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Friday 30 December 2011

Contemporary Art in Northern Ireland | Parliament Buildings | Stormont

Text by Angela Darby

Below the gilded King Edward VII chandeliers and between the Italian travertine engraved marble walkway the exhibition Contemporary Art in Northern Ireland is situated in The Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont. The exhibition’s curator Dr Suzanne Lyle, Head of Arts and Acquisitions at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, states: “The invitation from the Speaker to bring this exhibition to Parliament Buildings is an important opportunity to champion our artists... business leaders will cite the strength of a society’s arts and culture as a key factor influencing any decision to invest...” Staging the exhibition in Stormont is a positive step to improving public access and additionally the political decision makers who allocate cultural funds can view firsthand the quality of the works on display. The 24 selected artists are drawn from emerging and established artists. Miguel Martin (b.1985), a talented young artist pays homage to an established artist with an intricate, detailed line drawing entitled Neil Shawcross’s Studio Space whilst internationally recognised artist Colin Darke (b.1957) raises questions concerning intellectual copyright and appropriation in his painting Mannish Boy V – Policeman. This breadth of practice is well represented throughout the exhibition.

Brendan Jamison’s (b.1979) large impressive sculpture Yellow Helicopter shares an eyeline with the bronze statue of Sir James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The striking work grabs the viewers’ attention with its skeletal composition and bright woolly draped flesh. The piece sits in The Hall as an ironic testament to the military occupation of Northern Ireland’s past. Artists such as Christopher McCambridge and Jennifer Trouton seem to relate metaphorically to the environment. In Re-interpretation: Falling for Grandeur, McCambridge meticulously stitches his canvas with royal blue, blossom pink and turquoise threads. The chinoiserie wallpaper referenced is rendered by the artist’s physical action into a luxurious tapestry, an historical artefact echoing the affluence of the architectural environment within which it hangs. Trouton’s oil on linen painting Harrow captures a similar sensibility. An intricate photo-realist painting of a textured blanket draped over a chair suggests a story of comfort and tranquillity. But the fragments of broken crockery strewn and discarded beside the chair disturb the picture’s equilibrium. As the painting’s title suggests there is no room for harmony.

Simon McWilliams’ oil on canvas, Stairwell captures a fragment of Belfast’s prolific re-development that spread throughout the city like a raging virus. Resembling invasive weeds on a riverbank, green fluorescent netting and scaffolding provide a stagnant ‘still’ from an emergent tower block’s metamorphic growth. Caught in a frozen moment the image reveals the city’s faltering regeneration. The artists Terry McAllister, Gareth Reid, Gail Ritchie and Robert Peters poignantly capture aspects of rural landscapes and woodlands. Ritchie’s Dead Tree, a fine graphite pencil drawing on paper, hauntingly commemorates the traditional 12th of July Orange March to the field in Edenderry Village, Belfast. The faces of menacing sprites and gargoyles emerge from the gnarled bark and twisted knots on the tree’s decaying surface. The tree’s totemic symbolism seems to point to a time before the transformation of the province’s political situation and a time when one community had a monopoly over the other. Robert Peters’ digital print, entitled Uccello of the Potato Field I and II, portrays a traditional children’s game played in the potato fields on his family farm during the 1970s. This is not a game of childish innocence however but one of brutal combat as the sport’s object is to target and hurt one’s opponent by hurling potatoes propelled from the sticks. Peters has arranged the composition of his improvised weaponry to correspond with the upright lances in The Battle of San Romano (1438-1440) by the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello.

In the works by Zoe Murdoch, Maria McKinney, Shaleen Temple and Carrie McKee there is a polar presence of escapism and capture. Murdoch’s sensitive and melancholic sculpture Oh Muse Be Near Me Now and Make a Strange Song is dedicated to a long distanced correspondence. The anatomical objects and printed text contained within the small wooden box form clues to the artists’ reflection on the frustrations of a relationship spent apart. Maria McKinney examines the pursuit of leisure time and the activities devised to combat monotony in an appropriated jigsaw composition The Earl of Leicester. The photographic portraits by Temple and McKee poignantly narrate the condition of each of their subject’s entrapment. From the series entitled Boys and Girls, Temple’s documentation of South African servants exposes a world of subordination and subservience. The artist’s subject, Jerita stands tentatively in the interior of her employer’s home in Johannesburg. The red wall’s arch and dark wooden furniture frames and engulfs Jerita, the very objects that define her occupation seem to imprison her. Temple draws attention to these domestic servants who would otherwise be overlooked and in so doing she credits them with the recognition that they deserve. McKee chooses the backdrop of derelict Belfast cityscapes for her stunning depictions of young dancers. In Orlaigh (2011), a girl poses defensively with her arms folded; she is dressed in a bright orange and fuchsia coloured costume, a large pink blossom frames her face. This beautiful, ‘tiger lily’ sprouts with strength and determination from the desolate wasteland, waiting for her hopes and aspirations to be fulfilled.

One can easily imagine how Stormont’s opulent surroundings and ornate architectural features might overshadow the exhibiting works, rendering them undistinguished and lacking in impact. Surprisingly this is not the case; Dr Lyle’s strong curatorial vision corresponds with the context of this stately environment.

Contemporary Art in Northern Ireland, 21/11/2011 - 04/01/2012, Parliament Buildings, Stormont. www.artscouncil-ni.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, join us!

Carrie Mckee Gilded Youth - Orlaigh Burns 2011
Courtesy the artist

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Mette Winckelmann | We Have A Body | Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art | Copenhagen

Text by Bethany Rex

We Have A Body is a comprehensive solo exhibition by Mette Winckelmann. Winckelmann initiates a dialogue with Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art's architecture and history as well as J.F. Willumsen's thoughts behind the exhibition space's layout and colour combinations. We spoke to Mette before the exhibition opening to find out more:

A: We Have A Body features installation work, painting, textile collages, objects and Sønderjyske Solæg – a speciality from Southern Jutland. What exactly is Sønderjyske Solæg and why have you chosen to work in this medium?

MW: Yes, Sønderjyske Solæg is a speciality from Southern Jutland. I am familiar with this phenomena since I grew up in this area of Denmark. I sometimes use language/dialect and different local traditions from this area in my practice. This is how you make the eggs: you boil the egg for quite a long time, then you put them in saltwater for 3-4 weeks, and then you peel them, and divide them in halves. Take one half boiled egg, lift up the, now greenish, yolk, put in some tabasco, mustard, oil and vinegar, eat it together with an Aquavit. This is a personal ritual which everyone has to do on their own. It is interesting to use this ritual because it divides people into a certain and unexpected hierarchy in the exhibition space, a hierarchy of people who might, and people who don’t, know about this ritual, and it creates a new agenda. It is also a repetition of a recipe, a phenomena which is important in terms of defining our identity. The fact that people physically accept the work by eating it is also of great value. The fact that it is an egg is also very nice as it is quite a heavy symbol of where your body came from in the very beginning. It is for the same reason that I am using the Danish dialect, or as I did in other works, dealt with insider gay language or abstraction. In all cases it defines an agenda that might or might not be familiar to you, depending on your background and experiences.

A: The abstract painting plays a central role in your practice. When did you start working with abstractions and why do you consider it to be the most appropriate ‘container’ for your messages?

