I went to many exhibitions yesterday; one last flurry before I started back to work after half term. I am just about to plan some lessons for tomorrow, but I must write first about La Petite Muerte as it is well worth a visit before it closes on 11th November.
The last show on my tour was located in a pub cellar off Kingsland Road, which is great as it is open 6-9pm – Thurs- Sunday, so you can get a beer at the bar too. The curator is an artist called Kirsty Harris, who I first encountered at Matt Robert’s Alas exhibition. Some of the 38 selected artists are contacts she gathered from the Alas residency, but many are artists she knows personally and admires.
The theme was to coincide with the Mexican Day of the Dead festival that happens in Mexico at the beginning of November. The artworks exhibited related to this festival “exploring contemporary notions of mortality, sex, rituals and icons.”
Where to start, as there was much to see with really interesting stories behind the exhibited artworks. Lets begin with a taxidermy piece by Ruth Bartlett; a tender scene of a sleeping squirrel curled upon a stack of walnuts, that would indeed offer sustenance during the coming winter months. The piece is arranged in such as way to conceal any brutality of the act of death itself, as the squirrel is of course not really sleeping and that this ‘squirrel utopia’ is indeed a fabrication. The artist seemed to have prepared the squirrel for the afterlife in a kind of respectful anti ‘burial’ ritual.
I guess this ‘sending off’ is what the artists in the show were dealing with. Mexicans celebrate their dead in a particular way, which involves a colourful and joyous ceremony and probably why it is so well-known throughout the world. Yet all cultures commemorate the dead with complex traditions and etiquettes, some of course more sombre than others and the exhibition alluded to many of these personal interpretations. Death is both a collective, shared experience which happens to everyone of us and also a very deeply personal and unique experience.
The diversity of artwork in La Petite Muerte, goes someway to illustrate these sensibilities, with artists focussing on the wider themes of rituals and belief structures. Artists explored the impact of death upon the individual by incorporating personal and touching memories; artworks attempted preservation and embodied concepts of renewal, absence and loss; all mixed up with equal measures of humour and melancholy, starkness and sensitivity.
Three artworks which explore the journey to the afterlife or the sensations of a near death experience which is sometimes described as a light at the end of the tunnel.
I would like to mention Caro Halford’s art work. I don’t think I have ever seen such a personal artwork in a gallery before. The piece includes a photograph of her father and an image of where some of his ashes were scattered. In the box below, his actual ashes are encased. This to me is a simple but powerfully poignant piece. I wondered where the photograph of the rocks were taken and what it meant to the artist and her father. A very thought-provoking tribute, remarking upon our personal associations with places and memory; how life and death can become mentally and physically connected to the environment.
The curator, Kirsty Harris, had included a small painted panel resting delicately on a ledge, depicting an image of a friend, 8 months pregnant. So as antithesis to death, there comes renewal and new life.
An acrylic reworking upon a Victorian cabinet card by Tom Butler. A calling card, or carte de visite was often left at an address, to say that a particular person had visited. The cabinet card was a larger version of this craze that was popular in the 1860 and 70s. This is a beautiful and delicate artwork and although the face has been obliterated, it has been painted with such care, the act is not a destructive one. This reminds me how through time, the individuality of the person diminishes; they become unexplained, unidentifiable and lost, belonging to no one.
A photograph which illustrates a carnage of body parts, threadbare soft toys, ‘Andy Goldsworthy gerbils’ or a pile of ginger root, by Peter Ainsworth.
Hugh Mendes meticulous transcription from a newspaper, detailing the death of a dear,yet unattractive comrade.
A phone sim card sculpture by Paul Stanley, entitled ‘every text she ever sent to me‘ and cast in a resin block. This paradoxical attempt to arrest time, renders the sim card unusable and is therefore a futile and destructive act, but perhaps a necessary ritual to move forward, or it could be seen as a preservation of love?
La petite Muerte is a visually exciting exhibition, showing a diverse range of contemporary artworks. I wanted to write more and also about every artist, as this review only touches on a fraction of what is there, but my camera Raw plugin tutorial for tomorrow awaits. Go see before it is too late.
All artists exhibiting can be found here, with images and website links.
October 9 – November 10, 2012
GAGOSIAN GALLERY- Britannia Street, London
Images courtesy of Gagosian Gallery Website. More information about the exhibition can be found here:
There is a really exciting solo exhibition of Franz West sculptures and paintings at Gagosian Gallery in London.
