1976. The album features tracks which are played across a range of instruments, percussion, tape recorders, synthesisers and water.

The Facilitators

Glasgow-based Saffy Setohy works across choreography, performance, participatory work and movement direction in an expanded field. Interdisciplinary collaboration is at the heart of her work. Her current interests are around perception, interconnection, and interdependancy. Improvisation and working from scores, tasks and instructions are key to her practice. 

Trained at Laban, Saffy graduated in 2007. She has worked as a performer with choreographers including Henrietta Hale, Matthias Sperling, Angela Praed, Willi Dorner, and performed in the restaging of Yvonne Rainers’ seminal post-modern work Trio A for Move: Choreographing You at the Hayward Gallery. She was an ‘emerging artist in residence’ at the Southbank Centre from 2010-2012, and is currently an associate artist of Insitu European network for art in public space, supported by UZ Arts.

Saffy teaches and facilitates in a range of education and community contexts, and is a visiting university lecturer. She is both an artist member and board member of The Work Room, an organisation supporting the development of contemporary choreographic practices. 

Dundee based Adam Lockhart is a musician and media archivist. He has been involved with music and sound performance for many years, currently with cult indie band Spare Snare, electropop Man Without Machines, experimentalists The Devotional Ensemble and dub spoken word Bob Flambe & The Atoms of Desire. He is a leading specialist in the conservation, preservation and restoration of artists’ video. As Media Archivist & Researcher at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Lockhart has worked on various research projects including REWIND | Artists’ Video in the 70s & 80s, Narrative Exploration in Expanded Cinema with Central St Martins College of Art & Design, REWIND Italia and European Women’s Video Art. 

Adam has acted as curator, co-curator and consultant for a number of screenings and exhibitions at places such as Tate Modern, Tate Britain, BFI Southbank, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art, Stills Edinburgh, Streetlevel Photoworks Glasgow, DOCVA in Milan and Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum.

He facilitates workshops with Dundee Contemporary Arts and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. 

The testing of the scores

During NEoN Festival, Cicely invited artist Katie Hare to experiment with and respond to the Error System scores at Centrespace VRC in Dundee Contemporary Arts. Moving-image and text based works were installed in the gallery alongside a programme of screenings, performances and audio works. Katie’s work examines the effects of the increasing rapidity of technological progress, particularly with regards to memory and obsolescence and the way narrative and storytelling is shifting as a result of this development.

Cicely has received mentorship in the development and facilitation of this project from artist Pernille Spence.

Supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

Image Credit: Drawing from Piano duo No. 1., instructions for performance, David Cunningham.  1971. Courtesy of the artist.

Fictional Tales of Imaginary Lifespans

Beginning with a writhing naked woman, the NEoN Artists’ Shorts Screening Programme was a cosy affair which took place in a packed George Orwell on 7 November. Over the course of several films it explored the lifespans of imaginary insects, our electronic waste, female fertility, and more.

The first film ‘Infected’ by Gina Czarnecki was about the nature of the physical body and featured Iona Kewney as the naked woman. Over the course of eight minutes her image pulsated and shifted until it was merely streams of light.  The hypnotic rhythm of Fennesz’s score allowed the audience to take their seats and was a fitting opener.

It was followed by ‘The Order Electrus’ by Floris Kaayk, a delightful fictional documentary in the style of David Attenborough. “As nature merged with technology new forms of life emerged,” explained the voiceover, which was provided by Tony Maples. To the music of Debussy the film imagines the lifespans of electrical insect species. Repurposed industrial buildings were the perfect site for this work.

In a similar vein Francois Knoetze’s ‘Core Dump’ – of which the screening was the UK premiere – told the fictional tale of an electronic scrap merchant who rebuilds himself after an accident. Although it could easily have appeared ridiculous, instead his suffering and anguish was apparent in almost every scene and kept the story grounded. “I rebuilt myself the only way I knew how,” says the protagonist at one point, alluding to the DIY aesthetic of the character design. The story reminds the western viewer of the way countries like Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo are used as dumping grounds for electronic waste, and imagines how this waste could be re-purposed. It’s almost a cautionary tale, much like Keiichi Matsuda’s ‘Hyper-Reality’, which follows a day in the life of a woman in a fictionalised version of Medellin, Colombia. Her life is dominated by a wearable augmented reality overlay, full of advertising and points systems. The film acts as both a glimpse into the future and a warning of what the consequence of that future might be.

