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Friday 16 April 2010

One Week Left to See Scotland’s Emerging Artists

I’m planning a trip up to Edinburgh this weekend and I can’t wait to visit the second annual RSA NEW CONTEMPORARIES exhibition. It opened at the Royal Scottish Academy Galleries in Edinburgh on 3 April and continues until 21 April 2010. The exhibition presents 60 of the finest artists and architects selected from the 2009 Art and Architecture Degree Shows, this curated exhibition offers a unique opportunity to see the best of Scotland’s emerging talent under one roof.

London’s degree shows always seem to capture a lot of attention and the public’s imagination, so it’s fantastic to see the RSA supporting new and emerging Scottish artists. As an art collector and enthusiast, I am always keen to visit degree shows. I think the legacy left by the Freeze show in 1988, has left a lot of students staring to the past and the YBAs wondering if “it” will happen for them too. Today, I think our approach needs to be more pragmatic, so the RSA’s initiative is incredibly important.

The artists were chosen from the 2009 Scottish Degree shows by members of the Royal Scottish Academy (lead by Joyce Cairns RSA) and representatives from the five main colleges of art and six schools of architecture in Scotland. The chosen graduates are given the opportunity to launch their career at the prestigious RSA galleries by showcasing a selection of new work; including painting, sculpture, filmmaking, photography, printmaking, architecture and installation.

RSA NEW CONTEMPORARIES demonstrates the RSA’s commitment to supporting and presenting the best contemporary work in Scotland and the RSA team is working closely with the artists and architects towards developing a lasting relationship in the lead up to the exhibition and beyond. With over £12,000 worth of monetary prizes in addition to residency, studio and purchase prizes, the development of this exhibition is an important initiative for emerging artists in Scotland, enabling a ‘first exhibition’ opportunity for some 60+ emergent artists annually.

3 – 21 April 2010. All RSA Galleries
The Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL
Open Monday to Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 12noon – 5pm.
Admission £2/£1 concession


Edinburgh College of Art: Richard Bracken, Alexander Allan, Catriona Gilbert, Chris Mackie, Ben Fielding, Tom Nolan, Kirstyn Cameron, Rachel Maclean, Catriona Reid, Ernesto Canovas, Christopher Bryant, Toby Cooke, Magdalena Blasinska, Peter Williams

Duncan of Jordanstone: Jessica Ramm, Georgia Rose Murray, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Astrid Leeson, Omar Zingaro Bhatia, Carolyn Scott, Chloe Gough, Karen Skillen, Jonathan Richards, Martin Hill, Emma McIntyre

Moray College of Art: Selena S. Kuzman, Janet Gordon

Glasgow School of Art: Laura Moss, Maximilliam Swinton, Catriona Munro, Harriet Lowther, August Krogan-Roley, Michael Lacey, Fiona Weir, Sarah Hendry, Maximillian Slaven, Julia McKinlay, Rachel Wright, Eleanor Royle, Veronika Pausova, Louis Guy, David Jacobs, Yngvild Mehren

Gray's School of Art: Andy Cummings, Jenny Hood, Gregor Morrison, Matthew Pang, Jacqueline Shortland, Scott Simpson, Alice Spicer, Richard Watson

Edinburgh College Of Art: Klas Hyllen;
Mackintosh School of Architecture: Jonathan Middleton, Jon Morrison
Scott Sutherland School Of Architecture & Built Environment: Greig Penny, Sara Russell
University Of Dundee: Cameron Mcewan
University Of Edinburgh: Piotr Lesniak
University Of Strathclyde: Andrew Campbell


Now go on, get yourself to Edinburgh this weekend. Maybe, I’ll see you there!

Images (c) artists
1. Selena Kuzman Dionysian(2009)
2. Omar Bhatia Omar's Spuriosity Shop(2009)image courtsey of Ross Fraser Mclean
3.Carolyn Scott Albs(2007)
4.Jamie Fitzpatrick Tell me, what do you see(2009)

Surreal Experiences with Bunny & The Bull

Paul King’s eccentric film, Bunny & the Bull, has been out on DVD now for a couple of weeks, but for those of you who have yet to see it, I thought I'd give you my thoughts on it.

