Friday, 7 July 2017

Viva Venezia!

This post is not intended to be read from start to finish [though by all means please do so if you feel inclined] but is a visual snapshot of my own personal highlights from this year’s Venice Biennale 2017. In its 57th year and featuring artists from all over the world, this year’s central exhibition ‘Viva Arte Viva’ goes some way in proving that art is indeed ‘not dead’. The sublime, the ridiculous, the poetic and the political, there really is MUCH to be inspired by. Presented here are 16 of those artworks/pavilions some of which can be seen across the city for free and others within the ticketed Giardini and Arsenale Biennale sites themselves. Enjoy!

The Venice Biennale is on until 26th November 2017, for further info visit: http://www.labiennale.org/en/Home.html    


Britain – Phyllida Barlow ‘Folly’
It is difficult not to smile when first encountering Barlow’s work; colourful, larger than life, every piece installed within each space in a different way. I first saw Barlow’s work on a scale such as this at Hauser and Wirth in Bruton when it first opened in 2014. Her treatment of the British pavilion does not disappoint, columns in the central disrupt how viewers negotiate the room, followed by wracks of stained cloth, more tubes, blobs infiltrate the space outside and stacked boulder-like fabrications make up this ambitious and playful offering from the British artist now in her 70s. That play soon becomes more threatening however, as viewers have to squeeze past and lean around the gallery rooms, forced to alter their route by the sheer scale of some of these pieces and that they often occupy the walls, leaning outwards, other times suspended or simply plonked as a giant mod-rock clad obstruction. There is a lot of recycling and use of cheap readily available materials in her work that makes it feel exciting and accessible in the way she sees potential and use in such everyday things. If shape, form, colour, texture, volume are some of the ways we aesthetically perceive sculpture then Folly is an excellent example of what sculpture can offer.

 
Romania – Geta Brătescu ‘Apparitions’*

In what looks like a retrospective of the Romanian artist’s work since the 1960s, Geta Brătescu’s drawings, collages, engravings, tapestries, objects, photographs and experimental film are displayed in the Romanian Pavillion at the Giardini. Spanning themes of ‘the studio’ and ‘space within-it’ along with reflections on female subjectivity; there is rather a lot to see. She studied both art and literature, evident in references of both in her work, one example being a series of drawings based on Faust. “In Brătescu’s practice the real, physical space meshes with the inner, intimate space and becomes part of the sphere of art....exploring phenomenology –her own hands...tension between the representational and non representational.” It made me think of outsider art in the way that it felt so personal, its quantity the product of obsession –this is a person finding things out about themselves and their context through making and doing on a prolific scale. I thought the hand drawings were exquisite and admired their difference to the loser, more expressive drawings. That duality interests me as it is something I am often at conflict with in my own work.

 
Israel   – Gal Weinstein ‘Sun Stand Still’
“Weinstein critically explores the mythological and Romantic images of Zionism embedded in Israel’s collective memory. The project reflects his fascination with the desire to stop time, with potential forms of construction, destruction, progress and devastation.” Mould and coffee are used to suggest the passing of time, allegory or a post-apocalyptic vision of Israel. ‘Jezreel Valley in the dark’ [pictured] consists of puzzle-shaped agricultural plots filled with coffee dregs that gradually grow mould at different rates. The smell that greats you isn’t very pleasant, nor probably is the realisation that it is mould all over the walls and floor, but for me I love the idea of having a changing installation at different stages of decay and where else can you view it and critique it in the context of being ‘art’. Here the natural process of the mould decaying is used to represent political or urban decay, the sprawl of time and how mould, like urban generation/degeneration can spread.


John Waters – Study Art [For Breeding or Bounty]
You’ve got to love a super kitsch; pop art style sign about studying art if you’re an artist don’t you? I certainly do and Waters’s series of ‘Study Art’ signs take his own intentions and turns language into a double meaning of a consumerist nature. Known for his film directing, (‘Pink Flamingos’) Waters, I learn, was once described by William S Burroughs as, ‘the Pope of bad Taste’. I like him even more! Deconstructing the clichés of the politically correct he is as debatably offensive as he is Duchampian-ly witty. If anything the humour of these pieces reminded me that it is important to not always [if at all] take art too seriously. Especially those who study art, these signs should be made available within every art department!


Republic of Korea – Lee Wan ‘Proper Time’
“Over 600 clocks engraved with the names, birthdates, nationalities and occupations of individuals interviewed from around the world. Each clock moves at a different rate that is determined by the amount of time the individual must work in order to afford a meal.” A lot of the Biennale feels like spectacle; which piece will be the biggest, most outrageous, most ambitious, most photogenic, most political or get its participants to do the strangest things? It is hugely competitive, with every work, every pavilion asking for everyone’s time to engage, therefore it is quite hard to determine whether one is interested in a work for genuine reasons or whether it all becomes a bit throw-away or commercialised.  Lee Wan’s ‘Proper Time’ is one piece in a two-man exhibition in the Republic of Korea pavilion. The way in which you approach this work is by having to duck under and through a very low doorway into a white-walled room filled with the sound of ticking clocks. It is intentionally humbling, having to almost bow in order to enter this space; a sign of respect perhaps to the people whose time is being exhibited. The speed of the care-worker’s clock from Britain significantly slower than that of the hotelier in Abu Dhabi, though quicker than that of the cobbler from Budapest; these kinds of comparisons intentional in what becomes a vast visual representation displaying the scale of global inequality. It is fitting too that it is a part of an exhibition as a whole that explores themes of cultural identity.