On a lighter note was Liat Berdugo and Emily Martinez’s piece ‘Making You’; a parody of cheap television and online video adverts centred around the question “how to make yourself…” with the predicted text endings being the piece. Or Jeremy Bailey’s ‘Transhuman Dance Recital’, which featured the creator’s floating head dancing with a small cyan triangle. Mary Maggic Tsang’s ‘Egstrogen Farms’ was also rather fun. It presented itself as a solution to female reproductive difficulties with the marketing line of allowing women to ovulate as frequently as chickens. At only a minute long it was short, but perfectly formed.

Overall, the screening programme was a highlight of this year’s NEoN digital arts festival. Make sure you catch it next year!

By Ana Hine

Image Credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography

Last chance to see AL and AL’s “new nativity”

There’s only a few days left to see AL and AL’s specially commissioned work as part of NEoN digital arts festival’s ‘take over’ of the Wellgate shopping centre.

In their piece, the ‘Immaculate Conception of Isaac Newton’, artists Alan Holmes and Alan Taylor, known professionally as AL and AL, propose that the birth of the scientist could replace the traditional story of Christmas. In their exhibition at the Wellgate shopping centre they are inviting members of the public to experience their “new nativity” idea – celebrating the birth of Isaac Newton, who was also born on 25 December.

“We thought it would be wonderful to stage the ‘Immaculate Conception of Isaac Newton’, which features Isaac’s fetus growing inside Hannah’s womb, and emerging into the world in an installation formed from hay bales; a new nativity scene for a new belief system, in a shopping mall readying itself for Christmas,” explained the Manchester-based artists.

AL and AL have transformed the empty Unit 26A – which used to be the Iceland store – into a high-end art gallery with their show Down The Rabbit Hole. Inspired by the Nursery Rhyme clock in the Wellgate, the artists started thinking about the time and the way it is measured, as well as the importance of birthdays.

“Dundee’s most loved clock, located at the heart of the Wellgate shopping centre, is a Nursery Rhyme clock that has mesmerised generations of children in Dundee,” they said. “Inspired by this magical timekeeper we began to think about how the scientific revolution has transformed our understanding of time.”

Weave by Abertay have also taken over the vacant retail Units 9-11 on the second floor on behalf of NEoN with their group show ‘Lifespans: Forever And Ever’. An exploration of the expansive and endless nature of our digital lives, it includes interactive work by Cassie McQuater, Hadi Mehrpouya & Robert Powell, and Tale of Tales, as well as a large wall piece by Marius Watz.

NEoN festival director Donna Holford-Lovell said: “Being in the Wellgate Shopping Centre has been awesome. It’s amazing to see unexpected digital art works in public spaces. We have had great conversations and engagement with an audience that wouldn’t necessarily experience this kind of contemporary art. People were surprised and amazed to see such work in their local shopping centre going about their everyday lives.”

Down The Rabbit Hole – which includes the ‘Immaculate Conception of Isaac Newton’ – will be open to the public until Sunday 18 November, as will the Weave by Abertay group show. Entry to both is free.


By Ana Hine

Image Credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography

Pecha Kucha Night Dundee Vol 22

Kung fu, Brazil, alcohol festooned string trails, dinosaurs, fractals and roller derby: it was one of those nights where you could find yourself talking about anything. Dundee Rep was packed solid for Creative Dundee’s NEoN themed Pecha Kucha event, a performative ‘Hey, this is what I’m into’ style get together. Pecha Kucha is a presentation style whereby participants talk through 20 slides at a rate of 20 seconds per slide. Started in Tokyo in 2003 as a way of keeping architects in time, Pecha Kucha has grown popular worldwide. This year’s NEoN featured a Pecha Kucha event, which was volume 22 of Creative Dundee’s take on this tight, but open discussion style. The evening brought together a mix of local and international speakers, made accessible to many through a combination of free transport sponsorship for disabled attendees and sign language translation on stage throughout.   As event MC, Gillian Easson kicked off the evening with a video of previous Pecha Kucha youth participant Chloe, gleefully sharing her previous achievement – getting through the speech!

