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Friday, 20 January 2012

Physical Manifestations of Information | Merseyside's Leo Fitzmaurice wins Northern Art Prize




The fifth annual Northern Art Prize, worth £16,500, has been won by Merseyside-based artist Leo Fitzmaurice, it was announced at Leeds Art Gallery last night. Three remaining short listed artists; Liadin Cooke, James Hugonin and Richard Rigg each walk away with £1,500. Not bad for a Thursday night in Leeds.

In choosing Fitzmaurice as the winner, the judges commented: "The strength of this year's exhibition and the Prize are testament to the generosity and commitment of all the artists. However, Leo's work for the Northern Art Prize exhibition in particular is ambitious, risky and compelling. Drawing upon historic resources and current mobile phone technology, he provides a fresh perspective on the traditional subject of landscape, whilst at the same time pushing the boundaries of his own practice."

Fitzmaurice, who lives and works in The Wirral, is known for his witty installations and sculptures. The Way Things Appear, a collection of photographs of objects and graphical elements taken in their everyday setting, is presented for the first time as a digital slide show for the Northern Art Prize exhibition. The initial piece of design, for example a sign or iron railing is captured in the photograph and then repeated or mimicked by other objects nearby or, in some other way, made strange by its situation.

Fitzmaurice also presented Horizon,(Leeds) as part of his Northern Art Prize selection, originally displayed with pieces chosen from the Grundy Art Gallery collection. For the Northern Art Prize exhibition he selected landscape paintings from the Leeds Art Gallery permanent collection creating a new piece of work by lining up the historic works to create a continuous landscape. This work continues Fitzmaurice’s fascination with relationship between graphic design, landscape and objects and their relation to language.

Northern Art Prize, 25/11/2011 - 19/02/2012, Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 3AA. www.northernartprize.org.uk

Aesthetica in Print
If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The December/January issue of Aesthetica offers a diverse range of features from The Way We Live Now, which is on at the Design Museum, London, to Anselm Kiefer opening at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, to a look at Danser Sa Vie at Pompidou Centre, which examines the place dance holds in art history. Plus it comes with its very own DVD of short films from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Photography: David Lindsay

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Manifesto for a Modern World | Henri Gaudier-Brzeska:Vorticist! | Kettle's Yard | Cambridge


Text by Leaf Arbuthnot

Vorticist!, Kettle’s Yard’s latest show, draws deserved attention to a sculptor whose career was as important and impressive as it was brutally short. The exhibition showcases a small but intense core of some of the most striking sketches, ink drawings and sculptures of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915), key exponent of the Vorticist movement that began in London, 1914. The group was distinctive for its interest in the machine age and its reactionary attitude to the Victorian civic setup, regarded by its members as disadvantageous to individual sovereignty and maturity.

Born in Saint-Jean-de-Braye, France, to a carpenter father and wheelwright grandfather, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska arrived in Britain in January 1910 with Sophie Brzeska, a Polish woman twice his age whose presence the couple sought to justify by presenting themselves as siblings. Lacking in official artistic training and living off wages as a clerk, Gaudier spent his four years in London in unanticipated creative ferment, rethinking his artistic ideals and reformulating his creative style with astonishing rapidity and comprehensiveness. This flourish was partly stimulated by the remarkable circle of friends that swiftly assembled about him, including the writer H S 'Jim' Ede, philosopher E. H. Hulme and American poet Ezra Pound.

Though Gaudier’s autonomy of spirit remained pristine throughout this four-year period, as is testified by the perennial singularity of his work, he nevertheless absorbed many of the most valuable principles promoted by his contemporaries. His development of a sparse and economical drawing style hints at an empathy for Pound’s well-articulated regard for calligraphy. Stag (1913), perhaps the exhibition’s most memorable drawing, captures the distinctive physical essence of its subject with just a few ink strokes and is indeed highly evocative of the traditional Chinese style. Following Gaudier’s introduction to Jacob Epstein in 1912, the former’s sculptures became increasingly geometric and primitive, with some boasting visible tool marks as insignia of their human beginnings. Gaudier’s artwork continues to intrigue partly thanks to its almost schizophrenic ensemble of influences and allegiances which might ordinarily feel immiscible or contradictory, but which are united intelligibly by the artist.

