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Thursday 23 December 2010

Nam June Paik at Tate Liverpool and FACT

Review by Kenn Taylor

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, it appears as if “media art” is finally being accepted as a high art form. It has been nearly 60 years since Nam June Paik’s first experiments with sound, television and video emerged into the international art consciousness, and so reaching a point of major institutional recognition highlights just how far ahead of his time he really was. Perhaps more profoundly, this first major retrospective since his death in 2006 signifies how so many of his ideas predicted our present day multimedia world, which is saturated with technology, information and interactivity.

Exhibited across both Tate Liverpool and FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Tate does what it does best with a grand narrative retrospective, while FACT does what it does best with a focus on examining Paik’s use of video and cutting-edge mediums from the 1970s onwards.

Paik began his creative work with music. The first section at Tate examines, how his relationship with the radical composer John Cage informed all his later work and how, despite not considering himself a “visual artist”, he began to move into new mediums saying: “I knew there was something to be done in television and no one else was doing it." Despite this, in his later work, he retained many of the concepts he learned whilst composing avant-garde music; chance, interaction and pushing the limits of technology.

From his earliest works Paik wanted to break down the boundary between artwork, artist, and viewer and viewed. The great hulk of Video Synthesiser 1969 (1992), developed by Paik and engineer, Shuya Abe, to allow participants to manipulate images on a screen without specialist technical knowledge, is startling. A lump of knobs, dials, leads and CRT monitors, it allowed, the general public (perhaps for the first time) to do what previously only broadcast engineers could do and what today any kid with a basic computer and internet connection could do.

As with so much retrospective documentation of performance and experimental work, the old televisions and tape machines detailing early works can only hint at the experience of witnessing or using them at the time. It's hard to imagine when these common devices were cutting edge pieces of technology that were being used in a radical way, particularly now, because analogue TV sets and tape machines look like nothing more than junk-shop relics.

The best of Paik’s work though, transcends this. TV Garden 1974-77 (2010) one of his first large-scale installations, a series of televisions placed among a myriad of tropical plants each showing a mesmerising television mash-up Global Groove (1973) that could be a proto-YouTube video. Its continual, rhythmic flickering colours and sounds are beautiful, illuminating the foliage in the darkened room, and a prominent example of how Paik wanted to break down the barriers between the natural and technological.

Underpinning this were Paik’s Zen Buddhist beliefs. Often highlighted as his signature motif, his collection of “TV Buddhas” epitomises much of his art and philosophy. The ancient Buddhist symbol, in a variety of guises, sits watching a TV screen, displaying clearly, the interaction between humanity and technology and the contrasts he so loved; the Eastern and the Western, the old and new, the technological and the spiritual.

The contextual information in the gallery further highlights Paik’s desire for global human connectedness through technology. He is credited with coining the term “Information Superhighway” back in the 1970s. His foresight is also highlighted in 1994’s Internet Dream, a video wall displaying a constant stream of rapidly changing garishly coloured scenes to hypnotic effect shows his early awareness of our move towards information saturation and his celebration of its constant expansion with every shift forward in technology.

At FACT meanwhile, the cavernous Gallery 1 is entirely taken up by the spectacular installation Laser Cone 1998 (2001). A tent-like structure you lie beneath and experience an overwhelming, intense laser show. Like Internet Dream, it seems to reflect Paik’s interest in subjecting the viewer to the beauty inherent in visual overload.

Gallery 2, by contrast, is set out like a chic lounge where, armed with remote control, you’re invited to flick through hours of Paik’s video works. Some of Paik’s riffs on the potential of the medium and his love for pushing it to its limits look retro, in some cases, just boring, compared to today’s potential for intervention and experiment with media. However, their influence, on everything from MTV to Skype and today’s video artists, is clear and profound.

This retrospective is comprehensive, but not overwhelming, and, even spread across two venues, it’s easy to navigate through the artist’s life and career. This enables visitors to clearly see how his work morphed and changed with the times and advances in technology.

Paik was a pioneer of “media art”, yet it seems he always wanted what we have today. Not only did he realise the potential for technology to be used in art, but its potential to allow the viewer to take a more active role, for mediums to merge, and for anyone to make or manipulate the content. Paik understood that technological art needed to move beyond the medium, and like all great art, to be about humanity and its relationship to the world. This show is a must-see.

Nam June Paik continues until 13 March 2011 www.tate.org.uk

Nam June Paik demonstrates Zen for Walking 1961
© Manfred Montwé. Photo: Photo by Manfred Montwé

Consumerism & Desire at Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art, Sydney

Review by Isabella Andronos

Sherrie Knipe’s work in Bootiful, at Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art in Sydney explores the tensions between consumerism and desire. Knipe has created enigmatic sculptures using pine, plywood, and acrylic, with each work synthesising a type of consumer product. Focusing predominantly on shoes and handbags much of Knipe’s work in Bootiful can be seen as coded with a sense of the feminine.

Consumer brand names have become synonymous with ideas of mass production, sweatshops and slave labour. Having delicately created each sculpture, distinctions are forged between Knipe’s artwork and the consumer products they are based on. Each of Knipe’s sculptures is imbued with a sense of the fake. They are not designed to be functional, consumer items. Knipe’s works are not replicas, but yet aim to imitate items from a consumer culture.

Sherrie Knipe’s elegant sculptures of shoes appropriate popular styles of footwear, combining them with minute details hidden within the pattern and surface design. She has created works that resemble Converse Chuck Taylors, NIKE dunks and Birkenstocks. Utilising elements of design from these styles, Knipe has added small details of keys, pegs, combs, and lace in each respective pair. Coloured in neutral beige tones of the wood, the shoes take on an organic feel. Linked with the titles of the works, Knipe’s sculptures read as visual puns. For example, Knipe combines a flip flop style shoe and a series of small combs of various designs located within the sole. In this sense, the style of shoe represents the beach, and combined with the combs, the work corresponds to the title, Beachcomber (2010). In a similar vein, Feed Bag (2010) shows a clear acrylic handbag exterior, filled with cutlery shapes carved out of wood. Spoons, knives and forks can be seen fitted within the interior handbag space. By titling the works in this way, the audience is challenged to consider hidden meanings in the works.

Sherrie Knipe’s Boot Bling (2010) is a sculpture of a sneaker which resembles a classic Converse Chuck Taylor style shoe, created using pine veneer and cotton. Knipe explores the idea of design excesses within this work, as she depicts a series of smaller sneakers dangling off the back of the shoe. The use of the word bling in the title of the work is referencing these smaller sneakers as a decoration or adornment. Bling is defined by flashy or gaudy jewellery, named for the sound generated when worn. It is seen as a status symbol, worn as a means of promoting standing within specific sub-cultures. Within Knipe’s sculpture, the shoe is rendered functionless by this adornment, it is an impractical design. The distinctions between consumerism and desire are explored, as Boot Bling (2010) becomes a symbol of the excesses in the Western world.

A similar sense of repetition is explored in Baggushka (2010) created out of pine and found veneers, cotton and plywood. Sherie Knipe’s sculpture shows a large handbag with a series of tiny handbags attached to the strap, each getting progressively smaller. The handbag can be seen as a gendered item, an item designed and marketed to appeal to women. To have three bags dangling off a larger bag can be seen as somewhat superfluous. By presenting audiences with a design where impracticality has replaced function, Baggushka (2010) allows audiences to consider the surpluses of consumerism and design.

There is an interesting distinction between the sculptural objects Knipe has created, and products which they are based on, which could essentially be bought at a shopping centre. There is an inherent obsolescence associated with fashion in contemporary society; new collections are released each season, trends change, a sense of the “new” is valued. Bootiful functions to question this consumer need. Elevated to the status of art, Knipe’s sculptures are exhibited in the gallery space, they are static; they are not worn, or used, or displayed as a status symbol. They are not thrown out at the end of the season. In this sense, the excesses of a consumer driven society are referenced in Bootiful, with each sculptural piece showing us a reflection of these indulgences.

Bootiful closed on 19 December 2010. To see the forthcoming programme at Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art visit their website www.ssfa.com.au

*Take Away Series
Knipe, Sherrie 2010
Recycled pine
19 x 5 x 15.5cm

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Camera-less Photography at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

Review by Colin Herd

As processes go, few are more mysterious and fascinating than the seemingly paradoxical art of camera-less photography. With its roots in early photographic experiments, camera-less photography retains flashes of the exciting cusp before the advent of abundant, mass-reproduced images, a time when creating a photographic image involved a seemingly magical communion of light, artist, chemical and time. At the same time, with its emphasis on process, chance and its capability of abstraction, the camera-less photograph feels remarkably in-step with contemporary concerns and art-practices. At the Ingleby Gallery this winter, and running concurrently to a major survey of camera-less photography at the V&A, A Little Bit Of Magic Realised showcases career-spanning work by Garry Fabian Miller and Susan Derges, two contemporary artists who for over 20 years have been making fresh and experimental photographs without a camera.

