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Saturday, 18 June 2011

Fundamental Stages of Being: Presence, Absence, Kingsland Road Studio, London.

Review by Alex Tieghi-Walker

Tucked underneath an ordinary yellow-bricked housing development, like so many now trailing the canal in East London, is a rather extraordinary space - in another life it was probably an underground car park, but today the Kingsland Road Studio has been furnished with whitewashed beach huts and from 10 – 13 June, Presence Absence, the first exhibition here with energetic works by four young London artists. The Kingsland Studio is the offspring of a small collective of photographers and designers who, as well as stashing themselves away in a hardback-lined corner of the blanched space, provide a place for creative peoples to create and present their art. Zachary Eastwood-Bloom, James Irwin, Brendan Olley and Alida Sayer are the lucky quartet chosen to inaugurate the studio, of which one half is taken up by pleasantly calming typographical and geometric installations and the rest of the space housing the more disruptive tendencies of the artists.

With absence and presence expressing fundamental stages of being, the title suggests something either very, very literal, or, as it turns out, a much more complex exploration of the everyday and the intangible. Visitors are wowed on entry by James Irwin’s large light installation, a simple starburst of fluorescent tubes, which, on closer inspection and a little fiddle with switches on a podium, allow the viewer to illuminate different bulbs to form letters of the alphabet. Another of Irwin’s works on the opposite wall mirrors this phosphorescent display; this time the flick of a switch alternates lights from spelling ON to reading OFF. Simple, but providing endless fun for those confident enough to approach the switch.

And while these pieces may physically dominate the space and heighten one’s attentiveness, they are simply a primer for works by the other three artists. Zachary Eastwood-Bloom has engineered shape landscapes using technology; they exist purely as virtual plains until they are translated into real, tangible objects. An antique table is partly chiselled down, the dining surface taking on the form of a shallow geometrical mountain range. These landscapes reappear in We Control the Horizontal and the Vertical where layers of Perspex sheets have been cut to another of his digital designs.

Swapping geometric panoramas for typography, Alida Sayer manipulates text by cutting, printing and projecting to explore the way the viewer looks at 3D objects. The largest installation at the Kingsland Studios and Alida’s first large-scale work, There Is No Beginning, which she describes as three dimensional stilled animations, shows letters and words trembling inside a large frame where the letters have been cut on to acetate many, many layers deep. Exploring the idea of the unknown and confusing perceptions, Brendan Olley is the only one of the group to take on the moving image. In a short performance piece, Brendan plays a piano to an isolated mountain in the Russian Artic. The sound does not, and probably never will make it to the mountain. It’s one of those silencing videos and a calmer contrast to Irwin’s more obvious communication through his light sculptures.

Four artists couldn’t have combined so effortlessly: their medium and method all very individual yet somehow united in their geometry and the idea of tampering with the norm. The preoccupation with technology, communication, perception and memory is evident, and one supposes that the exhibition naming alludes to the way that the artists seem to really explore the simplicity of the everyday and the ways to reveal its possible forms.

True to its nomenclature, however, the exhibition takes these notions of time and memory a little too far by showing only for a fleeting 3-day period: present one weekend and absent the next. No doubt the Kingsland Studios will find plenty more promising tenants in the months to come, this has been an excellent taster of what is to come.

Next up at Kingsland Road Studio is a group exhibiton of photographic and video work from 2 - 7 October.

kingslandroadstudio.com

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
Presence-Absence installation shot, photo © Philip Sayer

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pablo Bronstein: Sketches for Regency Living, ICA, London.


Review by Paul Hardman

Bronstein is the first artist to have had the opportunity to use all of the ICA's available spaces for a solo exhibition. The three main gallery areas, along with corridors and stairwells, have provided him with a puzzle that suits his own work particularly well, since the subject of much of his work is the vocabulary of Regency period design and architecture, and building that houses the ICA, Nash House, is itself a grand example of this genre. This connection between the artists work and the architecture creates a relationship that is at times ironic, charming and occasionally confusing. But it a connection that I am sure delighted the artist, and this delight shines through in the parts of the exhibition that work most successfully.