MW: I have always worked in abstract, from a very young age with objects like rugs, made at the sewing machine. For me abstraction is a basic way to express important questions about our society, because it refers to the actual surroundings without trying to make an illusion or story of the imagination which stops at the edge of the square. In an abstract work, the materials step forward and become a significant part of the work itself. I believe that the viewer meets the abstract work in a physical way. The body immediately compares an object in a space to the body its self, and it enables a physical stimulating dialogue. I also see the abstract painting tradition as an important part of my own ethnic history as well as the Scandinavian patchwork tradition. Using it, or fragments of these traditions, combined with each other, or other ethnic traditions, I try to find new possible spaces.

A: This exhibition focuses on ‘the body’ and how different forms of artistic practice can liberate the body from traditional ways of looking. This is certainly not a new idea but I’m interested to hear your interpretation on this?

MW: The body is everyone’s basic starting point and basic material. The human body defines itself in relation to other bodies, placing other bodies in categories. When there is a body there is a gender, which is one of the strongest ways to categorize the human body (and individual) today. The problem is that the focus on gender deals with men and women as two binary poles. By focusing on the body and not the gender highlights my believe that there are variations of gender. It is flexible, meaning that there are many genders, and that they can change over time.

I consider my works as redefined bodies. In a very simple way, you could say that the media is the body, the material is the gender, and that it can be performed in many ways. That is also why I often make more than one version of each image, using the same abstract image, repeated in different versions and materials: as a flag, a painting or a fabric collage etc…. And that is why I also use exactly the same material in two totally different works! In our society I think it is a problem that people don't think about the body as flexible and unique. That constitutes a problem for developing our society if we believe that we have to fit into a certain idea about the ideal way of performing the body.

A: Do you have your own answer to the subtitle of the exhibition: Do our views on gender and sexuality have an effect on our view of art and historiography?

MW: Actually that was not a subtitle that I came up with, more an explanation written by the curators. For me, I would rather ask the question: Are our lives, lifestyles and ideas about what we want from life influenced by the selection of artworks in the national museums and collections, which have become, both in their status and actual physical size, much like a powerful and religious monument?

A: When it comes to looking at painting through the lens of queer theory, I can understand how this would open up the possibility of the work in a new light, but surely this is the case for any object of criticism? For example, if we apply the theories of psychoanalysis to an artist’s work, we might achieve a broader experience, but not necessary an accurate one. If you were to carry out a mini ‘reception study’ during the exhibition what would you hope to find?

MW: During the work I have different experiences with the materials and media I am using. I sincerely believe that, if every person thought about the body as a flexible object it would open up a variety of new perspectives on gender, sexuality, age, family life, feminism, equal rights for every person and eventually lead to a more stimulating society. I wonder why people in general don't know that their body is actually owned and dictated by the law, and that every country has its own idea about the ideal life, even countries like Denmark which in general is defined as liberated and democratic. As a woman in Denmark you are not allowed to reduce the gender you were born with. I mean, if you want to remove your breasts, you are required to have psychological tests beforehand. On the other hand, if you want to get a breast enlargement, you can just go ahead and do it. It is my belief that any improvement in this situation is beneficial, not only for the people who do not fit into the normative ideal idea of the body, but maybe also for the people who actually fit in in terms of a emancipation by having or getting a totally different view on the body.

03/12/2011 - 29/01/2012, Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, Denmark. www.denfrie.dk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Monday 26 December 2011

United Enemies: The Problem of Sculpture in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s | Henry Moore Institute | Leeds

Text by Daniel Potts

United Enemies brings with it the spirit of Arte Inglese Oggi (English Art Today) – a 1976 British Council show in Milan featuring the work of many of the artists included – but concentrates on the complex nature of British sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s. Arte Inglese Oggi was organised into strict categories: Sculpture, Painting, Performance Art, Artist’s Film and Alternative Practices. United Enemies retrospectively allows us to carefully consider sculpture in relation to these other practices. The ambition is to impart how the concerns of sculpture at this time were relevant to contemporary artistic change and thinking, and thus formed the basis for the New British Sculpture of the 1980s, and what followed. This exhibition is divided into three sections – Manual Thinking, Standing and Groundwork.

Manual Thinking is the first section encountered by the visitor. Here we are encouraged to appreciate how the hand preoccupies the pieces and the methods of production. The work nearest to the entrance of the gallery certainly engages the viewer in this way. It is Roelof Louw's (b.1936) Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), (1967). We are invited to take and consume one of the oranges from the pyramid. Doing so begs the question: what is the nature of this work? Does the placing of the oranges in a pyramid by the artist constitute the work? Or does the work consist in the taking of an individual orange by the viewer? And so, does an exhibit need to be physically made to constitute a work? These questions alter the parameters of aesthetic perception, thus the work is a successful example of how the concerns of sculpture, at the time of its production, were relevant to artistic change and thinking. However, it is also a most striking work for the brightness of the constitutive parts taken together, and for the regularity of the large-scale geometry. The pungent citric aroma, redolent of the childhood stocking-filler associated with this time of year might prove a welcome waft of nostalgia for many visitors.

In the same section we find the exhibit Untitled (1961-62), by Stuart Brisley (b. 1933). This wall-mounted work consists of pieces of dark wood, many of them curved and set in one direction with the effect of a sense of sweeping movement in that direction, mounted on a wooden frame. The sweeping effect is occasionally balanced by other sections of the dark wood, contiguous with the relatively square direction conveyed of the frame. The piece is striking because of the contrast between, on the one hand, the different natures of the apparent direction of movement conveyed by the mounted pieces of wood, and, on the other, the homogeneity of the material used. It is possible that the work will strike the viewer in an irksome, unsettling way because of this contrast, and because the dark wood used is somewhat reminiscent of that used in the construction of furniture.

The second section of the exhibition is Standing. Here, spatial tensions are used to unsettle and challenge the viewer. Two works seemed most remarkable for the unsettling sense of synaesthesia they conveyed, subsisting between the title of the works and the physical manifestation. One was Sir Anthony Caro's (b. 1924) Whispering (1969). Made from (what seemed to be) some sort of heavy metal and painted red, the piece was somewhat reminiscent of a very long thin anchor, precariously leaning against the wall, with the addition, again consistently homogeneous in the use of material, of a sort of long extended spiral of the shape of those used in the distillation of alcoholic spirits. This addition, with the regular undulations of the thin strip when viewed from most angles, seemed to convey the bubbling, breathy scratchiness of the phenomenon implied by the title. And taken together with the general precariousness of the work, this seemed to impart and evoke the annoyance often felt when one hears the sound of whispering without perceiving the detail.

The other work was Maid of Honour (1965) by Garth Evans (b. 1934). Consisting of what seemed to be, two long, thin pyramids arranged vertically, the uppermost point of one meeting and enveloping the other which pointed to the floor, their coupling requiring that both uppermost points were not visible, the work was taller than the average person. Blocks and lines of colour adorned this tall piece. The sense of synaesthesia between the title and the work seems to come from the severity of the sharp lines of what seemed to suggest a formal dress and that of the old-fashioned word 'maid'. The sense of severity also comes from the anonymity – there is certainly no discernible physical, human identity. Perhaps the general sense of severity conveyed is unsettling because it suggests emotional damage and severity of character. The nuptial association compounds this sense.

