All Systems Go

26 Jun
I attended the opening of All Systems Go at Departure Gallery tonight and would recommend a visit, though it’s a bit of a trek for most London art goers.  The exhibition’s in a very large warehouse allowing lots of artists to experiment with large work, that is still arranged in a spacious manner to allow you to view all the works for their own merits.

My particular highlight of the show is Rich White’s False Flag Operation (pictured).  The success of this work probably lies within the simplicity of its intervention in the space.  White has simply wrapped black plastic, which is industrially used for wrapping pallets, around the central section of the steel mezzanine floor structure, creating a sculptural piece somewhat akin to Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas, but more fragile and temporary in nature.  The material use refers to the space as an industrial building in which goods have likely been produced, packed and palletised and the end section even somewhat resembles a packed pallet.  Given the existing layout of the space the work also forms a barrier across the centre of the space much like Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc but in a way that someone could force entry through the work without a series of JCBs, etc. 

The work really makes you envisage the performative act of unrolling the plastic and stretching it around the building, repeatedly walking around and up and down stairs to locate the material and likely untangle it.  I also like the way it doesn’t create a totally minimal form and the plastic reflects the light (particularly the halogen lamps that have been set up in the space) creating light and dark lines along the ridges where the cling film type material has contracted when unrolled, giving the piece texture like fabric drapery in a well executed painting or classical sculpture.


The exhibition is on at 7 Trident Way, The International Trading Estate, Southall, UB2 5LF until 4th July.

Henry Moore – More of an influence on contemporary art than you might think

27 Apr

On Monday I visited Tate Britain’s Henry Moore exhibition, which I would give three out of five stars.  The exhibition itself is singularly focused upon Moore’s work, but what I drew from this exhibition, however, was the number of correlations between Moore’s work and that of later and more contemporary artists. 

I enjoyed being left to use my own intelligence and draw upon my knowledge to see links between Moore and other artists, although this may prove more curatorially interesting.  However the catalogue does devote a section to those inspired by Moore, but (from a quick look in the shop) highlights entirely different connections to the ones I was drawn to.

The works that particularly interested me were a drawing/painting of a large (figurative) statue wrapped in a white sheet tied on with ropes, the spiting image of the technique applied in Christo and Jean-Claude’s practice with works such as Wrapped Reichstag, similarly surrounded by a crowd of spectators, and a work titled something like Bird Basket.  The second work is curated as part of a series of sculptural works with parallel strings stretched across voids, which to me is iconic of Naum Gabo’s work.  However with this particular piece, inside the outer basket form with a section of blue strings covering, sits a circular tube of red strings stretched across through a narrowing at the centre.  When done more opaquely with red PVC and on a much grander scale this forms Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas that was installed in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Finally one of the carved Elmwood Reclining Figures in the last room of the show has legs that are quite square apart from the beautifully curved joints, which made me instinctively think of Keith Haring’s outline paintings of figures.  Perhaps Haring sketched from this work at some point?

Overall I’m not a great fan of Moore – abstract figurative forms don’t provide much intellectual stimulation for me, although his Underground air raid shelter and coal mine images are haunting with their gritty depiction of crowds of ghostly, even skeletal, figures in the dark, which indeed bring similarities with Francis Bacon’s paintings.  However, it seems that Moore has had a great influence over the practice of other artists and it is likely this exhibition will inspire new generations of artists to take on his legacy.

The Scribble in Contemporary Art

7 Dec

I began writing this article with regards to Dryden Goodwin’s recent exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery (before it moved), which mainly consisted of snapshots of passengers on passing buses and some more posed portraits, onto which he has scrawled with either a pen or the digital equivalent.  He appears to bring out the features of the people photographed, almost like a three dimensional representation made of a geometric polyhedron of paper folded into shapes around where Goodwin has drawn.  However, besides this, Goodwin has done little more than scribble over a snapshot with little more art than a toddler might if it got hold of a photo album.

Drawing is a traditional part of art, sketching from nature and preparatory planning for more major works, but this is part of a process of development, striving towards perfection of composition.  This is entirely opposite to the scribble, which is very much like a through away remark in its immediacy and temporality.