Argentina – Claudia Fontes ‘The Horse Problem’
There is no problem in ‘The Horse Problem, well at least not one I can see, unless of course the problem is that this horse sculpture is inexplicably huge! The idea behind the creation of the work was to present “...the relationship between man and his horse which is the basis for the nation’s founding myth....the animal kept captive in a prison [the Arsenale] built by its own motive power.” The artist Claudia Fontes speaks of the use of horses to forge, plough and build. That relationship she explains led to the building of borders and territories that we now challenge and cause many self-inflicted problems in how people and the land live together. It is a timely concept and one that current writer’s such as Ulrich Raluff are exploring in his book, ‘Farewell to the Horse’ though I am unsure if I would get much of that impression from the work itself it has certainly ignited my interest in finding out more.


Andora – Eve Ariza ‘Murmuri’ (Murmur)
Are they bowls? Are they mouths? Are they something other? However you see it, there are an awful lot of them in the Andora pavilion. Each one made in clay corresponding to different human skin tones, formed into the shape of a bowl as a symbol of, ‘the first container of truth’ they are meant as an offering of unity between languages. Each bowl becoming a listening vessel from which to hear the vibrations and subtle murmurings amidst the hustle and bustle of the Biennale. It is beautifully simple, the moulded bowls also form mouths and the ease in which meaning can be gleaned from this work was refreshing.


Republic of Azerbaijan – Elvin Nabizade
As part of the exhibition, ‘Under One Sun’ Azerbaijan hopes to present, the polychromi of culture in their country, “from its origins and traditional forms up to its different present manifestations”. There were several well executed immersive video installations within this exhibition but for me personally I could not resist the visual joy of seeing beautiful instruments suspended in sphere and arching forms from the ceiling.  


Japan – Takahiro Iwasaki ‘Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest’
Stacks of arranged books on a table become a representation of a mountain and skyscrapers. A citadel from which delicate threads of cotton from towels become steel towers, cranes and oilrigs. These are the fine crafting of Takahiro Iwasaki who uses everyday objects to make small interventions that signify both traditional and new landscapes in Japanese culture; from large mountains to chemical plants that stand along Hiroshima’s coast to a shrine built above the sea. They are playful yet superbly handcrafted, quietly commanding attention not for their scale but for their subtlety.   


Italy – Giorgio Andreotta Calo ‘Untitled (The End of the World)’*
Andreotta Calo goes where Richard Wilson has previously gone with what, for the sake of argument is much larger, but visually very similar version of 20:50 that uses water as its reflective surface rather than oil. Despite the enormous space it occupies in the Italian pavilion it is just one artwork in the overall exhibition ‘The Magical World’ featuring three artists whose work we are told, shares, “...transformative power of the imagination and an interest in magic...” The surprise with this particular piece comes from first experiencing it from underneath; the viewer enters the installation to what appears to be a low dark ceiling suspended in place by a forest of metal scaffolding poles. As you traverse through this space you eventually come to a set of steep metal stairs leading upwards. The view at the top is initially disappointing as it is confusing; the stairs hit a brick wall. Nothing special about it; it isn’t until you turn-around that the trick is revealed. What was a ceiling held up by scaffolding was in fact a floor for a very, very large pool of water. This water reflects the architectural beams of the Arsenale pavilion playing with our sense of balance and creating another illusion. All three artists in this exhibition made intriguing work, the premise that, “...magic is not an escape into the depths of irrationality, but rather a new way of experiencing reality.” Of all the concepts in this year’s Biennale this was one that I thought was a refreshing change from the otherwise largely political agenda and I think it is important to remember in times as politically fraught as these of other forms of experiencing the world, a little magic maybe can go a long way.


New Zealand – Lisa Reihana ‘Emissaries’
In a panoramic, partly filmed, partly animated video projection ‘in Pursuit of Venus’ Māori and Pacific perspectives are shown in a re-imagining of the wallpaper, ‘Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique’ that, in 1769 referenced Pacific voyages of James Cook. It depicts real and invented narratives of cartographic and scientific exploration which happen simultaneously and on a scrolling loop from right to left so as to appear as life-size, moving wallpaper. For its use of animation mixed with filming it was distinctly memorable and along with its wit in showing a different perspective in a visually creative way.


Mexico – Carlos Amorales ‘Life in the Folds’*
“From abstract paper cut-outs [Carlos Amorales] created an illegible alphabet, which evolved into a series of ceramic wind instruments –ocarinas- producing a particular sound for each letter.”  Viewing the Mexican pavilion felt like an experience in trying to decipher and understand something. Upon entering the first thing one sees is a dozen flat white, table-like surfaces with hundreds of black ocarinas laid out systematically. Without having read anything it was a real mystery to solve. How we understand language and how it is constructed is exactly the point of Amorales’s work and a visual language is perhaps no different in the way in which we attempt to interpret and ‘make sense’ of things. The ocarinas here represent an abstract language, visually they looked like shapes, symbols or birds to me, but further into the exhibition a film depicting them being played turns the typographical into the phonetic. I thought how the work in this exhibition was displayed was successful to interpreting its meaning, it felt museum-like and I enjoyed the challenge of it.