The third section of United Enemies is Groundwork. This focuses on the ground as a sculptural subject. Bruce McLean's photograph, titled Floataway Piece, Beverley Brook Barnes 1967 (1967) is a depiction of wooden sticks floating in a brook. Monochrome allowed for a starker contrast between the light coloured sticks and the dark waters, which they seem to frame as corpuscles of the natural world, taken collectively as the aggregration of things framed and interrupted.

United Enemies does not claim to be a comprehensive survey of British sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s. However, it does convey an illuminating sense of the way things were moving during this period, and acts as an explanation of the convergence of different and varied practices that come under the term sculpture, with which we have contemporary acquaintance.

United Enemies: The Problem of Sculpture in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, 01/12/2011 - 11/03/2012, Henry Moore Institute, The Headrow, Leeds. www.henry-moore.org

United Enemies Events:
Gallery Discussion - 18 January 2012 2-4pm
Film Screening 1: Manual Thinking - 1 February 2012
Film Screening 2: Standing - 8 February 2012
Film Screening 3: Groundwork - 15 February 2012

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, join in!

Roelof Louw
Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1967)
6,000 large oranges, timber framework, plastic ground sheet
© Leeds Museums and Galleries (Art Gallery) and the artist

Wednesday 21 December 2011

The Best Features from Aesthetica 2011 - In Pictures

This year the arts have been subject to a double squeeze – big falls in business contributions to the arts (making the renewal of BP’s sponsorship deal with Tate even more contentious) coupled with the much documented cuts to funding from the public sector, despite this visitor numbers at galleries have remained stable, highlighting that there is still much to celebrate. Three new public galleries have opened to great success: the Hepworth in Wakefield, the Turner Contemporary in Margate, and Firstsite in Colchester, whilst White Cube opened a third space in October. Perhaps in relation to the Turner Prize at Baltic, Nicholas Serota noted an increase in appetite for contemporary art across the country, which should come as no surprise given the quality of exhibitions coming out of galleries at the moment. At Aesthetica, we have spent 2011 doing what we do best, but better. In November, we launched our film festival, ASFF to great success and to top it all off, we extended the current issue of the magazine to include over 100 pages of visual content.

This was a good year. We've racked our brains to choose our favourite exhibitions and features from the magazine in 2011:

Issue 39: February/March
Susan Hiler: The Collective Conscience
The artist who needs no introduction takes over London with a massive retrospective at Tate Modern and new works at Timothy Taylor Gallery.

Read the article for free here.

Issue 40: April/May
A Reaction to Globalised Production: Making is Thinking
15 international artists exhibit at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, in a ground-breaking exhibition exhibition that deciphers new meaning within the difference between making and thinking.

Read the article for free here.

Issue 41: June/July
Transgressing Conventional Boundaries: Bruce Nauman
Kunsthalle Mannheim celebrates Bruce Nauman's 70th birthday with a retrospective examining the artist's fascinating body of work.

Read the article for free here.

Issue 42: August/September
A Survey of the Postmodern: Postmodernism Style and Subversion 1970-1990
With 20 years hindsight, the V&A's autumn blockbuster is the first major show to survey the visual products from the postmodern era.

Read the article for free here.

Issue 43: October/November
Photographic Dialogues
Photophnompenh: 4th Edition, Various Locations
Cambodia, 26 November - 3 December

For the forth consecutive year, PPP will present a programme of 30 exhibitions that aim to increase the dialogue between Europe and Asia. As in previous years, there is no dominant theme to the festival, but a selection of exhibitions that provide a genuine discussion on ideas such as the visual environment of Phnom Penh, its architecture and landscape. In its representation of a broad spectrum of narratives, PPP offers a unique glimpse into contemporary Cambodia and how local and projected modes of artistic production form part of the wider global dialogue.

Buy the issue, or download the article here.

Issue 44: December/January
History In Context: Zarina Bhimji
The first major survey of three decades of Zarina Bhimji's highly emotive work, and the premiere of her new film, Yellow Patch, opens at Whitechapel Gallery, London in January.

Buy the issue, or download the article here.

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

1. Susan Hiller
Monument 1980-1
Tate © Susan Hiller, 2010. Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, London
2. Eva Rothschild, SUPERNATURE, 2008
Courtesy of the artist & The Modern Institute / Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow
Installation photo Witte de With 2011: Bob Goedewaagen
3. Bruce Nauman
Double Poke In The Eye II 1985
Friedrich Christian Flick Collection in Hamburg Bahnhof. Photo by Stefan Altenburger, Zurich.
Courtesy of VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011.
4. Arata Isozaki
Team Disney Building 1989-90
Orlando, Florida.
Photograph by Victoria Slater-Madert
5. Alexander Gronsky
From the series Edge 2008
Courtesy VU'la Galerie, Paris
6. Zarina Bhimji
Your Sadness is Drunk 2001-2006
Ilfochrome Ciba Classic pRINT
Courtesy the artist

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Dislocated Flesh | Julien Ottavi & Jenny Pickett | Tenderpixel Gallery | London

Text by Bethany Rex

Dislocated Flesh features the work of Julien Ottavi and Jenny Pickett. This new body of work stems from their long term collaboration exploring perception, memory and architecture. Considering physical and virtual space they are intrigued how these phenomenons influence the body, particularly in a post-human construction of society. Aesthetica spoke to Julien and Jenny about their collaborative practice:

A: When did you meet and how long after did you start to work together on your projects?
JP: Julien Ottavi and I met briefly in 2007 at DEAF - the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival. I was collaborating on a tactical media project with the artist Sunshine Frère which involved gifting hacked objects for the purpose of again reconfiguring or recording by peers. One of these objects ended up in the hands of APO33 and Julien Ottavi, we were subsequently invited to participate in ECOS rencontres in Nantes in 2007. Here Julien and I met again and go on like a house on fire. We began to exchange immediately and planning collaborations from early 2008.
JO: We are working all the time together, the ideas and projects that we come across circulate in a fast flow of exchange through practices. Our collaboration started really quickly after we met.

A: Your work explores physical and virtual space in a post-human construction of society. Does this mean that your work focuses on science fiction or the speculation on future developments in science?
JP: There is definitely an element of science fiction and/or technological, scientific futures that arise through the subjects and materials we work with, however as a focus we find the human condition or conditioning vastly complex, historically rich and still relevant to current social and political aesthetics.
JO: The concept of post-human is not only coming from science-fiction, unfortunately we are already post-human. We have somehow re-created a new environment, we are seeing the world through different filters: machines, digital, networked, speed, flying, and so forth. Our bodies have mutated through pollution, ready-made foods, GMO, preservatives, medication, prosthesis, machine parts that let us live longer and much more. The virtual space is already a place that has its own life, where odes, worms, viruses and other avatars "live". Our work questions the "reality" that surrounds us, our future is embedded in the questions we asses in our artistic work.

A: What was the inspiration between Possession, a suspended human scale cocoon-like sound sculpture?
JO: This work has multiple roots but predominantly conjures the sense of an "in between" state of being. The cocoon is a form potentially containing all the others forms, it’s a representation of what is coming, it’s a gate between our past and our future through an instant (the flash), it is also a digestive system that transform one thing into another state. Possession is this state of becoming that goes beyond our inherent condition.
JP: The form, materials, sound and flashes of Possession could be read on a number of different ways and produce various narratives from protection, transformation, desire, aspirations and emergence. Our inspiration comes from a marriage of retinal traces, intestinal echoes and nature as we try to uncover or discover a transition, prolong an instant or discharge a reflection.

