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Friday, 17 February 2012

Ménage à trois: Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente | Art & Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany | Bonn


Text by Franziska Knupper

Campbell’s soup cans, exclamation marks, kissing couples. Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente. The works of three legendary artists are currently being displayed at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. Under the title Ménage à Trois the museum presents the artists’ fascinating collaborations during New York’s thriving art scene of the 1980s; how they inspired one another and contributed to each other’s work or, as Andy Warhol himself put it: "One’s a company, two’s a crowd, three’s a party."

The group met in New York. Warhol, known for his eccentricity, was already a notorious and internationally renowned artist whilst Clemente, just having returned from his travels to India, spent his days as a visitor at Warhol's famous Factory and Basquiat was a 23-year-old kid from Brooklyn painting t-shirts on the street. Their styles always differed profoundly from each other. There are Basquiat’s furious faces with the narrow eyes and the music notes coming out of the mouths; faces like colourful masks from African Tribes or from urban Graffiti walls. Even visitors who are not familiar with Basquiat’s work will recognise his stylistic traits after having looked at only a couple of pictures; the scratches, the writing, the torn-up pages of magazines. Energy and dynamism become almost visible, touchable. Small segments of bright colours are divided by black and yellow lines. Lines are cutting into fields of paint, leading you to swear words in bold print, screaming at you: "Hey Suckers!"

Spending time with Basquiat’s work you can feel the city, the hustle and bustle, the aggressive forms and overwhelming patterns. His pictures are full of youth, of speed, the rush of the metropolis, of his past as a street artist. In comparison to Basquiat, Warhol’s images almost appear clean and controlled with precisely defined shapes, serial graphic elements and repeated themes and sizes. There are his popular portraits of Goethe or his Jackie Kennedy prints; there is the soup, the banana, the Mona Lisa.

According to Basquiat, it was usually Warhol who started the process. He would provide the basis; a headline or a theme and Basquiat himself would then just "scribble and sketch something on it". He modifies them, attaches a moustache to the full lips, draws tiny figures in the corners or writes messages in red letters only to cross them out afterwards. He adds his impulsive spirit, a taste of trash and punk to the orderly atmosphere of Warhol’s images.

Clemente’s contribution to the collaboration follows in the last hall of the museum. Already a first glance at his pictures will tell you that his vision differs profoundly from the urban hastiness of his fellow artists. His style does not waver between impulse and control but rather focuses on the surreal and the mystical. His broad brush strokes resemble Edvard Munch, lacking the clear outlines of Warhol and Basquiat. His figures seem to merge while kissing; the canvases remain without the slightest hint of uncoloured space. Everything is filled and connected, slightly blurry, otherworldly.

In his case there already seem to be several souls and styles united in the spirit of this one painter. Clemente uses various materials ranging from oil or acrylic to watercolour; he employs bright colours as well as sinister tones, draws faces overlapping or merging into each other. His works are visions, are fusion, are dreams. Not surprisingly, a collaboration with the other artists only felt like a natural "extension to himself". This collection of several identities was only a logic result of his work. For him, the contradiction and differences between their styles only contributes to the strength of the paintings. In contrast to that, Warhol remarks that the best pictures are those where it is impossible to tell who created a certain element. The spectator might disagree with him on that aspect – no one would ever confuse a clean image of Warhol with Basquiat’s wild scratches.

Despite those different aspirations and styles it is a collaboration in which every artist respected the other’s opinion, work and approach. In the last corner of the exhibition visitors can have a look at the portraits they created of each other; they can admire Basquiat’s portrayal of "Warhol as a Banana" and have a look at the mutual portraits and photographs in white overalls and with boxing gloves. They all examined each other as painters, as personalities. It is a display of reciprocal appreciation, of sensibility and understanding for each other’s work; of respect and friendship. It is also a presentation of an era of unique artistic productivity, of velocity, of Bebop Jazz and Velvet Underground at the same time. It is wild, it is noisy. It is the New York City of another decade with its flashing headlines, streets and brands. It is New York City with its roughness and the fragility of its metropolitan inhabitants; inhabitants like Warhol, Basquiat and Clemente always on the hunt for identity, for orientation, for collaboration.

Ménage à trois: Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, 10/02/2012 - 20/05/2012, Bundeskunsthalle, Museumsmeile Bonn, Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 4, 53113 Bonn. www.bundeskunsthalle.de

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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.

Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat & Francesco Clemente, New York, 1984
© Beth Philipps, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zürich

Installation: Five Truths | Howard Assembly Rooms | Opera North | Leeds


Text by Daniel Potts

Katie Mitchell's acclaimed video installation arrived in Leeds on 14th February, and just as the carousel in the city's Valentine's Fair rotates and undulates carrying apparently happy lovers of all ages, Mitchell reminds us of an obverse mental maelstrom. The vehicle is Ophelia - Hamlet's spurned lover - in her "mad scene", which is experienced by the visitor five times at once through the interpretive prisms of Brecht, Artaud, Brook, Grotowski and Stanislavski. Each interpretation is presented on two video screens (therefore there are ten in all) within a darkened cube to be entered by the visitor, housed in the Howard Assembly Room. The screens, which vary in size, provide a double take on each interpretation and allow for simultaneous close-ups and shots further back. In each case, Ophelia is played by Olivier Award winning actor, Michelle Terry. Here, theatre meets film with convincing impact.

Of the five interpretations, the Brecht is the most easily recognisable. Here Terry supplies an aloof Ophelia, outwardly detached from the severe emotional trauma conveyed in the Grotowski, providing, with an eerie determination, her own narrative direct to camera. This self-commentary relates to and is interpersed with Shakespeare's lines set to Kurt Weil-esque, cabaret-like music, somewhat reminiscent of The Threepenny Opera. The Grotowski itself is distinguished from the others in the use of icy black and white, which compounds with a horrifying starkness a most impressive hysterical, tremulous catharsis followed by listless burn-out. The intensity of the Grotowski Ophelia, as it accompanies the others, seems to provide them with a sort of emotional sub-text as the running depths to calm waters. This effect is most noticeable with the Brook and the Stanislavski. In the former, Ophelia methodically sorts items of symbolic importance to the relationship into a plastic bag. At first glance, given the context of the whole piece, it appears a sort of ritualised, healthy response to the bereavement; but as with the latter, where it is seems Ophelia is deeply moved without overtly demonstrated physical expression (an excellent performance), the Grotowski provides the emotional reality. The Artaud is full of distortion, sonically and visually – it is filmed from behind a fish tank. Ophelia's face appears in distorted obscurity on the other side of the tank as she drops the items of importance into it. The distortion reinforces the sense of madness felt by the visitor as we try to make sense of the confusing sensory overload of the five interpretations at once, thus a degree of empathy is established with our heroine. The disturbing suicide by drowning echoes Millias's Ophelia in the construction of the shot. In this way it taps into the sense of Romanticised tragedy we have about the character.

The piece is particularly poignant at this time of year. In the absence of official figures perhaps we can assume a statistical correlation between relationship break ups and the advent to Valentine's Day. Of course, the piece has a much broader, universal resonance. The presentation of the scene in the different directorial styles highlights the multi-faceted nature of the individual as seen by others and by themselves. Aside of the sense of confusion and near insanity brought upon the visitor by his/her immersion in the work, an identification with at least one if not all Ophelia's is possible. An identification with just one of the stylistic interpretations would perhaps betoken a degree of self-projection. Taken as a whole, self-projection on to all Ophelias results in an overwhelming sense of renewed identity and self-knowledge that generally follows rejection and bereavement. A piecing together of a formerly faceted identity into a more satisfying one is what is missing in the case of Ophelia. In this way, the tragic conclusion is imbued with greater pathos.

Five Truths itself forms the denouement of an interactive video installation trail by multi-media artists, Invisible Flock, which takes the visitor around the city centre. Without ruining the intrigue for the visitor, it is worth saying that this experience is most engaging and effective in heightening the empathy and pathos of the final part. However, as announced on the website, it is best followed after dark.

Five Truths, 14/02/2012 - 25/02/2012, Howard Assembly Room, Opera North Grand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NUGrand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU. www.operanorth.co.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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.

Photo credit: Tom Arber Photography

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Whose Film Is It Anyway? | Japanese Contemporary Auteurs in The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme | Various Venues





Text by Alison Frank

The Japan Foundation has hosted an annual touring film programme since 2004. This year, between 10 February - 28 March, a set of 9 contemporary Japanese films will tour 7 UK cities (London, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Bristol and Nottingham). Two directors with films in the programme have been invited to introduce their work: Masayuki Suo (I Just Didn't Do It, 2007) at London's ICA and Katsumi Sakaguchi (Sleep, 2011) at both ICA and Sheffield's Showroom & Workstation cinema.