Honesty, May - September 1985, is the earliest piece in the exhibition by Garry Fabian Miller. It’s made using the dye-destruction printing process, where dyes are embedded in photographic paper, and destroyed or preserved in proportion to the image. The images in Honesty are seed-heads, arranged in a grid and seen at monthly stages of its cycle of development from left-to-right, and weekly stages of each month from top-to-bottom. The changes in colour are striking: brown in May, gorgeously sharp and green in June, faded but with tints of red in July, blackening like a virus in August and a purified dull-cream in September. Just as destruction, development, light and exposure are an inherent part of Fabian Miller’s process in the production of these images, so too are they an unmistakable part of the cycle he depicts, which gives the images a great sincerity, an at-oneness between the artist, the process and the image.

More recent work sees Fabian Miller using a similar dye destruction process to create striking and stark works of chromatic abstraction by exposing images with different durations of light. Exposure (12 Hours of Light) from 2005 is a large thin red ring drawn over 9 black rectangles. The eye is drawn to the fuzzy margin where red meets black, and the counter-intuitively smooth cohabitation of shapes: circle and rectangle. The Night Cell (Winter 2009-10) is a blue circle on a darker blue rectangular background, pocked by bursting dots of light, like little starlets, or like the structures of a cell. The relation of the piece to the physical world is only one of its aspects, though, and as a work of abstraction it is tense and mesmeric, an exploration of colour, light and shape.

Susan Derges is best known for her images of water, often made by submerging sheets of photographic paper at night and exposing them by moonlight with the aid of a flash-gun. Because of the time involved in the process, her work is able to capture and explore some of water’s changing, shifting, un-static qualities. Her piece Atlantic Ocean from 1998 is two images of the tide. Viewed head-on on a gallery wall, the tide looks thick and gloopy with a powdery, sandy foam, pouring slowly, as though paint, down the packed sand. Her technique of developing her pictures by the night-sky as a natural darkroom gives her work a circularity- the focus of the picture, i.e. water and light, are also the tools of its creative development. An earlier work, Full circle 2 (1991), is a series of images of the underwater development of spawn to larval tad-pole to little frog. Particularly fascinating in these works is the mergence of a natural development process with sometimes painterly artistic composition, both of which tinged by a metaphor for the human birth-cycle too.

The Ingleby Gallery have taken the inspired decision to show these contemporary explorations of camera-less photography alongside some of the earliest pioneering photographic experiments. Most important of which is a very rare copy of William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1845 book Sun Pictures in Scotland. Peeling back the protective felt to tentatively peer at crisp and well-defined landscape images, I was pulled both ways: by the importance of sensitivity and delicacy in all these works on one hand, and the direct, confident interaction with the elements on the other. A print of a calotype negative by Fox Talbot of patterned lace dating from the early 1840s reveals the intricacies of its pattern-work and the texture of the fabric itself. Seen in the context these early examples, the works of Garry Fabian Miller and Susan Derges shine with their spirit of invention, exploration and respect.

The show continues unti 29th January 2011. www.inglebygallery.com

Cow Parsley (Swaledale) 1987
leaf, light, dye destruction print
11.3 x 11.7 cm

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Simon Starling: Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima) at The Modern Institute

Review by Alistair Quietsch

On 10 December, I read yet another apocalyptically tinged news report: that of Burma building silos with aid from North Korea. Now I know this is not a scare mongering news site, and realise people don’t come here to be dragged down by such reportage, but after seeing the recent Simon Starling show, Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima): The Mirror Room at The Modern Institute in Glasgow you will see why such news is relevant.

The title of the show lays the groundwork for some comment on “The Bomb”, however on arrival I was surprised at the stillness and ambiguity of the silent masks that meet you. This is the first part of a two-part exhibition to be realised at The Modern Institute and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, where Starling will exhibit in January 2011.

Walking into the main space you are confronted by a large mirror and eight handcrafted Japanese masks (by skilled mask maker Yasuo Miichi from Osaka, Japan) all staring eerily at you and their own reflections. Ahead of them, hidden from their view, are three photographs all of the Henry Moore sculpture Atom Piece (1964-65), which, as an art piece, is an integral part of the conceptual puzzle that Starling has laid out.

I was weary of getting so little from the pieces on display and having to go straight to the books to gain more of an understanding and essentially a sterile reaction, as is the case with many heavy conceptual pieces, but these works offered so much on so many levels. Are they victims of “The Bomb”? Are they a comment on the viewer/work relationship? Such is the constant downfall of conceptual works. When confronted with masks of James Bond, Colonel Sanders and traditional Japanese villains cryptically renamed Joseph Hirshhorn, (while also reading the introductory blurb describing the traditional “possession” of Japanese Noh actors) any obvious connection seems very distant.

The booklet though (a vital 20 page addition to the show) slowly brings these characters together in a fascinating, almost movie script narrative. As previously assumed the title does refer to the atom bomb, (asking the question, how can that city’s name not bring about that daunting recollection?) and the tradition of the Noh Theatre actors possession before the mirror prior to the stage conjured infant thoughts of the art pieces preparing to be unfurled, unwrapped and dissected by the viewer.

It is an intelligent move on Starling’s part to suspend these masks, not simply in stuffy glass cabinets, but instead propped on thin tripods at a human height to stare you and the mirror down deafeningly as they draw the viewer in to hear (or read as the case may be) their story.

The tale and histories are a complicated interconnection of art, espionage and the making of the first atom bomb, all written out in a new and captivating narrative, like a twisting whodunit plot. The cast is made of the unlikely characters of James Bond, Henry Moore, the famous English wartime sculptor, Anthony Blunt, the art historian and Russian spy, Colonel Sanders, of the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain and Joseph Hirshhorn, who as some of you will know was one of the biggest collectors of art in the North East of America, but who was also closely connected with the illegal mining of uranium in Canada. As you read through the booklet (written entirely by Starling) slowly you start to unravel each characters connection with one another, their role in the art world and their final connections with The Bomb.

One humorous example is the drawn out connection of James Bond to the art world, where the villain Auric Goldfinger from Ian Fleming’s novel was based on Erno Goldfinger, the Hungarian Architect who later met Henry Moore in the cultural melting pot of London’s Hampstead in the 1920s.

The show is the first of a two-part exhibition, with the latter scheduled to take place in Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in January 2011, and my initial feeling was that Starling is only giving a glimpse of the end product to come; of actors before their roles or some “behind the scenes” special feature, always entertaining, but not the main feature.

On reflection (since the play itself is never acted out) you can understand the line “This publication is an integral part of the exhibition” at the end of the booklet, because if this play were staged you’d have to break down each character’s background before even introducing them to the set. It is a hindrance that the show lacks that immediacy of emotion but makes up for it with its allure of plot, character and in the intricacy and care taken over the engaging wooden masks.

It is a fact that ruminations on subjects like Hiroshima and the threat of nuclear war is something that you don’t just quickly digest and throw away, but rather it’s something you sit with patiently, as if you were defusing a bomb.

Through Starlings’ play with characters, histories, and his success in finding new connections to well documented events, he retells a story that, though told over and over again, as journalist I. F. Stone once said “has to be told again and again.”

The show has now finished in Glasgow, but for details on the opening at Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (22 January – 10 April 2011 visit the website or for further information on Simon Starling visit The Modern Institute.

Monday 20 December 2010

Review: Joy Gregory - Lost Languages and Other Voices

Review by Ceri Restrick

Lost Languages and Other Voices is Joy Gregory’s first major retrospective. The exhibition charts the artist’s career over two decades and confirms her position as one of the most important artists to emerge from the Black British photography movement of the 1980s. The title of the exhibition refers to the works Gomera (2008) and Kalahari (2010) in which Gregory highlights the cultural importance of marginalised African indigenous languages. Split into 14 sections, the show deftly explores themes of identity, gender, race, post colonial identities and stereotypes, and while the topics are intense, Gregory’s tone and presentation are quite the opposite. Her use of text combined with video installation explores these concepts in a skillful, honest and playful manner. Her sense of humour and sardonic wit are particularly evident in Journey to Kuona (2009) and Six Weeks (2009).

Journey to Kuona takes shape through a series of blurred photographs, which are printed onto foam canvas-board, and slotted together like a panorama, each photo varies slightly; a dirt track road, red soil and creamy white villas are unassumingly juxtaposed. Refreshingly, there is no accompanying text, the photographs take the air of documentary transcending the boundaries of fine art, however Six Weeks brings the sweet sound of clarity to this torrent of imagery. A collection of scribbled notes and doodles are traced onto 42 scraps of paper, and as the viewer follows the spider-like handwriting and cartoon diagrams a narrative and journey unfolds. The story goes likes this; Gregory was invited to Nairobi to be Artist in Residence at the Kuona Trust. She then realised she had forgotten the charger for her camera. Not to be thwarted, her mobile phone became her camera and pen and paper became a tool for documentation.