The film follows Stefan Turnbull through his memories as he re-counts an ill-fated trip across Europe with his best friend Bunny last year. Stefan suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and is unable to leave his flat, where everything is meticulously organised into box upon box. Ed Hogg is superb as an awkward Stefan, living under the shadow of the eponymous Bunny, who is everything Stefan is not. As Stefan comes across various things in his flat that remind him of the trip, we follow the pair across Europe, where they visit such delights as the cutlery museum of Germany before Bunny decides that Stefan is not having fun, steals a stuffed bear and encourages him to give the fiery Spaniard, Eloise, a lift to Spain.

Stefan is, of course, quietly in love with Eloise but is doomed to remain ‘in the friend zone’, while the irrepressible Bunny takes what he wants and does what he likes. Bunny’s brash persona is set at odds with Stefan, who is reserved and moralistic, and the friendship between the two ebbs and flows, often strained by Bunny’s love for gambling, women and alcohol. The final test comes when they reach Eloise’s hometown and Bunny decides to fight a bull. Despite Bunny’s bullying and Stefan’s weakness, the two need one another and Bunny & the Bull is a well-woven story about friendship and impotent bravado.

It is definitely more than a little bizarre but I guess this is only to be expected from the director who brought us The Mighty Boosh. The film is filled with surreal experiences, quirky humour and highly-stylised cinematography. At one point Stefan and Bunny are invited to share a drink of dog’s milk with a crazy Hungarian tramp (played by the Boosh’s Julian Barrett) and King manages the perfect blend of awkward disgust and hilarity. The majority of the European journey takes place against a backdrop of illustration and the blend of animation and other visual quirks makes the film incredibly interesting visually.

The soundtrack is by Ralfe Band, who use a range of instruments to create a musical background to the film that is as varied and heartfelt as the story itself. It is a perfect accompaniment to the surreal comedy and, in the spirit of the film, was recorded on a piano that was left outside in the snow to achieve a more weathered sound. The current issue of Aesthetica discusses the impact that a soundtrack can have on a band’s career and Rob Boffard speaks to Oly Ralfe from Ralfe Band about the effect that Bunny & the Bull has had on this career, CLICK HERE to read more.

Strange, funny and highly imaginative, it’s not like any other film that you will see this year and I found it a joy to watch. If you enjoyed the eccentricity of The Mighty Boosh then you will love Bunny & the Bull, which couples the Boosh’s sparkling surrealism with a tender emotional undertone. Bunny & The Bull is out on DVD now.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Contemporary Art Iraq Opens 16 April

Once, I learned that Cornerhouse in Manchester was showing the first comprehensive UK exhibition of new and recent contemporary art from Iraq - since the first Gulf War to the present day, I became really intrigued. The show examines new practices and fresh perspectives from a culture torn with conflict, and given the country’s recent historical context and the emphasis of media news stories on political instability, this show explores and challenges expectations of Iraq today.

So, I started to ask myself, what do I know about Iraq. I remember the First Gulf War, although I was only a child, so it’s clouded with memories of patriotism and clear misunderstanding. Obviously, the second time around with George Bush Jr, things are much clearer for me. The piece of footage that has been played over and over again of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down, and of course his execution. But, really what do I know? This exhibition offers us the chance to learn more about this country. As global attention shifts, this show provides a platform for a new generation of artists who acknowledge the aesthetics of conflict, but are not bound by them. Instead, they are fused with collapsing aforementioned associations and seek to broaden awareness of life beyond the brink of war, pointing toward other immediate concerns across the country.

Selecting works across a wide range of media by 19 Iraqi-based artists for Contemporary Art Iraq, Cornerhouse in collaboration with ArtRole, gives a subjective snapshot of the current Iraq art scene. From installation, performance, video, painting and photography, works presented deal with very individual searches for identity, whether national or historical, addressing tradition, beliefs and other themes connected to modern life in Iraq.