The Japan Foundation selects a different theme for its touring programme every year: 2012's provocative title, Whose Film It It Anyway?, suggests that the auteurs included defiantly resist interference in their artistic vision. Strangely, all the leaflets and web pages from the Japan Foundation and ICA seem to offer different explanations of the theme. In the absence of a clear rationale, insisting on a theme seems like a nervous attempt to keep the touring programme fresh. The Japan Foundation need not worry: the West's fascination with Japan's culture is nowhere near abating, and the opportunity to see Japanese films is more than enough to keep audiences coming back every year. Although the programme could have benefited from greater publicity in London, in UK cities with fewer cinemas showing art films it should be impossible to miss the programme's visit.

All of the films in the programme are by writer-directors: they are based on scripts written by the film-makers themselves. While writing and directing are separate skills, the programmers have chosen directors who are talented in both, resulting in films which tell unusual stories in a pleasing way. While none of the four features I saw from the touring programme could be classified as masterpieces, all were good-quality films worth taking the time to watch. They were, without exception, entertaining, surprising and very moving.

About Her Brother (2010) is by the oldest and most experienced director of the programme, Yoji Yamada, who has 77 films to his name. About Her Brother was selected as the closing film for the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, where Yamada received a Berlinale Camera for his contribution to film. About Her Brother centres on two siblings: a widow and her younger brother who is middle-aged and more troublesome than ever. The widow's only daughter is about to marry and leave home, and the film evokes Ozu in its examination of domestic life and the emotional family ties within it. Its gentle treatment of even painful subject matter, and its sympathy for child-like points of view, also give this live-action film an unexpected affinity with Miyazaki's anime.

Dear Doctor (2009) by Miwa Nishikawa, the only female director in the programme, may be familiar to ICA's audiences from the 2011 London Film Festival. It is the story of a village doctor and his new trainee, and is told in flashback. In the present, the doctor has disappeared, and a secret is being revealed: in the flashbacks, the audience is put in the position of re-evaluating the past to look for clues. The film balances the humour of seemingly unsophisticated villagers and their folksy doctor, with the melancholy of illness and awareness of parent-child pressures. The director's visual style makes occasional refreshing departures from the calm, contemplative approach traditionally used to depict rural life.

All Around Us (2008) takes a traditionally chronological approach to examine the relationship of a thirty-something couple over six years. A baby's death adds to the normal strains of habit and routine to distance them from each other. Whereas a mainstream film would clearly point to single causes for the relationship's ups and downs, All Around Us paints a more realistic portrait where circumstances converge confusedly but their cumulative impact is painfully clear. Director Ryosuke Hashiguchi's approach to male-female relationships is unusual in its refusal to dwell much on real or imagined infidelity; equally surprising are its wordy, frank, and entertaining dialogues about sex.

A Stranger of Mine (2005) is the Japan Foundation's most popular film ever, and it's easy to see why. Like All Around Us, the film boasts surprising and witty dialogue but has a much clearer narrative drive. While this sounds like a deliberate crowd-pleasing approach, A Stranger of Mine has the most inventive narrative of all four films discussed here. It focuses on one night in the overlapping lives of a young businessman, his detective friend, a new love interest, and a shady ex-girlfriend. While other films of the mid-2000s dramatically showcased different perspectives on the same events, using this device for comedy is unusual. The audience laughed out loud as earlier scenes from the film were repeated, revealing utterly unexpected events going on in the background. If director Kenji Uchida's directorial debut is this impressive, audiences will be anxious to see his name feature again in future touring programmes.

If this has sparked your interest in the programme, the ICA is hosting a Q&A session with director Katsumi Sakaguchi in conjunction with its screening of Sleep. The screening starts at 6:30pm and tickets are available here.

Whose Film Is It Anyway? continues in venues across the UK until 28 March 2012. For further details, screening dates and times and tickets please visit www.jpf-film.org.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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. Ryosuke Hashiguchi All Around Us (2008)
2. Tomoyuki Furumaya Bad Company (2001)
3. Masayuki Suo I Just Didn’t Do It (2007) © FUJI TELEVISION / ALTAMIRA PICTURES / TOHO
4. Kenji Uchida A Stranger of Mine (2005)

Disembodied Voices | Nalini Malani: Mother India | Art Gallery of New South Wales | Sydney


Text by Ella Mudie

When Nalini Malani, one of India's most prominent contemporary artists, was invited to create a large-scale new media installation for presentation in India Contemporary at the Venice Biennale in 2005, her response was the startling and enigmatic video play Mother India. Recently acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, this provocative visual and sonic response to the challenge of representing continuous cycles of gendered violence is currently screening in the gallery's Asian art wing. It represents a unique opportunity for audiences to encounter the work for the first time in Sydney across an impressive 15 metre long wall-to-wall installation.

