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Friday, 9 March 2012

Marcus Coates: Proxy | Kate Macgarry Gallery | London



Text by Travis Riley

Marcus Coates is best known for his shamanistic performance works in which he channels and consults animal spirits. This element of his practice has already found its way into Tate Britain's Triennial 2009 (curated by Nicholas Bourriaud) and in 2010, earned him a retrospective at MK Gallery. In this show, at Kate MacGarry, there is much less overt shamanism, but Coates’ animal connection remains apparent.

The first piece you encounter is a thirteen second looped video of a Spotted Eagle Ray, slipping fluidly through glowing, tropical seawater. The effortlessness of the ray’s movement is emphasised by the small projection, which focussed on a grey painted rectangle, seems slightly raised from the wall’s surface. The shimmering water becomes ethereal. The piece is called Dogbatpigbird (Spotted Eagle Ray, Galapagos) (2012) and the accompanying text, provided in the work listing, offers a comparison between the ray and the four titled animals, drawing on reproduction, sight, foraging, and flight based similarities. The work is framed by the statement: “Proximity to the video can aid the personal integration of conflicting multiple perspectives.” Coates has demarcated a function to be filled by a symbolic attribute of the animal.

The work, British Moths (2011) comprises of a series of twenty-four small headshots, self-portraits of the artist smeared in white shaving foam. The expressively malformed features of the face appear ghoulish against the stark black background, and the more time spent, the more moth-ish the artist appears to become. The illuminated spectre does have something of a pale, light-drawn moth about it. Each portrait is ascribed a specific species of British moth, which in turn gives it a character name. The colloquial (English) names of the species are surprisingly evocative; exemplary are The Delicate, The Conformist, and The Exile. The connection between image and title is subtly present, whilst The Drinker is smothered haphazardly in thick foam, The Seraphim peers out at the lens of the camera from under a heavy, white brow.

The Albatross Species (2012) and Platonic Spirit: Running Grey Wolf (2012) are closely related works. The Albatross Species consists of a neat pile of twenty-two standard-size scaffold boards, whilst Running Grey Wolf is a plinth, painted a dusty, light-grey, measuring 204 x 98 x 33cm. The Albatross Species is a result of Coates realisation that the standard lengths of scaffolding board correspond almost exactly to the average wingspan of all Albatross species. The species are duly listed in ordered accordance with the pyramidal stack of boards in three different sizes.

Running Grey Wolf seems a self-aware recreation of the albatross-scaffolding phenomenon. The plinth has been built to purpose, measured to represent the skeletal dimensions of the wolf. Placed in the centre of the gallery space, the piece takes on a peculiar presence. Only just off-white, and of distinctly un-plinth-like proportion, the box does not hold the sleekness or movement of the wolf, but it does invoke the animal, both in the sense of a citation and of a measurable physical presence.

The title of the show is Proxy, and it is by this definition that Coates remains a conduit between human and animal worlds. Just as the human-built plinth is a stand-in for a wolf and the standard-sized boards stand-in for species of Albatross, so Coates disguises himself to represent twenty-four species of British moth. Other works in the show follow this theme, in British Mammal Collection (2012) Coates proffers bronze casts of faecal matter to fill in for the animals, and in Skylark Song, duration 10mins (2012) we are presented with a disordered bunch of film hung from the ceiling. The sheer length of tangled film stands in for the duration of the projection that we don’t get to view.

One of the big questions posed by Coates’ performances has always been about investment. Should we laugh or believe? Does Coates consider this a serious endeavour, or a means to a different artistic end? The ambiguity is lost in this show. The representation of nature is earnest, even when humorous. Respect is given and significant claims are made of the animals represented, but in this case there is no filmed audience to respond either with laughter or belief. Instead of investment, the question has become about the impact of the statements attributed to the artwork. The wolf is only a wolf-proxy by the attribution of the title. The works are all given a quality that allows them to appear ethereal or in some way transformative, but it is the text that activates their potential.

Marcus Coates: Proxy, 02/03/2012 – 14/04/2012, Kate MacGarry, 27 Old Nichol Street, London, E2 7HR. www.katemacgarry.com

For more information about the fourth instalment of the Tate Triennal please click this link to download Aesthetica's piece, The End of Postmodernism, from 2009.

