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Friday 25 February 2011

Paul Emsley's beautifully observed works will be on show at The Redfern Gallery until 21 April 2011. The exhibition is a brilliant display of how the traditional medium of drawing remains prevalent in a period where modern media such as film and installation have become increasingly instrumental in contemporary art.

Emsley restricts his drawing to black and white, focusing on different densities of surface in the subjects that interest him. The half-light in which he draws his subjects (ranging from people to animals to flowers) creates a sense of possibility and of foreboding. Looking at a piece such as Nelson Mandela (2010) there is something to be said about what is visible, but also the invisible. For Andrew Lambirth this reminds him of Odilon Redon's phrase: "the logic of the visible in the service of the invisible".

Emsley was based in South Africa before moving to England in 1996. Career highlights include winning the 2007 BP Portrait Award and a commission of V.S. Naipaul for the National Portrait Gallery. Emsley’s most famous sitter to date has been Nelson Mandela; it is an authentic and dignified portrayal, a memorable and deeply moving image. Emsley used to draw from life- but now makes good use of photography. Significantly, the source photographs are taken in colour even though the drawings are made in black and white. This is to provide extra distance between the source and the art work, allowing more space for interpretation rather than transcription. Emsley’s aim is to escape from an academic approach: intending to make his images both simpler and more abstract. The predilection for working in black and white also allows the audience to contribute, giving freer rein to the viewer’s own imagination.

Speaking about his work, Emsley has commented that: “In my drawings I try to emphasise the singularity and silence of the form. By a careful balancing of tones I emphasise the way in which light and shade fall across the subject. By creating a settled half-light I try to transform the existence of the object from the ordinary to something more profound.”

In this present age, when obscurity is too often mistaken for profundity, Paul Emsley’s clarity and certainty of purpose offer a refreshing alternative approach to the eternal verities.

The Light of Meaning opens 1 March and continues until 21 April 2011. For more information please visit www.redfern-gallery.com

Indian Rhinoceros 2011
Black chalk and pencil drawing
111 x 191.8 cm
Paul Emsley and The Redfern Gallery, London
With thanks to Andrew Lambirth for catalogue text.

Cosima von Bonin's Surrealist Playground @ Arnolfini

Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

Cosima von Bonin’s exhibition Bone Idle is permeated by contradiction. Her work, aiming to explore notions of sloth and fatigue, comprises a surprisingly energetic – at times almost manic – conglomeration of mediums. Through the use of materials as diverse as giant stuffed toys and larger-than-life streetlamps, von Bonin undercuts visitors’ expectations and invites them to reconsider pre-established ideas on how art sets about achieving its objective.

Stepping into the ground floor gallery is akin to stepping into another world – a feeling enhanced by the oversized wooden fence running along the wall. Von Bonin approaches the notion of sloth through repeated references to childhood and its accompanying immaturity, by showcasing works characterised by playfulness and an apparent lack of dedication. In the galleries of Arnolfini she has created a surreal playground: cages hang from the ceiling with the invitation to climb up and peer inside them; beach watchtowers are manned by enormous teddy bears, slumped lazily back listening to music (you are invited to listen to it yourself); a walk-in cage in the middle of the room coaxes you to step inside and examine more artworks. Overseeing this hub of childish activity are two enormous streetlamps with neon cigarettes attached to them. Leaning against a lamppost, smoking: the trademark of lazy daydreaming. Fatigue and laziness are gestured towards, but immediately cancelled out by the vibrancy of the works and the active participation they invite.

A recurring feature of the exhibition, conforming to generally accepted notions of sloth, is the unfinished artwork. The perception of artists as idle is a historic one, and the apparent failure to complete a work of art would reinforce that perception. Von Bonin’s work challenges both those notions: the prolific nature of the exhibition (possibly one of the busiest exhibitions the Arnolfini has hosted over the past few months) teasingly cancels out its own title; in addition to which, the ostensibly unfinished artworks function in and of themselves as insightful and moving artistic statements.

