James McLardy Interview – April 2013
Jack Welsh: What inspired the title of your exhibition at The Royal Standard?
James McLardy: The title, White Teeth at the Planetarium, comes from having read a Robert Smithson essay. In the essay, he is walking around Hayden Planetarium in New York describing the anomalies between things; a source of a fake reality and the idea of the expanded universe – but then there is a fire escape sign in the middle of the room. I was interested in this contradiction and reality. With this show, it feels like there is something alien about the work.
JW: How does the Queensway tunnel in Liverpool feature in certain works in the exhibition?
JM: When I visited Liverpool last year, I noticed the amount of 1930′s buildings in the city. Returning to Smithson, I drew on his fascination with the Art Deco period as high art as opposed to the International Style. It was a progressive period that wasn’t self-conscious of using exotic motifs in architecture. This brought me to the Queensway ventilation tower. There is a hint of the building in this work: the emerald wax I use is synonymous with what I consider to be the seedy municipality present in other central Liverpool buildings from this era. This colour provides a context without being specific, allowing visitors to make their own associations.
JW: Looking back at projects you have undertaken in other cities, you appear to engage with its architecture from your position as a visitor: do you often converse with architecture in this manner?
JM: I suppose it is incidental. I’m definitely interested in disturbing discipline and architecture represents a form of discipline. At the same time I strive to find a way to belittle that in architecture. In sculpture traditionally, making large works feels like a masculine ego driven activity. My work seeks to demasculate this process by attempting to pull it apart, ruin and fragment it. This has enabled me to establish an ‘other’ language, and in these works, there is an element of the dystopian.
JW: To me your sculptures are strongly idiosyncratic but they also appear to be part of a collection or installation.
JM: With this show there is an attempt to engage with a municipality. I use the language of public and classical sculpture to draw people to a collection of works that becomes an installation. However I think it is important that the room is viewed together, so yes, both.
JW: The visual contradictions of your sculpture frequently include a cerebral engagement with the plinth. How do you employ the plinth in your work?
JM: I use the traditional neoclassical plinth to subvert my installations and vice versa. A lot of artists generally engage with socialist etiquette and aesthetic but the type of work I make can’t purvey that. As I’m making the sculptures myself, I focus on using the plinth as a metaphor for what’s not there. The fragmentation in my work allows me to develop an ambiguity, such as a hint of a plinth, but it’s the space in between that is important. The lack of a plinth brings things off an imagined pedestal and allows for the subversion of hierarchy: are they plinths or are they decorative objects?
JW: Does this materialist subversion validate your engagement with modernism and other movements?
JM: When I am researching topics such as architecture, modernism or design; I’m actually just creating reference points for my work. The thing that I find it hard to explain if I am researching styles, such as Brutalism and Art Deco, is the space in between them. What is that? What does it mean? They’re the really important personal and social questions for me.
JW: Monuments are traditionally physically dominant forms that have been erected to celebrate and commemorate: they are also often representative of hierarchies of power. In what way does your work seek to engage with these associations?
JM: In a way that is where the use of facades in my work comes in. Aesthetically they are close to being an illusion or deception of these subjects. However these works aren’t just taken from real life but are rather influenced by my own thoughts or imaginings. For this exhibition, I wrote a story about two different people from two different eras on either side of modernism. One character is an actor, about 80, who was born in 1930′s and remembers the era of Lawrence of Arabia and decadent exoticism. The other is a fat balding 40-year-old motorcyclist who sits on his own at a table. You used the word idiosyncratic to describe my works earlier and I often think of my work as a combination of my own ideas with other recognisable elements.
JW: Do you consider the rich titles of your work as devices to enhance perceptions of grandeur for your objects?
JM: Definitely. With my titles, I am finding ways to make connections between the physical form and other things that I’m thinking about – or it can be another way to subvert the work. Sometimes they are just poetic, which can bring something new and hint at a wider reading of the work.
JW: Has being based at Glasgow Sculpture Studios influenced your preference of using traditional processes and materials?
JM: My work relies so much on making that if it wasn’t for the Sculpture Studios, I’d perhaps be making a different type of work, maybe with similar themes as they are an intrinsic part of my personality, but having facilities and people around has enabled this work. Without the studios it would be too expensive to make this work: but I like that contradiction. Also there is something understated about the socialist romanticism that exists in Glasgow but at the same time, there isn’t a culture of making things to a high aesthetic level in my peer group. In a way, being in Glasgow, where lots people are making different types of work, has allowed me to evolve a series of rules in my practice that has allowed me to find myself in my work.
White Teeth in the Planetarium was held at The Royal Standard, Liverpool in April 2013.
A Permanent Fixture?
The Paolozzi Mosaics at Tottenham Court Road
If you have visited Tottenham Court Road Tube station recently then you could have not failed to notice that the station is a construction site. Built over a century ago as two separate stations, it became increasingly apparent that the station was woefully under-equipped to cope with the 150,000 passengers that currently use it every day. The redevelopment work is part of the Tube upgrade plan – an on going modernisation programme to revitalise the infrastructure of the world’s oldest underground transport network. Once the £1bn work on Tottenham Court Road is completed, the station is set to become one of the key transport interchanges in Central London. Significantly this interchange will incorporate one of the new Crossrail stations, currently marked by a huge crevasse that punctuates the built environment of Tottenham Court Road itself.
These two significant developments will increase the capacity of public transport in the capital, seeking to pre-empt the issue that by 2031, the population of London is forecast to swell to 8.21 million people (1). If the population of Greater London is included in this figure, 12 million, then the London is regarded as a megacity, a metropolitan area with a population exceeding 10 million inhabitants. At present the five most populated megacities are located in the East, expanding at such an incredible rate that it is resulting in a shift in the momentum of global economic power. It is predicted that by 2050, the global economic landscape will reflect the exponential population growth of these ‘emerging’ countries. While established countries such as the UK are currently considered as economically ‘stable’, expanding economies such as that of China, forecast to be the world’s biggest economy by 2050, are rapidly developing new infrastructure. This ‘copy and paste’ growth is demonstrated by the fact that the five most recent underground transport networks to have opened have all been in China.
In order to maintain London’s position as a global economic powerhouse, the Great London Authority has recognised the need to solidify its competitive advantage. In the period of 2010-2011, Mayor of London Boris Johnson oversaw the publishing of three concurrent policy documents: the London Plan, the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and the Mayor’s Economic Development Strategy. These policy documents are explicitly clear in their desire to ensure London maintains its position as one of the key urban cities in the world. Core policies such as improving existing transport infrastructure, namely the modernisation of the Tube and the construction of Crossrail, were identified as being crucial to improving achieving this goal. Crossrail will compress the travel time between Heathrow airport, the main financial areas of the City and the South East region, increasing London’s economic efficiency from a local to international scale. These neo-liberal strategies are what geographical theorist David Harvey considers as ‘spatial fixes’, ongoing solutions to capitalist crises through geographical expansion (2).
However in London, as in every highly populated urban environment, transport space is finite. Infrastructure is being redeveloped to maximise current resources with Tottenham Court Road poised to be one of the early examples of the ‘Super Hub’ model in practice. The concept of a ‘Super Hub’ – ‘transport nodes delivering seamless, fast, comfortable interchange with networks of other public transport but offering a variety of services to the customer’ – was proposed in Green and Hall’s 2009 report to Lord Adonis on achieving better railway stations in the future (3). Crucially Transport for London’s authority allows them to implement changes to the urban environment outside stations, such as moving street furniture and adding new road markings. Resultantly stations will evolve from ‘inward looking’ places to becoming firmly integrated with the urban fabric of the city (4). Additionally the creation of new retail space in these developments attracts private capital that in turn allows for the completion of the project. However the high cost of rents will only serve to attract the same corporations who already dominate retail space in the city, such as the usual branches of Costa and M&S. Consequently these developments will become spatially fragmented and corporately homogenised (5).
It is clear that the need for a distinct cultural and visual identity is as strong as ever in these new developments. The role of Art on the Underground, the contemporary flag bearer for the rich cultural history on the network, will be crucial in this process. This is exemplified by the commissioning of renowned conceptual artist Daniel Buren to create a new permanent artwork for Tottenham Court Road Tube station. Buren was awarded the commission for his proposal responding to the ticket barriers and Oxford Street entrance, areas recognised by Transport for London’s spatial management principles as ‘decision spaces’ (6). Here all focus must be on passenger decisions in the space. Acknowledging the imposed rules of this space and the fleeting nature of passengers movement, Buren has responded by proposing to fix large diamond and circle symbols, created in his trademark striped vinyl, to glass walls in the station. A cabinet displaying the physical forms of these shapes will also be displayed in the ticket hall.
While the Buren commission will play a significant role in creating a new visual identity for the station, the cultural legacy of Tottenham Court Road was forged many years earlier. The 1000 square metres of colourful mosaics that wind along the station corridors, travel down the escalators and spill onto the platform walls are the work of the late Eduardo Paolozzi. Completed in 1986, the mosaics were commissioned as part of the Underground’s Changing Stations refurbishment programme during the eighties. The programme introduced a new working methodology to station refurbishment, one that saw artists collaborating with architects to create artwork for stations. Often these relationships resulted in creative tension between the artists’ modernist aesthetic and the architects overwhelming desire for functionality. This led the programme to be criticised for ‘patching up’ stations with art, which passengers found visually confusing, and far removed from a genuine holistic modernisation achieved through art and design (7).
While this criticism was merited, Paolozzi’s creative vision and ambition has ensured that the public has held the work in high regard. So much so that when news appeared that sections of the mosaics were being removed during the redevelopment process, there was a campaign launched online to ‘Preserve Paolozzi!’ arguing that the coloured mosaics are the most stunning artwork on the Underground (8). In response, Transport for London promised that the mosaics would be carefully maintained and restored where possible, with any removed segments being displayed elsewhere in the station. This means that once the hard hats are removed and the Tube refurbishment is complete at Tottenham Court Road in 2016, the station will play host two site-specific artworks by internationally renowned artists. While these works represent artists from different eras they also represent different approaches to commissioning art in underground transport networks.
Consistent with his ‘in situ’ practice, Buren’s proposal has the potential to frame the new architectural features of the station as well as entering into an engaging dialogue about the institutional conditions imposed in such a controlling space. By employing striped vinyl, Buren will allow light to flood into the space, working with the architectural properties of the station to produce a functional yet imposing work. While we won’t be able to see the work for another few years, there is every chance that, in time, these large-scale symbols will come to be as strongly associated with the identity of the station as Paolozzi’s mosaics have. Of course the ability to create a strong visual identity for the network has been arguably the success story of the Underground since the beginning of the twentieth century. From Frank Pick’s visionary hiring of artists to create advertising posters to the challenging Art on the Underground programme, the Underground has employed art and design to create a globally recognised brand and has generated real cultural value. Each line and station on the network has carved out an identity through a wide range of aesthetic and practical devices including architecture, furniture design, colour, artwork and even daily poems at individual stations scribbled on official whiteboards by staff.
By working with world-renowned artists such as Buren, Art on the Underground is directly contributing to London’s competitive advantage against other cities and networks, strengthening the image and reputation of the capital on a global level. It does this through allowing artists such as Buren to create new work in a similar support structure to that of a contemporary gallery, but one that responds to the Underground as both a literal and ‘functional’ site. The term ‘functional’ site can be defined by its departure from a physical location, epitomised by new genre public art and socially engaged site responsive practices. This complex environment ensures that realising art is a collaborative and challenging task for curators, artists and the many partners involved. While some may consider the Art on the Underground to be extension of corporate branding, and in essence it is, it forms a key part of public art strand of London’s Cultural Strategy, that of using high-quality public art to enhance the public realm and contribute to the vitality of living in London (9). In this respect, the programme aids London’s claim to be the world’s most culturally significant city.
