Saturday, 19 May 2018

Black and Gold


Not all that glitters is gold, but you may be fooled by Hestercombe Gallery’s latest exhibition, ‘Cultivation: Points of vantage’ that features a surprising array of deceptively dazzling (albeit monochromatic) surfaces. From the glossy sheen of George Shaw’s enamel painted depictions of haunting urban places, John Newling’s gold-leafed plant specimens, Mary Griffiths’ iridescent, meticulously and intrinsically worked graphite drawings that sparkle and shimmer, Anna Barriball’s pencil rubbing of a stained-glass window rendered surprisingly light, to the reflective gloss of Mary McIntyre’s misty landscape photography. It is not a colourful exhibition whose slightly sombre tones provide a stark contrast to the seasonal colours outside in the gardens, but it will make you think; about the places, the vantage points from which we view and interact with landscape through our windows, the things we grow, the towns we live in, the places we leave behind....
Anna Barriball Sunrise/Sunset (2008) Pencil on paper.*
Things are what they first appear and not, forcing us to look beyond the surface of these works and investigate more closely so that new meanings are revealed. Griffiths’ and Barriball’s drawings both reflect the light, yet when viewed from different angles and in different light levels reveal their very grey, dark surfaces. Properties created due to the graphite from which they are made. I have a lot of time for Barriball’s work*, they have a pleasing trompe l’oeil affect in being both a life-size rendering (in ‘Sunrise/Sunset’ 2008 it is in fact a rubbing) of the original object, a window, a fireplace, a door; but in a material that makes them useless or a trace of what they once were. The stained-glass window’s main function to allow the emitting of light through its coloured glass pannels is now blackened-out as a grey, lead-like replica. It is now functionless, but reveals something new about its surface, its design and as already mentioned, the duality of its now opaque but still shiny surface that retains some of its connection to its original purpose.

Mariele Neudecker Everything is Important and Nothing Matters at All
(2009) Mixed media.
Similarly, Mariele Neudecker’s sculpture, ‘Everything is Important and Nothing Matters at All’ (2009), blurs with the distortion between reality and fiction through a miniaturised maquette of an abandoned dwelling through which a video of the natural world can be glimpsed (when viewing through the sculpture from different angles). It is an almost movie-like fabrication but one so accurate that it forces your eyes to become the camera; whether we chose to focus on the details in the scene that transports us in our mind’s-eye into thinking that it could be real or look beyond the sculpture and its presentation on a table within a gallery that breaks the illusion turning it back into the realms of fiction. This piece sits well alongside Mary McIntrye’s ‘Romanticism’ evoking, misty veiled landscapes which have something equally cinematic and suspenseful about them; scenes which are animated by the absence or anticipation of missing their actors.

John Newling Value, Coin, Note and Eclipse (2006) Pressed and guilded
Jersey Kale plants
John Newling’s work ‘Value, Coin, Note and Eclipse’ (2006) uses gold-leaf applied to,…well, leaves! The irony is not wasted on me and speaking from a purely aesthetic point of view is a visual treat for the eyes! Their museum-style mode of presentation is of great appeal to me. Made from Jersey Kale, planted and grown by the artist himself, whose leaves were removed at different stages of growth to create a horticultural wall that documents time. The gold-leaf was used to explore ideas of value and currency in relation to natural processes and, for me, becomes symbolic of the time we choose to invest/or not into our relationship with nature and challenges our perceptions of the preservation of life versus decay. Which do we value more, the plant whilst it is alive, the resource it gives us in death or the reminder of life it gives in being preserved in death? The idea of the land as a resource is also explored in film by Mikhail Karikis. In, ‘Children of Unquiet’ (2013-14) Karikis uses the sound of whistles and whispers performed by children with imagery of the volcanic landscape, to tell the story of the first geothermic power station to be built in Italy during the 1970s and its effect on the people who live there.
Mikhail Karikis Children of the Unquiet (2013-14) Video
All the exhibitions at Hestercombe, as we have come to expect (and perhaps rightly so) have some sort of connection to the natural world, land or the history/grounds context in which the gallery is situated. The connection the works in this exhibition have with land is relatively clear. If we were instead to take the title of this exhibition, to mean ‘cultivation’ in the sense of the none land-based definition of a,process of trying to acquire or develop a quality or skill’ it rather nicely fits with what the role of the artist is, as a sort-of cultivator of ideas, processes or techniques which is none more than present in John Brown’s photographed grasses, sparsely, carefully and meticulously placed to create a natural quality of Chinese calligraphy without the ink. They are even more subtle and quiet compared to much of the other relatively minimal pieces in the exhibition but have a contemplative honesty reminiscent for anyone who has ever picked a stalk of grass and pressed it between two sheets of paper in an attempt to capture its shape and beauty. Proof if were needed that less is often more and a process a means from which the artist explores transcendentalism. Elsewhere, George Shaw’s almost photographic-like quality of painting in ‘The Next Big Thing’ (2010) is an exact testimony to the art of acquiring a skill and using it to capture a moment in time, in Shaw’s paintings often of semi-urban abandoned-looking places that might no longer exist.