The starting point for Malani's synchronised five screen video projection which combines archival footage with more poetic and painterly imagery is the essay Language and Body: Transactions in the. Construction of Pain by anthropologist Veena Das, known for her bold questioning of the nature of violence, social suffering and subjectivity. Malani shares with Das an ongoing concern for gender relations and in Mother India the pressing necessity to find a means of conveying the traumatic ways in which women's bodies become implicated as sites to be claimed and owned in struggles for nationhood, is thrown into sharp relief.

Two pivotal episodes historic episodes from 20th century India form the video play's reference points – the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and, decades later, the bloody Gujarat episode of 2002 which involved a horrific campaign of violent rape against Muslim women. In grappling with the considerable challenges of imaging endemic sexual violence, Malani instead elects to begin more obliquely with an interplay of voices. The piercing, shrill voice of an unnamed women cries out "what do you take me for? A something machine?" offset by the calm and authoritative declaration of a male Nehruvian voice who states that "the national honour is at stake." This highly charged verbal exchange sets in motion the tension in the work over boundaries - those of the nation, political ideals and the female body.

These disembodied voices are like ghosts resurrected from the archive and bring to mind Malani's previous suggestion that "the artist is a witness to a memory of loss." In Mother India, the visual witnessing begins with a montage of documentary style footage of a procession of billowing flags followed by images of women spinning yarn on wheels and film of masses of displaced people carrying their possessions through streets and fields. From relatively concrete beginnings, Malani soon shifts into a more disparate and abstract realm as the female body assumes a spectral quality. In one projection, an ethereal imprint of a woman in loose blue robes hovers over the ordered cartographic delineations of a map. In an another, a female face in close up appears as if dissolving into shadows while partially illuminated by patches of blood-like red light.

Concluding with a rapid fire procession of images of the ruins of destroyed homes in Gujarat, Malani emphasises how cycles of violence continue into the present. The nearby installation of two earlier single channel video works, Memory: record/erase (1996) and Stains (2000) reveal how far Malani has travelled on her journey to transcend the boundaries of the mediums of painting, drawing and video to prise open alternate ways of representing complex truths. With its new home in a major centre for Asian art in Australia, Malani's Mother India both intervenes and enters into conversation with the broad reconfigurations of identity and womanhood already represented in this diverse collection.

Nalini Malani: Mother India, 11/02/2012 - 20/05/2012, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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:
Nalini Malani (India 1946 -)
Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain 2005
video play; five video projectors in sync, sound, 5 minutes
dimensions variable
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales Contempo Group 2011

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Return to Making-Strange? | Opens Tomorrow | Interplanetary Revolution | Golden Thread Gallery | Belfast





Text by Angela Darby

Exhibition Statement:

The opening of Interplanetary Revolution may feature a cocktail bar, a chorus of ice cream vans, the introduction of another currency and a song by The Factotum Choir that they never quite cracked. Are we the warriors of the Revolution?! Are you? Drawing inspiration from the 1924 Russian propaganda animation of the same name, Interplanetary Revolution is a project that will include at least two new simultaneous group exhibitions and the installation/reworking of another. Looking at failing/ed ideologies; notions of otherworldliness and the uncanny; and revolutionary critique, Interplanetary Revolution will be an opportunity to collapse a few assumptions and undermine previous relationships.

It is planned that parts of the exhibition/s, the artists and/or artworks will change – other elements of the project remain as yet unfinished and may end up never being so. The project will be accompanied by curated or hosted screenings every Thursday evening and most likely a series of lunchtime talks.

The opening of the exhibition will feature contributions by artists and curators, including: Jofroi Amaral, Anonymous, Ursula Burke, Charles Burns, Captain Hate, Martin Carter, Ben Crothers, Colin Darke, Maurice Doherty, The Factotum Choir, Adham Faramawy, The Girls, Gerry Gleason, Laura Graham, Pierre Granoux, Sophie Hamacher, Michael Hanna, Allan Hughes, Brendan Jamison, Brian Kennedy, Rebecca Loyche, Phillip McCrilly, Susan MacWilliam, Kim McAleese, Laura McMorrow, Shiro Masuyama, Jonas Mekas, Ryan Moffett, Brendan O’Neill, Nicolas Provost, Ma Qiusha, Peter Richards, Reynold Reynolds, Erik Mark Sandberg, Gary Shaw, David Sparshott, Clemens Wilhelm. This is a Golden Thread Gallery TBC Project.

