Friday, 29 November 2013

Controller of the Universe

 Flicking through the 2013 Venice Biennale catalogue I came across this, 'Controller of the Universe' by Damian Ortega. Unfortunately this work didn't actually feature in this year's Biennale, an outdoor landscaped, site-specific piece called 'Communications System' was exhibited instead. So despite not coming across any of the artist's works in Venice I'm still very excited to discover the specific piece of work pictured above and wanted to briefly give it a mention. It reminds me of Cornelia Parker's exploded shed but with tools! 'Controller of the Universe', (taking the title for the moment out of the mix and looking at the work visually) makes me think about the 'Big Bang' which gives birth to a string of associations leading from the Big Bang, creation of the world/mankind to man's origins through tool use, making, evolution, production, industry etc. etc. And without having actually experienced/seen the work I'd hazard a guess that it has a feeling of being sort-of playfully amusing but also slightly threatening in the sense that the tools are 'coming out at you' in an explosion. If I include the title, I'd probably question who is the 'controller' referred to in the title, is it us, the makers of tools? Did we create this explosion (which could act as a scene of both creation and/or destruction)? Who wields the tools in society and are they the ones in control (and what is it they are in control of?) And is the person who uses the tools often the person in control? Suddenly it all feels as though it could begin to get very political. Maybe that's what Ortega intended?   

Described as a de-assemblage artist, Ortega creates suspended sculptures using everyday /found objects from pick-axes to bricks and tortillas. Sometimes he deconstructs the objects to expose their inner components, as he did with his 2003 entry to the Biennale, taking apart and reassembling a suspended Volkswagen Beetle. The resulting work looked a bit like an Air-fix kit or mechanic's manual and offered a new way of seeing the familiar mass-produced car as well as commenting on its production that is now 'en masse' in Ortega's native Mexico (alternatively, this work has been more succinctly described as an example of 'how regional culture affects commodity consumption'). Even more exciting to learn Ortega was taught by artist, Gabriel Orozco and whose peers include Francis Alys, (all also working/living in Mexico). 'Hmmmmm,' I think, 'its all beginning to make sense'. There are connections between Orozco's work and Ortega's, in their use of commonplace materials, wit and political themes. Although I undoubtedly need to and want to look into this in a lot more detail.

Watch this space!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Venice Biennale 2013

Welcome to the second of a miniseries (although on saying that I think I’ve already gotten carried away writing) of posts on the Venice Biennale. This post looks at the experience of visiting the Biennale as a whole focusing on a few of my personal favourites and thoughts (pictured).

I’ve been to the Liverpool Biennial four times over the last eight years and can confidently say that when it comes to Liverpool I’m somewhat of a seasoned Biennial explorer. I love it! Armed with a map one hits the streets in search of artistic treasures ever searching in eager anticipation that the piece of art which is going to profoundly change or shape your life is around the next corner. The art, located in dozens of different galleries and locations showcases the best, 'the worst' and weirdest of contemporary national and international art. To me, the Venice Biennale is like the holy grail of biennials, the ‘mother of all art shows’ and such is its height on the metaphorical pedestal of admiration in my mind that the premise that one day I may actually go visit this hallowed place seemed almost mythical or some fantastical dream.

 On Tuesday 19th of November that dream became reality.

 Thus ensued an almost biblical-like pilgrimage by coach, plane, boat and foot as we* plastic mac and welly-clad chartered our way through the flooded streets of Venice toward 'Il Palazzo Enciclopedico' translated as 'The Encyclopaedic Palace'...

Held across two permanent venues in Venice, the Giardini and Arsenale (as well as in dozens of temporary locations throughout the city) the Biennale features 88 participating countries each housed in their own pavilion/venue, hundreds upon hundreds of artists both professional and outsider, spanning all mediums, art forms, materials and scales making the Venice Biennale, now in its 55th year, one of the biggest of its kind.