The blurred photographs and scribbled notes are poignant, acting like a diary of the artist’s experience. This creates an immediate relationship between the artist and the viewer, making the work all the more so personal and relevant. The notes give the still images depth, movement of thought and offer an acute observation on the creative processes. The text re-assembles specific and transitory moments that occurred between each shot, resulting in the mapping of Kuona.

Autobiographical work is often criticised for being self-indulgent and can be used as an excuse to skim over technique and quality. However, Lost Languages does not fall into this pit. Gregory uses her personal experiences to ask key questions which not only provoke, but evoke debate. Bottled Blonde (1998) examines the complexities behind the female desire to be blond and the associated racial implications. Sites of Africa (2001 – present) documents the relationship that London had with the African continent and the notion of absent histories. Throughout the exhibition it is striking to notice how many continents are represented in Gregory’s collection; Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Such is the richness of this exhibition that it requires several visits to absorb everything that Gregory has to offer. This shouldn’t be a problem though, since, like all good things in life, entry is free.

Lost Languages and Other Voices continues at Impressions Gallery until 19 February 2011. Opening Times Tuesday to Friday 11am to 6pm. Late openings Thursdays until 7pm. Saturdays 12pm to 5pm.


Image: (c) Joy Gregory from Kalahari, 2010

Friday 17 December 2010

Review: Fresh Hell at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris

Review by Rosa Rankin-Gee

There is something life-affirming about the queues to see art in Paris. Perennially long, and slow, and full of people complaining in a buoyant way. I was having a great time, until I realised I had actually joined the queue out of fondness rather than necessity, and was about to see Larry Clark at the Musée d'Art Modern for the second time in a week.

The Palais de Tokyo is just next door. Same egg-coloured building, different interior: hamster tubes, strip lighting and the famous fotoautomat. Fresh Hell sees the Palais give curation carte blanche to Adam McEwen, the New York-based British artist best known for his obituaries of the living, and turning chewing gum and text messages into artworks.

A privilege thus far only afforded to Ugo Rondinone in 2008 and Jenny Deller in 2009, the carte blanche is intended to map the artist’s brain, desires and influences. McEwen’s Fresh Hell is his dance through history, “unfettered” by chronology. Or, as it turns out, cohesion.

Visitors are greeted by three of the heads of the Kings of Judah, brutish 13th century relics lopped off the facade of Notre Dame by an angry mob during the Revolution. Directly behind them, the pointedly distracting backdrop of Rudolf Stingel’s tin foil wall, scratched with love hearts, and studded with paper planes and stabbed-in pens. The exhibition’s sense of self is perhaps clearest here: sabotage old and new, meaningful and less so.

Yet, also sharing the room is the cover image of the exhibition, Hanna and Klara Liden’s Sisters: two girls with thick knees and black rubber work boots. An arresting photograph, which deserves attention, it is out of sync with its roommates and thus nearly lost. This is characteristic of the show as a whole: it is a curiously strung necklace where mismatched beads weigh down the thread to breaking point.

Room two jerks us into Michael Landy’s Market, mini mountains of plastic crates draped with fake lawn carpets, a grocer’s market bereft of stock or customers. A statement about Thatcherism, the art market or economic recession, the 1990 installation (from the heyday, like many of the exhibits, of the YBA) declares itself ‘despairingly empty’, but this just seems like a perfunctory attempt to pre-empt criticism.

Fortunately, Hell gets a bit hotter with Anna Mendietta’s oddly touching self-portraits of her naked body straddling a skeleton, and Bruce Nauman and Frank Owens’ Pursuit, a film of 15 different people running, shot in disorienting, shaky-handed close-ups to a claustrophobic soundtrack of pounding feet and short breath.

Theoretically, the show skates through six stages: “genealogy”, “consecration”, “Danse Macabre” and “pilgrimage”, finishing with a dose of “mescaline” and finally “cemeteries”. These themes are borrowed from HC Westerman’s Connecticut Ballroom Suite, a bright and delicate sextet of woodcuts which nod to muralism, Dali and even Pop-Eye. Westerman’s six-piece Suite comes too late in the show however, and too understatedly, for its influence on McEwen’s curation to seem like anything other than a strapped-on afterthought. In fact, one theme, not six, emerges. The relentless runners, a transparent maze, a broken-into safe: futility is the order of the day. Sarah Lucas’s Is suicide genetic’ - a burnt armchair, throne to a motorcycle helmet made out of Marlboro Lights – neatly sums up the leitmotif.

In fairness, there are also moments of great playfulness (Barbara Bloom’s Playboy for the Blind: Marilyn Monroe seductively reading Ulysses on one page, a Braille description of the image on the opposite) and also fine workmanship. A late 15th century wood statue of Saint Florian, pin pricked with wood worm, is just beautiful. This is the problem: the water Florian pours onto a burning building is captured so well in wood that it makes one crave skill, and feel somewhat despondent about the ‘modern’ pieces that surround it. For example, Jessica Diamond’s Is That All There Is?, which poses the question atop a Clip Art image of the world, and Angela Bulloch’s flashing Belisha Beacons which are... exactly that, unadorned and unfortunately placed close to Martin Creed’s Work no. 925: 4 chairs, stacked together. Futility once again, and ferociously self-aware of course, but still, this is the type of art that won the YBAs their critics.

McEwen finds it exciting “when one work is allowed to generate friction with another.” Agreed. And flamboyant juxtaposition clearly lies at the heart of Fresh Hell. Yet there comes a point where ‘anarchic’ or ‘sprawling’ just become nice ways of saying ‘messy’ and, ultimately, ‘confused’.

McEwen’s only personal contribution to the exhibition comes very near the end. Hommage to Sigmar Polke – a scribble on the wall done with blue and cream masking tape which vaguely depicts a human form. Yes, there is certain irreverence, and a charm in the way the simple lines echo the cracks on the Palais’ shiny cement floor. However, like the overarching effect of the exhibition, it left me indifferent.

You exit the exhibition through Agathe Snow’s Yes, a wall full of a word which is perhaps deliberately inappropriate. Many will walk out of McEwen’s carte blanche with a question in mind rather than an answer: what Fresh Hell is this?

Rosa Rankin-Gee
Writer, and Editor of A Tale of Three Cities www.taleofthree.com, the first arts journal to join up the dots of London, Paris and Berlin, and Alight here: The Tube Project www.alighthere.co.uk

Fresh Hell contines at the Palais de Tokyo until 16 January 2011. www.palaisdetoyko.com

Hanna & Klara Liden, Untitled (Sisters), 2006. Colour photograph, 101 x 76 cm. Courtesy of the artists.

Thursday 16 December 2010

About A Minute – The Gopher Hole, London

Review by Carla MacKinnon

The Gopher Hole is a brand new venue and project space nestling beneath El Paso Restaurant at 350-354 Old Street in London. It's a cosy basement venue but the gallery's founders - aberrant architecture and Beatrice Galilee - have big plans for it. With an interest in “popular culture across borders”, The Gopher Hole looks to curate ideas and to facilitate critical debate on contemporary culture, the arts and society. The venue promises a diverse programme, from exhibitions and film screenings to interdisciplinary events and discussion.

Last Thursday, The Gopher Hole opened its doors to a small army of smart looking East London art lovers for a private view of its inaugural exhibition – About A Minute. The show takes as its starting point the increasing speed and availability of information, images and data and the correlating shortening of the common attention span. In a culture communicating through 140-character tweets and absorbing knowledge by skimming the ocean of information available at the touch of a button, sustained focus is increasingly rare. In the gallery context this can prove a frustrating challenge for curators. Should an artist respond to the needs of an increasingly skittish and time-poor audience, even at the expense of subtlety or detail? Must artists learn the tricks of advertisers and marketeers to compete with the noisy razzle dazzle of the city for public attention?

In About A Minute a selection of artists, designers, architects and writers respond to “a minute”, presenting a varied and lively take on the theme. The gallery is littered with compelling objects, all vying for the fickle attentions of the visitor. An old cassette player is screwed to a wall invitingly. When the play button is pressed the listener is treated to a minute long spoken word piece by poet Luke Wright, describing all the things that happen simultaneously “in the time it took you to tell me what I already knew”. The choice of the analogue, old school medium is a nice touch. After listening the visitor is instructed to wind the tape back, a reminder of magnetic tape's reassuringly physical method of capturing a period in time. Ralf Pflugfelder's striking conceptual piece The New Minute Society proposes a new kind of minute – one consisting of just 48 seconds. Wonderfully simple, the work consists of a digital clock running this new form of measuring time, alongside an oddly convincing (while entirely absurd) text encouraging viewers to sign up to the New Minute Society and enjoy the benefits, which include more leisure time and a longer lifespan. Elaine W Ho's Getting Cold This Time of Year invites the visitor to take away a watch face with no minute hand. Hundreds of these tiny, ticking objects wait in a box for the hungry hand of the gallery-goer, ever keen on an exhibition souvenir. In an adjacent box, however, is a collection of typed cards laying out a set of slightly oblique conditions to adhere to if you choose to take one of the devices. These include the avoidance of references to time in conversation, or to any discussion of 'meeting up again, talking soon or staying in touch'. The watches live on it the pockets of the visitor, a ticking reminder of these suggestions. Whether anyone will adhere to the requests on the card is questionable though the pleasing, if largely useless objects are satisfying in their own right.