Angela Darby caught up with The Golden Thread's Director and curator, Peter Richards in the lead up to the launch of the exhibition on Thursday 16th February.

AD: You have been planning this exhibition for some time now, how has the project evolved?

PR: I suppose we have been working on the idea for this exhibition for nearly two years now. I think initially the exhibition had sought to weave together the work of international artists with artists in Northern Ireland in a broad looking how at failing/ed ideologies were being portrayed/represented in contemporary practice. I think since its inception the idea has developed to include a reflection on the construct of an exhibition and the nature/role of curation and artists as curators, curators as artists. And as a result some of the original thoughts about artist’s/artworks have changed.

AD: Several of the artists selected are established and have an ongoing relationship with the gallery, could you say what attracted you to the work of the emerging artist in the context of this exhibition?

PR: There are obviously benefits to working with artists whom you have a established relationship with, in terms of understanding/trusting each other – which is really important when asking them for permission to use and experiment with their work - as in the case of this exhibition. I wouldn't say that we were attracted to emerging artists per se, rather their specific works, and how through these works we could build a sense of the subject of the exhibition. As a gallery, we do go and see as much as we can, as often as we can and we do have a facility for artists to register an expression of interest of working with us, which we regularly review. We’re hoping that some of the artists we have worked with before will become artists that we work with again in the future. On a similar note we are still looking for artworks for the exhibition and will continue to do so throughout the exhibition.

AD: Contained within the publicity material there is a statement that indicates "at least two new simultaneous group exhibitions and the installation/reworking of another." Can you expand on this?

PR: Good question. Interplanetary Revolution is an exhibition – and in addition to inviting artists to participate in the exhibition; which in some cases means requesting the loan of specific works, in others talking to artists and inviting them to respond to the exhibition with new works (some site-specific, some interventions), I have also invited the artist/curator, Maurice Doherty, to re-create/re-work an exhibition that he curated in Berlin last summer (entitled Revolution) within the context of this exhibition. Having made that decision, I thought it would be interesting to then invite upcoming Belfast based curator, Ben Crothers, to put together his own Interplanetary exhibition also to be included in the show.

Whilst both of these exhibitions will exists as (fixed) exhibitions within or as part of the wider exhibition, the wider exhibition is planned to change throughout the duration of the show. Some works will be moved, others taken away, new works added, new artists approached and other interventions invited, so that return visitors to the exhibition will be greeted with something entirely different. Some of the planned changes are already known and understood – others are very much as yet to be decided.

AD: Does the open-ended construct of the project, in which artworks may change over the course of the exhibition, question the traditional role of the curator?

PR: I think the role of the curator has been debated, researched, scrutinised and questioned to death and back. I’m not sure what questions are left – I just hope that we collapse a few assumptions. I think maybe we’re going back to the "making-strange".

AD: As a contributing artist how will your own work evolve during the exhibition period?

PR: As the exhibition's curator I’m not comfortable about having my own work in the exhibition – even though it is as part of Maurice’s reworking of his exhibition - this is still to be confirmed. Similarly I have resisted peer pressure to join The Factotum Choir (aside from the fact that I don't sing). My work during the exhibition will be to find new work for the show and to keep the exhibition changing. With this in mind, i'm looking to do a few studio visits the end of this week and early next.

Interplanetary Revolution, 16/02/2012 - 24/03/2012, Golden Thread Gallery, 84-94 Great Patrick Street, Belfast, BT1 2LU. www.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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:
Sophie Hamacher, Video still from The Fog (2009)
Clemens Wilhelm, Macht Nichts (2010)
Colin Darke Parodos GTG (2010)
Shiro Masuyama Parky Party (2006)
All images courtesy the artist

Observations of Modern Life | Ridley Howard: Slows | Leo Koenig Inc. | New York


Text by Dan Tarnowski

Slows is a new exhibition of paintings by the Brooklyn artist, Ridley Howard. Howard’s second show at Leo Koenig Inc. marks both a new direction in his artwork and a continued exploration of his typical style, which could be described as conceptual figurative work.