This coherent incoherence plays out particularly in Duck (1914), a fist-sized marble sculpture that arouses the animal’s singular physicality with rudimentary, even brutish, geometric shapes. Deceptively simple looking, Gaudier’s carving retains its bestial verisimilitude while reminding the viewer of the tools perhaps used in its creation, evoking the mechanical age to which the Vorticists bore witness. Moreover, while Gaudier’s contemporaries might be accused of a certain hyperbolic solemnity, his own works are shot through with wit and joie-de-vivre that the exhibition exposes with proficiency. A sexually entwined couple are soon discerned as the subjects of the 1914 brass Doorknocker (1914), betraying Gaudier’s artistic playfulness and trumpeting the youth and insouciance key to his creative drive.

Gaudier’s eclectic circle of friends was not only to stimulate him intellectually but also financially, with Pound buying many of his sculptures and sometimes providing him with the raw materials needed for sculpture. Despite this aid, the artist remained reliant on the off-cuts of a neighbouring studio and was purportedly prone to scavenging for more in local stonemasons’ yards. As Vorticist! shows, the poverty with which Gaudier grappled forced him both to restrain the size of certain sculptures and to open himself to experimentation with different materials – two fortuitous constrictions, however, which would lend great diversity to his creative output. Perhaps as a result of the imposed variety of materials, Gaudier displayed a growing desire to stay true to the inner, irreducible qualities of different stones by leaving sculptures unpolished and thus invigorating them with a visceral rawness that remains hugely appealing.

Just as Gaudier’s financial circumstances demanded that he work according to laws of parsimony by "sculpting small", so too is the exhibition space the current subject of physical constraint, though in this case because of building works. Nonetheless, the quality of the drawings and sculptures displayed and the serenity of the room itself more than make up for the cramped space. Moreover, the restrictive size of the rooms are balanced by an admirably thought-out gallery plan that deals especially skilfully with the bulky sculpture Bird Swallowing a Fish (1914), mounted in the centre of the principle room. The two walls banking it initially appear awkwardly imposing until it is noted that one bears a preparatory sketch of the then uncreated sculpture, while the opposite wall shows an ink drawing of the sculpture that probably made after it had been completed.

While celebrating the accomplishment of Henri Gaudier-Brzseka, Vorticist! also quietly mourns his untimely demise in the War. It does so not explicitly nor sentimentally, but more powerfully by the virtuosity of the works themselves, which gesture tantalisingly towards a promising future that was interrupted by the very weapons by which Gaudier and his fellow Vorticists were so intrigued.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: Vorticist!, 14/01/2012 - 01/04/2012, Kettle's Yard, Castle Street, Cambridge, CB3 0AQ. www.kettlesyard.co.uk

Aesthetica in Print
If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The December/January issue of Aesthetica offers a diverse range of features from The Way We Live Now, which is on at the Design Museum, London, to Anselm Kiefer opening at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, to a look at Danser Sa Vie at Pompidou Centre, which examines the place dance holds in art history. Plus it comes with its very own DVD of short films from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Caption:
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Sketch of Bird Swallowing a Fish, 1914
Courtesy of the artist and Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A Fictional Institution with an Authoritative Voice | Museum Show Part II | Arnolfini | Bristol





Text by Regina Papachlimitzou

Museum Show Part II, the second part of the Arnolfini’s ultimate 50th anniversary exhibition, continues exploring the preoccupations touched upon by Museum Show Part I with a distinct shift of focus onto more anthropological and socio-historical concerns.

Occupying the first floor gallery, works such as Jaime Davidovich’s Museum of Television Culture and Maarten Vanden Eynde’s Museum of Forgotten History examine the specific interconnections (or lack thereof) between the contents of a museum-institution and the ‘real’ world. Museum of Television Culture sets off from Theodor Adorno’s observation that “the German word museal [...] describes objects to which the observer no longer has a vital relationship and which are in the process of dying. […] Museum and mausoleum are connected by more than phonetic association. Museums are like the family sepulchres of works of art.” The idea of a museum as the place where art goes to die informs the piece, in the uncomfortable parallel drawn between museums and television: in the same way art can be viewed as already dead, or somehow spent, once it is being displayed in a museum, human life as displayed on TV can be said to have lost an essential component of itself –to have, in some way, died. Davidovich’s work is an almost sinister reminder of this idea, consisting as it does of a shelving unit populated by myriads of TV sets of all shapes and sizes, silent and unmoving, juxtaposed with an actual TV set on which a looped clip is monotonously postulating and analysing the relationship between museum and mausoleum.

