Slightly frustrated, I was wandering round the streets of Walthamstow during Art Night, trying to find the locations of some events when I found myself at the Vestry Road Playground. That’s when I first came across Beth Kettel’s work: a number of basketball players were trying out some moves in a way that felt like a dance routine amidst a crowd. It was aggressive yet harmonious, suggestive yet controlled.
Baseline Drift was conceived as a dynamic response to the idea of the playground as a public arena. By bringing together local basketball players and teaming up with the WAVE Choir, it reinforced a community spirit and a team-building mentality: all “actors” in this immersive play had to work together and share a special moment outside of the constraints of class, ethnicity, difference.
Kettel takes the notion of “game” seriously: she sees in it a universal language that is understood by and appeals to different sorts of people. A game is a collectively shared experience, and equally a useful outlet for everyday life’s frustrations. It is a powerful mechanism of survival and a strategy for renewal and reinvestment in our culture. It may seem disruptive at times, yet it still plays by – and even perpetuates – societal rules.
For an experimental music video titled A Bang, A Bomb, A Lie and A Band That Stands for Something Else, co-commissioned by Phoenix, Leicester and the ICA, London, Kettel turned to music as another form of universal language. Born in Leicestershire, Kettel is familiar with the thriving music scene in the area and collaborated with local musicians to compile a soundtrack that reflects the city’s cultural lineage, past and present. The music blends different genres and the video, an eclectic mix of story-telling, Leicester slang and visual references “brings objects, pattern and gesture together to form non-linear narratives through costume, lyrics and dance.”
For The Mist of the Pessimist, her performance and solo exhibition at Zabludowicz Collection, Kettel investigated the structure and aesthetics of TV game shows. According to the artist, “game shows allow for disparate ideas to come together, in many forms. The binaries that game shows usually contain…. seem really simple but relate to larger ideas that I have brought into the narrative for The Mist of a Pessimist”. Speaking of narratives, Kettel usurps different voices, narratives and perspectives which may initially seem incongruous, but in the end prove to be more complex to decode through language.
Kettel’s focus on sport, music, gaming and internet culture puts her in malleable and obscure territories, operating with a different sense of language. This intriguing polysemy of ‘another’ language which seems to be at the core of her practice could unearth a new set of possibilities, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on Beth Kettel’s next moves.