As the Underground is committed to working with Art on the Underground to incorporate new artworks in new major redevelopment of stations, the fate of existing artworks will become increasingly pertinent. Reflective of a flawed arts policy over thirty years ago, the Paolozzi mosaics now represent the inevitability of change within these transport environments. If the artistic integrity of the mosaics has arguably been compromised by redevelopment work, or looking tired and neglected, should they be removed completely and replaced by a new commission? Or should new commissions by artists such as Buren contribute to the development of the overall cultural identity of the site, rather than replace existing ones? Naturally the answer is not straightforward and needs to be arrived at on a work-by-work basis. The popularity and cultural significance of the mosaics, as well as cost of removal, will ensure that they remain in place for many years. However it is clear that Paolozzi’s mosaics raise questions regarding the purpose and durability of permanent artworks in all underground transport networks.
Elements of this article were based on research for my 2012 Masters thesis at The University of Manchester: ‘Does the Art on the Underground programme contribute to the economic development of London?’
This article appeared in Issue 20 of The Shrieking Violet, a Manchester based publication produced and edited by writer, editor, critic and curator Natalie Bradbury.
1) Greater London Authority. (2010). The Mayor’s Transport Strategy, p.15.
2) Harvey, D. (2001). Globalization and the Spatial Fix. Geographische Revue, 23-30.
3) Green, C., & Hall, P. (2009). Better Rail Stations. An Independent Review Presented to Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport, London: Department for Transport, p.74.
4) Gullino, S. (2011) The fluidity of social sustainability in spaces of movement: the case of the art stations in Naples, Italy. Int. J. Sustainable Society, 3 (4) p.422
5 i) Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. (Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.
5 ii) new economics foundation. (2005). Clone Town Britain.
6) Transport for London (2012). Functions of Spaces. Retrieved 14 June, 2012 from http://www.tfl.gov.uk/microsites/interchange/70.aspx
7) Dormer, P (1993) ‘Towards Better Design‘, RA Magazine, no. 38, Spring 1993, p.40.
8) The Arts Desk (2011). Preserve Paolozzi! Retrieved December 23, 2012 from http://www.theartsdesk.com/visual-arts/preserve-paolozzi
9) Greater London Authority. (2010). The Mayor’s Cultural Strategy, p.155.
Interview with Kevin Hunt – Corridor8
Kevin Hunt is an artist and curator based in Liverpool and a studio member of The Royal Standard. Jack Welsh interviewed Kevin ahead of the opening of ‘easy does it’ at David Dale Gallery & Studios in Glasgow – the first in an evolving trilogy of exhibitions that he is curating.
JW: Can you talk about the concept behind ‘easy does it’?
KH: The idea for the show began with a drunken conversation in an Edinburgh pub with artist Richard Proffitt back in 2010. We had spent the week installing an exhibition in Embassy Gallery and people kept saying the phrase ‘nay bother’ to me. I’d never heard it before but quite quickly worked out what it meant. I enjoyed the friendlessness of the phrase and in the pub Richard and I joked it would be a good title for an exhibition of work that was ‘easy’ to make. Later in the year I was encouraged by Embassy to put together a proposal for the exhibition for the Edinburgh Annuale. I asked the artists that I had in mind and they all were up for being part of it. In the end I couldn’t find a venue and the idea went on the backburner for a while. However I thought the concept had more mileage than a single exhibition and the idea quite quickly developed that it could be a touring show.
KH: The phrase ‘ney bother’ is colloquial. The original idea was that the show would tour with a new title specific for its location. If it came to Liverpool it was going to be called ‘pimps’ – a North Liverpool colloquialism for being easy! I liked the idea that while the phrase was very specific it has different meanings and it could be completely misconstrued. However it began to feel fickle to have a shifting title for each exhibition that didn’t always work.
JW: Were you worried that a changing title would overshadow the work?
KH: In a way but also that it could be perceived as derogatory. That was never the intention.
JW: How will the exhibitions evolve?
KH: The exhibitions will always feature the same artists but the work will change or reconfigure in each venue. In my head I see the exhibition as several acts in a play. The three shows become one show but they individually stand-alone; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Some artists will show new work each time but others are creating work especially for each venue.
JW: The artists you’ve selected for ‘easy does it’ all work with a particular aesthetic, something that is identifiable in your own practice.
KH: Each of the artists has aspects of their practice that resonates within my work. This being, aside from a level of complexity in production, that the work has an ease of being as an object. It’s been quite an interesting conversation with the artists as there are strands of their practice that contradict the ethos of the show. It’s a proposition to them to present a side of their work that is paired down to something simple. They’re quite specific works in the show that will stand with this notion that a very simple action can have a massively profound effect or repercussions.
JW: Would you say that ‘easy does it’ is a defence or advocacy of this type of aesthetic?
KH: It’s definitely a kind of advocacy of it. In some ways it is a reaction against a certain type of work that I’m aware is being made through shows that I’ve seen over the last five years. These are shows that have a collection of works that look very casual but on closer inspection are meticulously and painstakingly produced. That work is kind of interesting but I feel that it is also a one liner that seems a little too obvious. With sculpture there is something more that you can do with it. People can remark that ‘I like it because it took them a long time’ and then say to me that ‘you’ve just stacked a load of eggcups – what the fuck is that?’ But actually that process, to me, is a massively and profound thing.
JW: What is it about this process that interests you?
KH: I’m really interested in the point where something becomes art. What was it before this point? What makes it become that thing? The complicatedness in these simple gestures poses questions that can’t be easily answered. In my work there is always potential for something to happen. I can keep objects for years that may or may never become anything. For example several recent work titles have been named after magic tricks from the Paul Daniels Magic Set I’ve had for years!I’ve got a recent interest in magic bizarrely, except that’s not strictly true. I was massively interested in it as a child. I’ve come to realise more recently how everything in life is important to what you are doing; lots of things that I was into as a kid now makes sense. Things that a magician can do look impossible but they actually are happening, either through fallacy or a trick of the eye. A set of sticks can stand on their ends, they can do that but they don’t necessarily look like they can. In some sort of way, there is a connection between this and the idea of pushing something to the brink of what it can do.
JW: The works that you recently exhibited at Castlefield Gallery as part of Tattoo City: The First Three Chapters, were evocative of this.
KH: Yes. The oddness of the space at Castlefield Gallery really interested me. Most of my works were dispersed in ‘difficult’ spaces in the gallery. I really liked the positioning of my work Seeing is Believingon the landing by the stairwell and how close you could get on eye level. It is probably obvious how it exists but I like this fact, it aligns with several works of mine that are balanced and precarious.
JW: My response to Seeing is Believing was that it was a knowing antithesis to Brancusi’s Endless Column.
KH: A lot of my work does respond to ideas that Brancusi had. I’m not keen on making work that is bombastic. I much prefer, especially in a group context, things that are dispersed like punctuation or a formalisation of a space.
JW: Collaboration seems to be inherent in your recent curatorial projects such as CAVE Art Fair and HELD both during Liverpool Biennial. What working relationships are you interested in forming?
KH: With HELD it is difficult to pin down what the project is. It isn’t my work; it’s everyone who has been involved. I saw the potential to ask other people to make a similar image, that of the work being photographed in the hand of the maker. I see the collaborative process as a loose fluid thing almost a by-product as a thing I’m thinking at the time. Collaborations come from chatting to people with a similar interest.
JW: In that sense is it joined with your practice?
KH: I think everything is really. There was a time when I used to thing things were quite separate in terms of my work, curated shows and projects with The Royal Standard. However it occurred to me that they are all the same. With CAVE it was important to state that ‘it took two artists (Kevin and Flis Mitchell) to do this in this city’. We had an interest and desire to make it happen.
JW: How important was your time as co-director of The Royal Standard (2007-11) in shaping this?
KH: Massively. With The Royal Standard the peer network is crucial. In terms of thinking how I work collaboratively, the people who I’ve worked with have all probably been through The Royal Standard directly – or in a ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ kind of way! The experience as a director made me realise if you wanted to do something, you can do it.
JW: What other projects will you be working on throughout 2013?
KH: I will be exhibiting as part of Unspecific Objects, a joint show between two sites, The Royal Standard and Malgras|Naudet, opening 15th February and 22nd February 2013 respectively. I am also working on organising Art Transpennine 13 with Emily Speed and Elizabeth Murphy that will happen across the north of England in September.
‘Easy does it’ is at David Dale Gallery & Studios in Glasgow 2 – 23 February 2013 before touring to Aid & Abet in Cambridge on 6 June and Supercollider in Blackpool on 23 August.
This article originally appeared on Corridor8 online February 2013
Review: A Universal Archive – William Kentridge as Printmaker at the Bluecoat
South African artist William Kentridge is best known for his prolific and versatile output that encompasses animation, film, drawing, collage and sculpture amongst others. This Hayward Touring exhibition asks us to pause and consider Kentridge’s contribution to printmaking in its own right. Featuring works from 1988 to his most recent body series in which the title is derived, Universal Archive (2012), it is the largest exhibition dedicated to his prints ever seen in the UK.
The majority of Kentridge’s work is executed in black and white, often threaded by a layered and complex narrative that incorporates both personal and universal themes. In the series Ubu Tells the Truth (1996-97) the protagonist of the prints Ubu Roi, a creation by playwright Alfred Jerry, is split into two by Kentridge through contrasting colours and mark making. Here Ubu is in conflict with himself, a detailed and meticulous inner body attempts to cleanse the sins of his monstrous ‘outer’ persona, represented by free flowing abstract lines.
Kentridge’s exploration of complex social and political themes, such as the apartheid era in his native South Africa, is present in the exhibition but is equally matched here by an intense engagement with references from literary and art history. For the prints in his Nose Series (2007-2009), Kentridge splices images from the literary figures who inspired Gogol to write his short story The Nose (1927-28). The ensuing prints can be read as both individual works and investigative studies. A large majority of these images eventually appeared as part of Kentridge’s set design for his own production of The Nose, held at The Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2010.
Often purchasing books from second hand bookstores when he travels, Kentridge removes pages from encyclopaedias and classic literary texts to directly print on. In the midst of the layering of pages, single words and fractured sentences often emerge through the gaps in the dense ink. The recurring ‘characters’ throughout Kentridge’s work, such as coffee pots, the cat, pylons, the typewriter; are often printed in this style. His personal relationship with these objects even conveys anthropomorphic tendencies, such as the recent work Self Portrait as a Coffee Pot (2012).
Aside from rich contextual subject matter, what stands out in this exhibition is the sheer mastery of Kentridge’s printmaking skills. Effortlessly interweaving different processes, Kentridge moves from small etchings to large linocuts with ease, retaining the same range of expressionistic mark making that his smaller drawings and animations possess. The tension between the act of ‘thinking physically’ through mark making and the collaborative and considered act of printmaking is one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition.
As insinuated in the title, A Universal Archive is comprised of a series of works that demonstrate a flow of re-occurring characters, themes, concepts and techniques. While his excellence as a printmaker is undoubted, confining such a strong and interrelated practice to a single medium is a highly disciplined act for an artist as diverse as Kentridge. However this rewarding exhibition portrays Kentridge’s engagement with printmaking as a significant activity that has always been crucial to his wider practice. It is a medium that he has consistently returned to, long after studying etching at Johannesburg Art Foundation in 1976-78.
A Universal Archive – William Kentridge as Printmaker runs from 7 December 2012 – 3 February 2013.
