Continue Without Losing Consciousness

Publication: The Times (unpublished).   
August 2014

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland

Continue Without Losing Consciousness
Dundee Contemporary Arts


Until  24 August

As part of the country-wide Generation programme – showcasing over 100 artists in 60 venues from Orkney to Dumfries – the work of the all-male trio Rob Churm, Raydale Dower and Tony Swain can be seen under one roof at DCA.

This is an oddly cohesive show, with common elements and sub-texts  linking the artists’ work.

The project revisits a previous collaboration by the same artists, in Glasgow, in 2010, entitled Le Drapeau Noir. The original venue, then a disused and derelict space, paid homage to the avant-garde European café culture, where alternative music and life-styles have long flourished. Such spaces saw the beginnings of the Dada and Surrealist movements, which marked important developments in the political and artistic landscape.

Originally, Le Drapeau Noir (The Black Flag) was associated with the Anarchist movement in France, and dates from the mid-19th Century. It also forms the title of a famous work by René Magritte, from 1937, which is believed to have been inspired by the German bombing of the small Basque town of Guernica.

Magritte’s painting shows steely, stylised, ‘sculptural’ flying machines against a cold grey sky. The tone of the work is dark and threatening ¾ it can be assumed that Magritte’s chosen title conflated the threat of political and social disorder with the Anarchist flag.

It’s fitting that at the entrance to this show is an re-interpretation of Magritte’s work by Churm and Dower. This collaboration is complemented by Dower’s black flag (again titled Le Drapeau Noir) containing a large gaping hole at its centre. These motifs are found in various guises such as an accompanying catalogue with removable circular centre; a white rectangle with a black circle above a small cabaret stage; and a large, spherical balloon positioned at the centre of a room.

Dower’s posters use typography that recalls early Dada publications. One presents a section of Les Champs Magnétiques, the first published Surrealist poem, by André Breton and Phillip Soupault:  “Beware of pictures and drawings/ a reek of poetry which famishes / a frightening, obscene nakedness / a chance rhyme in each corner / …this blank space …./ and the table is going to fall over…/  Boom smack !/ So musical discord / such sweet thunder/.”

Dower’s homage to Dada is found in other works too, such as the small fragments and splinters of wood taken from a piano which the artist dropped to the floor as part of an ‘action’ or ‘happening’ at Glasgow’s Tramway.  The destructive forces which tore Europe apart during WWI found an echo in the mayhem of Dada.

Tony Swain’s work – landscapes over newspaper (in this case, The Guardian)  – somehow fits into this context. Part collage and part painted landscape, they show a constructed world of hotels, islands, and seascape, wholly at odds, one imagines with the reportage and commentary they partially obscure. The idea of dissonance was, after all, a common Dada theme.

Rob Churm’s intricate drawings of plants and other imagined organic forms seem to elide successfully with the over-all aesthetic of the show.

All three of the artists are well-known and accomplished musicians. All of this work finds its complement, in true Dadaist style, in a series of performances and events which take place throughout the duration of the show.