 The curator Massimiliano Gioni wanted this year's central pavilion to explore the ‘world of artists’ or particularly what it means to be an artist working in the world today. He says artists today are,  ‘Not satisfied by imagined realities but conceive global realities...moved by aspirations to an all-embracing knowledge and sensitivity’. The theme of the Encyclopaedic Palace was first created by American artist Marino Auriti who filed a design for, ‘an imaginary museum that was meant to house all the worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race...’ It’s an appropriate theme for what did feel like a walk-in cabinet of curiosities, bursting with everything from the quietly considered and mystical, to the sublime, the loud and the ambitious. Each artist in this central exhibition explores individually their own or collective/global obsessions, imagination dreams and aspirations, aptly described in the catalogue as internal images ‘in an era besieged by external ones’. I particularly like that statement when wandering around noticing how many people are experiencing the art through their phones more than their eyes. And where does most of our history of human knowledge come from? Books of course, so what better way to open the encyclopaedic palace than with a book, in particular Carl Jung’s ‘Red Book’ an illustrated manuscript of self-induced visions and fantasies created by the psychologist. It sets the scene between the idea of internal images and self meditation as a way of acquiring knowledge (be that self knowledge or world knowledge) which each artist has created work that responds to that idea differently.

 Admittedly, I didn’t make as much effort to interpret this reading into any of the works I saw as I wondered round in a state of complete wonderment thinking, ‘that was the real Carl Jung’s ‘Red Book’, ‘I’m in Venice!’ and ‘My god this place is huge!’ Then again, maybe being in a state of rapt awe was exactly the right mindset to go investigate art works that have been curated around the inquisitive nature of knowledge and creativity...

How refreshing to be this excited about art!

Right from the start the Venice Biennale was not the gluttonous heap that I experienced at Frieze London. This was far more considered, less consumerist and more inclusive to a wider spectrum of both professional and outsider artists. It is a kind of showcase of the art world and human creative endeavour rather than trying to sell it to you or make it appear ‘cool/fashionable’. I was amused to find the layout of the Giardini, in its own park with over thirty individual permanent pavilions acted  like some sort of anthropological Disney Land for art,
‘See you later’ I’d say, ‘I’m off to Germany to go see the Ai Weiwei stools’.
Or, ‘Have you been to Spain yet? It’s full of piles of rubble.’
And, ‘Meanwhile in Russia it’s raining money!’
Of course it was a lot less kitsch (believe it or not) and corporate than Disney (not that I’ve ever been) but had a comparable layout by having many separate locations all in one area as well as a similarity to the wonderment that Disney has to children that art has to artists. There is definitely an air of spectacle in all of this and it is so difficult to retain a meaningful sense of focus on the situation and have a qualitative experience as to a quantitative one. I opted for the latter and indulged myself in a torrent of visual stimuli. This doesn’t mean I abandoned thinking altogether as for the art which really ‘struck a chord’, I’d hover around longer and revisited during the course of the day. A few of the many, many artworks that had that affect are presented below, but it would be near impossible to mention them all.

All of this and in the context of the mysterious and beauty soaked streets of Venice, it was sometimes hard during the day to tell the difference whether I was seeing art or whether I was in it!

Ai Weiwei 'Bang' 2013 ,886 wooden stools
The German Pavilion in the Venice Biennale features four artists from different countries (to reflect that contemporary artistic production relies on 'multi-layered forms of international production') one of whom is the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The problem with success is that the more well known you become as an artist, the more sometimes you're work/style of working can begin to become a bit of a cliché. Whilst, the ambition, use of repetition, local hand-made production and themes of 'the many supporting the many' (the work has the look as though remove one stool at the bottom and the whole thing may collapse) is becoming almost trademark Weiwei (think of the sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern) it is still exciting to see how that same idea can be re-presented in a different form. The political unrest that Weiwei contends with in his work is still present in 'the real world' so it makes sense that those themes still fuel the thinking in his art practice. Somewhere  in this suspended collage of wooden stools is a stool standing on its own, an act of defiance/liberation, the symbolism is easy to recognise but I think perhaps a lot more subjective to interpret. Unlike the sunflower seeds however, there is more tension in 'Bang' (as the title would suggest) as if to say that any moment all these stools (that you are invited to walk in around and under) may come toppling down on you. Visually, it reminds me of the collection-based art works of Arman (who would make large vitrines filled with collections of objects from typewriters, paint tubes, shaving brushes to cigarette butts), Cornelia Parker's exploded shed and Fischli and Weiss' balancing tables/objects. Again, whilst it sort of has an obviousness to it all, there is still something incredibly joyous at seeing it/being in it which makes it unforgettable.  