Tunisia – ‘The Absence of Paths’*
Set across three one-man sized booths in the Arsenale and across Venice visitors are invited to participate in registering for their very own Freesa; a protest travel document whose recipients ‘effectively endorse a philosophy of universal freedom of movement’. Part performance, part protest the work ‘The Absence of Paths’ creatively engages with the debate around migration. The passport sized pamphlet visitors are given articulates the idea behind the work very succinctly, “The world over, human migration –once a symbol for our continued social evolution –is facing headwinds from populist nationalistic movements. Diverse rhetoric centred on the building of walls and policing of borders is worryingly translating into action and is considered normal.” I thought this was a really effective idea and powerful way to engage people’s interest. Everyone who participates in the performance at the Biennale leaves their name and email address, making it a great case for unity and understanding given much of current world events.


Taus Makhacheva ‘Tightrope’ 2015
In what was possibly one of my favourite video works from this year’s Biennale, Russian-Dagestani artist, Taus Makhacheva films a performance by Rasul Abakarov (descendant of a famous tightrope dynasty) “carry sixty-one art works copied from the museum of Dagestan between two mountains, from open air to a black structure reminiscent of museum storage.” At whatever point you encounter this film during its play, there is something very mesmerising about the task of which is unfurling before your eyes. Maybe it is the sense of danger and suspense from traversing the tightrope whilst carrying often large precariously balanced paintings or maybe it is the repetition of watching this activity play-out a dozen or so times that makes it so watchable. Will he drop one of the paintings [I hope not]? The viewer is compelled to watch and see. The film is also a curious way of viewing art works, the paintings suspended or carried move from one side of the mountain to the other giving us a panning view of each one as it travels by set against the stunning backdrop of the mountain range. It is as pleasing as it is unusual and subtly suggests how context is significant in how we view artworks. Once across they are safely and carefully stored, the pieces contained a comment on how museums deal with their storage and never exhibited art works. Politically Makhacheva’s dual heritage of being both Russian and Dagestani prohibits her to explore themes of how the West challenges invisible heritage, using elements in her work from both tradition and the present.


 Michal Cole ‘Neverland’ 2017
I don’t think I have ever seen a projection displayed in a bathroom before...? All the work in the Pavilion of Humanity is presented inside rooms of a house. There are faces and mouths projected inside saucepans in the kitchen, the ‘gentleman’s’ living room is floor to ceiling with every item of furniture clad in 27,000 neckties! In ‘Neverland’ a woman on a gondola in 1950s dress attempts the futile task of mopping-up the water of Venice’s canals. She is the artist’s interpretation of the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus, her plight a visual representation of ‘the never ending task’. Subsequently the work is also a comment on, “the struggle of women to navigate the minefield of identity in an increasingly impossible and sometimes hostile society.” All the work in this exhibition created by the Israeli born and British-based artist alongside Turkish artist, Ekin Onat is a protest against global patriarchy.

The backdrop of global protest against the oppression of women, which saw millions around the world take to the streets earlier this year, “has made this work feel more powerful, definitely”, said Cole...But as well as commenting on the wider issues faced by women around the world today, the piece also comes from a deeply personal place for Cole. Her grandmother was a child bride, married off at 11 and gave birth at age 12. Cole also grew up in Israel and served her mandatory time in the military, where sexual assault has long been an issue swept under the carpet...”

I thought the context of the house or home was a meaningfully loaded place in which to show these works, the everyday domesticity of it and its familiarity took the understanding of the work outside of the gallery, which often feels very detached and put it into our real life.


Ibrahim Mahama –Ghana 1901-2030, 2016
A wall of worn shoemaker boxes obstructs the largest room of the Palazzo Contarini Polignac as part of the Future Generation Art Prize. It isn’t obvious at first quite what they are and until you get close do you notice polishing brushes and buckles in amongst the boxes that begin to give away what their purpose once was. It is revealed that these are exchanged shoemaker boxes, exchanged for new ones by the artist whose other well known work includes cladding buildings in used jute sacks from Ghana to transport coffee, rice and charcoal. Mahama uses these everyday items of work as raw material with which it is, “…possible to disrupt and subvert the politics of spaces by granting them new forms, imposing new meanings upon them, or divesting them of their intended significance.” These low-grade materials of everyday use displayed here on mass create a visual awareness of the scale and plight of our reliance on the work of the many individuals within these industries. On one level it seems wrong that these objects of use should be displayed so as to be viewed on their visual aesthetic and beauty, but the significance that each one has been collected by exchanging it for something new makes the work far more socially engaged than it does purely on aesthetics.

Whilst most of the pictures here are my own, the ones marked with a * have been sourced online via the following sites: http://moussemagazine.it; http://www.cultweek.com; http://www.e-flux.com; http://www.kurimanzutto.com/index.php/artists/carlos-amorales  
 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

You better believe it!

In Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition, ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ visitors are invited to experience two museums worth of coral-clad sculpture, objects, photography and video that aims to push our understanding of how history and myths are formed, questioning the mortality of materials and their makers. We are told that the beasts, idols, artefacts and objects on show were once lost in a legendary shipwreck and have been raised from the Indian Ocean to be presented here at the Francois Pinault Foundation’s Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi galleries in Venice. Relics of a bygone civilisation they are presented as such, in vast glass vitrines or vast spaces; many still encrusted in the limpets, barnacles and coral accumulated from their time underwater.

