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Friday, 27 January 2012

The Archaeology of Place | Zarina Bhimji | Whitechapel Gallery | London





Text by Emma Cummins

Spanning 25 years of a practice embedded in historical and empirical research, Zarina Bhimji portrays buildings and architectural surfaces as “protagonists” in an unpeopled, yet politically charged landscape of violence, migration and complex, colonial histories. Opening with two black and white seascapes and a vast selection of prints from the series Love (1998-2007), the exhibition segues from hazy horizons in Zanzibar, to abandoned residences and bullet encrusted walls in Uganda, with an ostensibly effortless sweep.

Belying the political complexity of Bhimji’s work, the depth and aesthetic texture of images such as Bullet Riddled (2001-2006) - where a decontextualised cell reveals traces of missile attacks among the anonymous scrawl of absent inhabitants - distances the viewer from social or historical specificities. As such, a strangely unsentimental tone pervades the walls of the Whitechapel Gallery in an exhibition where themes of loss, betrayal and political violence seethe ominously beneath the surface of buildings and terrestrial landscapes.

As loci of a colonial past, riddled with bullet holes, cobwebs and a cast of anonymous objects; the buildings Zarina Bhimji chooses to capture, on 35mm film or through various photographic techniques, exist in a seductively, precarious present. Imbued with the vestigial traces of history and personal memory, sites such as Entebbe Airport in Uganda – a site reminiscent of Idi Amin’s 1972 decree to expel 80,000 Ugandans of Asian descent - silently suffer the forces of material entropy and human abandonment, while asserting their presence as intriguing, contemporaneous objects.

Absent from the works themselves, details of the sites’ political significance are revealed in wall texts that, while offering insights into Bhimji’s ambiguous practice, do not encumber the viewer with history or unequivocal fact. Framed instead by aesthetic and atmospheric conditions - such as quality of colour and light - Bhimji’s architecturally grounded works refuse to succumb to the logics of narrative or documentation that often shape research-led artistic practices.

As T.J.Demos suggests, Bhimji’s research is "extensive", however "[i]f anything, her work is informed by the blockage of information, as much as it results from the collection of historical research". Harking back to the violence of Amin’s despotic regime, of which Bhimji and her family were victims, works such as Yellow Patch (2011) quietly contemplate the "echoes" of facts and political events without recourse to testimony or pedagogical language.

Taking centre stage in both the gallery itself and the exhibition’s beautifully illustrated catalogue; this immersive, 35mm colour film takes the history of trade and migration between India and Africa as a point of departure. Honing in on a few key locations across the Indian sub-continent, we see lifeless interiors littered with bundles of bureaucratic documents and items of deteriorating furniture; the once grand confines of houses and Victorian offices in Gujarat and the Port Trust of Bombay; elegiac scenes of the desert landscape of the Rann of Kutch, and glimpses of the Indian Ocean near the port of Mandvi.

Punctuated by a panoply of sounds; the sound of birdsong and violins seeping smoothly into the patter of footsteps, rain, or fragments of political speeches, Yellow Patch is an unusually mesmerizing film – its ambiguity affording a feeling of relaxation and visual absorption, despite the ghostly presence of past cruelties and imperial brutality.

With a poignancy and elegance unrivalled by Bhimji’s still photographic works, Yellow Patch glides through once-significant sites of human activity and colonial administration that today are but relics of a complex and unfathomably violent past. Captured with a "painterly" refinement, these rolling images of objects, architecture and interior spaces collide with heterotopic depictions of a present-day harbour in Mandvi. In the film’s final scene, we see wild dogs roam the port’s slate-coloured sands amidst the skeletons of dhows (wooden boats that are still constructed today). Unlike the disused buildings and forgotten documents portrayed earlier in the film, these colossal vessels appear to be under construction – creaking loudly in the windswept desolation of the beach.

As a wilfully ambiguous epilogue, the scene seems to enforce the primacy and persistence of the present in sites saturated with history and painful memory. In turn, the gallery’s decision to focus less on Bhimji’s preoccupation with the past, and more on her fascination with the contemporaneous presence of old buildings and historical objects, reinforces the artist’s assertion that her "…work is not about the actual facts but about the echo they create, the gestures and the sound."

Through both sensitive use of text and quotations, and a deliberately anachronistic ordering of works (which create a kind of tapestry, rather than a chronological survey), the Whitechapel Gallery has managed – like Bhimji herself – to distance these works from notions of biography or personal catharsis.

