Andrew Lambirth

Bristol’s animal magic

Andrew Lambirth on an exhibition which looks at our relationship to nature

It’s the height of the silly season, and the capital glows in the unexpectedly seasonal heat. For anyone who has not forsaken London for the seaside or elsewhere, I recommend the witty diversions of Video Quartet by Christian Marclay, at White Cube in Hoxton Square until 30 August. Four screens project a profusion of film fragments choreographed seamlessly with accompanying soundtrack – clips from Hollywood movies, of singers and musicians (from Hendrix to Sinatra and Callas), concentrating on keyboards, horns and violins. The result is an immaculately structured 14-minute drama which is very funny and utterly compelling. Marclay (born 1955) is acclaimed internationally as visual artist, experimental musician and composer. Certainly he’s that rare thing – a video artist of real distinction. Of course, it’s all in the timing.

In the West Country the tarmac begins to give beneath the feet, and the simplest journey on public transport becomes a nightmare of discomfort. The heat was almost insupportable in the beautiful refurbished galleries of the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, as dozens of artists and guests flocked to hear Ralph Steadman open the exhibition Tooth & Claw with a rousing if lengthy tirade entitled ‘Pigs, Animals and Us’. It’s not the RWA’s fault that the day was so sweltering. Only Phase I of their restoration programme has been completed, and while the remarkable Walter Crane lunettes and the dome have been restored to their former glory, and other aspects of the Grade II* listed building’s fabric have been secured, the detailed plans for a modernised Academy, complete with air-conditioning, depend on the good fortunes of their current bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I hope the RWA is successful in their application, for here are the finest naturally lit galleries in the west of England, while the artist-run Academy maintains not only a successful annual autumn exhibition (an open submission show similar to the London Royal Academy’s summer thrash), but an ambitious exhibition programme, of which Tooth & Claw is the latest example.

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