This article originally appeared on Corridor8 online January 2013
Book Review: One Thing Leads to Another – Everything is Connected: Art on the Underground
26 November 2012
In public transport, even the smallest delay can trigger bouts of extreme passenger irritation. As Martha Rosler astutely observed, ‘waiting for the subway or bus is a trial not to be tolerated, only endured’ (1). What Rosler identifies here is that in all forms of transport, the currency is time. Within the world’s oldest underground transport network, London Underground, the complexities of time acquire even greater significance.
Millions of people in London live their lives on the routes of Underground lines, forging different relationships with place through home, work or leisure. Through the lens of the Underground, how significant are social, technological and economic developments in forming our understanding and valuation of time and place, both from a historical and contemporary perspective?
These questions were the catalyst for One Thing Leads To Another – Everything Is Connected, an Art on the Underground publication documenting the Jubilee line series between 2010 and 2011. This is the second Art on the Underground publication dedicated to on going line-based projects. Marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Jubilee line in 1979, selected artists were invited to explore differing concepts related to the value of time in the context of the Jubilee line.
Two new essays have been commissioned for the publication. David Rooney, Curator of Transport at the Science Museum, London, contributes a thoughtful and condensed work on the history of the Jubilee line. Here Rooney maps the historical context of the line, positing that it is acts as a microcosm of London itself, a complex layering of the old and the new. For Rooney, the line is a ‘time machine’ built on a multitude of ‘people, places, ideas, ambitions, pasts and futures’ and defined by contrasts.
While this is synonymous with the Underground in general, the Jubilee line is the newest line in the network. Built for purpose, it weaves a path through London’s key centres of political and economic power. On this route however, it also passes through areas of deprivation in the capitial. A vast contrast measured by a handful of stations. In this sense the line offers a unique vantage point to consider recent developments in London. Accompanying the text is a timeline also produced by Rooney that fuses key moments and notable developments in transport, science, society and the Underground from 1979-2009.
Matthew Stadler has crafted a remarkable piece of fictional writing from the perspective of Reverend Samson Occom, a Mohegan who first visited London in 1766. Weaving extracts from Occom’s diary entries with his own prose, Stadler presents us with a powerful reflection on time as an entity. Stadler’s text prompts one to consider the social impact of the Tube and its ever-changing network. While the line ‘I wait 113 years for the train to arrive’ is a gentle jab at those dreaded train delays, it is also a poignant moment to reflect on those who have treaded the streets of London long before us as well as our own fleeting existence.
The majority of the publication is devoted to the seven artworks in the series. Each project is clearly articulated through research, context, images and additional supporting material. This material, such as the inclusion of surveys give to passengers and their responses for Daria Martin’s Jubilee line customer daydream survey (2011), greatly enriches the content. The section on Dryden Goodwin’s moving Linear (2010) includes engaging interview quotes with a small portion of the 60 Transport for London staff that Goodwin drew. A synopsis of the public events programme that accompanied the series closes the publication.
The publication is compact and informative, crucially avoiding falling into a purely descriptive format. The quality of overall design is unmistakably London Underground, threaded together by the its signature New Johnson typeface. All images and diagrams are clear resulting in an excellent flow all the way through.
Acting as an entry point to the Jubilee line series, it is a theoretical and contextual meeting place for the artists, curators and writers involved. Acknowledging its intentions early on, the publication showcases the strength of the commissioning process and the diversity of artistic responses in the series.
Perhaps the key success of the publication is the mindful collaboration with the artists in selecting material to represent each project. This has ensured that all works retain a sense of autonomy and purpose, an element that can be lost so easily in publications that exist to summarise larger projects.
One Thing Leads to Another – Everything is Connected does not just mark the culmination of the Jubilee line series – it contributes to the vast history of the Underground, a unique reflection on a particular moment in time, one forged by artists. It is hard not to consider it as the start of a long-term dialogue with the Jubilee line.
(1) Martha Rosler, Travel Stories, Grey Room, No. 8 (Summer, 2002), p.123.
Editors: Charlotte Bonham-Carter, Louise Coysh, Tamsin Dillon.
Contributors: Julia Calver, Patrick Coyle, John Gerrard, Dryden Goodwin, Cressida Kocienski, Richard Long, Daria Martin, Claire Nichols, Tamarin Norwood, Gemma Sharpe, Matt Stokes.
106 b/w and colour ills
22.5 x 18.5 cm
9.0 x 7.5 in
ISBN13: 978 1 907317 89 7
This article originally appeared on A-N Interface: http://www.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/2686326
CAVE Art Fair and Service Provider at The Royal Standard
The opening weekend of the 2012 Liverpool Biennial included a significant new addition to the already burgeoning programme of events and exhibitions. CAVE Art Fair was an ambitious new project that presented work by 45 unrepresented artists from across the UK. Organised by Liverpool based artists Kevin Hunt and Flis Mitchell, CAVE challenged the traditional art fair model by acting as facilitator between unrepresented artists and the public, taking no commission on sales. CAVE presented a confidently curated display of newly commissioned and recent painting, video, sculptural and installation works. Rachel Maclean’s The Lion and The Unicorn (2012) was a particularly striking video work in a vivacious front space. There were also a handful of performative encounters occurring throughout the three days for a small fee, such as Oliver Braid’s one-hour performance presentation Sincerity Shoe (2012).
Despite displaying a large volume of work within a relatively small space, CAVE never felt cramped. Interesting dialogues often emerged between different works, providing a fluid and engaging path around the space. Although only open for a short period, CAVE felt like a significant development. It is a brave and exciting artist led project that offers substance while also possessing rich potential for the future. The next edition of CAVE will be highly anticipated.
As official partners of the Biennial for the first time, The Royal Standard are exploring the overall festival theme of hospitality in Service Provider. Relinquishing control of its gallery space and website to five invited artist groups, The Royal Standard are only present in a controlled entrance foyer space that is also an observation room. Invited groups must use the three divided gallery spaces to provide a service during their tenure. The first incumbents are Tether, who present This is it, a project comprising of an installation, active studio space and a series of public events within the gallery. All activities are concerned with representations of history through a dual focus on America and recognition of destruction, prominent in the red, white and blue banners hanging outside of the building. Each hand-stitched banner was adorned with an American image within a single letter but read in pairs.
The multitude of relationships and power structures that will occur between the different actors who will occupy the gallery may prove to be difficult to articulate at times. The project recognises this through its core format of performance and events as opposed to an exhibition. As observers within their own space, how will The Royal Standard decipher these experiences as well as those of the public during this process? It is a project that, if successful, has the potential to provide an in depth critique of the notion of hospitality at an artist led level. Service Provider will require revisiting over the next couple of months.
Service Provider at The Royal Standard 15 September – 25 November 2012
CAVE Art Fair ran from 13 – 16 September 2012
Liverpool Biennial 15 September – 25 November 2012
This text originally appeared on Corridor8 http://www.corridor8.co.uk/blog/review-cave-art-fair-service-provider-at-liverpool-biennial-2012
Abandon Normal Devices Festival – June 2012
The Humble Market: Trade Secrets at FACT is a production that fuses performance, theatre and media art as orchestrated by UK/Brazilian theatre network Zecora Ura, along with artists Jorge Lopes Ramos, Alastair Eilbeck, James Bailey and Persis Jade Maravala. Constructed as a challenge to the consumerist market and inspired by the rise of Brazil as an economic power, it is an intriguing proposition.
Viewers are led in small groups through a choreographed series of set pieces situated within immersive environments. These experiential and participatory works directly seek to engage with the viewer, or now participant, through sets of provoking questions that demand a response. Often nonsensical questions are posed and the unstable delivery from the automated voices reveals sinister undertones that allude to the power of the institutional hierarchy in the marketplace.
The Humble Market is at its best with Philosophy Hill (2012), an exercise in immersive existentialism (complemented by goggles and headsets). The work was illuminated by the debate generated between the participants as a result of the questions posed about morality. This was a flash of real dialogue within another controlled system, that of the work itself.
Image courtesy of FACT
Over in Manchester, Cornerhouse presents the first UK solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist Stanya Kahn. Kahn’s multidisciplinary practice is underpinned by a veracious sense of humour, whether this is reeling off lame jokes to kids on the street whilst dressed as a phallus in Lookin Good, Feelin’ Good (2012) or in the exploits of a heavily bandaged and enigmatic protagonist in the video work that shares the title of the show, It’s Cool I’m Good (2010). Both videos create a sense of displacement, with their seemingly socially alienated subjects existing within a jarring environment disassociated from reality.
A critical component throughout Kahn’s work, also evident in her recent drawings that include sea creatures bluntly remonstrating with each other, is her use of language. In her series of intimate video portraits of three women, including her sister and mother, Kahn shifts her focus into more structured reality but her framing of the dialogue is critical in drawing out re-emerging themes of fragility, humour and resilience.
Abandon Normal Devices Festival runs from 29 August to 2 September 2012 in various locations in both Manchester and Liverpool.
This text originally appeared on Corridor8 http://www.corridor8.co.uk/blog/review-and-festival-2012
Munich – April 2012
I spent the weekend in Munich, sampling Bavarian culture, architecture and, of course, the odd German beer. In the short time I was there, I visited the Pinakothek der Moderne. A contemporary gallery in an architecturally stunning modern building, Pinakothek is a mightily impressive venue. My visit coincided with the opening day of Frauen, an exhibition of Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann and Willem De Kooning. A thematic exhibition examining the role and depiction of women in the artists work, Frauen was well served by a rich visual and conceptual dialogue between the work of all three artists. De Kooning was the ace in the hole, offering an expressive energy alongside what I read to be a intriguing stylistic ‘dual’ between Picasso and Beckmann. This was a well curated exhibition that impressively used the work of the three artists to provide necessary focus to what is a gargantuan subject matter, all whilst managing to avoid lapsing into worn cliches of female representation. The open layout of the galleries was at times confusing, becoming a mini labyrinth of cool white rooms and high doorways. I am still genuinely unsure if I missed out a room.
I was at the gallery to see In The Space of The Beholder: Contemporary Sculpture a showcase of sculptural works from the Saamlung Moderne Kunst. Highlights included seeing the beautifully banal architectural work of Manfred Pernice for the first time and Christian Jankowski’s Pump House Gallery ‘refurbishment’ film. The title of the show seeks to invoke the sculptural encounter that the viewer has with the work. As a result works are segmented into sculptural strategies such as objects, architecture, sound etc. However the difficult layout of the galleries became more of an issue here than it was in Frauen, primarily in the corridor space that Pernice’s work was displayed. The exceptional positioning of Marc Manders ‘Silent Factory’ (2010), a large scale work in an accommodating space was the perfect display conditions for the piece (picture above). Overall the exhibition didn’t feel like an exhibition, more of an ad-hoc meeting of singular works herded together at the gate and put into groups for the purposes of a thin exhibition pamphlet. This suited some works more than others, creating some interesting configurations but having a detrimental effect on others (a Jonathan Monk work was placed in an unflattering and difficult to navigate corridor). It would be interesting to see a larger, more ambitious sculptural survey exhibition appearing in the gallery in the next few years, alongside improving the flow between the impressive gallery spaces.
The Manchester Contemporary
Now in its third year, The Manchester Contemporary has become an important fixture in the North West cultural calendar. Just a few weeks after the art fair juggernaut that is Frieze, ten invited commercial galleries from across the country gathered to each showcase a selection of artists they had chosen to exhibit at their respective stalls. Through their stalls, a wide range of original works such as drawings, sculptures, prints, paintings were available for the public to purchase and leave with.
Housed a short distance from last years tent pitched in the heart of Spinningfields, The Manchester Contemporary took place in Quay House – a disused office block used by Punchdrunk in their production It Felt Like A Kiss for the 2009 Manchester International Festival. The Jaguar parked outside the entrance and in the main foyer was a literal example of a main sponsor ‘parking’ their presence, so to speak.
