Shows I’ve reviewed

All The World Is Now Richer at Greenbelt

Good morning from Greenbelt again! On day two and with a decent night’s sleep under my (Green) belt, the dust has settled somewhat and I am now able to look at the art that we have spent 4 days hanging with a more detached eye.

Each artist’s work is genuinely great this year, but one of the highlights has to be Sokari Douglas Camp CBE‘s set of sculptures entitled “All The World Is Now Richer”.

The work consists of a series of six figures made from steel, a little bigger, taller and prouder than life-size.

From Sokari’s website:

” ‘All the World is now Richer’ is a sculpture to commemorate the abolition of slavery. The sculpture hopes to show that the people of slave heritage are brave and have dignity and strength.”

The series shows the journey from indigenous robed figure, rich in ancestral heritage, to contemporary person in jeans and t-shirt via plantation workers and everything in between. However, as troubled and complex as all those issues are, the work is also about strength and survival, even dignity.

Politically engaged on a social and racial level, Douglas-Camp is Nigerian, trained in Britain from a political, high-born family. Drawing on a culture that utilises masks, masquerades, dance, and uniform, her work shares a part of Nigeria, that has to deal with oil companies, and live with the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The work comes from responses to a series of poetic words which can been seen on a maquette, also included in the show.

Most importantly, I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from various people who have been through or past. I’ve already met many people who have walked past and drawn into the room.They have told me that it looks AMAZING and want to go back and spend some more time there. Bringing an art show to a Racecourse, and especially making it look good within a festival is not easy. However I think we’ve achieved it, particularly in this case.

Fine Art venues (especially when the weather is good) don’t always get a big crowd, but conversely that can be their greatest strength. The room becomes a provoking oasis of calm when you want to escape the festival crowds.

I may well see you there.

Read More

President Obama, In Seven Days & Greenbelt

 

Once again I find myself writing a once-in-a-blue-moon blog, and once again I find myself at the Greenbelt Festival, hanging artwork for the Visual Arts stream. It’s been it’s usual slog, but the work is up, the punters are trickling in, and the visual arts team nervously wait to see whether the work is as enjoyable to everyone else as it has been to us choosing it and working with it.

One of my particular favourites this year is Nicola Green’s “In Seven Days”.

Nicola had the great privilege of being able to follow Barack Obama’s journey from accepting the nomination as candidate for the Democratic party, right through to his inauguration as President of the United States.

The images are a distillation of various key moments along that journey. At first glance the images appear to be very simple but as with most work that reduces the various elements to distilled constituent parts, the volume of significance increases dramatically.

The gestures, poses and symbols are versatile enough that they can stand rigourous enough interpretation. The cruciform gesture in sixth image (“SACRIFICE/EMBRACE”) is particularly loaded with messianic symbolism, the air-punching fist of the second image (“STRUGGLE”) echoes both olympic triumphalism and black power – all lend a tension to the seven works taken as a whole, almost a narrative journey. The work, as Green says become about more than just him, and are the story of the people of America.

Questions of power are particularly pertinent at this point in Obama’s second term of office, as the tide of opinion turns, and the legacy of his time as President domes into focus. Will it be “Yes, we did” or have the NSA, drone flights, Gauntanamo Bay blotted the record too far? And what place does this have within the Greenbelt Festival’s remit around social and political justice issues?

It’s not often that you get works like this that see-saw well between political concerns and art practise concerns, but they do seem to hit a moment in time. And like all the best work, there is a timelessness to them that is more than just about Obama, America and now, and become about power, kingship and you and me.

Read More

Fukushima, the Greenbelt Festival and performance art

At this years Greenbelt Festival I’m privileged to have been asked to be involved with a performance piece by Kaya Hanasaki, a performance artist who is a resident of Fukushima, Japan. She’s been over in the UK as a part of a respite programme by another artist, Kaori Homma. The idea is to get artists to spend some time away from Fukushima for so respite from both the stress and the very real physical danger.

It’s been a year and a half since the nuclear accident at Fukushima occurred, and now that the incident has to some extent faded from the media spotlight the people who live there have now somehow got to get on with their lives.

It turns out that the situation is not good at all, and that they’re still not sure what exactly to do with the power stations.

The group of artists based around Project Fukushima have started to hold a festival that “will let the entire world know about Fukushima as it is now, and as it will be in the future. We are determined to turn Fukushima into a positive word.” It’s well worth digging into their website and finding out about what’s going on over there, both within the festival and in Fukushima at large, as I suspect that the implications of Japan’s attempts to find a future that somehow deals with the implications of nuclear fuel and a strong desire to do without it are worked out, will have an influence upon all of us.

I’ve seen some video footage of Kaya’s performance, and it is at once very moving, emotional and loaded with imagery and symbolism. It’s certain to be a Greenbelt highlight, and I’m involved in trying to live stream the performance back to Japan. This could be tricky as the event is on Saturday at 2pm, so getting anything to stream smoothly when everyone is hammering the wifi will be a bit of a task, but we’ll see how we get on.

See you in the Hub on Saturday 25th August at 2pm.

Read More

Dr. Dee

Last week I had the good fortune to go and see the new opera Dr. Dee at the London Colisseum.

Performed by members of the English National Opera, it was co-created by Rufus Norris and Damon Albarn.

I’ve been keen to see this for a while as I’ve recently read Benjamin Wolley‘s fairly comprehensive biography of John Dee, and I’ve found him to be a fascinating character.

He was a courtier to Queen Elizabeth the first. A scientist, a visionary, a clairvoyant and so on – almost responsible for the birth of England as a scientific nation.

I found the production incredibly moving. I’ve had the CD of Albarn’s soundtrack in the car, and have come to know and love it. It has been developed and re-worked a little since he recorded it which, though the original record was fine enough, fits really well with the story and visuals of the production.