A: What experience do you hope this will create for the viewer?
JO: In Possession, there is an intense flash that almost blinds the viewer so quickly that he doesn’t know what happening, he is attracted and is slightly afraid. The cocoon represents a hidden side of our psychology. It is also a beautiful sculpture hanging in the gallery, as mystery that suddenly hatched.
JP: Possession is a large looming and tactile object in the Tenderpixel Gallery’s modest space. The sound is quiet yet intense and may cause some people to feel uncomfortable in the space, but it can also draw the viewer in to listen more closely. Then there is the light and the overall experience is perhaps perplexing but we would hope for visitors to spend a little time to contemplate this work, its ideas and meanings.

A: Moving on to the other work in the exhibition. Could you talk us through this?
JO: Radotage is a piece that brings the obsession of being in a loop, all those wigs turning endlessly, scratching the surface of a cymbal. It creates a space for listening that is both minimalist sound and repetitive visually creating a worrying strangeness.
JP: Radotage has a haunting appeal to it both sonically and visually. The piece is a reflection on aging, narrative memory and entrenched loops. Loosely translated Radotage means drivel. On another level Radotage plays with ideas of composing with these repetitive behaviours, live sampling and importantly the disturbances and difference.

A: What exhibitions are you looking forward to seeing in the coming months?
JP: I would like to catch the Anselm Kiefer show at White Cube (9 December 2011 - 26 February 2012) and Elsa Tomkowiak at Le FRAC (Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain des Pays de la Loire) in Nantes (19 November 2011 - 22 January 2012).
JO: For me it's Memories of The Future, the Olbricht Collection (22 October 2011 - 15 January 2012) at La Maison Rouge, Paris.

A: Finally, what projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
JO: For the coming year, we are preparing a couple of projects, residencies for the spring but nothing is official for the moment. We are also working with videos/film and one of our films will be shown in March 2012 at Experimental Intermedia in New York City. In addition we have lots of performances coming up: Subtecture, Great Steaming Orchestra, Block2030, Apo33, amongst others.
JP: In addition to our personal practice we are working on different projects with our Association APO33: Open Sound Group is a European sound art network with artist run organisations from seven countries: Modus (UK), Live!iXem (Italy), Granular (Portugal), Audiolab Arteleku (Spain), Piksel (Norway), NK (Germany) and APO33 (France). We will also be working with Upstage, a virtual stage (online) along with other European partners we are collaborating on realising a new updated version of this platform which has been producing an annual online festival since 2007 for Live Networked Performances.

Dislocated Flesh by Julien Ottavi and Jenny Pickett, 02/12/2011 - 22/12/2011, Tenderpixel Gallery, 10 Cecil Court, London, WC2N 4HE. www.tenderpixel.com


Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Courtesy the artist

Monday 19 December 2011

Stretching the Physical Limitations of Art | Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop | MOCA | North Miami

Text by Heike Wollenweber

Mark Handforth’s (b. 1969) Rolling Stop opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, for Art Basel Miami Beach. Curated by MOCA Executive Director Bonnie Clearwater, the exhibit of 25 works marks a major milestone for Handforth, MOCA and the Miami art landscape, as the Miami based sculptor rarely actually shows his work in Miami. The exhibition stretches the physical boundaries of Art Basel by showing in North Miami as opposed to Miami Beach, relating back nicely to Handforth's stretching of the physical limitations and space of art in his practice.

Born in Hong Kong, raised in England and schooled in Germany, Handforth chose to relocate to Miami in 1992 and has become part of its dynamic art scene. He understands the intrinsic functions and motions of city life, whether based on the past as in European cities or focused on the future as in the US metropolis. Handforth knows the Miami prior to the glamour that Art Basel brought and his intimate relationship with the original grittiness of the city feeds his work. His large sculptures and light fixtures are designed to be interpreted with a sense of humour as he changes the size and shapes or otherwise distorts everyday objects to make them visible and elevate what we see daily above a state of obscurity. Handforth was the first Miami artist to receive a solo show at the Joan Lehman Building of MOCA in March 1996. Rolling Stop coincides with the museum's celebration of its 15th anniversary in its current Joan Lehman Building. Since 1996, Handforth has received major international recognition and has emerged as an important role model for Miami artists, his work being exhibited at The Modern Institute (Glasgow), Galerie Almine Rech (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The grandeur of the metropolis is mirrored in Handforth’s work. The physical aspect is reflected very literally in the often enormous size of the sculptures but Rolling Stop also continues Handforth’ urban discourse. He engages the viewer into a conversation with every day objects by making them larger than life, altering them to create something new rather than a depiction of something that already was. Handforth adds another dimension by placing these huge street signs, lamp posts or a gigantic wire hanger next to sculptures of stars, moons and light fixtures reminiscent of the cosmos.

Upon entering the exhibit one is first struck by its enormity and a feeling of having walked into a chapter of Gulliver‘s Travels. The second sensation is of being surrounded by light, fluorescent light and candle light, illuminating the exhibit in an almost surreal manner. After a few moments the eyes adjust and the shadows change the look of every sculpture in the room as the light makes the darkness visible. The main source of the light is Eclipse (2003), a light fixture of 100 fluorescent bulbs, practically exploding across 100ft of MOCA’s walls. Inspired by William Blake as well as Miami’s ubiquitous neon signs, it is an example of how Handforth combines personal experiences and influences of various geographical spaces into one work of art that is then no longer limited by any geographical or cultural boundary.

The Eclipse illuminates especially the Silver Wishbone (2010), a very prominent sculpture reminiscent of an ancient archaeological relic. Other light sources are Syd Barrett (2006), a trash can with tree branches and fluorescent tubes, as well as Vespa (2001), which occupies a niche by itself. The blue old-school scooter is covered in candle wax of every colour of the rainbow. The burning candles cover the piece in dripping lines of green, purple, yellow, blue and red and thereby alter the art continuously. Handforth himself sees his art as a never-finished process, open to change, ever moving and evolving. Ironically, the Vespa cannot move in its intended way as the wheels are immobile casts. The flickering of the candle light and the dripping wax is what keeps the art in continuous flux just like Rome, the city hat inspired Vespa.

Handforth takes his art beyond the expected and literally, beyond the intended space. He wants to see his work outdoors and part of the public space. For Rolling Stop the artist goes beyond the museum walls of MOCA with Herbal Hill (1998) in the museum courtyard, Electric Tree (1998-2011), a giant banyan tree in North Miami’s Griffing Park and the pink neon Weeping Moon (2010), a pink neon sign billboard in the Wynwood Arts District. Handforth’s choice of utilizing public space adds an additional layer of realism as well as an organic quality. The art becomes part of the ever changing environment and is shaped by its surroundings as much as it alters the space it inhabits. The art becomes part of a public domain and is no longer reserved to any elite. Without the limitations the art is no longer confined to being art.

Rolling Stop is an innovative exhibition of Mark Handforth’s works between 1996 and 2011. It brings his work to a rolling stop in the city that shapes his vision while he participates in the shaping of the city and its extraordinarily vibrant art scene.

Mark Handforth Rolling Stop, 11/29/2011 - 02/19/2012, MOCA, North Miami. www.mocanomi.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

1. Foreground: LampostSnake, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
Midground left: Blue Hanger, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
Midground right: Slow, 2005. Collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, Promised gift of Gayle and Paul Stoffel.
Background: Eclipse, 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
2. Foreground: Silver Wishbone, 2010. Collection of the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY.
Background: Eclipse, 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Aesthetica Wish List 2011

The Aesthetica Wish List 2011 offers interesting and creative options for your 'To Buy' list.