There are over a dozen more artworks in this diverting and diverse show, which is well worth a look in. It is playful and not too precious, an engaging sketchbook of ideas. The most exciting element is in the curation of the contributors, cutting-edge practitioners from a cross-section of disciplines. This variety of voices seems central to The Gopher Hole's cultural mission, and the result bodes well for this colourful new project space.

About A Minute runs until 13 February 2011. www.holygopher.com

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Review: From Back Home at the National Media Museum, Bradford

Review by Ceri Restrick

The National Media Museum sets the bar for exhibiting world class art and culture. Swedish photographers, Anders Petersen (b. 1944) and J.H. Engström (b. 1969) opened From Back Home in October at NMM in Bradford. Having already exhibited in Paris and Stockholm, Bradford may not seem like the obvious choice for a UK debut; however, since Bradford became the recipient of the UNESCO City of Film Award in 2009, the city’s international reputation has grown dramatically. Because of this, it seems all the more appropriate that Petersen and Engström make their debut in Bradford at an innovative museum that boasts eight floors of galleries and three cinemas including an IMAX.

From Back Home originally started out as a book and is the physical manifestation of seven years of collaboration between Petersen and his assistant, Engström. Both Petersen and Engström are seasoned photographers with Petersen winning the Photographer of the Year award at the Arles Photography Festival in 2003 and being shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2007, while Engström started off as Mario Testino’s assistant and was also shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2005 for his book Trying to Dance (Journal 2004). Although both men are a generation and genres apart, they are linked by their shared history of Värmland, a rural backwater of Sweden where industry is in decline, long lakes and forests are in bountiful supply and town life is rarely interrupted by newcomers. These influences likely had an impact on the gallery space, which is like stepping into a design studio; clean cut with sharp graphics and sultry lighting.

Engström’s collection captures the viewers’ imagination. From the first glance it looks like an arrangement of simple portraits, but upon closer inspection the images reveal subjects who are gazing at the camera with a range of intense expressions; blue eyes pierce the viewer’s gaze and the familial and the familiar seep out of the frames exposing the relationships between the sitters. There is very little text accompanying the images, but this opens up the viewers’ imagination and ultimately permits the story of the artist to unfold, as we glimpse into each image, the narrative of teenager years causes reflection, and draws out the tiniest hint of nostalgia. Engström’s final montage reveals his personal involvement; the image of his naked body next to a medical diagram of genitalia juxtaposed with a variety of objects and landscapes is particularly striking.

A dramatic change from colour to black and white photography ensures that the audience’s gaze is steered to Petersen’s work. His angles are closely focused, with intimate portrayals of subjects that are haunting and terrifying: a snowman with holes for eyes, the rearing head of a horse, a slaughtered deer, the flesh of couples and the white blonde hair of children. Petersen’s use of sharp contrast is as distinctive as Tomas Alfredson’s cult horror film Let the Right One In (2008) and exudes the kind of small town community which the film explores. While their photographic styles are quite different, Engström adopts an analytical angle of his personal experience, while Petersen’s camera pervades the space of strangers; both photographers create intimacy and disconcertion with their juxtaposition of styles and their keen insight into the psyche of their subjects, provoking the melancholic joy of memory.

Greg Hobson, Curator of Photography at the Museum, remarks: “Neither photographer has attempted to make an objective portrayal of their homeland; instead they instinctively explore their memories; photographing friends and family, alongside people and places that are connected with their own recollections of growing up. The resulting images are affectionate, sometimes brutal and sometimes funny, but binding both men’s work are threads of sadness and solitude; Petersen described his recollections as ‘little hard memories of sad and lonely times’. It is this reflection of the memory’s ability to evoke such contradictory, yet complementary emotions that make From Back Home so noteworthy.”

From Back Home continues at the National Media Museum until 27th March 2011. Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 – 18:00. Free Entry. www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk

Image: Untitled, From Back Home, 2001 – 2008 © Anders Petersen

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Review: MK2Morrow: One Small Step for Milton Keynes

Review by Nicola Mann

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away urban designer and theorist Melvin M. Webber devised a radical plan for a “new town” located in the then deep space hinterland between London and Birmingham. Atop a grassy plateau previously occupied by cows, sheep and swirling fog emerged Milton Keynes, a vision far in advance of its 1960s origins. Responding to Britain’s ever increasing rates of car ownership, Webber designed the town with mass automotive mobility in mind--an Americanised grid network of duel carriageways peppered with sleek roundabouts laced together shops and housing districts, lending it the air of a mini Los Angeles. Saving residents from a life sentence ensconced within the confines of their cars, Milton Keynes was also conceived as a Garden City, integrating 4000 acres of parkland, wildlife, and mazes of cycleways into its design. Love it or loath it—and the Prince Charles heritage bandwagon just loves to loath it—Milton Keynes embraced a spectacularly unique code of living.

Well, until today that is. Subject to “densification” orders from central government, Milton Keynes recently morphed into the kind of town it was most often accused of being but nevertheless proudly resisted. Milton Keynes became a non-place, marked by voluminous Amazon and Argos warehouses, predictable high-rises, and homogeneous chain pubs. Akin to a giant conveyor belt in an airport departure lounge, MK as it’s commonly abbreviated, is now as bleak and transient as the indoor ski slope that now dominates its skyline, leading some residents to ask for the first available flight out.

This month Leeds-based art collective Black Dogs step into this vortex, determined to reinstate residents as central stars in the town’s planning process. Except the artists’ projected (new) new town isn’t just another tacked on amendment to MK’s existing boulevards and business districts: this MK2 is, quite literally, a whole new world. Inspired by the recent scientific discovery of Gliese 581g, an inhabitable planet outside our solar system, MK2Morrow: One Small Step for Milton Keynes proposes that as pioneers of their own little planet, the town’s residents stand best equipped to manage the design of the new space colony. The exhibition asks: “What do you wish to retain, fabricate and develop of the original MK and what will the towns and cities look like?”

The first of three themed rooms invites visitors to provide answers to these questions by contributing to “The MK2 Survival Kit.” Tacked on the gallery walls, residents’ “how to” cards encircle a glossy revolving prototype of this skills-bible like small planets orbiting the sun. The highlights of the exhibition, these amusing nuggets of wisdom include instructions on “vital” life necessities such as how to dance, -cure a hangover, -roll a rollie, -play a heavy riff, and my own personal favourite, how to weigh a dog. “Will such life-skills prove indispensable to the future generations of MK?” ask the artists. Probably not, but what saves this from being a mean-spirited backhanded swipe at the “cultural legacy” of MK (or lack thereof), is the self-deprecating nature of the step-by-step guides and diagrams. Only a town as affable as MK could produce type-written instructions on how to organise a serious peace protest at the same time as offering a child’s guide to constructing a bunch-of-grapes fancy dress costume.

The audience-generated nature of the exhibition continues in the next room where visitors are invited to assume the role of architect and city-planner via the “Massive Tiny Space Colony” installation. Prior to the show’s opening earlier this month, Black Dogs distributed packs of postcards around MK leaving those that find them with materials to create small architectural models of the homes they would like to live in. Perhaps reflecting the sticky-back plastic Blue Peter-ness of this request, the resulting city plan--conceived around a cardboard land use model designating facilities (housing, schools, roads, church, etc) and values (public awareness and participation, etc)--has the feeling of an end of term trip to the Science Museum. Flickering strobe lighting fails to enliven a somewhat tired educational agenda, which lacks the frivolity and ad hoc originality of the previous room.

Madness returns in the form of a Smithsonian-style recreation of what Black Dogs predict will become the lasting symbol of community life in MK in years to come. So, what should every great society revere as its very own memory palace? A theatre? Schools? An exit portal to get you home should the galaxy be set upon by the Sith Army? No, as any English person worth their salt knows, the pinnacle of any town is, of course, the good old pub. Here, in the darkened realms of the third and final themed room, visitors find “The Pub at the End of the Universe”, bedecked with all the trappings of a traditional drinking experience: flocked wallpaper, Mr. Porky snacks, and the unmistakable squelch of beer-stained carpets. While supping London Pride, visitors are again asked to share stories, anecdotes, facts and fiction relating to MK on postcards dotted around the wooden bar. This is all great, except for the fact that unless you’re mad or an alcoholic (or both) no one wants to wax lyrical about the “good old days” by themselves, do they? On that cold wintry afternoon, I was the sole sad visitor to the “pub” and this is where the challenge for the exhibition lies. While fantastically original in theory—the artists have an important point to make about what defines a “community” as well as the government’s involvement in the nation’s housing--they need bums on bar stools to make it a success. At the moment, the proposed MK2 space colony is more New Romney than New York.