Fourteen speakers shared just how personal passion can be:

Sekai Machache, an artist in residence at DJCAD educated us in the politics of Afro-themed hair styling and shared slides of the 10 metre (plus) hair-braiding piece that she produced for her graduate show.

William Galinsky, creative director of The Citizen of Nowhere collider project spoke about the impact of reaching out to people who don’t agree with you, including why his best new friend is a Kung Fu instructor with politics he can barely understand, let alone agree with. The collider project took place during NEoN and brought together a wide range of different theatre practitioners, digital artists, scientists and technologists to work together and engage collaboratively with emerging issues in AI and data politics.

Kirsty Thomson, CEO of the Circle Dundee shared how her life was shaped by the love she felt for her severely disabled sibling – leading to a career researching how to help people who struggle to communicate – and why as a result she has devoted herself to social enterprise work. “You can’t just talk about not-for-profit”, she said, “It’s about generating profit to do good.”

Vagner Mendonica, a Whitehead artist and professor at the Texas Women’s University exhibiting during NEoN, shared how his visual art practice explores how people put him in a box, and how he then interfaces with that sort of cultural cannibalism, asking; “Once you’ve removed social constructs of yourself, what is left?” His work explores coding, like the break tag in HTML that he embedded in layered images of male silhouettes to show where he broke his back when he was young.

David Martin, CEO of Dundee City Council championed dinosaurs of every kind, even older people who he argued aren’t valued as much in our culture, as they should be. Dinosaurs are everywhere, he reminds us, and they have a lot to contribute to their city. Dinosaurs are cool.

Jen Southern, director of the Mobilities Lab at Lancaster University gave the audience a brief tour of the PARA-site seeing, a travel blog she developed in collaboration with Rod Dylan that was commissioned by the Wellcome Centre. It broadcasts the voracious travels of Leishmania parasites which jump between humans, dogs, insects and onwards through all sorts of social fabrics. Highlights include @LdBOB72 on Twitter which documents the search for our ancestors and Elektra_Domininca’s slow travel blog on Instagram, a 150 million year tale of being stuck inside a sand fly in a block of amber.

Dr. Anthony Schrag, an artist and researcher interested in the place of art in social contexts beyond the gallery bravely left a series of empty slides on stage as he strode through the audience weaving a complex, haphazard web of string and free alcoholic tempters through the audience, by tying one person to another and asking questions like: “Tell me something contentious about yourself?” Dreaming of going to Borneo seemed to be a common theme.

Amy Parent who studies space weather and clouds in distant stars by day, told us why roller derby has become her number one after hours passion. For Amy, transitioning as a transgender woman has been a hard and lonely experience. There’s no nice map that tells you how to present as a woman, she says, so its a constant game between what you want you do and what people expect. In discovering Dundee Roller Derby, Amy has found a safe place where anyone, no matter what body, shape or gender, can feel welcome.

Dawn Hartley, head of creative learning at Scottish Dance Theatre shared her passion for maps, introducing us to a few personal favourites like acupuncture marks, or the unrealistically ordered, but soothing London Underground, as well as notation for a working ballet, and the sorts of notation used to map out robotic movements. Music and dance are also maps, she reminded us. Maps of the bodies and maps to self-actualisation.

For Marius Waltz, who uses computer code to create startling and colourful, geometric abstract patterns as art, it all started with a Radio Shack TRS 80 color computer that his father brought home when he was a child. That was when he started to discover that he could articulate ideas in code that would translate as visuals on screen. By processing simple computer rules over and over he creates complex artworks, murals of psychedelic explosions of triangles – and computer wireframe wall art that he makes easily by first projecting wire-frame images on a wall and then taping over the outlines with coloured tape.