Sharing the fate of thousands of Ugandan citizens, Bhimji’s displaced citizenship is an implicit strand that colours her work and bleeds through the walls of the gallery. Rather than tones of anguish or fury however, a sense of possibility and oxymoronic beauty permeates this very nuanced exploration of the sites, buildings and structures of power that have shaped the artist’s conception of self. In turn, the exhibition is both captivating as an aesthetic experience, and provocative in its intellectual and ontological connotations. Far from fetishising the objects of political or personal pasts, Zarina Bhimji is defined by a curiosity with the gritty materiality of the present, its constant formal transformation, and its ability to transmit beauty despite the terrible histories it harbours, and the violence it conceals.

Aesthetica's December/January issue features History in Context, an extended piece on Zarina Bhimji's work by Charles Danby. You can buy a copy here.

Zarina Bhimji, Whitechapel Gallery, 19/01/12 - 09/03/12, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX. www.whitechapelgallery.org

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. Zarina Bhimji, Your Sadness is Drunk (2001-2006) Ilfochrome Ciba Classic Print
2. Zarina Bhimji, Shadows and Disturbances (2007) Ilfochrome Ciba Classic Print
3. Zarina Bhimji, Memories Were Trapped Inside the Asphalt (1998-2003) Transparency in Lightbox
4. Zarina Bhimji, Bapa Closed His Heart, It Was Over (2001-2006) Ilfochrome Ciba Classic Print
All images courtesy the artist

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Human Face of Climate Change | Last Days of the Arctic | Proud Chelsea | London





Last Days of the Arctic is a moving and insightful photographic portrait of a disappearing landscape and the Inuit people who inhabit it, by celebrated photojournalist Ragnar Axelsson. Inspired by the fast-diminishing way of life of communities dependent on nature and the land around them for survival, Axelsson presents us with a breathtaking introduction to a life of Greenlandic hunters in one of the most remote regions of the world, and at once demonstrates its temporality.

As the world turns its gaze towards the Arctic; the landscape whose inhabitants have done the least to cause climate change is where the devastating effects are most visible. Their ancient culture is set to become extinct; the probability of these communities continuing to live traditionally is becoming increasingly unlikely. In his native Iceland, Ragnar looked at the fishermen and farmers of remote villages and thought if he did not photograph them, no one would know they ever existed. It is this thought that has led to this unique body of work captured in Greenland, with unprecedented access to a community that rarely lets outsiders in.

Last Days of the Arctic, Proud Chelsea, 161 King's Road, London, SW1 5XP. www.proudonline.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.

Captions:
1. Drummers house, Kulusuk, East Greenland 2009
2. Girl in a swing, Tiniteqilaaq, East Greenland 1997
3. Horns, Uummannaq, West Greenland 1998
4. Dog in a window, Sermiliqaq, East Greenland 1997
All © Ragnar Axelsson

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Mark Power: The Sound of Two Songs | Impressions Gallery | Bradford


Text by Daniel Potts

The Sound of Two Songs is Mark Power’s photographic survey of Poland, formed and collected over a period of five years. He made his first visit to the country in 2004 as part of a project intended to record and document ten countries joining the European Union in that year. Power’s survey takes place over a period when around a million Poles migrated to the UK to live and work: a period of fascinating social change. As the title of the exhibition suggests, Power engages and captures more than one force in the visual aspect. He presents Poland as a land “bursting with visual contradictions…like listening to several melodies at once to the point where it’s difficult to hear anything clearly.”

The first image with which the visitor is greeted impresses and arrests both for the natural and artificial intricate beauty of the contrary visual forces. It is titled Warszawa 10/2006, and here we find an apparent marriage of opposites – a Warsaw cityscape in which the skyline is captured halfway down the image. In the lower half the city is shrouded in a mist or smog through which we discern the grimy regularity of the grey buildings framed and fashioned into pattern by dark streets. It seems to be early morning. The upper half presents the viewer with the brilliance of interlacing wisps of cloud illuminated and pierced by intense sunlight. This has the effect of an optical illusion. The composition seems to be an expression of two different worlds coupled: the earthly, commonplace and mundane meets the sublime firmament itself. The piece captures religious sensibilities in this way. This element of divinity is captured, again within an apparent contrary context in Warszawa 04/2005. Here the visitor is presented with, what seems to be, the dull, dark sand used in the casting of iron by blacksmiths pierced by an embedded, glowing metal crucifix, apparently cooling. Perhaps this bold visual expression of two contrary, material states reminds us symbolically of the historical forces - contrary, mutually exclusive, though perhaps substitutional - of Catholicism and totalitarianism evoked by the industrial context.