The exhibition also overlaps three main themes:

The Changing City
Azar Othman Mahmoud’s installation Bricks, is a reflection on the Iraqi nation building project. Whilst Salam Idwer Yaqoob Al-Loos’ painted triptych of Baghdad, charts the hope and disillusionment post 2003. Jamal Penjweny’s series of photographs Iraq is Flying, playfully reminds us of the childlike wonder of being able to see from a height.

Of Time and Tradition
Bhrhm Taib H. Ameen’s luscious photographs depict traditional characters of Iraq, theatricality staged in contrast to reality. Mustafa Mumtaz Noori’s Joza and Rbaba, sees musical instruments converted into weapons and Sawar Mohamad Amin’s documentary Yayli, follows the loss of livelihood for local men driving horse-drawn carts.

Muhammad Sale Rosramzada and Wrya Budaghi are internally displaced and therefore denied the right to vote in performance and video piece, Our Finger Hasn’t Got Ink Yet. For Traffic, another performance to video work, Gaylan Abdulla Ismahel brings a crowd to a roundabout in Erbil to protest against the high number of traffic accidents there. Julie Adnan’s powerful portrait series, Born in Jail, presents photographs of women who live with their children in prison.

With regards to the broader context and the global art market, we must ask ourselves, will Iraqi art develop like that of Chinese or Indian? Will collectors be rushing off to buy, buy, and buy? And what will the consequences be for the art if this is the case? There are two sides to every story, of course this will be good for the artists, but what will this do with regards to understanding the region? Finally, who benefits the most when pieces turn up a Bonhams? Is it the artists? Collectors? The region? I feel these are themes worth hashing out. A few issues ago, I discussed this topic about Middle Eastern Art with Daniela Da Prato. Read the article here.

Works by:
Julie Adnan (Kirkuk), Aryan Abubakr Ali (Sulaymaniyah), Salam Idwer Yaqoob Al-loos (Baghdad), Bhrhm Taib H. Ameen (Sulaymaniyah), Sarwar Mohamad Amin (Sulaymaniyah), Bitwen Ali Hamad (Sulaymaniyah), Gailan Abdulha Ismail (Erbil), Azar Othman Mahmud (Sulaymaniyah), Zana Rasul Mohammed (Sulaymaniyah), Natheer Muslim (Baghdad), Rohzgar Mahmood Mustafa (Sulaymaniyah), Yadgar Abubakir Nassradin (Sulaymaniyah), Mustafa Mumtaz Noori (Baghdad), Jamal Penjweny (Sulaymaniyah), Roshna Rasool (Sulaymaniyah), Mohammad Sale & Wrya Budaghi (Erbil), Hemn Hamed Sharef (Erbil), Mohammed Abdulhussein Yousif (Baghdad).

This exhibition also seeks to continue Artrole’s mission to develop international cultural exchanges with the Middle East. Their previous activities include the first major Post-War Art & Culture Festival at The Red Jail, Saddam Hussein’s security building in Iraqi-Kurdistan (7 - 9 Nov 2009). The festival presented Richard Wilson’s seminal installation 20:50 for the first time in the Middle East and mounted exhibitions by British and American artists alongside over 50 Iraqi artists. For this show expect compelling installations, transfixing photography and thought provoking video works that will delight and shed light on the fascinating state of Iraq now.

Contemporary Art Iraq is co-curated by Cornerhouse and ArtRole. Supported by British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI), Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW) and City Inn, Manchester.

Cornerhouse, Galleries 1, 2 & 316 April – 20 June 2010. For further information visit www.cornerhouse.org and www.artrole.org

1. Artist (c) Jamal Penjweny
Iraq is Fliying, courtesy of ArtRole
Location Baghdad

2. Artists: (c) NAMO and Wrya Budaghi
Artwork Election, courtesy ArtRole
Location Erbil

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Voy A Explotar (I’m Gonna Explode) out on DVD this Week

I am a sucker for Indie films, especially the ones with an overarching artistic licence. I like films that are shot with integrity using every inch of light and space for effect – films that assume the audience can think, ones in which the director gives us a bit of freedom to explore and develop our own interpretations.

