Six Of The Best: KA Bird & Jacques Verkade | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream is an art exhibition set to take place at Concrete, a new art gallery at the Forum Shopping Center, Wallsend. 

The exhibition includes two North-East based visual artists, KA Bird and Jacques Verkade who have made work about pressing contemporary issues surrounding unchecked technologies, like surveillance and AI. The exhibition draws parallels between our current society and that of the dystopian novel, I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream and has evolved from conversations surrounding the Digital Body and the complex interplay between humanity, technology, and power.

Ahead of the exhibition, which launches on Saturday 13th April until 11th May, we asked both artists to discuss their influences with a Six Of The Best…

*** KA Bird ***

Sunn O)))
This band has a sentimental significance to me, as my connection to them is tied to my relationships with my friends. I’m thinking about Sunn O))) right now because they recently came to Newcastle for a show at the Boiler Shop.

Their live shows are the most punishing and oppressive auditory experiences, with sonic layers and textures that build and enclose around the body in a way that feels like entombment. Their sets develop from sullen liturgy into visceral brutality, with lacerating metallic screeches and undulating bass tones that roll like lava. There is an intensity to it that becomes meditative and feels something like annihilation. It sounds like hell. Sick.

Under The Skin – Jonathan Glazer
I was shocked by this film – it stayed with me for weeks afterwards. I have only allowed myself to watch it once again since, in order to preserve its impact.

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien on Earth with an unclear mission, who seduces men into her van for her endophagous feeding.

The film is so affecting to me, in part, because of its use of non-actors in real and unscripted encounters, captured with hidden cameras, which expose the layers of meaning and intent behind human interactions and create a sense of actual and immediate jeopardy.

Through sparse, detached dialogue and some utterly devastating scenes, the film conveys an immense sense of isolation and otherness. Through her observations of and contact with humans and their behaviour, the alien in turn becomes more human, which ultimately makes her tragically vulnerable.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV series 1995-96)
I rewatch this anime every few years. It’s a masterfully animated story, as disturbing as it is beautiful.

The story centres around a teenage boy, surrounded by complicated, talented and terrifying women, as they defend their city from attack. There’s a real focus on the interior lives of the characters, as they deal with trauma, anxiety and the burden of their duties, and how their identities are formed and threatened by their choices, relationships with others and the events that happen to them. 

The figure of ‘The Mother’ is often referred to, with allegories alluding to birth and surrogacy used throughout. Many of the characters’ mothers are conspicuously absent, often via tragic accident, these representations then evoking feelings of vulnerability, longing and rejection. Among the visual metaphors, the series also uses religious symbolism and iconography, from various faiths, which communicate recurring themes of sacrifice and salvation which serve to give meaning to the chaos and destruction.

The series has an infamously ambiguous ending, which I think is partly why the series endures for me, it evades a decisive or single interpretation.

The Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Having grown up on a dairy farm myself, I was rattled by this novel.  

Set in the early 2000s on a dairy farm in the Netherlands, the story is told from the perspective of 10-year-old Jan, who lives with her deeply religious family as they try to reconcile themselves with the death of their eldest son.

Rijneveld’s use of language is extraordinary. The prose is stunning and aesthetically charged, using lurid descriptions which conjure deeply unsettling imagery.

A really pertinent aspect of the novel for me personally, is the way in which the protagonist understands herself and relates to the world around her through the lens of the farm, which she often perceives through filth and horror. 

The book broaches some highly transgressive and taboo subject areas, which makes for a provocative read. 

Avery Singer
My favourite painter right now is Avery Singer, based in New York. 

She’s a huge influence on my own painting practice. Highly process-driven, she uses digital drawing software to plan her works, and then uses an airbrush painting robot to apply the paint to canvas, finishing the detail by hand.

She has a really distinctive painterly style; often monochromatic, but not always, the paintings are characterised by sharp, clean lines and geometric forms. The compositions make reference to her personal life and contemporary culture, but also to art history and historical figures/events, which are rendered with soft computational gradients and a mathematical precision to create vivid and insanely complicated large-scale works.

My favourite piece is ‘Kundry’ from 2018.

The Girl God Experience podcast
I love this show it’s so fucking stupid. It’s a satirical comedy, hosted by trans lesbian heroes Grace Freud and April Clarke, in which they riff on current affairs and cultural phenomena.

