sStephen Cripps died in 1982 at the age of 29. He built things — weird moving tools, self-destructing sculptures, one-off shows involving fire and sound — and blew things up. Mysterious and chaotically original, his art was as fleeting as his life.
Krebs lived most of his short career in a shed inside an abandoned warehouse at Butler Wharf, next to Tower Bridge in London. Friends remember the welding pit where he welded scrap metal, the set of Indian and Chinese gongs, the two halves of the cockpit of a fighter plane. He built a record player that crawls across the floor at parties as they spin. The massive Heath-Robinson building was installed for dispersal of birds that attempted to stand on Paul Klee’s elegant structure outside the Serpentine Gallery in 1975.
At the Acme Gallery in Covent Garden, he made a strange wedding dress that puffed and fluttered before tragically calming down, setting off fireworks that exploded behind Chinese gongs. Stuff caught on fire, rolled around, and exploded. A fire extinguisher, fired by the artist, ran under the influence of its own emissions.
“If you blink, you miss. If you watch it, you blink anyway.” So wrote musician and curator David Taub in Krebs’ wonderful study It was published by Acme in 1992. Toop was remembered for the incredible power and brevity of performing the Cripps. Magnesium flickers and glows, sparks flying around the artist’s figure in his welding equipment, and danger to audiences in closed rooms where explosions, chain reactions, and fires have taken place without warning or protection. Krebs himself never knew how events would turn out. Ever epigrammatic, note that rehearsal I was the performance.
No point in regretting the fact that no one now could see perhaps the wildest of these occasions, which took place at Jackson Pollock’s Show at Modern Art Oxford in 1979. Krebs had been working with percussionist Paul Burwell to set off explosions with loudspeakers and array microphones on piles of magnesium. The explosion may cause distortion, amplification and eventually burning, resulting in vibrations in the gongs: shock waves, echoes, and a deafening silence.
Bankrupt Krebs was responsible for the invaluable Pollux. But it’s not just money that prevents this from happening in today’s billion-dollar art industry. Krebs believed in the wild moment, the pure experience, in the millisecond alternation between construction and destruction. He trained and worked as a firefighter to make ends meet, but also to obtain a black powder license. His works were meant to die, disappearing like music into thin air.
All this makes this tribute, at Turner Contemporary, at least an achievement of Reconstruction. There are many black and white photos of long-lost, often nocturnal, and always mysterious occasions. There are many graphs that show how performance performance can be visualized.
There are several graphics, where you can get close to what was clearly an amazingly creative mind. Images of Krebs can be so beautiful, the feel of Paul Klee and his hero Jean Tingley run through their forms. And the inventions they describe are always amazing. A floating fireworks boat, glowing and exploding on the Thames like some Elizabethan fantasy made reality through 20th century technology; Portable crematorium, surprisingly streamlined and elegant; An underwater ballet in which divers move through minimal nets of lighted nets.
Like Leonardo, many of the dreams of his noisy brain never came true – dancing on jets and helicopters, the wonderful organ of tubes made of hollow rockets. But some of them were actually captured on film. The performance here that includes hopping cranes, crow scarers, and gongs, with bassoons all playing in near-darkness, gives some sense of the odd mixture of sound and vision.
In fact, the climax of the Turner Contemporary Gallery is a separate gallery where films are shown alternately. One is a short but touching interview in which a bewildering journalist attempts to question the artist. Respectful, unassuming, and very quick to speak, Krebs explains he is intent on creating audio and visual images and not just playing with fire. The next movie is the guide and the centerpiece of the show.
It was photographed in color at the Acme Gallery in 1980. Cripps appear in a room filled with gongs of all different sizes. He sits behind the console and lights a cigarette. Immediately the gallery was plunged into darkness and a series of small explosions began. The sensation is the sudden, intermittent lightning, which sends out echoes of all kinds to the gongs – thunderous, sharp, melancholy, primitive, almost acoustically choreographed. A final silence, broken by the applause of the lucky few who were there. You will never see crepes again in the dark; The only warning of his presence is the constant glow of his cigarette.
cold lightWritten by Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent, they feel like a natural companion at Turner Contemporary. The phrase was originally used to describe the first light bulbs, which no longer relied on fire for illumination.
A virtual reality experience, on headphones, takes you to the mind of Nikola Tesla, a leading electrical engineer. Visions drift and collide around you, disembodied pumping hearts, retrograde walking robots, starry planets, floating polyhedra and Tesla himself as a robot disintegrating and then transforming into matter before your eyes. The narrator seems to be talking about your thoughts, at times, about the sheer weirdness of virtual images and unreliable text-to-speech computer software.
Then the polyhedron appears again, this time as a real physical object, in the next exhibition. Now the process appears to be going in the opposite direction. Elements of a 2D print – Albrecht Dürer’s stunning Melencolia I, that dejected angel sitting in a junkyard of strange emblems, depicting a polyhedron – are embodied in three physical dimensions. You wander among silvery automata, alien planets perched on tiny oceans, films flashing with gray aurora lurking across the waves in Dürer’s Edition. I walked into print.
Some people believe that Dürer was a variety of nerves. It was a Tesla for sure, and she experienced extraordinary visions. Lindsey Sears has been diagnosed with autism. What’s remarkable about Cold Light is the way it animates connections, connections, neural jumps, and even synaptic holes, in the form of still and moving images, and in two and three dimensions. I don’t understand exactly what he was dreaming of, or alluding to in extending visions, at the time, but the feeling of stepping into other people’s minds is captivating.
Star ratings (out of five)
Stephen Krebs: In real life ★★★★
Lindsey Sears and Keith Sargent: Cold Light ★★★★
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