Michelle Oh ‘Twig Solitaire Ring’

Michelle Oh is an Indonesian designer and maker based in London. She trained in Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and makes the most exquisite pieces. Her work is inspired by the commonplace and the everyday; the relationships we forge with others as well as our own environments. The whole collection is beautiful but we are particularly hoping to find the Twig Solitaire Ring under the tree. Cast from a real twig, this piece highlights Michelle’s interest in organic sources and challenging concepts of luxury.


Stack Subscription

Stack is a unique service that brings together the best independent English language magazines from around the world and delivers them directly to your home. If you’re not sure which magazine they read, then this is the perfect failsafe gift. Beautifully made and offering an intelligent alternative view of films, music, art and whatever else crosses their pages, guaranteeing a fresh perspective on the world.


The Nest Learning Thermostat

The highly anticipated next move of iPod designer Tony Fadell came, perhaps surprisingly, in the form of a thermostat. The Nest Learning Thermostat programs itself to keep you comfortable and manage your home’s energy use. You can also control the beautiful dial online or from your mobile device. This is truly one of the most interesting home designs of the year.


MAC X Iris Apfel

At the wonderful age of 90, Iris Apfel’s style influence has come full circle. The American interior design is the subject of cosmetic powerhouse MAC’s latest creative pursuit – a limited edition make-up collection inspired by the ineffable icon. Known for her uncanny ability to mix textures, materials and prints, Apfel’s eponymous colour collection is equally as varied and includes vibrant offerings like a matt teal eyeshadow named Robin’s Egg – definitely not for the faint-hearted.


Stella Mccartney ‘Hawaiian-print Top’

This might be a bit last season, but Stella McCartney’s Hawaiian prints are the perfect way to show the world that you won’t be kept down by the January blues. If you can’t quite stretch to these fabulous pieces then you might be able to find something similar in your Dad’s wardrobe.


Roberts Bespoke Bike

There is a revival of interest in hand built, bespoke steel frames, which offer unrivalled comfort and durability. Britain still has a wealth of expert frame builders. Roberts, based in Croydon, has a very wide range of styles and options, and reasonable prices. We might just enjoy cycling on one of these.


Elin Høyland – The Brothers

Norwegian photographer Elin Høyland has captured a moment in time. Fascinated by two brothers, Harald and Mathias Ramen living in rural Norway, she photographed them, documented a way of life that is all but on the brink of extinction. This book is emotive and Harald and Mathias’ story is moving. Shot with sensitivity and realism – the narrative is gripping.


Debut Contemporary x Agnetha Sjogren ‘Linea’

The Linea dog is built using original prints from a book printed in 1920 with an introduction by the Swedish professor Carl von Linné. The names of the flowers are in Latin and their very first classifications came from Linné. By making reference to Linné and the original nomenclature he awarded to all flora Sjögren reminds us that although cultural heritage is bound by time and place it has allowed ideas to be transferred the world over by breaking the boundaries of geography and language.


The Aesthetica Creative Package

What’s not to love about this? This is the ultimate creative package. Inspirational and elegant, this includes our beautiful new anthology of artwork from artists across the world, a book of collective writing to stimulate your imagination, and a stunning DVD of films from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. On top of all this you also receive a 12 month subscription to Aesthetica, bringing you six issues packed full with the best in contemporary art and culture across the year.


Louis Vuitton ‘Drawer Box Collections’

Louis Vuitton is of course famous for its associations with travel. This month, the house releases a portfolio of its most iconic travel photographs, shot by the artist Jean Larivière, who, for the past 30 years, has travelled the globe for the house’s Spirit of Travel advertising campaigns, capturing dawn-lit landscapes in destinations such as Patagonia, Thailand, Nepal and Yemem. Just 50 of the drawer box collections have been produced, comprising three sets of unpublished pencil drawings and 20 black and white photographers printed on pure white cotton.


2011 Royal Mail Year Book

It’s not yet become cool to collect stamps, but give it a couple of years and philately may just become the activity du jour. Along with a whole year’s Special Stamps, this book includes contributions by experts relating to the Special Stamp issues, which this year include the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with an exclusive interview with Seb Coe and an item from Melvyn Bragg on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, as celebrated in this year’s Christmas stamps. This is all good stuff, but the best thing about this collection is that it also includes a pack featuring every single stamp so you can not only look at the stamps, but use them as well. No excuses not to send Thank You cards this year.


The English Caravan Company ‘Vintage Style Caravan’

This teardrop shaped classic caravan is inspired by the original caravan designs of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The Tilly caravan is the first of three innovative retro designs from The English Caravan Company, all of which are individually hand built in England, combining traditional workmanship and skills with state of the art materials and contemporary design to create a caravan for today.


Friday 16 December 2011

The Language of Television| Dara Birnbaum | South London Gallery

Text by Paul Hardman

The main room of the South London Gallery is entirely taken up by Birnbaum's latest piece, Arabesque (2011). Before even entering the room, the gently ebbing and flowing piano of Robert Schumann's composition Arabesque Opus 18 reaches out to draw one into the space. Long benches face four screens, the furthest into the room shows video footage of a female pianist playing the music, the rest of the screens alternate between showing others playing the same piece (apparently various amateurs found on YouTube), text pages from a book, and black and white stills from an old film depicting a young woman and an older man conversing in a living room. Subtitles occasionally appear, perhaps from the book, perhaps from the film. A visitor will sit, observe the screens, listen to the soothing piano, and contemplate the text and images while considering the meaning the artist has constructed through this combination of elements. All quite pleasant, but this experience could hardly be in greater contrast to viewing the early film work from Birnbaum's career on display in the upstairs gallery.

Arabesque continues some of the main preoccupations of Birnbaum's ouvre – a fascination with media, (previously television in particular, and in this new work the phenomena of YouTube), and a focus on the representation of women in media. Perhaps her most celebrated piece, subject of a One Work book published by Afterall, is Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-79) a pre-VCR re-edit of clips from the television series showing Wonder Woman spinning, transforming, deflecting bullets. It is exemplary of her work, which asks questions about the possibilities of female empowerment – Wonder Woman only becomes empowered by becoming a hyper sexualised exaggerated male fantasy, but Birnbaum unsettles this simple reading by seemingly reveling in the transformation.

Arabesque approaches the subject of genre equality by bringing Clara Schumann's story to the foreground with the inclusion of both the stills from the film, Song of Love (1947) – based on the relationship between Robert Schumann and his wife Clara – and the text, which is from Clara's diary. Clara cared for Schumann throughout his troubled periods (he suffered from depression and even madness) and raised their eight children. She too composed music of great quality, but as the female in the relationship it seems that Robert's work would alway be given priority and prominence. The story is compelling, the issue pertinent, but there is a danger that the format of the installation is too pleasant, perhaps it soothes rather than challenges.