‘Demon with a bowl’ (Exhibition Enlargement) Painted resin. 1822 x 789 x 1144 cm
On Monday 12th June 2017 armed with nothing but a camera and a pen I chose to wade into the depths and shallows of these art-infested waters...
 
‘Calendar Stone’ Bronze. 422.5 x 475.8 x 172.3 cm
Opening in the heart of the Biennale contemporary art calendar, the venue set over two museums along the Grand Canal has the makings for the perfect rock n’ roll style location for an artist whose calf slicing, diamond skull encrusting, butterfly pinning works about mortality have become amongst the most iconic, satirised, notorious, discussed and the most highly selling of any living artist in the contemporary art world. This new exhibition of work from the Bristol born artist, now in his 50s is his most ambitious to date and sees a sum 190 pieces in marble, gold and bronze, crystal, jade and malachite, at over a decade in the making and at a whopping cost reportedly of 50 million to make it is as an extravaganza to behold as it is ambitiously risky. But what else would one expect from the artist made famous as one of the YBAs for pickling a shark and calling it art!
‘Huehueteotl and Olmec Dragon’ Silver, Paint. 29.7 x 28 x 21 cm
In the Punta Della Dogana a replica of a Mayan Calendar welcomes visitors to the exhibition, its surface completely clad in the coral and underwater fauna of its supposed 2,000 years lost at sea. Behind it, a larger-than-life statue of a warrior atop a snarling bear on its hind legs, its surface also at first glance appearing to be covered in a living surface.  Smaller relics such as coins and assorted precious stones alongside photographs placed throughout the exhibition create a museum-like narrative that depicts the breadth of what was ‘discovered’ as well as the salvaging process of divers excavating these treasures. If you believe that any of it is real, from the impressive looking albeit actually fake coral, to the whole fabricated tale itself then you’ll believe anything! It soon becomes apparent that this is all a little too farfetched; the comic nature completely exposed when pop culture figures such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy, a transformer, Kate Moss as a sphinx appear and later a depiction of the artist himself. They are modern cultural references that begin to make the whole thing begin to feel like the satire of Banksy’s Dismaland. It does however raise the interesting question of whether these are remnants from a fabricated past or visions of a dystopian future?
‘The Warrior and the Bear’ Bronze. 713 x 260 x 203 cm
This is merely the tip of the iceberg in an exhibition that in its vast yarn-spinning complexity becomes more a lesson in 21st Century marketing and publicity. This isn’t a criticism; Hirst manipulates the power of the institution of the gallery as a place for authority and truth and turns it on its head. The result is that the ‘joke’ ends up more often than not to appear rather kitsch, befitting of the attention they receive in their crowd-pleasing photographable appeal alone. For these reasons early reviews for this exhibition were almost ravenous in criticising it but I feel that they were searching too hard for a depth that they sought when in fact what makes this show so appealing and so extraordinary is in its shallowness. Unabashed conviction in its commitment to the lie it is trying to tell is commendable as at times its relentlessness of puns and popular icons grows tedious. It is popular, maybe for the wrong reasons; though it is also fun and regardless of the jokes or whether it’s real or not it is still a spectacle to behold.
Artists have long been blurring the distinctions between truth and lies, fact and fiction, history and its documentation versus myth and its own immortality in their art. Whilst these are ideas that have been explored before, particularly in Hirst’s work, they have not been explored as lavishly previously by the artist as they have here. There is something Hollywood blockbuster-like or theme park sized extravagance to the ambition of the ‘lie’ that is being presented that sort of allows us to forgive it and immerse ourselves into the experience. Are we part of the joke or in on the joke I am still unsure? For me, the best work in the exhibition is the video documentation, regardless of the ‘lie’, the reality is that all of these monstrously-sized objects had actually been put out at sea and salvaged (albeit in a staged manner) but the filming of this process is mysteriously compelling, well shot and edited as a piece of film-making and becomes visually far more believable! As for the sculptures themselves, I think it would be good if much of this work was buried back at sea; not because I believe they are awful (some though truly are) but because I would like to have seen them with real algae and age to them rather than being fabricated. In 2,000 years or more they could become something that really could be discovered? I would love to know either way what the legacy of this work will be. 
‘Hydra and Kali’ Bronze. 539 x 612 x 244 cm
In this era of fake news this exhibition feels timelier than what critics give it credit for and the lasting impression it has had for me is that there is still much creativity involved in creating a story, those stories then sometimes becoming myths of the future. This exhibition is certainly very memorable! It is therefore highly appropriate that I end this tale with one of my own. Make of it what you will. Upon finishing seeing the show at the Palazzo Grassi, I descended the stairs and spotted at the feet of the gargantuan 18 metre resin statue ‘Demon with a Bowl’, the artist, Damien Hirst, himself! It was the ultimate irony and much to my surprise that no one else in the relatively busy exhibition had noticed that its creator was just walking amongst them as they so enthusiastically photographed and viewed his work, perhaps it was humbling? Myself, I could not resist the opportunity to say ‘hi’ and shake his hand. “I suppose you’re to blame for all this then?” I asked him. “I suppose I am,” he said.
That really is unbelievable!
 