On the ground floor, Le Petit Café (The Bristol Cardboard Version) consists of disparate details that would make up the outside of a cafe: the cafe’s name, post box, vent and fuse box, and an empty menu board all come together to form an outline of an establishment. Pointedly, we are confronted with what should have been the final touches: the painful absence of the space itself asks us to consider the long and arduous struggle between conceiving an idea and bringing it to life. In the second floor, That Not Immediately Apparent Is, It is a Lamentation presents us with a series of padded hands – the material that should line the padding is missing. As it stands, the effect is one of disembodied hand gestures, the movements of a maestro conducting an invisible, inaudible orchestra. The use of synecdoche is a poignant feature in von Bonin’s work, serving to express and negotiate the tension between presence and absence, intent and (lack of) result.

There are more artworks that purposefully miss their mark. In Gallery 2, Rorschachtest #5 (Toto Version/Pink) is a playful take on the famous tool of psychological interpretation. Although most Rorschach cards are blots of black ink on a white background, von Bonin’s version is pink and padded, and clearly useless as an instrument of assessing psychological features. The implication that art is somehow unable to reach the furthest recesses of the human psyche is itself undercut: the artwork argues that science, in its turn, is also incapable of serving as an adequate and final measure of human behaviour. In Gallery 5, CVB’s Soft Fences (#1-8) crowd the room in a woeful failure of achieving their purpose as fences: soft and colourful, they would spectacularly fail to keep anything out (or in). Moreover, rather than encasing the space they fill it, huddled together as if for safety. The fences, like several works in Bone Idle, hark back to the chasm separating intent and achievement in a light-hearted but poignant way.

Cosima von Bonin's Bone Idle for Arnolfini's sloth section, Loop # 02 of The Lazy Susan Series continues until 25 April 2011. For more information and opening hours please visit www.arnolfini.org.uk

Image: Courtesy the artist, Galerie Daniel Buchholz (Cologne) and Friedrich Petzel (New York) Installtion photo Witte de With 2009: Bob Goedewaagen

To Kill A Mockingbird - Review of the play, touring the UK

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) is one of the most widely discussed novels; dealing with racial inequality, violence and rape, it summarises a bleak time in American history. Countless essays and book reports have been written about this text, Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of the story into an Oscar winning film in 1962, and the fact that the play opened in York on 15 February and tours the UK until May, is a testament to this story’s enduring presence.

Assuming that many of you have read the book, and are familiar with the story, this adaptation sees the introduction of an older version of Jean Louise (also known as Scout) to tell the narrative. The juxtaposition of the older and younger Jean Louise creates a fluid timeline that transports the audience seamlessly back and forth between the present and the past. Director, Damian Cruden decided on this version because he felt it “accurately reflects the book, and without her voice [older Jean Louise] we lose some of the observation, and consequently, relevance that the older woman brings to the story.”

The most poignant scene is undoubtedly the courtroom scene, with Atticus defending the accused Tom Robinson. His conviction and passion for justice is compelling, and Duncan Preston’s performance excels. Throughout the play, Grace Rowe (younger Jean Louise) does a wonderful job capturing childhood innocence, which adds to the overriding message of the play and it’s notions of lost innocence.

The performance used film as a tool to explore nostalgia and perception and video was projected behind the actors, working particularly well to instigate memory. The set was constructed using unpainted wood and the colours and coarse nature of the structure are effective in evoking the dry and arid landscape of Alabama, where the story is set.

As a whole, the play was engaging, resulting in a fantastic adaptation of the book. To Kill A Mockingbird closes on Saturday 26 February at York Theatre Royal, but continues in 11 more venues across the country.

