Exploring the work of Geoffrey Farmer and Asco at Nottingham Contemporary

Geoffrey Farmer

As soon as you walk into the gallery at Nottingham Contemporary you are immersed in a dream-like world of sound, lights, shadows and strange objects.

The new exhibition, called Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, is by Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer, who was at the Contemporary last week working on his large-scale installation which draws inspiration from the American musician Frank Zappa.

It is made up of a series of sculptures created from salvaged objects, such as old film props and theatre sets, and while these remain motionless, movement is created by the ever-changing lighting which illuminates them in different colours and casts shadows around the room. Music is also an integral part of this exhibition, which takes its title from a 1968 song by Zappa of the same name, and the soundtrack is made up of unique electronic recordings which pay homage to Zappa and the music of 1960s LA.

During a tour of the exhibition last Tuesday, Geoffrey explained that he has always been interested in American history, particularly the West Coast.

He said: “I did a piece last year which was a collection of Life magazines from 1935 to 1985. We cut out 17,000 images and made them into shadow puppets – and it became very much a history lesson in American culture. I became interested in the idea of chronology and in LA I discovered Frank Zappa so I am using Zappa to explore a chronology of sound.”

The installation, which is constantly evolving, will travel to other cities around the world after its stay in Nottingham and Geoffrey thanked staff at the Contemporary for allowing him to work on it there.

ASCO © 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr.

ASCO © 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr.

He said: “It’s such a large project for me and it is great to be in this space. It’s one thing to show exhibitions but it is quite another to invite an artist into the space to allow us to work.”

This week also saw the opening of another exhibition at the Contemporary called No Movies which explores the work of the Asco art collective, who used parody to highlight the injustices faced by many in the Mexican-American – or Chicano – communities in the 1960s and ’70s.

Taking their name from the Spanish word for ‘disgust’ or ‘revulsion’, the Asco group was made up of four artists, Harry Gamboa Junior, Gronk, Willie Herrón and Patssi Valdez and were part of the Chicano civil rights movement.

Alex Farquharson, director of the Contemporary, said that the collective was working during a period of ‘tumult and revolt’.

“The Vietnam War was going on and Mexican-Americans were being disproportionately drafted,” he said.

“Members of Asco would say how they were losing their friends in Vietnam and there were all kinds of protests going on.”

Against this backdrop of political and social unrest, members of Asco created performance pieces which saw them satirising Hollywood, the fashion world and the way in which American-Mexicans were stereotyped.

“The performances mainly took place around East LA and if you did not know the context you would not think of them as political artworks,” said Alex.

“They were doing these things in an environment that was subject to curfews and where there were all sorts of demonstrations and conflicts. They were doing it at time when it was it was illegal for groups to gather so the fact that they were doing it at all was a rebellion.”

Often seen wearing make-up and costumes, members of Asco would create movie sets referencing the fact that people of Mexican origin were never seen in Hollywood films, despite their strong presence in LA.

As part of this exhibition, Patssi Valdez has spent time at the Contemporary where she has worked alongside fashion students from Nottingham Trent University to create new costumes and a performance piece based on two of Asco’s works, Paper Fashion Show and Walking Mural.

The two exhibitions run until 5th January. For further information, including more about talks and other events, visit the Contemporary’s website.

Posted on 21 October 2013
Featured author: Catherine Allen Marketing Assistant

Arts fan, runner and cyclist who has been living in Nottingham for more than a decade. Loves real ale, craft beer, good food, travelling and sausage dogs.

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