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Friday, 16 March 2012

Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed | The Freud Museum | London


The Freud Museum was Sigmund Freud’s home in the last year of his life from 1938-39. The museum has attracted interest in the contemporary art world having previously worked with artists such as Susan Hiller and Mat Collishaw. The current exhibition, Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed, presents the artist’s recently discovered psychoanalytic writings as well as other art objects that range from sculptures to textiles. This exhibition curated by Philip Larratt-Smith displays psychoanalysis – the connection between Freud and Bourgeois – through writings and artworks shown here for the first time. Asana Greenstreet speaks to Larratt-Smith about this exciting exhibition:

AG: There are so many conversations going on between ideas, objects and artworks. How did you conceive these conversations working in such a contained space?

PL-S: Well it’s a very charged space, obviously. I knew that the selection would have to be very precise so that the work would hold its own against the space, but also so that it wouldn’t feel as though the Freud Museum had been turned into a more traditional exhibition space. To me it’s a very good match, the pieces look strong, and the rooms are very elegant. It’s nice to have the works installed in rooms of a human scale in a domestic space, which is very different from, say, how it looks in most institutions, such as in the institutional white cube. It’s incredible to be able to hang works like, Janus Fleuri (1968) in Freud’s study, to hang it over Freud’s couch where his patients would lie down.”

AG: Is Janus Fleuri the key work in this show?

PL-S: For me, it’s the most important work she ever made. I wrote an essay about it in the catalogue called The Return of the Repressed, which gave its title to the show. To me that is the core of all of Louise’s work: it’s a “summing up” of the binary oppositions that run through her work giving it tension and complexity. Her own relationship with psychoanalysis was properly ambivalent, in the Freudian sense. This allowed her to become the great artist that she was. Without it, I’m not sure that she would have made the same transformation.

AG: How did you set about selecting the works for this exhibition?

PL-S: This is a new version of a show that has travelled around South America; it’s my exhibition from Buenos Aires that also travelled to São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. And that was a much more comprehensive selection of work because Louise had never shown there before, so it had more of a character of being a retrospective, whereas this is much more of a cherry picked selection.

AG: And a lot of these works have never been shown before...

PL-S: Yes, like The Dangerous Obsession (2003) on the mezzanine level. In London Louise is very well known because of the Turbine Hall installation and the Tate Modern retrospective; I think the audience here has had more experience with her work, and to make a more targeted or ‘”surgical” show is fine.

AG: I Am Afraid (2009) is an extremely gendered piece. Was Bourgeois conscious of these ideas when she was making her work?

PL-S: It’s an interesting question. She always said that the artist had an unusually direct relationship to the unconscious, and this direct access was both a blessing and a curse. It’s in Freud’s theory of repression. On the one had memories come back to Louise, but they come back with an emotional intensity that is often unpleasant and overwhelming, this makes it difficult for her to function in everyday life. But at the same time it’s a gift, because the artist is capable of sublimating these troubling experiences into permeated symbols.

AG: There are very different types of symbols in this exhibition. Some appear as words, texts, as well as the art object in its different forms. Would you agree?

PL-S: Yes sure. Louise was a great talker, a great mythologiser of herself, and told her life story the way she wanted it to be told. On the one hand she distrusted words, she said “with words you can lie to me, you can fool me”. Whereas she felt that in the visual realm you could know if something is true or false. And yet, Louise was such a prolific writer. There are over 1000 psychoanalytic writings, and they are one of the many forms of writing Louise has left us. It’s interesting that someone who had such a distrust of the verbal should have done so much writing herself.

AG: Were these writings the start of the idea for this exhibition then?

PL-S: Yes they were. I worked as Louise’s literary archivist from 2002 to her death in 2010. I am currently preparing the entire psychoanalytic writings with facsimiles for publication.

Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed, 8/03/2012 - 27/05/2012, The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, London, NW3 5SX. www.freud.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:
Louise Bourgeois
UNTITLED, 2010
Fabric, thread, rubber, stainless steel, wood and glass
199.4 x 221 x 110.5 cm.
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth and Cheim & Read
Photo: Christopher Burke, © Louise Bourgeois Trust

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Raeda Saadeh: True Tales, Fairy Tales | Rose Issa Projects | London


Text by Deborah Schultz

The title of the current exhibition of photographs by Raeda Saadeh at Rose Issa Projects, London, is well-chosen as True Tales, Fairy Tales brings together and highlights key aspects of the artist’s work. While a number of the images refer to fairy tales, these are not happy ending fantasies, but are deeply rooted in unresolved contemporary issues. Although this exhibition features only photographs, Saadeh is also a performance and installation artist. As is often noted, her background plays a crucial role in her work. A Muslim Palestinian, she studied at an Israeli University in Hebrew, lives in Jerusalem and has an Israeli passport. With such a complex status, Saadeh personifies the absurdity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although (in theory) she can travel to the west, she is unable to go to Arab countries. The early photograph Crossroads (2003) provides a visual form for the imposition of the political conflict on the individual. Standing in a doorway with a suitcase ready to go, one foot is set in a cube of concrete making travel impossible. Saadeh is the model here, as in all her works. The authenticity of the image is crucial and she actually cast her foot in concrete. She looks out of the image, with an expression on her face of calm determination mixed with anger and patience.

The literalness of this image segues into more nuanced fictions as the artist explores political and gender concerns via complex narratives. Saadeh is clearly the model in each image in the Fairy Tales series. Although she has been described as the Cindy Sherman of the Middle East there are clear differences in their methods. Sherman, in a sense, is the better actress as, with the use of prosthetics and make up she takes on each character and becomes unrecognisable. Sherman’s images are also more credible, whether as film stills or family portraits, with the characters convincing fitting their surroundings. Saadeh, meanwhile, has clearly dressed up for each part. By drawing attention to the artifice of the image, she is more concerned with highlighting disjuncture, discord and displacement and so structures her images accordingly. Her fairy tale characters do not quite fit the harsh reality of the background scenes. Looking out of each image away from the viewer with a mixture of strength and vulnerability, she is alert to danger, always on the watch for whoever may be watching her. Cinderella (2010), for example, in an old-fashioned pink ball gown, looks over her shoulder in fear that she has been followed. She seems to have fallen on the steps of an old town which has become a popular tourist area with soft lighting and museum signs on the walls. The back story of each photograph is hinted at; this particular image was taken at 4am in Jaffa, in streets formerly inhabited by wealthy Palestinian families, who hurriedly left the city in the middle of the night. This Cinderella is not concerned with the transformation of her clothes and carriage, but with the night time curfew. Meanwhile Rapunzel (2010) sits in the entrance to a ruined old house with a new Israeli settlement in the background, while Penelope (2010) knits from a ridiculously large ball of wool in the ruins of more recent properties, the metal spokes sticking out of the rubble visually analogous to her woollen thread. Little Red Riding Hood (2010) is slightly different from the other images in the series. The amusing discrepancies between Saadeh, her little girl outfit and plastic basket full of bread are striking. She is smaller here, lost amongst the forest of skyscrapers of the Tel Aviv financial district. Her smile appears innocent but knowing, seemingly aware of how bizarre she looks while, at the same time, acting her part, cautiously crossing a danger zone to take food to her family. Full of borders and divisions, the spaces of these images correspond to those in contemporary life most notably in the Middle East, but relevant to other regions too.

Some images from Saadeh’s Great Masters series are also on display, including that in which she dresses up as Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, calmly pouring milk but in the setting of a ruined home. Thus, through old master paintings and fairy tales she uses fictions to explore the reality of women living under occupation and the ways in which they need to overcome endless challenges and obstacles, regarding both external repression and cultural stereotyping. It is the spirit of the works and of the artist’s enchanting personality that makes them most effective as Saadeh, impressively, remains calm throughout, employing absurdity in the face of absurdity.

Raeda Saadeh: True Tales, Fairy Tales, 08/03/2012 – 07/04/2012, Rose Issa Projects, 269 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NA. www.roseissa.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:
Copyright of the artist and Courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Santiago Sierra: Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed | Lisson Gallery | London


Text by Emma Cummins

Notorious for his controversial and ethically dubious video-works, Santiago Sierra is a contentious and well-known figure in the field of contemporary art. Both politically and aesthetically provocative, his work combines elements of social and institutional critique to confront the problems of labour and the politics of contemporary culture. Best known for works such as 160 CM LINE TATTOOED ON 4 PEOPLE (2000), or 68 PEOPLE PAID TO BLOCK A MUSEUM ENTRACE (2000); Sierra exploits the terrible inequalities of society to proffer perspicacious insights into the history of art and the realities of neoliberal capitalism.