In an exhibition that does not require laborious contemplation to be enjoyed but whose works quietly invite the tilling over of ideas through their seductive surfaces or use of the double-take; those who take the time to look, think and look again may reap the rewards of the ideas these artists have sown.
‘Cultivation: Points of vantage’ can be seen at Hestercombe Gallery until July 1st. https://www.hestercombe.com/event/cultivation-points-vantage/ 
Find out about the Seminar happening around this exhibition on June 5th here:
Words copyright of Natalie Parsley.© 

Monday, 14 May 2018

A Stitch in Time

Cross-stitch, if you had asked me a month ago, would have definitely been on the unwritten and unimaginatively-named list of ‘things I thought I’d never do’. Nothing against cross-stitch, just that it was never something that I had time, reason or compulsion of any sort to commit my time towards. The list of ‘things that need doing’ always taking the priority and well, cross-stitch just never made it on there…until now! 

'A Day in the Life of a Nurse' 1938 Nursing Illustrated
To coincide with 70 years of the NHS this year, the library manager for the Library Service, where I work for the Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust showed me with the library’s copy of ‘Nursing Illustrated. Published as a series of magazines in 1938 (that’s right, 10 years before the NHS), it features research articles, news stories, letters, advertisements, tips and activities relevant to the nursing profession of the time. Coming from an art background I was drawn to a feature it published inviting nursing staff to produce a sampler, titled A Day in the Life of a Nurse’. The sampler, serialised in eight parts gave pattern designs for cross-stitch scenes depicting nursing activities such as ‘an interview with matron’ and ‘visitors’ hour’. The sampler also ran as a competition in which the winning first prize sampler could win 10 guineas*!

The seed of an idea has been planted and I thought it would be really interesting if these designs could be seen and brought to life again, made by the next generation of nursing professionals and even opening it up wider to everyone who works within the NHS today (even patients potentially), reflecting the breadth and diversity of the roles within the organisation. These patterns are likely to have been unmade by anyone for quite some years and so it is exciting to reveal something from the past.

The pattern for 'Up with the Lark' scene in 'A Day in the Life of a Nurse'
Inevitably times change and what was in 1938 a sampler design inside a nursing journal, perhaps intended as something to be made in-between caring for patients on wards, is now something that is more likely to be regarded as a spare-time leisure activity. In-part it reflects just how time-pressures and ‘the role’ of nursing has changed over the years. How many nurses still find time to create and make things whilst at work? And, what are the benefits to creative projects on wellbeing in relation to current day working within the NHS? It raises important questions and discussions around these issues as well as more broad ones in getting people to talk about ‘how things have changed’ and what the future may hold in store. If I have time I would like to talk to nursing staff and create new scenes that depict the modern-day counterpart to the 1938 one! What would be similar? What would have changed?

My efforts thus far at recreating 'Up with the Lark' sampler.
Under the current and topical NHS initiative of ‘Wellbeing through Creativity’, earlier this month we sent a call-out to employees at the trust I work for inviting them to participate in the challenge of recreating this sampler. I have so far been met with a positive response! As someone who artistically has mostly ever worked alone in the ‘making’ of art work it is humbling and encouraging to be working on a project collaboratively with a variety of people whose individual professions and experiences will hopefully add to the ‘story-telling’ element of how the whole sampler comes together. In some cases, parts of the sampler will have been made by employees in different parts of the hospital, the trust (Somerset Partnership) and possibly even by patients; I am hoping that the remote ways people now work within the NHS but come together as a team for the combined whole (visualised in the sampler through a variety of different sizes and colours) will celebrate the variety within the organisation that shares the same overall cause and values. That’s the bigger ambition, but I mean it when I say that I am genuinely inspired by the enthusiasm of those taking-part which has led to even me being encouraged to having a go at cross-stitch! Something, as I said, I thought I would never really try. 

At the very least if this project gets people making, talking and feeling good through doing so, then it will have achieved what I hope it set out to do. I will keep you posted how things materialise!


*Disclaimer -No prizes, other than the saccharin satisfaction of taking part, will be awarded to entrants participating in the 2018 version.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Only 3000?!

"What is art?
No-one seems to know,
but everyone has an opinion.”


Curse you Robert Good! If only you had published your book when I first started Art School! How much more illuminated my traversing of the path into territory unknown could have been, had I been enlightened by the collected perceptions, definitions and opinions collated in, A New Dictionary of Art. Hours at the easel, days spent scratching and scrapping the application of paint on the walls and floors as I drew, painted, filmed, shot, did, didn’t read, wrote, whittled and weaved my way through the potential of all the things art can be; all in the fractious pursuit of creativity, expression, communication and somewhere at the back of all those reasons a deeper searching, a desire to figure-out what exactly, is art?

