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Friday 7 August 2009

Launch - Artist and Curatorial Collaborative

I am inspired by the resilience that has been a by-product of this recession. New ideas, concepts and serendipity are only some of the products of the economic downturn. I know it’s been hard, and basically has shaken everyone up, but for me, it’s broadened my horizons and made me take a good look around. I’m not the only one.

I think this idea is brilliant; and I’ve heard of a lot of these spaces popping up across the country. They question the notion of the transient gallery space, but also look at art in terms of engaging with communities. I realise this cannot always be the case, but I am inspired, I would love to take an empty shop, and convert it into the Aesthetica gallery. Any takers?

Launch Collaborative, an artist and curatorial collaborative present three new projects working with artists who share an interest in exhibiting their work in non-traditional exhibition spaces across Oxford. Working in association with Modern Art Oxford the aim is to give valuable exposure to early career artists, whilst presenting innovative contemporary art in an accessible, approachable environment. Located in The busy thoroughfare of the Westgate Centre, Felix's Machines: Armadillo is a solo exhibition by celebrated young artist, Felix Thorn.

Armadillo is an extraordinary, mechanical instrument put together by the artist and musician Felix Thorn. The latest in a series of works which exist to facilitate music by translating rhythmic audio structures into a three dimensional, visual spectacle; Armadillo functions as both musical instrument and kinetic sculpture.

Felix’s Machines are music making sculptures that invite audiences to share the experience of their creator. These Machines do not intend to match human potential. Instead they exist to test the advantages of mechanical instruments alone.

"Although my medium focuses on the development of acoustic sounds, I am continually inspired by electronic music - the countless abstractions act as blueprints for the construction of its acoustic counterparts. I aim to build a space where artificial and dream-like environments can become a reality," says Felix Thorn

Launch Collaborative is creating a contemporary art conversation across the city, and invited Oxford artist Tom Milnes to present a work that links Felix Thorn’s exhibition at Westgate Centre with James Winnett’s George Street exhibition and Sarah Kenchington’s performance for Modern Art Oxford’s Yard Party on the evening of Thursday 30th July. Milnes’ 21st Century One Man Band is a peculiar, time-travelling, intriguing-technotastic version of the traditional one-man band, embodying a mystique that attracted the attention of unassuming passers-bys. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Milnes led visitors between the various venues and attracted the intrigued along the way. Making the most of mobile technology Milnes takes electronica out of the studio and onto the streets creating music on the move using audio gadgets such as battery-powered synths, amps, laptops and iPods. Milnes’ performance on the 30th has been documented and is now available to view in Launch Collaborative’s exhibition space in the Westgate centre.

Modern Art Oxford Director, Michael Stanley commented:
“At a time when empty shop fronts are becoming an all too familiar sight on our High Street, Launch Collaborative’s bold and innovative projects are providing a much welcome alternative. We are really excited to be working in association with them for the first Summer Yard Party. We hope that this will be the beginning of many similar projects that demonstrate the vitality of the visual arts in Oxford and the valuable contribution we collectively make to the vibrant cultural life of the City.”

Exploring these curious, lo-fi, experimental fine art installations the public are invited take an extra couple of minutes out of their usual shopping trip to step inside the wonderful, stimulating scenarios carefully created by budding artists.

Felix Thorn: Felix's Machines: Armadillo
31 July - 8 August, 11am-5pm
Westgate Centre, Oxford. (Formerly Original Shoe Company)

Tom Milnes: 21st Century One Man Band
31 July - 8 August, 11am-5pm
Westgate Centre, Oxford. (Formerly Original Shoe Company)

James Winnett: Garden Images
31 July - 8 August, 11am-5pm
35 George Street, Oxford

Sunday 2nd August 2pm – 4pm, Saturday 8th August 2pm – 4pm
Free, drop-in workshops for children aged 6 – 12 years old
Westgate Centre, Oxford. (Formerly Original Shoe Company)


Wednesday 5 August 2009

Independent State a New Commission by Foreground

Leading British artists Edwina Ashton, Bob and Roberta Smith and Matt Stokes are preparing to begin work on a major new art project, Independent State, commissioned by Frome-based art organisation Foreground.

Independent State explores how we define social distinctiveness and achieve self-determination as individuals and communities. The new works will take a number of different forms, from eccentric historical celebrations to major collaborative performance that will culminate as floats, performances and demonstrations in the Carnival on 26 September 2009.

Carnival is one of the most distinctive features of Somerset’s cultural identity and generates huge popular audiences to witness its grass roots creativity that range from the spectacular to the eccentrically amateur. As the first carnival in the Somerset Carnival season, Frome Carnival is one of the smallest yet generates an audience of over 20,000 people in a single night.

