I don’t think my week could have got off to a better start than watching Rachael Young’s Nightclubbing, an electric fusion of theatre and performance art that explores race and racism in clubbing by comparing and contrasting the rise of Grace Jones in the 1970s New York scene with an incident in 2015 where three British black women were refused entry into a nightclub.
Even trying to explain the show in simple words seems impossible and gives it an orthodoxy that is beneath it, for this is a pulsating, dynamic, innovative presentation that blends Afrofuturism and heavy beats with poetry and prose. And, let me tell you, the results are phenomenal. WOW.
As Racheal contorted herself from one iconic Grace costume to the next, she spoke with power and precision on the black experience – the glances you note, the tightening of grasps on handbag straps you see out of the corner of your eye – and all this builds up into a stunning torrent on black beauty and black excellence. What I would give to throw a whopping budget at Rachael and get her to transform this into a longer show and run it at the Dorfman. What a talent and what future lies ahead for this show and these creatives.
Grace Jones also makes an appearance in the much-anticipated new Azzedine Alaia exhibition at the Design Museum for she was one of the astonishing women who were lucky enough to wear some of the extraordinary pieces of couture that the great man created. This show is relatively small – only about forty or so pieces are on display – but this was never planned to be a retrospective as such but created with the designer as a showcase before he died last November.
The design and craft in the pieces on display cannot be denied, nor can the detail and care taken in the embellishment with beading and lace that must have been so delicate to work with, and must have taken days, if not weeks, to complete. And it’s easy to see where those who followed him, such as Mouret and Beckham, got their ideas. But this was a man who adored women and had a love for the female form.
The sense of tough sensuality in his works is almost palpable. His works even reminded me of Audre Lorde and her position that erotica can be a position and source of power, especially for women. And such was Alaia’s vision that, as I admired his punk fairy wedding dresses, his vampish purple dress that oozes like a pool of liquid, and his Morticia-esque black figure-hugging dresses that mix the gothic with the romantic, I even found myself questioning what constitutes art, for these works cannot be hung on a wall or framed . They demand to be worn. But such is the vision and originality that they do brush very close to the definition of art, whatever that may be.
White Cube Bermondsey is always a place where you can find contemporary artists and currently they are showing works from Brazilian artist, Beatrix Milhazes. Large canvases burst with colours and distorted circles, whilst chandeliers of bright beads and chains hand from the high ceilings. This is a joyous exhibition – you can’t help but be lifted by the dazzling colours – but also one that shows Beatrix’s inspirations with very clear nods to the works of Matisse and Sonia Delaunay.
Look beyond the sparkling surface, though, and it’s clear that Beatrix is playing with form, distorting an easy visual experience with odd waves, and linear and geometric forms, breaking up the artworks. The colour palette draws you in, but then the dense layering of the pieces fragments the experience. It is clever and appealing.
The main highlights may well be the large-scale tapestry that measures 16m x 3m and the vast Gamboa II, which is a hanging so large it dominates one of the smaller galleries completely. However, I also loved Beatrix’s new series of small-scale paper collages, particularly one comprised of advertising slogans and brand names, which are overlaid to create complex compositions that put consumerism front and centre.
With regards to books, this week I’ve been all into short story collections, reading both Tessa Hadley’s Bad Dreams (available now) and Lauren Groff’s Florida (due out in June) and both knocked me for six. Both intriguing, both unsettling, and both exploring the dark underbelly of suburbia and suburban lives.
Tessa’s book is very much UK-based; it has that sense of Britishness about it that’s so easy to identify – suppressed emotions at dinner parties, estranged sisters attempting an awkward reunion – but it also has some interesting explorations of sexuality and repressed emotions with stories of brief abductions of young girls, and a carer uncovering the hidden past of an elderly man she attends to. Tessa’s languid, descriptive style really suits these snatched scenes. Atmospheric and surprising.
Lauren’s book takes a similar darkness and ramps it up more than a few notches for the stories in Florida are more disturbing and eerie, and Lauren’s writing is so extraordinary with each sentence so rich that the emotional weight of these stories is compounded. From children abandoned by their mothers, to unnerving walks around a Florida neighbourhood, from a woman’s fear of assault to a homeless woman sleeping rough on the streets, the hot sun may shine in Florida but darkness lurks in the shadows.
Rachael Young’s Nightclubbing: Camden People’s Theatre to Saturday May 12. Then touring to Brighton, Cambridge and Latitude. See here for more details: http://www.rachaelyoung.net/projects/nightclubbing/
Azzedine Alaia: The Couturier, The Design Museum, 10 May to 7 October. Admission £16 (concessions available)
Beatrix Milhazes at White Cube Bermondsey, London, to 1 July. Admission free.
Tessa Hadley, Bad Dreams, available now from Penguin Books.
Lauren Groff, Florida, available from 5 June from Penguin Books.