Grace Freud used to write jokes for Adult Swim and Clickhole, and April Clarke dropped out of her women’s studies degree to make up fake news headlines on Photoshop, so like, they know a thing or two about chatting shit.

They play into exaggerated personas to parody the style and conventions of online media discourse, to highlight how much of it is superficial and vapid. They make up characters and do these absurd skits, and have a tendency to cross-talk and get side-tracked on meandering and surreal monologues. A lot of it is improvised too so they get really carried away with it. 

There’s a lot of references to issues around identity politics and the pressures to conform to certain narratives. It’s very silly, but subtly subversive. I’ve developed a real parasocial affection for them.

 

*** Jacques Verkade *** 

Most of my influences and sources of inspiration are stumbled upon rather than sought out. I guess I’m always open for new things to jump out at me and pique my curiosity, but I can’t say I set out with any active mission to find creative reference points. My art mainly takes shape through 3D design, kinetic sculptures, interactive digital media, and sound design. I originally came from a musical background playing the clarinet and saxophone, but over the years, that’s become more of a solitary hobby I indulge in for relaxation and fun. My artistic practice is driven by my cynical interest in technology and its implications on society. I often feel torn between wanting to relocate to a hut in the middle of nowhere or buying as many synthesisers as possible. 

ADVERT Gucci Flora Fragrance Advert by Chris Cunningham
I don’t tend to pay particular attention to adverts, but I often revisit this one whenever I’m feeling in a creative slump. The way Chris Cunningham (the director) manages to inject his signature aesthetic into a fragrance advert, while retaining the beauty needed for an advert of this kind, is hugely attractive to me. The more typical aesthetic choices of a flowery, sun-kissed setting warp with the strangeness of the otherworldly creature forming from the dress. This combination of typical, commercial beauty and strange, alien-like patterns creates an ethereal unease far more interesting than the advert ought to be.

MUSIC Darklife by Death’s Dynamic Shroud
Darklife isn’t Death’s Dynamic Shroud’s latest offering, but it is my favourite. It’s a pumping, dystopian album punctuated with screaming synths, hard drums, and vocal samples from pop music that have been mangled and contorted to fit the overall dark tone. I’ve always enjoyed vaporwave but found the overly upbeat, cheesy aesthetic and sound jarring. Darklife takes all the choppy goodness of vaporwave and fits it into a less idealistic or romantic body that feels more relevant to the world and societal landscape we live in today.    

FILM Ironclaw 
In all honesty, I was torn between Ironclaw and A Zone of Interest for this entry. I’ve decided to go with Ironclaw because the film’s aesthetic had more impact on me. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but it follows the Von Erichs, a wrestling family that suffers great loss and tragedy driven from unyielding ambition. This tragedy is explored throughout the movie but what captivated me most was the cinematography of the wrestling scenes. The choice of camera angles, lens length, colours, and set/lighting design creates an intimate experience where you can feel the physical and emotional strain that the characters are being subjected to. 

BOOK Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison 
A short dystopian Science Fiction novel, written in 1966, feels unnervingly relevant to read in today’s economic and political climate. To construct a vision of the future, I tend to read Science Fiction born in the early and mid-1900s, as authors from this period seem to have the uncanny ability to predict the happenings of the future with great accuracy. Much of my art derives from attempting to predict the near future, so novels such as this serve as excellent starting points. 

ART Digital Artifacts by Bart Hess
Bart Hess’s exhibition attempts to peek into the future of cyborgs and fashion by creating strange, unreal, wearable art pieces that, at a glance, look digital or generated. These creations have an otherworldly, sci-fi aesthetic that has long inspired my visual direction. In pursuing my artistic endeavours, I often try to create skin-like materials that appear both digital and, in some way, alive. Bart Hess has managed to create many different artworks that tread the line between the artificial and the living, which serves as a fantastic framework for study. 

TV SERIES 1899 
I loved the potent, almost intense, mystery surrounding the setting and story of this series. I’m so sad that they aren’t making another season, as the ending felt like a jumping-off point rather than a natural conclusion. The combination of the fantastic costumes, grating sound design, surrealist sets and unique story has lodged this series into my brain. If I were ever to try and create a short film, I would aim to create something that captures a similarly surreal feeling of mystery.  

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