Museum of Forgotten History almost follows on from this idea, by offering up a collection of works representing ‘remnants of a possible future past’. The breakdown and dissipation of meaning so strongly suggested in Davidovich’s work also recurs in Maarten Vanden Eynde’s. Works such as Modern Menhir (a curious, menhir-shaped, redbrick structure, as secretive and exclusive as it is challenging and open to interpretation), or Ikea-Vase (an amphora-shaped vase made of reconstruction paste and incorporating the fragments of an Ikea mug) question the ability of historical artefacts to truly impress on us what life in an inherently unknowable past would have been like –and in the process point out out the fallacious impressions a future archaeologist might conceivably formulate on our present based on its surviving remnants.

On the first floor, we encounter Karen Mizra and Brad Butler’s Museum of Non-Participation: a collection of ‘acts’, dubbed by the artists as ‘the performative utterance of folded, contested spaces’. Act 0015 is displayed across three monitors that only turn on as soon as a visitor walks past, the three of them providing a sort of chorus of speech acts to the Museum of Non-Participation as a whole. The first monitor features speech acts by actor and activist Khalid Abdalla (the particular clip explores the representation of Arab population in American media, with snatches of the actor/activist’s phrases echoed by a wistful, dreamlike female voice); the second monitor features a series of photographs interspersed by explanatory notes, neither of which stay on-screen long enough to allow for proper contemplation or even taking in (the photographs and notes deal with events surrounding and stemming from military intervention in the Middle East); the third monitor features a prolonged clip of artist Nabil Ahmed discussing issues relating to the language movement in Bangladesh (the speaker switches between languages, the sound is occasionally muted; at times the black censorship strip appears over the speaker’s mouth or eyes, other times the entire image blurs). All three elements of the work act separately and unison to demonstrate the simultaneous power and powerlessness of speech acts, and to underline the close interdependence between it and the visual in the creation of collective memory.

Tucked into the smallest exhibition space, on the third floor of the Arnolfini, Khalil Rabah’s Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind makes perhaps the most poignant statement among the Museum-works showcased. A fictional institution with an authoritative voice, an almost unbearable blurring of the line between fictitiousness and reality, Rabah’s work acts as both a reminder and a parody of the tenuous connection between the purpose and contents of a museum as an institution and the reality of the world outside it. At the same time, the spectator’s painful awareness (or lack thereof) of the fact that Palestine does not, in fact, have a national museum infuses the work, paradoxically reinforcing the significance of museum institutions in the creation and preservation of a national heritage, culture, and identity. The work showcased in the Arnolfini is the archive section of the Palestinian Museum: it consists of large wood-framed canvasses neatly stacked side-by-side, each full of information near impossible to read due to their proximity to each other. Nonetheless, the information is there, in addition to which there is a promising presence of three empty wooden frames waiting to be filled. The fictional archive of a national museum of a nation without a recognised state, Palestinian Museum speaks to the human need for memory, and the struggle of this memory to keep itself alive against the forces of the present.

Museum Show Part II is an intriguing exploration of the extent to which the world and our experience of it are, essentially, a construct and one in which memory plays a key part; and it is precisely this dimension of our world that the works showcased are interested in exposing.

Museum Show Part II, 09/12/2011 - 19/02/2012, Arnolfini, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol, BS1 4QA. www.arnolfini.org.uk

Aesthetica in Print
If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The December/January issue of Aesthetica offers a diverse range of features from The Way We Live Now, which is on at the Design Museum, London, to Anselm Kiefer opening at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, to a look at Danser Sa Vie at Pompidou Centre, which examines the place dance holds in art history. Plus it comes with its very own DVD of short films from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Captions:
1. Museum of Non-Participation
Karen Mirza & Brad Butler
Installation shot, Arnolfini 2011
2. Museum of Incest
Simon Fujiware
Installation shot, Arnolfini 2011
3. Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind
Khalil Rabah
Installation shot, Arnolfini 2011
4. Museum of Forgotten History
Maarten Vanden Eynde
Installation shot, Arnolfini 2011
Photography: © Jamie Woodley

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