Top Ten Virtual Shows Across the UK and Ireland

From a critical reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ to a research project on the role of photography in the Irish civil rights movement, these are the best shows to stream

BY Mimi Chu in Critic's Guides , UK Reviews | 18 JAN 21

As we near the anniversary of lockdown 1.0, there are lots of reasons to feel flat and unmotivated. Nobody knows when public spaces will open up again, nor the long-term effects of this trauma writ large on society. But art can assuage some of the frustrations we’re facing. A host of platforms across the UK and Ireland have devised virtual shows that speak to and guide us out of limbo. Here are ten highlights.

Nnena kalu
Nnea Kalu, Untitled (02), 2018–20, mixed media on paper, 101 × 133 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Manchester; photograph: Lisa Slominski

Evolving Echoing Entities, Jennifer Lauren Gallery (indefinite)

In these difficult months, drawing and painting serve as a solace. Lines and colours can say so much more than words. This hypnotic online exhibition at Jennifer Lauren Gallery opens onto the inner worlds of eight self-taught artists who use gestural marks, colour and repetition to cleave open hidden and unheard stories and ideas. Among these artists is Nnena Kalu whose vortex drawings envelop the viewer with their compacted, layered, flowing lines. Produced in pairs, according to the accompanying literature the drawings are ‘caught in an echo loop’, bringing to mind Kalu’s sculptures, which similarly evolve and fold back in on themselves. Reviewing these 3D works in the artist’s show at Studio Voltaire last year, Ella Fleck described them as ‘chrysalides pulsing’.

Thompson hall
Thompson Hall, Housing Crisis, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 80 × 60 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Outside in

For a different kind of solace, be sure to catch ‘Art & Activism’ at Outside In, another virtual group show curated by Helen Wewiora (director of Castlefield Gallery, Manchester) in which 16 artists facing significant barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation, highlight the key issues of our times with a wit and articulacy that goes unmatched.

carrie Mae weems  kitchen
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Playing harmonica), 1990/99, from the 'Kitchen Table' series, photograph. Courtesy: the artist and White Cube, London

Rear Window, White Cube, until 19 January

Among the first blue-chip galleries to really take the virtual exhibition format to the next level, White Cube presented ‘Rear Window’ last November, a new take on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller about a photojournalist stuck in his apartment in a wheelchair, who becomes obsessively voyeuristic when in isolation. Unfolding across the site in a narrative arc, the show unpacks the problematics of looking and representation in the iconic filmmaker’s work through a series of artists’ presentations – from Laure Simmons’s psychologically charged dollhouse scenes from the 1970s to Carrie Mae Weems’s ‘Kitchen Table’ photographs from the 1990s. Drawing on Laura Mulvey’s criticism of Hitchcock as well as her exploration of the ‘female gaze’ – subsequently developed into the ‘queer gaze’ – the show also explores how seeing does not necessarily entail a white, patriarchal act of possessing.

White Cube's next virtual exhibition will be a solo presentation by Emma Cousin, launching on 22 January.

sohrab hura
Sohrab Hura, Bittersweet, 2020, film still. Courtesy: the artist and London Short Film Festival

London Short Film Festival 2021, until 24 January

Going virtual for the first time in its 18-year history, London Short Film Festival continues to platform the most exciting experimental filmmakers. Kicking off last Friday and running through ten days, it features work by a number of lauded artists, including: Vaginal Davis, Sohrab HuraWong PingSteve Reinke and Ben Rivers, alongside emerging international collectives and directors. Though I have yet to explore the full programme, Hura’s Bittersweet (2020) is sure to be a highlight. Drawn from ten years of intimate photo journaling, it poignantly documents the relationship between the artist’s mother and her dog. As we hop through the beloved pet’s turns and scrapes around the home, we witness its tender affection and eventual decline, with animal and human engaged in reciprocal acts of love and care.

harun Morrison
Harun Morrison, Zoar, Narrowboat Simulator, 2021, digital image. Courtesy: the artist and Eastside Projects, Birmingham 

Harun Morrison, Eastside Projects (indefinite)

As part of his ongoing project and upcoming show, ‘Experiments with Everyday Objects’, Harun Morrison releases a series of texts and spoken word glossaries that explore our relationship to various concepts, tools and natural elements. Following his narrowboat Zoar, the project largely takes the form of a travelogue, documenting the artist’s journey from London to the West Midlands with his friends via the Grand Union Canal, as well as the politics and histories encountered along the way. Zoar journeys through both physical waters and in the form of a digitally simulated game. Meanwhile, Morrison’s e-zine Interviews with Critical Workers (2020), collates a series of interviews with individuals working within the UK public sector during the Covid-19 pandemic – an epic journey in itself.

pico invernomuto
Invernomuto and Jim C. Nedd, PICO: Un parlante de África en América, 2017, film still. Courtesy: the artists

Invernomuto and Jim C. Nedd, PICO: Un parlante de África en América, Auto Italia, until 8 February

Last October, in their East London project space, Auto Italia screened this illuminating documentary by Italian artist duo Invernomuto (Simone Bertuzzi and Simone Trabucchi) and Jim C. Nedd about the subculture surrounding Colombia’s picós, described by Allyssia Alleyne as ‘the ostentatious mobile sound systems that have been a mainstay of Afro-Colombian social life along the Caribbean coastline the since the 1960s.’ The film gave way to a digital programme of image works and music mixes commissioned by the gallery and now occupies their website for the next three weeks. No doubt, the work will continue to inspire. As Alleyne writes: ‘In the context of the African diaspora, the picós and the parties built around them have become vehicles to escape reality; música africana becomes a tool to retroactively forge new identities.’