A sense of organised, regulated, totalitarian anonymity forms a contradictory part of the whole effect of the image titled Rzeszów 12/2004. Here we find a number of blocks of flats captured. The regularity of the fenestration might daunt the viewer with its clinical lack of humanity were it not for the cheerful, multicoloured geometrical shapes painted on to the concrete surrounding the windows. Perhaps this contrary element of the image evokes a sense of an optimistic breath of life into a tired and ineffective structure, reflecting the social and political change intended to be captured by the project. Perhaps similar to this evocation is that which can be felt when engaging with Stężyca 2005. Stark, winter silver birches are presented in the foreground of what at first appears to be a row of large canvas tents enclosed with a high barbed wire fence. At first glance the heart sinks at a visual memento of totalitarian atrocity, only to be lifted on closer inspection by the revelation that the “tents” are greenhouses, illuminated within, perhaps for hydroponic crop development. Here then, dark historical forces visually intermingle with optimism for the future. In this case “the sound of two songs” deafeningly confuses the viewer with the contradiction.

Deblin 04/2005 presents rows of differently coloured garages with varied types of entrance. Here the pleasing regularity of garage after garage can be felt to tie in with and evoke the sense of anonymity presented in the other images. However, each structure is unique. Perhaps this reflects a sense of individualism growing out of uniformity. Individualism translated into consumerism is one of the effects of Zabrse 10/2004 where we find the glowing sign lights of an enormous retail mall vaguely piercing mist or fog against an oppressive grey sky. The mist is ethereal, creating a sense of the ephemeral, perhaps reflecting the volatile nature of consumerism over time.

Visual cues as a reflection of social, historical and political forces and contradictions are striking, but where are the people? Well, they come in the image of Magda – Warszawa 09/2004; Kryspinów 08/2009 where we find crowds on a beach; and Gdańsk 11/2004, in which a man wearing a boiler suit is shown against an industrial backdrop. In Warszawa 04/2005 we are confused by the contradiction of an optical illusion involving a crowd and a large screen. Patryk, Natalia, Damian Zabrun 11/2004 captures the energy and life of three young boys. In these we find the humanity, hinted at in the contrary forces at work in the aforementioned images, which makes the exhibition complete and satisfying.

Mark Power: The Sound of Two Songs, 14/01/2012 - 24/03/2012, Impressions Gallery, Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1SD. www.impressions-gallery.com If you can't make it to the gallery itself, the whole series is available to view online here.

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. Warsaw, Poland. 2005.
© Mark Power / Magnum Photos

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Existence at the Threshold | Alex Dordoy | The Modern Institute | Glasgow




Text by Bethany Rex

Alex Dordoy's work exists at the threshold of completeness and often retains the potential for change, or even destruction. Using materials including glass and plaster, on occasion the glass is broken or the plaster precariously vulnerable. Dordoy's current exhibition at The Modern Institute, Glasgow, includes a series of paintings on canvas and wall mounted plaster objects. The new paintings are based on the image of a figure in the landscape, with the form digitally re-worked and then meticulously reproduced in paint by Dordoy to create what he describes as highly worked photorealist, psychedelic mindsapces. The plaster objects will include objects based on the figure's head, and also several Folded, Unfolded, Sunk and Scanned works which take their shape from an unfolded paper aeroplane. Here Dordoy talks to us about his work and his plans for the future.

BR: This will be your third exhibition with The Modern Institute. How did you first get involved with the gallery?
AD: We started a dialogue at my Glasgow School of Art degree show in 2007. This led to the solo show Winner in 2009, in The Modern Institute’s old space on Robertson Street in Glasgow.

BR: This show includes a series of paintings on canvas and wall mounted plaster objects. When did you first begin working in this medium?
AD: I have always shown paintings along side wall mounted and free standing objects. In the simplest terms this comes from a desire to expand painting’s 2-dimensional space out into the physical world. The first plaster work was a head cast, Forever for Nothing (2009), shown in Winner. This opened up the possibility of an object being structurally composed of the trace of something, as opposed to a thing in itself; I find this slippage fascinating.

BR: Do you feel working in this way gives you more freedom to be expressive than a painting perhaps would?
AD: The new plaster works use a technique that I have developed in which toner is transferred from a laser print to the plaster surface. This allows me to turn digital information – found information – into a found object. For example, the ‘heads’ in the show, Paradise of New Age 1-5, all have variations of a digitally manipulated image of the runner Caster Semenya transferred onto a plaster supports moulded from plastic bags. The billowing folds of plaster echo the surfaces depicted in the image and thus serve as shorthand for human flesh.

The idea of an art work being expressive is problematic as it places total emphasis on the artist at the expense of the agency of the viewer and object. I believe that a work functions when it creates an emotive charge in the viewer (as distinct from conveying an emotion); by which I mean an understanding that matter can also be an idea, which really has nothing to do with the artist. The plaster works are liberating because of the ease with which they eliminate me from the equation.