Jose Antonio Suarez Londono 'Franz Kafka Diarios II 1914-1923 (13 x 20cm each page)
On a personal note, one of the most exciting artists I found was in the 'Encyclopaedic Palace'. Quiet and understated in a horizontal glass case in the middle of the room lay hundreds of tiny drawings/paintings on paper, a different one for every day of the year. Regular Spanner in the Workz blog readers may remember that I am currently embarking on my own 'drawing a day' journal which is now a month from completion. It is almost impossible to photograph the whole of Suarez Londono's work because the 'whole' is lots of individual remarkable drawings that were arrestingly captivating. Things got even better when I read that the work was a drawing each day by the artist to a corresponding text, the work I was seeing in response to Kafka's diaries. 'Extra points I'm thinking for the use of Kafka and immediately go back to looking in the case for a drawing of a beetle or strangeness with a new dark, disturbing sense of wonder. I appreciate the photo above is hard to see, but I promise you, these drawings were exquisite (there was a drawing of a folded sheet of paper, how banal you say, but it was brilliantly drawn) and had all the makings of purpose and meaning that left me reflecting what I am currently lacking in my own drawings. [Note to self -think of ways to use text to create (not illustrate) images]
This is an excellent link to a book of his drawings:

Shinro Ohtake 'Scrapbook' 1980
Similar to the above, it figures that the things that excite me the most were bound (pun intended) to be book related. I had always thought my sketchbooks were huge as they are many but mine are mere pocket notepads compared to Ohtake's scrapbooks which fill an entire room and are completely bursting at the seams. They are a reflection of mass media and urban life and I particularly like the description of them referred to by the Biennale catalogue as being 'purposefully chaotic' which I also think is pretty synonymous of modern life generally. Presented in this way the books become like sculptures as well as a feverish documentation and collage of one person's interpretation of all the paper and 'stuff' we accumulate.

Laurie Simmons and Allan McCollum 'The Actual Photos' 1985 photographic prints (20 x 25cm each)
Take one small plastic model railway figure, one microscopic camera and what do you get? A series of disturbingly disfigured portraits that sheds an alternative light on the idealised world within the model railway. I can remember a photograph of a model railway figurine, an artist painting on his easel on a fabricated green mound beside an artificial river taken by my friend and local artist, Sue Palmer on a public art project we did in Taunton. It had a caption with it that commented on 'what will we see when we paint the river?' as a way of referring to the proposed redevelopments of Taunton's riverside. I admired the ironic humour to this little idealised railway world as a way of commenting or critiquing our own reality. This work has a similar affect.

Gianfranco Baruchello 'La Grande Biblioteca' 1976/86 Assemblage of six wooden boxes with glass mounted in metal frame (200 x 210 x 15cm)
Yet more 'bookish' related art now with Baruchello's miniature library installations of which the photo above is a small section of what was a much bigger whole. The books are artificial as are the shelves and have a sort-of amateur or 'low tech' feel to them as they are completely made from paper, sometimes rolled or folded. What is exciting about the work, for me, is the idea of 'the library' as a fort of collective human knowledge being condensed into a tiny replica that's part of the bigger whole that is the Encyclopaedic Palace. It has that macro/micro feel to it, knowledge within knowledge and the infinity of the bigger universe that we still have much to discover. Or in other words, the library becomes a metaphor for human knowledge, its limits, fragility and capabilities. Upon reading the faithful accompanying text, I learn he was friends with artist, Marcel Duchamp and writers, Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges (whom I'm reading at present and writes much on libraries and Babel) who influenced his work and planted the 'notion that art is a form of faith in the ability to transmute everyday objects and activities into something greater'. Amen!

Joao Maria Gusmao and Pedro Paiva 'Columbo's Column' 2006 film
Man attempts to stack eggs into a tower. What's not to love? Will he succeed? This is one of a series of mesmerising silent films by Portuguese artists Gusmao and Paiva on show in the Arsenale. It is ridiculous, amusing but also incredibly watchable. This particular film, takes the myth that Christopher Columbus proclaimed he had the ability to make an egg stand on its end and makes it reality, with the protagonist creating a column of stacked eggs on screen. I'm not so much interested in this one film as I am the collection of films that was exhibited by these artists as part of the Biennale, they all use traditional film (either 16mm or 35mm) and techniques such as slow motion or layering negatives on top of one another. I think you can tell the difference and the sound of the cinematic reel and slightly grainy quality of image and its speed have a distinct look that tells them apart from digital. In another film, an elephant's trunk reaches, slow motion, to pick up a peanut off the floor except it is moving so slowly it appears more like a giant hairy slug and it is not at all obvious as to what it is. The artists, who were heavily influenced by the Surrealists and writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Victor Hugo and Rene Daumal (who wrote 'A Night of Serious Drinking' -I think I'll give it a read!) to create what they describe as "poetic philosophical fiction, suggesting that the world may not be simply more mysterious than it appears, but perhaps more inscrutable than we can even conceive."

Peter Fischli and David Weiss 'Suddenlt This Overview' 1981-2012 Unfired clay approx. 250 sculptures
More wit now from Fischli and Weiss in the form of, well, what it says above really, 250 unfired clay sculptures which depict events, phrases and objects in clay form. Cassius Clay after a fight in the hands of Fischli and Weiss becomes a mashed up lump of clay, the concept of theory and practice (pictured above) becomes more malleable, Brunelleschi invents perspective, a mouse emerges from out a clay mouse hole titled 'The Subtenant'. This is silliness taken very seriously and is quite literally a room of one liners.

Guillermo Srodek-Hart
Located in the Latin America Pavilion in the Arsenale is the work of Argentinian photographer, Strodek-Hart. The connection as to why I'm interested in his work should be pretty obvious least of all because this was virtually the only art work that contained any tools (the USA's Sarah Sze had a few but nothing to get too excited about). The images are always devoid of people so the work becomes about the stuff we leave behind, the places we live/work/make and the stories those places hold and 'makes us who we are'. This idea that objects leaving traces of human presence is something of a regular theme with tools, in particular hand tools or tools with a history and nostalgia to them. I'm glad to see that it is still topical! These images are great, but don't leave much to the imagination; I'm looking at them hoping that they are actually an animation and not just a photo and that at any moment the tools may spring to life and animate the stage-like scene depicted in the photo. does give me some ideas though...              

*'We', as in the fair and illustrious Fine Art degree students from Somerset College. To whom I'm incredibly indebted. Thank you to any of you reading this. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

‘I'm lost for words'

This is the first of what I aim to be a miniseries of posts on the Venice Biennale. Instead of trying to cover everything I’m going to attempt to break down my thoughts into more digestible morsels. This very short introduction outlines my decision to write about the diverse enormity that is the Venice Biennale and the challenge that writing about art brings.

When I write these posts it’s my time to think, time to reflect, consider and analyse my reactions and thoughts of artworks I’ve seen. My memory is pretty good but the first thing I have to do once coming back home from an exhibition is collate all those reactions as I challenge myself to try and understand and make sense of what I have just seen in words. It is a contradiction of sorts because at the time of viewing/experiencing the work, or in situations which are similarly overwhelming, of great occasion, importance and profundity I feel completely and utterly verbally constipated. I could probably (and probably have) come out with something to say but the stuff I’m really thinking, the stuff I’m really feeling is so often so in the moment, personal and instinctual and visceral I cannot find the words to say. It defies words. Surely that’s one point of art anyway, it functions to express/explore/communicate the things which sometimes cannot be articulated in words? And that’s one of the reasons why I chose to do art in the first place, as a visual way of communicating... I suppose the conflict arises when I feel as though I ought to be able to express things in words because I want to share my experiences with other people and to some extend I enjoy the challenge it brings.

Along with creating it, viewing art is the one activity where I am uncharacteristically at ease with just simply being, or in the moment, so to speak and when I’m there I don’t particularly want the distraction of having to take photos, draw or force myself to document the work in some way. Occasionally the tapping on my shoulder of self consciousness manifests and I think ‘I’d better perhaps take a couple quick photos for the blog’, but more often than-not all that stuff just gets in the way and I am more than happy to just experience. Maybe I’d drunk too much prosecco or maybe I hadn’t drunk enough but never before have I experienced such a barrage, a plethora, a cornucopia of outstanding shit, banal marvels and resonant works of art like I did during the Venice Biennale that it had forced me to think about how I look at art, why I do and why so many of us also go to experience it in our hundreds. And overall, how wonderful, humbling and gratifying that the desire to create, to make and to share that with others is something so universal, so human.              

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Lead Soldiers : Royal Marines 40 Commando combat art at Taunton's Market House

‘Combat Art’ lays down its arms (pencil, pen, brush, paper) at Taunton’s Market House in its first exhibition of drawings, paintings and photography created by Taunton’s 40 Commando Royal Marines on their last tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Not out of lack of imagination but as somebody whose own drawing/painting experiences are relatively limited to working in the security and isolation of indoors, I find it almost impossible to truly comprehend the reality of how it must feel to be a Marine drawing ‘in the field’ so to speak, whilst serving duty in the unfamiliar and at times, hostile terrain of Afghanistan. Having to be constantly alert, in a state of anxious boredom, doing a job and the uncertainty one day may bring to the next; I can see the impending need and difficulties faced in order to occupy one’s mind, perhaps escape it, process and document the day’s events, express one’s thoughts or simply just doodle.

 This was the thinking behind ‘Art Kits’, created by Royal Marine widow Anita St John-Grey whose idea was to supply a compact art kit that could fit into the trouser pocket of Marines from all ranks as a way of therapy, documentation and combating the stress of filling ‘dead time’ whilst on/between operations. 500 bespoke made kits were supplied to Marines whose results can be seen in an exhibition of work (brought into fruition by non profit organisation, Art Kits Ltd. joint managed by curator Tim Martin, artist Jon England and arts educator Stuart Rosamond) at Taunton’s Market House for two weeks.

 What I can relate to, and perhaps what is more important in the thinking behind the Combat Art exhibition, is the overriding theme that is the human need to create. The desire to respond, process, document, express, escape (delete as appropriate) one’s surroundings/situation. On a fundamental level, it is a basic human urge to ‘make things’ whether that manifests itself in the form of painting, drawing, carving, photographing, cooking, planting or whatever, so having the facility (and when necessary) equipment  to conduct that creative impulse should almost be seen as mandatory. I'm in the opinion that creativity is both important at the time of its impulse to be fulfilled as it is after the event  and you’re left with a portrait, a series of marks, a landscape, a doodle, as a way of reflecting and communicating that experience/memory with others. Making it relevant in telling the stories and experiences of 'those who have been there' that this work is shown and continues to be seen long after its initial creation.

In honesty, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by the quality of the actual work produced in this exhibition with the exception of Marine Thomas Harrison’s portraits (pictured) which are ambitiously big (for oil paintings created outside!) expressively painterly and poignantly haunting. Similarly his landscape paintings (often in muted greens/pinks/greys, assuming from night vision goggles/lack of light) remind me of Philip Guston’s paintings (which is slightly irrelevant, but I get very excited making connections in people’s work to that of other artists I admire and tend to do so out of respect rather than an attempt at denying either artist of a ‘lack of originality’, cough cough). In another room of the exhibition photos by professional photographer Rhys O’Leary provide an additional insightful context into ‘sense of place’ and atmosphere of Afghanistan. I do however, remind myself, that I’m not, ‘as the audience’ really being asked to scrutinise or critique the work, its merits are in the fact that the work exists and that these Art kits have enabled that work to happen and possibly help/improve the experiences of the individuals that created it whilst they were in these quite volatile situations. That and sometimes a ‘shit’ doodle (and I should know, I’m somewhat of a serial doodler, many of which are unashamedly shit) or cartoony sketch, humour; can say as much (if not more) about a person’s state of mind/experiences than a laboured, well thought out ‘masterpiece’.