Gerardo Naranjo’s Voy A Explotar (I’m Gonna Explode) is a sensational film, one that sees the darker narratives of two teenagers in love. One thing’s for sure, cinema is not lacking in abject teenagers in lover, it’s a story that’s been told many times, but Naranjo turns it on its head by introducing two characters that are rebelling but their not sure why or what from. Roman and Maru both sit on the periphery of society. Come on you remember what it was like to be a teenager. Every moment seems to count, each encounter means something, and days are weeks and weeks are months.

Roman and Maru meet at school; there is an instant attraction. Roman is the son of a corrupt right-wing politician. They embody youth in rebellion, they decide to run away and revolt against everyone that they know in the search for their freedom. Exploring their sexuality, an intimate bond is formed between the pair; they begin to believe they are invincible. Further plans are hatched, and they become the Mexican version of Bonnie & Clyde.

The dialogue is lyrical; there are moments, which are somewhat like a chorus as Maru is searching for meaning and control. Roman is fearless – however lost – there’s a lack of focus and both of them ooze with apathy. Mostly they just want to feel something, anything. As they spend their time in hiding, their parents and the police begin searching for them. It’s going to erupt, but how? In the real world actions have consequences.

This film has screened at a number of festivals: Venice, Toronto, Chicago, Stockholm, Istanbul, Edinburgh and the AFI Latin American Film Festival. It’s an exciting mix of intense desire and absolute confusion.

Voy A Explotar was released on DVD 12 April. For further information on Gerardo Naranjo read an interview with Time Out London.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

A Journey To Northern Ireland

It’s amazing what a holiday can do for you. Now, I’m a person that likes the off-the-beaten path type of break. I’m fond of going to new places preferably without hoards of tourists. I like to take my time, soak up the environment.

Visiting Giant’s Causeway has always been on my list of things to do. I know that 500,000 people visit each year, so there are a lot of people, but needless to say, it wasn’t overrun when I went. A few things: Firstly, I love the outdoors (people often find that hard to believe, which is a little peculiar) and I love hiking. I also enjoy being near the sea; the place where the land ends and the water begins. I love to look out at all that space. I want a boat, like you wouldn’t believe.

So, I thought that it would be a great idea this year to jump in the car head to Liverpool and take a trip over to Northern Ireland. I’ve been to the Republic before, but never to the North, so I figured it was about time. Before, I begin to discuss my experience; I must admit how sad I was to see the bomb go off in Hollywood yesterday by the Real IRA. I have been recommending to all my friends that Northern Ireland is worth the visit – and in spite of the news, I still feel that way. Every single person that I met in Northern Ireland was really friendly and pushing for peace. So, when I heard the news yesterday, I thought about all those lovely people that I met, and how disappointed they must be.

Anyway, after arriving in Belfast, I went on a tour of the City with Allens Tours. We went into the Falls Road area and the Shankill Road, and saw the peace wall in between. I found it unbelievable that I was walking around a city that had at one point been one of the most dangerous places in Europe. The one thing “they say” we shouldn’t discuss is religion and politics – well it’s there in plain view staring you in the face. I found the murals incredibly intriguing, and after the tour, I wandered around to have a closer look. From an artistic and social perspective the work was so angry. I found the stories overwhelmingly sad – it doesn’t matter which side of the wall that you’re on – innocent people died and that’s that, as far as I’m concerned. The murals are in your face – they are full of symbols and meaning, at times words that are filled with rage. I found the walk around these areas of Belfast, one of the most interesting I’ve ever been on in my life. I was also intrigued to learn about the Titanic, and saw some archived footage in the Town Hall Digital Film Archive.

From Belfast I headed up to Ballycastle and over to the tiny village of Ballintoy, where I rented a fantastic apartment with stunning views, and its pretty little harbour. The flat was cosy and just perfect. The landscape is amazing from the rugged coast, rolling hills and to the dramatic Glens of Antrim. I was so happy to finally visit the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway, and the Rope Bridge of Carrick-a-Rede. One day I visited Bushmills Distillery, which was granted its licence in 1608. I can definitely appreciate the art of making whiskey, and even tried a 12-year-old sample!

One of my favourite visits was Rathin Island. This is a little island 20 minutes off the coast. There are 100 people who live there. On the ferry, I read the Rathin Island news; it was two sides of an A4 sheet of paper with all the comings and goings of the island. It was £12 per year for a subscription. Honestly, I might take it up. I loved it. The island is a major sanctuary for birds, although not a bird watcher – it was a pretty remarkable site. The best part of this island was the shuttle bus driver, Liam King. Now remember, there’s only 100 people who live on the island, and not that many visitors, so there’s no need for a timetable.

We caught the shuttle bus (3 other people on it) over to the bird sanctuary, but along the way, the bus was running low on fuel. Liam began the reverse down a hill (single track road), and then we ended up at his house, where he said he need to swap buses. In the meantime, he wanted to “fire-up” the other bus and then he began to reverse out of his driveway. Oh dear, parked next to the bus was his little blue car; he began to drag it along sideswiping it with the shuttle bus, denting the doors and breaking the wing mirrors. We all had to hold our laughter in – mind you, not laughing at Liam, but I’ve never seen anyone cause such damage to their own car. So, Liam then asked everyone (all 5 of us) to get on the next shuttle bus, everyone walked with their heads down because he still hadn’t noticed. So, I said to him, “Umm…I think you may have scraped, perhaps slightly damaged your car.” He took one look at it, shrugged and said, “ah the joys of driving.” Now, if I could only adopt that philosophy in life, I swear the next time something goes slightly pear-shaped, I will always think of Liam King. He really wasn’t bothered at all. Talk about pulling on my heartstrings. Later on that day, he gave us a lift to this lovely bay where there were some seals hanging out. Seeing them in the wild, in their own habitat is amazing.

On my final day, I visited Londonderry/Derry. Even the name of this city is contentious. It depends on where you are – in the Republic it’s called Derry and in Northern Ireland it’s called Londonderry. Sometimes people call it “Stroke”. There’s a lot of history there – lots of baggage too. I was surprised to find out that Londonderry/Derry is a walled city, in fact the only complete walked city in the UK! I did not know that. However, throughout the "Troubles" it has had a turbulent 30 – 40 years. This is the place where the tragedy of Bloody Sunday occurred in January 1972. I had a walk around the Bogside area, and again, all these murals on the gable walls – they’re really in your face, although, I found them slightly different than the murals in Belfast. My city guide was Martin McCrossan.

Martin was delightful – full of knowledge and started out talking about the immigration to America. Now, I’m from New York and like most people from New York, my family were immigrants and on my mother’s side from Ireland. So, it was nice to start learning about Londonderry/Derry from this point in history. Martin said: “The people thought the streets were paved with gold, but not only were they not paved with gold, they weren’t paved at all, and they (the Irish) were expected to pave them.” Martin’s tour was well rounded, and essentially he spoke about the troubles and ultimately about peace. At the end, he pointed to the Tower Hotel, and said what a monument it was to have a new hotel built, that it might not mean much to us, but for him it was a sign of the future. He thanked us for visiting his city, and said it gives people confidence in their own city to see visitors. He was sincere when he said this, and it was really an interesting experience. I’ve never had anyone thank me for visiting their city. Usually as a tourist people are selling you t-shirts, hats, key rings and moulded plastic of the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben. I really enjoyed his tour, and recommend it.

So, all in all, why am I telling you about my jaunt to Northern Ireland? Well, the reason is because I had a wonderful time. The countryside is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and most of all the recent history is interesting. Growing up in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, I knew about what was going on, everyone did, but I don’t think we really understood it, and to visit this place that was discussed so often in my childhood, I feel like I’ve learned something. I’ve even thought of doing a book on the Art of Conflict or something like that – watch this space.

If you do ever visit, drop me a line, I'd love to hear about your trip.


P.S. I'm not working for the NI tourisim board anything like that, I just loved the place so much!

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