And am, in many ways, still blissfully non-the-wiser.

Language and word-based artist Robert Good’s book offers some 3000 definitions of art, ‘compiled from the internet, established authorities, artists and institutions’. This ambitiously mad plight of collecting and organising so many definitions reveals (what the author himself acknowledges) much of what we may already expect, that art is and can be almost anything and everything!

Definitions in this book really do include everything from, the literal/descriptive, ‘Music, literature and cinema’ to the metaphysical, ‘a way for people to put something out there that cannot be said in words’ and the entertainingly specific, ‘like a strawberry cake’ as plausible options in answer to the question of ‘what is art?’ But how much does anyone really want to know?

That being said, Good’s book is a superfluous testament to a commitment in documenting the sheer range of amusing, absurd, arrogant, informed, spiritual and historically defining ways in which artists, makers, viewers of art, writers, philosophers, critics, curators and more have created their own definitions as to what art is. Many of which, historically speaking, have influenced the course of art history and what we perceive ‘art’ to be. Or...not to be! The book includes Duchampian statements of art being, ‘what the artist says is art’ to that of Surrealism ‘Transformed from the real to the unreal’. The chicken and the egg moment being which came first, the definition of art or the work itself, when to some extent I question how easy it is for one to exist without the other. It all becomes a bit conceptual and reminds me of Sol Le Witt’s ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’ (1928) in which the final sentence reads, ‘These sentences comment on art, but are not art.’ I have always found this to be a paradoxical thing to say because it seems that others have interpreted this as ‘art’ even though that was not Sol Le Witt’s original intention (or was it?). The mind boggles.

From my perspective, art is something that is usually best discovered through actively ‘doing’ and experiencing it through seeing it, taking-part or making it rather than, on first instance, attempting to understand it through reading pre-set definitions. I do not think people need a comprehension of what ‘art’ is in order to produce something that is then perceived as being art. In fact, from personal experience, the latter is often the better and the closer one is, ‘not trying’ to make art, often results in work which is less contrived and more genuine.

The book’s biggest problem and also its charm is the question of whether what is presented here are a series of definitions or opinions. In-reality it seems that it is a mixture of both and one could argue the semantics of what is the ‘definition of definition’ as opposed to an opinion but then we would still end up in a subjective state as this very book is trying to address. The appeal of this is that established definitions from the likes of critics, Clive Bell and Arthur Danto are anonymously embedded amongst definitions from everyday people online. It has no hierarchy! Which is refreshing. Though overall it depends on how seriously or not you want to take this book when, for example, art defined as, ‘Largely a load of old cobblers and a big sham’ and ‘Like a mirror which reflects our inner selves’; ‘that piece of light in your pupils’, as confrontational or poetic as they are still seem much more like opinions/beliefs than definitions to me...in my humble opinion, of course!

There is nothing wrong with this but part of me still cannot shake-off the question of whether this book is really necessary if nothing other than a light-hearted piece of satire? Sometimes it falls into repetition of saying the same thing but worded in slightly different ways which also slightly weakens its argument, but on the other-hand, also demonstrates the individual subjectivism involved in interpreting what art is; as being something unique and personal to us all as individuals but with certain themes, symbols, readings that are inherently more universal. In the book’s opening introduction by Professor in aesthetics and philosophy of the mind, Derek Matravers’ offers an interesting viewpoint to what Good has produced as a whole,

‘...it [the book] makes a mockery of the modern world’s desire to systemise, to classify and to control. In particular, it mocks the modern world’s desire to put a boundary on creativity.’

And for those reasons A New Dictionary of Art almost offers inspiration in its celebration of diversity and the way in which art is its own language of multifaceted readings. That it rebelliously seeks to continuously deify categorisation! Some may even see it as a manifesto that art must never become definable and resist categorisation least it become stagnant but it is also a celebration of the things people find similar and different about art such as, ‘a desire to convey meaning’; ‘someone’s vision shared with others’; ‘from the world around us’.

For want of a better word, some of these ‘definitions’ at their best, offer brilliant starting points for thinking about ways of making work, generating ideas and opening-the-box on proliferating the possibilities of what art can be, a few examples, ‘Does not have to be man-made’; ‘Does not form without growth and movement’; ‘The opportunity for love between strangers’; ‘progressive’; ‘tilling the soil of culture’. Anyone of these and hundreds of others besides demonstrate some of the potential and scope of what the arts are/can be. There are so many it is almost harder to articulate what isn’t art than what it is! And it is certainly something that I am sure will only continue to grow with time.

'A New Dictionary of Art' by Robert Good is available to buy now (at all good bookshops!)