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:
Marcus Coates. Proxy installation images, courtesy Kate MacGarry, London

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Objects With Stories | Song Dong: Waste Not | Barbican Art Gallery | London


Text Claire Hazelton

Laid out in a sea of colour of gridded artefacts, ordered debris, dust, rust, and taped-up fragments of household objects, Song Dong’s current installation, Waste Not, at the Barbican Curve Gallery, stands as the culmination of the hoardings of the artist’s mother, Zhao Xiangyuan.

The project’s conception stretches back to the sudden death of Song Dong’s father which drove Xiangyuan into a relentless state of depression and grief; this mourning and sense of immense loss, combined with a childhood set against the backdrop of a cultural revolution, political and social turmoil and natural disasters, Song Dong’s mother began to take the Chinese philosophy of "Wu Jin Qi Yong" (Waste Not), to an impressive extreme. However, "Wu Jin Qi Yong" was not only a way of life specific to Song Dong’s mother; it was a common survival tactic for a whole generation of Chinese, a generation bound by a fear of shortage.

Originally Waste Not was created as a collaboration between Song Dong and his mother, but for this current exhibit, following the death of Xiangyuan in 2009, the installation has had to be remade with the help of Song Dong’s wife and sister. The meaning and significance of the installation has been somewhat forced, by tragedy, into transformation; beginning as a representation of a process of Xiangyuan’s grief, it has now become a process of grief in itself.

On entering the space, the viewer is faced with a sign warning about the "fragile" nature of the exhibit. Similarly, parents hold their children back, away from disturbing the colossal collection of ordered bottle caps, polystyrene packaging and shoeboxes. What one might normally value lowly, as waste, rubbish or debris, here is treated with care and sensitivity, like artefacts of value and importance. Like memories, they are precious and stored for the future. Waste Not is a space where a bar of soap and a collection of tiny umbrellas can be viewed as part of a narrative. Wandering through the meticulously folded plastic shopping bags, the towers of empty cardboard boxes and tubes of used toothpaste, the viewer slowly discovers the artist’s life, home and family. A quiet autobiography of Song Dong’s mother begins to unravel amongst the 10,000 or more of her hoarded objects whilst, at the same time, the viewer is exposed to a portrait a China at a time of extreme unrest.

Despite the immensely sensitive and open way Waste Not illuminates the concepts of family, grief and memory, such sensitivity under the clinical lighting of the Curve space seems to become lost. Each object looses a little of its attachment to the human life it was once part of and, somehow, Xiangyuan’s collection of objects becomes relentlessly listing and bleak. Perhaps though this is what Song Dong intends – to highlight the mechanical and seemingly automatic saving of things, the painful clinging to a disappearing past and the clutching towards an empty, baron, disused history. Something bitter pungently hangs in the air here – a failure, perhaps, in the preservation of fading memories; a failure that Xiangyuan was possibly aware of – the pointlessness and absurdity of saving everything, from buckets with holes in to broken chair legs; When Waste Not was first produced as an artwork, she exclaimed to her son "keeping those things was useful wasn’t it!" seemingly aware that her collection would not be useful for anything else.

In a way, the exhibiting of Waste Not removes the heavy sense of loss from the artist’s family, positioning it in a public realm where such grief and obsession can be dissolved, accepted and left behind. Xiangyuan can be imagined saying to the viewer "I collected all of this just for you", handing over all her strangely valueless objects and, in doing so, un-cluttering her house, her life and memories.

Song Dong: Waste Not, 15/02/2012 - 12/06/2012, The Curve Gallery, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS. www.barbican.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.

Photograph by: Jane Hobson
Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Adel Abdessemed: Who's afraid of the big bad wolf | David Zwirner | New York



Text by Dan Tarnowski

War, violence, death - these aren’t pretty topics. Nevertheless they’re topics that are explored in Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, an exhibition of artwork by Adel Abdessemed. Despite the dark subject matter of the artwork, people were laughing and having a good time at the opening for the exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery.