Carve out some space in your schedule to make the pilgrimage to MKGallery before the show closes on 2 January 2011. www.mkgallery.org

Monday 13 December 2010

Review: Turner Prize 2010

Review by Joseph Ewens

Now in its 26th year, The Turner Prize has become an epicentre for contemporary art debate. Its mission to highlight the work of the country’s finest new creators places it firmly in the firing line for modern art’s detractors. Imagine the bubbling cauldron of fury unleashing itself onto internet message boards when it was announced that this year’s winner, Lowlands by Susan Phillipsz, doesn’t even feature anything you can see.

Thirty seconds in her room at the Tate Britain ought to convince you otherwise. The soundscape, crafted from three a capella renditions of a traditional Scottish folk tune, pushes the boundaries of auditory sensation. Her three recordings are meshed together to create a sound that is often asynchronous, but always whole. Philipsz was nominated for her installation under the bridges of Glasgow and versions of the piece can be heard at locations around the country.

Even with only an empty room to work with, her quavering performance has a profound effect. It feels as if the walls have come to life, singing a lament for all they’ve seen; reporting the sad history of their existence to the fleshy creatures who pass between them. Sometimes an almost inaudible call will come from one corner, with the rest of the room joining in chorus for the refrain. It’s a truly beautiful noise; of the kind only art could create.

To be fair to the Turner Prize’s wailing critics, some of fellow shortlister, Angela de la Cruz’s work could simply be detritus. Clutter I, for example, is indistinguishable from broken canvas and wood, dumped without thought into the middle of the floor. Thankfully, the rest of her deformed paintings are more effective, in particular Super Clutter XXL. The striking pink canvas is scrunched to one side, as if it has passed through some alternate dimension and come out the other side. Untitled is similarly space-warping. Attaching a matte black cuboid to an off-kilter, but otherwise pedestrian, filing cabinet, translates the metaphysical impact of all items onto the physical plane.

The exhibition opens with a room of paintings by Dexter Dalwood. His work is a mish-mash of objects, ideas, and references, each designed to represent a pivotal person or moment in Western culture. There’s a collage-like feel to a lot of his paintings, as if things relevant to the subject have been stuck haphazardly on top of each other. It creates a kind of perceptual dissonance, which can be distracting.

The simpler his work becomes, the better it is. Lennie, an evocation of the warm-hearted dullard from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, would be a comfortable portrait of idyllic American countryside, if it weren’t for a great rip in its centre. The gash, coloured in red and black, is a straightforward but effective metaphor for the way Lennie destroys George’s dreams with his own unwitting oafishness. Even simpler, and even better, is the stark Death of David Kelly. It is a very lonely painting that captures the isolation of a man becoming the epicentre of a media tornado.

The fourth and final shortlisted artists are known collectively as The Otolith Group. The first of their two video installations is a re-cut of Chris Marker’s French documentary about Greece. It’s an intellectual work that probably deals with some exciting and interesting issues, but a gallery isn’t really the place to watch a 13-part TV series.

What you should spend your time doing is sitting at the other end of the room, gazing at the 49 minute film, Otolith III. It takes inspiration from Satyajit Ray’s un-filmed screenplay, The Alien, presenting a tale from the perspective of the script’s fictional characters, who blame the director for not bringing them to life.

Things get a little more convoluted when one of the characters appears to be creating a film-within-a-film. The images on screen are culled from Indian films, combined with documentary clips of Ray and 1960s London, picked to match-up roughly with the voice-overs from the various characters. It’s a wonderfully mind bending idea that’s a pleasure to unravel, before you start considering what it has to say about the way created people cultivate an existence beyond the page.

The Turner Prize is likely to remain as controversial as ever, regardless of the work it champions. It’s best to ignore the hubbub and enjoy the exhibition for what it is - a snapshot of quality contemporary art that, while not truly exciting, repays engagement with insight, invention, and pure aesthetic pleasure.


Image: Susan Philipsz
Lowlands 2008/2010
Susan Philipsz at Turner Prize 2010
© Courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin. Photo: Sam Drake and Lucy Dawkins, Tate Photography
3-channel sound installation, duration 8 minutes 30 seconds

Friday 10 December 2010

Review: 10 Dialogues at the RSA, Edinburgh

Review by Colin Herd

Timed to coincide with Richard Demarco’s 80th birthday, the current show in the impressive and expansive galleries of the Royal Scottish Academy celebrates his unique contribution to the visual arts in Scotland. Demarco was one of the co-founders of Edinburgh’s legendary Traverse Theatre in 1963, and went on to establish The Richard Demarco Gallery in 1966. The Demarco Gallery inaugurated close ties with international avant garde artists, especially those in Eastern Europe. In groundbreaking shows such as 16 Polish Painters in 1967 and 4 Romanian Artists in 1969, Demarco introduced Scottish audiences to new tendencies in European art. The exchange worked both ways, and Demarco regularly secured corresponding exhibitions and opportunities for Scottish artists on the continent.

The result was a sustained period of mutually fruitful dialogue, engagement and collaboration. The spirit of these endeavours is perhaps best encapsulated in the Strategy: Get Arts exhibition, which Demarco held during the 1970 Edinburgh Festival at the College of Art. Strategy: Get Arts shocked and excited Scottish art circles with the sheer scale of its invention and vision. Works included a jet of water installed by Klaus Rinke to be negotiated like an obstacle by visitors, and an interactive ‘feast’ staged by Daniel Spoerri. Joseph Beuys performed Celtic Kinloch Rannoch: A Scottish Symphony, incorporating film by Mark Littlewood and Rory McEwen and a soundscape by Henning Christiansen. To a projected film of someone filming the mist on the moor, Beuys pasted gelatin to the walls, removed them to a tray and quickly tipped the contents over his head. Documentation including photographs and a striking A3 exhibition-publication from this piece forms the core of Beuys’ representation in the current show. Other exhibiting artists at Strategy: Get Arts included Dieter Rot, Blinky Palermo, and Gerhard Richter. Andre Thomkins participated in the show, but perhaps his greatest contribution was the palindrome that served as the title and that seems to sum up the exchange backwards and forwards that characterizes Demarco’s curatorial approach.

Inevitably, the question-mark over the current exhibition is whether it can recapture some of the thrill and excitement of the shows it commemorates. The curators have structured it around the work of ten artists with whom Demarco has had sustained engagement. Six of the artists represented are from continental Europe: Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic, Tadeusz Kantor, Paul Neagu, Magdalena Abakanowicz and Gunther Uecker. The remaining four are Scottish: Rory McEwen, Ainslie Yule, Alistair MacLennan and David Mach. The large, airy space of the central main-gallery is taken up with a new installation by Magdalena Abakanowicz of ten huge welded steel sculptures depicting figures from the legend of the Court of King Arthur. Somehow managing to look like animals, humans, and machines all at once, the sculptures emphasize dialogue and connections through the rhythmic way their shapes interact and the scar-like marks where they’ve been welded. It’s a striking focal point for the exhibition, from which the other rooms lead off, and Abakanowicz’s unmistakeably contemporary treatment of myth and legend has the advantage of helping to point the viewer towards a productive engagement with some of the historical aspects of the show, to move beyond its commemorative aspect.

In two new portraits for 10 Dialogues, David Mach renders Demarco’s head in collages made from what must be thousands of postcards. By doing so, he literally makes communication, correspondence and dialogue the very fabric of Demarco as local cultural icon. This recent work sits in interesting counterpoint to the documentation of an earlier piece, Local Hero from 1992, in which Mach made a life-sized sculpture of Demarco’s head out of coloured match-sticks in a tartan-style pattern, and then set it on fire in front of an audience, outside the Demarco Gallery. Mach’s piece is an astute comment on the cult of personality and on art-world myth-making, especially in light of the controversy surrounding the Arts Council withdrawal of funding from Demarco after his support of the imprisoned gangster-turned-artist Jimmy Boyle. The burnt-out relic-like head is presented here alongside a film of the ‘performance’, much of which is taken up by people un-dramatically standing around talking, taking pictures, and milling around. At one point, in fact in some ways the climax of the film, Demarco makes disparaging remarks about the concurrent show at the RSA.

