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Friday 11 March 2011

Experiential Filmmaking: Ed Atkins - Death Mask @ Cabinet Gallery, London

Review by Jareh Das

London artist Ed Atkins films exist in what can only be described as an experiential filmic environment. Atkins often displays; film, text, sound and paintings, allowing the viewer to enter into a dream-like environment for an existential experience. As an installation, Death Mask allows a more theoretical experience of film, as the viewer is able to read, watch and listen simultaneously, a trademark that is perhaps becoming signatory of the artist's recent presentations. For his recent solo presentation at London's Cabinet gallery, Atkins presented Death Mask, a multi dimensional filmic environment consisting of Death Mask I+II, a spiral bound screenplay, A Very Short Introduction to Death Mask I, MDF boards painted in Chroma key Green, Omnichron photocopies and videos of Death Mask II: The Scent and Death Mask III.

Atkins strategically chooses to display his text piece A Very Short Introduction to Death Mask I on MDF boards painted with Chroma key green paint as this for him is both material and immaterial as it is related both to paint and digital. Chroma key compositing (or Chroma keying) is a technique for compositing two images or frames together in which a colour from one image is removed (or made transparent), revealing another image behind it. Atkins decision on referencing Chroma keying allows multiple possibilities; to leave it green gives it the potential to be one or the other, a physical or metaphysical state, (paint vs. digital). It is this experiential exploration of materiality vs. immateriality that allows the viewer experience sound, video and text in a pseudo-cinematic experience. Screenplays exists solely as text (i.e. not to be adapted as film), sound existing as a raw but separate entity to accompanying film. Filmic images are manipulated to disseminate intrinsic textual qualities.

Death Mask as a series has somewhat underlying Ubi sunt themes. An Ubi sunt, is a phrase taken from Latin sometimes thought to indicate nostalgia, a meditation on mortality and life's transience. Atkins is interested in: "that instant, or that transition between life and death, of becoming an image and a representation of a person - being able to look at a body that is devoid of being - seeing this person leave suddenly, to be replaced by just an object". This body of work perhaps loosely reflecting Atkins ongoing obsession with death, decay, meaninglessness of earthly life and mortality due to manifestations of personal experience. There is room for humour, though, as sliced up bits of conversation in The Scent for example, capture laughter and a quietly amusing musical score accompanying a flip out calculator gradually popping open repeatedly.

Atkins is full of surprises. He makes serious (but at times humorous) work laced with references ranging from Derrida to the writings of Maurice Blanchot and American postmodern short stories by Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover. Death Mask needs a lot of after thought and reflection as this amalgamation of multiple referencing allows the audience to engage, step back, inquire and question notions of film intervention.

For more information and upcoming shows please visit www.cabinet.uk.com

Thursday 10 March 2011

Masterworks: Architecture at the Royal Academy

Review by Nathan Breeze

The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 with the aim to promote the ‘Arts of Design’ element in Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

An Institution for the privileged few, an architect who wishes to become a Royal Academician must first be elected by the General Council (all Royal Academicians) and then submit a distinguished piece of work, known as the Diploma Work for approval. The status of ‘Architect-Academician’ is then granted by the current Monarch. Masterworks is an exhibition of the Diploma Works submitted by celebrated architect-academicians from its founding to the present day, demonstrating the vast evolution in architectural representation.

Early Diploma Works of picturesque perspectives in pen and coloured washes remind us how many architects at the time also worked as artists. Under the guidance of Sir William Chambers, The Royal Academy founded the first British Architecture School. Prior to its establishment, architects, like artists trained as apprentices. Withholding traditional values, the school believed that to be an accomplished architect one had to be an accomplished artist.

Discounting changes in architectural styles, the first major shift in representation technique is seen in Diploma Works submitted at the beginning of the 20th century when, Post-Industrial Revolution, architecture began to be more aligned with science. The result was the submission of precise technical drawings on a layout alongside the same charming perspectives. It was at this time that British architects began to build projects abroad. A must see is the stunning pencil and coloured wash perspective by Sir Herbert Baker (RA,1932) of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. The combination of precise, geometric pencil drawing with free strokes of many different colours captures a vibrant new atmosphere.

