“Articulating something of the beguiling strangeness of Low”: Sound And Vision — Reviewed


Cocaine, a haunted Château, and sweet reminiscence: Paper Gallery’s current exhibition channels the recently departed David Bowie to great effect, finds Denise Courcoux…

David Bowie was – that sounds so disquieting, four months after his passing – an enormously inventive cross-disciplinary artist. His retrospective V&A exhibition is cut through with influences from the arena of visual and performance art – amongst them Gilbert and George’s “living sculptures”, Brion Gysin, inventor of the cut-up technique deployed in Bowie’s songwriting, and of course Andy Warhol, who Bowie immortalised both in song and on screen. Paper Gallery’s current exhibition explores this mixing of the aural and visual – Sound and Vision, as the title borrows from Bowie’s discography – with artists who have taken Bowie’s haunting, futuristic Low album (1977) as the inspiration for new works.

The exhibition opened appropriately with a programme of live performances, which a number of the exhibiting artists participated in, but we’re here on a quiet Saturday to take our time surveying the remnants in Paper’s tiny gallery space. The most overt link to Low is through The Return, a film by Simon Woolham (below) and David Moss (M4SK 22). It imagines historic occurrences at the Château d’Hérouville in France, where the album was partially recorded. The building’s “strange energy“ so spooked Bowie that he refused to sleep in its master bedroom. The Return sets an embracing couple – transformed from video game imagery to the ghosts of former inhabitants, composer Frédéric Chopin and novelist George Sand – against the backdrop of a mansion, bemused at the infiltration of the 20th century via TVs and cafetières. The piano-led soundtrack is suitably ghostly, with ‘the return’ whispered as an unsettling refrain.

“Interspersed with the fluid choreography are snippets of a sweet reminiscence by Bowie’s friend and collaborator Iggy Pop – given added poignancy with his loss”

The Horizon, also by M4SK 22, again features an animated dancing character – this time a joyous flat chap made of lined paper, a nod to the gallery’s mission to showcase paper-based practice. Interspersed with the fluid choreography are snippets of a sweet reminiscence by Bowie’s friend and collaborator Iggy Pop – given added poignancy with his loss. The mix of music, dance and video in this pair of films has a quiet counterpoint in Woolham’s adjacent drawing Black Cliff, transferred to a monitor facing unnaturally in to the wall. The viewer becomes an intruder and a voyeur of sorts, forced to contort to see the stretch of its still, black Biro lines.


It is an exhibition weighted towards video, as might be expected with its premise. Anthony Donovan’s Five Spoilt Ballots, one of the longest and densest works, was frustratingly difficult to hear in the small space due in part to sound bleed. Images of Tory politicians made comedy-monstrous – Jeremy Hunt with a gaping wound for a face, a boggled-eyed George Osborne – flash up Clockwork Orange-style amidst handheld camera footage following the unwinding view from a travelling train, with a narrated soundtrack. Unfortunately the message was quite literally lost on us.

“Moore transports the viewer from the 1970s to an equally distant-seeming early-’90s bedroom papered with symbols of the acid house era”

Neil Webb addresses the challenge of mixing disciplines in a refreshing change of pace from the monitors. Its title, Waiting, alludes to Bowie’s lyrical anticipation of “the gift of sound and vision”: the unfathomable source of creative inspiration. Its white LP-sized cardboard surface, producing music from its own mysterious source, echoes the writer’s blank page – full of possibility, but also loaded with the fear that the creative spark might one day fail to come. James Moore’s contribution also takes its cue from lyrics, namely the “blue, blue, electric blue” room in which Bowie awaits his inspiration. For Moore this suggests The Orb’s epic ambient track The Blue Room, and he transports the viewer from the 1970s to an equally distant-seeming early-’90s bedroom papered with symbols of the acid house era, alongside an evocative little pair of paintings portraying young people lost in a festival field somewhere, bathed in an ethereal blue light.

Ruby Tingle’s minimal collages are composites of organic objects – a toad’s head merges with a piece of bark, a cluster of pearly teeth clings to a narwhal tusk, and a crumpled fabric form slowly reveals itself to be part human, part snow leopard, the distinction between the two unclear. They suggest a fairytale world, its darkness different from the personal melancholy of Low but with a something of the “strange energy” of the château pervading. Sarah Evans also uses cut paper in a stop-motion animation; its percussive soundtrack by The McKenzie Break has been improvised, the audio responding intuitively to the expanding and contracting visuals. Artist and musician John Hyatt’s trio of multi-layered watercolours similarly have a strong sense of movement, and bring to mind some of Low’s lush instrumentals.

A triptych of digital prints by Hayley Lock (main picture), Snow White / Cherry / Milk, is surely a reference to Bowie’s peak strung-out ’70s diet of cocaine, red peppers and milk in the period immediately preceding the making of Low. Overlaid on the one of the prints is a J. G. Ballard quote – ‘Au revoir, jewelled alligators and white hotels, hallucinatory forests, farewell’ – a mournful goodbye to decadence and madness, whilst juxtaposed symbols of triangles, lizards and joined hands add an arcane, cult-like dimension. Sound and Vision is an intriguing and timely exhibition, and its highlights succeed in not only mixing disciplines, but in articulating something of the beguiling strangeness of Low.

Denise Courcoux

See Sound and Vision at Paper Gallery, Manchester, 9 April – 14 May 2016

Open Saturday 11am-5pm or by appointment

Posted on 13/05/2016 by thedoublenegative