28 February – Southampton Mayflower Theatre
7 March – Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
15 March – Theatre Royal Nottingham
21 March - Bromley Churchill Theatre
28 March – Bradford Alhambra Theatre
4 April – New Victoria Theatre Woking
18 April – Theatre Royal Bath
25 April – Blackpool Grand Theatre
2 May – Richmond Theatre
9 May – Plymouth Theatre Royal
16 May – Wolverhampton Grand

Image: Scout (Grace Rowe). Photo Karl Andre Photography

Thursday 24 February 2011

PUBLICSFEAR @ South London Gallery

Review by Paul Hardman

Walking first up stairs into the dark, then along a black felt lined corridor, around a corner and finally into an almost entirely lightless circular room, a feeling occurs of retreating into ones own mind, into the roof of consciousness. This experience is further enhanced by ambient sounds, a long harmonic drone that becomes ever louder, until entering the chamber where the acoustic effect blocks out all background noise and comes from all sides creating complete immersion. The amplifier providing this music is the only thing visible. It glows benignly in front of cushioned seats providing a shrine like focus in a meditative space.

After the initial trepidation of walking into the darkness of Silent Sound (2006)the opportunity to sit in its core and listen to the score by J. Spaceman of Spititualized and Spacemen 3 is an undeniably pleasant experience. However Silent Sound is not intended to be so simple. Pollard and Forsyth would have us believe that the music in Silent Sound (2006) contains a subliminal message, one that is intended to create a powerful and moving experience. This small seed of doubt sown by the artists adds complexity to the installation, and the question of manipulation cannot be separated from any sensation of the sublime. If the experience of listening to the music is moving, is it because of the pleasure of the rich sounds in the excellent acoustic space, or is it due to the subliminal message hidden by the artists? The authenticity of music appreciation has been deliberately complicated.

Pollard and Forsyth examine the notion of authenticity throughout PUBLICSFEAR, addressing the subject through a variety of strategies. In File Under Sacred Music (2003) the artists have meticulously recreated a cult video of a performance by The Cramps at the Napa State Mental Institute in 1978. This is projected at a large scale onto the wall in such a way that the various performers and members of the audience, mingling amongst each other, are displayed lifesize. The effect is of an invitation to feel as though you are there, taking part in the 'real' moment, despite the fact that the grainy handheld footage remains, however authentically copied, a further step away from the original moment.

Re-enactment is tackled from another direction with Kiss My Nauman (2007). Pollard and Forsyth's work focuses on popular culture, especially music which is significant throughout the exhibition, but here another trait of their work comes into play – direct references to canonical pieces of art, in this case, Bruce Nauman's Art Make-Up (1967). In Nauman's film he gradually paints his whole upper body and head in white make-up then repeats the process in pink, green and then black. In this revision, four monitors each display the face of a member of a Kiss cover act as they prepare their make-up for a show. Each one draws out the patterns on their face, then fills in the black and white areas and applies their lipstick, slowly becoming Kiss. Except of course they aren't becoming Kiss, but as a cover act they are becoming a copy of Kiss, but then, aren't the real Kiss also actors of a sort, they do not portray their own authentic selves on stage, but stylised and exaggerated characters. Again the artists construct a work musing on layers of authenticity and of its various implied forms. Here however, the authenticity of their work seems to be challenged, although this irony may be set up knowingly. Through making a piece that follows so closely to a seminal artwork, Forsyth and Pollard become a cover act, re-enacting the hits of past greats, it could be said that they are 'covering' Nauman.

The canon of conceptual art provides source material for another film in PUBLICSFEAR: Performer, Audience, F*** Off (2009), is based on the format of Dan Graham's Performer/Audience/Mirror(1975). The original performance consisted of Graham standing in-between a seated audience and a mirror while describing first his own appearance, his behaviour and his feelings, then members of the audience's appearance, mannerisms and behaviour. He then turned to the mirror to describe himself from observation, then finally returned to describing members of the audience again. Forsyth and Pollard have recreated this performance replacing the role of the artist with a well known stand-up comedian Iain Lee.