The first painting seen in the exhibition depicts a man in a patterned sweater of brown, white, and orange. The man’s face is realistically rendered with soft shading but the pattern of his garment is painted in flat shapes that conjure a Native American blanket. The 2-D style of the sweater recalls the geometry of the abstract and minimalist art contained in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Man With Sweater (2011), with its juxtaposition of soft flesh and angular shapes, sets the tone for the exhibition.

Blue Yellow (2011), a composition of yellow circles flanking a pink square over a blue background recalls the colour experiments of Josef Albers. It also shares a similar colour palette to the Pac-Man game for Atari. Considered alongside Black with Shapes (2011), a composition of green squares on black, it begins to seem like the artist has a serious interest in abstract painting. But the abstracts only encompass one of three artistic styles exhibited in Slows.

Progressing in detail, next comes Building (2011), a fairly realistic representation of the front of a factory, the kind of building common in Howard’s hometown of Brooklyn. The building is viewed from straight on and framed in the canvas so it makes a perfect rectangle; no slanting of windows or doors; all right angles. The flattened composition and factory aesthetic recalls Charles Sheeler’s modernist paintings of industrial architecture.

Progressing in detail once again, next are Ridley Howard’s paintings of people. And they stand in stark contrast to all the geometry. Meticulously rendered with full attention paid to anatomy, Howard’s figures are quite sensual. Nudes (2011) is the most erotic work in the exhibition, showing a couple embracing, a woman wrapping her legs around a man as he sits on a white downy bed. Despite the sexiness of the image, the viewer is not invited into the scene for long. Small details—the birthmarks on the man’s back or a perfect horizontal line across the back wall—serve to distract the viewer and remind them of the artist’s geometrical theme. The yellow color of the woman’s tights matches a neighbouring painting, a still life called Trattoria (2011). The still life features a yellow wall, a table, overturned wine glasses, and a small photo of a cat. Thus, the viewer is led out of the lovers’ scene and sent through the exhibition once again, looking at each painting a second time.

Holly, Rose Dress (2011) offers an interesting counterpoint to Man With Sweater (2011). In the portrait, a woman in a striped and flower-patterned dress features the same blend of three-dimensional form and flattened graphics as the man in the sweater, however the top half of the woman’s face is cut off so the majority of the canvas is filled with her dress. Thus, the pattern on her garment becomes a composition of its own, the flowers drifting towards the right while the stripes ripple to the left. The movement in the pattern on the dress hints at emotions that are not captured in the stoic face of the woman.

Although Howard bridges organic and architectural forms, their combination doesn’t seem jarring or disharmonious. The underlying geometry that appears throughout the paintings, even in the positioning of a nude’s birthmarks, gives the artwork an orderly effect. The clearest example of this appears in Tracks (2011), a mostly-monochrome painting in which a green racetrack runs horizontally beneath a bevy of puffy trees. Each tree is different and spontaneously placed, while the track is a sleek horizontal zip. Although the scene is banal, it gains a picturesque quality from the subtle sunset in the background and from the orderly nature of the composition.

But what does all this order mean? Is it the artist’s yearning to find meaning in places and relationships? Or is the artist detached from his subject matter, lining up his figures and shapes as an homage to painting?

Ridley Howard: Slows, 19/01/2012 - 25/02/2012, Leo Koenig Inc., 545 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011. www.leokoenig.com

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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:
Images courtesy of Leo Koenig Inc., New York

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A World of Shifting Certainty | The Family in British Art | Millennium Gallery | Sheffield


Text by Kathryn Hall

The family is unique as a social institution: it functions largely in private, while at the same time has a public character; it may be defined one way for political purposes, yet assume any number of forms through personal perceptions and biological associations. According to context, the word family can carry with it notions of safety, obligation, compassion, social norms, or role fulfilment.

The Family in British Art explores the changing functions of the family and identifies certain concerns that have threaded through artistic depictions of family over the past 450 years. It is exactly the kind of large-scale, collaborative project that, since being dealt an Arts Council funding blow only weeks ago, seems under threat of not being exhibited again in the Millennium Gallery any time soon. Created in collaboration with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and Norfolk Museums & Archeology Service, the touring exhibition is part of The Great British Art Debate. Established to open up discussions about art, the partnership has already seen Restless Times: Art in Britain 1914–1945 and John Martin: Painting the Apocalypse come to the Millennium Gallery in recent years, exhibitions whose success lay in engaging the public with historic collections by drawing attention to their continued relevance. The Family in British Art builds on their momentum through its curation of historic and contemporary works alongside one another, and further stokes local interest with a commissioned set of Sheffield family photographs.