See more about Robert Good’s work at FAB 2017 here:
http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/fab-4.html

Sunday, 8 April 2018

It deepens like a coastal shelf

An unidentifiable shape, compacted layers, an angular blob, a series of locked-together tessellated forms; seepage through the gaps, surfaces weathered and worn. Circles within blobs, within forms within forms. Earthy reds, yellow ochre, moss green, burnt umber, scraped, smeared and poured. Fissures. The cracked resistance between opposing surfaces.    

It was starring-up at the ceiling in the Royal Danish Library a.k.a the Black Diamond that I had my first, of what was to be many more encounters (in Denmark) with the work of artist, Per Kirkeby [1938-].

View looking up at Per Kirkeby fresco at the Black Diamond, Copenhagen
Mostly known for its sparse, angular architecture, the Black Diamond is not the first place you might expect to see a 210 metre squared fresco. Apart from the foremost connection the artist has with being Danish, the untitled piece is contrastingly colourful and wildly expressive in relation to its more formal, structured surroundings. Kirkeby’s fresco is expressively abstract but with a clear likeness in its painted forms and textures to rock strata, geological shelves and layers of shifting earth. The artist had previously trained as a geologist. I was interested in how these interpretations, within the context of the library, could also be read as symbolic of the processes through which knowledge is sought and acquired. Exploring ‘a subject in-depth’, ‘the layering of knowledge’, ‘sifting’ and ‘excavating’ to source the correct content being words that neatly link the geological with the ‘search for information’. Kirkeby’s painting, is visually similar to looking at a cross-section of coastal shelf, for me at least, it is a visual aesthetic that is in ways parallel to the library being its own kind of coastal shelf; the horizontal and vertical lines of books on shelves, different colours, each section, every shelf and row of books filed into separate categories like the layers of geological time. It takes time for collections of books to accumulate, as it does for new layers of mineral strata to form. Dozens of individual components that make-up a bigger whole. The shifting as things settle and move in a state of flux and uncertainty also echo some of the ideas within how information is edited and acquired. That is, at least, how I saw it.    

Portugalia (Portugalien) 2008 Oil on canvas. 300.5 x 500cm
In truth, I had been fortunate to see many of Per Kirkeby’s paintings nine years ago, in an exhibition at the Tate Modern. Though this was the first time I had seen so many new works (and been reunited with some of the ones I had seen) in the artist’s native country. Then as now, I feel that he is such a prolific and diverse maker, in painting, brick and bronze producing  so many large works that I should have probably written about him a lot sooner!

On a half-hour train journey through the bleak Scandinavian forests and coastline travelling to Humblebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art I had a second insightful experience into how much of a contrast the grey, still and desolate Scandinavian winter landscape has in comparison to the lively, relatively rich, warm colours in Per Kirkeby’s paintings such as, Portugalia (Portugalien) 2008. Presumably, the titles of many of his works suggest that they were not all based on the landscape his native country? I admit, that I would have to do some more digging to find out the answer to this question. Generally speaking, Kirkeby’s art draws from his experiences as a geologist and his inspiration from images in both popular culture and art history. The 3 metre by 4 metre painting titled, Flight into Egypt 1996 was, in-part, based on German Romanticist, Philipp Otto Runge’s, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1805-6. It affirms Kirkeby’s interests in art to landscape as a subject matter within his own work. Though some of the implied seriousness of this connection to Runge is slightly lost on me and I am not entirely convinced that some of Kirkeby’s paintings need this explanation in order to carry institutionalised significance. His own writing offers a more spontaneous interpretation into the use of paint as a medium for conveying landscape that I am more inclined to believe in, 

“The world is a material of which one makes art: through a natural-historical process which, at its most profound cannot be controlled.”

Both Portugalia and Flight into Egypt are in many ways abstract paintings but share a sense of panoramic scale, as though either looking onto a landscape from above or from within. The territorialising of shapes become like mapping, reminding me of the compositions in paintings by Jasper Johns, yet neither appear static, instead they are enlivened by a huge element of gestural drawing and vigorous mark making on the surface and within the layers of the painting, creating a sense of movement or mimicking the textures of ploughed fields or sun-dried cracked earth. Both of these later works saw Kirkeby linked with in the 80s with Neo-Expressionists along with artists such as Georg Baselitz.  The drawn elements in many of Kirkeby’s works actually remind me more of Cy Twombly but I enjoy the way his work reminds me of all these other artists without being too-like any of them to make it repetitive.  