A magnet for writers and critical theorists, Sierra could be construed as a facilitator – an artist whose wilful exploitation of people results in live, participatory events that are documented and displayed as “art”. As highlighted in Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed, a mid-career retrospective at London’s Lisson Gallery, the camera is key to this process; a silent, yet indispensable witness to his uniquely prescribed artistic contexts.

At the Lisson, visitors are greeted with a room of 14 wall-mounted monitors and headsets. Revealing a selection of the artist’s well-known video works, the room is a cleverly curated montage of Sierra’s participatory works from the late 1990s to 2011. From 100 HIDDEN INDIVIDUALS (2003) to THE WALL OF A GALLERY PULLED OUT, INCLINED 60 DEGREES FROM THE GROUND AND SUSTAINED BY 5 PEOPLE (2000); we see grainy, black and white shots of people engaging in durational performances that toy with notions of power, surveillance and social complicity.

Realised in a variety of different locations – in galleries, streets, office blocks or abandoned buildings - works such as 8 PEOPLE PAID TO REMAIN INSIDE CARDBOARD BOXES (1999) are loaded with paradox. Both social and sculptural; culturally rich yet morally ambiguous, their oxymoronic allure is compelling and disturbing in equal measure. In this particular work, we discover (through the video’s disconcertingly self explanatory title) that a collection of cardboard boxes are components in a unique, participatory performance. Paradigmatic of Sierra’s documentary video-work, the piece nods towards Minimalist sculpture and the history of Conceptual Art, yet seethes with the uncomfortable presence of people who quietly comply with the artist’s instruction.

Whilst Sierra, in the wake Claire Bishop’s essay Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics (2004), has long been associated with the field of relational aesthetics; contemplation of this particular work reveals that Sierra’s ostensibly “relational” works could be read as ruminations on the unnerving, invisibility of power. Subsequently, his inhabited cardboard boxes – breathless, yet quivering with life – could be interpreted as a visualisation of power relations, their disquieting ambiguity and concrete social effects.

If, as the great theorist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre once said, space is a “social product”, not an empty container of social relations; Sierra’s work seems to proffer an image of the intangibility of capitalism and its ideological hold on the body. Unlike relational aesthetics however, where the artistic medium is the body – or the interaction between bodies through human relations - Sierra’s work contains a sculptural aspect that is often critically overlooked. It is significant then, that whilst the majority of works at the Lisson are materialised as videos, the last room of Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed contains a new and revelatory sculptural work.

Loudly proclaiming the word “NO” in huge black lettering, it is a welcome aberration in a show that privileges documentation over empirical experience. Caught between two rare photographic works – where the word “NO” is projected above the Pope and across the chest of an unsuspecting policeman – the NO sculpture represents a new direction for Sierra, a full-blown embrace of materiality and potent, aesthetic presence.

Infused with an air of stubborn resistance, this loud and uncompromising sculpture is a facet of a large-scale video-work titled NO, Global Tour (2009-2011). Two hours in length, the film documents an unusual journey - a journey where two NO sculptures are transported on the back of flatbed trucks across Europe and the United States. In Berlin, Toronto, Rotterdam, Washington and many other places (most notably the industrial areas of cities) the sculptures – weighing half a ton each, and measuring about 5.10 by 13.12 feet – traverse everyday environments to create a kinetic sensation of hope and resistance.

Through the simple invocation of the word “NO”, a heavy irony forms a conclusion to this hard-hitting and expansive retrospective. If we consider the acts of complicity that make Sierra’s video work possible – the silent “yes” from his accepting participants – it seems apt to suggest that Sierra’s “NO” is a crude, yet productive indication of a significant, stylistic shift. If, as the artist routinely insists, his work merely represents the conditions of life that we are “uncomfortable confronting”; NO, Global Tour transmits a nebulous sense of possibility rarely seen in his earlier works.