Damien Hirst’s ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ is on at Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana until 3rd December 2017. http://www.palazzograssi.it/en/exhibitions/current/

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Tasteless

Buffet d’art at Hestercombe gallery is a smorgasbord of buffet-sized sculpture, live art, film, sound, light and painting from 45 different artists, all of whom have been invited to bring work that can be ‘perused on a plinth’.
 
“The show is a meleè of mismatched yet aspiring works, some with delusions of grandeur, others grubby with spillage and monotonous repetition, set to a medley of smooth and relaxing music, designed to whet the senses and heighten your experience of these buffet-inspired memories.”
An unusual exhibition warrants an unusual response so I am writing mine in the form of a buffet table conversation between three people with very opposing views as they attempt to digest what lies before them.
Person X: What ill conceived manner of cacophonous, inane, conceited  tat is all this?! Something that can only best resemble a turd, a giant band aid, a woman urinating, a load of old cigarettes... A blue stick! A cupcake, that as far as I can see is unedible!
Person Y: It is safe to assume that you liked it then?
Person X: Liked it! If I wanted to see a load of something of nothing, I’d have gone to [disclaimer we could not include the name of the gallery here, but you know the one]!
Person Y: I think any reaction is a good one, besides its playful, an example of bringing together these disparate, strange and creative elements. Their variety and unexpected nature of viewing works on and under a giant table is visually a lot to look at in a small curated space.
Georgina Starr
Person Z: I don’t get it.
Person X: It’s taking the p**s is what it is. A cheap way for artists to boost their CVs and for galleries to they’ve exhibited work by a wide array of artists.
Person Y: Cynically, perhaps yes. But where else do you get the opportunity to see work like this, by artists whose big works you may be familiar with, it offers a glimpse into the playful and other creative outputs within their practice.
Person X: I wouldn’t want to see any more of some of it!
Person Y: It is all here, lights, coloured liquids, music, strange undefinable forms, waves, a diorama of a swimming pool, a revolving pot, recycled entities, felt, paper, foam. A village of tiny people, projection, a yellow baseball cap!
Person Y: Maybe you are taking it too seriously. Think of Dada, Surrealism, artist’s studios and the ‘real, lived process’ of what it means to be an artist and make art. Is it not at times inquisitive, spontaneous, rebellious in its non-conformity? See this as a buffet, a taste of lots of variables out of many. So many that we may not have time to savour and understand each one individually for long before moving onto the next thrill, the next surprise, the next thing that may upset, delight or confuse us. Some are intentionally small things, but with grand ambitions that the status of the plinth provides. You could see it as ironic or tongue-in-cheek.
Reith Bowler
Person Z: I don’t get it.

Person Y: What would you expect or want to see in Somerset?
Person X: .....I suppose, ...variety. Something contemporary.
Person Y: Exactly!
Person X: But I am not sure I get the ‘joke’ here, if that was what was intended. I am not sure if pointlessness for the sake of pointlessness either does anything to help raise the bar or what is it challenging or prove?
Person Z: ...I really do not get it.
Person X: The only people this will appeal to are those hipster, do-gooder, lefty, decaffeinated-skim-latte drinking mediocrities blinded to the facts that what this truly is, a waste of space! 
Peggy Atherton
Person Z: “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art.” Susan Sontag
Person X: Even if this is art, which isn’t quite the same as what we are arguing here, what this is, is still not good art. This is a bunch of stuff masquerading as being important because it is made by an entitled, insider bunch of artists.
Person Y: Isn’t that what all art is. Who decides what is good or bad, it’s all subjective. What is the inside? These are old issues. It is all too easy to grow cynical of these things; I think that the connection it creates between artists, curators and gallery spaces is a good one. I read recently that, “Reviewers like to feel they are above a work of art. If it puzzles them or if they are intimidated they are more than likely to trash it.” Could not the same be said of art audiences?
Person X: ....
Person Y: Though I do often wonder if it is an apathy towards our failings to engage and discuss this sort of art with other people or ourselves and honestly, that causes these strong opinions. How often is it that we merely tolerate a lot of art that we feel is bad because criticism is difficult to express as it can be to ingest. This isn’t good for either party. Audiences are always being forced to be open-minded and try new things but do they have the same power of influence on the curators who's shows they visit and consume?
David Cotterrell
Person Z: I suppose by that comment you are referring to me. I do not understand it but that does not come out of apathy or lack of desire to understand. I am content with just experiencing and viewing it for what it is.

Person X: Well, certainly no apathy here!
Person Y: Maybe it is all a conversation. The pieces brought together from individual artists, arranged in a way so that they ‘talk’ to one another. See it as a series of rhythms and forms, colours and textures that change. Or maybe the point is that it generates us to have the kinds of conversations we are having now.
Person X: Not big enough or isolated enough to be satisfying.
Person Y: I found a couple of things that really stood out for me. I like R J Hinrichson’s pamphlet on creating your own ‘Semi Formal Discussion Networks’. Though as a whole it looked a bit goofy and forced together and I couldn’t appreciate how the different objects related to one another in terms of their space on the ‘table’.
Person Z: I liked Ben Joiner’s piece. It sort-of looked like it was crawling onto the table like a giant fried egg.
Person X: Hmmm, ... I still do not see quite why someone would be willing to waste their time looking at this as they would want to read about it.
Person Y: On that we can agree.
 