No surprise, as there’s an ambition in Abdessemed’s work that can’t help but impress. When one first walks into the gallery, they approach Hope, a life-sized installation of a boat filled with trash bags. The abandoned boat, which was home to immigrants traveling to the US, was discovered on a beach in the Florida Keys. While the piece is a hopeful evocation of people searching for a better life, the sculpture seems dashed off, as if it were thrown into the gallery to counterbalance the heavy themes of the exhibition. Perhaps the boat seems out of place due to its readymade nature, or maybe it just fails to captivate as much as what lies ahead.

As the viewer walks into the next room, a rippled mass seems to unfurl across the wall. The mass is as wide as a movie screen and the color of a bear. From afar, the texture of the wall-hanging resembles a prune. As the viewer moves in, they discover the surface is a mass of contorted animals, bearing teeth, covered in burnt fur. It looks like all the taxidermy in the Museum of Natural History was wired together and hung on the wall. That’s right, the surface of the wall installation Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf consists of hundreds of taxidermied animals, including foxes, wolves, deer, goats, and even tiny rabbits. The dead animals snarl and grope at each other in a vicious mass that inspires dread. The sheer latitude of the piece hammers the viewer with an overwhelming sense of violence—one that conjures war.

A rhythmic clack made by a nearby video adds to the sinister atmosphere in the room. The video is Memoir, a loop of a baboon slapping magnetic letters onto a metal wall. The mechanical movements of the trained baboon are creepy. Even more unnerving are the words spelled out by the primate: “Tutsi” and “Hutu,” the names of the opposing ethnicities involved in the civil war in Rwanda in 1994. Adding to the impression that the dead animals in Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf are embalmed is the fact that the whole room smells like some kind of plastic or varnish. Perhaps the smell comes from Coupe de tête a resin sculpture in the same room. The sculpture of two men is larger than life, so the figures are anatomically correct but around 8 feet tall.

The sculpture portrays an event from the World Cup in 2006, in which a shouting match between two players escalated to one player head-butting another. With the sculpture magnifying the emotions of the players, it’s as if the sculpture is a video set to ‘pause,’ and the viewer is invited to sit down and watch the impending fight. The thrill that the viewer may receive from the violent situation seems to be what the artist aims for. Same goes for the wall-installation, Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, in which the magnitude of the piece entreats a sense of wonder despite the repulsiveness of the dead animals.

Such ambivalence is continued in Décor, a wall-installation consisting of four sculptures of Jesus Christ. The traditional image of the crucified Jesus is replicated—arms spread, head tilted, crown of thorns, but there’s no cross, and more peculiarly, the sculptures are woven from barbed wire. The lips of Jesus’s anguished face are sculpted from pieces of the barbed wire. The tightly shut eyelids are made of curved planes of the barbed wire. The figures bristle with blades, turning the vulnerable body of Jesus into something that looks as menacing as a porcupine.

Across from the row of sculptures is an installation entitled L'avenir est aux fantômes. The installation consists of over thirty microphones mounted on glass stands. The microphones are set at different heights and their cables hang to the ground, plugged into nothing. Like the abandoned boat at the entrance to the gallery, this piece seems like excess padding to the exhibition. It wasn’t necessary to fill the floor with another sculpture, as the barbed wire wall-hangings of Jesus are the focal point.

There’s something familiar about Abdessemed’s artwork, it revisits well-known imagery, such as the crucified Jesus seen in Renaissance paintings and the taxidermy seen in children’s museums. More importantly, the artwork gives form to our dark fears and impulses, as if dragging them from a cellar into the light. As the viewer finds enjoyment and repulsion in the brutal content of Abdessemed’s works, they are forced to reconsider their role as a spectator.

Adel Abdessemed: Who's afraid of the big bad wolf, 17/02/2012 - 17/03/2012, 525 West 19th Street, New York, NY 10011. www.davidzwirner.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:
Installation view of Adel Abdessemed: Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf at David Zwirner, New York
February 17 - March 17, 2012
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Brilliance of Life | Yayoi Kusama | Tate Modern


Text by Matt Swain

Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) is Japan's best-known living artist. Since the 1940s, she has produced a wealth of work encompassing painting, drawing, sculpture and collage as well as the immersive large-scale installations for which she is renowned. Kusama's art reflects her unique view of the world and is a product of her life experience over a 60 year period, much of which is represented in the form of hallucinatory visions. This exhibition is a representative sample of her work, focusing on phases and defining moments, each of which are exhibited across fourteen rooms.