Albarn sits on a kind of “barge” (with the rest of the band) that starts on ground level, then raises up to allow the action to take place. For most of the show he sits above watching the show unfold like a sort of spot-lit sprite, singing songs that colour and underpin the narrative.

And visually sumptuous it is too. There is most definitely a “followable” story, but the presentation is an astonishing visual feast, with concertina books sliding constantly across the stage, forming screens for visuals to be projected onto, as well as cover for the actors to change clothes and shift position. There are also other visual tricks, including live ravens flying across the stage, but I won’t spoil it for you….

The story as told by the opera does leave a lot of the finer detail of Dee’s life out, but somehow this makes the opera more impactful. It allows the emotion of the story to breath and land with you.

John Dee’s story is an amazing one, and one I can relate to in many ways. Very much a talented man, he came from an age when science and mystery were not so very far apart – a time when the spiritual realm was not something that was dismissed out of hand, but rather seen as part of science and complementary to it. More to the point, he hitched his wagon to a rather unsavoury character (Edward Kelley) who not only was not what he seemed, but was essentially very bad for Dee in the long term, destroying both his credibility and his marriage. Dee went from being the alchemistic golden boy, to second fiddle to Kelley, to financial and intellectual ruin, finally dying with his reputation in tatters. It’s a moving tale, and the opera brings this story home and to life, in a way that has sat in my head for days now.

For me, Dee’s tragedy is that there is no “happily ever after”, that in the exploration of complexity and nuance, he asked the questions that people didn’t dare to ask, and took risks, that ultimately undid him. Surrounded by political power and pressure (Walsingham) he buckled under the weight of expectation of others and himself. A tale for our age.

The opera raised many thoughts for me, and I’ll leave you with these questions:

Firstly around mental health. Was Edward Kelley schizophrenic? Was he a con man? How easy is it to allow yourself to be deceived? The play writes large the idea that you can be extremely talented but have your life derailed by another. In the liner notes in the show’s programme, Norris and Albarn talk about Dee’s pride blinding him to the reality of Kelley’s impact on his life. I’m not so sure. I think there was a loyalty of friendship, and a naiveté on Dee’s part, fostered by pressure from the political powers-that-be, that he could not really believe that Kelley was making it all up.

Secondly: About science and mystery. Modern life puts logic and science as a dualistic opposite of mystery, myth, religion and emotion. I think that rubbish, frankly. Nothing is that cut and dried, and Dee came from a time where such a dualism was unheard of. Have we lost something in the modernist separation of these disciplines?

Try and get to see it if you can. It’s worth it.

Read More

Greenbelt 2011: Final Round-up.

So finally the dust has settled on Greenbelt 2011 (almost). Si Smith let me have one of these “Where The Wild Things Are” figures as a nice little gift for helping out with the Visual Arts team. I suspect if anyone needs a gift it would be him, though. He was BUSY.

 

The Hub is a part of the Visual Arts programme that I often have the least amount of time to devote to – mostly because there’s just so much of it. It’s the hands-on part of Greenbelt where you can get in and make stuff – printmaking, mask-making, that kind of stuff. Thoroughly worth a visit.

The second night of Pecha Kucha presentations was fantastic. Both nights were as good, but by the second night, the whole thing found it’s rhythm, and there was some fantastic talks. I decided to take a different approach to recording these. Instead of having a “grab what I can” mentality, I recorded all the sound to the talks, and have uploaded them online. I’m also getting the images into a Flickr set, so you can entertain yourself as the nights draw in by having your own Pecha Kucha moment at home. They are actually astonishingly good, and this was definitely a festival highlight for me. They were all brilliant.

Here’s Steve Lawson‘s musings on music and the state it’s in:

Slides used during the talk

Audio:

And Simone Lia‘s illustrations and thoughts on carrots, sausages and parables:

Audio:

 

Negotiating rights for all the images is going to take time though, so for now here are the audios of the rest of the presentations, and I’ll let you know when we get the accompanying photos sorted out.

Illustrator Brent Clarke talks about what happens to you after you spend your teenage years with a horror poster above your bed:

Anaesthetist Helen Morant talks about… well, the art of being an anaesthetist, which on paper may sound dull, but was both hilarious and interesting – one of the best in fact.

And lastly Dan Thompson, who was utterly brilliant – Social Artist, creator of the #riotcleanup hashtag, and who I have had the good fortune to work with before.

Being the father of two small children I had occasion to spend quite a lot of time in Messy Space. This was an area set aside with a shed-load of toys, painting stations and the like. Much like the ballponds you see in leisure centres, I often think that these areas look a bit like one of Brueghel’s paintings of Hell. Decapitated heads, people being thrust into boiling cauldrons of oil, that sort of thing. Much has been made of the fact that you’re no longer able to leave your children in spaces monitored by qualified childcare people (as you have in previous years). It’s been a step that was highly controversial, as parents now don’t get any time to themselves at GB, BUT..

…when it was explained to me that it was just too expensive to run the old way, then naturally I’m happier that the festival continues, even if the child care facilities are somewhat reduced.

It was fun though. The kids would have spent every minute of the festival in Messy Space if we hadn’t attempted to drag them away from time to time.

 

I was also able to grab a few quick words with Willie Williams. He brought his fantastic installation “Lumia Domestica” to Greenbelt. It’s basically a light piece: Various coloured lights shone through cut glass objects, which then cast beautiful dancing coloured shadows on the wall/ceiling etc. He had a room to himself to install them in, and used the space well. The result was an incredibly calming room, almost meditative, almost (dare I say it) Chill-Out. You can find the work online on his website, but it’s worth having a look to see when he’s next showing it, as online video doesn’t really do it justice.

I was incredibly nervous as you can probably tell by the camera shake. Not at all his fault – he’s a lovely man, very funny and charming. But I suppose it’s easy to allow yourself to be intimidated by the size of his oeuvre, lets just say that.