BR: How important do you think traditional forms are in our digital age?
AD: The new paintings are composed on Photoshop. The process is as intuitive as making a collage with paper and glue yet allows for far more complex image manipulation and layering of information. It is quick and there is an undo button. I designed the three paintings to work as a series, with certain motifs repeated between them, and titled them accordingly: Four Times Around the Sun, A Halo of Mist as a Warning, The Clouds of my Youth and Dreams are Gone. At this point, they could have just been scaled up and printed out. Painting them, however, fuses a much denser form of time into the surface and generates pathos from my inevitable failure to function as a printer. Painting is additive and hence the physical inverse of the plaster work. I believe that polarity is important to the show.

BR: Did you always want to become an artist?
AD: Yes

BR: What are you working on now?
AD: A publication covering the works in the gallery (and painting my flat).

Alex Dordoy, 14/01/2012 - 22/02/2012, The Modern Institute, 14—20 Osborne Street, Glasgow, G1 5QN. www.themoderninstitute.com

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:
Alex Dordoy
Installation view
The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
Photography by Ruth Clark

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Fundamental Collaboration between Maker & Material | Formed Thoughts | Jerwood Space | London






Text by Karla Evans

There are certain exhibitions whose titles are so ambiguous and nonsensical that even before attending the show you are met with a quiet sense of dread on whether you will get it. Don’t let that opening sentence put you off this one though. The Jerwood Space’s remotely vague title of Formed Thoughts does give off a whiff off indeterminate expectation but what it lacks in an enticing name it makes up for in an intriguing collection of works on a subject matter rarely discussed.

The exhibition is curated by British artist, Clare Twomey known for her unashamedly pretty ceramics and site specific installations that have appeared everywhere from London’s Tate Modern to The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan. For Twomey the show appears a labour of love focused on her preferred subject matter of site-specific work involving diverse materials and highlighting the oft forgotten processes that have helped the works into their finalized forms. Phoebe Cummings shows a special inkling towards clay and its disintegration; two-person design team Glithero use fire as a means to an artful end; and Tracey Rowledge works directly onto the gallery’s very walls. Oil paints and movable easels, you won’t find here.

For a site-specific space London boasts no better establishment than the Jerwood; its glass ceiling atrium is perfect for Rowledge’s epic granite work that is plastered on to a long, lone wall demanding your attention on entering the gallery. Look close enough at the appropriately named Surface and it seems the material has been scratched away at with the side of a coin giving off reflective glimpses in its indentations. It’s a work that speaks of the burgeoning New York artist Jacob Kassay whose silvery paintings distort the surroundings in a very similar way. The harder you look at Rowledge’s reflective surface the less you see, we are no longer solid human forms but swashes and swirls of colour. One can’t help get carried away whilst trying to find themselves within the shimmering mass.

Formed Thoughts’ most mesmerizing work comes from the video and canvas project from Glithero. The two borderline pyromaniacs have continued on their 2011 project Burn, Burn, Burn in which they outlined patterns in flammable screen-printed paint, set them alight and allowed the fire to burn out across the works leaving a charcoal streak of the initial, often very beautiful, motif. This time they brought a little more drama to the table with a video installation showing the process itself; fire slowly burning out along the assigned maze. The result was mesmerizing. Even amongst the hustle and bustle of a complimentary wine-fuelled opening you couldn’t help but stop and stare at the work, captivated. It appears our ancient awe of fire has never left us. The idea that something so destructive and wild as fire has created something so aesthetically pleasing and orderly is not ignored. And Buddhist-like it nodded to reincarnation; by destroying one thing, we create something else in return.

It was Phoebe Cummings’ that gave off an all-together very different atmosphere. Last year’s ceramicist-in-residence at the Victoria and Albert museum was spot on when she said; “however intricate and detailed the works may be, they can always be reduced in essence to mud.” The vaguely nautical theme felt sinister with rotting chains hanging from the ceiling alongside an unsettling, flaking pile of clay pancakes. Two fish tanks appeared at opposite sides of the room; one containing dried out, disintegrating coral and the other half full of wet cement. All of which were oddly disquieting for such seemingly simple works. Cummings is challenging the notions of ceramics– usually such a personal craft, something you can take home and set upon your wall. But here ceramics were temporal pieces melded into the gallery walls and being encouraged to dismantle themselves in the space itself. The charm is that these works are not suspended in a moment of time but constantly changing.

Lover or hater of these rarely used mediums this is an exhibition that may not pull you in at the off but spend a little time to quandary the works and you may find your own presumptions of art being disputed.

Jerwood Encounters: Formed Thoughts, 18/01/2012 - 26/02/2012, Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street, Bankside, London, SE1 0LN. www.jerwoodvisualarts.org

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: Tomas Rydin

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