Karaoke Mythographs: Essay by Sacha Kahir
Karaoke Mythographs: Essay by Sacha Kahir
When the Stars Come Down From Heaven and onto the Dance Floor
‘Press Play and Record’ (2017) brought together a body of work created by EC Davies over the previous three years including videos, animation, sound works and textiles. These pieces play with the abstraction; distillation and reproduction of rituals that we regularly engage in. Exploring how we communicate the little things, which are vitally important, against various backdrops where daily life is enacted. The sociologist Henri Lefebvre(i), who famously explored the art and politics of everyday situations, attacked the surrealists for retreating from everyday life. Conversely, Davies’ practice could be described as a kind of ‘quotidian transcendentalism.’
Holy Relics as Soft Furnishings
One of the recurring motifs in the textile and video pieces is taking religious symbols and ceremonies and reimagining them as everyday objects, and the kind of rituals you would associate with a night out on the town. Pairs of ‘Love Dolls’ central to Davies’ work are angels in soft form i.e. cuddly toys. The cuddly toy, as all children know, are guardian angels protecting them at times of distress. While communal singing, which is central to many ceremonies, is secularised through Davies’ extensive collaborations with Lyndsey Cockwell’s Berlin Pop Choir that took place at Monster Ronson’s Karaoke Bar.
A Chorus Line Formed From Various Times
One of the centrepieces of ‘Press Play and Record’ was the animated video ‘Follow My Leader’ (2017), where Davies recorded individual masked participants’ dance moves. Boiled down to a looped gesture, like a sample in a hip hop record, these ‘gestural’ loops fed into a larger feedback loops, in which digital montage brought separately staged actions into the same scene. This staged and highly stylised choreography was then continually brought back into public spaces, where new audiences brought their dance moves into the routine, feeding an ongoing process. As with many of Davies’ pieces the tensions between real emotions and artifice merge, and central to this dynamic is the pop song. While medieval religious congregations meditated on the suffering form of Christ on the cross, pop fans meditate on the universal conditions of falling in and out of love. Solace is found on girls’ nights out were various sisterhoods invoke mantras like ‘I Will Survive’.
Persona Meaning: Individual Characters and Masks
Davies uses masks and games to explore what seminal experimental filmmaker Maya Deren saw as the liberating effect of depersonalisation through ritual, that: “treats the human being not as the source of the dramatic action, but as a somewhat depersonalised element in a dramatic whole. The intent of such depersonalisation is not the destruction of the individual; on the contrary, it enlarges them beyond the personal dimension and frees them from the specialisations and confines of personality.” Anagram of Ideas 1946 (ii).
‘Follow My Leader’ operated like a ‘silent disco’ where dancers, while sharing a dance floor, are separated by different songs that only they can hear on their headphones. In Davies’ video piece participants were recorded individually, and are alone in a silent masked ball for one, but through digital manipulation become part of a vast dance routine. Though, this sensibility, which runs throughout Davies’ work, again elucidates how social rituals operate.
The Smoke and Mirror Stage
Through ritual we can embody a sense of various times, emotions, and places. Equally, we can often feel more able to move when the smoke machine has filled the dance floor. The ‘feeling’ of being cut off from others on the dance floor, who at best become silhouettes through the haze created by the smoke machine, enables us to loose ourselves in the music. The masks worn by participants in Davies’ actions also create a similar effect. We see through a part of ourselves we cannot see ourselves (our faces remain hidden from us), except when looking in the mirror. This phenomenon was explored by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan(iii) and begins the ritual of many nights out. As various revellers paint their faces in front of the mirror, assembling their persona for the night. Many are looking for a love of some kind, and Davies’ use of love hearts covering the eyes and mouths of the masks, both erases the individual features of the wearer’s face, while turning them into the most well known symbol for love. The mirror, as a framing device, appears in video piece ’Spring’ (2016) where Davies appears adorned in leopard skin ‘onesie’. Jump cuts interact with the chopped up word ‘Spring’, which was used to create the soundtrack. This at times abstracts the action into a frenetic moving pattern, while at other times you get the sense of someone practicing or mimicking dance routines in front of the mirror. This feeling comes from Davies’ use of a static camera that frames the fast paced cuts.
Dancing In the Age of Digital Reproduction
In Black American culture, which is at the root of most forms of popular expression that we have all become accustomed to, old dances like ‘the mashed potato’ or newer ones like ‘Jooking’ are often referred to as social dances and embody communal togetherness. Manchester and areas like Salford, to which Davies has strong personal connections, have historically been key sites for the trans-Atlantic transmission for these ‘social dances’ from the days of Northern Soul to Rave. Both the tensions and liberating potential of our constant recording and replaying of events are evident in Davies’ work.
Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (and will be Televised)
Davies’ latest participatory events utilised previous themes while also introducing the game of dice into the mix. Previous work incorporated fortune cookies, secularising the mythical notion of the oracle, but in a sugary form. In the new work masked players from the audience threw giant dice to win a prize (one of the cuddly angels aka Love Dolls). The dolls are sigils that at once remind one of cave paintings or children’s drawings of the human form, with their arms outstretched in form of a hug. While, equally the arms could be angels’ wings, and as with many of Davies’ works this encompasses transcendental symbolism rendered in everyday materials.
These dolls were won by playing the game of dice, which was projected on a large overhead screen creating a distancing effect on the players. The same effect that at once brings us closer and further to our favourite bands and pop idols who are often magnified to the size of titans on screens, to be captured on smart phones and shrunk down to fit into the format of social media. E.C. Davies’ work plays with many of the tensions and potentials of digital manipulation while still believing in the power garnered from snatches of pop lyrics and chance encounters.
Symbols and actions from ancient rituals are abstracted into an at once familiar, but slightly alien framework superimposed through a kind of stitched togetherness with aspects of everyday life. Conversely, everyday actions and objects are given a transcendental quality through the same abstraction and use of montage. With one particular magical moment when a small child was seen standing by the gallery window, raising their arms to greet the dolls, mirroring their form, and becoming part of Davies’ ongoing ritual.
i Henri Lefebvre, The Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, Verso, New York/London, 1991
ii Maya Deren, An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film, p45, New York, Alicat Bookshop
iii Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, The First Complete Edition in English, Bruce Fink Trans. New York /
London, Norton, 2002