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Friday 27 November 2009

First permanent artwork for London Underground since 1984

Full Circle by Knut Henrik Henriksen (b 1970, Oslo) was unveiled today in King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground Station. This is the first permanent artwork to be installed on the network since Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road in 1984. Let's face it with the amount of time that we spend underground, these type of aesthetic pleasures do more than enhance the surroundings, but transform spaces.

Full Circle has been created as an integral part of the King’s Cross station upgrade. It references the impressive contemporary architectural setting of the modernised Tube. The size and form of Henriksen’s sculpture is frequently defined by such architectural specificities as the height, depth and materials of a given location. These become starting points for his work and in this case the circular end wall of the concourse tunnel is the origin of his concept. The circle is truncated where it meets the floor, implying a ‘lost’ segment of circle beneath. This segment has been ‘reinstated’, conceptually exhumed by Henriksen, and mounted as an integral architectural feature of the end wall. It is fabricated by the station upgrade contractor from the same material (shot-peened stainless steel) as the wall itself. The effect is of a minimalist relief: a subtle, elegant work in metallic grey.

Henriksen’s practise is underpinned by a preoccupation with and critique of key Modernist principles - form fitting purpose and truth to materials; minimal embellishment.

In the 1930s, London Underground’s Managing Director Frank Pick, fired up by European Modernist ideals, championed a unifying principle of the Tube network, which became known as Total Design. Through this concept such elements as the Roundel, the Tube map, the Johnston typeface, artists’ designs for posters and station designs, exemplified by the work of architect Charles Holden, have combined to become central to London Underground’s world renowned identity. Henriksen’s Full Circle brings this vision up to date, seamlessly becoming part of the Underground’s tunnels and passageways.

The installation at King’s Cross St. Pancras is just one of a number of significant permanent artworks commissioned by Art on the Underground for key stations on the network over the coming years. For example, Daniel Buren will create a dramatic new work for the Tottenham Court Road Tube station, which is undergoing a major upgrade.

Incidentally, I am interested to know what you think about these types of public art projects? Do you think it's worth it? How do we define the value this creates?

For more information about Art on the Underground, please visit www.tfl.gov.uk/art

Image credits
Knut Henrik Henriksen, Full Circle, 2009
King’s Cross St Pancras Underground station
Courtesy the artist and Art on the Underground
Photo: Daisy Hutchison

Thursday 26 November 2009

Mohsen Makhmalbaf Wins the Freedom to Create Prize 2009

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the celebrated Iranian filmmaker and official overseas spokesman for 2009 Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has won the 2009 Freedom to Create Prize. The only prize of its kind, the Freedom to Create Prize celebrates the use of the arts to drive change and build the foundations of creativity in broken societies. Mr Makhmalbaf was awarded the prize by Bianca Jagger, Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, at a high profile London ceremony at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 25 November 2009.

Commenting on his award, Makhmalbaf said, “People of my country (Iran) are killed, imprisoned, tortured and raped just for their votes. Every award I receive means an opportunity for me to echo their voices to the world, asking for democracy for Iran and peace for the world.”Makhmalbaf has written and directed 18 feature films and six short films that have been widely presented in international film festivals over the past 10 years. Time magazine selected his 2001 film, Kandahar, as one of top 100 films of all time. In 2006, he was a juror at the Venice Film Festival.

Following this year’s disputed Iranian elections, Makhmalbaf diverted his attentions from filmmaking to be the voice of defeated presidential candidate Mir-Houssein Moussavi. As police and paramilitaries suppressed peaceful protestors with firearms, batons and pepper spray, and authorities closed universities, banned rallies and blocked websites, Mir-Houssein Moussavi turned to Makhmalbaf for support.

Makhmalbaf’s rise to become leader of the new wave of Iranian cinema came from unlikely beginnings. When he was 15 he formed an underground Islamic militia group and was shot and jailed by the time he was 17. While imprisoned, Makhmalbaf educated himself and underwent an intellectual renaissance afterwhich he distanced himself from violence, believing Iranian society suffers more from cultural poverty than anything else.

His nominating party, ZirZamin, an alternative Iranian media magazine said: “His works were nominated because they promote freedom, understanding, open societies, secular humanism and respect to others. His analysis and depiction tasks people to questions real in everybody’s life and social realism. He is not only a film director but an educationalist, author and analyst.”

Panellist Daniel Barenboim, acclaimed conductor and founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, said of Makhmalbaf: “His voice has been one of the most important artistic contributions from Iran to world culture over the last decades. His films have given international audiences a window into contemporary Iran. His work in Afghanistan, both artistic and humanitarian, has added valuable facets to the understanding of this troubled country.

He has also fostered a new generation of Iranian filmmakers. Last not least, his support for the recent peaceful protests against the stolen Iranian elections made it more difficult for the regime in Tehran to silence the opposition. Especially in view of the deeply unsettling remarks and intentions of President Ahmadi-Nejad, his efforts to publicize dissenting views deserve support.”

The second place prizewinner is Burmese refugee women’s group, The Kumjing Storytellers, who use giant paper maché dolls to represent their stories of ethnic persecution in Burma and the plight of migrants and refugees from around the world. Kumjing, a Tai women's name meaning ‘precious jewel’, is used to represent the women who have migrated to live and work in the Thai-Burmese border areas. Since July this year, the military regime has renewed a scorched earth campaign in central Shan state that has driven more than 10,000 villagers from their homes.