I visited on the final day to attend an insightful talk by Ceri Hand, who discussed the critical implications commercial galleries have. Hand spoke eloquently and honestly about the challenges that commercial ventures in the North face, an issue that adds weighty context to the main aims of the fair. Although seemingly smaller than last year’s edition, the overall set up was well executed and each gallery/project space used their allocated space intelligently.
Ceri Hand Gallery (Liverpool) devoted its space to the unique sculptural configurations of Samantha Donnelly. Donnelly is an artist whose stock is rightfully in the ascent; she has a solo exhibition at the Cornerhouse in Manchester early next year. Most exhibiting galleries chose to represent a small grouping of artists with Mermaid & Monster (Cardiff) and WORKS|PROJECTS (Bristol) worth noting. Andrew Bracey’s ReconFigure Paintings, a series of geometrically manipulated images of reproductions of old paintings, were exhibited by Castlefield Gallery (Manchester) and benefited from sole representation.
The project spaces and talk programme, as well as the introduction of a Print Room, fleshed out the fair adding real depth. The small independent catering element was a nice touch. I’d like to imagine the small café section would have generated a fair few engaging conversations over the course of its few hours of operation.
So how do we judge the ‘success’ of an art fair? Subjective opinions on the quality of the content will always be present but personally, I am more interested in the issues that Ceri Hand raised in her talk. Based in the North West, The Manchester Contemporary is in an area were there is a limited art market. Frieze Art Fair is a juggernaut operating within a greater monster, London. The Manchester Contemporary should be lauded as an initiative that akin to the Ceri Hand Gallery, aims to generate a northern market activity via quality events.
It is here that I want to mention the relationship between The Buy Art Fair and The Manchester Contemporary. Held a few floors below, The Buy Art Fair exhibited what could be labelled ‘decorative’ art by specialist galleries in a similar exhibiting structure. The two events seemed to overlap and blur by their proximity to another but kept their distance at all times, like you would to an ex-partner at a party after an acrimonious split.
Did the Buy Art Fair, hellishly busy when I popped in, increase sales for the Contemporary by introducing new visitors upstairs? Or were sales from The Manchester Contemporary primarily from existing collectors in the know? It would be interesting to see this information surface. Is a concurrent event useful in the quest to generate a larger market in the North West? Or will the divide become greater next year so that the sites are once again split? It will be interesting to see the structure of next years fair.
The Manchester Contemporary ran from Friday 28 – Sunday 30 October 2011.
This piece appeared on Roves and Roams http://www.rovesandroams.com/2011/11/the-manchester-contemporary/
Roy Stringer Lecture: Democratising the Role of the Web Tuesday 1 November 2011
Chair: Herb Kim (Codeworks)
Martha Lane Fox (Race Online)
Peter Barron (Google)
Andy Miah (University of West Scotland)
John Egan (It’s Liverpool)
Natalie Gross (Amaze)
Patrick Fox (FACT/Arena Housing)
In England, 9 million people out of the 50 million population do not have access to the Internet.
In Liverpool, 70,000 out of the 400,000 population do not have access to the Internet.
These two sweeping facts set the backdrop for the annual Roy Stringer memorial lecture at FACT.
Keynote speaker and UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox opened the event, focusing on the amount of people who have no access to the internet. It is estimated that if the 9 million people offline were harnessed through jobs, education or business purposes, the economic value would equate to £22 billion. Lane Fox then spoke about her most famous venture Lastminute.com founded during the dot-com bubble in the late nineties. The rating systems featured on the site were, in her opinion, a vital tool in understanding the true potential of the internet – even if she admitted she made up the majority of the ratings up at the beginning!
Chair Herb Kim quizzed Lane Fox on her role as the UK Digital Champion in the government, a role that she isn’t funded for. It was clear that Lane Fox cares deeply about reaching out to people who have no internet access due a variety of reasons. The boundaries that prevent people from getting online include the failure to see any benefit of them being online, the perception of the price and lack of technical skills. These factors often overlap and are linked to impoverished social conditions and areas were resources are limited. Lane Fox cited initiatives of bringing computer hubs to social and community centres, such as Post Offices and pubs. Partnerships that allow special reconditioned PCs and telephone packages for under £100 are practical methods of attempting to address this problem.
The GO ON Give an Hour campaign, to encourage active internet users to give an hour of their time to educate people who are offline, was widely discussed. It seems a good initiative that could be an excellent example of engaging a large number of people and changing a few perceptions. I’m sure there will be no shortage of people lining up to demonstrate the unrivalled procrastination powers of Facebook…
Patrick Fox, who has worked heavily with FACT’s in-house community orientated internet TV channel Tenantspin, discussed how the collaborative focus on content generation has enabled Tenantspin to successful impact a wider community. A fantastic fact is that Tenantspin has the claim to be the oldest internet TV channel in the world. Fox spoke of how developments such as Skype have enabled current projects to reach new social groups and engage with new methods of working.
It was genuinely thought provoking to hear Kim’s figures that 3.5 million people don’t encounter anyone else in a day and that 1.5 million people can go a month without any real person-to-person contact. These statistics backed up his proposition that helping to widen the demographic of internet users can make a social impact.
Peter Barron, whose corporate rhetoric would have been labelled an ‘assured batting display’ if he had held the crease during a cricket match, represented Google. Barron and Kim held an engaging discussion about the rise of the smart phone and how it is inverting the hierarchy of internet access. Android, Google’s operating system is the market leader in smartphones. Barron, in response to questions about the role of smartphones played recent Egyptian/Libyan revolutions, said Google always advocated access of information and freedom seen in these instances.
Interestingly, when Kim spoke about a recurring theme ‘walled garden’s’ – the few websites that harbour abnormal amounts of traffic such as Facebook and Amazon, he neglected to mention Google. If this were an oversight borne of politeness for Barron, it would have been as safe chairing, which is a shame. Before he and Lane Fox left early to catch the Euston train, Barron did address this, commenting that Google wished to remove these online bastions. I think that you will have quite a large demolition job on your hands if that is the case, Peter.
John Egan spoke of the Go on it’s Liverpool campaign, a no budget campaign commissioned by Liverpool Vision to create a new identity for Liverpool heavily routed in social content generation. It was clear Egan and his team have put together a quite forward thinking project driven by the brief as opposed to the fee.
The charismatic Andy Miah launched into his speech with a raised hands poll aimed at making everyone feel bad for not religiously poring over their Facebook privacy settings. Aside from detailing that you can amend the control that Facebook has over your information, Miah questioned if arts organisations should be on Twitter, attacking the inconsistency of usage policies by organisations. His example that Olympic planning department viewed a ‘re-tweet’ as an endorsement. Personally, I think they of course should be. Although the personality of the employee who runs the feed will inevitably shine through, I believe that this is a benefit and can be a fine example of utilising staff resources, as long as that particular staff member in charge isn’t boring, consistent or irrelevant, of course. His elaboration of the citizen journalism programme at previous Olympic Games was timely after the launch of All About Us last month.
The lecture could have generated more debate and I believe that a more focused structure allowing a set time slot for Lane Fox, Barron or Miah would have suited the event better. The event could be described as suffering from too many cooks, but especially when the two head chefs had to leave to catch their train.
This appeared on the Institute of Cultural Practices blog on November 9.
Conservative Party Conference: Cultural Value – creative industries in a digital world.
Tuesday 4 October 2011, Lecture Room, Manchester Art Gallery
Chair: Geoff Mulgan, NESTA CEO
The Hon Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
Peter Tullin, Co-founder, Culture Label
Charles Hunter, Executive Director, Mudlark
NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) have again been holding court throughout the political conference season, hosting a series of discussions on business and the arts. The one session that has manifested at all three main conferences this year has been Cultural Value – creative industries in a digital world.
Effectively chaired by NESTA CEO Geoff Mulgan, the Manchester session gave Peter Tullin, Charles Hunter and Ed Vaizey the opportunity to discuss how could new technologies could be embraced by creative organisations to engage prospective audiences and create new artistic and entrepreneurial opportunities?
Charles Hunter explained how his company Mudlark, who won acclaim with their contemporary scripting of Romeo & Juliet played out on Twitter, base their creative output on working with new technologies that users can interact with. Mudlark’s are currently working with ‘Four Square’ technology manipulating existing components in Oyster travel cards to enable the card to act as a tracker for customers. Interestingly, Hunter admitted that Transport for London has often been uncooperative in development of the project.
Peter Tullin of Culture Label gave an assured talk, placing emphasis on his entrepreneurial approach in utilising online technologies to identify a profitable niche in the sale of art online while making a sustained investment in the arts. Having identified a lack of online merchandise for institutions for the ICA, Tullin described how Culture Label actively aggregated a portfolio of cultural organisations without online shops in the UK and created this service for them.
His well-rehearsed party trick line, that IKEA is the biggest seller of ‘art’ in the world, drew a collective murmur that must hit the spot every time. Building a solid brand and making initiatives accessible was his interest, a pop at his perception of the Own Art scheme rendered ineffective by its overly bureaucratic procedure.
Tullin gave numerous examples that backed up his argument that online technologies can open up new audiences in the arts. A key example is the Google Art Project digitalising select works and using Google’s feted ‘street view’ within major galleries such as the Louvre.
Ed Vaizey emphasised the changing landscape acknowledging the age of self-publishing and content generation by users. Vaizey’s key message, that technology and culture need to be at the heart of government ‘technological’ revolution, was backed by examples of NESTA’s work and the need for the Arts Council to actively embrace technology in their working methods.
A Q&A session touched on a few issues; the most intriguing being a question regarding the 2003 Legal Deposit Libraries Act, a stalled act concerning website archiving and protection. Ed Vaizey commented that the amended act is still to be presented but is hopeful of a conclusion.
Carla Scott Fullerton
The Royal Standard, Liverpool.
7 September – 13 September 2011
One of the most striking elements of the work presented by Carla Scott Fullerton in an exhibition to mark the end of her month long residency at The Royal Standard, is the physically imposing yet crafted and subtle nature of her work.
Scott Fullerton’s practice is immediately sculptural but is equally defined by the relationship between form and drawing and mark making. The acts and processes that have been used to create these works bring us to the title ‘Cut-Fill-Skim.’ However, narrowing down the work to these actions alone would miss the intricate and considered concerns present in her work. It’s clear to see that architecture and the role of materiality plays a significant role in Scott Fullerton’s work.
Open Floor (2011) consists of two jaunting wooden frames positioned on the floor adjacent to each other. Reminiscent of the early stages of the architectural process, the divided wooden structure jaunts at acute angles and refuses to conform to a conventional form. On each structure, one of the segments is filled with concrete, one of these being slightly below being flush. The application of concrete is perhaps the defining moment in the architectural process – realisation – but here it only seeks to blur the readings.
The strong geometric properties present in Open Floor – forceful lines, sharp angles and mass of forms – are a reoccurring element both in the drawings and forms of the work. Large wood and glass panels are propped against the wall creating angles and shadows. Scott Fullerton uses this to create physical collages, layering differing materials over each other and then sparking dialogue between them by cutting and staining surfaces allowing the marks to continue from one surface to another like highways over a border.
This dialogue is evident in Intersected Formations (2011). A thick sheet of glass props up against a large wooden panel. A section of the wood has been skimmed from the panel creating a mark that connects to the cuts in the glass; both have had matter physically stripped from the original material. The natural aesthetic properties of the materials used in the exhibition are generally untouched. You feel that strong colour is seldom something Scott Fullerton employs hastily when working with certain materials and processes. Interrupted Clear Lines (2011) two small squares of bright yellow perspex – each spaced approximately on the wall and deeply cut into – chimes as a beginning. Perhaps because they are so removed in terms of materiality than any of the other pieces. Scott Fullerton commented that she intends to explore coloured perspex as a material in future works.