David Shrigley’s scribbles function as a cartoon, a bit of fun in a corner of a newspaper, Tate email, etc, but when did this get shifted up into gallery worthy art?  Perhaps this addresses elitism and pop art.  I suppose Roy Litchenstein is to blame on that count, bringing the cartoon into the art system, but the quality has been dubbed down a bit since then.  However I suppose that accounts for him scrawling in corners of gallery walls, politically situating his work in hidden corners like the cartoon in a newspaper.  Writing directly onto the Hayward Gallery walls (amongst others) is also quite an activist action, akin with graffiti, but he doesn’t quite go as far as Mike Nelson who cut a room up for “To The Memory of H.P. Lovecraft, 1999, 2008”, it’s more of a cheeky intervention.

There is testing the water with what the art world will accept, rebelling against traditions, but are such scribbles not a step too far?  Perhaps not as all these examples are highly acclaimed.  I guess the art world is still very much open to attack and plurality of anything new.

Whilst writing this I found myself scribbling ‘Free’ on the covers of catalogues for the Free Art Fair whilst invigilating the exhibition.  In this sense my scribble is a small gift of personalisation, contact with the artist’s hand.  What makes a scribble valuable and desired?  What is it in our society that makes a doodle desirable?  Perhaps scribbles are welcomed into the art world because little work does have this personal touch anymore with Duchamp’s readymades (although he did scribble a signature on them) and Warhol’s factory, et al., and this is important to traditionalists.  However, it seems celebrity culture has a roll to play in this.  Anything that has been touched by Rubens, Turner, Picasso, Warhol, Hirst, famous musicians, actors, etc. becomes valuable because of their celebrity status.  Martin Creed, who has also worked with scribbles, has sold sheets of paper he screwed into balls, Peter Harris presented an “A4 piece of paper touched by Damien Hirst and signed by Peter Harris” at the Free Art Fair and Turner’s palette has been presented pretty much as an artwork at Tate Britain.  But how does someone become famous for scribbling?

Having thought about this for some time I’ve come to consider that not all “scribbles” may repulse me.  Perhaps there is a fine line between pure minimalism and the scribble.  I came across photographic artist Jennah on MySpace, whose works consist of simple circular drawings made with a light direct onto film, but I feel their simple minimalism makes them beautiful.  Is there really that much between say Kasimir Malevich’s suprematist paintings and Henri Matisse’s figurative line drawings?

Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2008 at The Photographers’ Gallery

24 Feb

So another year in the photography world has passed and it’s time for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize once more.  Of the four nominees, I would only consider two for the prize.  However, something that strikes me is that many of the photographs are up to 40 years old, despite the £30,000 prize being awarded “…to an international photographer who is judged to have made the greatest contribution to photography over the previous year.”  Consequently, I rule out Jacob Holdt, who was nominated for his 2007 publication United States 1970-1975.  In the exhibition the gallery has curated his work as an automated slideshow in line with the four hour lecture slideshow Holdt made when he returned to Denmark at the end of the 1970s.  I suppose therefore we should consider the captions in the leaflet available at the entrance to his space, but not read my most viewers, as integral to the work, but they don’t read as a lecture.  The subject of Holdt’s work is the people he met hitchhiking around America, and usually lived with in wooden shacks, equivalent to caravans that gypsies live in.  Hence they feel like old family photographs but highlight socio-political issues such as apartheid and interracial relationships, shootings in the street, homelessness and drug use.  Sadly I find them difficult to engage with, probably partly because I wasn’t born then and don’t know what it’s like to live in such poor conditions.  There seems to be little correlation between the images apart from the artist’s relationship with the subjects during his period of travel in the United States, a residency you might call it.  Perhaps they are best exhibited in the United States where viewers will better understand the cultural background to the images, and with the performative element of the slideshow.

Fazal Sheikh’s work doesn’t belong in the gallery presentation.  It is too overly political and there are pages of writing to read about the context or content of the work, which isn’t terribly apparent in the photographs themselves.  I suppose it could be classified as journalistic photography.  Sheikh exposes Indians as being nearly as bad as the Chinese have reportedly been in the past, killing, aborting or abusing girls because they want boys for economic reasons, resulting in populations of 10:7 male:female split.  This work seems to be the sort of images of abused children that a charity would commission to advertise in order to fundraise and to assert political pressure on governments.

John Davies documents industrial landscapes in Britain with sense of the social interaction of the site historically, but again the images are all taken a while back.  The below image shows a train on the railway line that carried large quantities of nuclear waste from Trawsfynydd power station to Sellafield on a daily basis.  We can see that it passed extremely tightly between two houses here.  Perhaps a house was demolished from a terrace to put the line through even.