 My personal thoughts of military art in general is I do not share an unquestioned patriotism that everything the military churns out in the way of choirs, calendars and art should be pedestaled in the way it often is, immune to or without criticism or debate.  If I were to take my personal and political views out of the equation however, I am a firm believer that great art can come from anywhere/anyone and what individuals have achieved in this exhibition is still remarkable and humbling; what I am saying is that I am not as interested in military as I am interested in the work created by a group of people working in difficult, unusual conditions.  I reiterate that what is important is that we acknowledge and allow for these opportunities to happen so people have the time, the means and the choice to create if and when they need to. And so for me, the great success of this exhibition is the kit itself and what it represents in allowing ‘art for all’ even if you don’t for whatever reason use what’s in the art kit, the fact that you’ve been given it/issued it is a recognition of the importance that is placed on art as therapy and art as a force for expression/communication; deservedly so the kit itself also has its own plinth on display as you enter the exhibition downstairs.

Which leaves me wondering, why stop at just the army? Maybe people from all occupations, farmers, doctors, nurses, patients, teachers, politicians, policemen, engineers, cleaners, managers, builders, retailers...would benefit from more access to art in their lives? I am by no means trying to compare any of those roles to the military and what they do (....), but I’d think most people, most  people who’ve ever  faced challenges and adversities head-on, battled with management or lack-of, been bombarded with essays, been on the front-line of retail/catering at Christmas, fought off the throws of monotony, boredom and depression and dealt with the post-traumatic stress of life in all its minor and major difficulties (I salute you) could also perhaps gain from having/creating a little Art Kit of their own. The results would be stunning (possibly also a little concerning) but having that opportunity to create is what is crucial.

Combat Art: Personal Reflections from Afghanistan, runs at the Market House (West Wing), Taunton, Somerset, from November 9 – 23, Wednesday to Saturday, 11am – 5pm.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Not my type, but I love it anyway!


 "It's like semiotics meets phenomenology," I enthusiastically told a friend as I was trying to explain why I was looking forward to catching artist, Mira Schendal's work at Tate Modern a few weeks ago. Retrospectively, I would still agree with that except I'd probably throw Dada and typography into the mix as well, making Mira Schendel at the Tate Modern, "semiotics meets phenomenology meets typography meets Dada". 

"Just who is Mira Schendal?" You ask.

Well, who was she, as apparently if you haven't heard of Mira Schendel by now then where have you been for the last fifty years (obviously not South America, where she is huge)? Zurich born (but grew up in Italy), Mira Schendel (1919 -1988) was largely self taught and fled to Brazil in the 50's to avoid the Fascist regime where she found her place within the Brazilian Modernist scene in the 50's-60's. In fact, not many people this side of the pond (least of all me) have heard of her which is why Tate Modern decided to change that and show a retrospective of the artist's work from September to January 19th 2014.

Schendel, described (like most artists I know) as an eccentric, complicated, passionate yet prickly character does present in her work a sense of playing with dualities, opposites and someone battling with some sort of internal conflict or 'trying to figure something out' which also, and I quote,
'...constitutes an experimental investigation into profound philosophical questions relating to human existence and belief, often addressing the distinction between faith and certainty, and examining ideas of being, existence and the void.'  (We shall see!) 


Looking around the opening rooms to Schendel's exhibition at the very minimalist, flat  paintings (which also have a very neutral colour palette) it occurs to me, as though am incredibly out-of-place, as if to say, 'why on earth have I paid to see this?' These kind of works are aesthetically the type of work I'd personally, normally run a mile from, "This is not a 'Natalie' sort of exhibition! There are no tools, or 'things', puns or lashings of colour." Should any of that matter? But change is in the air.  Emerging from their chrysalises for the first time I feel new butterflies fluttering in my stomach and I am sensing an uneasy shift in my preference of my art tastes that was once filled only with a love for the representational. Strange, it seems I am beginning to find myself more patient and at ease with looking at seemingly flat surfaces, noticing their tiny details in the paint texture and brushstrokes. They are paintings that look as though they were trying to be perfectly flat whilst accepting that to achieve such a thing with the hand and brush is almost futile. I wouldn't go as far to say I could spend hours looking at them, but find myself blissfully at ease with the order and 'clean' simplicity of Schendel's early abstract paintings. Their muted browns, ochres, creams and blacks arranged in varying grid formations are very much more earthy versions of Piet Mondrian.

Alarmed that I am beginning to enjoy all this nothingness a bit too much I move further into the depths of the exhibition in search of some tangible, substance...perhaps I've come to the wrong exhibition...?