Finally wrapping up the Visual Arts for me, I videoed the Photo Flash Swap. Basically people brought printed photos they had taken along this year’s theme. The photos were then hung for the duration of the festival, and at the end of the weekend, you could rush to grab whichever one you liked (provided you’d supplied one of course). The ensuing scrummage can be viewed here:

Greenbelt Photo Flash Swap 2011 from Michael Radcliffe on Vimeo.

This left me free to enjoy Foy Vance‘s surprise gig in the Performance Cafe – a triumphant end to a great Greenbelt. Roll on next year.

Read More

Greenbelt 2010 so far…

OK, so here I am. In the first of what will probably be quite sporadic posts, I thought I’d update you on what I’ve been doing at the Greenbelt Festival this year.

After arriving on site at about lunchtime yesterday, I built some plinths for some video projectors, and built a shed. As the band Shed 7 are playing, we thought about painting a big “7” on it. Plus all the other shed jokes you can think of. The shed will have a photograph in it covering one of the walls. Here’s us building sheds:

Today I have mostly been hanging up paintings by Bobby Baker. She’s an interesting one – she’s a performance artist mostly, but this show is all about drawings that she made when she went through a long period of mental illness. I interviewed her here, and it’s a fascinating interview:

Last thing I had to angle all the video projectors for Shaeron Caton-Rose‘s installation, which I also filmed. At the time of writing this, I haven’t filmed anything of the completed work, but I will go back and have a natter with her later. I’m palpably knackered after the set up, so I need a little time off now. An artist’s work is never done.

Lastly I was quite chuffed to open the programme and find a picture of my work had made it onto page 25, opposite an interesting essay by Mark Vernon called “the art of unknowing”. I’m flattered to be i such august company.

More news to follow as it happens…

Read More

Art, Social Media and Art Institutions

One of my particular bugbears about art shows is the amount of information that is often to be found crowding the works.

The TATE is particularly guilty of this – each room has a wall of writing, in addition to the leaflet you’re given to take with you round the room, and the catalogue to buy, as if the title of a work next to it wasn’t enough. And then there’s the little knee-high fences, that are supposed to stop you getting too close to the painting, while the jumpy security guards shuffle around following you in case you breathe too heavily.

I went to see the Chris Ofili show at the TATE Britain last week, in the last few days before it closed, and the levels of control reached a new and irksome height.

Before you even got in the show, there was a sign saying “No mobile phones, No cameras.”

Now, the issue with all this stuff is that it prevents the work from breathing. At the end of the day, a description of an artist’s work is essentially one person’s interpretation, ie. Not Yours. Straight away, we’re into a massive contradiction here. The TATE is supposed to be a public space, and yet there is an issue of neutrality around an interpretation of a work, especialy when the organisation hosting the show belongs to the state. Couple that with the fact that you’re being charged to get in to that part of the public space as well, and the mixed messages start to pile up higher than the Duveen Gallery’s cavernous ceiling.

Coming back to the “no mobile phones” sign. I quite like to use Twitter when I’m walking around a show. It’s a good way of collecting my thoughts with regards to certain paintings, it’s also a record of those thoughts that I can refer back to when I get home, and you can end up getting into some nice debates with other Twittists while you’ve got the work in front of you. Now, of course the idea that someone might use that camera phone to snap a picture of the work does creep in, but there’s a problem right there….

As I tweeted at the door to the show @tate (BEFORE I went in if you’re reading this Mr. Serota), tweeting about a show will make people more interested in it, and ultimately lead to more people through the door of the TATE, more bums on seats of the café, more catalogue sales, etc., etc. To stop people getting phones out in a show is a stupid shot in the foot for the gallery. And let’s (briefly) address the subject of taking photos in art shows. Instead of preventing people taking photos, why not default to the usual public space idea of no photos by anything that requires a tripod? That way, people would still take photos, and although the quality of those photos might be lower, it would necessarily draw people to come and look at the art, as everyone knows that no photo comes close to the actual experience of standing personally in the prescence of a piece of work – to actually be physically in the same space as the work. Also consider – if you took one really good photo of one of Chris Ofili’s paintings, reproduced it, and mass-distributed it for free, then I would lay a bet with you that that show would be more talked about, more on people’s fridges, workspaces and personal environments than ever before, and more visited than any other show in the history of the TATE. If I was to take a photo with my cameraphone, and make that picture my desktop, then every single one of my friends who saw my laptop would want to know all about it, and most likely go and see the show.

However, I know that this idea, should anyone from the TATE or any other major art institution be reading this, will probably be met with derision for very deeply ingrained reasons. Part of the drama, allure and value of the art world as it stands, is the fact that it is a secluded, hushed, and esoteric space that only the elite can sample. Art is a poker face. Art is method acting – the theatre and illusion, much like the actor who pretends to be something special for an audience, but goes home to a very ordinary life. The bigger the stature of the artist, the more essential it becomes to maintain that poker face.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the sense of drama, and I think that’s what people like about art and art shows – aside from some sense of visceral enjoyment, there is a kudos it gives you from saying “Oh yes, I went to an art show the other day.” It’s a social marker, an attitude, a crowd.

Any attempt to take a picture by the public bursts that bubble. It undermines quality control (how good is that image you taken? How many megapixels does your camera have?), and the proliferation of interactions by you and me, brings art down from it’s lofty heights (and dare I say it from the lofty prices of private collectors and high-end art dealing) into the Real World.

My point is that essentially this spoilt the show for me. This maelstrom of information overload and heavy-handed officiousness made it very hard for me to look at the work with a clear head, as the intense level of control essentially de-mystified the work – it had the opposite effect to the desired one! I was somehow reminded of the pieces’ construction and humble beginnings, somehow belittling them, drawing attention away from their drama and theatre instead of adding to it.

