The Solo + Ensemble- Curatorial Statement
January 10, 2012
By Nigel Prince, Executive Director, Contemporary Art Gallery
It was around April 2009 while still working as curator at Ikon in Birmingham, UK that I became aware of the possibility of developing an exhibition for a new work by Andrew Cross. The director of Ikon, Jonathan Watkins and I knew Andrew from earlier days in London and were familiar with earlier series of works such as An English Journey or Some Trains In America which rigorously document time and place through relatively minimal but analytical visual means.
Cross was in touch with his idea to make a film working with a rock musician, the exact details still to be fleshed out. However he crucially had a contact and an agreed commitment from Carl Palmer of ‘super-group’ Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Now for people of a certain age, usually men, and teenagers who grew up on ‘prog’ – progressive rock – prior to disowning this music for punk, such a possibility presented a mixture of intrigue and curiosity, and a certain excitement. Based on the artist’s larger concerns rooted in experience and memory associated with locations of particular value, the notion to let his scrutiny fall on a moment of cultural significance such as a drum solo seemed compelling in the least.
Cross and Palmer were both concerned to avoid celebrity as much as possible, so there was deliberate avoidance to let the camera linger on the persona of Palmer beyond the obvious. Instead what we get is a film focusing on the minutiae of his performance, the absorbing relationship between drummer and drum kit as the work unfolds across five specially composed solos. I remember seeing unedited takes, enthralled by Palmer’s virtuosity but at the same time Cross’ shooting somehow making for a deepened visual enquiry beyond a mere document. And of course there came the day when we all met, so to come face-to-face with Carl Palmer was quite a thrill, reminding me of days walking to friend’s houses as a fourteen-year old, vinyl LPs tucked under arms ready to sit there and studiously listen.
By coincidence it turned out Carl Palmer grew up in Birmingham, and as a sixteen-year old played an all-nighter at the Town Hall with his band who had just released a single. He was approached by Chris Farlowe to get in touch if he ever wanted a job. Months later the single flopped; options were running out so Palmer found Farlowe’s card, called him up and that weekend headed to London. The rest as they say …
A whole series of events – talks, discussions, Carl Palmer and his eight ‘favourite things’ – surrounded the exhibition which manifested as a double projection at Ikon Eastside at the beginning of July 2010. Of course other fun things opened up to us such as Jonathan and I going to the one-off Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunion gig in Victoria Park, London last summer, clambering over walls, going backstage. And it was during the installation that I was offered the position of director at the Contemporary Art Gallery here in Vancouver, so my memory is an odd conflation of differing pressures – installing The Solo and being interviewed at the end of the day UK time are not necessarily the most compatible of activities.
So I urge you to come to see this film and Ensemble, Cross’ latest which features cult band ‘The Enid’ at work in their communal home, then performing live with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I was briefly at the rehearsals at the concert hall – something else. Both films have an intensity that is far reaching.