Turns out, that Schendel was one prolific artist and there's a healthy amount of it on show in this exhibition that really demonstrates not only her commitment (obsession) with art but also demonstrates the breadth of how her practice developed. In one room there are several large watercolour collages of bottles and glasses in a very cubist (overlapping) style. What is interesting about these works is that whilst they aren't wholly 'original' (in the sense they were made during the 60's and are likely to have been influenced by the Cubists) they show processes of thinking, of layering, fragmenting, revealing and concealing that are to extremely relevant in her later work.  

Rooms of book jacket designs and sketchbooks follow and their influence is beginning to make manifest in layered collages where Schendel has made her own rice paper and used transferred letraset type onto the paper's surface (Images 1 & 3). You can almost see Schendel's thought process as layering becomes pattern, becomes tone, becomes form, becomes composition. She combines different languages blurring the way in which we literally read the letters and how we read the overall image. I cannot help but think of phenomenology whenever I am faced with a transparent or permeable surface, it seems the perfect medium (perhaps other than air itself) to suggest the concept of phenomena, 'there and not there' and consciousness. Why is that exactly? For me, there is something kind-of 'breath-like' about the delicateness of the rice paper and the way the light hits it that makes me increasingly self conscious of my own breathing all of which is a bit too profound for my liking but then maybe that is exactly the desired affect (and does in its own way have a linking to the subjective experience phenomenology explores). I am far more comfortable with the semiotics, and these works are a graphic designers dream, letters become constellations, swirling vortexes and maps strewn across the paper. They are not too dissimilar to the early Dada or Futurist Manifestos for their experimental and playful/deconstructive use of language, but they are far softer and less direct and angry than the more politically charged Futurist typography of 'Zang Tumb Tumb'. In my view they begin to resemble palimpsests or ancient maps or mathematical equations that have all the intensity and franticness of somebody trying to work through something (Schendel was interested in Mandalas, precise geometric arrangements and the Catholicism she was brought up with conflicted with Western Philosophy and Eastern thought that she was interested in). With Schendel what that 'something' is exactly is never really revealed unless of course the searching for something is the 'something' she is looking for.....(raises one eyebrow).  

Aptly for this blog post that idea is presented again and to greater affect in one of the final rooms of the exhibition in the installation, 'Still waves of probability' (Image 2).   


Thousands of transparent fibres hang from the ceiling creating a permeable curtain or veil that both disguises and blurs whilst being fine and transparent enough to still see through. Simple, but like her text based works the threads are a physical manifestation that creates an awareness of the visible and invisible, certain and uncertain. It feels like it ought to be an illusion in the way it tricks your brain, however the physicality of being able to see (and sneakily touch) the threads ground it very much in reality. It is a funny sensation. Alongside on the wall is an accompanying text from the Old Testament 'Book of Kings' which echoes the sensation of uncertainty present in the fibres hanging from the ceiling but ties the notion of uncertainty within the idea of faith, knowledge and doubt. The resulting reading of the installation is not necessarily a spiritual one or one of physics and unknown forces but is more of an experience that makes one question the nature of both of those things leaving it ultimately up to the individual which opinion they walk away with.

'Through this work she sought to express the aim of humankind to be , faithfully OF THIS world. And yet not be of this world. With all its love and joy and also the inevitable suffering, with devotion and without illusions.'

Personally, I always think a little illusion is always a good thing, it helps us distinguish what is real and what is fake, to dream, to have nightmares and to daydream. Don't get me wrong, I'm not done with representation in art yet, far from it, I just think it important that I'm becoming increasingly open to non-representational ways of working to compare it to. Not to go into all that now, but what was the overriding theme of this exhibition was one of quiet contemplation. As I continued to undergo my own personal journey into doubt within the exhibition so was the nature of the exhibition itself questioning the nature of faith and doubt. My only criticism is that Schendel explores these ideas in a fairly 'safe' way, that is always fairly controlled and thoughtful, never really giving-in to the darker, intense and unpredictable side of doubt and human existence that is perhaps more raw or more 'real' than what she presented (you cannot do everything, but I would have liked to have seen some opposition).  A slow burner, that I have sat and pondered and is rewarding in that it continues to reveal more ideas long after having actually seen/experienced the work.

Images from: 1