There’s something distinctly dark and unsettling about David Mach’s burnt-out match-head. Similarly, the work of Gunther Uecker is uncompromising and challenging. His wall-mounted wooden sculptures made from spiky shards of stone, wood and white paint suggest trashed canvases and boards. The fearless blend of natural materials in self-consciously painterly sculptures suggests an uneasy frictional dialogue between the two elements. A similar tension exists in the work of Paul Neago whose brushed and worn steel sculptural ‘hyphens’ look like they might have been up from a beach as driftwood. They seem to hint at a conversation of symbols we can’t understand. Another highlight of the show is an installation by Alastair MacLennan, a room filled with uniform rows of steel bowls that act as mirrors, reflecting the light almost like a kaleidoscope. Even the smallest sounds, too, seem to rattle around the pristine curves and hollows. A deceptively simple work, it provokes a surprisingly expansive emotional effect.

My only criticism of 10 Dialogues concerns the title. Given the witty and playful name of the landmark Strategy: Get Arts, it really stands out that the curators have gone for what feels like a howling misnomer. From a photograph of Beuys with Lady Roseberry and Buckminster Fuller, to the films of Demarco in lively conversation, the postcards in Mach’s portraits, gallery-visitors whispering and the echoing voices in MacLennan’s sculpture, this show represents hundreds of dialogues and thousands of potential dialogues, not merely ten.

10 Dialogues continues at the Royal Scottish Academy until 9th January. www.royalscottishacademy.org

Image (c) Ainslie Yule 04 – Wave & Ziggurat (detail), 2009 - 2010

Thursday 9 December 2010

Aesthetica Creative Works Annual 2011

With over 90 artists included, the Aesthetica Creative Works Annual provides a overview of innovative artwork and creative writing. The publication makes a stunning addition to any collection and is a valuable resource, offering insight into the artistic trends of the moment and fostering creativity.

Celebrating contemporary art and culture, the Aesthetica Creative Works Annual 2011 is an anthology that brings together the winners and finalists from the Aesthetica Creative Works Competition.

Inside this collection you will find inspirational works that survey the current state of play. The book includes artists from over 30 countries, and provides a cross-section of innovative artwork and creative writing, which stimulate new ideas and provoke discussion.

The Creative Works Annual 2011 can be ordered from the Aesthetica website.

Cover image:
Equation by Zsuzsi Csiszer

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Filmmaker Series – Part 2 Q&A with the Runners-up The Varava Brothers

Below is a Q&A with Jared Varava from the American filmmaking duo, the Varava Brothers. As one of the longer shorts on the Aesthetica Shorts DVD, it’s a brilliant narrative that highlights the modern-day dilemma. A man decides that his life needs to be changed. He takes an enlightening and competitively priced journey of self-discovery in today’s self-obsessed world.

To see this film or read more about The Varava Brothers read the current issue of Aesthetica Magazine, available online or from a number of stockists worldwide.

How did you begin filmmaking?
I made a horror movie with my friend John Westberg in high school called BLOOD PARTY. More than anything it was an excuse for us to build a bunch of elaborate gore effects and to murder off horribly clichéd versions of the teenage cliques we didn’t like. We thought we were revolutionaries. Turns out we were just angsty teenagers.

Who and what are your influences?
There are so many: William Eggleston, Bob Dylan and Godard who will forever be the most mind-boggling filmmaker, but in a good way. Also the Coen Brothers, coffee, whiskey and girls. The usual stuff, I guess.

What do you try to achieve through your filmmaking?
I had to write a thesis paper in college to accompany my final film and in it I argued in favour of creating a filmic tone that emulated the emotional result of combining the evocations of punk and folk music. To me that means an unbridled, sometimes forceful sense of urgency with a clear and sincere understanding of its purpose and subject matter, a smart, scathing sense of humour, seen through a beautiful, if not somewhat unrefined, aesthetic in hopes of really creating a deep empathy for the characters of a particular narrative. I think I’m still trying to achieve something along those lines.

Can you tell me about the balance between cinematography and narrative, which takes precedence?
I think it’s a balance of all things. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful, horrible movies and I’ve also seen a lot of movies with interesting story lines that would have been so much more effective with a better DP. We really lucked out with Damian because he has an amazing capacity to understand and internalise the overall tone of the film and then translate that into lights and lenses. A DP like that considers not only the narrative of the film when setting up shots, but the end product itself (music, pacing, etc.) and does his part—as every department does—to work towards a unified IDEA of what the final film is supposed to become. In terms of one aspect of the production or another taking precedence, I think that’s a bit of a dangerous approach.

Talk me through the process of making a film – working practice, shooting, collaborations, funding?
Working in independent films, the process is usually dictated to us by whatever circumstances happen to present themselves. It’s really an art of survival. We always try to surround ourselves with talented people whose work we know and trust, we try to be as meticulous in our planning as possible and account for every potential hiccup along the way, we try to encourage input and discussion while maintaining a rigid schedule, but it always comes down to problem solving and pressing on until each part of the process has been adequately fulfilled.

What was the most challenging aspect of making your film?
THE SHADOW EFFECT was a pretty ambitious project from the beginning. It required some large sets and cumbersome art direction (the recycling plant), a car chase, several different locations, a truckload of heavy gear, an additional production within the production (the soap opera), and just a lot of small details and moving parts that had to work in unison. If I had to pick one, I’d say the colour correction process was the most challenging. We worked out a deal with a high-profile post house to colour correct the film for a minuscule amount of money. These types of deals are great to keep the budget down but can come with incredibly frustrating repercussions. In this case, we had to work with a roving cast of night crew colourists, assistants, and interns who would randomly be assigned to our project. Each time a new person got involved there was a lengthy period of familiarising themselves with the project and, on more than one occasion, familiarising themselves with the colouring hardware itself. Over the course of a week or so we’d chip away, shot-by-shot, somewhere between the hours of midnight and 6 am. By the time we finished I remember having absolutely no idea if the film had a uniform look to it or not.

How would you define cinema culture today? How easy is it to make a film versus the process involved with screening and distribution?
Cinema culture is a subjective term. I think there are different cinema cultures existing simultaneously and all of them are accessible if one is so inclined to seek them out. Arguably the main cinema culture, Hollywood, is what it always is: the loudest, most publicised, most disappointing and sometimes most pleasantly surprising culture, but a quick spin through Netflix, a visit to the local independent movie theatre, a scan of various Vimeo channels, and it should become pretty obvious that there’s really no shortage of different styles and approaches to filmmaking and that with a little effort any taste, no matter how mainstream or obscure, can be satiated.

How do you feel short films fit into today’s cinema culture?
Sadly, I think that short films are largely disregarded in today’s cinema culture. I guess the argument could be made that everything posted on YouTube or Dailymotion or Vimeo is a short film, the internet has allowed for (and demanded) an influx of short form media, but I see a drastic distinction between a short film and a viral video. Short films, at least ones that are made with a certain degree of integrity and professionalism, are rarely seen by wide audiences outside of film festival screenings or the occasional international in-flight entertainment. They are most often screened to audiences that actively seek them out. They are primarily calling cards, and in our case a way to avoid stagnation while attempting to get a feature off the ground, which hopefully doesn’t sound too jaded, because I do like short films.

How do you make yourself stand out from other filmmakers? What’s your plan for marketing your films?
Admittedly, we are not the best at marketing our material. We try really hard to make genuinely good, interesting films and hope that they are appreciated as such.

What are your future plans?Make bigger and better movies, and hopefully pay back all the talented people who have done incredibly generous favours for us in the past.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Review: Fade Away at Transition Gallery, London

Review by Charles Danby

Following hot on the heels of Transition’s inaugural ART BLITZ auction, a call to arms against impending arts cuts in the UK, the exhibition Fade Away retains a maxim of mass action and presentation, with the large group exhibition this time directed towards the hinterland between painted representation and painterly abstraction.

Presenting a single work by each of the 39 participating artists, Fade Away resulted in an even and dense distribution of paintings across and around the multiple wall surfaces of Transition. With works staggered just above and below a natural eye level, it drew gaze along an implied horizon that proposed a sequential (relational) viewing from one work to the next. This implicit orthodoxy did not however unfold a contingent narrative or progression of stylistic form, but rather a loose series of tendencies, components and directions within current British painting.

Catching immediate attention was a small section of wall directly facing the entrance on which four paintings hung. The largest, located slightly to the left of the midpoint, was the work Für Waldmüller (2010) by Eleanor Moreton. The title suggested a connection to the 19th century Austrian painter, Georg Waldmüller (1793-1865), and in line with this Moreton’s painting seemed to depict a still life assemblage of vases and flowers. The ambiguous surface markings of paint appeared in places to conjure partial disclosures of figures or perhaps fragments of skulls. Moreton’s dark, oblique and tonally flat palette, sympathetic and recursive to Northern European 16th and 17th Vanitas painting, was occasionally pierced by sharp hues of blue and red.