I tried really hard to shake myself free of this, but once something has been demystified in such a crass, un-thinking and haphazard way, it’s hard to get the genie back in the bottle.

The other part where I have a problem is the political intrusion of the TATE’s writings. Remember the TATE was founded on the back of the sugar industry. Sugar from slave labour. Much like the British Empire as a whole. The descendents of whom own the TATE gallery. The irony of one of Britain’s greatest artists, indeed a black artist, being mediated by writings by this British state (responsible for some of the most heinous crimes known against black people) in this way is so heavily loaded in so many different ways it gives me a headache. And no, I don’t think it’s just my white guilt.

It’s a shame, because I KNOW that Ofili’s Upper Room is a good piece of work, but all the other political stuff spoilt it for me, which is not Ofili’s fault at all. I’d love to be able to review this show, but I can’t clear my head enough to do so.

All of this leaves me wondering about my place in things, and how I want to proceed with my own working practise. Clearly I don’t have the clout to position myself in the same league as Chris Ofili. But a part of me wonders why I should want to? I can’t think of a good enough reason to want to be owned by an elite group of collectors other than greed. I could walk the walk and talk the talk, ring fence my work and talk about it in hushed, elevated tones, or I could try something else.

I’m not sure what I’m driving towards, but there’s something about the art that is more powerful when it’s found in the ordinary. In the act of sharing work and the stories behind those works, in proliferating them by re-sharing those extraordinary artistic moments as they happen through the channels available to me. I’d really rather that, than letting my works ossify in some glass cabinet somewhere.

As for the Chris Ofili show – it finishes tomorrow. A missed opportunity for a great, great artist.

Read More

Richard Gilbert and The Stations of the Cross

The fourteen Stations of The Cross are a motif that have occupied many an artist over the years. There’s something about the variety of interpretations that often has a profound impact. Perhaps its the serial nature of them that forces you to go on a mini-pilgrimage, as much as the sometimes random juxtapositions that artists come out with. My particular favourites are the Eric Gill ones in Westminster Cathedral, as well as the ones round the corner in STMW where my studio is housed.

Richard Gilbert is showing 14 sculptural heads at the Wallspace in London, here in the UK. I had the good fortune, not only to go and see it on Tuesday night this week, but I was also lucky enough to be able to meet the artist, ask him a bit about his work, and get it all on Qik. My phone kept seizing up unfortunately, so the videos are a little bit random at the top and tail, but you get a good sense of what Richard is passionate about, and it does capture the great vibe of walking around the works.

All the works are for sale, but Richard seemed curiously cavalier about that side of it: For him it appears to be more about the exhibiting and showing of the work, as well as the enjoyment and experience of the viewer. The show is on until Easter (appropriately enough) so make sure you catch it before it comes down.

Richard Gilbert Part One:

Richard Gilbert Part Two:

…and walking round the show, where you get much more of a sense of the beauty of the works. However, there’s no substitute for actually going and seeing them in the flesh!

Read More

Damien Hirst at The Wallace Collection

Today, I finally managed to get to The Wallace Collection in the heart of London to see Damien Hirst‘s latest show, “No Love Lost”

The show marks a departure for Hirst, as he attempts to paint using oil paints by his own hand, rather than the style that has made him famous – usually executed by a trained army of technicians. As such I had high hopes for this show, as I was interested to see where Damien, a sculptor in the broadest sense, could take my discipline (“painting”).

Sadly I have to say I was distinctly unimpressed. I don’t say “unimpressed” in the throwaway sense, I mean that i was waiting for something about his paintings to impress something upon me. Nothing did.

I was not impressed by his draughtsmanship. There was nothing about the trees in particular that suggested any degree of mastery, the lemons looked flat and impact-less, and the best-rendered objects (the skulls) had no impact on me at all.

I was not impressed by any conceptual thinking. There is clearly some attempt at memento mori going on here, and the recurring motifs of his previous work suggest a man reflecting on the vanity of his career. But that’s about it. Not enough to sustain a body of work, not even for a whole show. There’s more than a nod to the work of Francis Bacon here, but to what end?

I’m not impressed by his technical ability. Some of the priming underneath the paint on one or two of the canvases has clearly cracked and curled in away that strikes me as too inept to be intentional.

I wasn’t scared by them, I wasn’t intimidated by them, I wasn’t amused by them… nothing.

My feeling is that they’re not good enough to show yet. Given Hirst another 5-10 years of painting, and then they might be good, but for me the only work worth looking at was the one labeled No. 2 Title: “Small Skull With Lemon and Ashtray.” You could quite conceivably walk in, look at that painting and walk straight out again. It would tell you all you need to know about this show, without you having to be disappointed by the rest of it.

Many years ago, the artist Gary Hume had a pop at Hirst’s inability to understand a few home truths about his work. With a wink and a smile, he said something along the lines of “Well, he’s not a painter, so he wouldn’t understand!” On the strength of this show, I’d have to say that Hume is right.

I have to confess to being a bit of a fan of Hirst’s work, and I really wanted to like this show, but I didn’t. I’m happy, though, for him to continue working like this in anticipation that he’s going to get better at it. Here’s hoping.

Read More

Altermodern at TATE Britain

I went to see the new “Altermodern” show today on it’s first day of opening at TATE Britain in London, UK.

I went with some trepidation. I’d read a pre-amble in the TATE magazine, and I have to say that I find the movement back to modernism is one that I find alarming to say the least. However, there’s a big difference between an idea and a show, which in this case turned out to be just as well.

I went into the main hall at TATE Britain and was distinctly disappointed by what I saw. The work was OK, but not great. Subodh Gupta’s saucepan tower in the shape of a mushroom cloud was quite spectacular, and I always have a soft spot for Mike Nelson, but the rest of it left me pretty cold.