In the first lower gallery an enormous painting fills the whole of the far wall, depicting a huge regency period building and courtyard, the building has features very similar to The Mall, just outside, but this is an invented building, and this area of the gallery is in a modern white box style room, with no trace of the outer form. So Bronstein has set up a strangely artificial construct to begin with: an imagined Regency building, in a non period space, in a real Regency building. This painting functions as a stage set for a performer, who stalks around the room on her toes in long stylised strides, pausing occasionally to strike poses. She wears a yellow and black outfit designed by Mary Katranzou, which references period dress but is something quite clearly contemporary, so the effect is not of a simulation of an aspect of a previous era, but of taking apart and examining piece by piece the grammar of a language that can no longer be understood.

This kind of slow methodical examination continues with a set of drawings that are mounted on the walls at the base of the stairs and continue upwards through several stories to the top of the building. This series called Designs for the Ornamentation of Middle Class Homes (2011), is meticulously executed, as are the rest of the drawings in the exhibition, and seems to follow an internal set of rules that cause it to expand apparently towards infinity as it spirals upwards. Each drawing depicts the facade of the front of a house with empty spaces for windows and the door, above which is a small decorative panel. As one moves along the row of drawings the decoration changes, from laurel leaves, to a statue of a nymph, to a scroll motif and so on. But at some point one realises that some of the window spaces now have a curved top edge, then more windows appear, then the decorative area moves, and then it becomes apparent that the drawings are increasing in size to accommodate taller buildings. This slow process of expansion continues right the way up in a slow, slightly maddening way. Again Bronstein seems to be working through the vocabulary of the style in a way that undermines the possibility of meaning.

Some of the other drawings in the exhibition have something of M.C. Escher about them, not that they are actually 'impossible', but that they have something deliberately wrong about them. In once case, a large monolithic block of a building is shown from an elevated angle so that the roof can be seen, but the internal courtyard is shaped in a tight triangle, positioned off centre. It is a shape that would clearly never be made, but drawn in the correct projection and perspective Bronstein makes it look like a completely straight faced proposition. In drawings of this sort Bronstein's dry delivery and flawless technical skill are combined to perfect effect.

The exhibition can seem slightly austere, and a little difficult to engage with at first. For example, a large cabinet against is displayed upstairs with little explanation, and seems like an empty gesture. But in fact this is one of Bronstein's metamorphic pieces of furniture, and at certain parts of the day it is demonstrated how the object transform into other things. As one start, to get into Bronstein's way of looking at things, the lighter side to his work begins to emerge, and his subject begins to open up. One thing the show does do is make London look different when you leave the gallery, the architecture of the city now feels more like something to be questioned and deciphered rather than a simple backdrop for daily life.

Pablo Bronstein: Sketches for Regency Living continues until 25 September 2011

ica.org.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Costumes by Mary Katrantzou
Exhibition view of Sketches for Regency Living at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 9 June to 25 September 2011
Photos (c) Steve White

Multi-Sensory Dialogues: Q&A with Russell Hill, Catlin Art Prize Winner 2011.


Established in 2007, the Catlin Art Prize recognises and supports the development of recent art graduates in the UK. Following their final degree shows, artists are selected for their potential to make a significant mark in the art world during the next decade and invited to demonstrate their progress by presenting a new body of work at the Catlin Art Prize exhibition, held twelve months on from graduation.

This year, Russell Hill, a 2010 sculpture graduate of Wimbledon College of Art was selected as the winner of the fifth annual Catlin Art Prize, and with degree shows in full swing we caught up with Russell to find out how he got so lucky.