Edwina Ashton’s videos, performances and drawings create oblique and absurd concoctions of character and narrative. They explore the allure and peculiarity of eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, often through the use of insects and creatures given human attributes to ridicule the perversities of British politeness. Ashton will create one of her most ambitious works to date for Independent State. Collaborating with local naturalists and craft and drama enthusiasts, Ashton will manufacture a small army of bizarre insect costumes for performers, creating an alternative society of insects as parallel residents of Frome who will enter their own float into Carnival.

Bob & Roberta Smith fuse humour and serious politics into an egalitarian art that uses the skills of the sign writer, pop group and workshop leader to cajole his audience into a celebratory but often acerbic campaign for more art and greater democracy in our society. For Independent State, Smith will stage an anarchic celebration of the long forgotten names of fields around Frome. Similar to a protest rally, local people will march with placards, costumes, and whistles to a soundtrack of field names sung by a community choir of local people, ranging from school children to the retired.

Bob & Roberta is everywhere at the moment including the Grey Gallery Edinburgh for This Artist is Deeply Dangerous as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. You can read all about his new show in the current issue of Aesthetica.

Matt Stokes is a really interesting artist. He creates ‘performance based’ investigations into alternative and informal movements that bind people together. Music subcultures have been central to the development of his recent projects, which have focused on their ability to shape lifestyle, beliefs, and create collectivity. For Independent State, Stokes will work with Frome’s thriving hardcore/metal music scene and Somerset blacksmiths and metalworkers. Drawing on Frome’s industrial heritage (in particular that of Singers, a former foundry in the town), Stokes plans to create a semi-permanent monument to the hardcore/punk/metal community of the town and area, which will be paraded through the Carnival procession, flanked and heralded by bands, musicians and fans of the genre, harking back to statues leaving Singers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I can't help but think about how lucky the residents of Frome are to have such world class artists engaging with the community.

I think it's important for these types of activities to occur. I have been impressed by Orange's Rock Core. I think that in our society, we're not encouraged enough to interact with each other, the concept of benevolence seems to have been thrown out the window. It's refreshing to see Foreground redressing this.


Monday 3 August 2009

Unpopular Culture: Grayson Perry curates at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Taking advantage of my friend’s car, I escaped the city this weekend to visit the unique environment of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a fantastic summer day out with the country’s best permanent collection from the movers and shakers of modernism such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, to contemporary giants of sculpture Anthony Gormley and Winter/Hörbelt. These are sculptures which belong in the open air, and it’s so rare to see them in such a setting – weathered by the elements in a way that only serves to enhance their beauty.

But that’s for another blog, I’d wanted to stop by the Sculpture Park to catch the new indoor exhibition, Unpopular Culture, after interviewing its curator, Grayson Perry earlier in July. Perry’s reputation precedes him, but what is special about his work as a curator is how irrelevant much of the preoccupations on Perry as an artist seem to be. Interviewing Perry, it is clear that he is attracted to the quieter side of art, the unassuming Britishness which makes up our national heritage and jars discordantly with the shouty sensationalism of contemporary art

The works on show question our view of the past and the invert the rose-tinted nostalgia of the good old days. With works including photography, painting and sculpture, Perry has included his own thoughts on many of the pieces and explains their appeal from among the Art Council’s extensive collection of home-grown art. Paintings such as Carel Weight’s The World We Live In, are typical of their time – kitchen sink representational art that highlights the hardships of a very particular moment in South London. Before gentrification, willowy figures amble aimlessly in a windswept yard, they are swayed by the wind in a manner that alludes to feelings of worthlessness and worklessness during the deep recession of the 1970s.

Photographical studies of the long-term unemployed in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and Martin Parr’s distinctive record of British grit, accompany the paintings and sculptures and visitors are invited to lounge in easy chairs and browse a collection of books on the period captured, and the artists involved. Perry himself has created two new works for the exhibition, one of which, Queen’s Bitter, showcases his trademark craftsmanship with an acerbic wit, and highlights that Perry is not as removed from the showmanship of contemporary art as he’d like us to believe, daubing the image of his alter ego, Claire, over the ceramic alongside further representations of our green and pleasant land. Unpopular Culture makes us aware of the flipside of British nostalgia – the grey times of unemployment and want that tempered the post-war UK. Perry notes: “Somehow people feel that they’re working towards a golden moment when everything will be all right. That doesn’t exist and people need to be reminded that life is a work in progress and there isn’t any solution at the end of it.” It’s a fascinating exhibition, expertly collected by one of British art’s leading figures in an effort to criticise itself.

There’s a full feature on Unpopular Culture, as well as the accompanying film screenings from the British Film Institute archive, Nostalgia for the Bad Times, in the new issue of Aesthetica out now – available at WH Smith, Borders and selected newsagents. Or click here to order your copy now

[Image credits: Henry Moore, Bryan Kneale, Carel Weight]

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