However, I’d missed that there was another, main part to it that you have to pay to get into. It’s not very well signposted, and there’s no little hand-held leaflet guide to tell you where you are, but with a wave of my TATE members card, I swished in for free.

I was straight away confronted by Franz Ackerman’s profusion of colour that was strangely calming despite it’s luridity. Piles of disused flags and an empty cage signaling the escape from shackles of nationhood into a bright new global modernism. Yes, I get it.

However, before long I came to see the idea of Altermodernism as a conceit of the curator – an idea to hang a show on. He’s coined a term, but will it catch on? I hope not, but in any case I found that once I’d manage to detach and forget about the idea of altermodernity from the actual works I was looking, at the show became much more enjoyable.

The first few works perversely helped me do this. Olivia Plender & Joachim Koester’s works felt more like plundering the past than a trajectory for the future. Firstly in “The Hashish Club” the hemp-heads unite to remember halcyon opium-filled days, and then the work on the Kibbo Kift Kindred completes the appropriations.

Thank goodness for some humour in the form of Charles Avery’s work (especially “Untitled (Head of an Aleph)” ” I really enjoyed his new world, almost inventing a past and describing a present that never actually happened but should have. I thought the drawings were perfectly executed, and the stellar maps drew me in too.

For the chillout enthusiasts, my old mucker Darren Almond exhibited his moonscapes, and I was quite happy to collapse on the scatter cushions in Gustav Metzger’s LCD projections – Liquid Crystals projected and altered by the heat, a bit like lava lamps. More than a nod and a wink to the abstract expressionists who, of course, we tend to associate with modernism. Very good works all.

Walead Beshty Fed-Exed a load of glass boxes around the world packed with little protection. The resulting damaged cubes are shown. Raised a smile and some thoughts about travel and handling. Very engaging – like little people with their own story to tell.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself standing in what only can be described as a room full of vibrators. Shaking the floor and humming inside my head. The possibilities for innuendo are endless, but you will not think about that at all when you stand in that room. Spine tingling – literally.

Those are the works that stood out with some brilliance for me. Like all good shows (and it IS a good show) its one that I will need to return to many times, and I may like completely different works for completely different reasons.

But I guess the biggest obstacle of the altermodern idea for me is that if you’re saying that you’ve learned from the postmodernist critique, then why would you exhibit the majority of artists from OECD countries? It’s not exactly a record of the marginalised and at worst smacks of imperialism.  And I suspect the “creolisation” that Bourriaud talks of as a part of altermodernism leaves no room for the poor or marginalised.

But then, I never like feeling that I’ve been “steamrolled”.

Read More

Mark Rothko at the TATE

I finally got to see the Mark Rothko exhibition at the TATE Modern last week.

I have a bit of personal interest in Rothko’s work. I loved it when I was at art college and I still do. My personal response to them is that they are works that are that much maligned quality: “spiritual”

I definitely reach a sense of transcendence when I’m nose-to-canvas. The way the colour has been laid on and built up over time. As an 18-year-old, his work had a deeply needed sense of gravitas for me, and I still feel them as very heavy works. In fact I felt depressed when I came out of this show even today. It doesn’t surprise me that he committed suicide. I would have hated to be him. The transcendence is probably part of the problem. All transcendence and no immanence makes Jack a dull boy. As I’m fond of saying over the dinner table.

But don’t let me put you off.

They are works that you can just sit with and chill out near – almost like painting’s early ambient music, and I think in a fundamental way, these works are interpretive – your response to them is as good and valid as mine, and I’d be intrigued to know what other people think of them.

With regards to the curating of the show, I have a few issues though. We all know about the shenanigans surrounding the Seagram Murals and whether they were hung the right way up, but for me, they were hung far too high. The rest of the works were not.

I know that they TATE says that he wanted them hung high in the Whitechapel Art Gallery, but anyone who knows that gallery also knows that it is a tall cavernous space. The room they are currently being shown in in the TATE is not. They were hung too high in the room for me to make any kind of response, other than that the room looked like a cathedral.

It also seems clear from the maquette right near the entrance of the show, that the works were meant to be hung low and near to the floor despite what how the TATE might want to spin it.

It seems that despite their best efforts, the works are still being politicised to this day – but that’s a whooooole other discussion. 🙂

Read More

The Turner Prize 2008

I went to see the Turner Prize today (finally).

The first one, Goshka Macuga was mildly interesting. The sculptural elements in the room were thought-provoking – like a Mies Van Der Rohe set of parallel bars for the Paralympics. The glass sculpture was a visual treat to walk around. The fuzziness create by the conflation of glass at it’s centre was something I could have stared at for hours. I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen this sort of thing elsewhere by a different artist, though. Can someone tell me who it is? It’s really bugging me. I’ll get back to you when I remember who it was. I thought the collages were a little half-hearted though. Not nearly as well executed as they could have been.

My favourite piece in the show was “I Give You All My Money” by Cathy Wilkes. On the face of it, it looks like the detritus from an over-zealous shopping trip to Sainsbury’s – two conveyor belts, half-opened jars of “stuff”, abandoned pushchairs. On closer inspection, It looks poignant, surprising, scary, curious and I’ve always wondered what the back of the conveyor belt in Sainsbury’s looks like. Probably my favourite this year.

Runa Islam‘s work was fun enough. I think she’s supposed to be the favourite. The Turner Prize is supposed to be a bit of a snapshot of contemporary art. the problem with someone like Runa Islam or any of the others, is that this year, it’s not exactly cutting edge. Projected image – film, video, photo or otherwise in a darkened room is a bit old hat, and painting the walls a different colour isn’t going to make it any less so.