First of all, could you tell us a little bit about your work?
I often respond to selected contemporary objects in a playful and carefully constructed methodical manner. I regularly attempt to control, order and exploit systematic approaches to consumer culture and regularly tamper with objects displaying images of the 'natural' and the work is expressed through serial sculpture. Domestic objects and consumer products are stripped of their imagery to support the idea of mass production, while references to popular culture weave through contemporary visual strategies to intrigue the viewer. I have an apparent penchant for contemporary versions of natural interventions whilst I am continuously preoccupied with the idea of 'automation' and its relationship to contemporary culture. The objects become transformed from the familiar banal into an elegant art piece.

What experiences shape your work the most?
When I left college I remember expressing to one of my peers that I felt I just wanted to ‘live’. By this I mean I wanted to experience life away from the institution of an art school. Ultimately it's day to day living that fuels the work I make. I try to explore my own position within contemporary living, but more specifically my place within consumer culture. The apparent ease of this makes it an incredibly rich resource.

The multi-sensory nature of your work, especially in Airwicks stands out to me. What sort of experience are you trying to create for the viewer here?
The work was a two-way dialogue between the object and viewer. The multi –sensory nature of the work meant that the viewer was able to activate the work in terms of its interaction within the space. The visually stimulating aesthetic meant an often over-looked consumer object was now in an arena where its ergonomics are revealed along with its basic functionality. The work adopted a new fetish–like surface, with its high shine finish. Each object lined up like a military force assaulting the air around them, the work shifted from an affectionate consumer product to a calculated system where it paid homage to 1960s minimalism.

As a new graduate, how has the transition from art school to being an artist been for you so far?
The first few months were hard. Situating yourself within a new studio environment is a difficult thing to do when you have only just began to work in a way which you are happy with. I was lucky enough to have been given a great opportunity to be in a show called Anticipation curated by Kay Saatchi and Catriona Warren shortly after graduating. From that show things moved very quickly and Justin Hammond shortlisted me for The Catlin Art Prize which I ended up wining. This show gave me to motivation and ambition to make new work, something which was invaluable to me at that time.

What’s next for you?
Next up, I have the Bow Arts open studios, and the work featured in the Catlin Art Prize will be on show in Connection Point London, an exhibition of Bow Arts artists until late July. I have a studio visit pencilled in with Simon Oldfield Gallery so I will see how that goes.

What would be your advice to new graduates?
Go slow. I think it’s easy to put pressure on yourself too early on and that can hinder the creative process.

You can see Russell Hill's work in Connection Point London at Bow Arts from 25 June - 17 July.

bowarts.org
russellhillonline.com

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Transformations in the Domestic Realm: Haegue Yang, Teacher of Dance, Modern Art Oxford.

Review by Lucy Hobbs

Five tomato cans, elevated on a cylindrical platform boasting tightly-knitted mauve exteriors introduce visitors to Haegue Yang’s foremost solo UK exhibition Teacher of Dance. Seoul-born Yang has been living and working in Berlin and Seoul for the past fifteen years and Teacher of Dance presents an album of over a decade of the artists work. Yang’s sculptures and installations research and formulate connections between private space and domesticity by frequently utilising and manipulating recognisable household objects and consumerist goods. Transformation of household entities is a frequent attribute in Yang’s work which reflects explicitly on her impressions of modern civilisation, society and community.

The series Can Cosies (2010) presents the artist’s most recent and on-going body of work; knitted sleeves fashioned for wholesale food tins. The consecutive loops of wool delicately embrace the monotonous 400g cans, exchanging their former appearance for a more surreal and delightful facade. They are both bulky and delicate. The rest of the lower ground floor of Modern Art Oxford showcases a miscellany of Yang’s smaller-scale works; Manteuffelstrasse 112 (2010-2011) a sequence of venetian blinds accommodating the electrics of two light bulbs and fifteen black and white photographs of a clothes airer in different positions titled Gymnastics Of The Foldables (2006). The space is ideal for these works; frames are strategically hung on temporary triangular boarding reminiscent of a late Carl Andre sculpture, whilst Manteuffelstrasse occupies a refreshingly illuminated rear corner of the room.