The work immediately to the right, small and alluring in its strangeness, was a red monochrome painting. This work by Clare Undy, Trouble (2010), was marked across its surface by a single twisted and curved line that appeared as a false or illusory rip or tear. This red on red mark was itself doubled by the inflection of its own shadow, which in marking the representational surface of the painting’s ground remained unrelentingly ambiguous, neither imbedded nor fully removed from it. Above and to the right was a similarly sized painting by Nathan Barlex titled Diluvial Geology (2010), which read loosely and through quick glance as another flower painting of sorts. This assumptive inference of subject may simply have been forged through its proximity to Eleanor Moreton’s painting.

Here the contextual allure of perceptual as well as technical, representational and stylistic form was exposed, underpinning within the exhibition a consensus that highlighted its tendency to supplant pictorial representation by exposing and indulging the sensory and material properties of paint. Fade Away in this sense moved towards an unconditional opening-up of a wide peripheral vision within the framework of painted representation and painterly abstraction.

Completing this four-piece arrangement was the small and disarmingly seductive painting Burn (2010) by Jo Wilmot. An almost square (20 x 25cm) white on white canvas aside for the off central depiction, between foreground and background, of a rolled mass, lump, or bundled figure. Across the painting brush marks lay testament to the presence of paint, its flow and malleability. While this privileging of mark was countered by the pictorial representation of a not quite discernable or knowable object, the terms of this union remained beautifully poised on an edge of instability. Added to which the pictorial scale of the central form seemed to change significantly when viewed from either a close or afar. The concise and not quite graspable articulation of this work was matched by a handful of others, most notably the gloriously contained glutinous pink-orange painting of Clem Crosby’s Picabia (2010), and the affecting nakedness of Alice Browne’s Watch Me (2010).

Elsewhere a recurring sense of geometric representation pervaded the works of Philip Allen, Mali Morris and Alex Gene Morrison, while a strand of figuration that at points turned more directly to portraiture, was evidenced in works by Lindsey Bull, Tim Bailey, Zack Thorne, Paul Housley, Sarah Lederman and Kaye Donachie. Here there was a sense that the number of works in Fade Away started to undermine the underlying concerns of the exhibition, extending its parameters too widely, and resulting in a splintered core that became increasingly hard to gauge. In extracting directives of figurative representation the inclusion of works by Bull, Housley and Donachie interestingly and astutely extended this rhetoric, while other works remained tied to concerns that offered far less or even misfired.

Kaye Donachie’s Under my hand the moonlight lay! (2010) showed the tilted head of a woman within a forest landscape. The faded blue-grey / green-grey palette exposed occasional flickers of pale orange that amongst the muted anaemic tones of the painting glowed as fiercely as the sun burning through a heavy mist. Here Kaye’s work pointed to a further tension in Fade Away, one that suggested the prevalence and connectedness of European tendencies of painting, particularly Belgium and Nordic, within a current catchment of painting from the UK.

Added to this, the small scale of the works shown, the largest being around 70 x 60cm, further permeated (even if falsely) a sentiment of quieter austerity or more reserved tendency within the works. A restraint, intent and discretion that again appeared significant and timely in its European rather than American affiliation. It was perhaps also a tendency that was given further substance by the close unity of generation (of the last 40 years of so) and geography between the artists, added to which was the actual slightness of the time that divided the works, with all of them painted within the last four years, and all but one within the last two years.

In slicing time so acutely Fade Away ensures that such questions of tendency can be asked, and while not all works fire so directly, it reminds us that if approached intelligently exposing tendency is rewarding and significant.

The show continues until 24 December 2010. www.transitiongallery.co.uk

Image: (c)Tim Bailey, The Debutante, 2008, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 30.5cm

Monday 6 December 2010

Review: High Society at the Wellcome Collection

Review by Robert J. Wallis, a Professor of Visual Culture & Director MA in Art History at Richmond The American International University in London.

“Every society on Earth is a high society”: from the caffeine in our morning tea and coffee to over-the-counter pain-killers and a “drink” on the way home from work, to hallucinogenic snuffs used by shamans in Venezuela, drugs are a universal part of human existence. This is the overarching theme of the excellent High Society exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London (until 27 February 2011). Lead curator and widely published expert on the topic, Mike Jay, author of the stunning catalogue, makes no judgements as to whether drugs are “good” or “bad”, should be illegal or legal (the illegal drug trade is estimated by the UN at $320bn a year, around half that of the pharmaceuticals industry), but demonstrates in great variety how they figure in all cultures, through time.

The first cabinet displays a wonderful miscellany of drug-related paraphernalia to demonstrate this diversity: two contemporary glasses of “Wine”, packaged in plastic and ready for consumption are juxtaposed with a “Heavy fetish pipe” (Congo, late 17th or early 18th century), “Fly Agaric mushrooms”, a “Bundle of qat twigs”, “Betel nut cutters in the form of a human head with the wings and tail of a peacock” (Indian, 19th century), a “Kava bowl” (Vanuatu, contemporary), “Amyl nitrate capsules”(London, 19th century), a “Homemade crack pipe”, and a “Digital cannabis vaporiser”, to name but a few examples. The objects are uncluttered by labels although having to look back and forth to the labels on the wall behind was a bit awkward, but the point is made, enticing visitors into an exciting show.

The gallery space is spacious, though surprisingly subdued and clinical in tone(blue, black, white) for a show on drugs. The great range of mixed media is organised according to six themes: A Universal Impulse, From Apothecary to Laboratory, Self-Experimentation, Collective Intoxication, The Drugs Trade, A Sin, a Crime, a Vice or a Disease?; in a clockwise-direction, visitors broadly follow this format. A free exhibition guide repeats the introductory text to each of these themes, and an exhibit captions catalogue supplements this and the text in the displays by fleshing out some of the detail – only reading this would I have learned that Rossetti’s Study of Elizabeth Siddal for "Beata Beatrix" (1860) is included because the later painting on which it is based has the girl holding poppy flowers, alluding to Lizzie’s addiction to and overdose from laudanum.

A 7th century BCE Assyrian tablet from the Royal Library of Assyria at Nineveh recommending “azallü” for paralysis, flabbiness and “forgetting worries”, is the oldest object displayed. A ceramic “Opium Juglet”, c.1500 BCE, made in Cyprus and found in Israel is shaped something like a poppy head and painted with stripes which are suggestive of the incisions made on the capsule to leak sap and harvest the drug. Drug use clearly has great antiquity. Rare films of Tukano Indian shamans using the hallucinogenic Ayahuasca vine (1971) and the Waika Palm Fruit Festival in Venezuela (1959) involving the collective use of hallucinogenic snuff, show how drugs are embedded in ritual life in many indigenous communities today. There are also displays on the use of Kava in the Pacific, the “divine plant” coca among the Incas, and Peyote among the Huichol Indians of Mexico, but the ethnographic material is limited in a show otherwise dominated by Western encounters with drugs.

These encounters, though, are fascinating, particularly the influence of drugs on visual art and literature. The first illustrations of magic mushrooms appear in 1803 after Dr Brande published his 1800 description of a family afflicted by symptoms including hallucinations after eating fungi they collected in London’s Green Park (Andy Letcher’s book Shroom is worth a mention here). Thomas De Quincey, Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Conan Doyle were some of the earliest self-experimenters with opium, cocaine and morphine to leave records from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and early editions of their work are on display. An 1822 coloured aquatint entitled "Doctor and Mr Syntax with a party of friends, experimenting with laughing gas" satirises the trend for laughing gas “parties”; pictures by Henri Michaux of incredibly detailed doodles were drawn while under the influence of mescaline in the 1950s; and LSD blotter art colourfully signals the drug culture of the 1960s. An entrancing psychedelic light show reproduced for the exhibition by Joshua White (who worked with Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and The Doors), with a behind-the-scenes view, is a highlight.

Contemporary art is represented by Mark Harri’s (1999) fun video “Marijuana in the UK”, with the artist reading Benjamin’s Hashish in Marseilles and Baudelaire’s Les Paradis Artificiels to cannabis plants to make them grow faster, and Rodney Graham’s even funnier Phonokinetiscope (2001) in which he drops acid and cycles around Berlin just as the accidental discoverer of LSD, Albert Hoffman, did in 1943. The socially-destructive impact of drugs today is marked by Keith Coventry’s disturbing photolithograph Crack (2000) and his memorial-like Crack Pipe (1998) series of bronzes. Mustafa Hulusi’s sublime video work Afyon shows fields of poppies growing in Turkey: a source of Europe’s opium from antiquity to the nineteenth century, destroyed in return for compensation from the USA in the 1960s, with renewed production today for legal medical opiates, this ‘Epilogue’ to the show points to the enduring role of drugs in society and our ambivalence as to their rightful place.

Highly recommended – an unmissable exhibition.

