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Manchester lifestyle reviews

My Five New Friends

My Five New Friends by Oliver Braid

At The Royal Standard, Liverpool

Reviewed by Denis Joe February 2012


There is something very romantic about The Royal Standard. It is not situated in the City but in what used to be a garage workshop just outside of the city, near the waterfront. So it is not easy to find, but it is well worth visiting (and with satnavs and Google maps, it’s easy enough). The organisers have made a great job of putting on this event (my first time at this venue) and show a great deal of enthusiasm for the work.


And well they might. I don’t know if it was intentional but the three rooms of the gallery space become part of the installation for Oliver Braid’s My Five New Friends 2012. The initial impression is one of walking in to a student flat. The work is a combined effort, but the brainchild of Braid.


At 26 I don’t think that someone else should have to do this for me.

I'm Not Perfect, but..On entry we come in to what looks like a children’s bedroom. The slogan on the wall seems to suggest an infantile approach, but it also appreciates that adults should be taking responsibility. This is given some flesh by the tablet on the smaller bed that plays a video called “I’m not perfect but I’m perfect for you” (an iconic Grace Jones song) which has a soundtrack of marriage vows of Roxy and Paddy, written by Braid. Oddly this is on the smallest bed in the room, such a civil admission of a private commitment is normally associated with adults. The adult nature is reinforced by Braid’s sculpture, ‘Burns, which are hand crafted shaving brushes.


On a bunk bed we have a ‘Stage set for a play called “Device to Decide Yourself”’ this is another of Braid’s handcrafted sculpture and a small screen of, what I presume is bed linen, showing a video by Maayke Schurer. The use of visual recording equipment in art is something very prevalent today, particularly as the equipment becomes more portable. Sometimes you can see a video installation and it can seem as if the artist simply pointed the camera and called it ‘ART’. But even the earliest exponents of moving image art, such as the great Soviet film maker, Dziga Vertov, have shown that the media is not so straight forward. Recent exhibits such as David Jacques’ Irlam House Bequest and the installations by Gina Czarnecki illustrate this point well. From what I have seen of Schurer’s work with video I find it is not simply about capturing an image but capturing the essence of that image.


I'm 26 and I've Got NothingThere is something comical about Some Call it Stalking, I Call it Love, for starters the voice on the soundtrack sounds like Woody Allen as does the feel of the video itself, maybe this says something about the artificiality of how personal relationships are portrayed; it does away with the pseudo-embarrassment that is the effect of many of Allen’s dialogues. Perhaps if the piece were a stand-alone, it would have a greater appearance of being a send-up. As it is I found the video to have a certain pathos to it in the setting. This speaks volumes about the care and attention to detail that Braid has put into this work.


Dominating the set of another bed is another of Braid’s sculpture, a handcrafted money-box entitled I’m 26 and I’ve Got Nothing. The design has a lovely warmth to it that belies its, seemingly, pathetic title. It’s humanised shape and the detailed colouring and illustrations seem to contradict the pathos. On a screen of linen we can watch Tether’s video It is ok to be A-sexual. Described as being “somewhere between the friendship Oliver wants and the friendship that Oliver gets” the film centres around a pretend cooking show with one actor dressed in a bunny suit watching, whilst the other gives instructions on putting together an imaginary meal.


The Problem is that I can’t be friends with men, without needing them to love me

In another room we find a bed with Braids rucksack sculpture, Small Town Boy, Big City Travelling Bag. Again the design is colourful and detailed. In fact the piece could be seen as functional. Although the face that makes up the rucksack is playful, the piece has many compartments for things, and would easily be comfortable on someone’s back.


The video that accompanies this work, a brief piece by David Hoyle and Lee Baxter, of a young man talking about a relationship, called Bitter Realisation. The feel of the room is one of solitude, not quite loneliness, but not quite being alone either. It is the video, and particularly the voice of the speaker, that gives the room a sense of despair. The rucksack seems to taunt some invisible occupier, as if offering a solution to the desolation (of a broken relationship) whilst knowing that option will not be taken.


I have to think about the ways I relate to people, Dr Greber says.

A pig Boat With Humongous Balls is a Desk ToyThe final room is dominated by a circular table, on which is a sculptured desktop toy, A pig Boat With Humongous Balls is a Desk Toy. The accompanying video by Patrick Staff, What Will Visit Me Tonight? was inspired by the My Five New Friends project, and seems like an attempt to cut through much of the confusion that is evident in the other works. Described as “A video work ... using divination, perception, the following of signs, dreams and intuition to examine movements of interpretation, imagery and symbolism”, it could easily add to the confusion. But I think this is where Braid’s vision makes perfect sense.


Each ‘room’ is like a stage in someone’s life. The first bedroom suggests a pre-teenager, where the bed represents personal space within a shared environment. The second is that of a teenager and all the problems that indulges those years, whilst the third room is that of the adult. The fact that the video is situated like a television and the slogan on the wall suggests a need to understand and get to grips with life.


My Five New Friends

This exhibition complements the online archive, created by Oliver Braid and the French art collective, It’s Our Playground. The My Five New Friends archive came about as a result of Braid’s mission to develop relationships with five of the most attractive young male graduates in Glasgow School of Art.


There is a sense of fantasy about the whole thing, yet the fantasy also has a realistic feel to it. In one sense this is provided by the cans of deodorant that are in each of the rooms. But the whole project does seem to say a lot about the way life is today. The fact that personal relationships now intrude on public life, whether through the changing mores of society and what is tolerated or even through communication technology where it has become the norm to hear the most personal details of someone’s life as a result of their mobile phone conversations. Or how bloggers and Facebook users relate their domestic lives for millions of strangers to read and how other bloggers respond as if the person was a close friend.


But even the confusion, that is a theme of the exhibition, speaks to us of a world in which concepts associated with adulthood: responsibility; personal commitment; sexuality, are endowed with a mysticism that only a parental elite have the answers to. What was once seen as a rite of passage is now seen as a conflict that requires the negotiated solution of professionals (this seems to be the suggestion of the slogan on the wall of the ‘adult’ room). Oliver Braid’s exhibition raises many questions and the intelligence lies not in providing answers but in raising the right questions.


My Five New Friends is a fantastic exhibition - which could well be a work in progress as there are so many themes that it could address. The attention to detail is what you would expect in a city centre venue and it is The Royal Standard centre that adds so much to this enjoyable and thought-provoking work.


Sneak Preview video of the exhibition from Oliver Braid

With It’s Our Playground, featuring new commissions by David Hoyle & Lee Baxter, Maayke Schurer, Patrick Staff, Tether, Roxy Topia & Paddy Gould. Special Appearances: Sam Ball; Ellie Harrison, Stephen O’ Toole and Alex Misick.


At The Royal Standard, LiverpoolUnit 3, Vauxhall Business Centre, 131 Vauxhall Road, Liverpool L3 6BN until 3rd March.

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