On entry to the bright upper gallery, a militia of bizarre structures exposes itself in a vibrant frenzy; the skeletons of numerous clothes airers bound in plains of material avidly enclose a carousel-like structure made entirely of Venetian blinds. Non-Indepliables (2006-2010) comprises of a series of drying racks encased in fabric and yarn which establish their territory in the room as though they are alive, striking poses worthy of a fitness class. These works are emblematic products of Yang’s prime influence; movement. They engage with a multitude of colours to construct a striking environment that is both playful and foreign. The strength of the room is in the deposits of shifting hues; Non-Indépliables, azuré (2009) and neon-coloured Non-Indépliables, jaune (2010) are the foremost objects to be distinguished, but after a while spent staring at knitted emerald and cerise wool, the pallid Non-Indépliables, pastel (2010) reveals itself decorously from a tucked away space.

Amongst Non-Indepliables awaits a mechanism on wheels that encourages viewers to interact with it by entering its centre and navigating it within the space. The sculpture, almost robotically, moves awkwardly whilst its geometric body of blinds swings around the individual controlling it. In contrast to the ostensibly-still knitted airers, it appears cumbersome and hectic; conceivably touching on the complexity of the artist’s existence being divided between Europe and Asia.

Following this premise, concepts of understanding domestic space, particularly insignificant space, is fluent in Yang’s practise. The video Doubles and Half’s - Events with Nameless Neighbours (2009), projected in the middle gallery, shows footage from both dilapidated Ahyun-Don and the Korean Biennale grounds. Yang primarily used this essay as research for her sculptures, documenting urbanised landscapes from both of these abandoned scenes alongside a somewhat monotonous narration. The steady-moving images are verbalised through metaphors and contemplation; Yang divulges on philosophical advancements towards abandoned environments, reflecting on the science of condensation as contact with ex-residents.

Inhabiting the entirety of the remaining room, the Piper Gallery, a dominating system of connected blinds suspends itself from the ceiling. The level at which this hexagonal-like work is observed allows visitors to monitor the influence that movement has on its horizontal slats. Whilst the impressive sculpture is ambled around, the ladders of the Venetian blinds flickers, causing a collective scrolling between the myriad of compartments. Beneath the creation stands a smaller and more interactive arrangement of blinds which demonstrates a corresponding retort to eye level and motion.

Considering Yang’s most current work, focusing particularly on the Piper Gallery commission, it is evident that the artist’s exploration into influences such as Bauhaus associate Oskar Schlemmer and spiritual teacher GI Gurdjieff has impacted the incorporation of philosophical perspectives and form. Her interventions are not only fascinating and well-constructed, but well-informed in light of historical and cultural foundations. Teacher Of Dance has isolated the fundamental potency of Yang’s studies; the ability to produce a language between the commonplace articles that build our existence, and our existence itself.

Haegue Yang: Teacher of Dance continues until 4 September.

modernartoxford.org.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
Haegue Yang
Cloud, 2011
Installation. Aluminium Venetial blinds, hanging structure
Photography by Stuart Whipps
Courtesy of the artist

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Marjolijn Dijkman: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Spike Island, Bristol.

Installtion view of Marjolijn Dijkman's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum at Spike Island Bristol
Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

In Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Dutch artist Marjolijn Dijkman offers a fresh and intriguing perspective on the well-trodden but nonetheless relevant and significant subject of the effects that human presence perpetuates on its surroundings. Setting off from starting points as disparate as 18th century exploration, atomic physics and urban decay, Dijkman’s work reveals an intriguing dimension of the (often strained) relationships between human beings and the theatrical stage that is the globe we tread on.