“Creativity is just rhetoric. The everyday life wants to enter, but I have to carefully dam it up.” West
As a newcomer to Franz West, I side-stepped past the large pink intestinal sculpture in the foyer and sat at a table, leafing through various catalogues, whilst my fellow compadre rampaged through an entire sketchbook making fast, expressive drawings from the sculptures in the gallery.
I came across a five-page conversation between the artist Sarah Lucas and Franz West at the front of a book. It seemed to be an email dialogue, where Lucas posed questions to West about his motivations and where they might position their art against others as well as hair removal. It flitted between seriousness and nonsense. There was a film called Energy Diaries, shown at the ICA this year,documenting a 2010 conversation between the two artists and also Andreas Reiter Raabe, with music interventions by Philipp Quehenberger. There is a really good and funny review of this talk held at the Royal Institution, London, 21st June 2010 by Rebecca Bell: Click on this link to see more….
I have included an extract from the write-up by Rebecca Bell, as it sets the tone for West’s and indeed Lucas’ work.
“The evening reached a climax of mixed pleasure, frustration and confusion when Lucas walked out saying “I’m going for a wee” which resulted in many people leaving. West shrugged and said to the audience “money back again”. I suddenly felt I was part of a morphing Stoppard Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
When Lucas returned questions were invited from the floor – to which a young man asked what was going on. He had come for a talk, he had come to an institution, he expected information, and he expected a structure.
The artists asked him what he wanted to know and they would tell him. The starry crowd tangibly divided between those sneering at his lack of comprehension and those nodding vehemently at his right to ask the question they were too afraid to ask. Perhaps he exposed an Emperor’s New Clothes element to the proceeding, but also in questioning the activity he created a Brechtian sense of performance, a commentator exposing the process of the event, clarifying the deterioration of the 4th (in this case even 3rd, 2nd and 1st?) wall.
The frustration of many seemed contradictory for a crowd so willing to accept anything within the boundaries of the artists’ decision and yet they rejected this member of the audience for demanding to become a part of an apparently boundless event/experience through his question.
I digress; back to the books and I read a second interview. West was asked how he begins his sculptures. In response, West explained how he would stand in front of nothing and then make a ‘body’ which is then corrected and vamped up in several stages to conceal his ‘inability’ to make art. Various objects such as wicker baskets and card board boxes used to develop this central body were left partly exposed and unpainted whilst other areas are completely submerged in bandages of paper and paint and no longer identifiable.
My fellow artist made some really interesting observations about West’s work. She described them as a 3-D drawing on a journey. The twisting shapes felt full of movement as I was compelled to scan over the sculptures following the curves from end to end. There was a desire to interact; to step over, get inside and to touch the sculptures. West mentions his link with Nikki De Saint Phalle’s grottos, where the audience could inhabit both the interior and also view the surface of the art work. In fact, her giant sculpture garden in Tuscany was indeed inhabited by De Saint Phalle and her team of workers for the duration of its construction.
A post man came into deliver some letters to Gagosian passing right through the pink twirling form and then ducking back out again. Did he really touch that? I quite liked his blasé attitude as this seemed on the same level as West. I read how West was also not a fan of Henry Moore’s sculptures, as they were too perfect and smooth. There is an equilibrium between the process of construction and the physicality of materials and structure. Nothing is more or less important; The surfaces are not overworked and the sculptures don’t pretend to be anything other than a mass of pulp objects and paint. The sculptures were made mainly from paper mache pulp and foam; materials akin to school art lessons. The paint is clumpy and mottled. West mentioned that others would colour the sculptures as he thought he could not paint, but the sculptures became to ‘arrogant’ to him, so he started to paint them himself instead. Some of the sculptures are partly painted, so you can see the grey paper mulch peeking through or large areas are left unprimed. Then there is a mixture of upside-down drips, splashes and layering of different colours that also have dripped down onto the plinths below. I read that when returning to his freshly painted sculptures for the first time, he saw the colour had lost its shine and vitality and was disappointed by this. However the sculptures at Gagosian had been developed using a gloss of acrylic lacquer which increased the richness of colours.
“A sculpture is more real than a 2-D artwork.” West
I wanted not to like West’s work, but it was not possible. It was so free and fun and casual and lacking any pomposity or pretensions. He seemed a bit of a joker.
From Gagosian’s Press release:
“In the seventies, he produced the first of the small, portable, mixed media sculptures called Adaptives (Passstücke). These “ergonomically inclined” objects become complete as artworks only when the viewer holds, wears, carries or performs with them. Transposing the knowledge gained with these formative works, he explored sculpture increasingly in terms of an ongoing dialogue of actions and reactions between viewers and objects in any given exhibition space, while probing the internal aesthetic relations between sculpture and painting.”