Santiago Sierra: Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed, 01/02/2012 - 03/03/2012, Lisson Gallery, 29 Bell Street, London. www.lissongallery.com

Santiago Sierra: Films and Works, 20/01/2012 - 10/04/2012, Reykjavík Art Museum, Iceland. www.artmuseum.is

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:
Santiago Sierra
Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed
Installation view
Lisson Gallery, London 2012

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Figure in Space | Alice Channer: Body In Space and Edward Thomasson: Inside | South London Gallery | London


Text by Travis Riley

Having been given the opportunity to exhibit at South London Gallery, Alice Channer took the bold step of creating an entirely new set of works to fill the impressive gallery space. The resulting exhibition, Out of Body, consists only of works made this year, and in many respects, appears to be as much a single installation as ten smaller constituent works.

Measuring the full ten metres from floor to sky-lit ceiling, Channer has hung three images of classical British Museum sculptures, printed on metre-wide strips of heavy, white fabric, entitled Cold Metal Body, Warm Metal Body, and Large Metal Body. The images are digitally stretched, and their proportions considerably distorted. In its overextended form the printed stone seems to pour from the ceiling, pooling on the floor where the fabric comes to rest. The scale of the works allows them to take on their own dizzying gravity as the spectator faces them. The statues depicted are all without head or limbs, essentially bodiless, however the implication of form beneath the remaining drapes of fabric is enough to give an immediately human impression. These banners of bodily space without form are emblematic of the other works on show.

Just as the banners fill the vast, vertical space in the gallery, the installation of pieces Reptiles and Amphibians, seems designed to fill the considerable floor-space. The titles are easy to locate in the works, which are mainly composed of smooth curves of polished stainless steel positioned to imply a reptilian gate. Amphibians comes complete with a ragged tail and lolling tongue, both made from aluminium cast Topshop leggings. The leggings are dotted about both of the works, cast in order to replicate the curves of the steel, but positioned in parallel, the materials are always spaced and never touching.

The walls of the gallery are filled with similar intent. Eyes, takes up the entirety of the left wall, and Lungs the majority of the right. The works consist of thin, looped aluminium frames covered by a thin layer of spandex. Each frame is hung separately, such that they can be horizontally spaced across the length of the room. Affixed by a flat spine, the frames curve outwards from the wall in an angular, imperfect semi-circular form. Each has a distinct shape, and viewed along the gallery wall there is a sense of sequence and accumulation; every form becomes superimposed into the next. In Eyes the sequence is sporadic, the distance between the frames and variation in form, frenetic. Conversely, Lungs has a rhythm. The impression of breathing, the heaving of a chest, is unavoidable. The spandex layer provides the skin, sometimes taught, sometimes bunched up by the motion of the frame. Between the two lungs is Arms. Two aluminium cast cuffs poking from the wall. These bring the exhibition full circle. The gauntlets are much less about their own physical frame, more about the space they contain, a space filled by an imagined human form.

On the first floor of the gallery is a second exhibition, which provides a remarkable, if coincidental, counterpoint to Alice Channer’s. Both are about the human body and space, but whilst Channer generates a general human image without body, Edward Thomasson’s exhibition, Inside, generates a vision of the person trapped inside the body and the body trapped in the world. His video (also titled Inside (2012)) consists of three cross-edited scenarios. An acupuncturist delivers a simple treatment, female prisoners receive art-therapy, and a woman and man sing a song called "Not Safe Inside". The scenarios seem disjunct, yet somehow are effortlessly viewed as a whole. The video is narrated by one of the prisoners, who explains a difficulty in expressing feelings, and she, along with the music, provides an informal backing track to the overarching series of events. The web of reference in the video is so well spun, that even as we follow the camera inside the singer’s throat, the whole scenario remains plausible and indefinably rational. The final, self-reflexive narratorial statement, spoken as the prisoner stares toward the camera, mouth-unmoving, awakes you from the sequence, but leaves the debate about personal and private, physical and metaphysical space, ringing in your ears. “You’re inside my head, after all.”

In both exhibitions there is a focus on space. In Thomasson’s, space is constrictive. Physical space contains the prisoners, and emotional space is equally suppressed. In Channer’s, form (human or animal) is in the spaces within and between works. Her sculptural pieces are predominantly made up of flat surfaces. Space is found and trapped by folding, stretching, and shaping these surfaces around it. The negative space is not empty. The viewer is left to find the missing figurative element of each sculpture projected into it. On the reverse of each of the three banners is a small gesture that alludes to actual, undistorted human scale, such as a direct print of Channer’s arm and hand. The images are separated by less than a centimetre, yet cannot be viewed simultaneously. The sculptures are figurative; the figure is deliberately fragmented, but fully represented.