The scale of the eponymous work might at first seem daunting, consisting as it does of a collage of large photographs covering, floor to ceiling, the walls of Spike Island’s largest gallery. There is, however, a semantic key to help you approach and appreciate the work, in the form of a list of words etched on the wall next to the entrance: each of the underlined words - repel, confuse, torture, connect and so on- represent concepts addressed and exemplified by each column of photographs. Dijkman’s ongoing work is an attempt at documenting a visual archive, or map, of the planet, and the pictures presented here strike a note at once playful and melancholy; images depicting urban regeneration as well as deterioration, the hollowness of human triumph, and poignant instances of humanness and friendship all clutter together in a dizzying conglomeration of life on earth. An especially captivating aspect of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is the artist’s ability to expose the pathos inherent in otherwise uneventful details: fragments of a shattered pillar still bearing the sign ‘Avenue du General De Gaulle’, a statuette of an angel covered in spikes to repel birds, the shooting branches of an ivy stiflingly tied together by wires – all snapshots of an urban landscape which nonetheless mirror, with heartbreaking accuracy, facets of the experience of being alive in the world.

Photography is only one of the mediums Dijkman works in: also showcased is Composition of the Universe, an interactive sculpture in the form of rings and disks of various diameters, colours, and thickness which the visitors are invited to rearrange and restructure. The work playfully references the basic building blocks of atomic composition, and the randomness involved in their collisions which in turn precipitate the occurrence of more complex forms. By casting the visitor in the role of the chance element, Dijkman underlines our relation to our surroundings, and qualifies the thirst to explain and understand by filtering it through our potential as a creative/destructive force.

The exhibition also includes several filmic works, Surviving New Land being particularly worth of note - in which a looping image of a sea journey is projected. The journey, however, turns out not to be a journey at all: the vessel is always moving parallel to the shore, never away from it but also never towards it. The landscape remains unchangeable, an empty featureless beach, grey unthreatening sky overhead, and the rocking movement of the surf that is guaranteed to make you a bit queasy after a while. Nothing happens. The beach remains empty of human presence, the sky doesn’t rain. The vessel moves forward, and even though at times it seems on the verge of sailing away (a sea line appears on the other side of the beach, but at the point of convergence with the foreground, it disappears again) or even dock, neither alternative materialises. Is the way to survive new land simply avoiding setting foot on it? Or perhaps avoiding sailing off in search of it? Considering Dijkman’s fascination with exploration, it seems hardly likely. The dramatic soundtrack, so jarringly incongruous with the peacefulness of the image, encapsulates the staggering contradictions inherent in the concept of a ‘New Land’, and points an auditory finger at the potential violence underlying colonisation.

This is further accentuated by the work sharing the side gallery with Surviving. Here Be Dragons, with a title obviously referring to the early cartographers’ practice of signalling the end of chartered territory with a dragon-figure, reiterates the contradictory nature of exploration by taking it to a natural conclusion: an unfortunate consequence of conquering something once feared seems to be that the conqueror becomes the monster. And yet, are such considerations to stand in the way of progress and enlightenment? There is no clear-cut answer, and none is offered.

Considered in light of works such as Wondering Around and even Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Dijkman’s approach certainly carries an element of discomfort with the human drive to explore, concomitant as this is with notions of taming or enslaving; this drive, nonetheless, remains a source of wonder and intrigue for the artist. Far from a condemnation, or even a denunciation, Dijkman’s work is more of a statement of fact; and, at its heart, the painful consciousness of just how great the distance between ourselves and our spheres of influence, how tenuous our relation to them –and ultimately, how enormous, but at the same time infinitesimal, our impact.

Marjolijn Dijkman: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum continues until 26 June.

spikeisland.org.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
Courtesy the artist and Spike Island, photographs by Stuart Whipps

Liverpool's First International Photography Festival: Look11, Various Venues, Liverpool.


Review by Kenn Taylor

A new entry on Liverpool’s cultural calendar, Look11, is a vast photography festival encompassing exhibitions, events and projects taking place over several months. Like the similar but larger Liverpool Biennial, it has taken over many of the city’s arts venues for the duration and has an over-arching theme – ‘photography as a call to action’.