A theme so varied and abundant in artistic material benefits from being arranged thematically rather than chronologically. Under the sections Inheritance, Childhood, Parenting, Couples & Kinship and Home, the exhibition depicts a manifold of family connections, whether built through consanguinity, marriage, or closely shared environments or experiences. The common element across all pieces is an exploration of the ways in which humans relate to one another and their surroundings, and in doing so form an understanding of themselves and of others.

Drawing pieces from different periods together like this often heightens their impact. The earliest portraits are of moneyed families, posing, pets and all, against a backdrop of their sweeping estates. In these paintings children are depicted as small people in adult dress as a matter of course. William Hogarth's painting The House of Cards (1730) reveals a change in the conceptualisation of childhood at the 18th century, as children were seen to have needs and characteristics distinct from those of adults. His children are still adult-lings, mimicking their future roles as homebuilding husbands and wives. But with an ominous black dog lurking around their precariously built house of cards, Hogarth makes the point that children should be allowed to be children, protected from adult concerns before they are ready.

The House of Cards can be viewed in the Childhood section alongside Grayson Perry's 21st century ceramic pot Difficult Background (2001). At first glance both pieces appear to show a child’s world of play, but on closer inspection reveal unsettling distinctions between adulthood and childhood. In the foreground Perry places children of postwar "austerity Britain" innocently occupying themselves, seemingly oblivious and unaffected by the ruin, bloodshed and warfare playing out in the serious, grown-up world behind them. With its underlying modern consciousness of trauma and the psychological repercussions of a troubled childhood, plus its acknowledgement of the existence of the working classes, its context differs altogether from that of Hogarth's and earlier works. Together these create a historical narrative and reveal changes in cultural consciousness through time.

Among the most fascinating pieces of the exhibition are those addressing the idiosyncrasies of adolescence. Sarah Jones’ The Dining Room (Francis Place) I (1997), a photo seemingly of three sisters in their home, relates to earlier family portraiture of the exhibition, but as a self-aware construct: in reality the girls are friends, and are posed with disregard for one another. It explores performativity and the ambivalent attitude of teenagers toward those closest to them at a time in life when each is wrapped up in their own concerns over self-identification. John Collier’s early 20th century depiction of teen rebellion The Prodigal Daughter (1903), in which a daughter defiantly leaves the house against her parents’ wishes, addresses an adolescent need to break from family confines and assert independence. Contemporary artist Zineb Sedira strips her work of so familiar a context as the home in Mother Tongue (2002), a video triptych of attempted conversations between her, her Arabic-speaking mother and English-speaking daughter. The awkwardness of a teenager relating to older family generations is exasperated further through a literal inability to communicate, nodding to the idea of family being an identity formed through discourse.

The Family in British Art could do more to explore less conventional famliy structures - there is little addressing adoption, gay parents, single parents, and non-marital cohabitation. Paul Graham touches on a 20th century technological extension of the family in his intriguing Television Portraits (1991), and it would have been interesting to see more on families involving subjects beyond humans. There is a wealth of material here though, encompassing a wide range of art forms, and plenty of room to make endless connections across pieces and to individual experiences.

The Family in British Art, 02/02/2012 - 29/04/2012, Millennium Gallery, Arundel Gate, Sheffield S1 2PP. www.museums-sheffield.org.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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:
Family Portrait, 1960s, from the Belle Vue Studio Archive © Bradford Museums and Galleries

Monday, 13 February 2012

Contemporary Sound Art | Haroon Mirza: /|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/| | Spike Island | Bristol




Text by Regina Papachlimitzou

In his first UK solo exhibition, Silver Lion Award winner of last year’s Venice Biennale, Haroon Mirza unfolds the map of an uncharted soundscape at once inviting and forbidding. His show /|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/| (the title being the "typographic representation of a sawtooth waveform" –that is to say, the representation of sound waves) consists of installations in which the auditory element heavily outweighs the visual. Each installation is pervaded by its own distinct mood, but all share a common denominator in the intensity of the experience and of the response each work elicits.