Kusama was school-age during the Second World War and her early paintings such as Earth of Accumulation (1950) all possess a dark, oblique feel, a reflection of the state of Japan in the aftermath of war. By contrast, Kusama's early works on paper possess a subtlety and a broader palette of colours, using ink, pastel, watercolour and gouache. Here, in a series of 30 works on paper, she focuses upon the microscopic detail of natural phenomena as in Flower Bud No 6 (1952) which echoes both Klee and Miró. In the mid 1950's, Kusama began producing large-scale canvases known as the "Infinity Net" paintings which hint at obsession and minimalism. No.White A-Z (1958-9) typifies this phase with it's endless repetition of brush strokes.

In the 1960s, having achieved recognition for her paintings, Kusama moved into sculpture. These "Accumulation Sculptures" reflect her involvement in the avant-garde scene in New York at that time. The Man (1963) and Arm Chair (1963) are two dramatic examples of these fabric phallus-covered pop art works which focus predominantly on domestic objects. Continuing this theme, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show is a white-painted fabric phallus-covered rowing boat. The walls, floor and ceiling of this room are covered with posters depicting the same boat, endlessly repeated, a precursor to Warhol's "cow" wallpaper. It was during the 1960s that Kusama also began to make collages, again focusing on repetition as the central theme. Accumulation of Stamps, 63 (1963) and Air Mail Stickers (1962) both exemplify how infinite repetition of the familiar can achieve a strong degree of abstraction.

The persona of Kusama is key to all of her work and this focus on the artist is prevalent throughout the exhibition. These visual documents of her life and her work are so intrinsically linked, it is impossible to separate one from the other. Walking Piece is a series of colour slides in which Kusama walks the streets of New York appearing to accentuate her status as an outsider by taking a path through empty, industrial areas. There is also a selection of archive promotional material in the form of letters, photographs, fliers and press-cuttings which demonstrate how her intense activity moved beyond the confines of the art gallery and seeped into the culture of the times. Kusama's Self Obliteration (1968) marked a period of intense experimentation with mysticism and sexuality. This film depicts naked participants body painting and orgy parties set to a psychedelic soundtrack as well as Kusama herself covering animals, plants and a naked male with polka dots and leaves.

In 1977, psychological difficulties led to Kusama voluntarily admitting herself to a psychiatric hospital which she subsequently used as a base to continue working, and where she still lives today. Sculpture and painting were again a key focus. The Clouds (1984) comprises 100 silver and white painted cushions and is a striking example of the multi-part installations she was creating at this time. Kusama's painting style throughout the 1980s and 1990s centred upon large, brightly coloured canvases with repeated abstract patterns, as in the shocking pink Flame (1992).

The exhibition finishes with her most impressive works. The late 1990s room installation I'm Here, but Nothing (2000), is essentially a dark, furnished living-room which, upon entering, appears to be lit by hundreds of tiny, magical, multi-coloured lights covering the entire space. It is only on closer inspection that you discover the entire room and all of it's furnishings are covered in fluorescent polka dot stickers glowing in the low light. The polka dots are famously said to represent her dark visions and hallucinations but there is also a playfulness here that is quite enchanting. The impact of the work as a whole is astonishing considering the relative simplicity of the creation and is totally immersive.

Nothing can prepare you though for the The Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life (2011), which depicts infinite space in an astounding and transcendent way. Reflecting surfaces of mirrors and water, hundreds of tiny lightbulbs are mirrored into infinite space offering an other-worldly brightness, flooding you with the most brilliant momentary illusion as if climbing into the stars. The experience of walking down a narrow central pathway offers a level of engagement that goes beyond the boundaries of the known artistic universe and is undoubtedly the highlight of the exhibition.