Open Eye Gallery has been promoting photography in Liverpool since it was founded in the 1980s. This will be the last exhibition in the Wood Street space that it has occupied since the early 90s, before it moves to a new, larger home on the waterfront. Appropriately, the exhibition features images chosen from Open Eye’s archive, curated by American photographer, Mitch Epstein, who will have his first UK solo show at their new space.

The shots are very much of their time, nearly all from the 1980s; they feature some of the most influential British photographers of the period, many of whom cut their teeth in Liverpool, including Tom Wood and Martin Parr. The lives of the working-class and the decaying fabric of the industrial north are the inevitable main themes of many of the images, with photographers like John Davies and Parr finding truth and beauty where others would see only ugliness and squalor. It’s a timely show, and you wonder what such photographers would think of Liverpool’s startling regeneration, and the Open Eye’s shiny new home.

Bluecoat has perhaps the most successful exhibition of the festival overall. Taking Containment as their own theme within a theme, the show is varied, but high-quality and coherent. Ben Graville’s In and out of the Old Bailey(2002-09) features ‘papped’ shots taken of prisoners through the mirrored glass of prison vans on their way into the UK’s central criminal courts. The images raise issues of privacy, media intrusion and voyeurism. Beyond this though, their power as portraits is undeniable; the garish colours, lack of focus and the candid poses, some defiant, others cowering, adding to their disconcerting fascination.

In total contrast, David Maisel’s project, Library of Dust (2006), records the corroded copper containers that hold the cremated remains of patients who died whilst in the Oregon State Mental Asylum. Dating from between 1883 and the 1970s, these ashes were never collected by the families of the deceased. The large and vivid images detail the copper decaying in rich greens and whites, only the faded institutional labels revealing their true grim purpose. That these works highlight the containment not only of human remains, but those who society deems as ‘other’, so much so that many were rejected by their own families even in death, is as poignant as it is troubling.

The vast Novas Contemporary Urban Centre is, as usual for festivals like this, filled to the brim with several different exhibitions. Its basement crypt holds the largest exhibition, which appears to have a documentary focus. Robert Polidori’s New Orleans After the Flood (2005-6) is a series of large images of the destruction wrought on domestic environments by Hurricane Katrina. Featuring the bright colours of family homes wrecked with the dank grey floodwater and filth, the images are shocking in their epicenes and fascinating in there detail.

On an even larger scale, are Ed Burtynsky’s trademark large-format photographs of landscapes altered by man. Oil Spill (2010) taken after last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, are some of his most recent images and, like so much of his work, are stunningly aesthetic in there approach, but terrible when you consider what they feature. His black and white images of ship-breaking in Bangladesh meanwhile, are even more gripping, featuring dirty, dishevelled human figures in a mess of mud and rotting metal, overwhelmed by the vast vessels they are dismantling. Closer to home, Ian Beesley’s shots from Hay Royds Colliery in Yorkshire highlight that similarly dirty work continues in the UK, despite what many think.

These are just three of the shows in Look11, whose venues encompass everything from Café walls to the city’s main Walker Art Gallery. It's interesting to consider these exhibitions under the umbrella of 'photography as a call to action' as while many of the photographers share this aim, many don't, instead wanting to represent the world in a certain way, a world that is complex and multifaceted. Aided by the curators decision to show differing work in pairs, or at least close context which helps to create dialogue and ask questions of different images and photographers, rather than presenting any views as a singular truth.

Look11 is an impressive programme and a must see for anyone with an interest in documentary photography. Despite the cuts to ACE funding, it's exciting to see Artistic Director, Stephen Snoddy and Festival Manager, Daniel Cutmore's vision come to the fore and it's even more exciting to think, about what this festival could develop into over the next few years, continuing to use photography as a tool to examine our complex, ever-shifting world.

Look11 continues until 26 June in various venues across Liverpool.

look2011.co.uk

Image:
New Orleans After the Floods - (c) Robert Polidori
The Crypt


Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Photographic Examinations of Femininity: Neeta Madahar & Madame Yevonde, PM Gallery & House, London.