Car Pictures 1964-5 Mixed media on Masonite. (detail)
Whilst in Copenhagen I also saw a lot of Kirkeby’s earlier paintings which are very different to these later ones. Equally they demonstrate the breadth of his 40 year career as an artist. Car Pictures 1964-5 [pictured right and below] is a series of four mixed-media works on masonite depicting traces of car-like iconography amidst, for me, what I can only describe as a  joyous cacophony of pop-art benday dots, gestured mark-making, flat areas of bright colour and a mixture of hard-edged shapes. Aesthetically speaking, there is a lot about the variety in surfaces in these four works that appeals to me, it is also their similarity to other favourite pop art-era paintings by Richard Hamilton such as Hommage à Chrysler Corp 1957 and Robert Rauschenberg. Whilst there is no fixed-narrative to these they could be read left to right as a series of comic-book style panels. Other paintings by Kirkeby during the 60s include The murder in Finnerup Barn 1967 [pictured below] which features imagery from Tintin comics, fairytale characters and a title that ‘alludes to the murder of King Erik Klipping in 1286’. This patchwork-like use of sources within one work should be disparingly chaotic but visually it seems to work. Kirkeby, I also learnt is a keen writer about art and artists and I think that this enthusiasm for knowledge, dualism of interests and collecting of sources comes across strongly in these 60s based paintings which seem to combine multiple ideas in the same way that a body of text might. Alternatively, they could also be experiments with another form of language, one that is visual and are more spontaneous than they are preconceived. As the artist himself states,  

Car Pictures 1964-5 Mixed media on masonite, 4 panels. Each 122 x 85cm

“Drawings are full of untrammelled thought and devoid of language. I have never drawn in order to produce a drawing. But simply in order to find something out.”

It is a fascinating philosophy to have towards drawing. I have long been a believer in the pragmatics of drawing as a way of ‘working out’ or ‘thinking’ through doing. I would probably like to be able to fully adopt Kirkeby’s statement in my own practice, but I am always usually more than conscious of the fact that I am producing a drawing whilst drawing-it! It would be interesting to try and ‘let go’ of that conscientiousness more often, if I can, to see what it may produce. I suppose it is then a question of whether you find out something you were expecting, wanted to know or not?! Seeing as how this post somehow began looking up at the ceiling in a library in Copenhagen, that is not a bad point to have come to some sort of realization!

Quotes:
Borchardt-Hume, A, Per Kikeby -An Introduction 2009: London, Tate Publishing p24.
Shiff, R, It doesn't reveal itself 2009: London, Tate Publishing p43


Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Race for Space



“Sometimes when I’m careless enough to turn in my sleep or call out or twitch, I am horrified to hear the books start to slide, because it would take little more than a raised knee or a shout to bring them all down like an avalanche, a cornucopia of rare books, and squash me like a flea.”

Like the obsessive collector of knowledge, Hanta in Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, “Too Loud a Solitude” I share, a slightly more rational, but real fear of the impending possibility that I could be swamped or crushed under the sheer weight of paper I have accumulated in the form of books (mostly), magazines, photos, postcards, drawings on paper and exhibition catalogues. I sleep in a bed towered by two rather large bookcases. It is a collection that is forever growing, even now, from having just sorted through an album of some 170 photos printed and chronicled into another album to sit on top of the ever groaning and increasingly bowing bookcase shelves. I have never tested their structural integrity, but am happy to keep adding to them, long may they hold!

I paint a dramatic hyperbole and it is of course true that much of this material could be digitised and made far smaller (and safer) but my reasoning for mentioning is that somewhere in my madness lies the bigger question of how we gather, store and access knowledge and information in a world that is consistently producing.   

“It took two centuries for the Library of Congress to acquire its 29 million books and 105 million other items...today it only takes 15 minutes for the world to produce an equal amount of information in digital form.”

Where does all of this information go? What happens when that storage is full? And how much knowledge can we possibly stand to lose or even be unable to re-call if it is forever increasing? I am emphatically not suggesting the solution is one of burning or saving books as the premise of Hrabal’s novel, but for me, it does raise the foremost questions as well as the notion of the personal archive versus the public archive and how they operate differently but share a similarity in that they are both dependent on issues of space in relation to time, accumulation and editing. 

 “According to a 2007 BBC report, the Vatican library (1.5 million books on 37 miles of shelving) was literally sinking under its printed burden.”

I do not aim to answer or resolve all of these ideas in this post, but felt that I had begun collecting too many thoughts and references on the subject to ignore it completely; it is a starting point from which hopefully I will revisit themes again at a later date. The origins of this post have actually come from those photos I mentioned earlier, specifically they document a recent trip to Copenhagen where in the Architecture Centre I came across a zine all about Archives and their relationship to space and storage. Titled MAP (Manual of Architectural Possibilities) and created by David A Garcia Studios on an A1-sized folded sheet of paper, printed on both sides in a poster-style format. Each issue deals with a different theme succinctly presented through text, quotes, stats, info-graphics and graphics.


Sample of the layout of MAP 003 Archive 
For its size, the content and information within this zine is impressive and relevant to my current thoughts on the huge amounts of paper I personally hoard! Its utilitarian size also refers to its purpose of providing insight into the spatial implications needed for systems of organising information, i.e. collections, libraries, archives, servers etc.