The result is hilarity for some of the time, but this is peppered with uncomfortable moments as either Lee either takes his self-conscious examinations further than would be normal in a stand-up act, or examines individuals to a degree that pushes at the edges of acceptability. The tension in the audience is tangible as they wait for each awkward moment to pass. Although this is not a conventional stand-up act, it is notable that the strategies of self-depreciating description, embarrassment, and isolating and even bullying members of an audience are all familiar. It is as though the integrity of the original performance by Graham is challenged by revealing its comic potential, while at the same time Performer, Audience, F*** Off works as a tribute. The format has a power to create a tense situation through only stating what can be observed, and this is clearly shown in this revision.

Other films shown in this exhibition continue the artists' preoccupation with examining music, in Anyone Else Isn't You (2003), 14 people each describe some experiences with music directly to the camera in an intimate fashion, linking particular songs to important memories or people. Placed in the same exhibition as the more complex pieces, these very straightforward interviews form quite a contrast and do not sit comfortably with the ambiguity of the rest of the work. But then, Pollard and Forsyth are investigating the relationship between music and fan, between contemporary artist and influences, between the iconic and the false, through a broad variety of means. The works in PUBLICSFEAR, as the mirrored letters that spell out its title on the wall of the gallery, function as mirrors themselves, any questions are reflected back towards the visitor.

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard PUBLICSFEAR continues until 18 March 2011 at South London Gallery. Please visit www.southlondongallery.org for more information.

Image Credit:
Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Kiss My Nauman (No. 1 The Starchild), 2007

Wednesday 23 February 2011

The Flirtatious Aura of Jean-Marc Bustamante @ Fruitmarket

Review by Colin Herd

Jean-Marc Bustamante, who represented France at the Venice Biennale in 2003, began his career as an assistant to the renowned fashion photographer, filmmaker and artist William Klein. You’d never guess it, though, from a visit to this career-spanning show at the Fruitmarket Gallery. Walking around the still, monumental, people-less works that make up Dead Calm, the connection feels surprising and counterintuitive. Klein’s career has been devoted to photographing and filming myriad people in his vivid New York and Paris crowd scenes, motion-blurred street photography and boisterous satirical fashion films. The representation of people is at the core of Klein’s art; his work teems and throngs with faces and bodies, often caught in some kind of action or movement. In stark contrast, the work of Jean-Marc Bustamante tends towards unpopulated, unremarkable spaces: large-scale photographs of what you might call anti-landscapes, and abstract sculptures made from industrial materials. Rather than the crowds of major cultural centres, it’s the neglected spaces and unnoticed details that Bustamante subtly interrogates, and in the impersonal materials and processes he makes use of that his work achieves a quiet, cool magic.

The exhibition begins with a number of photographs from the series with which Bustamante made his name: Tableaux. Shot in dusty, unglamorous, empty landscapes, they often feature construction-works and man-made pits. The viewer’s attention is drawn to the spaces in between and underneath half-completed brickwork and dug-out swimming pools. They are insouciantly mundane, but there’s also a stifling emptiness and stillness, evoking a kind of burial ground. The photographs have an extreme lack of specificity- no clue is given as to the photographs’ location- and this is part of their charge and interest. They have an almost flirtatious aura about them, a dynamic of equal parts putting forth and holding back. There’s also something architectural about these large photographs, and even something sculptural as the eye has to confront and navigate the dimension, shape, and space of their construction and material.

These early photographs are being shown alongside more recent sculptural works. Bac à sable 1 (1990) is a large concrete sand-pit that sits solid and monumental in the middle of the room. A wooden ridge runs around the edge of the pit, framing it like a picture. There is even something in the grainy texture of the tightly-packed sand that suggests the ‘noise’ in a blurred photograph. Again, of course, the pit suggests a grave of sorts, but this time its dimensions are roughly that of a double bed, so there’s that resonance too, the ripples of the sand suddenly inviting, like a ruffled duvet. This domestic suggestion echoes and extends in Interieur (1988), a sculpture in the adjacent room. Looking part like a bed and part like a coffee table, it consists of two wooden tabletops (as the catalogue states, a diptych, of sorts), with a carved hatching design, placed on a steel base.