Neeta Madahar from the Flora series Role Play Exhibition at PM Gallery

Review by Sarah Richter, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

The Role Play exhibit is situated in a section of the 19th century manor home and grand gardens of the Pitzhanger Manor-House located at Ealing Broadway in West London. The show features the work of both Neeta Madahar and Madame Yevonde. The show combines Madahar’s contemporary work with that of Madame Yevonde’s from the 1930s. Both explore the construction of female roles in photography and thus contemporary society, with Madhar’s contemporary series Flora drawing inspiration from the work of Madame Yevonde’s from the 1930s entitled Goddesses, their relationship is easily identifiable and the works have been interspersed, with a Madame Yevonda next to a Madahar and they blend seamlessly together as they depict photographic explorations of femininity in similar ways. Without reading the captions under the images, it's hard to discern which work belongs to which artist. The influence and legacy that influenced Madahar’s current work is palpable when examining Madame Yevonde’s visually stunning and emotionally gripping portraits of society women.

Madame Yevonde’s portraits of 1930s society women cast socialites in the role of goddesses from antiquity such as Europa, Diana, Medusa, Dido and Venus. Although the portraits were made in the thirties, they employ cutting edge techniques in the realm of photography and look as if they came from the same camera as that of Madahar’s portraits. Madame Yevonde pioneered the colour photographic portrait when people thought of it as just as a fad, and her photos emerge as contemporary examinations of the construction of feminine roles and stereotypes. Most of the women in the Goddesses series were well known women in society and are thus identified by the names of their husbands and not their own. Cast as goddesses, this omission of their names situates them as the ideal vision of feminine perfection. Although upon first examination the portraits seem to be keeping women in their stereotypical roles, there is something powerful and and assertive in these photographs. Seeming to emerge straight from the pages of contemporary Vogue the poses of the models, the solidity and authority that the women possess, seems to come from within and challenges the stereotypes placed upon them. Cast as contemporary versions of the ideal classical views of women, the goddesses, they are put on a pedestal and they conform while also challenging the idea of who women are supposed to be. Madame Yevonde’s Goddesses series covers well known goddesses to more obscure ones, speaking to an educated elite who would have been familiar with the mythology of antiquity, casting one of her subjects as Penthelisa. Lady Milbanke as Penthelisa from 1935 positions the women in a pose not commonly associated with portraits of women. Lady Milbanke has her head back, wearing animal furs and has a sharp spear seemingly piercing her neck. Cast as the Amazonian goddess who wanted only to die, but could only do so in battle, perhaps this role speaks to the difficulties that can come with being a women. The portrait, like all of the others doesn’t seem out of date in the 21st century, but seems to seamlessly fit right in, addressing contemporary issues and transcending the boundaries of time and space.

Drawing inspiration from the Goddesses series, Neeta Madahar is a contemporary photographer employing the same idea of using the female sitter as a character, not as herself. Madahar’s Flora series was created by her employment of seventeen female friends who posed for the portraits by choosing a flower that has been used as a woman’s name to thematize their portrait. By using floral names that double as female names, there are some preconceived notions going in as the viewer may know someone named Rose, Daisy or Lilly, but these issues of identity are challenged. When thinking of a flower, it is perceived as delicate, temporal and something to be admired, a mere object of decoration, but the women in Madahar’s portraits, like those in Madame Yevonde’s, challenge these notions of who and what women are supposed to be. The portrait of Sharon with Peonies from 2009 depicts a women with peonies in her hair against a white background that appears to crumpled paper. She wears a dress made of a metallic material that alludes to armor, she stands strong with one hand on her hip and one on her heart looking to the side, to the future perhaps. Despite how anyone feels about peonies, they are a delicate flower, but here they take on a new life of strength and determination.