Where do we store all of this info?” being the question asked that also seems to me to be intrinsically linked to the more written about question of, “how is it stored?” Much seems to be written about systems of categorisation , less so on where it is held. According to MAP, preserving information for the future seems to be closely linked with physical issues of context and space as much as it does with the organizational systems by which information is catalogued. Not to mention, of course, political implications of the institutionalisation of knowledge, i.e. how, when, by and for who information is gathered; a question for another day! 

“From antiquity to the present, and with an exponential impetus, we have been obsessed with systematically collecting and reorganizing what in effect already exists, in its own kind of order, or disorder. This desire for control and centralisation of our environment, has no doubt aided us in the past and present. Nevertheless, some think that archives have reached such epidemic proportions that, not only has the digital revolution not been able to solve the problem, but it has in fact aggravated it. All of this, of course, occupies space, an increasingly huge amount of space.”

It was interesting to discover that,

The British Museum exhibits 1% of its total collection of 7 million items.

The British Library exhibits 3% of its total collection of 14 million items.

The MOMA exhibits 15% of its total collection of 150,000 items.

The above stats highlighting, for me, the importance of circulating what is exhibited within these collections or making what isn’t shown ,accessible in other formats; either online or per request which many of them already do. It is really a question of who decides what is shown and when and whether some things are better not shown in order to protect/preserve them? I speculate that archivists, curators and librarians will also have their own set of either institutionalised or professional criteria for selecting work to be added or displayed within collections. I do not know and am curious as to what these are, but am more interested in the idea of what a creative or artistic practice could bring to the process of archiving that perhaps these other professions lack or are prohibited in some way from doing.   

I’m fascinated by the idea of archiving but I carry the suspicious mind of one who is easily bored: that dares to suggest that the very act of making an archive is already an admission of creative defeat...Others will argue that the very process of making the archive, devising the system...is in itself totally creative...What if the day-to-day circumstances may not be as neat as the parametric analysis? –Peter Cook

Inside The Black Diamond in Copenhagen
Artist as archivist, artists working with archives? Architect or designer as archivist? I am fascinated at the idea of a sort-of cross-pollination of disciplines between an artistic practice with its parameters of looking, deconstruction and analysis from a creative perspective could work with more traditional archiving systems. This isn’t the same as artists using archiving as a way of making work, this is about artists working with existing archives and what they could bring to how these collections are accessed and/or interpreted. Surely there is a need for creative solutions to future challenges faced by ever increasing demand for space in relation to what is being stored? It marks a shift in my own attitude from how I have had an art practice heavily centred on ‘producing’ and its capitalist implications of making a physical art work with the intent of owning/selling it; over to one of ‘engaging’ and working with things that are already in existence. I do not have a problem with either but feel that there is something more sustainable about the latter. Perhaps I also feel some responsibility to not keep adding to the pile as to working with what already exists...  

In an interview about, Collection (not) as curation: how exhibitions are different from libraries, artist and librarian, Andrew Beccone explains how collecting can function as interpretation,

“Absolutely, but many libraries don’t have the freedom to approach their own collections from such a standpoint. One of the things that I find interesting about the current trend of independent libraries is the attention that they often call to collection-as-interpretation.”

I think Beccoone’s statement implies  that by allowing more control in a curatiorial sense of what is admitted and omitted within a collection can become a means by which collections can be interpreted by what is in them and how it is organised. This seems to me a similar process to that of curating, when art objects are [collected] and [organised] into a new system, in other words exhibition, from which they can gain new meaning and interpretation as a whole as well as individual works within a bigger concept. The problem with the library as a collection is whether it becomes more about the overall interpretation or the sum of its parts?

He does however acknowledge that there is some overlap between the two,

“In library-speak, those who are responsible for acquiring materials and shaping collections are known as collection development librarians. These are probably the closest corollary to curators in librarianship, but there’s a difference (and this is speaking very broadly because there is an incredible range of conditions within which both librarians and curators operate), for instance, between a curator who is able to assemble a group of artists based on a particular idea of his or her own choosing, and say, a collection development librarian at a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library who is “curating” a collection based on a concrete set of criteria such as the demographics of the neighborhood, the library’s own circulation statistics, or some institutional policy.”

I know that I am skimming the answers to many of the points raised here, but part of the way to solving or addressing them is in recognising them, the future of the archive in relation to space is highly topical and one I think will become increasingly important in years to come. MAP offers one last and final insight into future storage possibilities, 

The brain has also been discussed as a medium of data storage and it has been estimated that the brain has the equivalent digital capacity of 1-1000 terabytes…1 terabyte is the equivalent to 50,000 trees made into paper and printed...

Occupationally speaking, having worked as a Bookseller, now, within a Library and in my spare time continuing to make works on paper as an artist, it seems and I hope that my own relationship with collections both physical and digital is set to continue. Of course, as long as there is space!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Out of Line Online!