Christina ramberg corset
Christina Ramberg, O.H.B.,1976, acrylic on masonite, 45 × 40 cm. Copyright: the Estate of Christina Ramberg; courtesy: Sammlung / Collection of Karin Tappendorf

The Making of Husbands, BALTIC (indefinite)

‘Containing, restraining, reforming, hurting, compressing, binding, transforming a lumpy shape into a clean smooth line.’ This is how American artist Christina Ramberg once described the drawings of corsets in her sketchbooks. ‘The Making of Husbands’, which premiered at the KW Institute in 2019, positions works by Ramberg in a dialogue with those of 14 artists outside her immediate circle in the Chicago Imagist movement, asking questions about how feminine behavioural conventions are formally expressed. Including works by Alexandra Bircken, Ghislaine Leung and Senga Nengudi, the show at once contorts and surpasses patriarchal norms. As Chloe Stead wrote in her review, ‘in this game of exquisite corpse, gender is just one of many elements to play with.’

Sasha litvintseva
Sasha Litvintseva, Every Rupture, 2020, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin

Sasha Litvintseva, Every Rupture, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, until 28 January

A sleepy swimming pool on a cruise ship is undercut by flooding gates and the ‘taste of sewer water’ in this compelling short by Sasha Litvintseva. Selected by Steve Bishop as part of Douglas Hyde Gallery’s ongoing artist’s artists screening series, Every Rupture (2020) was filmed during and after the Brexit referendum. Relieved of histrionics, the film explores ‘the impossibility of a closed system’ with subtitles and quiet panning shots following a cruise liner as it ebbs along the thresholds of Europe on the day the referendum took place. The second half of the film skips forward to the present. Shot on an island in Lithuania, it documents a forest half-destroyed by a displaced colony of cormorants whose acidic shit is wrecking the ecosystem. And here we are.

Steve Bishop’s concurrent show is due to reopen at The Douglas Hyde Gallery, running through 6 March.

camerawork derry
Event in the London Irish Women’s Centre, c.1982. Archive of Camerawork Derry

It’s Not For You We Did It, 39th EVA International (indefinite)

Led by curator Sara Greavu and artist Ciara Phillips, this extraordinary research project focuses on the role photography played in Derry, Ireland, in the 1980s and ‘90s, against the backdrop of the Troubles. Where much discourse in the UK on this historical moment is often reduced to crass binaries, reinforcing stereotypes of subservient women, drunken, impotent men and sentimental nationalism, this project goes a long way to setting the story straight. While, in Britain, workshops such as Sankofa Film and Video Collective as well as Black Audio Film Collective were emerging to democratise the process of filmmaking and amplify marginalised voices, on the other side of Irish sea, collectives such as the Derry Film and Video Workshop and Camerawork Derry similarly used the camera to document overlapping political tensions. Each photograph from this period tells a different story about someone’s lived reality, penetrating the intersection between gender, class, the Irish ‘national question’ and legacies of imperialism.

Barbara hammer nitrate
Barbara Hammer, Nitrate Kisses, 1992, film still. Courtesy: Document Film Festival, Glasgow

Document Film Festival, 25–31 January

Launching on 25th January, Scotland’s international human rights documentary film festival is a must visit. Including works by Barbara HammerThe Otolith Group and Emily Jacir, with sister investigation projects by Forensic Architecture, it provides a vital space for consideration of documentary film as both an art form and social practice. Hammer’s recently restored Nitrate Kisses (1992) is likely to be a highlight. Deriving from one of the earliest queer films made in the US, Lot in Sodom (1933), the work will be screened alongside an event with writer and activist So Mayer, who will be discussing their recently published book A Nazi Word for a Nazi Thing (2020). Full programme here.

Jordan baseman different kind of different
Jordan Baseman, A Different Kind of Different, 2020, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Matt's Gallery, London

Jordan Baseman, A Different Kind of Different,, until 28 January

Jordan Baseman’s powerfully emotive animated short, A Different Kind of Different (2020), combines voice testimonies of people recovering from breast cancer with hand-drawn children’s drawings. The film explores the choice to wear mastectomy tattoos instead of breast reconstruction, with the central character, Alicia, encountering endless obstacles as she finds her body changing, with different people telling her how to react and feel. With a script expertly devised in collaboration with Sally O’Reilly, a story unfolds that ventriloquizes various stages of trauma and renewal to articulate the feeling of being ‘beside oneself’ – something to which many can relate. While Baseman’s position, as someone who has neither lived with cancer nor faced a dilemma about whether to undergo surgery, opens the work to some debate, the film's collaborative element means that it will hopefully continue to spark important conversations in far corners. As Jade Montserrat points out in a follow-up discussion, quoting Audre Lorde in The Cancer Journals (1979): ‘without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression.’

Further screenings and presentations of the film will take place on 21st and 28th January. Book your free place here.

Main image: Jeff Wall, Summer Afternoons (detail), 2013, colour photograph. Courtesy: the artist and White Cube, London

Mimi Chu is a writer based in London, UK.