The curators have paired Birnbbaum's newest work with some of her oldest – the exhibition includes several of her first films and installations. Six Movements (1975) consists of six films shown simultaneously in a small room, in two rows facing each other. Here there is no possibility of calm and pleasant contemplation. Each film deliberately frustrates through a variety of strategies, and a viewer cannot watch any film without the sight of at least one other in the peripheral vision, and the sound of all six at all times. The sounds that dominate and therefore draw the attention initially come from Addendum: Autism. A young Birnbaum rocks on her haunches, staring out of the screen, straight-faced, intense, panting, disturbing. The two other screens in the same row are shot in the same grainy black and white video footage and show Birnbaum manipulating a chair, scraping it along the floor, adjusting it, sprawling on it. These two films are Chaired Anxieties: Slewed and Chaired Anxieties: Abandoned. A play on the phrase 'shared anxieties', these films are tense to watch and do indeed have a feeling of anxiety which one will share with the artist. The other three films in this room also contain performances of one kind or another as Birnbaum creates tricks through repetition, mirrors and projections creating sequences that further explore the possibilities of performer / camera / viewer.

These films reveal a link to the generation of artists just preceding Birnbaum, the conceptual, performance and body artists of the mid to late sixties, and in another of her works on display here, Attack Piece (1975) it is possible to spot Dan Graham who is one of several artists in the installation's film. This is one of the earliest examples of Birnbaum's work with moving image, and again contains her central themes of gender and media. She is the only female in the film (the installation consists of two projections, a film and still photographs). She sits in a static position while circled by the male artists who take turns filming her in such a way that making an image becomes a form of aggression.

Birnbaum has consistently found ways to investigate the moving image and problemetise it over her long and undersung career. Her body of work more than bears revisiting as we move into a situation where the image, and particularly the simulation possible in the moving image, becomes ever more inescapable. It is encouraging that she has begun to turn her attention to the phenomena of the internet and the new psychological spaces it is creating. The pianists in Arabesque repeat Schumann's composition, and attain some kind of affirmation by uploading their performances to the internet, but each achievement in perhaps lessened and nullified by the presence of the others. Is each performance of Schumann's Arabesque a missed opportunity in which one of Clara Schumann's compositions could have been played, redressing the balance between them? It is not obvious where Birnbaum is going with her new investigations, one can only hope she continues with as much curiosity and originality and continues to 'talk back to the media' for the rest of her already long career. Arabesque has a scale and depth that makes it imperative to visit, but it is the formative films that really give this exhibition its depth. The exhibiton also includes Everything's gonna be... (1976) and Liberty: A Dozen or So Views (1976). Perhaps this exhibition could bring one of our other galleries to consider a much needed full retrospective of this influential and highly relevant artist.

Dara Birnbaum, 09/12/2011 - 12/02/2012, South London Gallery, Peckham Road, London. www.southlondongallery.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Dara Birnbaum
Arabesque, 2011
Four channel video installation, four stero audio, 6' 30"
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York - Paris
Photo: John Berens

Thursday 15 December 2011

Paloma Varga Weisz | Spirits of my Flesh | Chapter Gallery | Cardiff

Text by Luke Healey

Taking its place in Chapter’s 2011 roll call directly after Resident (30/10/11 – 06/11/11), WITH Collective’s über-conceptual Autumn show, Paloma Varga Weisz’s solo outing at the Cardiff gallery is a difficult one to approach. The former exhibition had seen the café extended into the gallery space, but with the latter the habitual reverent hush has returned. Now, nine ceramic objects and one somewhat anomalous watercolour sit (or perch) in vast pools of white space, each one looking heavy, mute and sullen. In a text accompanying the artist’s 2007 show at Vienna’s Kunsthalle, Angela Stief wrote of Varga Weisz’s work, that “it requires the classical, pre-modern conditions of observation and feeling, of contemplation of the opening up of the works of art and an atmosphere of stillness”. Her advice is appropriate, and there seem to be few alternatives in confronting this artist’s output. But what are we to expect from opening ourselves up in this way?

A great deal of affect, for sure. The surfaces of Varga Weisz’s ceramics seem to smoulder with angst. This is as much an observation of the artist’s rough approach to moulding and glazing her clay as it is a figurative assessment: with the exception of Volcano (2011), Varga Weisz’s subjects are all human, and the haunting effect of such an evocation of roughshod, damaged flesh cannot be easily ignored. A degree of cathexis may well have intruded here – while attempting to find a way into these sculptures I was simultaneously negotiating an agonising toothache. But the effect of Varga Weisz’s work seems equally dependent upon canonical iconographies of suffering: Kneeling (2011) carries the melancholy charge of monumental dedications to the war-widowed, a trope which itself casts its memory back to medieval depictions of the bereaved Virgin Mary. The palimpsest of history and its representations seems to speak through the soot-black glaze that covers this figure’s face, from which her eyes, nose and mouth are eerily picked out in white.

It is significant that this figure is positioned in such a way that we are forced to look down on it. Throughout this show, the craning of the viewer’s neck is repeatedly milked for emotive effect. The contemporary comes flooding in to Varga Weisz’s otherwise stolidly traditional practice with this gambit, for it implies an engagement with works as conceived from the vantage point of a curator. What looks at first glance like a series of passive, autonomous, craft objects opens out onto a more experiential plane: hung high up on the back wall of the main space, the platinum-coated Father, Young (2011) reads like a frustrated, childish interpretation of parental megalomania; while the air around Mother (2011) crackles with a charge of profound alienation, the sort that can only be experienced while looking down upon the person that gave one life as she lies, prostrate, vulnerable, and surrounded by childish wallpaper patterns. Walking round Spirits of my Flesh is like being sucked into the artist’s own psycho-biographical vortex, and it is to Varga Weisz’s credit that she has worked this degree of affect from a subtle tweaking of the white cube’s normative display model.

It is also to the artist’s credit that this psycho-biographical vortex never becomes banal, a common pitfall after more than a century of psychoanalysis. Even with knowledge of Freud’s theorisation of the Elektra Complex and its attendant anxieties in mind, the disembodied-head-in-a-pail that is simply titled Father (2010) is still a powerfully strange object to confront. This may or may not have everything to do with a suggestion that, once again, the traditionalist Varga Weisz is subtly opening the floodgates to contemporary discourses: looking down into this work lucidly evokes the famous scene from the 1995 thriller Seven, directed by David Fincher, in which a box revealed through reactions and dialogue to contain a severed head triggers the film’s denouement.

If there seems to be an imperative in this review to glean aspects from Spirits of my Flesh that situate Varga Weisz’s work within identifiably contemporary concerns, then that should point to what is so prickly about viewing the works on show here. It is easy, and somewhat entertaining, to pull apart Varga Weisz’s traditionally executed works for their art-historical associations – here a Fontana or a Giacometti; there a Rodin and a Grünewald. This somewhat melancholy exercise in referential relativism – one inevitably turns here to the artist’s compatriot, Gerhard Richter – is what might seem to be the determining factor in Varga Weisz’s formal preoccupations, but only at first glance. Neither can her historical reiterations be tied down to the mere spectacular appeal of anachronism. Rather, the historically rich but contemporarily devalued materials from which the artist creates her sculptures suggest an exercise in trans-generational contact that is entirely in tandem with her choice in subject matter.