White Cube. 48 Hoxton Square London N1 6PB. Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm.
I saw Runa Islam’s work at the White Cube in Hoxton. The exhibition is on until 3rd November 2012.
The image opening her work on the Whitecube website is this…..?
It was pouring with rain and I had got soaked whilst escorting my students back to Old Street tube, although they knew the way. We had been on a gallery tour to The Barbican, Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit, with one extra stop off with a few die-hards at The Signal Gallery to see Guy Dennings portraits. With students dispatched, I was now free, but dripping with water, so headed to the Breakfast Club for a milkshake and to warm up. Once suitably dry, I thought I’d continue with my plan of visiting the White Cube. It looked closed, as the entrance and interior space was so dark, but the door pushed open and someone was just visible behind the front desk. I picked up an artist info sheet and tried to read it in the low light. I could see what looked like a massive projector in the middle of the space and a solitary figure sitting on a bench looking out of the gallery…
I’m sure it was not there before, but a huge roll down shutter dominated the space, allowing a fragment of the street outside to be visible within the normal ‘white cube’ of the gallery. It made the space less determined, less immersive, more fragile somehow and gave the illusion of a longer and narrow space; in other words, it was less cube-like. The shutter opening was actually directed at The Breakfast Club doorway, from where I had just come from and this felt strange; and therefore why I now choose to divulge this opening story in my gallery review. I had already been in the gallery unknowingly and also possible watched, judged? by the gentleman looking out at the street. Had he recognised my shoes and coat, now in the gallery, had he contemplated my hesitation of entering the cafe, my determined steps through the rain back out into the street, or just saw me as a passerby, of feet and legs, an object one usually navigates around?
I also started to watch some people walk past. Their faces anonymous and concealed by the partially closed shutter. They became a generic passerby, moving through the city streets. I did not wonder where they were going, as they were characterless. Perhaps if I had stayed longer, my perception would have changed. It was indeed just a shutter, a normal opening in a building, but because I had never seen it before, it became something new and awkward that disrupted the gallery space. Yet it also became a moving image, a unrecordable film, a possible adaptions of the camera obscura.
The next artwork I came across involved a projection using very dated equipment, which I think may have been a super 8. The contraption to run the footage became monolithic, complex and magnificent, the film on the other hand was subtle, simple and incidental in comparison. The sequence of images, heightened even further the idea of contrasting scale. I imagined seeing barren landscapes, horizons and suspension bridges, momentarily fracturing the actual reality of camera pans along the edge of a skirting board and a sheet of glass. I recalled photos by Gursky and Jeff Wall, perhaps a Rothko.
So at times, the film was abstract, then a bleak horizon, then it revealed itself as edge of a room, perhaps of a gallery space; perhaps the glass being part of the Museum’s system of presentation and not an artwork in itself, perhaps momentarily left, but now made purposeful.
“Also included in the exhibition is the 16mm film ‘Cabinet of Prototypes’ (2009/2010). Made from research Islam conducted as an artist fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Arthur M. Sackler Galleries, it shows the stands, hooks, plinths and labels used to present artefacts in the collection.The artist brings these support structures that would normally remain concealed back into view, erasing their functionality and restaging them as sculptural objects in their own right.
Islam also includes armatures intended for the presentation of museum objects as components of the exhibition, retrieving these structures from invisibility and holding them up for display.Often folding the machinery of film into the works and including numerous self-reflexive allusions, the exhibition presents a layered meditation on the mechanisms of viewing and perception and the narratives of art making and display.”
I can not explain it more succinctly than this, so will describe the physicality of the gallery space instead. The room was really dark, outside was rainy and grey. The gallery attendant was curled up on the window ledge, reading a book. When I sat down to watch the film, he stood up and was silhouetted by the window and continued to read. I guess I noticed the entire space and not just the central artwork, perhaps now being primed by the artwork downstairs. There was no clear distinction between the projected image and the projector. At first, I viewed the equipment, then behind the film, as it was projected on to glass and therefore double-sided, then the content of the film itself. The ‘front’ of the film was made apparent by the benches placed against the wall, so being compliant to the ideal viewing angle, (although I think the artwork questions this) I sat down to view the film.
The footage emphasised the importance of the museum fixtures, panning inside a jumbled cabinet of hanging devices. I had no idea of this context, and although the fragments at times looked like futuristic buildings, even aeroplanes, they always exposed themselves as something small in scale and structure and a part or by-product of something else
It would have been ideal if my students had come along to this exhibition, as it drew parallels with the exhibition by Elmgreen & Dragset at Victoria Miro Gallery they had seen earlier that afternoon. The artists in question had extracted sections of gallery walls from all over the world and placed them on to framed canvas.
