Friday, 15 October 2010

Eden in Progress: The Art of Sophie Lisa Beresford

Sophie Lisa Beresford, Makina-Goddess, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Workplace Gallery.

“The Sioux wore shirts decorated with symbols that they believed would defeat the whites’ bullets. To prepare for victory and to receive in a trance more messages from the Great Spirit, men and women danced in circles… [Patti Smith] associated rock music with the ecstatic religious Circle Dance of the Shakers, the Whirling Dervishes of Morocco, and the Ghost Dance of the Native Americans.”
Dan Graham, Rock My Religion 1984

A few years after Graham wrote these words about the religious impulses working within rock performance, rave culture saw a tearing up of the contract between musician and audience. No longer a passive spectator, the dancer duly broke free and became the star. Originally shown as part of her 2008 Sunderland University degree show, the video Pizza Shop Dance shows Sophie Lisa Beresford raving up a frenzy before the fast food counter, her body dancing manically to the lurid soundtrack of Spanish Makina techno music. It’s an utterly unselfconscious, defiantly joyous act made all the more affecting by its humble setting. According to her Gateshead-based Workplace Gallery, this dance became a regular occurrence and I think it points to an approach consistent throughout her practice. Rather than making discreet objects for the delectation of a rarefied few, Beresford is instead truly living her art. Her work could best be described as a heady concoction of north-eastern English ‘Charva’ culture, new-age religion and DIY self-help. In a series of intimate video self-portraits musing on her artistic identity, we’re faced with a conflation of church confessional and Big Brother diary room entry as she frets over the direction her life is taking. Frank and disarming, these clips are shown on her YouTube channel or are circulated to individuals, acting as markers for her ongoing progress. Then once a project is settled upon, Beresford often seems to display an unabashedly utopian impulse. During her recent residency in the Cooper Gallery at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, a set of coloured blankets was placed on the floor where visitors could sit and make arrangements of coloured beads while helping themselves to milk and cookies. Later the artist handed out Kinder Surprise eggs to the public who were invited to eat the chocolate shells and play with the toys contained inside. Throughout this time Beresford itemised the many and varied elements of her practice in a quixotic list that included the Hindu deity Ganesha and geometric cushion covers, Sonic the Hedgehog and Swarovski crystals. Along with her citing such influences as Kandinsky abstractions and Kahlo self-portraits, the whole jumble begins to make a frazzled sort of sense, serving to form a compelling and coherent map of her universe. The artist compares the process to navigating a castle in the Super Mario Brothers computer game: “Sincerity, in the case of my playing with it, is to experience myself, if I want to… the more sincere I become, the more I become like I was when I was a child.” As she says in the poetic, emoticon-peppered notes of her studio residency: “‘Playing Blocks’ reality is a toy :) anything you want it to be.”

SLB @ YouTube: LINK

SLB @ Workplace Gallery: LINK

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