In the upstairs gallery, Fruitmarket are showing a generous selection of recent paintings and sculpture using plexiglass. With a palette of dazzling, coruscating colours and a crudeness of line and shape that recalls Matisse’s late cut-outs, Bustamante’s ink-works draw on every ounce of the natural slickness and coolness of the plexiglass surface. The real fascination of these pieces lies in the gaps between the ink where the transparent plexiglass shines through, and the shadow of the ink is cast on the wall behind. The images themselves recall landscape-paintings, edging towards chromatic abstraction. There’s an interesting tension between the more expected sensation of looking through the “window” at a landscape, and studying the contours of the ink on the surface of the plexi-. It’s as if you can’t see through the window for the landscape in it. The lines and shapes of the drawing itself tend to be angular, recalling the swipes of an eraser, or a window-cleaning squeegee. A neighbouring large sculptural work, Landscape Table (2008) sees a conglomeration of tree-like pillar candles on a plexi- and steel table with a curvy cut hole in the centre, like a lake. The opening also recalls the foundational excavated spaces of the Tableaux downstairs. As in the sand-pit sculpture downstairs, the viewer experiences this landscape as a kind of horizontal ‘picture’ to be viewed from above. Adding another directional plane to the experience, across the room a piece of plexiglass, shaped like the missing piece from the hole, hangs vertically down from a steel post, like a wet flag on a windless day, or a flowing robe from the hook on a bathroom door. As with some of the earlier abstract sculptures downstairs, there’s even something vaguely human about the shape when viewed vertically.

It’s details and whispers like these that give the show a unity and fluidity between the early and recent work, contextualizing the bold lightness of touch and sense of humour of these most recent pieces within Bustamante’s artistic concerns and obsessions. Dead Calm is an intriguing and beautiful show, proving that old adage accurate: plexi really is sexy.

Dead Calm continues at Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh until 3rd April.

Jean-Marc Bustamante Dead Calm (installation view), 2011
Courtesy the artist, Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery and Timothy Taylor Gallery
Photo: Gautier Deblonde Copyright: The Fruitmarket Gallery

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Carey Young – Memento Park @ Cornerhouse, Manchester

Review by Kenn Taylor

Born in Zambia, Carey Young (b. 1970) grew up and studied in Manchester. She now works internationally utilising a variety of different media and settings. In particular though, her works critique contemporary culture and its prevailing systems. Memento Park is largely a retrospective, however the title comes from a new piece commissioned by the exhibition’s organising partners.

Gallery 2 is dominated by the large photographic prints that make up Body Techniques (2007) featuring Young, as she recreates scenes from a variety of well-known performance works by the likes of Bruce Nauman and VALIE EXPORT. The artist appears as a solitary figure amongst the vast construction sites of ever-expanding Dubai. The impermanence of such works sits uncomfortably with the flimsiness of such contemporary constructions rising rapidly out of the desert. However, whether Young is questioning is the landscape or merely using it as a canvas remains unclear.

Product Recall (2007) meanwhile, is a video of the artist laying on what resembles a psychiatrist’s couch, and as an analyst figure reads out a series of advertising slogans, she attempts to recall which corporation they relate to. The work forces you to consider how much advertising permeates our consciousness, however the effect is dimmed slightly by the fact that Young can’t seem to recall that many. Another interesting piece, Inventory (2007), sees Young collaborating with two scientists to work out the levels of all the elements in her body and subsequently their current market value, giving the artist a “price”. A clear take on the market value of art, artists and the individual

In Gallery 3, several works deal with a world obsessed with legality, contracts and claims. A stand out is Terms and Conditions (2004) where a suited figure reads out a long legal disclaimer to those who wish to enter an idyllic beauty spot behind her, the text apparently culled from a range of corporate websites.

The title piece, Memento Park (2010), a film projected on a wall-sized screen is the most visually striking and subtly engaging work in the exhibition. The piece was shot in Budapest’s eponymous Memento Park, where Soviet-era statues from across Hungary were deposited after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Shot in the intense light of dusk, it is startling to watch this slow, meandering film survey these huge, aggressive monuments to social realism reduced to gathered curiosities in a tatty park on the edge of town. Traffic and birdsong fight to become the soundtrack as Carey shows disembodied sections of the sculptures, a beard here, a fist there, looking as oddly out of context as the statues themselves.

As a whole, Young’s work seems to point towards the political, but her intent remains obscure and ambiguous. Many issues are raised through the different mediums, but frustratingly nothing is really said about any of them. Perhaps that’s the intention, the artist appears to be engaged in a passive resistance with the corporate world, but that passivity leaves many of the works feeling cold and as ambiguous as the actions of the corporations she questions.

The exhibition continues at Cornerhouse in Manchester until 20 March. www.cornerhouse.org

Memento Park, 2010. Carey Young. Commissioned by Eastside Projects, Cornerhouse & MIMA

Monday 21 February 2011

Zhivago Duncan @ CFA Berlin

Review by Jaga N.A. Argentum

In his first solo exhibition, Dick Flash’s Souvenirs of Thought, Zhivago Duncan invites us to accompany him and his protagonist, Dick Flash, on a multi-media journey through a series of large-scale paintings and dioramas, commenting on classical philosophy and contemporary socio-economic issues. This exhibition featuring works such as, Pretentious Crap, is not as serious as it might sound.

Flash, Duncan’s fictional protagonists, is the sole survivor of an environmental catastrophe that has wiped out the rest of mankind. He beings to explore his desolate planet and experiences several stages of discovery on his odyssey through a post-apocalyptic landscape. With the rest of humanity gone and with his memory taking the same route, Duncan, assuming an Übermensch persona re-writes the history and religion of humanity through mechanical constructions that allude to mankind’s previous, albeit temporal, domination over nature and the wild.

On his re-exploration of the globe, Flash transforms artefacts that miraculously survived into memorabilia of a lost mankind. Finding their way onto forgotten railroads and merry-go-rounds, these sculptural assemblages comment on the folly of the idea of art in a frozen, apocalyptic world.

While creating his memorabilia, Flash appears to experience flashbacks which lead to the slow restoration of his memory. Flash, who has begun to consider himself as the supreme deity, reflects on a wasteful live and ponders the words of those he came across in his past. Phrases such as; Men Do What They Want, Boys Do What They Can and I Shit On Civilisation By Wearing Chanel Lipstick form the canvas for the largest painting in this mammoth show.

Dick Flash’s Souvenirs of Thought is a mammoth show that lays bare Berlin-based Duncan’s talents as a multi-media artist. Duncan’s images are as messy and manic as the culture they represent; using a variety of mediums such as wallpaper, pencil and printed material from anatomical study books, Duncan comments on the tragedy inherent in the concept of an apocalyptic end to humanity.

Inspired by street art, celebrity culture, reality TV and pop party-culture, the work on display at CFA draws you in and spits you out, leaving you to call into question whether Flash has actually become the deity of his new world, or whether he has gone insane. While the centrally presented diorama of this show is entitled Pretentious Crap, an obvious comment on the problematic nature of the role of sculpture within the parameters of this narrative, that does not feel like the right classification of his exhibition. Rather a must-see for those who like to ponder the temporality of humanity, the consequences of our over-consumption, and the harsh reality of life in a world where we all vanish and fade.

The exhibition continues until March 12 2011. For more information and opening hours please visit www.cfa-berlin.com

Courtesy of CFA Berlin

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