Anne Imhof, Eliza Douglas und Billy Bultheel „SEX“ & Pan Daijing „Tissues“
During the long hours of pandemic-induced isolation at home, we all had a lot of time to think.A central question that was always asked of ourselves and the world: how does what we are currently going through (have to go through) affect art?
Not only I was sure that the after could not look like the before.
When everything then opens up again (at least temporarily), a certain disillusionment sets in, since on the whole a Business as Usual must be consternated. But perhaps it is still too early to confront the artists with their (missing) derivatives, because much of what is performed and published these days was already defined before the pandemic.
I mention this because I could hardly imagine that Anne Imhof’s (performance) art, which is based on displayed lethargy and flirtatious nihilism, could be continued in this way in the face of a world that knows real and more urgent problems than these first-world stagings. For that is precisely what “Sex” – created in cooperation with Imhof’s partner Eliza Douglas and long-time musical companion Billy Bultheel as the soundtrack for performances at the Tate Modern, London, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea – is at its core.
Leaving all these (important) fundamental aspects aside, and also ignoring the striking title “Sex”, the three of them have succeeded in creating a mostly very good album. The reverence for epochal artists: inside like Diamanda Galas, Yoko Ono and Anthony & The Johnsons is omnipresent, but for the most part they succeed in transferring the influences into their own, coherent texture, in which they are self-confident enough to recognize their own strengths, such as the mostly fascinating trembling voice of Eliza Douglas – striking exceptions are the two let’s call it playful tributes “Vivaldi” and “Marlene”, which rather fit into playback show formats and provincial stages. Nicely hung the final reference to the group Low, whose prophetic lyric line “All you pretty People, you’re all gonna die” is really made for the world cultivated here by Imhof, Douglas and Bultheel – although it is of course so pre-Covid.
I was lucky enough to experience one of Pan Daijing’s performances in the tanks of the Tate Modern Museum in London in the fall of 2019.
Whereby the pleasure was primarily an acoustic one, the performance itself seemed a bit like a zeitgeist and career necessity, which the musician (apparently) had to work off, but which did not really add anything substantial to the musical core of her artistic work, On the contrary, it almost carried the danger of deconstruction (to prevent this, I closed my eyes for long passages in order to concentrate entirely on the music and the engaging vocals of Anna Davidson, Marie Gailey, Steve Katona and Pan Daijing herself).
“Tissues”, analogous to “SEX”, made me think a lot about the untimeliness of such let’s call it bored-youth/zombie-look-performance. In view of the extremely euphoric reactions to Imhof’s current Parisian “carte blanche” performances, it seems obvious to classify this as a singular position of a critic, but perhaps it is also too early in the social processing of the pandemic to judge this conclusively.
What can definitely be said is that the musician Pan Daijing is an exceptional figure, unparalleled in the field of experimental electronics / sound avant-garde both in terms of her own presence in the room and her compositional skills; in her pieces she effortlessly weaves together influences from traditional Chinese folk music and Western sound research with her own uncompromising sound aesthetic. Listening to “Tissues”, which consists of a single, enigmatically meandering composition, again now without the London production as a sidekick, all the impressions of that time are confirmed: this music stands on its own!