At first glance, you see just a white square, but with closer examination, along its edges, you see a history of paint layers, different colours and thickness like the rings of a tree. Then you start to contemplate the prestigious of each gallery in relation to how it re-decorates. Does a thin paint application show a better gallery than the thicker ones? Do imperfections in brush stroke and consistency conduct a more lackadaisical approach, less authority or a more left-wing standing? I pointed out the Hayward Gallery artwork and said to the few remaining students who had not already bombed through this space in disappoint, “My friend could have made this” thinking of the gallery assistants that re-paint the space after each show. The artwork by Elmgreen & Dragsetat focussed my attention upon the gallery assistants who are often artists themselves.
So to me, Ruma Islam and also Elmgreen & Dragset are making work about how hierarchical significance is placed on certain artefacts. In a different way of questioning what constitute art in a gallery space, from that per se of a pile of bricks, the actual bricks and mortar, the gallery hangings, the surfaces of which art is hung are brought to the fore and become the area of interest.
With the cold rain outside lashing down upon busy London streets, Islam’s retro films, glowed warmly and provided a similar reassurance to the hay barn by Elmgreen & Dragset at Victoria Miro. They create artifices of space within the confines of the gallery. The current installation includes a room full of hay, wooden beam constructions and a model of a boy perched on top of the gallery balcony.
Of course the gallery space can build a fabrication of something inviting and homely and push against the white cube confines. If only I had laid down in the straw for a while and let my students find their own way back home, I could have almost convinced myself I was in a barn in another time and place.
This painting entitled ‘Dwarf Stars’ created by the artist, Julian Brown, intrigues me. I am wondering if this is a colour study referring to the various types of dwarf stars. If I had not looked at the title, the painting would conjure up a landscape in my mind; of interlocking mountains with a sun at the top right. When I think of dwarf stars, I think about the black dwarf, which is when a star is finally burnt out and becomes a cold rock floating through space. In my pessimistic world, this painting symbolises the end of mankind, the end of earth, as without the sun, we can not survive…. But how can something so sweet and tasty as these paintings mean this………?
I thought I would add an image or two more of Julian Brown’s artwork. Of course you can see even more at his website:
He has just been selected for the Marmite Prize this year
“The imagery in my work is very heavily influenced by nostalgic visions of the 1980’s and the folk art from my mother Polish heritage. Both of these worlds have a handmade geometric quality that has a playful and primitive relevance to the world we now live in.”
The work has an obvious decorative quality. Knowing that he is influenced by Polish folk art, I decided to look at some examples online. The images that I came across, seemed to have a sense of innocence and cheeriness and were a celebration of all colours of the rainbow.
Vinculum is Latin for “bond”, which is the title of the above painting. This title completely changes how I view the work, from something flat in 2-D, it suddenly pops out and becomes an interlocking rope or bandage.
This painting entitled, ‘Buccaneers II’, is interesting. I see it as a herd of deer, probably because of the colours Brown has utilised and also the sweep of the brush strokes give the work a skittish energy; but is it in fact a historic account of a battle between Portuguese and Spanish ships? When I down loaded this particular image from his website, the image was documented as ‘kindling’ which again shifts the meaning of the work or adds another layer to my battle analogy.
I find the art works by Julian Brown are something to ponder upon. There is this obvious child-like aesthetic; an innocent and playful arrangement of shapes and colour, but then the titles just throw up some unanswered questions. I realise how much of my own history, and memories are projected onto the work and corrupt the most authentic interpretation, which is that of the artists. Or is this what it is all about? How fragments from childhood, traces of folklore and tradition, of artefacts and dialogue can be a flitting presence underpinning the work, but by the most delicate of threads; which of course might dance off again, when the physicality of liquidy and joyous paint take hold!
The Crypt Gallery, Euston Road, St. Pancras Church, London, NW12BA
Surface II is open from 13th July- 22nd July 2012 and is curated by Fiona Chaney and Louise Harrington
Louise Harrington, Fiona Chaney, Sophie Cordery, Regina Valkenborgh, Lyndsey Searle, David Donald, Hazel Walsh, Stephen Buckeridge, Juliet Guiness, Sarah King, Sinéid Codd, Susan Eyre, Kelvin Burr, Amy-Louise Watson, Jessie Rayat, Nina Ciuffini, Hélène Uffren,
Jo Lovelock, Sarah Rose Allen, Debbie Lyddon, Susan Francis, Samantha Blanchard,
Maria Gaitanidi, Cynthia Ayral, Natasa Stamatari, Alexandros Alexandridis
I went to the opening of Surface II at St Pancras Church today. There is a gallery space underneath the church which has regular curated exhibitions. The show I visited today was a collection of 26 artists exploring the theme of surface. The gallery itself is an intriguing surface, with bare walls, arches, passageways and cavernous spaces and some artists had integrated their work directly with the interior. For instance, artists had used the walls to project films upon, which produced an interesting result, as the walls were made up of exposed crumbling brick work. The footage appeared fragmented and decayed. There was a lot of interesting ideas about surfaces, using painting, photography, performance and installation.