Two beautifully constructed drawings, Any Which Way &, Any Which Way II (both 2011) combine paper types, pen drawing and, once more, cement residue. Transparent-Formless-Layers (2011) combines drawing with another heavy process, bitumen, to creating another variation of layering. These drawings are highly considered spatially and technically impressive. The use of cement residue as a material here is an interesting addition. The by-product of a process in one set of works becomes an element in the process of creating new work, another layer in Scott Fullerton’s multi faceted work.
Carla Scott Fullerton link: http://bit.ly/rgsKXZ
The Royal Standard: http://www.the-royal-standard.com
Posted on www.rovesandroams.com
Liverpool, Artforum and the ‘C’ Class – 22/07/11
“UNLIKE ITS NORTHERN NEIGHBOR LIVERPOOL, Manchester has long eschewed the biennial in favor of a cross-disciplinary, celebrity-laced International Festival. Its first edition, held in 2007, premiered “Il Tempo del Postino” (Philippe Parreno and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s not altogether felicitous attempt to stage performance art in a traditional theater) and hosted an experimental opera by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, creators of the band Gorillaz. The second edition, in 2009, saw Marina Abramović giving lessons in watching durational art, another opera (by Rufus Wainwright), and commissions from Kraftwerk, Steve Reich, and the immersive theater company Punchdrunk. In contrast to this energetic flirtation among art, theater, and pop music, the Liverpool Biennial seems crippled by Arts Council funding agendas and routinely weak commissions. Manchester is definitively A-list, Liverpool at best a C.”
- Claire Bishop, Artforum http://www.artforum.com/diary/id=28633
This is the introduction to a recent review of the Manchester International Festival that recently appeared on the Artforum website. Based in and unabashedly focused on the US, Artforum rarely ventures outside the confines of London scene, if it does venture onto these shores at all. I was alerted to the article by Liverpool culture website Sevenstreets (http://bit.ly/q3te5f) who end their brief article by acknowledging the withering assessment of the Liverpool Biennial and by taking the success of MIF as ‘a textbook lesson in how to get ahead’. I do not know if Bishop is based in the UK or US, but what intrigues me about this article is how the piece itself caters for Artforum’s international audience, taking the outsider perspective.
Having lived in Liverpool for many years, I have found myself spending the past week mulling over this small article. I felt that it was necessary to try and gauge why Liverpool omits this perception. As this is a brief article, I am not going to focus on Manchester and will be focusing specifically on visual art in the city.
Firstly, I am not going to leap to the absolute defence of Liverpool and go into bat wildly dismissing Bishop’s casual put down. On the whole, I, along with the summary of the Sevenstreets article, believe that there is an element of truth to this comment. However, I believe that we should look deeper than a rather very lazy attack on Liverpool Biennial. I address this at the end of the text.
Let’s go back to 2008. Liverpool was priding itself as joint European Capital of Culture with an intensive yearlong programme of cultural events across the board. The year was a success and culminated with the 2008 Liverpool Biennial at the end of the year. Yet less than 36 months later, the cultural landscape presents a very different and bleaker picture in the city. Despite the opening of the new Liverpool museum this week, local cultural institutions are struggling financially and venues such as the A Foundation, easily one of the best artistic venues in the city, have shut. It has been well publicised that Arts Council England have completely restructured their funding portfolio and some arts organisations in Liverpool have suffered a partial or full drop in their ACE funding. As we know, the current position of financial precariousness isn’t exclusive to the arts and the wider economy is still in a downturn. Liverpool has suffered, but while acknowledging that the resources of the city and other funding bodies has impacted on artistic activities, there is a more rooted problem.
Last week the official announcement to the media of Tate Liverpool Director Christoph Grunenberg’s decision to take up a new post at Kunsthalle Bremen after ten years in the role was doubled up with an announcement of front of house redundancies at the gallery. Lewis Biggs resigned from his role as Director/Chief Executive at Liverpool Biennial earlier in the summer after over two decades where he occupied both of these positions. Intriguingly, it is the first time in modern memory that the two biggest artistic institutions in Liverpool, Tate and Liverpool Biennial, are without Artistic Directors.
There are numerous studio groups and artist led initiatives in the city but I believe that recently, the Liverpool art scene has been suffering from stagnation. There are a core of active studio groups in Liverpool but at present, but arguably only The Royal Standard is active and critically engaged within a wider national context. It is worth mentioning that there are there are interesting artists who have no attachment to a studio group in the city.
I remember a conversation in my studio a couple of months ago myself and a few others were discussing the lack of critical debate amongst artists in Liverpool. A fragment of this conversation has since stuck in my mind. It was the collective insinuation, almost resignation, that to obtain a necessary level of artistic debate, you would have to look outside of Liverpool. For this and many other reasons, Liverpool is still susceptible to talent moving on, something that I have seen a large number of my peers do over the past twelve months. The allure of London is ever strong.
The art school at John Moores is in a state of flux but it does seem to be moving in the right direction after a rocky few years. However, this will take time to hopefully reap the rewards of progression and increase the quality of art school graduates in the city.
Higher up, the main artistic venues in Liverpool seem reasonably strong but in whole, a quick mental survey of exhibitions over the past few years’ results in only a handful of memorable exhibitions. The connection between artists and institutions could be better. The Bluecoat and Metal are good examples of venues actively engaging with local artists and commissioning new work. Ceri Hand Gallery warrants a special mention for its continuous engagement with the national (and more frequently international) scene and single handily attempting to drive a Liverpool market in what has been an infertile climate.
Institutions seek to generate discussion and debate via their exhibitions and accompanying talks lectures, discussions or social events are commonplace. In general, the audience figures for these events that accompany and nourish the exhibition programme sadly lack attendance. If these events are being facilitated, then why are audiences so small and so few artists present? Is it laziness? Poor marketing? Or is it that Liverpool simply doesn’t generate an audience for it? Undoubtedly, this feeds back to result in a weaker critical pool in Liverpool. Catch 22, perhaps?
A prime example of these events are the excellent Touched talks that Liverpool Biennial ran in the run up to the 2010 festival. These events presented a wide array of thinkers and philosophers who provided a weighty addition to the run up and wider contextualisation of the festival, ultimately enriching it. For me, this was a prime example of what constitutes ‘A’ events in the city. If we actually attempt to define what constitutes ‘A’ programming – artists/works/venues/events who challenge, collaborate, innovate, educate and thrill audiences with new experiences; then, truthfully, Liverpool is not an ‘A’. Then again, only few cities can claim to be. Liverpool simply don’t have the infrastructure necessary to achieve this level on a continuous basis.
Acknowledging these facts need not be done in a resigned nor negative manner. Liverpool still encouraging potential and there is already good work being done here across visual and other art forms. What matters is the artistic output emanating from the artists, institutions and collectives in the city – that’s what draws people here and ultimately, that’s what the city will be judged on. The need for engagement, collaboration and production stemming from the bottom of the artistic pyramid up is critical in helping Liverpool achieve a better standing not only in the perceptions of outsiders, but for itself. With the imminent recruitment of two new Artistic Directors at Tate and Liverpool Biennial, the two organisations in the city that are best placed to achieve these cultural successes may find themselves embracing a new overall direction.
Returning to Bishop’s article, her attack on Liverpool Biennial is as I said earlier, lazy and generalising. Liverpool Biennial and MIF are two entirely different festivals that operate within two entirely different models. To woefully draw upon recent funding cuts as a possible sign of weakness for Liverpool Biennial is inappropriate and misguided. MIF has also received funding cuts and there is a realistic possibility that the next edition of the festival will have to be scaled down in lieu of this. Having just set a new record for ticket sales for the festival, MIF are in a position to recoup money and these additional revenue streams aren’t viable for the Biennial. MIF and Liverpool Biennial are two of the major highlights in the UK cultural calendar and bring thousands of visitors and a significant boost to the North West economy. While working at the Bluecoat during the 2010 Biennial, I saw first hand the amount of visitors who were enthralled by Nicholas Hlobo’s Ndize and a large amount who actually remarked to me that the piece is ‘their favourite’ piece of art they had ever encountered. Of course, one piece doesn’t represent a whole Biennial and the question of it’s overall success always provokes healthy debate for each edition. Without focusing too much on it or coming across as bitter, Liverpool Biennial has always seemingly suffered at the hands of London journalists who have only had their employers pay for a day return to Euston on press preview day.
This is the essay I had published in Issue 2 of the Liverpool Art Journal – Tracey Eastham – 2009. I realised I haven’t put it up on my site until now.
Knots and Flats
The readymade can prove to be rather a poisoned chalice for an artist to drink from. With its associated and unmistakable framework of artistic connotations, the object in question is often preloaded with defined parameters before it has physically and conceptually been manipulated by the artist itself. The readymade required the viewer to engage with the object in a recontextualised setting within an accredited environment, tipping their hat as they walk by to acknowledge that they are privy to the devices instigated by Uncle Marcel and fully comprehend the conditions that his readymades laid out. The subversion of the functionality and purpose of the original object is indeed a large slice of the mantra of the readymade; the nullification of the external context that it used to operate in is now a well versed artistic tool that has become synonymous with the majority of objecthood. It is almost a curse that Duchamp bestowed upon the readymade – associations with his work can prove to be a knot within the rope that particular readymades find themselves tangled in. Within the white cube and traditional gallery spaces, the readymade can often flounder under the weight of relational history and critical positioning.
Aside from the critically loaded readymade, each object that appears within the gallery or a arena designated for the purpose of exhibiting art, commands varying status within regards to being classified as an artwork or merely acting as a prerequisite to the finished work. With the emphasis on the framework of the exhibition paramount, the white cube gallery preserves the integrity of the directness of the readymade, yet it is the activation of the static object, the functional object whose form has not been directly recontextualised by the artist, that intrigues me. The role of functioning objects in artwork is often underplayed and objects are often merely assigned roles within the larger framework. I insinuate that Krauss’s term of ‘exhibitionality’ has some relation to Baudrillard’s concept of ‘atmosphere’ (1). Whilst Baudrillard emphasised the value of the properties and the relationship of objects to their environment and other objects, he stressed that atmosphere was a product of a ‘functional’ system of choices. This analysis of domestic interior theory was written outside of the artistic cannon but still finds relevance within it.
Some of the most successful exhibitions in the city over recent times have taken place in flats, houses, impromptu spaces and derelict environments that were built for other purposes. The exhibiting of work within this context is dictated by conditions of presence and being. By adapting to the surroundings, the rhetoric of this work mirrors the atmosphere and ambience of its surroundings conforming to its positioning outside of the white cube whilst carefully using remaining associations with the white cube to solidify its position as artwork, often via curatorial desire. This convenient paradox allows the work to function in its interior environment and as a result, triggers the elements present in the presentation of an artwork placing more emphasis on them. For example, a video work requires a collection of objects to work in tandem to successfully realise its potential of being played and exhibited. The objects needed for this to happen include; a DVD player, monitor, plinth or surface, plug adapter and DVD. These items all are needed for their functionality and without them the artwork (in this case the created and edited content on the DVD) would not achieve its objectives of being exhibited. In the interior setting however, the success and display of these elements become an intrinsic part of the artwork, much more so than if positioned within the white cube.
The spatial and overall inherent relationships between object and environment do have wider significance when viewing the artwork in both the white cube and the unorthodox venue. These modifications affect the reading significantly, the functionless relying here on systems perpetuated by the curator and/or overriding objective of the exhibition. When these objects are taken into a flat or house, the context of their display is naturally shifted. The atmosphere of these interiors and their temporal reclassification as venues of art drive the exhibition in cohesion with its ambiguous position between dwelling and gallery. The success of the works depends of the pre-existing knowledge of the rules of the white cube and the already existing relationship between the domestic abode and the commodities that already inhabit it.