 
You too can gorge yourself silly or go on an art detox at Hestercombe Gallery's Buffet d'art, open Sun, 21st May at 11:00 am to Sun, 18th Jun at 5:00 pm http://www.hestercombe.com/event/buffet-dart/

Friday, 2 June 2017

FaB 4!

Art-goers of all tastes have until June 11th 2017 to catch dozens of visual arts exhibitions plus performance, music, film and talks as part of Bath’s annual Fringe Arts [FAB]. The Visual Arts part of the festival sees twenty-eight curated exhibitions in a range of venues and locations across the city, some worth visiting for their surprising venue alone; visitors have much to explore! I have been to several Fringe Arts Bath years and always attempted to write about too much of it in the past. I am of mixed opinions on what I saw this time around, even from some of what I have chosen here, but if you don't have time to see it all then you won't do badly by sticking to my FaB four!
 
In no particular order:
Robert Good 'A Defensive Manoeuvre' exhibited in 'The Obsessive
Compulsive Practice at FaB 2
Robert Good as part of The Obsessive Compulsive Practice, FaB 2, 94 Walcot Street
Should it be troubling that my favourite exhibition in the Fringe should focus on obsessive behaviours and compulsive repetitions or tedious practices of the need and making of art? There were several artists whose work I found interesting in this exhibition, Abigail Simmonds, Lucinda Burgess to name a few. Though the piece, ‘A Defensive Manoeuvre’ by Robert Good stood out for me. Lest alone because I work in a bookshop! Or maybe it is because I work in a bookshop that this works place within a show about obsession, collecting and ‘a sense of order’ really drew me in. At first it made me smile, like a highly organised Arman, the work safely houses ninety copies of the same book, each has been collected and arrange into its own neat bespoke box/vitrine. The wit of then reading that these are copies of Charles Rycroft’s ‘Anxiety and Neurosis’, mass-produced as Pelican books, adds to the seemingly compulsive orderliness of how they are arranged. The fact that they are second-hand, worn, read, used; each one we imagine may have belonged to a different person at some time who bought the book either out of interest or because perhaps they themselves were in a state of some anxiety. Maybe some copies were well read, whilst others not so. Those subtle differences and traces of use make them individual and aesthetically pleasing as it is loaded with meaning. Presented here, as a set, that anxiety becomes a collective one rather than a private one and possibly alluding to the bigger concerns that we still have as a nation in addressing, speaking about issues surrounding mental health.  Pardon the pun, but maybe I am reading too much into this piece –though it did get me thinking and for that it was one of my personal highlights.

Ally McGinn 'Broken Skin'
The Bath Open Art Prize at 44AD Artspace

Small but perfectly formed, there is a lot to see in this relatively small space that features a great variety of work. Some of my personal favourites include; Nina Gronw-Lewis, Ally McGinn (pictured), McFarland and Singer. http://www.fringeartsbath.co.uk/bathopen/
 
Embodied Cartographies at Walcot Chapel
“Walking . . . is how the body measures itself against the earth.” -Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking Embodied Cartographies is ‘An inter-disciplinary series of events and exhibition focusing on walking as praxis, mark-making, language, performance, choreography, philosophy, wayfinding...’
The Walcot Chapel hosts a lot of great exhibitions and is worth a visit during anyone’s time on a visit to Bath. A few of the pieces in Embodied Cartographies I had the pleasure of seeing before in other exhibitions but it was still good to see some of those familiar pieces in a new context and alongside some new ones, such as, Lydia Halcrow (pictured). In selection of artists and concept, this should be a great exhibition; though I feel slightly weary that it should happen in a year that has seen so many similar exhibitions to explore weathered and alternative ways of mapping and documenting and being in the landscape. Maybe I have seen too much but am still waiting and hoping for an exhibition in the future that seeks to shift the balance away from this very muted, geological, meteorological look on the natural world.   
 
Lydia Halcrow 'The Black Ground: walking the Taw and Torridge estuaries',
exhibited in 'Embodied Cartographies' at the Walcot Chapel.
The Building at Fab 1, 15 New Bond Street
One of my favourite things about FaB is being allowed access to spaces that we as the public would not normally have access to. In a former shop space in the centre of the city are five floors and a basement hosting six individual art exhibitions. The lowest-level being particularly atmospheric as you descend into a subterranean brick built cellar with curved arches, low-lighting and damp, dank conditions. It is an exciting place to see art in, ignites the imagination, it is unusual and fitting of what a fringe festival should represent; the hidden, the inaccessible made accessible. What if the walls could talk? What was this space used for? How old is it? There is an installation in this space (below) as part of 'Dreaming in Full' which transforms the cellar at New Bond Street into a fairytale-like living quarters complete with mushrooms, teasels and folk art style furniture. It is a bit too over-the-top, twee, too theatrical and staged for my taste; I think I would like to see work that responded to the space so you could appreciate and see it as it is. One solid, strong projection, lighting or sound could add intrigue to this space without turning it into something else. 
There is a lot of potential in the spaces and buildings used in the Fringe, I am sometimes surprised that the context of being in Bath, with its history aren’t responded to more. Being a visitor it is sometimes more overwhelming and distracting to be exploring floor after floor of these shops than it is looking at the work within it which cannot always compete with the space it finds itself in.
Installation at FaB 1, 15 New Bond Street
FaB is on until June 11th where you can all make your own mind on all this and much, much more! http://www.fringeartsbath.co.uk/ 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Glasshouse Effect

Nothing like the sound of cracking glass to make one’s senses suddenly on edge, even more so if one finds oneself hearing that sound whilst standing inside a giant domed-glass structure! Though fear-not impending doom, for this was the sound installation of German born artist, LotharBaumgarten [1944] exhibited in the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid’s Retiro Park. Phew!
 