This affective dialogue with previous – but not lost – generations seems emblematic of a movement within the art world as a whole, into which might also fit Dominik Lang’s installation for the Czech and Slovak Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, where the artist displayed sculptures realised by his father in Eastern Europe’s heyday of Modernism; and Becky Beasley’s 2009 work Brocken, a hinged wooden sculpture whose dimensions are based upon the arm span of her own father. These artists may in fact be illustrating a prediction made by Benjamin Buchloh in 1998, that an era in which all forms of material practice have been more or less equally devalued might prompt among artists, “a more conciliatory approach to the continuing viability of the genres”, and “more moderate claims concerning the social consequences of artistic strategies at large”. It is the jarring tension between the hospitability of Varga Weisz’s works to both the recent and the distant past, and the disorienting personal affect that pours out of it, that makes spending time with this artist such a vital proposition.

Paloma Varga Weisz: Spirits of my Flesh, 25/11/2011 - 04/01/2012, Chapter Gallery, Cardiff, Market Road, Cardiff. www.chapter.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Paloma Varga Weisz, Installation at Chapter
Paloma Varga Weisz, Mother, 2011. Glazed ceramic and installation
Paloma Varga Weisz, Mother, 2011. Glazed ceramic and installation
All images taken by Phil Babot and courtesy of Chapter.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

A Peep Through The Looking Glass | Alice in Wonderland | Tate Liverpool

Text by Liz Buckley

Since their original publication in 1865, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have had an unprecedented influence on the visual arts. Charles Dodgson, working under the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, created a kind of dream world that can be appreciated by both children and adults alike. Exploring themes of the uncanny, unexpected, irrational, absurd and fantastical, the story of Alice is one that we all know and love. Tate Liverpool’s current show, Alice in Wonderland, offers visitors everything from original manuscripts, sketches, photographs and memorabilia, to both traditional and contemporary painting, sculpture, and video responses to the Alice adventures. The pieces on show in this exhibit explore various ideas such as the temporary nature of time, the precariousness of childhood, the impact of the written word upon visual culture and issues of identity. As a collective, these works highlight the more sophisticated themes which, even as children’s books, the Alice stories still present.

This exhibition displays an exciting range of media which explore themes that have arisen from the Alice stories. Jason Rhoades’ playful neon lights which hang from the ceiling are colourful and stimulating, and portray how the written word still influences contemporary art. Whimsical pieces such as Mel Bochner's, Measurement: Eye-level Perimeter (Ask Alice)(1969/2011) takes the form of a black line marking 9 feet around the top of the exhibition’s first room, signifying the exact height which Alice grows to after consuming the contents of the ‘Drink Me’ bottle at the beginning of the book, which shows that the Alice stories are continuing to inspire fun and thought-provoking artwork, which can make all ages reminiscent of fairytales they have once enjoyed.

As many know, the tales of Alice were of course inspired by a real little girl named Alice Liddell, the daughter of one of Carroll’s good friends. In this exhibit visitors are treated to a whole host of photographs by both Carroll and other artists, of Alice and her sisters, ranging from when they were little girls up until their late teens. Carroll felt that childhood was so precious and short that he tried to preserve it using photography and story writing. As well as photographs of the real Alice, this exhibition also showcases many original manuscripts and sketches from the Alice adventures, as well as some of Lewis Carroll’s diaries and famous drawings by Sir John Tenniel.

In 1907, the copyright for the Alice stories ran out, allowing the public sphere to positively run wild with it. Innumerable other illustrated editions of the story were published and in a wide variety of languages, many of which are on show in this exhibit. Alongside these are fascinating cabinets of curiosities, containing early Alice memorabilia such as painted wooden figures, card games, lantern slides and crockery. This extensive and impressive collection shows visitors just a snapshot of how Alice became a worldwide phenomenon.

Many well known Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Roland Penrose were inspired by the Wonderland adventures. Surrealism took great influence from Carroll’s Alice books, and the British Surrealist Group of 1936 were even dubbed the 'Children of Alice'. With the use of such vivid and odd imagery one can see clearly how Surrealism and Carroll’s dream world tie together. A particular highlight of this exhibition is Dali’s 12 illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. His famous melting clocks and ‘crutches of reality’ can of course be seen within the drawings, relating perfectly to the relativity of time and space in Wonderland.

Even by the 1960s, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were still having an impact on visual culture. Part of this exhibition is dedicated to the way Carroll’s stories influenced the more psychedelic art of the era, bringing to light the ‘alternative experiences’ that came with drug culture, as well as questions of identity, and our perceptions of immediate reality. Here one can see the work of John Wesley, Paul Laffoley and Peter Blake amongst others.

There are additionally many video installations to be found relating to the Alice adventures, ranging from original silent film clips by Cecil Hepworth, Magritte and even Walt Disney, to contemporary video responses from Diana Thater, Gary Hill, and Douglas Gordon to name a few. These explore themes such as time, mirrors, double perceptions, space and more, putting a modern twist on the connotations of Wonderland.

It is clear from the sheer amount of paintings, illustrations, photographs, sculptures, installations, videos, and memorabilia in this exhibition that Alice has had a significant impact on visual culture from the word go. Alice’s whimsical adventures with talking cats, mad hatters and stones that turn into cakes have certainly made children and adults alike a little less sceptical of falling down the rabbit hole. As a story that can be enjoyed by all ages, Carroll has created an alternative reality to which, even well over a century later, one still enjoys escaping to, and the Tate Liverpool has celebrated it perfectly.

Alice in Wonderland, 04/11/2011 - 29/01/2012, Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock Liverpool. www.tate.org.uk/liverpool.

Aesthetica's December/January issue includes an interview with the curator of the exhibition, Christoph Benjamin Schulz. Pick up a copy in one of our stockists or order one here.

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

1. Jason Rhoades Tate Touche from My Madinah: in pursuit of my ermitage (2004). Courtesy The Estate of Jason Rhoades
2. Torsten Lauschmann Digital Clock (Growing Zeros) (2010). Copyright Torsten Lauschmann. Courtesy of Mary Mary Glasgow
3. Anna Gaskell Untitled #5 (Wonder) (1996). Courtesy of Yvon Lambert Gallery

Things Which Come Together & Then Fall Apart | Martin Boyce Wins The Turner Prize 2011

Text by Colin Herd

When Mario Testino announced Glasgow-based Martin Boyce as the winner of this year’s Turner Prize at the Baltic last Monday night, he accepted the award with modesty to the point of bashfulness: “Uh, well,” he said, “I didn’t expect that”, before going on to dedicate his prize to the importance of teachers and education. His reaction reflects a quiet generosity (as well as a sense of modest unexpected surprise) that is ever present in his art practice, which Tate-director Nicholas Serota has praised for the way it explores “things which come together and then fall apart”.

Boyce won the prize for an installation that was originally exhibited this year at the Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, and which built on the work that he showed at the Scottish pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Do Words Have Voices (2011), the sculptural installation at the centre of the room, is a hauntingly thoughtful piece that evokes an urban, autumnal and distinctly Modernist atmosphere. A ceiling-based sculpture of angular white aluminium fans suggesting a shady canopy that, combined with the concrete structural pillars in the space, creates a sense of a concrete tree looming and sheltering above. The room is remarkably peaceful and quiet, the light refracted to a dapple by the aluminium leaves above. Boyce’s sculpture references a design for a Modernist garden from 1925, including four cubist concrete trees, by the French sculptors and designers Jan and Joël Martel, made for the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris . On the floor, scattered around the room, are delicate papery geometric forms the colour of toast, like autumn leaves.