The artwork below is by Susan Eyre. It was impossible not to touch the surface of her work, as the texture was so inviting.
Another artwork that I enjoyed was by Regina Valkenborgh, made with a beer can pin hole camera.
Louise Harrington had created this sculptural photograph placed in one of the caverns at The Crypt.
Artwork by Kelvin Burr; chalky, faded, sanded down surfaces, with pools of colour being revealed in cavities and diffused and soft mark making over the smooth top layers.
Hazel Walsh displayed a series of images, which looked almost like drawings. They were really beautiful and unusual.
Matt Roberts Arts, 25b Vyner St, London, E2 9DG
28th June – 7th July 2012
I visited the inaugural opening of ALAS at Matt Roberts’ Gallery. This group show will become a twice yearly event on Vyner Street, happening in June and November. This is an exciting addition to the Matt Roberts Gallery annual Salon exhibitions, consisting of a mixed media show, (painting, sculpture, installation and any 2-D media) as well as the two additional salon prizes, which specialise in photography and video.
The salon shows and now ‘ALAS‘ are great platforms for contemporary artists to gain valuable exposure of the work and forge new links with other practitioners, galleries and art collectors in London. I spoke to Matt Roberts that evening about his idea behind the current show. He seems to have a real understanding and commitment in supporting artists to develop their career as successful practitioners. I really liked his idea of getting artists to work collaboratively in the gallery environment prior to the exhibition, sharing and discussing their development to make a cohesive show. An artist tends to have an isolated lifestyle, so the making of ALAS was a return to the college atmosphere, where peer assessment could be implemented to support the making process, as opposed to merely commenting on finished work. In addition, each Saturday, a talk or visit was arranged where artists would meet different organisations in the art world to gather contacts and advice.
“After five years of providing artists’ professional development support Matt Roberts has launched ALAS, as a means of sharing knowledge about ways in which artists can gain exhibition experience and exposure for their practice. The ALAS professional development residency consists of over 100 hours of lectures and one-to-one tuition from our team and guest lecturers over a five week period. Successful applicants will be asked to bring 1-2 works in progress which will be completed in our studio facilities and exhibited at the Matt Roberts Arts gallery spaces.”
Exhibiting artists are:
Here is a small selection of images from the group exhibition.
Black and white photo from the exhibition of Jemma Watts drawings on paper
The image above shows a photo of a film by Hannah Futers, except you can not see anything. Her film was in an enclosed space at the entrance of the gallery. In reality, the film is so delicate and faint, you can barely make out the footage of shimmering of light. I could not capture it properly to illustrate Hannah Futer’s work, but it was so interesting I wanted to mention it in more detail. A visitor was telling her friend about it, so I listened in. She had recorded the flickering colours of light, reflected on the shiny surface of a gallery floor. At first, the film was abstract and unidentifiable, then a gallery visitor’s feet cross over the reflection. It was subtle, a sublime light, a trace of something, then reality hits you. It feels like the gallery visitor is breaking the silence or the beauty of the piece. It feels destructive and intrusive, except this recording is just an unintentional by-product of an artwork. Futer’s work seems to play with the idea of authorship, capturing interest in the peripheral areas of an artwork, that the original artist has no control or claim over. Is it now hers for the taking?
An artwork by Kirsty Harris on small sanded down oak panel. The detail in phenomenal. She uses a 10x 0 brush to get some of these lines, which I never knew existed! Her oil paintings are created using traditional miniature painting techniques and show a contemporary and comical take of paintings from history. They remain faceless, so that the work refers to compositional elements as opposed to making an identifiable portrait of someone.
This is a detail from Catrine Bodum’s work. The painting was made of two parts and this photo shows just the right hand side of the artwork.
Detail from Sarah West’s painting.
I really enjoyed the exhibition and you could see that a good friendship between the artists had also been created at the opening event. The artists came from a wide range of backgrounds, ages, experiences and disciplines. The exhibition runs until the 7th July so go check it out. More info can be found here.