The impressive 22 metres high glass and iron, birdcage-like structure built in the 19th century to exhibit the flora and fauna of the Philippines (Spain’s last colony) is now used by the Reina Sofia Gallery to host temporary exhibitions. Between November 3rd 2016 and April 16th 2017, Lothar Baumgarten’s sound piece, ‘The ship is going under, the ice is breaking through’ was installed in this space. Amid the more permanent cultural highlights that Madrid has to offer; Picasso’s Guernica, Goya, Bosch and Velázquez, I was fortunate enough to discover and experience this work first-hand.
 
Firstly, the Palacio de Cristal is a spectacular space. Architecturally and visually pleasing, like walking inside a giant bird-cage or greenhouse, one is ever conscious upon stepping inside, that it is made of glass the surrounding trees and park outside framed from the inside, outside; greenish tinged light and warmth floods in somehow creating a phenomenological illusion of filling the vast space that is, other than a few chairs and the bodies of the people that occupy it, physically empty. Though one cannot escape the feeling of containment created by the skeletal ribs that form the iron framework on which that glass is supported, they create their own architecture of shadows across the floor. It is refreshing to be in a space this big and imposing yet to have ‘nothing’ in it, and by nothing I mean, no sculptures, no stuff, no physical things, artefacts or objects which would in some ways only distract from the grand and interesting visuals of the space itself. In a capitalist culture obsessed with products and production I feel increasingly drawn to art that uses existing space, material or subject matter without need to occupy it with too much (if at all) physical ‘stuff’. I recall Rita Mcbride’s laser installation within the carnivorous belly of Liverpool’s Toxteth reservoir and Susan Philpsz’s sound installations under bridges. Pieces that relate to their context and enhance it, make it accessible and seen with fresh-eyes without them intruding, adorning or infiltrating the space in a lumpy or materialistic way. Sound and light animate and create atmosphere or thought in these places in a far more experiential way.
 
All this spectacle and I have not even begun writing about the actual work yet. Though with sound it is perhaps hard to know where the work begins and ends, is it with the space in which the sound is heard, or is it the actual sound itself? Probably a combination of both. The ‘sound’ in this instance being that of cracking ice as it thaws on the Hudson river, New York, where the artist works. It cleverly creates the illusion, in the context of the Palacio de Cristal, of the sound of glass breaking, the threat of collapse physically immanent. It is a slow, suspenseful sound rather than the more immediate sound of the shattering of glass. Given Baumgarten’s practice of subverting the Westernised view of the world and the dialectical relationship between nature and culture it is an appropriate use of sound and context. The context of this Spanish structure built to display and organise the flora and fauna from the Philippines, a very Westernised construct and an institute of power, wealth and classification is given a very natural and dystopian sound piece that threatens to destroy the building itself whilst mocking us, in that it is all, in fact a hoax. The glass isn’t really breaking but the structures, systems and monuments that we build are in constant flux. The accompanying pamphlet handed to visitors like myself explains that it is,  
 
‘a tonal analogy for the crashing stocks and assets of the insatiable ‘shark trading’ of financial markets; it concerns greedy speculation about unlimited economic growth and the resulting impact on the dramatically changing global climate.’
 
Indeed, or perhaps, just as we have recovered from realising that the glass above our heads is not breaking, an even heavier foreboding beckons, that this sound; not of glass but ice, becomes the weighty realisation of the thawing and melting of glaciers and global warming. The immediate localised threat taken away, the sense of the fragility of a much greater, global threat, heightened.

“This melting ice is at odds with the sun that floods the Palacio with light, ...yet there is a logic here too. Something is breaking, melting, disappearing in plain sight, though it goes unnoticed. Effects of actions that cannot be seen can be felt and heard elsewhere, even while we might pretend otherwise. The title of the work speaks explicitly of disaster, one that has many keen resonances – past and present, real-life and literary, economic, ecological, social, philosophical and physical disasters – all are all bound up in this.”  –Anneka French
 
Such is the work of Lothar Baumgarten whom has been working since the sixties but only just entered my periphery of art knowledge (I apologise, it is an ever increasing field). I am impressed at how this piece operates on so many levels, from the bodily effect it has on the viewer (an initial sense of panic soon replaced by one of laughter or relief) to the almost political affect it has on the context within which it is meant to occupy. One of his previous works titled, ‘Unsettled objects’ 1968-70 involved looking at how ethnographic museums, including an all time favourite of mine, Pitt Rivers and how they ‘frame the viewer’s perception through the manner in which their objects are displayed’. I only wish I had known of this before as it would have been so apt during a project that involved looking at museum modes of classification at the Somerset Heritage Centre.
 
For me personally this work marks a shift in how, perhaps, as I’ve grown older I have become more critical, more politically and globally conscious, less concerned with the production of youth, obsessed with making and churning physical artefacts  out. Now I feel more conscientious of process and ‘need’ to make, instead increasingly interested in minimal states, self-sustaining means of producing and work that responds or highlights to the beauty, intrigue or nature of what already exists. There was a time when I could never have dreamed that a mere sound piece alone would move me to such provocations; I am humbled and pleased that my tastes and understanding of art are ever evolving.