Julie Freeman, is an artist interested in how art and technology combine who has updated her data based art piece, We Need Us for this year’s NEoN festival. The pieces turns data in to abstract graphic shapes that move slowly, so people might watch it like they’d sit and watch a flickering fire. Julie is interested in the ways that people interact with data, particularly through citizen science projects like ZOONIVERSE where people look at data and classify it. Julie uses that collaborative data to create soundscapes and animated compositions reminiscent of expressionist paintings, featuring raw blocks, patterns of colour and the various spaces in between.

Fi Munro, a Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer survivor shared her battle for survival and what she’s learnt as a result, to the point that now she says cancer saved her life. In 2016, a chemical shit storm called chemotherapy turned her life upside down. She lost her hair and felt constantly sick. After all that she decided to change her life, ditched her stressful job in the city and trained as a yoga teacher instead. When the cancer came back again Fi turned down chemo and become one of the first patients in the country to trial immuno-therapy for ovarian cancer.

Sonja Schwaighofer, a graphic designer from Graz is presently working in MTC Media, a busy Dundee-based web design agency as part of COD100, a project that allows designers to nominate a city of design separate to their own as a place to visit, live and work in for a period of 100 days. Sonja gave us a quirky introduction to her home town in Austria, which is home to a gourmet chocolate factory and as the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger also hosts the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, the only museum in the world centering on one person as an attraction.

Paul Dock, a 4th Year Illustration Student from DJCAD closed the evening by sharing what he’d learnt from his taste of Twitter stardom. By posting funny video chats online like his hilarious Transformers audition tape, Dock has been gained thousands of followers and been watched near a million times. His sudden success has put in contact with people he always used to look up to. He’s also gained extra commissions for Leathered McQueer and the BBC platform SCRAM, plus the odd unexpected bonus like the 5 star can of Tennant’s Lager that he received in the post.

What next? Volume 23 is scheduled for January 2019, so if you’ve got something to share contact Creative Dundee now.

By Bronwin Patrickson

Image Credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography

Review – Citizen of Nowhere

I toss the teddy bear from side to side with my blocky virtual reality hands as I sit on a bed I know is not there, listening to a story about two sisters. I’m taking part in VR Theatre: Sisterhood at Dundee Rep, and through the Oculus Rift headset I’m interacting with ‘Is Anna OK?’ directed by Camila Ruz. I drop the teddy bear and the programme shudders with a moment’s confusion before the bear reappears beside me and I can start that section of the story again. But I take a second and stare at my hands. VR is so cool.

This event is organised by Limina Immersive as part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Citizen of Nowhere project. Split into three stories, VR Theatre: Sisterhood also includes ‘We Sing In Fire And Blood’, a haunting opera which has just been awarded Arts Council England funding, and an interactive sound-based piece called ‘Make Noise’ from Bristol-based creative collective Anagram made using real audio recordings of suffragettes from the BBC archives.

Speaking at the Art and Technology Collider panel discussion at the Vision Building in Dundee on Saturday 11 November, Limina Immersive coordinator Emma Hughes says: “I never thought VR was for me at all… but what’s so amazing about VR is that it’s so new we don’t have to bring the baggage of past mediums – we can start afresh.” And bringing the freshest theatrical work is what Citizen of Nowhere is all about.

Another speaker taking part in the panel was Annie Dawson, director of Hello, Hi There – an “algorithmic theatre” piece being shown as part of the project, which recreated Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault’s famous debate on human nature – reimagined as a conversation between two chat bots. “It’s a very simple programme, like you found in the 1970s,” Annie explained: “The notion was, can I make theatre that’s following a set of processes without involving actors or even a director?” By all accounts she has been successful, even though sometimes the bots got stuck in loops.

Rhoda Ellis, a local artist working with VR and part of the Vision-building based Biome Collective, said of Hello, Hi There: “It works as a play because it feels like you have a transformative experience, which is what I want to get from the theatre.

“I think what Citizen of Nowhere is trying to do is very admirable, addressing the interplay between the post-human condition and technology and connecting with audiences that won’t necessarily go to the theatre.”

Citizen of Nowhere took place between 7-11 November at various locations across Dundee, Scotland.

by Ana Hine


Photography Credit: Drew Farrell