Troops have burned down over 500 houses, scores of granaries and forcibly relocated almost 40 villages.The women in The Kumjing Storytellers are among those who have fled to the Burma-Thai border region, often leaving their families behind. Not simply an artwork, but a living art action, The Journey of Kumjing is a performance in which these persecuted women can tell their stories, challenge discrimination and assert their human rights. Some 250 paper maché-dolls travel across Thailand and the world to raise awareness of their plight. “The message of the piece is one of courage, hope and inspiration. We want to humanize migrants in the eyes of society,” say the women. The Storytellers also want to inspire society to change the way it thinks and behaves towards ‘outsiders’.

The third place prizewinner is Afghan female artist Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai, who uses video performance, installation and photography to tackle the subjugation and violent persecution of women in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. Stanikzai is one of a generation of Afghans who grew up during the Taliban which censored culture and banned music, and her art explores the re-emergence of Afghan spirit after years of oppression. Her installation piece features the myth Chel Dokhtaraan, a historical event when 40 Afghan women committed suicide by jumping into wells during an invasion. Stanikzai believes these ‘honourable’ deaths are “in the past.” She explains: “What is happening today is that women, more than 40, are dying every day in different circumstances.” Her work symbolizes the violent acts – public executions, floggings, stonings and hangings – that are being perpetrated today against females both in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.

Prize founder and Chairman of Orient Global Richard F. Chandler said he was humbled by the bravery of this year's winners adding their courage and stories epitomised the daily sacrifices made by artists on frontlines from around the world.

"We celebrate not only the power of art to change lives, but also the bravery of artists who use their work to fight oppression and injustice and create a brighter future for all.

"The winners for the 2009 Freedom to Create Prize are global ambassadors for the power of creativity in building peaceful and prosperous societies.”


Cuba Italy China

Cuba Italy China – a fascinating exhibition, has just wrapped up in Somerset earlier this week. The focus of Cuba Italy was centred on capturing the pastels of decay and faded grandeur of the urban playground. The photographs were shot in Havana, Cuba, and Napoli, Italy. Although, very different places in the world, with diverse histories, language and culture, the images explore back streets and derelict palazzos, of these two vibrant cities; inviting you to complete the narrative of these isolated places.

Barry Cawston’s piece, the Yangtzee River Series, a 2000-mile journey from the mountains in the north to Shanghai, show the though provoking nature his work. The series is an opportunity to see this poignant insight into the lives of the people that live and relate to this magnificent river in China. The dichotomy of Man and environment stimulate his work. Through his lens he expertly depicts the world with a unique and subtle perspective. Shooting on a large-format camera, like a modern day renaissance painter he displays his talent for composition, colour and mastery of his medium.

A unique exhibition demonstrating the diversity of Cawston and Schofield’s work.

For more information visit www.closeltd.com

All images (c) the artist

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Mike Ballard – The All of Everything - Art will eat itself

The final exhibition to take place at the Arts Gallery, before the building is demolished for Crossrail, is set to be fittingly epic. This is the largest and most ambitious work yet by acclaimed artist Mike Ballard; from 10 December the Arts Gallery will become The All of Everything, a specially commissioned work which will to turn the entire gallery space into an all-encompassing installation covering floors, walls and ceilings featuring the artist’s flamboyant vision of art history.

Transporting the viewer on a supersonic journey through a galaxy of hypermodern and prehistoric art, The All of Everything races back and projects forward through art history, fusing, referencing and sampling at blistering speed.Merging painted floors and walls and a baroque collage ceiling into one gargantuan installation, the gallery will ultimately become one immersive artwork into which the viewer is absorbed. Negotiating the space, the observer becomes a participant in the installation’s embodiment of the eternal loop of life and regeneration; ciphers of the human endeavour to gain and preserve in a continuous trajectory of creation and accumulation.

This immersive experience is rooted in a giant pharaoh head projecting from one wall, within the eyes of which lie two videos secreted away awaiting discovery. A bespoke audio track entitled “The Last Broadcaster” will emit from the kaleidoscopic eye sockets, signifying the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.

A time capsule hurled from London’s street art scene back through the artist’s personal art historical heritage appropriating aesthetics en route, from plundering the excesses of the Renaissance to sampling the euphoria of pop art, landing temporarily at prehistoric cave art, Ballard’s work calls on muses as disparate as Baroque kings of bling, prehistoric shamans, ancient Egyptian sovereigns, hip hop monarchy, comic book superheroes and the cosmic philosophy of jazz royalty Sun Ra.

Speaking about his ambitions for the work, Ballard comments “as it is the last show at the Arts Gallery, I wanted to go big, to give the gallery a good send off, by acknowledging all of its surfaces, preparing the space before it goes into the ‘other world’. With imagery from my own personal art history and music that has inspired my work, including flamboyant time travellers Sun Ra and RAMM:ELL:ZEE, I have selected guardians for the gallery as it goes to the other side of time.”

Mike Ballard graduated from Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art in 2007. He has recently exhibited at Maddox Arts and the Louise Blouin Institute. Ballard’s work appears in collections including the Richard Greer Collection, LesMes, Espace Uhoda, Belgium and University of the Arts London Art Collection

10 December 2009 – the demolition of the Arts Gallery 2010, 65 Davies Street, W1K 5DA. Open Monday – Friday 10am – 6pm, Saturday 11am – 4pm. Nearest Tube Bond Street. Admission free.

Images (c) the artist
Throwing the house out the window
Galaxy Ray Print

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