The artist has created a sense of insularity in which to experience his work through a spatial intervention in the galleries of Spike Island: the familiar rooms have been broken up and reassembled beyond recognition, with the help of temporary structural elements such as walls and latticed flooring. Upon entering what used to be Spike Island’s largest gallery, the visitor is almost sucked in, as if by a black hole, into Mirza’s award-winning The National Apavilion of Then and Now . Through a pitch black corridor soundproofed with thick, carpet-like material that swallows the sound of your footsteps, you walk into the unknown guided by a droning sound.

At the end of the corridor you find yourself in a dark and narrow triangle-shaped room, soundproofed with triangular pieces of dark grey foam jutting out from the walls. Overhead, a halo of white LED lights is the only light source, distorting the surface of the walls into apparent movement. The drone rises in pitch and intensity, the vibrations travel up through your body from the metal grille floor. When the lights and sound abruptly cut off, you are left in absolute darkness with the only sound a faint reverberation seeping through from the installations in the adjacent galleries; the only light a haunting afterimage of the LED halo. At that breathtaking moment you are engulfed by an overwhelming, absolute aloneness: a strangely welcome lack of any sort of context, temporal or spatial.

Once you've pried yourself away from the magnetic hold of National Apavilion, head to the gallery hosting I Saw Square Triangle Sine. The spatial arrangement of the installation -in the centre of the room on a raised platform- creates the effect of walking into a performance space, a recently abandoned set on which the instruments are still pulsing with life. The sculptures have clearly been positioned to bring to mind a band, including decks, drums, a keyboard, microphones and amps. This effect is however undercut by the physical reality of the undulating feedback noise, the sound of no music being produced at all. There is something distinctly menacing in the continuous rise and fall of the sound waves, intensified by the fact that the invisible line separating artwork and visitor is here erased: the visitor is welcome to play the drums or listen to the earphones, thus melting through the invisible barrier into the installation.

The adjacent space, set up as a corridor lined with sky blue foam, provides a welcome break from the intensity of the auditory experience that is The National Apavillion and Square Triangle. The mutedness and light spilling across the space sharply contrast with the sense of engulfment created by the previous installations. With head still vaguely throbbing, the visitor can examine a mixture of preparatory drawings for installation projects: some with the playful, careless quality of pencil drawings, thoughts absent-mindedly scrawled on paper; others precise, colour-coded diagrams with explanatory keys and notes. The juxtaposition of the doodle-like notes and almost mathematical blueprints make for a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the mixture of flash of inspiration and meticulous planning that inhere in the creation of any artwork.

The break, however, does not last long: already the exacting clamour of Untitled Song featuring Untitled Works by James Clarkson next door flows in and penetrates the visitor’s consciousness. Entering the adjacent gallery you are greeted by a symphony of energetic sound-snatches running alongside each other, collapsing, and dividing again. As time passes, different installations come alive at different points, gradually building a soundscape as if in reaction to each other and to the visitor.

A small, barely noteworthy speaker next to the entrance suddenly gives out an authoritative thump that vibrates its surface; from the other end of the room, a contraption made up by a wall-mounted speaker, a ceramic lamp, and a glass table responds and develops the thumping. In the centre, a modified shop display case, empty but for a lonely small speaker inside it; above it, a chain is suspended with its end curling on a woofer. As if swept along by the soundwaves rising and falling across the room, this installation comes to life too: the vibration travelling through the ear forces the chain to dance, adding its own jangle to the orchestra. Close to the entrance, suspended from the ceiling hangs a mobile-like structure, made up of a visibly vibrating small speaker, a string of red LED lights, a drum rim, and two more speakers on the other end. Across the room lies an old-style turntable with an analogue radio spinning on it, strongly echoing the decks of Square Triangle; an energy-saving bulb overhead sheds intense white light and creates a not unpleasant grating sound crossed with the static emitted by the radio spinning past. Untitled Song employs the lyricism of looped feedback and static sound waves to create an auditory experience precariously straddling the border between noise and music. The use of muted speakers through which music –presumably- flows only to be discarded in favour of the pure sound of vibrations renders the work all the more poignant.

In /|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/| the most promising young artist of the 2011 Biennale has put together a daring, original, and deeply moving solo exhibition that helps to carve a distinct niche for sound art in the landscape of the contemporary art world.

Haroon Mirza: /|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|/|, 21/01/2012 - 25/03/2012, Spike Island, 133 Cumberland Road, Bristol, BS1 6UX. www.spikeisland.org.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

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:
Haroon Mirza
Installation view, Untitled Song featuring Untitled Works by James
Clarkson, 2012. Mixed media.
Photo: Stuart Whipps. Courtesy the artist and Spike Island.

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