The presentation and exhibiting of the video within the flat would immediately create two intertwining strands which the work would feed into. If no attempt is made to hide the wires and connection between television and DVD player and they both stand upon a plinth which happens to be white but is adjacent to bookshelf – then the connection naturally becomes implicated in the reading of the work. The stand that the DVD player sits on empowers the work with an authoritative and functional purpose, supporting the equipment while insinuating a traditional artistic mode outside of it. While the reason for these choices, which obviously vary from exhibition to event, range from curatorial to financial to stylised, the relationship to their immediate environment is fundamental. With works of art being positioned next to household items within this amalgamated context, the framing of work partially shifts from the recognised cognitive artistic arena to the ‘atmosphere’ borne of out functional choices that Baudrillard evaluated.
The rejection of this coarse rhetoric by larger institutions and the necessity for smooth white walls and veiled wiring is mostly driven by the overburdened adherence to health and safety and risk assessments, as well as the duty to the all consuming wash of the white walls. Technical reasons often supersede the aesthetic qualities of objects in both these circumstances however. These smaller independent exhibitions, while often fatally raw, frequently propose taxing questions in terms of objecthood and presentation when compared to their institutional relations.
(1) Jean Baudrillard Le Systéme des Objets, Gallimard 1968, republished by Verso 1996
Mona Hatoum @ White Cube Mason’s Yard 25.02.11-02.04.11
25.03.11 – 13.15pm
A swing invokes memories of childhood and playground fun in the majority of us, but what about a room full of them? This is what greets you upon entering the ground levels gallery of this emotionally engaged exhibition of new work by Mona Hatoum. Over thirty sets of ominous metal chains hang down to discomforting presence as you negotiate the room, weaving in between the small spaces between each swing. As you pass, you realise that the seat of each swing, a deep crimson red, is carved with an aerial ‘street view’ map. All of these carvings are layouts of capital cities. In the vast basement gallery, Hatoum has constructed a beautiful architectural landscape out of large and quite frankly, ugly metallic rectangular containers. These rectangular shapes are stacked high in various towering positions and have corners that have been welded off creating a worn effect. Working with the coldness and solidness of the material, Hatoum very cleverly has created an environment which is revealed to have been modeled on her place of birth Beirut. Via these two highly impressive installations, Hatoum has used the gallery environment to create a sense of atmosphere playing with the literal white cube gallery on the ground floor which is aggressively cut up by the black chains and the vibrant red of the benches. The lighting downstairs is dimmed creating a sense of dusk that engulfs this empty city. A third series of works shows maps of Baghdad and Kabul on tressel tables with delicate circular cuts to may or may not signify movement or a bomb blast. It is Hatoum’s expertly crafted allusions that make this exhibition so strong, whether it be the direct effects of war or the constant movement and tension between capitals and diplomatic relationships.
Nancy Spero @ The Serpentine 03.03.11-01.05.11
25.03.11 – 11.50am
This is the first dedicated exhibition of Nancy Spero’s work In England since her death in 2009. With a career spanning over fifty years, Spero established herself as a key feminist artist whose social conscience and political activism was evident by the language that she engineered within her work. Collage plays an integral part of this language. Spero used it to construct a sense of disorder and conflict via markmaking, text and paper. This Serpentine exhibition presents a wide range of Spero’s work covering early 1960′s text works that trace her use of the female form, historical symbolism and found imagery to the 2008 piece Maypole Take No Prisoners that is a maypole that spews out ribbons with prints of severed heads at the end. Azur (2002) is a powerhouse work impressively showcasing Spero’s manipulation of print techniques in a gallery that seemed purpose built to showcase the piece. Yet it is Maypole that sets the barometer for this exhibition, immediately confronting the viewer with Spero’s unflinchingly idiosyncratic technique and punchy weighty context.
osa/MERZEN @ CUBE, Manchester 18.02.2011 – 16.04.2011
20 March 2011
Kurt Schwitters, the master of ‘Merz’ – a self coined phrase he coined that translates as creating collages and assemblages by rearranging collected objects and fragments (the term is said to have been lifted by Schwitters from the title Commerz Bank) – is an artist who holds an almost mythical presence almost sixty years after his death in Kendal, England. To celebrate the impact Schwitters has had on a generation of artists and to highlight his relationship with northern England, Manchester is currently hosting a city wide festival MERZMAN to celebrate the creative legacy of Schwitters. As part of this programme, CUBE Manchester is hosting osa/MERZEN a site specific project undertaken by osa (Office for Subversive Architecture).
As opposed to manifesting itself as an archetypal gallery show, the project takes the form of what could be called ‘an infrequent installation’ where architects from osa employ the spirit of ‘Merz’ to blur the boundaries between the internal architecture of CUBE and new constructs by employing everyday detritus to create physical collages. These materials that range from humble wooden planks, to exhausted Manchester City Council bins have been sourced from the Manchester locale. Visitors are invited to bring in further materials under these conditions to add to the store room. The store room awakens from its static state over three weekends during the duration of the show when the architects raid and plunder it to add to their existing constructs. I visited the show between the second and third open weekend and found that an environment had indeed been forged out of the abundance of materials and waste, with was still more than enough material to build a small fort.
The osa drew inspiration from Schwitters’ collage YMCA Flag, Thank You, Ambleside 1947 (mixed media) for the exhibition brief and it the work is quietly sits in a contemplative position between the main galleries and the makeshift material store. The collage acts as a visual map to the mindset of osa and what they aim to achieve in creating temporal architectural modifications. The emphasis on material transformation is one of the key highlighted aspects of the brief and this is evident by the contrast between the lifeless store room and the layered additions of the physical space. The architectural modifications consisting of newspaper, wood, doors, plastic and safety tape flow excellently. The nooks and crannies of CUBE are all sought out and new relationships between existing architectural features do invoke sentiments of Merz whilst displaying a cerebral rationale behind each decision.
The lack of descriptive manual or what basically amounts to antithesis of architectural practice and the template of Merz philosophy ‘sensing without knowing’ allows osa to bask in the freedom of creating a temporary spatial environment out of what is essentially junk. As a part of a Kurt Schwitters celebration, this is a more effective and challenging project than say the production of an environment directly inspired by his Merzbau in 1933.
Despite the engaging spatial design, I cannot help but find the majority of exhibitions or projects that presents any part of the gallery environment as a inanimate storage space to be a problematic exhibition model. Even after leaving, I couldn’t help but feel cheated by the fact that these objects lie in a state of limbo with this status unavoidably draped over them like an excessively large paint covered rag. Whilst acknowledging the nature of the brief and the invitation extended to viewers to bring materials with them to become part of the construction, I couldn’t escape the feeling that osa/MERZEN comes across as a closed project that struggles to resonate beyond it’s own context.
Saying this however, I very much enjoyed this intelligent response to a built environment and the attempt of the exhibition to create visual and physical layers whilst addressing contemporary architectural concerns. Perhaps I should take this dose in the spirit of Schwitters and Merz, that this is the point, a singular project that attempts to make sense of our environment by challenging it freely and directly by creating a architectural collage. The final weekend of construction is next Saturday and Sunday. Make it down if you can.
Nam June Paik // Tate Liverpool/FACT // 17 December 2010 – 13 April 2011
Tate Liverpool, in partnership with FACT, is currently hosting the first retrospective exhibition of South Korean born artist Nam June Paik since his death in 2006. The exhibition is timely and stakes a claim for Paik as a visionary and pioneering artist who invented media art recognising and exploring its potential as a medium.
The exhibition maps his career by showcasing ninety eclectic works that span video, performance, composing and sculpture. A purposeful chronological display, the Tate exhibition attempts to reaffirm Paik’s position within the cannon of contemporary art history. The exhibition presents Paik’s work in a chronological display that is segmented into periods of his career. The beginning of the exhibition features early works with canvas, objects and musical sheets.
The exhibition illustrates the importance of Paik’s encounters with artists such as George Maciunus, Wolf Vostell and Joseph Beuys but most significantly, John Cage who had a massive impact on Paik who subsequently became a key protagonist of the Fluxus movement. The exhibition subtly hints that this is the point that Paik’s work begins to draw focus and his experimentations begin to truly push the boundaries.
Due to his relocation to New York – and with a nod in hindsight to the crowds that swamp an Apple store on the day of the release of a new gadget – Paik was able to purchase a Sony Portapak camera on its day of release and produced Button Happening (1965). The piece captures the spirit of the happenings of his previous Fluxus performance for the first time and even though the piece is ‘technically fragile’ (according to the blurb) it is vital in pinpointing Paik’s impact.
A poster declaring that the advent of technology via statements carries particular resonance. An array of sculptural works featuring Eastern icons and candles being placed in situations and recorded by cameras. These voyeuristic compositions are truly prophetic about the surveillance society that engulfs us today.
The collaboration between cellist Charlotte Moorman and Paik was a long lasting partnership that saw the two perform numerous times, often with Moorman situated playing the cello in various states of undress, the most prominent footage of her with two screens acting as a bra in TV Bra for Living Sculpture. The series of performances entitled TV Cello (1971) interestingly encapsulates the contrast between the spontaneous and performative aspects of Paik’s work and the issues that this approach raises for retrospective gallery display.
The original TV Cello is displayed on the travelled wooden plinth and possesses the aesthetic fragility that a technological instrument carted around and utilised for live performances decades ago would naturally possess. The decision to pair this version with a 2003 version created by Paik is one of the exhibitions most interesting statements in terms of framing the exhibition. The replacement of 60’s screens complete with prominent cathode ray tubes with sleek black plastic coated flat screens is a nod to the possibilities of technology. One CRT remains in the new version that is covered with Perspex dubbed with paint marks. Through this action and critically a few years after a debilitating stroke, Paik acknowledges the problems of how to exhibit technology that simply isn’t built to last whilst at the same time highlighting that this situation isn’t an exclusively technological problem.
The relationship between conservation and facilitation is a necessary dialogue that quietly threads the exhibition. The use of DVD players, scart leads and amplifiers amongst the original wires is already starting to influence the display of works from the 60’s and 70’s. It is clear that as time progresses, it is going to be more and more problematic to facilitate the exhibition of these original works with modification. The question for curators of future Nam June Paik exhibitions is whether the original objects (television sets etc) are intrinsic to the nature of the work or whether or not they (or parts) can be replaced and updated? The large television work that was broken when I visited perhaps frames this question. Paik’s later works explore the relationship between nature and technology, incorporating animals and plant life. His robot series carry a universally wider appeal whilst still striking the chord of playfulness inherent in his work.
As a retrospective, the Paik show is timely and well executed. Worries that the exhibition misses important aspects of his output are levelled out by FACT’s accompanying exhibition. Laser Cone is the only work in a gallery context featured in the FACT exhibition, a work that invites the viewer to lie down and be treated to a LCD laser show. The gallery upstairs acts as an interactive library archive allowing the option to select numerous recordings either by or with Paik spanning the 70’s and 80’s. The resource is a nice touch and one can spend literally hours viewing experimental video work. Seen as a stand-alone exhibition, FACT fails to penetrate. Accusations that the archive is inaccessible do warrant consideration but when analysed in tandem with such a clear main exhibition, the FACT archive adds worthy context to the body of work at Tate.
Perhaps the ultimate complement that we could pay to the late Nam June Paik would be the ability of anyone with an Internet connection to sit at home and find his work on YouTube and view it in his or her own environment. Judging by conversations that I have had, this exhibition has been well judged in helping to give more exposure to a great artist ensuring that he is positioned accordingly.
