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A-Z - Asco to Frank Zappa ; ASCO: NO MOVIES/GEOFFREY FARMER: LET'S MAKE THE WATER TURN BLACK Nottingham Contemporary

October 18, 2013


AT Geoffrey Farmer's new installation at Nottingham Contemporary visitors are faced with a dynamic landscape of cartoonish shapes and sculptures that is part Monty Python, part Heath Robinson and part the Magic Roundabout.

To a sound collage of noises, antique recorded speech and music, light bulbs illuminate, lids rise and fall, cameras rotate and trumpet protuberances go up and down. This sculptural play, as Farmer calls it, is controlled by computers, occupies two galleries and lasts all day.

This duration, and the fact the performance is being programmed to subtly change each day until January, means that you get a different show each time you drop in for a look.

Yet for all the Pythonish wacky absurdity, all those partial sculptural shapes and funny noises have a kind of immediate post- war feel - as if Farmer had set out to produce an art tableau of modern sound and form that would have been at home in the 1951 Festival of Britain.

It therefore comes as even more of a surprise to discover that Farmer's artwork is a loose tribute to the life and music of the late Frank Zappa. You will probably not know this unless you are a total Zappahead or you've read the big signs.

But even armed with the knowledge, I was straining to see connections. Was Roosevelt's speech about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour a reference to the era of Zappa's birth? Is the doo- wop music the kind of music he listened to in his youth? If you come back later in the performance do you hear Zappa's guitar solo from City of Tiny Lites booming out of the various trumpet structures? But perhaps these are the wrong questions; perhaps the main point is that Farmer's art-landscape is as strange, creative and confounding in its own way as Zappa's long musical career was.

Whatever the case, you feel Zappa would have approved.

In contrast we know for certain that the Mexican-American art- protest group Asco approve of their retrospective at Nottingham Contemporary since a few of them have come over from the States to talk about the show.

The group was set up in the early 1970s in east LA as a reaction (Asco means disgust in Spanish) against the marginalisation of Chicanos in mainstream media, visual art and movies.

Eschewing the Hispanic tradition of mural painting, the quartet used graffiti, performance, photography and film as weapons in a campaign which occasionally spoofed the media.

In 1975, for example, tired of media reporting on LA gang violence, they staged a photo of a body in the road and sent it to two sensationalistic LA newspapers, telling them that the last gang member has been killed.

Their protest at Hollywood took the form of No Movies in which they appeared in glossy photoshoots from films that did not exist.

However, their most resonant image must be Asshole Mural (1975), in which they posed, dressed like film stars, around a sewerage outlet pipe - an expression of disgust at their enemies, an acknowledgement of how their enemies regarded them. The exhibitions can be seen until January 5. Mark Patterson

'' Farmer's art-landscape is as strange, creative and confounding in its own way as Zappa's long musical career was

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