Please watch the video below to hear it for yourself.


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Samples

Just a short post to mention an exciting book that arrived today; in 2013 during my first visit to the Venice Biennale I discovered the work of Columbian born artist, José Antonio Suárez Londoño. The work consisted of hundreds of tiny drawings/paintings on paper laid out in glass cases in the centre of the ‘Encyclopaedic Palace’. I fell in love with these quiet, captivating and imaginative drawings admiring their sometimes referential and other times surreal-looking or ‘automatic’ subconsciously derived imagery. They were an inspiration for my own drawing-a-day’ projects and continue to be motivational for my sketchbooks which I still produce but seldom show. I have often written about the 'need' to draw and mind-set induced by the commitment to drawing regularly. They are personal items of use, obsession and need so I have never felt that they need to be subject to the self-conscious inducing scrutiny or rationale of an audience or gallery, however I have shown some and subsequently am grateful that Londoño’s work has been shown in the public domain and embraces an outsider art sense of integrity, to be just what they are (but by all means makes them no less brilliant), drawings in notebooks.
 



“José Antonio Suárez Londoño revives the profession of artist as a reflection of his time, his surroundings, his personal experience and that of the moment in which he lives.”   

I have been in search of a book of his work for the last four years (they are as hard to come by as it is to repeatedly have to type his name into search engines) and the more I learn about him the more interesting he becomes [For example, I have just discovered he illustrated a book of poetry by Patti Smith]. The book is a retrospective catalogue of his works that were shown in 2015 in Spain Columbia and France. Once I have read the book I will perhaps post more info on here but for now wanted to introduce to more people the work of this exciting artist.    
"Since the 1970s José Antonio Suárez Londoño has expressed himself through drawing, in the form of his prints, his numerous notebooks and rubber stamps. The intense focus and emphasis on a single medium has allowed the artist to create a coherent body of work, which has become an undoubted reference point for the new generations of artists now championing drawing as an essential tool within their artistic activities. Suárez Londoño’s constant, daily endeavours are revealed through an oeuvre that represents a type of inventory of the world, a diary that almost obsessively describes his situation and concerns...an artist for whom drawing is a way to present the viewer with new micro-universes, encouraging us to construct our own narrative."

To View an Online Book of Suárez Londoño’s Works Click Here

Images and Text Sourced from: José Antonio Suárez Londoño: Samples, (2015) This Side Up, Madrid.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Into the Wild...

The independent artists’ book HIVE IV is to be released into the wild on Saturday 1st April 2017. The publication of the book will coincide with an exhibition featuring each contributor’s original artwork at The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington, Somerset, throughout the first week of April.
 
The exhibition Private View / Book Launch will take place on Saturday 1st April, 18.00 - 20.30. A limited edition, signed copy of the book will also be auctioned on the  night.
HIVE is an ever-expanding group of artists associated with the occasionally-published artists’ book of the same name. Since 2014 there have been three issues of HIVE, each edited by different artists who have also set the theme for each issue. Past themes include: ‘Track 6’, ‘The Wrong Side of 15 Minutes’ and ‘Out of Line’. The concept of HIVE [that has since inspired the spin-off publication SWARM] was originally initiated by artist/educator Stuart Rosamond and artist Frank Edmunds to promote creativity and give exposure to the work of an eclectic group of artists, photographers and designers based in the South West and beyond. HIVE IV will feature the work of twenty artists;
 
Rico Ajao,  Chris Dart,  Roger Dean,  Frank Edmunds,  Jon England,  Tony Girardot,  Nina Gronw-Lewis,  Kevin Hawker,  Martin Jackson,  James Marsden,  Tim Martin,  Jane Mowat,  Natalie Parsley,  Eileen Rosamond,  Stuart Rosamond,  Ruby Rowswell,  Chris Taylor,  John Watling,  Rob Watts,  Deborah Westmancoat.
 
 and the list of potential contributors to future editions is constantly growing. HIVE IV is edited by graphic designer Rob Watts and will feature artworks responding to the theme of ‘Lost &  Found’.
 
Visitors are invited to celebrate the launch of HIVE IV with the artists at the Private View of the exhibition at The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington, Somerset, on Saturday 1st April, 18.00 - 20.30, where they can view the original artworks from HIVE IV [Lost & Found] created by its twenty contributing artists. This will be the first time that contributors’ works have been publicly exhibited. During the evening there will be a live auction when visitors can bid for a limited edition, signed copy of HIVE IV, as one of 22 copies only ever to be produced; proceeds of which will go towards funding future HIVE publications. The exhibition will remain open to the public to view for free from Monday 3rd April to Saturday 8th April, open 11.00 - 16.30.
 
Graphics and Photo by Rob Watts
 
HIVE IV [Lost & Found] EXHIBITION
The Old Brick Workshop
Higher Poole, Wellington, Somerset TA21 9HW Monday 3rd April - Saturday 8th April 2017 Open 11.00 - 16.30
PRIVATE VIEW / BOOK LAUNCH / HIVE AUCTION Saturday 1st April 2017 18.00 - 20.30
 
For further information please visit www.theoldbrickworkshop.com