I read once that a joke is the recognition of an interruption in a known pattern. I think the same can be said of art. Both the joke and art require that we expect one thing – that there is a ‘norm’. Both are most successful when they subvert or challenge that norm in a way that we recognise – a lightbulb moment.
As a display of their work opens at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, we explore how the art of Scottish-Barbadian Alberta Whittle and Uruguayan-born Emilio Bianchic interrupts a known pattern – that of history and that of the every day.
Whittle’s art is motivated by the desire to work collectively towards radical self-love.
Informed by the diaspora – the dispersion of a people, language, or culture that was formerly concentrated in one place – the artist considers radical self-love a key method in decolonization for people of colour to battle anti-blackness found throughout our western culture and history.
Whittle uses collage (in video, performance and photography) as a way to create new narratives. She says: 'the lens of the camera becomes a tool to directly confront histories of erasure and […] the loss of consent historically denied to colonised people through lens-based media'.
In Sorry, not sorry we see a western narrative of the Windrush generation set out through adverts and the news on our TV screens disrupted and reset. Alberta introduces her own footage – of a boat pulling out of the harbour, her own body, her hands with nails painted – to jog us out of the fantasy presented to us, and reintroduce memory as an alternative to an unreliable history.
The way that Whittle makes work involves choreographing interactive installations, using film, sculpture and performance as site-specific artworks in public and private spaces. Chris Sharratt wrote in Frieze that: 'her films [are] acting as gathering points for ideas and actions that begin as staged events'.
Her films act as documents for the ideas, creativity, relationships and collaborations that underpin everything she makes.
Bianchic works with artificial nails, video, and performance to question identity and the point at which actions (what I do) define us (become what I am). They show their work in galleries, and share it on YouTube, where makeup tutorials turn into absurd surrealist takes on the body and art. By blending high art and contemporary culture they play with the ideas of value and exclusivity that pervades much of art.
Performance is essential to Bianchic’s work. The videos are documents of the actions in them and in their simplicity they ask us questions about beauty and function. Consider, for example, how do outlandishly long nails change the way I hold a lightbulb? And, why does it seem more dangerous?
Bianchic’s video collective, BasicaTV (which translates to Basic TV) describe all their videos as performance. The trio utilise a mixture of trash culture, pop and the banal in extremes, demonstrating that facets of identity can be performed. BasicaTV’s YouTube channel features tutorials such as Conceal (2018) - what initially appears to be a make-up tutorial, devolves into a surreal, digitally manipulated morphing and concealing of bodies. Frenemies (2017), is simply a choreographed dance to Kelly Rowland’s Kisses Down Low.
In their 2014 video piece EASY SIMPLE NAIL ART TUTORIAL FREE FEMINIST FIFA LANA DEL REY ROAR, a ‘gender conscious free nail art tutorial,’ Bianchic proclaims that 'everyone has nails and everyone can be an artist'. This democratic approach to making and sharing art is indicative of the way they make their work: generous, creative, spontaneous, joyful, as Jerry Saltz writes, 'it adds up to his own private, politically charged Mardi Gras'.