This show is empowering and simply beautiful. It is wonderful to see a series alongside it’s inspiration and the seamless way that the two fit together and speak to the audience on a much deeper level than the magazine advertisements they reference.

For a further exploration of Madahar's work see Aesthetica's article Real Nature, Artificial Worlds from Issue 37 here.

Role Play: Neeta Madahar & Madame Yevonde continues at PM Gallery & House until 3 July.

ealing.gov.uk/pmgalleryandhouse

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Images:
Anna with Magnolias (2010)
Laura with Irises (2010)
Courtesy the Artist and Purdy Hicks Gallery, London

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Sly and Unseen Day: George Shaw, South London Gallery

George
Review by Paul Hardman

The most important thing to say about this George Shaw exhibition, The Sly and Unseen Day is that the paintings are incredible. Of course the subject matter is what would be considered ugly, or at best mundane, but since his images tend to look rather downbeat and dry in reproductions it should be emphasised that seeing the actual paintings is an unexpectedly rich experience.

Shaw has recently become much more high profile due to his nomination for the Turner Prize, and his selection is unusual in that he is a figurative painter, and so, superficially at least, he is not a challenging or radical artist of the type that the Turner Prize usually seems to promote. However, Shaw's work is constrained by two key restrictions, adding a conceptual element that strengthens the integrity of the work. First, his paintings exclusively depict the landscape of a half-mile radius around his childhood home on the Tile Hill estate in Coventry, second, he paints only in Humbrol enamel, the type of paint used by hobbyists to paint model aeroplanes. This choice of medium aligns his work both to childhood or adolescence, and away from the history of fine painting.

The results are not childish or naive, but mature and impressive. The slick nature of the paint creates a sleek smooth surface, closer to the surface of a photograph than to an oil painting. No trace of the texture of the board can be perceived. On close inspection the trace of the brush can be seen in the shape of the marks, but not through any disturbance of the surface. Shaw has achieved a unique light in these images, the pictures are both dull, dim and muted, while glowing with a suppressed light that perfectly depicts the sunlight behind clouds, the period of increased brightness after rain that is not yet a clear sky, which is a defining characteristic of this country. His skies take on a particularly uncanny sheen, rendered in this medium, when overcast they are like vast sheets of something leaden and seamless, when they are post-sunset skies they take on the glow of sheets of copper or zinc.

The presentation of the exhibition is extremely simple, the pictures are evenly spaced around the walls of the large central room of the gallery, subtly sequenced and grouped so that one composition may follow the previous image. For instance the central motif of a grid of window and door frames of what could be the side of a school or other council building in Poets Day (2005-6) is echoed in the adjacent painting, The Back that used to be the Front (2008), a painting of would seems to be a boarded up show unit. Both are in a direct front on composition that recalls the lines and rectangles of Piet Mondrian, except here we are shown not abstract constructions, but the scratched, neglected and graffiti covered surfaces of run down council estate buildings.

Elsewhere paintings are linked by other formal elements, a view of a mutely coloured estate with a post box in the centre of the frame, followed by the back of a spiked metal fence with a red phone box in the centre of the frame (this image has the title Time Machine, Shaw is happy to share his dry humour now and again). The following image again includes a similar fence. This repetition has been highlighted by the curators, but was clearly considered by Shaw as he went about his meticulous task. In fact Shaw has considered his selection of subjects extremely carefully. It is a delicate balance, as his places both seem to be inconsequential: they look as though they could be anywhere, as if they have been selected by some arbitrary method, in the way that say, the Boyle Family would randomly select nowhere places to reproduce. But each of Shaw's paintings are well considered, and the places are really quite specific, they are known to him intimately as the stomping grounds of his childhood.

The notion of returning to childhood or adolescence is perhaps a cliché, but never has the return been so rigorous, so dispassionate, and so sublime.

George Shaw The Sly and Unseen Day continues at South London Gallery until 3 July.

southlondongallery.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
George Shaw, No Returns (2009)
Copyright the artist, courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London

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