Exciting news everyone! Thanks to the Graphic Design production skills of Rob Watts, I am pleased to reveal the first online version of HIVE, available to view online here and as a pdf on Scribd.
Previous issues will be available to view online soon (it is our ambition to have a HIVE website sometime in the, hopefully not too distant future...?!) but, until then, please cast your eyes over this issue of HIVE 3#. This is the issue I co-edited on with Nina Gronw-Lewis in 2016 and saw 14 artists make work in response to the theme, 'Out of Line'. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to test what it would look like online and of course practice sharing it with those interested! Let me know what you think!
Hive 3# (June 2016) Visual Arts Zine, Edited by Natalie Parsley and Nina Gronw-Lewis.
Featuring work by; Rico Ajao, Frank Edmunds, Jon England, Nina Gronw-Lewis, Kevin Hawker, Tim Martin, James Marsden, Natalie Parsley, Stuart Rosamond, Eileen Rosamond, Ruby Rowswell, Chris Taylor, Deborah Westmancoat and Rob Watts.
All work is Copyright of the Artists ©2016


For more info about what HIVE is and some of its history then please refer to some of my previous blog posts for clues.... http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=hive

Ahem, and if you really like what you see and are interested in procuring your very own CD digital copy of the latest HIVE V, meeting the artists and celebrating then please come along to the launch of HIVE V on Friday 23rd March at 06.00pm. Info on poster below and via our Facebook event page; https://www.facebook.com/events/407305959707446/

Edited by Chris Dart and featuring the creative stylings of: 
Chris Dart, Frank Edmunds, Jon England, Martin Jackson, Tony Girardot, James Marsden, Tim Martin, Rashid Maxwell, Anna Newland-Hooper, Eileen Rosamond, Stuart Rosamond, Natalie Parsley and RobWatts 



Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Land of Plenty

It isn’t every day that one dons a pair of wellies to go visit and art gallery, but you’d have a pretty slippery time getting to Hauser and Wirth in Bruton, Somerset if you didn’t (unless of course you came by car, but this way is infinitely more fun)! Whilst I am unsure how gratefully received the mud I tramped-in to the gallery was, in my mind, it was the best possible start to viewing an exhibition about ‘Land’ by bringing some of it with me! You’re welcome!
 
Carston Höller ‘Giant Triple Mushroom’ [2015] Polyester
paint, synthetic resin, acrylic paint, wire, putty,
polyurethane, rigid foam, stainless steel.
By pure coincidence, around the time of seeing this show I had just started reading for the first time, Graham Swift’s novel, Waterland [1983], in it Swift writes, that “Only nature knows neither memory nor history.” Implying that it is forever changing and has been there long before us and will continue to do so long after we have gone. I thought this was a good connection to the exhibition titled, ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ at Hauser and With Somerset, whose key themes include an exploration of, ‘society’s relationship to the rural’ featuring work, projects, reportage and documentation in response to land; food production, consumption, sustainability and nature in the urban environment. These are just some of the concepts explored by over 50 artists and creative groups of people from the past (as far back as the 14thand 18th Century) up to the present. I meant it when I called this post, ‘Land of Plenty’! Whilst writing this review I kept going back to my copy of Waterland and reading things that related to what I saw in this exhibition, with John Burnside’s introduction including the following useful quote from Dorothy Canfield, 
 
“Art is considered as the expression of any people as a whole, is the response they make in various mediums to the impact that the totality of their experience makes upon them, and there is no sort of experience that works so constantly and subtly upon man as his regional environment.”
 
What is interesting about the ‘land’ exhibition at Hauser and Wirth is it is a diverse collection of people’s responses to their ‘regionalness’ from where they are from and so includes work from all over the UK and the world, yet despite this the common theme that unites them all is a very human one and that is the desire to create, explore and understand, on a social, political, spiritual, scientific, bodily, biographical [delete as appropriate/the list goes on..] level the land and how we connect to it.
 
Eric Sjödlin ‘The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project’ [2017] Azolla weed.
 It is an ambitious and plentiful exhibition, each room of the gallery hosting anything between forty and fifty small works on the walls, in vitrines and in one instance as a feast set-out on a grand dining room table (but more on that later). Read it as you might read a book, with each room responding to a different theme and idea within the overall totality that it is a [book] about the human relationship and impact on land or vice versa. In the first room, ‘the rural as a laboratory for the development of ideas’ greets visitors with the overwhelming smell of cheese in Fernando Garia-Dory’s, ‘Mobile Dairy School’ and plastic-lit water tanks growing pond weed in Eric Sjödin’s ‘The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project’. It genuinely feels like a laboratory, elsewhere ‘Sweetwater Foundation Aquaponics system’ houses fish and grows salads at the same time whilst Tom Philipson’s eggs and pickles in jars form a calendar of sorts and CarstonHöller’s botanical cross-sections of mushrooms are inquisitive and precise scientific looking spectacles that render large the architectural and alien-like fascination people, not limited to mycologists, have with beholding the natural world. During the exhibition’s running time these exhibits also act as working models for social engagement and participation, supported by live demonstrations of cheese and bread making as well as goat milking.
 
