La Petite Muerte- curated by Kirsty Harris

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.

ruth bartlett

 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.

Charley Peters – The faintest echo of the tiniest whisper in the thunder of time, Graphite powder on paper,

Lucy Woodhouse- Photogram

Susanna Thornton- Doorway

 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.

Caro Halford, My Father’s Ashes

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.

Kirsty Harris Ms Lomax

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.

Peter Ainsworth

Hugh Mendes meticulous transcription from a newspaper, detailing the death of a dear,yet unattractive comrade.

Hugh Mendes

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?

Paul Stanley every text she ever sent to me

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.



Matt Roberts Arts, 25b Vyner St, London, E2 9DG

ALAS Summer Residency Exhibition 2012

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:

Catrine Bodum, David Chalkley, Hannah Futers, Caro Halford, Kirsty Harris, Karolina Magnusson-Murray, Susie Mendelsson, Hana Melley, Julia Miranda, Moorland Productions, Laurie Nouchka, Araba Ocran, Jane Oldfield, Charley Peters, Paul Stanley, Susanna Thornton, Ventiko, Jemma Watts, Sarah West

Here is a small selection of images from the group exhibition.

Paul Stanley
“Lying awake in my bed as a child I listened to the trains going by on the track that ran behind our street, hoping to make sense out of the white noise of a world that extended endlessly beyond my understanding.”

Paul Stanley
“Through my more recent ‘Pulling at Threads’ series I have been looking closely at how we develop relationships with the images that are personal to us; for example how we understand our own image captured at a point in time such as childhood.”

Jemma Watts “My current work is concerned with the psychogeography of cities, exploring the idea of the sacred and mystical in the modern world, and specifically urban environments. It seems to me that something that is shaped by the will of so many human minds over hundreds of years must have a higher significance.”

Jemma Watts

Black and white photo from the exhibition of Jemma Watts drawings on paper

Julia Miranda

Hannah Futers
My work flows between drawing, painting, photography and constructing sets. These all feed into one another, and are concerned with surface and texture, creating and documenting landscapes, and using time as a medium.

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. 

David Chalkley- a photo I took of his work in the gallery with  a visitor looking at it- seemingly impressed.

David Chalkley- Creating the piece for the ALAS show
“With this piece I am exploring how time acts upon objects. The objects were mass-produced from identical moulds but time has afforded them different histories. Only when viewing these items as a collection of individuals do the effects”

Araba Ocran- My work has evolved from an exploration of monumentalism. Monumental sculptures are traditionally permanent objects which denote a deed or a person worthy of record; a memorial, celebrated in sculpture and painting. 
My work aims to challenge this concept by my choice of sculptural medium and subject matter

Catrine Bodum- extract taken from her statement- In 2009, during her MA in London Catrine Bodum found her influence in the music of Steve Reich and the Poems of Robert Lax. Bodum felt that there was a dialogue in their work that she could continue into her own work. They worked as a springboard into new ways of building up her compositions. Catrine Bodum has since moved on from working directly in reference to their work.

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.

Susie Mendelsson
Much of my work is motivated by an exploration of personal memories and the expression of psychological states of trauma and anxiety. Though the sources of my imagery are often autobiographical, my work communicates universal concerns and emotions, especially from a woman’s perspective.

Sarah West
I systematically scavenge the vast array of imagery within magazines and newspapers; consuming, analysing and reacting to chance shots of unpredictable subject and composition.

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.