JW – Sunday 6th February 2011
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Schiphol: The Museum within the AirportCity
Schiphol Airport, the gargantuan site located on the outskirts of Amsterdam, is Europe’s fifth busiest airport and the fifteenth busiest in the world, according to 2010 passenger figures. A truly multi faceted transportation hub, Schiphol is a European gateway that caters for the Dutch capital’s ideal geographical position within Europe making it a prominent stopover destination for long haul flights across the world.
At Schiphol (provided they are in receipt of the necessary documentation of course) a traveller can debark from a train from Berlin at the vast underground station directly underneath the site and be checking in to their flight to Shanghai ten minutes later. Taking an escalator from the underground station to the ground floor, the traveller strolls through a massive seamless pavilion of retail units, coffee shops and eateries, passing huge high definition electronic information boards en route to the check in terminal. The distances on the predominately English/Dutch signage that punctuate the space between check in desks, terminals and departure gates are measured in chunks of minutes between each stage.
After entering through the appropriate gate and successfully passing the first stage of security, the traveller enters into the departure terminal. Schiphol employs a one terminal concept where travellers may walk between the three main terminals without segregation. The result is one vast hall and is the primary reason why spatially; Schiphol maintains a constant aura of vastness and an unusually direct flow. Numerous floor escalators are installed in an attempt to quicken the journey. The hall itself is populated by a differing set of retail units, eateries joined at this stage by executive first class lounges, hotels, and an endless array of amenities that offer pampering and relaxation.
It is here beyond passport control that Schiphol seeks to cement its position as an experience beyond the ordinary airport environment with a renewed assault of chains and amenities aimed at maximising the experience. In between departure gates and on the stretch of terminal space dubbed ‘Holland Boulevard’ the traveller with is presented with a selection of predominantly Dutch related amenities (to be elaborated upon later). It is in this section that they will encounter the Rijksmuseum, Schiphol. The main Rijksmuseum, based in central Amsterdam centre, has a notable main collection featuring paintings by Masters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt. It is one of Amsterdam’s main attractions and boasts continuously strong visitor figures and a handsome international reputation.
As Banksy’s film ironically stated, entrance (and exit) to the museum is through the gift shop. You are required to navigate it to enter the space. The museum encompasses a fabricated structure where entrance is achieved via stairs directly above it. Once you enter the elevated room, you are immediately immersed within the traditional controlled gallery environment. The works, currently all classical Dutch and Flemish paintings and ceramics, are behind glass and the lighting levels bestow the contemplative hue. Interpretation text is served in hearty doses alongside the works and there is a wooden model of the plans for the soon to be refurbished Rijksmuseum site in the city. The exhibitions in the museum are featured on a rotational basis and exhibition themes draw upon works from the Rijksmuseum’s main collection. Exclusivity is a factor here. The airport markets a big differentiation between the amenities available to the traveller once they have navigated passport control. The museum is only available to those who have forked money out for a ticket with which they will board a flight.
The function of this ‘branch’ of a respected arts institution within the airport context deserves further analysis.
Located on a strip of retail units entitled ‘Holland Boulevard’, the Rijksmuseum operates primarily as a facet of the Rijksmuseum brand. The nationalist theme of its surrounding area, an area dedicated to promoting Holland, is reflected by the content of the museum – what better to promote the strength of Dutch culture than a handful of centuries old classical Dutch/Flemish paintings? The strip itself seems as if it is an innocuous attempt to position a Dutch identity (already watered down by the considerable use of English to communicate and plethora of nationalities passing through) within the ‘non-place’ context of Schiphol. However, apart from the cynical viewpoint that the presence of the space amounts to little other than the implementation of a frankly excellent marketing tool for the institution and to sell merchandise via the gift shop, it’s presence does open up intriguing dialogue for the potential of exhibition spaces within the context of a transient space in the airports.
The Rijksmuseum is a willing participant in this system as it falls in line with the overall environment of the airport. Realistically, it has little choice, as the control of these environments is so intense that there is practically no room for experimentation or manoeuvre – the terms of engagement are dictated by the airport, or in Schiphol’s case, the size and aspiration of the airport.
Schiphol’s subscription to the AirportCity model is critical.
‘An AirportCity is a dynamic environment integrating and enhancing people and businesses, logistics and shopping, information and entertainment. This efficient, multi-modal hub for air, rail and road transport is a seamless link in the travel process that provides visitors a unique experience.’
It is this statement (taken from the Schiphol Group website) that opens up the reading of the Rijksmuseum Schiphol. The sheer size and ambition of the airport to be more than a transient space – the term aerotroplis being bartered about for vast spaces that outgrow the basic means of travel – makes it inevitable that the placement of a social tool, a museum in this instance, be incorporated as part of the fabric of this swollen model. These monstrous airport cities are including increasingly utilising and incorporating new ways of satisfying the seemingly insatiable human need for instant gratification and connectivity. It is natural that art be thrust in to it. The terms of its inclusion though is what makes Rijksmuseum Schipnol such an intriguing venture.
Of course, art within an airport context isn’t a new development. Rijksmuseum Schiphol opened in late 2002 and art programmes are heavily active in large US airports such as Denver, Philadelphia and Miami. The models of art vary here from rotating displays organised independently organised by the venues to permanent sculptures, murals and paintings. Rijksmuseum Schipnol refers to itself as a ‘museum’ and as we know, the function of a museum – regardless of size and location – is to guard and showcase historical works of art/objects presenting them in either a permanent or temporary exhibition.
Whilst the relationship between viewer and venue is universally defined by a mutually accepted manner of conduct, the circumstances of entering the airport museum are governed by exceptional parameters. The traveller is acutely aware of the temporal significance of their presence within the museum. A viewer in a city gallery context will (for the majority of the time) have a predetermined idea of the time span they will inhabit the venue for, the traveller knows that they are positioned within a fixed system and must comply with the stringent regulations placed on their time. This marshalling of the essence of freedom impedes the overall likelihood of the possibility of any real engagement with a work of art on show in this model. Paradoxically, these constrictions render the process of viewing work in this environment more interesting. It is why the potential of showcasing work in the environment needs to be investigated further.
Rather, the key to a successful and engaging future showcases of work lies within the relationship and trust that would need to be fostered between the cultural institution and/or artist and the holding group/management of the facility. The goal of any future museum that seeks to exist amongst the orchestrated dynamics of the environment of the AirportCity, needs to be defined. As the controlled development of these environments will only intensify in future years, the attempts to work amongst these perimeters will surely continue to jar against the permanent severity of airport security. That is why entering into dialogue and building a real and pertinent ongoing relationship is the only viable option if showcasing work in these environments is going to be worthwhile.
Would a display of contemporary artwork that is risky, evocative and engaging be able to be successful in this controlled environment? The Rijksmuseum is able to undertake their Schiphol venture due to their resources but their presence is welcome and compatible within the larger glut of brands and shops of the AirportCity. Even if they reached an agreement, a smaller arts venue without the resources simply wouldn’t be able to execute a similar venture at this time of deep cuts when staying afloat is the priority. Would the AirportCity (or even airport) meet the organisation half way and give it the freedom to work outside and even question its rigorously managed environment?
Perhaps one-day, institutions such as Tate and MoMA will follow the Rijksmuseum and position themselves within the retail space of the inevitable expansions of the worlds larger airports to market their respective brands and showcase works from their collection. But if so, will they meet or at least attempt to meet the challenge of presenting work successfully?
Perhaps in the meantime by using their vast, vast resources and engaging in now much needed cultural philanthropy, the holding groups of AirportCities across the world could countenance cultural activities and commission new permanent works, collaborate with artists and organisations who would make the traveller stop and think, rather than stop and shop?
Monday 3rd – Sunday 9th January 2011
I decided I am going to keep a (brief) weekly online journal of my life that will intertwine here with my other writing. Never one to keep a diary or gorge myself on the gluttony of navel gazing, one of my aims is to stop ‘wasting’ creative time in an effort to prevent me banging my head against a wooden panel later in life cursing my current self for not being more productive. Whether this writing can be seen as ‘creative’ is something I will decide on a whim at a later point but for the first time (possibly in my life) I have the urge to document my thoughts and experiences more frequently. Now and then, this may fly close to the banal blogging typeset that I have so far desperately avoided all of these years. Bare with me as I try and not to voluntarily make a den in the cave of beige. I shall focus on works, experiences and meetings that have tickled my artistic cockles, so to speak. And I will throw in a few pictures as well.
Start of 2011 and an emphasis to get myself focused on new projects. I spent a day with coffee and Excel creating lists of possibilities and new ideas. Lists are like a spa for the soul and I have felt roaring to go since. The studio suffered at the hands of the cold snap with a burst pipe over the Christmas period which left the studio floor immersed in 2 inches of water. Having been away I didn’t return until the sterling work by the members who had removed the water. Apart from damage to a few works and objects (the red couch in the computer room had to go) it could have been a lot worse. I have been on the cusp of illness recently so have had to avoid going to the last few weeks, a day in a freezing studio would most likely finish me off.
What this has done is forced me to work at home. I’m trying to ween myself off solely making objects. I am becoming frustrated at not producing when I am away from the studio, and aren’t in, I haven’t been producing. Simple as. This adaption has been refreshing. Filling a cafetiere of coffee and getting down to long drawing sessions, both in pencils/pens and, for the first time using Photoshop to illustrate compositions and ideas, has been liberating. I have been researching movie posters from both for recent and past eras. I’ve always been drawn to these advertisements and at the other end of the spectrum, recently lusted over the Russian propaganda posters in Tate Modern main collection. The designs, layering and actual placement of posters can have wide ranging social and political connotations and I will be writing more in depth on this subject matter soon. In the meantime, here (above) is the marvelous poster for French film A Prophet (2009 Dir – Jacques Audiard).
I have a confession. I have been having doubts about the relevance of blogging both for me and my site.
See, I have been having trouble defining what blogging means to me, the impact that it has on my practice and my overall creative output. I haven’t updated my website as much recently as I haven’t been in a position to generate new visual content. This reluctance to update (however minimal) has seen me break my own rule of not regularly updating my website. My indecision of whether to blog on viewings of recent exhibitions or events etc, has seen the website go without fresh content longer than I would have liked.
I seem to be going through a period of transition spiritually and cerebrally, reflecting on my output as an artist and my position and approach to producing artwork. I am glad to say that I have made many positive changes lately and am in the process of implementing more. I guess I am in the process of evaluating important aspects in my life and the dial has turned to my site. Blogging has always been something I have had to be in the mood to do although I have always thought of it as a vital tool. I can have inspirational nights where the prose flows through my fingers to the keyboard. Other nights just pass by. Time steadily continues it’s onward trajectory leaving me behind. That’s how it feels.
I guess my main discomfort is my attempt to locating my position online. What is the point of this section? Am I expressing my thoughts via the intermediate of this site?.. Or am I updating (for those who care) nuggets of news and present happenings in my career?…Or I am just unnecessarily navel gazing?
I seem to have accepted that yes, this is my site. Christ, I pay the hosting and update it, so perhaps pro-Jack propaganda won’t hurt on at least ONE site? Well, in moderation. No-one wants to hear banal ramblings of the self. I regularly read A-N’s blog microsite following blogs where artists and practitioners express their thoughts on a wide range of subjects. Faithfully reading a consistent handful, along with a few randoms each time I go on it, I enjoy the honesty of these portals of text. They offer a glimpse into that particular persons interests, practices, arguments and occasionally, vulnerabilities. Perhaps one of the reasons I don’t blog as much is due to worrying if I don’t have a precise reason to blog then I shouldn’t do it. Undeniably, this is a lazy/poor way of thinking which I have nipped in the bud.