Tom Philpson ‘Shelf’ [2018] Wood, eggs, vinegar, glass, pickles.
Other [chapters] of this exhibition include two rooms exploring the rural utopia, the religious, the spiritual and ritualistic through a historic and joyous plethora of artefacts; featuring exquisite tiny Samuel Palmer prints to work by William Blake and John Ruskin. A Kate Greenaway study of rock, moss and ivy and drawings by Beatrix Potter remind visitors of how their published illustrations helped educate and inspire an interest in the natural world. They are a treat to spot in a room nearly bursting with work by Henry Moore, David Nash and Kurt Schwitters to name a few! There is a Grayson Perry print (because he’s everywhere!) hung above a door, too high to see and two excellent photographic works by Paul McCarthy, ‘Use a Shovel to Throw Dirt in the Air’ and Roni Horn's, ‘Becoming a Landscape’ that document a performance or moment-in-time. The art in these rooms generates conversations through the sheer variety and on-going obsession artists have had in depicting how we relate to earth, not only in reproductions/descriptions of it, but crucially how art has evolved to make work that reflects the  philosophical idea of being of and in the land. None more so, is this present and grounded than in the farm tools hung throughout the entire exhibition, donated by Richard Hollingberry. I salute you!
 
Nikolaus Geyrhalter ‘Our Daily Bread’ [2005] Dvd.
One of the more powerful rooms is the darkened Rhoades Gallery in which a film projection titled, ‘Our Daily Bread’ [2005] by Nikolaus Greyhalter dominates showing scenes of food production; from the heavily mechanised more gentle crop-harvesting to the graphic slaughter of cattle and chickens in an abattoir. For vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, it is highly emotive and likely to cause much debate and possible controversy in its harsh, but starkly honest, documentation. Before it, lies a banquet of art works on a table, reminiscent for me of Hestercombe Gallery’s, Buffet d’art’ [June 2017] in which a host of artist’s make table and/or food-based work to be metaphorically consumed by the viewer. The theme for this room of, ‘transformation, transition and transubstantiation’ presents work that is largely about food production and consumption. Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s, ‘The Four Seasons’ feel oddly at home here, their message of ‘you are what you eat’ and slightly sinister, strangeness alongside a mountain of decaying compost and Karen Guthrie’s 'House of Ferment' [2016] act as a reminder of the cyclical-nature of our relationship with food. Marcus Coates’Anchorhold’ [2015] offers a more spiritual and contemplative form of transformation through a performance inside an architecturally bespoke, apple-store in which participants are invited to eat an apple and address the artist, ‘As the Apple Service Provider’ with a question[conversations of which will later be played as audio in the space].
 
Giuseppe Arcimboldo ‘The Four Seasons’ [1572] Oil on canvas.
The final room of this exhibition ends similarly to how it began, with working examples of participatory projects, but this time in more urban settings. Projects highlighted such as, ‘What will the harvest be?’ and an Honesty Shop selling items hand-made by people living in Bruton are two examples in which communities have been brought together through a creative activity. It is an uplifting end to the exhibition, aided by Simon Fairlie’s haystacks and Bedwyr Williams’ ram/bicycle hybrid. Visitors who enjoy this exhibition should also note that with this show Hauser and Wirth is doing what exhibitions at Hestercombe Gallery, under the curation of Tim Martin, has been doing for the best part of three years; bringing local and national artists who work with rural, environmental residencies and programmes into the context of the gardens and house at Hestercombe. Their current exhibition, ‘Odyssean Topographies’ is well worth a look if you enjoyed this one!
 
Bedwyr Williams ‘Wooly Back’[2010] Bike, rams horns,
skull, wool.
‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ is the exhibition that Hauser and Wirth in Bruton have always needed; a chance for it to utilise its unique feature of being located in a rural setting and community. I am surprised it has taken this long for it to happen, but the breadth of work in this exhibition has made it worth the wait. Conceptually, it is a show that is almost self-gratuitously proud and flaunting in telling the themes and ideas within its curation, perhaps it’s a little too much in some places... The positives are, that its potential for social influence is good; it inspires and aspires that communities can have a significant and mutually beneficial relationship with their environment and that artist’s have a very active role to play as pioneers of change, instigators of activity as well as practical doers and credible researchers. ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ reminds that change begins at home, we do not need to go further than our front door in order to have a connection with a sense of place. It can begin with the land right under our feet.
 
 
The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset until 7th May 2018

Text Copyright Natalie Parsley© January 2018