And also: I have a question. Why are the seating arrangements in video installations always so bloody uncomfortable? I’m trying to concentrate on the content of the thing, and all I can think about is my numb ass because I’ve been forced to sit on some wooden cube. In one of the installations, the seats were furniture sponge/stuffing cut into cubes. The one I sat on had the most godawful lean. A video installation should be a place where you can sit and drown in the experience. I really can’t see the value in having something that drives you out of the space purely because you don’t want to sit down. Is it just me? Someone tell me I’m not going mad, here. When I went to see Music for White Cube by Brian Eno at the White Cube Gallery back in the nineties, Eno stuck the most comfortable white couch in the middle of the room that I have ever sat on, and it made it much easier to take in what was going on. I still remember that installation very fondly.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Turner Prize

The last guy (Mark Leckey) I really don’t remember, except that there was ANOTHER projected film/video in a darkened space of the artist giving a lecture at various colleges up and down the land on a subject. I don’t remember the subject either. In fact, I find a lot of art theory turgid, boring and dull. I was reminded of endless lectures at college that pretty much sucked the life out of enjoyment of the arts instead of giving it life. I remember falling asleep in most of those lectures, and I fell asleep in this one too.

Despite the hard seats.

Did anyone else go yet? What did you think?

Read More

Just got back from =SPICO= Private View

…and a great night it was. He’s put a lot of work into the show and it’s paid off. I’ve always loved Nic’s cartoony/street art characters. At first glance they look quite cute, but the more time you spend with them, the more unsettling they become – just like good art should be. The images have got a slight manga-y feel to them and are a mixture of painting and collage, some with newspaper, and others with post office stickers. My favourite was the one called “TING” – there’s something about the mania of it, with the gesture of the hand and the word “TING” in large letters that really appeals to me. Stupidly I didn’t get a photograph of it. Although it’s not easy shooting framed works with a camera flash anyways, so perhaps it’s better that I didn’t.

The show contained various small framed works, but the centrepiece of the show is the end wall of the room. It’s taken up with a floor to ceiling mural (in the photo above) that Nic did for a commission, which the owner has thankfully lent back to the artist for the show.

Apparently he’s sold about 5 of the works with another commission in the bag, so the kid done good. It might be worth picking up one or two of these before he takes off, as I really think he has the ability to go far. I wonder if he’ll bater a painting for one of mine..

Also – I had a nice chat with one of the co-owners of the venue, Paul Dungworth. The Fleapit is one of those lovely venues that London is all about – a real find, slightly away from the Hoxton crowd, but still unmistakably Old Street. As well as free Wifi, good food, good art, and good music, they have a great selection of unusual ales, which is right up my street. I had the Power Station Porter beer (never miss a chance to sample Porter beers if you can). I also bought my mate Tim a rather unusual Mexican dark ale. It came in a bottle that was possibly the most phallic I’ve ever witnessed. You’ll have to ask Tim how it tasted.

The show runs from now until 15th of April, so go see.

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Read More

=SPICO=

My good friend and co-designer of t-shirts, Nico Yates has managed to get himself a solo show at The Fleapit, a bar/gallery venue in Old Street.

He will be exhibiting under his tag name, “=SPICO=”.

The Private View for his show is tomorrow night and he has asked me to let you all know about it. Not only is his work very good, but he will also be responsible for the music and general ambience of the whole evening at the Private View. During the rest of the show’s duration, you’ll only be able to see the works in the bar area, so for the full =SPICO= experience, you’ll have to be there tomorrow night. It’ll be a great event for all you Londoners who haven’t managed to get away for the Easter weekend.

The venue is The Fleapit in North London (details here.)

Nico’s Flickr Page is here.

He is also one of the artists who exhibited in Beyond The Wilderness.

The show is on from 6pm FRIDAY 21ST MARCH until TUESDAY 15TH APRIL, Private View Friday the 21st March 6pm – 11pm

technorati tags:, , , , , , ,

Read More

Drawing Restraint – Matthew Barney

Drawing Restraint 9 2005.jpg

I went to see Drawing Restraint, a show by Matthew Barney, at the Serpentine Gallery in London this afternoon.

Matthew Barney’s work is very good, and I’ve been a fan for a long time. Its the kind of work that you can keep going back to over and over. It never gets boring and each time you go back there’s something new that you didn’t notice before.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Try this – one of the biggest pieces is a series of 30 – 40 foot slabs of petroleum jelly in various states of solidity, lying on, under and around 1-inch 8×4 slabs of plastic, topped with a great big long thin chunk of ambergris (or whale vomit) encrusted with prawn shells, speared with a plastic harpoon trailing a plastic rope that runs off to join up with other works in other parts of the gallery.

Confused?

Spend some time there. Walk around it. Smell it. Once the full force of its physical impact has registered you may find that other ideas and thoughts appear. Barney’s work often has mythological links and references, sometimes using masonic symbols in his work. Its quite intimidating if your not familiar with the lexicon, but its a great incentive to go and find out more, and I find his work thoroughly thought-provoking and educational.

If you’ve never seen his Cremaster cycle of films, I recommend that you watch at least one – they are the most heavily laden symbolic events that I’ve ever seen, and there you’ll get a true feel for his work.

The works in this show make me think in terms of whaling and the various ethics involved, of Moby Dick, and of oil-industry by-products. Whaling was once a much-used resource that has fallen out of favour. There are also interesting thoughts to do with escapology in this show. Much of the work focuses on the physical act of attempting to draw drawings whilst being prevented from doing so (hence the title) – trying to draw on the ceiling by bouncing on a trampoline or scaling the wall with climbing gear, or trying to draw on a boat that is being tossed about in rough seas – all of which are documented on video, and the results displayed for you to peruse – alongside Barney’s trademark photos of satyrs.

I’m always intrigued by artists who create a whole environment rather than just a finished work on a wall that stands alone, and Barney seems to be able to do this well without resorting to huge projected images in darkened rooms, un-like many other artists.