Alice Channer: Out of Body and Edward Thomasson: Inside, 02/08/2012 - 13/05/2012, South London Gallery, 65-67 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UH. www.southlondongallery.org

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 from Alice Channer: Out of Body at the South London Gallery, 2012.
Photo: Andy Keate.
Image courtesy the artist and the South London Gallery.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Phil Hession: My heart is always trembling, afraid I might give in | The Context Gallery | Derry


Text by Angela Darby

Irish folk music has played an intrinsic part in the socio-political history of the Irish working-class. Through this medium an injured party could publicly express their frustrations at the hardship and ignominy of servitude placed on them by corrupt landlords or overseers. The folk song traditionally embodied a communal view; venting anger or giving a voice to hopes for a better future. Emotive ballads rallied the masses into believing that they could perhaps enact change.

For his solo exhibition at The Context Gallery, the artist Phil Hession presents three renditions of the Irish ballad The Rocks of Bawn. On an external wall at the entrance to the gallery the three versions, archived in old newspapers, are illuminated on large light-boxes. Within the darkened main gallery an array of machines, cameras and cables map out the space whilst a video silently and hauntingly illuminates one of the gallery walls. The footage projected was shot on the opening night as Hession performed each of the ballads live. The "raw" sound from this performance was recorded on three unique apparatus installed within the gallery space: a lathe attached to a record player, a polygraph and a set of single–lens reflex cameras. The artist activated each device and this symbiotic, physical relationship is present throughout the exhibition. At the first station a DJ’s record deck sits on top of a handmade, wooden structure. A lathe used in the cutting of master recordings is attached at the back and there is a crank handle at the side, which is reminiscent of an old-fashioned 78-rpm gramophone player. Spinning on the deck is a shiny compact disc with abrasions etched deep into its surface. As Hession sang he turned the handle scoring his vocal sound waves into the disc. The disc was then "played" and sampled to initiate a layering of live and recorded sounds. There is a paradox evident here in the concept of this piece: through the act of recording Hession has skilfully obliterated the contemporary technology by treating it as one would a vinyl record thus rendering it ironically obsolete. Finbar Rosato, contributing writer to the exhibition’s accompanying essay asserts that: "Hession strips the digital format of its anonymity ...and gives it a new framework based on human experience and action."

Attached to the floor of the gallery are a series of power cables that have been secured with black tape suggestive of a circuit board allowing the flow of power from one object to the other. At the second station a polygraph’s needles measured and recorded the performer’s physiological indices: respiration, pulse and blood pressure as he sang the next version of the ballad. The artist’s contact here is much more corporal as the relationship between man and machine moves beyond the purely instrumental. From the graphs still attached to the machine we can "read" Hession’s involuntary reflexes and visceral responses he produced at every vocal inclination of The Rocks of Bawn. At the third station, the artist sat in a chair facing a set of single-lens reflex cameras mounted on tri-pods. Hession captured his own self-portrait whilst performing the final rendition of the ballad. The flash photography created a dynamic theatrical strobe-like effect similar to the atmospheric lighting found in a club or music event.

Throughout the entirety of the performance Hession had been meticulously collating each piece of audio/visual material; even wiring the mechanical devices for sound: the creaking handle, the noise of the lathe machine, the needles on the polygraph, the shutters and flash from the SLR cameras have all been captured. Hessian and collaborator Christian Cherene have reassembled the resulting noises into short fragments of sound that softly emanate at each of the stations. With most performance art the viewer is usually met with the left behind debris and detritus but here Hession has cleverly and competently avoided this shortfall by presenting his "props" as fully formed, tangible works and sculptures that have a commanding presence of their own.

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.

Phil Hession: My heart is always trembling, afraid I might give in, 17/02/2012 - 17/03/2012, The Context Gallery, 5-7 Artillery Street, Derry, BT48 6RG Derry/Londonderry. www.contextgallery.co.uk

Photography: Paola Bernardelli

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