In his photograph of New Street Station, Birmingham (below), to the left of the central diamond shape roof, a separate track crosses another track and goes up onto the platform.  I presume this is evidence of the print being constructed from multiple negatives to enable to capturing of the view and/or in order to limit the number of trains present in the station.  As the busiest interchange station in the country, it is probably pretty rare to only have two trains present (to the right of the image).  Anyhow, Davies manages to capture the beauty of quite ugly industrial architecture, posing the staggered height glass roofs symmetrically in the foreground with the crossroads in the mid-ground and the tallest building almost centrally in the background.

Bowling Greens, Stockport annoys me that through the title of the piece (and the place) the work seems like it should be about the particular shades of green of the grass there, but Davies persists in using black and white.  This does however give a sense of melancholia to the image, that the greens date to 1875 and may one day be gone, as with a number of his subjects including the reconstruction of New Street Station started in 2006, though the one photographed is not the original.

Hence I would probably award the prize to Esko Männikkö.  His work seems to be much more along the lines of installation art than straight photography.  He presents a collection of large prints in old, worn, found frames, arranged in a line so that each frame touches its neighbours.  It consequently seems to critique the display of art, somewhere between the tightly knit wall of the salon, where each work was only separated by its frame, and the modernist method of display with large amounts of white wall visible.  The contents of these frames seem quite unconnected (they are from five series of photographs) but I can see reference to a wide variety of artists and styles in different images, which seem to come across in the works, further seeming to make a gallery installation.  Per? is very similar to work by Uta Barth and they may both reference Vermeer with the use of light.  It captures a seemingly non-place, but has quite a specific arrangement of objects, perhaps remnants of the location being a squat?  The wall coverings are old and peeling.  Rapakivi? has a painterly feel and the performative randomness of where the egg yolk has been distributed makes me think of Jackson Pollock and the abstract expressionists.  Alvar makes me think of Richard Wentworth’s Making Do and Getting By series of makeshift constructions.  Kuhmo poses the rough, rural man as a fashion model, showing off his clothes and especially his shoes so that only the broken belt, braces and the concrete jetty being broken suggest otherwise to it being a fashion magazine image.

The exhibition is on at 5 & 8 Great Newport St. until 6th April 2008, Free.

Anthony McCall at the Serpentine Gallery

10 Feb

I used to put the Serpentine as probably the second most important publicly funded gallery in London (to me as a contemporary artist), with a diverse range of temporary exhibitions by major artists known and being introduced to us perhaps for the first time.  Sadly the recent exhibition of Anthony McCall’s films come light sculptures is the worst curated or designed exhibition I think I have ever attended. I first saw one of his pieces at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) whilst travelling last summer and they had the film installed so that you entered (and exited) right beside the screen, I suppose you would call it, with the light filling the entire, dark room from the projector located against the far wall.  It really made you feel it was an interactive sculpture you can touch and become part of.

 At the Serpentine they totally destroyed the engagement with the work by making a route around behind the projectors so the English audience can conscientiously walk around the work and not disturb it.  Furthermore they put signs directing the audience around this route with lights that brightened the space.  Perhaps what most offended me though was that not nearly enough haze was used to fill the spaces and the projections pretty much lost their sculptural form.

 I paid a second visit on the last day of the exhibition to confirm my disgust and found the projection in the central room was had broken or perhaps they’d run out of haze liquid to run that one, but someone had turned the gallery lights (arranged in a circle on the ceiling) on dimly, presumably for health and safety whilst going across to the next room.  I had to laugh out loud.  About a couple of dozen people were sat in there on the floor, enjoying the work like the responses to Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.  Whilst perhaps there was an art to this installation, revealing the lighting inherent in the gallery space alike my own work observing light permeating the blackout blinds in the project space at college, I am pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be an artwork and certainly wasn’t made by McCall.
A further whinge is that they totally failed to describe what was happening in the still photographic prints of ‘Long Film for Ambient Light’ (1975) in both the label and catalogue.  It looks to me like we are just looking at a projector in a room that shows the daylight coming in the windows during the day and is dark at night.  In fact, there was no film as such, this is a much more conceptual piece covering the windows with white paper to become light sources during the day and reflective projection screens at night, with the addition of a light bulb hung in the centre of the room at eye level, constantly lit throughout the work.

%d bloggers like this: