Do you remember ‘The Word’? No, me neither, for the notion of Friday night telly did nothing very much for me in the early 1990s or at any other time. I do not remember ‘The Tube’ either, since in that show's heyday Channel 4 was beyond reception in our backwoods coastal town. Not that I could have watched it anyway, for in a household of one television set the evening viewing would never have included such esoteric Pop cultural content. This is not something that fills me with regret for there were always less boring things to do than to watch television after all. Perhaps this is why I have also never been much bothered to engage with YouTube and its publicly sourced archive of video archeology. It neither connects with me as repository of moments of shared experience or interests me much as a source of historical documentation. Which says more about my relationship with the medium of television than anything else I suppose. Ambivalent was made to describe such moments.
That said, I have watched the footage of Stereolab performing ‘French Disko’ on ‘The Word’ on many occasions and I admit that it always thrills me. There is something appealing in the somewhat bizarre spectacle of sparsely clad hedonistic dancers gyrating to a song about the power and importance of revolutionary solidarity. That said, the notion of revolutionary solidarity never sounded so hedonistic as it did in ‘French Disko’ so perhaps it makes perfect sense after all. Certainly Tim Gane appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself in this performance: The former McCarthy guitarist bounces on the spot and grins insanely as the group (sorry, the GROOP) hammer out their peerless motorik Pop groove. Elsewhere we see Dave Callahan of Wolfhounds/Moonshake infamy meticulously meddling with a button on a keyboard, coaxing it into wildly oscillating shapes and shadows. Or maybe he was recreating bird mating calls? Anything is possible.
Then there is Katherine Gifford looking effortlessly cool in a tracksuit top and Laetitia Sadier reminding us all that “Though this world’s essentially an absurd place to be living in, it doesn’t call for bubble withdrawal.” As true today as it’s ever been. Let us not forget either guitarist and vocalist Mary Hansen looking resplendent in shivering silvery white. Mary should also have been celebrating her 50th birthday this year, so this one goes out to her and to anyone else we have lost along the way. My friend Mike Appelstein reflected eloquently on this recently in a Facebook post about reaching his own half century. One of the key points he made (as well as remembering all the friends who didn’t make it so far in life, for a multitude of reasons) was that fundamentally he didn’t feel all that different inside to how he did when he was thirty. This resonates strongly, and whilst it isn’t to say that we do not develop and change our ideas and world-views as we grow older, experience and learn more, the essence of what we are perhaps does not significantly alter. It’s perhaps the reason why ‘French Disko’ in 2016 still feels so remarkably pertinent: It reminds me that whilst my instinctive default position is indeed to crawl into my ‘bubble of withdrawal’, there are some things more important than the self. It is not all about me.
La resistance! indeed.
When we looked at Gillian Wearing’s photographs in 1992 we noted the image that says how everything in life is connected. I mentioned that it often acts as a terrific learning tool, one I use often to highlight the links between images from different artists and different generations. It would certainly be pulled out of the hat if I were talking about Nick Wapplington’s photographs in his ‘Truth or Consequences’ project, for visual homage and reference is certainly one of its central themes.
Tying such long-term projects to a specific year is, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the project in question, an arbitrary decision. For example the photographs for ‘Truth or Consequences’ were taken over a ten year period and the book was published in 2001. Knowing which year any particular shot was taken is, to a large extent, an irrelevance. These photographs may document specific place and time yet these are not documentary photographs.
That said, the project illustrates very well the essence of what makes successful documentary, or perhaps successful art of any kind. For Truth or Consequences is a town that Wapplington grew to know through a decade of extended visitation and this knowledge crucially informs ’Truth or Consequences’ the work. It rather reminds me of Andy Goldsworthy talking about knowing the rock, or the stream, or the tree and how that takes time and effort. In some respects Goldsworthy’s words sound like the vilest Hippie twaddle, but I cannot deny that there is truth in them.
’Truth or Consequences' started in 1993, however, and that is good enough for me. Indeed, some of Waplington’s photos from that first visit (taken on a Snappy Snaps camera) are included in the published collection, complete with orange date stamp. It’s there (April 8th) on this particular shot of a tricycle that of course screams loudly its connection to William Eggleston. How could any photograph of a tricycle deny its heritage roots in Eggleston, intentional or otherwise?
Wapplington’s frame of reference (excuse the pun) is entirely intentional of course and this is part of its charm, for Wapplington’s body of work here is photographic history turned into a game. There is something delightful about that idea, for it diffuses the charges of historical exploration being dusty, dingy and dispiritingly dry. Then again, perhaps it is only those of us with an interest in such things who find it all so entertaining. Does someone with barely a passing interest in the subject find themselves drawn in? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps they would simply need an introduction: Passing stranger in the street, meet ‘Truth or Consequences’; ‘Truth or Consequences’, meet passing stranger in the street. I think you’re going to get on really well together...
But do you need that introduction to enjoy these images? Do you need to know Eggleston’s work, or Edward Weston’s, or Walker Evans’ to enjoy Wapplington’s? Of course not. But those nuances that the uninitiated might miss certainly add an extra layer of pleasure to those who see the references. Me? I savour this work like I savour the flavours in a 21 year old Portwood Balvenie.