The different sculptural elements in Boyce’s installation exist in curious counterpoint and balance to one another. The attention is drawn as much to the atmosphere created, the spaces between the works and the conversation between different elements as the individual pieces themselves. You find yourself threading carefully past his paper leaves for anxiety they could sweep up in your wake. Perforated and Porous (Northern Leaves) (2011) is a red metal sculpture, slanted like a parallelogram with a lattice pattern. Inside the sculpture is a grey soiled rag of a jumper, as if a ‘hollowman’ has got his head stuck at the base. This piece has prompted the usual criticism from Turner-phobes, who have christened it the ‘wonky bin’, but it is in fact a decidedly subtle and evocative work. It manages to appear both mangled, like something you’d just stumble across in an abandoned play- park, and fresh-off-a-Modernist-designer’s-pen, like something from Charles and Ray Eames, or Danish master furniture-designer and architect Arne Jacobsen. The forms in the lattice of the bin also evoke the angular lexical shapes in the Martel twins’ concrete trees, a motif that is also picked up in one of the most easy-to-overlook aspects of Boyce’s subtle installation, the grilles he’s designed for the air vents in his gallery of the Baltic’s third floor. Elegant and simple, these geometric white panels wouldn’t look out of place in the lounge of an art-deco hotel or ocean liner, but they also have the strange edgy geometric quality generated from Boyce’s recasting of the Martels’ trees.

Boyce has been creating work from these concrete trees since he first encountered a photograph of them in Berlin in 2005, where he shared a studio with Simon Starling, another Glasgow School of Art graduate to have won the Turner prize. On seeing the photograph in a book, Boyce began making series of patterned drawings based on their shapes. Gradually, these drawings developed into lexical forms and he began developing typographic pieces using the slanty geometric lettering devised from the drawings. A piece called No Brilliantly Coloured Birds created for his No Reflections show at Venice 2009 features the phrase from the title text on a wooden bird box. The letters have the appearance of tumbling to the ground, some upside down, some on their sides etc, and they require considerable effort in deciphering what’s a “t” and what’s a “y”. In the Turner Prize exhibition, this typographical work has developed into a large concrete wall panel created from the process of ‘shuttered concrete’, i.e. concrete that is set in a frame of wood so that it retains the grain when the frame is removed. It gives the pane the disquieting appearance of wall-mounted concrete floor-boards. The same Martel-inspired tumbling script spells out “petrified songs”, possibly in reference to the birds from the earlier piece.

One of the most compelling aspects of his Turner Prize exhibition is the way the environment Boyce has created feels both “inside” and “outside” at once. Both like a landscape and an interior scene. Boyce has long shown an interest in architectural space, particularly with reference to twentieth century Modernist architecture and design. His 2002 exhibition For 1959 Capital Avenue in the foyer of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, constructed an interior space of a fictional address in the USA, drawing on and subtly altering designs by architect R.M. Schindler and Mies Van Der Rohe. The date in the house number connects Boyce’s project to the way that the cultural significance of these pieces of furniture alters over time; what once were relatively affordable and readily available become treasures of private collectors, as suggested by the exhibition’s loaded street-name. Constructed as it was in a foyer, (which itself seems a critique on the capital attributed to modern art, its transition from the up-market apartment-block foyer to the museum floor) the exhibition seemed on the cusp of being outside and inside, an effect compounded by the utopian quotation from Mies van der Rohe that Boyce had printed around the walls of the space: “punching through the clouds”.

Boyce’s work manages to capture some of this utopian vision and filter it (through an intricate critique) into a peaceful and compelling architectural environment, the spaces between the sculptural objects in his installation seeming as if they’re pulling away from each other in perfect tension. Ilfracombe-based painter George Shaw may have been the popular choice for this year’s Turner Prize with his highly detailed enamel landscapes of the Coventry estate where he grew up, but to my mind, Boyce’s exploration of our engagement with architectural space is far subtler, and more magical.

The Turner Prize 2011, Baltic, Gateshead, 21/10/2011 - 15/01/2012


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We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Martin Boyce
Turner Prize 2011 Installation view
BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011
© BALTIC & the artist
Photo: Colin Davison

Tuesday 13 December 2011

40:40 - Forty Objects For Forty Years | Craft Council Online Exhibition Launches Today

The Craft Council celebrates 40 years of the Crafts Council Collection with a major online exhibition 40:40 - forty objects for forty years that launches today. It's an innovative concept, with forty objects from the Collection, selected by makers, writers and curators, presented with a personal response from their selector alongside a range of archive material including exhibition catalogue texts, films, audio clips, sketches, press articles, loan correspondence and installation instructions. Essentially, by installing the exhibition online, the viewer is encourages to do all those things you promote yourself you're going to do after you've seen a gallery exhibition - read a bit more about the artist, their work, what people are saying about them, and critical responses to the work.

There are pieces by some of the most important makers of contemporary craft from the last 40 years, including Fred Baier's Star Wars Chair (1978), a small yellow bowl by legendary potter Lucie Rie (1983), pioneering jewellery by David Watkins (1983), Caroline Broadhead's Wobbly Dress (1990), Grayson Perry's anarchic Mad Kid's Bedroom Wall Pot (1996), Toord Boontje's Wednesday Light (2001) and Arcady (2007) by Edmund de Waal.

Our favourites are listed below, but given that it's only a click away, we recommend you take a look for yourself.

Laura Potter Cliché (1997):
Cliché is a bottle of tiny silver sheep to be taken out and counted at bedtime. Exquisite.

El Ultimo Grito (Rosario Hurtado & Roberto Feo) Miss Ramirez Chair (2006):
The Miss Ramirez Chair is named after the Spanish-speaking bar owner in the 1952 Western High Noon. Husband and wife partnership, El Ultimo Grito's work questions our relationships with objects and culture, exploring them across disciplines in projects ranging from interiors to graphics. Playful and humorous.

Grayson Perry Mad Kid's Bedroom Wall Pot (1996):
Grayson Perry was never motivated by a desire to work in clay as such, but chose pottery because studio ceramics was in thrall to a formal idea. Perry challenges the idea, implicit in the craft tradition, that pottery is merely decorative or utilitarian and cannot express ideas. Deeply psychological.

Maria Militsi Ballet To Remember (2009):
Ballet to Remember is a collection of 11 pieces choreographed by Felicity and Edna Dean's book published in 1944 demonstrating a variety of ballet poses. Militsi's series reassesses the object's function by filling their empty space with precious metals.

Michael Eden Wedgwoodn't Tureen (2010):
Playfully entitled Wedgwoodn't Tureen, this reinterpretation of a classic Josiah Wedgwood pottery is a strong example of the successful fusion of traditional craft skills with digital technology in the Crafts Council Collection. Designed using a rapid manufacturing machine, which prints in three dimensions from a digital file, the sheer beauty of this piece belies its wit and historical resonance. Truly striking.

40:40 - Forty Objects For Forty Years, www.4040.org.uk & www.craftscouncil.org.uk

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1. Laura Potter Cliché (1997). Image courtesy of Nick Moss.
2. El Ultimo Grito (Rosario Hurtado & Roberto Feo) Miss Ramirez Chair (2006). Image courtesy of Heini Schneebeli
3. Grayson Perry Mad Kid's Bedroom Wall Pot (1996. Image courtesy of Nick Moss.
4. Maria Militsi Ballet To Remember (2009). Image courtesy of Nick Moss.
5. Michael Eden Wedgwoodn't Tureen (2010.Image courtesy of Nick Moss.

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