I have realised that as my practice is evolving rapidly and perimeters shift under my feet, my blog is vital to my ability to articulate not only my thoughts but how it will inform my future plans and interests. I will be updating more regularly in near future and reviewing and writing contextual text. There’s a positive move right there.
Mnemic Causation – Remnants
As part of Remnants exhibition at The Lost Soul & Stranger Service Station in August, I created a series of works in response to the exhibition theme of ‘trace’ – examining the impact and consequences of our actions within an environment.
The root of my research stems from the phrase ‘trace’ a term that established itself as a key concept in early discussions with Hannah and Keiron. Continuing with the writing that underpinned my ideas, I quickly was drawn to the facet of the engram. It’s definition;
Bertrand Russell’s 1929 book The Analysis of the Mind, he argues that the response to an event is directly influenced by our memory of it.
‘In such a law as ‘A, B, C…the past, together with X now, cause Y now’, we will call A,B,C…the mnemic cause, X the occasion or stimulus, and Y the reaction. All cases in which experiences influences behaviour are instances of mnemic causation.’
Russell cites the example of the language barrier as a prime example of mnemic phenomena – understanding formed from our past experiences. The relationship to the body and the brain is important but not vital unlike the memory without the catalyst of the causation.
“All psychic phenomena are built up out of sensations and images alone……Beliefs, desires, volitions, and so on” are nothing but “sensations and images variously interrelated.”
However Russell’s sparing with French Philosopher Henri Bergson saw his claims that images are merely replicas of past sensations taken to task. Bergson’s response that if this were true, then why aren’t we confused by the recollection of a loud and soft noise?, bamboozled Russell. Bergson’s suggestion that the brain facilitates experience and that memory is a perception of the past, but crucially, as part of the ongoing passage of time – carried more water than Russell’s flawed analysis. The reasoning that events can be influenced, at a distance over time, by sufficiently similar previous events – without the need for a cataylst – has discredited Russell’s theory.
Mnemic Causation Series (2010) centered around a form with strong domestic associations, the carpet. Beige and dirtied the carpet occupied the floor responding the area of the room. Ruffled and bumpy, the carpet lay uneasy. Not at peace.
Detail from Mnemic Causation Series (2010)
The singular structure that occupied itself on the carpet invokes a minimal, architectural model. Without over analysing, the intention of the piece was for the viewer to make associations between these unified forms and make a reading that attempts to utilise and pull on their own unique experiences. We all remember a carpet from a house that we visited or used to live in. The site and the requirement of the viewers own experience is intrinsic to the reading of the work.
Bertrand Russell, Analysis of the Mind, 1921 – Lecture IV
That’s the problem with all this art and working – you can forget to update your website blog for a few weeks. Ahem. The reason for my slacking is that it is Biennial time in Liverpool once again. The 2010 edition is presented under the encompassing theme of ‘Touched’ with the question – can art touch a city? One of the most interesting things about the Liverpool Biennial in my opinion – magnified by the scale of Liverpool as a city – is the humming of the city in the week before the opening. A stroll down Bold Street chances are you will catch a glimpse of a motley crew of artists, technicians, curators going about their business. Nearer to Friday evening this increased up to the city being swamped by art professionals, scenesters and every other private view attendee.
This year I had the experience of being between in the midst of two very different pre-Biennial set ups. Working in the Bluecoat, I saw first hand the technicians working with artists such as the excellent Daniel Bozhkov to install demanding works in the four gallery spaces and the Vide. The general atmosphere ranged from stress ridden angst to energetic bursts of optimism. The resources of the main galleries ensure that the structure of the installation is adhered to and tools provided.
The second experience was working on the Cooperative space on Renshaw Street. I won’t explain what the Cooperative is (you can follow the link) but the old Rapid Shop needed to be gutted and made into the project space for exhibitions and events. This work was valiantly undertaken by the people who lended their time and skills for free, often straight after working full days elsewhere. This spirit is what endears the Biennial to me. The collective desire to see projects come to fruition. The raw nature of everyone providing their skills, from administrators getting their hands dirty to everyone doing silly things at silly times at night for the sheer love of it makes me appreciate efforts even more.
Whether or not the Biennial is bursting at the seems with quality is another matter. I have only seen a handful of exhibitions. Highlights from what I have seen so far is a welcome return to decent programming by FACT after what has seemed a self imposed exile. The video piece by Meiro Koizumi has probably been the work that has moved (or Touched) me so far. http://bit.ly/d6nDy0
Saying this, having returned from London yesterday evening, I believe that any work in the Biennial will struggle to get near to the sheer brilliance of Mike Nelson’s The Coral Reef reinstalled currently in Tate Britain. This is going to be an artwork I am going to obsess over I feel…
Going to be writing a piece on the Biennial in the next month or so once I have taken it all in.
1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces
15 June – 30 August 2010
With the economic climate having brought a large percentage of architectural developments to a halt over the last eighteen months, the recent austerity drive by our coalition government has accelerated these measures to a practical stand still. Architectural firms and larger developments are being talked under – even the feted Tate Modern extension unsafe from wildfire speculation amidst the spectre of the primed unwieldy axe.
Set against this seemingly deteriorating and literal financial backdrop, the V&A invited nineteen architectural practices from across the world to submit concept designs for newly designed structural milieus to be dotted across the museum for the exhibition 1:1. From nineteen submissions, seven were constructed and installed in situ. As the title of the exhibition suggests, the scale of these fabrications were large enough for the viewer to enter or interact with each design – but considerably smaller than the scale of a normal building. Given that the concept of the brief was ‘refuse and retreat’ the emphasis on materiality and design reflected not only the growing sense of responsibility that is intrinsic in the designs of socially aware architectural practices, but also attempted to tap into locality and engage emotional depth, something that is often lost in larger architectural designs.
The usage of the phrase ‘test site’ used to describe the metaphorical blank canvas of the V&A intrigued me. Test – a word that can be attributed to describe the process of experimentation in judging success or failure – and architecture are two words that don’t sit together easily. The acceptable margins for error within architecture are few and far between; the impact of a slight misjudgement can have socially negating consequences. Taken into the relatively safe haven of a museum and straddling the context of an artwork, this exercise encouraged a compromise between the often-stoic precision of architecture and the emotive nature of an artwork.
The structures indeed responded site with each design being informed by their specific location within the museum. The starting point of 1:1 is the Porter Gallery that houses Vazio VS Spiral Booths, a rather cold metallic staircase structure that will facilitate performances during the exhibition liberating the structure from it’s static rigidness. The Rural Studio design Woodshed presented a wooden structure that places great emphasis on its material and construction properties (the wood was sourced from forest thinnings in Wales) and the design promotes the use of reusable natural materials but ultimately flourishes within the context of a gallery environment. The conditions of a gallery display enrich Woodshed with the positioning and lighting adding weight to a simple design whereas one cannot escape the overriding sense of coldness reserved for the stairwell of a multi storey car park with Spiral Booths. It would have been interesting to see the elements of performance over the duration of the exhibition possibly animate this structure.
Aside from the placement and specific design of these two structures within a gallery setting, the rest of the realised structures were dotted around the museum requiring the viewer to follow a trail across the V&A. Differing from the first encounter of two designs, the rest of the trail (if this is an appropriate term) encompasses a series of singular interactions between viewer and the stand alone structure. The temporary placement of these new temporary structures alongside existing V&A exhibits and architecture provided a weighty context. To gain entry into the V&A marketing departments work of choice for exhibition publicity Beetle’s House by Terunobu Fujimori, you are required to remove your shoes and climb a ladder to peer into Beetle’s House in a display of Japanese etiquette although I found the physicality of the structure slightly too extreme for a 6-foot plus man. Beetle’s House achieves perhaps the most interesting dialogue between space and environment with the location of the piece in front of impressive permanent display of the huge façade of Sir Paul’s Pindar’s House, complementing the scale, design and cultural properties of the small hybrid dwelling.
Near the staircase V&A National Art Library, Rintala Eggertsson Architects design Ark is literally a vessel to hold books. Comprised of a wooden structure with hundreds of shelves adorned with books stacked to face inward offering an array of decorative book spines when you are ascending/descending the staircase. Tapping into the ‘retreat’ aspect of the brief, the structure contains small rooms complete with chairs for viewers to browse books they select from the shelves. The aspiration of studious contemplation seems to be an idealistic idea when coupled with the busy environment the structure is involved with and it’s unfortunate resemblance of an IKEA shelving unit display. The decorative nature of the books only fuelled this impression as the uniformality of the coloured scheme organised books rendered them coloured blocks.
Studio Mumbai Architects In Between Architecture proves to be one of the more successful relationships between the museum and built structure. The scale cast of an illegal dwelling or unauthorised settlements that are commonly constructed in Mumbai as shelter for the poor slots in between sculptural and structural casts from the V&A collection. The correlation between these casts of traditional monuments and sculptures and the cast of a temporary shack is thoughtful and as a concept raises issues between the preservation of buildings, functionality and the wider necessity of providing shelter. The status of the cast enters into this dialogue. With the V&A possessing hundreds of casts of artworks that have become, in some instances, the main evidence of existence of the lost original work, the deliberately unresolved positioning of In Between Architecture within the gallery stokes the debate of the validity of the cast as an artwork.
The external structures focus on natural materials with and a freedom of design that approaching the brief with the knowledge of being located outdoors. Helen and Hard Architects Ratatosk utilises five Norse ash trees that has been separated and spliced together to create a design that draws on Norwegian mythology and fairytales. Consequently the design is less of a regimented structure and benefits with a sense of freedom. This freedom is evident through it’s playful if airy design and allows focus on the methods employed in its creation, in this instance computer-aided designs and the physical construct – although Woodshed is a more successful example of this.
As noted in the interpretation material, architectural exhibitions often smother viewers with Masterplans, technicalities and models rather than being able to present the physical outcome due to the obvious reasons. The interpretation material within the exhibition is notable and informative presenting a compromise between a museum exhibition and the detail of an architectural display. For me, one of the fundamental successes of 1:1 was not only facilitating designs that creatively approached the relationship between architecture, viewer and environment but also rediscovering a magnificent museum.
Re-post from late June to kick it off…
The Lost World
I am catching up with the news this week including fully nosing at the recent Art Council England cuts http://bit.ly/aF4v4N and wondering how ‘cutting’ the emergency budget will be this week. As ever have enjoyed A-N magazine’s Tweets from numerous events and conferences. That really is the power of Twitter, to inform you in 140 characters what is happening now…this includes journalists from the broadsheets reporting directly from the World Cup of course!
As I am sitting here cappuccino in hand penning a ‘to do’ list for the week ahead trying to master my juggling of time in a absurdly confident ‘structure’, I have realised that this process is something which is exact in my approach to work. Perhaps the more prominent role of admin has usurped my approach to ideas – the approach being I seem to write down thoughts as text rather punctuated with drawing. Anyway, I visited Lewis department store in Liverpool which has recently closed this week.
Amazingly they were selling all fixtures and fittings of the shop, something which naturally jumped at the chance to view. Walking through the 1970′s soaked internal corridors – complete with neglected staff boards, grim beige walls and horrendous stained carpets, you were allowed on the shop floor where staff carried on their duties moving old stock. You were submerged in an environment which subverted the set hierarchy and relationship between goods, display and the customer. I was fascinated by the display of the vehicles of display and their new position within this situation. Spatially, it was one of the most engaging experiences I have had for a while. Perhaps I am reading far too much into this, but it has prompted me to produce work on the experience. Also, still waiting for website to be modified updated and new sections added. Will add recent work images when this happens.