You know what? I’m going to give up trying to explain this to you, because I can’t. It’s too awesome for me to describe. If you only go and see one show this year, then please, please see this one.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Read More

Doris Salcedo’s Crack

I’m sitting in the main turbine hall of the Tate Modern, looking at a giant crack in the floor. This is the new work by Doris Salcedo.

The first thing you notice about it is it’s very obviously made. It looks quite cartoony. Not at all natural. It runs the length of the entire turbine hall, right from the door-post to the other end, and under a glass wall out of sight, maybe into some office space that we don’t know about. In fact, it runs right under Nicholas Serota‘s desk. Probably. When you look into it, it’s got bits of metal buried in the concrete. I don’t know how much concrete you’ve seen in your life, but normally concrete has stones and “bits” in it – with steel rods for re-inforcing, so it’s obviously not the real floor.

I’ve already seen some dumb student land flat on their face because they tripped over it, and I’m wondering how long it is before health and safety come and put barriers everywhere. It’s a very physical presence, and slightly disturbing (how did she do it? Did they raise the floor? Is the structural integrity of the building compromised?)

So, we’re in a turbine hall, that’s now a museum of modern art… turbine hall… power…? Dividing between those who have and have not…? Am I warm…?

On picking up the leaflet, I’m told its about racism. Huh? Well, the turbine hall was built around the time of the greatest imigration into British society (rebuilding after the war, 1947, etc.) Its called Shibboleth, because the word “Shibboleth” means “a word used as a test for dectecting people from another district or country by their pronunciation; a word or sound very different for foreigners to pronounce correctly.” Modernity is a European construct that excludes non-Europeans, etc..

Oh, and the bits of metal in the crack, are suppoesed to be like the chains of slaves.

Right. This is a particular bug-bear of mine. How are you supposed to get that? The problem is, some one at the Tate has written that as an interpretation, and it becomes the authoritative one. There’s the fascism right there. The leaflet says “Walking down Salcedo’s incised line, particularly if you know about her previous work..” Well, I don’t.

It’s a great work for people to walk around, trip over, drop things in, sit by, and so on, and so on. That’s ok. It doesn’t need a leaflet to tell you what to think about it. I’m also a bit pissed off with the security guard jackboots that have been pacing around me since I first sat down and open this laptop up. Grr.

I’m going to start a new tradition. When you see this work, come and drop a coin in it, and make a wish, like a wishing well. I’ve already dropped the first pound coin in, as you can see from the photo above. My wish is that art would get better, and that people would stop crowding work with their own interpretation. Heal the cracks, you might say.

On a lighter note, I just can’t resist a good innuedo. I’ve been trying to hold back for this entire post, but I can’t contain myself, so here goes.. I’ve been to see Doris Salcedo’s crack. Her crack was a lot of fun. Lots of other people had fun too. At the same time. It’s quite a deep gash. It’s huge. I could spout forth on her crack forever. I saw right into it. Etc., etc.,…

If you think of any other good ones, let me know.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Read More

Art London

IMG_2234.JPG

So, I went to Art London this afternoon, at Royal Hospital Chelsea. Art London is a collection of galleries under canvas in the centre of London, UK, and it runs until Monday. There are a few events like this throughout the year – Frieze, the Affordable Art Fair, and the London Art Fair (which is a LAF a minute).

They’re spaces for selling work. And that’s all they are. This is where the art meets the commerce, and its these kind of events that are re-vitalising people’s interest in art, whilst creating a problem at the same time

Basically, someone has realised that if you set up an art fair in the middle of Chelsea, charge some medium-to-big-time successful galleries a shit-load of money to exhibit there, take a commission on any sales, AND charge the punters £12 just to get in, you stand to get very rich indeed.

What this means is that you and I go in, and are confronted by a) hoardes of paintings placed far too close together for you to look at them properly, b) hoardes of people placed far too close together for you to look at them properly, and c) Chelsea pensioners.

It’s a bit like a guitarist playing 50 of his songs at you all at the same time, and then asking you if you want to buy his latest album. “I don’t know! I have a headache!” is the correct response.

It’s a shame, because there are some genuine curiosities here, that might repay the time and effort of waiting and looking, but it’s far too exhausting to make that effort worthwhile (the best stuff seems to be on the right of the marquee as you go in).

The prices are a little more out of reach than something like the Affordable Art Fair, and the quality is not as brilliant as it could be, in my opinion. I suppose I should be networking, but the people running the stands look like they’re there because they have to be, rather than because they want to be. (I mean really, look at the photo).

The one to go and see is the Frieze Art Fair next week. The prices will be out of my league too, but as a snapshot of good contemporary art, it’s second to none. There are bigger name galleries there, the paintings are placed at a decent enough distance apart for you to look at them, and the people there are far more interesting to look at. Plus the quality of the work is about 100 times better.

Roll on next week.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Read More

The Turner Prize – And the nominations are….

The Turner Prize has gone wierd again.

This year’s nominations include Mark Wallinger, and Mike Nelson, who have both been nominated before (and whose work I’m quite fond of), Zarina Bhimji, and Nathan Coley.

They’ve moved the whole she-bang up to Tate Liverpool.

There’s a retrospective show of past winners at Tate Britain.

Does any one know how much a train to Liverpool costs? Or should I just watch it on TV?

technorati tags:, ,, , , ,

Read More

Jochem Hendricks Show – Haunch of Venison

Just got back from the Jochem Hendricks show at the Haunch of Venison Gallery.

It’s a great show. The ground floor has a series of works on paper made by one of those machines that draws a line that follows where your eyes look.

On the second floor there are glass baubles that are half-filled with sand. They look like individual womens’ breasts, which is quite funny. There are also artificial diamonds surrounded by feathers on plinths.

However, on arrival on the top floor I realised very quickly that it was probably just about the worst show possible to take a 2-year-old to. It has 8 stuffed dogs all poised and looking straight at you as you ascend the stairs (see photo).