Copyright Wellcome Library, London. From: Order this large Guinness for the home : the large economical family size : Guinness is good for you / Guinness (Firm), Redgate,Nottingham : [1925?] 19 cm. Library reference no.: GC EPH573:27. Wellcome Library Catalogue

Thursday 2 December 2010

Aesthetica Magazine Gift Guide 2010

It’s that time of year again and at Aesthetica we’re already excited about the festive season. The Christmas we’ll be avoiding the high-street chains (apart from WH Smith to pick up the Dec/Jan issue of course!) and buying our gifts from independent artists and makers.

It goes without saying that we’ve all been bitten by the change in the economic climate so we thought it was the perfect time to put the focus back on something handmade and sustainable; a gift with a story from an independent retailer.

These pieces are an investment buy, and not in the fleeting sense. At Aesthetica, we believe that the origin of the products we consume should be a central ethical concern and from a less serious stance, there is something much more exciting about a handmade gift.

We’ve handpicked you a selection of 12 gifts from our favourite designers, makers and online stores to solve all your Christmas shopping woes!

Amma Gyan’s beautiful pendants are made from moulded leather, which is painted to give a metallic effect. The single pendant is hung on a slender trace chain attached to a solid brass bail.

Sun-Woong Bang’s intricate and delicate jewellery centres around a simple and profound idea, that contemporary practice, in time, will become traditional practice. The pieces are unmistakably contemporary. We’re most excited by the more abstract pieces, such as the Transit Series which generates electricity while being worn!

Yueh Yin Taffs’ sculptures are hand built and exude personality, energy and spirit. Focusing on hand built porcelain figurines of horses in various dramatic poses, these sculptures are inspiring.

A Little Bit of Art specialises in affordable printed artworks. Tackling head-on the fact that we all want art on the wall, but can’t necessarily afford to shell out for it, A Little Bit of Art is an online gallery that offers a diverse selection of artists, illustrators and printmakers who are using different mediums and techniques to create exciting imagery, printing on papers, glass, mirrors, ceramics and wood. Contemporary and current, this website is well worth a look.

Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery specialises solely in contemporary jewellery. Much of the work on show pushes the boundaries between fine art, jewellery design and fashion resulting in jewellery that is best described as wearable art. It’s all too easy to head straight to the likes of Topshop for contemporary jewellery but it is refreshing to see pieces that are current, design-led, handmade and affordable.

Culture Label brings you an edit of products, currently available from the world’s best museums, art galleries and artists. We are all guilty of spending more time in the gallery shop than in the exhibition itself and this website provides the perfect anecdote to the office blues. We’ve spent hours on this website, making our own wish lists and gaining valuable inspiration from the gift service they provide. Proceed with caution; this site will have you hooked.

Other Criteria is great for those family members who are notoriously tricky to buy for. Working directly with Damien Hirst and a number of established and emerging artists to make limited editions and multiples, t-shirts, jewellery, photographs, posters, prints and books, these products are original and quirky. Our favourite is Hirst’s Silver Turtle which is a bargain at £8,000!

Tom Hare’s willow sculptures are hand-made to order and it doesn’t get more unique than that. Working with greenwood, specifically willow, he creates large woven sculptures which are largely botanical in nature. Each piece has its own character and if you’ve got a big garden would make the perfect centrepiece.

The Peanuts Collection is a beautiful hardback book that covers 50 years of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Woodstock and the gang. This tactile book features 200 illustrations, and has sections that can be removed, unfolded and pop out. It evokes a sense of nostalgia, and as you flip throughout the pages, it makes you want to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas and for a brief moment, makes you feel like you’re 10 again.

We Admire has the world’s largest collection of original t-shirt designs and their selection of children’s togs is almost too cute for words. For those kids who seem to have everything, their shirts with Francis Bacon and Cindy Sherman had us all wishing we had children to dress! With designs incorporating Design, Architecture, Cosmology and Philosophy there is something for everyone.

Emma Gordon makes clutch bags and coin purses to order. Tired of only being able to buy mass-produced goods in the shops that were being worn by thousands of other people too, Emma decided to do something about it. Using pretty colours, quirky details and delicate trims, every bag is handmade making them the perfect gift this Christmas.

Complete Creative Package There is nothing like self-promotion at Christmas so our favourite gift this year is a fantastic combination of 1 year’s Aesthetica Subscription, Free DVD of emerging filmmakers, Creative Works Annual 2011 all for £29.95. Offering endless enjoyment for the long winter evenings, this gift will keep on giving throughout 2011!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Filmmaker Series – Q&A with Finalists from the Aesthetica Short Film Competition

To celebrate the launch of the Aesthetica Shorts 2011 DVD, there is a feature on the nature of short films and a discussion of the current film industry in the Dec/Jan issue of Aesthetica.

In conjunction with the feature in Aesthetica, over the next few weeks, we will be running the full interviews with the filmmakers in the blog. To watch these films, order the Dec/Jan issue, and receive a FREE DVD of 13 emerging filmmakers from 7 countries.

Unearthing the Pen directed by Carol Salter – Winning Film
Beautifully photographed, Unearthing the Pen is an intimate portrait of a young Ugandan boy’s desperate desire for an education in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Forty years ago, tribal elders buried a pen, placing a curse on the written word.

How did you begin filmmaking?
I studied painting as part of a Fine Art degree, but by my second year, I started spending more and more time in the college basement playing with the Super 8 cameras. I was attracted to film as a medium, because of the range of ways I could use it in order to tell a story - from the spoken word, music, sound, and of course, moving images - no matter how abstract they might be.

Who and what are your influences?
Listen to Britain by Humphrey Jennings was the first film that made realise how powerful editing can be. It’s a documentary, but it’s like a poem; its deployment of sound and image montage is inspiring. Another film that used the same approach, but was more playful was Unsere Afrikareise by Peter Kubelka. Films that are more fiction that have influenced me include: Timeout by Laurent Cantet, which is about a character who is isolated from the world in which he lives. Equally, Lucy and Wendy by Kelly Reichard is about somebody who feels alone and powerless. While 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by Cristian Mungiu is another film where the main protagonist battles alone. Strong, isolated characters feature a lot in my work; it’s a theme I return to all the time.

What do you try to achieve through your filmmaking?
I want to get an insight into the character’s universe, their inner world – hopefully in quite an intimate way. I try to hint and suggest rather than be too literal.

Can you tell me about the balance between cinematography and narrative? Which takes precedence?
For me I get a strong feeling about the subject, but I’m not always able to articulate their story through words. I always imagine a narrative in pictures, and I’m particularly drawn to documentary, because there is such richness in the visuals, subtleties and nuances from real life. I would like to think that my stories are told in carefully composed images and sequences.

Talk me through the process of making a film – working practice, shooting, collaborations, funding?
I work as a one-woman crew; I do the research, shooting, sound recording and editing myself. I don’t work in isolation though, I work with people within a community or a tribe who advise and translate. It is crucial for me to build up a very close rapport with my subject. I don’t know if that would be possible with a larger crew. After intense periods of research, I then have a feel for the material I need to capture, but I like to be open to the unexpected, which could make the story richer. Then it’s back home to edit. I like to show rough cuts to friends and colleagues for comments. Unearthing the Pen was self-funded, although I had support developing the idea from the Scottish Documentary Institute as part of the Bridging the Gap Scheme.

What was the most challenging aspect of making your film?
It was tough filming with small budget in a very remote area of Uganda. I travelled there alone and worked with a local translator from the tribe. I didn’t know the culture or speak the language, so I really had to rely on local contacts for guidance in making sure I worked sensitively and respectfully to Locheng, (the boy in film), his situation and to local customs and traditions. My story explores the village elders’ fears that prevented their children from learning to read and having an education. I had to respect their beliefs within their cultural context. I also had a moral obligation not to raise this boy’s expectations in ways that I could not meet, which was really important to me. By pointing the camera at him, I put him in the spotlight and it’s quite a responsibility. My local contacts guided me in this respect.

How would you define cinema culture today? How easy is it to make a film versus the process involved with screening and distribution?
By having my own equipment and resources, I can make films without too many obstacles, however to distribute them and screen them, is extremely hard work; it’s a full time job.

How do you feel short films fit into today’s cinema culture?
Beyond festivals, outlets are unfortunately very limited. It would be great if they regularly accompany feature films.

How do you make yourself stand out from other filmmakers? What’s your plan for marketing your films?
I’ve worked very hard distributing my films to a lot of national and international festivals. That in turn can lead to other opportunities to show my film. I create a website for each film, but so does everyone else! It’s not easy, but I like to think that my work speaks for itself.

What are your future plans?
I am currently working on a feature project, it’s a drama, but I’m using a similar approach that I use to make documentaries. It’s a poetic thriller about a woman’s relationship with her neighbours, playing with the themes of voyeurism and mis-perceptions.

To watch Carol’s film and read a feature about Unearthing the Pen in the Dec/Jan issue of Aesthetica CLICK HERE.

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