Across the whole exhibition, Kusama's creative energy is almost overwhelming and the sheer breadth of vision is testament to her output spanning six decades, visually documenting her unique capacity to fascinate. In that journey, she has constantly reinvented herself, repeating patterns of life in her life-long commitment to contemporary art. Her work is intensely autobiographical and she has frequently bared her soul as a form of therapy for her. How fitting then that the exhibition begins with disturbing introspection and ends with infinite beauty.

Yayoi Kusama, 09/02/2012 - 05/06/2012, Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1 9TG. www.tate.org.uk/modern

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:
Yayoi Kusama
 The Passing Winter 2005 (detail)
© Tate. Presented by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2008 

Photo: Tate Photography

Monday, 5 March 2012

Thomas Zipp: 3 Contributions to the Theory of Mass-Aberrations in Modern Religions | Alison Jacques Gallery | London


Text by Emily Sack

Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, a staple in the art historical canon, is known for embodying the conflicted relationship of sex and religion. The penetration of the angel’s arrow is simultaneously so pleasurable and so painful to Saint Theresa, that her reaction resembles sexual gratification instead of religious experience. Thomas Zipp’s newest exhibition at Alison Jacques Gallery explores these contrasting yet often overlapping concepts but with an almost menacing interpretation. Zipp borrows Sigmund Freud’s Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex (1920) for the title of this show. Freud’s preoccupation with sexual motivations forms the basis of the art, but it is not necessarily a psychological study through art.

The gallery is divided into two distinct spaces relating most closely to a church and side chapel. In the “nave” of the church multiple components become Polymorphous Oratory (2012). The largest and possibly most bizarre of objects in this room is a conical system of two larger than life ear cones (pictured) attached to headphones on a pedestal at the rear of the gallery space. This puzzling contraption encourages visitor interaction, but listening through the headphones does little to elucidate the purpose of the object. A steady hum of visitors is perforated by occasional clarity of sound, but in general the cones, generally used to improve hearing, only serve to distort sound and perception.

The main space also contains ten neon lights mounted high on the walls. The lights, a bit like what stained glass Dan Flavin would be like – cheap materials somehow made into sculptures of light with a certain surprising elegance. Electrical cords snake down the walls to the outlets, eschewing traditional illusionism and acknowledging the real world constraints of electricity.

The final component of Polymorphous Oratory is a icon or reliquary of sorts, illuminated by a row of electric votive candles. The painted canvas is covered in aluminium foil reflecting the light and referencing Byzantine icons with the backgrounds of gold leaf. The brightness of the lights placed on a black painted table in front of the canvas is intense causing the viewer to see spots on looking away. This optical effect highlights a sense of mysticism, but also delays a closer inspection of the work. This altar, in addition to the three similar altars in the “side chapel” are each painted a different colour then scored by a variety of rather violent tools. Instead of an image of a saint as would be painted on a traditional icon, Zipp uses a serrated saw blade, mushroom shaped grinder, stiletto heels, and a whip to create subtle texture on the surface of the foil.

Further expanding on the themes of violence and sexuality, the side gallery is crowded with C print photographs of mannaquins or rubber dolls in grimy disrepair. The pictures feature details of distorted appendages and close-up portraits. The poses of dolls are highly sexualized, but what is most disturbing is the clear sense that another individual, a real person, has positioned the mannequins in this way, moving beyond eroticism into sexual deviance and voyeurism. The eeriness of the photographs is heightened by the dimness of the smaller side gallery where the only lighting comes from the three tables of electric votive candles. The placement of these altars implies the necessity of devotion to the surrounding images thereby increasing the discomfort.

Sex and religion have been contrasting though frequently overlapping themes throughout history. Thomas Zipp creates an interesting juxtaposition of cheapening religion or elevating deviant sex in this new exhibition. Just as Freud’s interpretations of sexual desire have been highly contested in recent scholarship, Zipp’s provocative work is likely to incite controversy or at least stimulate conversation and debate.

Thomas Zipp: 3 Contributions to the Theory of Mass-Aberrations in Modern Religions, 24/02/2012 - 31/03/2012, Alison Jacques Gallery, 16-18 Berners Street, London, W1T 3LN. www.alisonjacquesgallery.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:
Thomas Zipp, Polymorphous Oratory (2012)
Courtesy the artist and Alison Jacques Gallery

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