Our 2-year-old is very good though. She didn’t touch anything. Honest.

Generally fun though. He’s put together some things in a nice contrasting way, juxtapositions that make you feel lovely. Things created versus things that are natural. Its an interesting thought. Discuss.

One of my friends who came was wondering whether I was going to talk endlessly for hours about the work (like his other arty friends), but I don’t really like doing that. Good works tend to need bit of time for you to think about them. You can keep responding to them or getting new things out of them for a long time, but I prefer to walk away and come back another day – leave things time to settle. And this is a good show to do that with.

technorati tags:, , ,

Read More

Gary Hume – American Tan

The new Gary Hume show opens today, 5th September, at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard gallery premises, right in the heart of Picadilly. It’s called “American Tan“, as are all the works are in the show.

I’m actually blogging this from the private view, as someone has rather generously not password-protected their wifi. I also wanted to take some photos of the inside of the gallery – more to capture the general ambience of the place, than to take photos of the work – but a very nice young fella told me I wasn’t allowed. No famous people here yet either, apart from Jake Chapman.

I like Gary Hume. I like him because he is a painter (and so am I). I like him, because, unlike so much work out there, his work is really playful. He clearly enjoys colour, and messing about with paint. I like his work because it has a sense of humour. Slightly cheeky, and sometimes a little dark, but there’s always something to raise a smile. I like his work because unlike many other works at the moment, its not made by ticking the right boxes, its not made by having a smart idea, and then phoning up fabricators from the Yellow Pages and “getting it made.” In fact, I like him so much, you might notice a small trace of influence in my own work.

I don’t know what he’s been up to since I last saw a Gary Hume show, as I’ve been away from the art scene for a while. Apparently, he’s been doing other things – things that you wouldn’t expect from his work. However, this one contains the sort of stuff that he’s known for, and then some.

The works are all great – I couldn’t single out one for praise. They’re basically sheets of aluminium painted with household paint, layered on really thick, but done to look like paintings of figures (ballerinas in this case). Very colourful. The surfaces are almost mirrors, they’re so glossy. There were also some works on canvas, which is a small departure – but these were lovely too… wonderfully rendered, soft and delicate somehow.

And then there were some simple sculptures – like ballerinas legs with cheerleaders pom-poms attached to one foot.

Go and have a look. It’s FUN.

And sometimes, its OK for art to be fun. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Bloody hell! I’ve just looked up, and in the time I’ve been typing this, its got REALLY busy. If I see anyone famous, I’ll let you know..

technorati tags:, , , , , , ,

Read More

Sacred

sacredbooksdisplay.jpg (JPEG Image, 384×153 pixels)

I went to the “Sacred” exhibition at the British Library in North London today. The show is basically an exhibition of Christian, Jewish and Islamic texts alongside each other.

Its a nice idea that puts together the 3 warring Abrahamic faiths, and you can see visually how similar the traditions are without needing to understand a word of Arabic, Hebrew or English. It was a great chance to see some really early manuscripts, and get a sense of touching history. Texts that are so close to the source of faith.

It seems to me, that broadly, the older and simple the texts were, the more of God seemed to shine through. I think the lesson is that its tempting to think that opulence and verbosity are no less than the deity deserve – that we can somehow communicate or apprehend God by being garrulous – but actually, for me God shines through the simplicity of the Kufic Moroccan Qu’ran in a way that is out of this world.

Funnily enough, it was the Islamic texts that (visually) allowed God to flow out more than any other. The Islamic prohibition on the use of images has lent a kind of purity to the visual, that is not quite present in either my own Christian tradition, or the Jewish texts.

The only Christian texts that really breathed God for me were the Armenian “Lives of the Desert Fathers” (that figure is one of the most alarmingly striking images I have ever seen) and the Ethiopian/Coptic rendering of the Trinity for similar reasons. Both had an unfamiliarity about them that was refreshing, and inspired me to dig a little further into the Desert Fathers history. Although bizarrely, I can find a link to neither on the British Library’s own website. Maybe I’m just being blind. Put a link in the comments box if you find them.

As to the drawbacks of the show – Its amazing how easy it is to “gag” art by talking about it. The clutter of signs, explanation and multi-media is so excessive, that it really distracts from the things you’re looking at. Both the Mizrah and the Islamic marriage contract were partially obscured by signs telling you what they were! Its only a matter of time before you might as well have stayed at home and read about it instead.

As a whole the multi-media experience was centre stage. The actual texts themselves were scattered to the edges of the room. What the hell was the blue LED cone for? Such wizardry displays a lack of faith in the objects we’re supposed to be looking at.

I’m a firm believer in making things accessible to all, but sometimes there’s a fine line between being helpful and patronising people. Some like having the explanations nearby, but the things that tend to get written on these placards don’t help people develop confidence in their own responses to art. In my opinion, it’s just as ok to say: “its nice.” and move on, as it is to just sit there and stare for half an hour because you can’t take your eyes off it. If you’re someone who derives pleasure from knowing how things fit together historically, then a bit of explanation is fine – or just buy the catalogue.

The moral of the story?

Keep it Simple, Keep it Sacred.

UPDATE: I got a nice response from Rob Ainsley from the British Museum re: the texts that didn’t make it onto the Sacred website:

“You’re right, there isn’t a page for the Lives of the Desert Fathers on the website. We only had time and resources to put about half of the texts on display on the website (67 of 150 or so). There’s a complete list at
http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/sacredthemesall.html

However, of the texts that were in the exhibition but are not on the website, we *may* be able to add some of the ‘most requested’ over the next month or two. (Not a trivial business, because we have to do things such as taking high-resolution pictures of the text). If so, LoDF will be on our shortlist.”

Its brilliant that the British Library interacts with the punters, and it shows that they have a real love for what they’re doing that is forward-looking. Cool!

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

Read More