The following and ever-present change in architectural representation came with the emergence of the computer. Quickly hand drawing began to be replaced by faster, more efficient and accurate CAD programmes allowing for greater integration across the construction industry. Architects can now use sophisticated 3D modelling software to create hyper-realistic visuals of projects within their proposed contexts complete with accurate lighting and materials (as well as smiling people and the odd hot air balloon). Due to this technological shift the Royal Academy has slowly had to relax previously strict rules on the type of work that can be submitted. The first Diploma Work drawing to incorporate computer crafted imagery was submitted in 1993 by the architect, Paul Koralek. Since then architects have submitted physicals models, photographs and computer renderings. When elected to the Royal Academy in 2000, Will Alsop submitted a mix-media collage entitled Fog is an Urban Experience relating to a redevelopment project in Toronto, Canada.

It is fascinating to see the rapid change in the way architects have expressed their designs. However, this exhibition could have been stronger if it has speculated on the future of architectural representation and in particular of hand drawing. As the mouse replaces the pencil and the computer screen the drawing board, hand drawing has fallen into decline both in practice and in architectural schools.

Increasingly in architectural practice drawing by hand is viewed with a level of cynicism. With offices working on tight fixed fee contracts, presenting hand drawings can be both time and money consuming. Furthermore the post-rationalized concept sketch has become clichéd, undermining the complexity of (and the architect's role within) a project and fuelling the growing stereotype within the construction industry of architects as mere stylists. But is this quick decline in hand drawing such a bad thing? Drawings act as the interface between architects and clients, bridging the gap between ideas and material. For me, drawing by hand is most directly linked to the free imagination. Taking the time and care to sketch can lead to the intuitive and inspired solutions that separate architecture from just building.

If architects are to remain as creative professionals they must resist a complete ‘parametricising’ of the design process. An over-reliance on CAD software, particularly at the early stages of a project can lead to generic, unimaginative and standardized designs emerging. Furthermore the inability to sit down with the client and confidently sketch out a proposal could further isolate the Architect as a distant specialist. Seductive and hyper-realistic visuals often present a falsely objective vision of the future proposal and can lead to the finished building being below clients' expectations.

I would like to believe that the future lies in developing designs simultaneously in a variety of mediums. Like the latest computer programmes, hand drawing is a design tool that can be harnessed. The curator points out that recently elected architects such as, Eric Parry and David Chipperfield, still develop their designs through hand drawing but these are architects who have both forged their careers in a time before CAD and SketchUp. It will no doubt be very interesting to see a repeat of the exhibition in twenty years time with the likely prospect of architects elected to the Academy who cannot confidently hand draw.

Masterworks at the Royal Academy continues until 13 March. A fully illustrated book by exhibition curator Dr. Neil Bingham explores the history of each of the architectural masterworks. For more information please visit www.royalacademy.org.uk

Alfred Waterhouse RA (1830–1905), Manchester Town Hall: perspective, 1887. Pencil, pen with black ink and coloured washes, 762 × 1092 mm

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Underwater Art: Wet Sounds @ Bethnal Green

Review by Paul Hardman

The fun of visiting Wet Sounds at York Hall Pool in Bethnal Green actually began long before arriving. Explaining to friends that the event was an 'underwater disco', or an 'underwater concert', was amusing (if deliberately misleading), but then, Wet Sounds does defy easy categorisation.

On its website Wet Sounds is described as "an underwater sound art gallery –a deep listening experience". In fact this doesn't quite describe the event at York Hall as it included performance artists, and the organisers had gone to some lengths to light the pool from inside so that the water itself emitted a diffused light to illuminate the hall, providing a distinct visual element to the evening. Wet Sounds then may focus on sound, but it is foremost an experience. Indeed, as one could barely avoid bumping into people floating around the pool, the effect was more friendly than an art gallery or concert situation, this was a group experience, and in this respect perhaps would have more in common with the idea of an underwater disco than an underwater art gallery.

The general difficulty in trying to work out exactly what was going on at any given time added a playful component to the atmosphere. At times it was possible to spot a scuba diver far below when swimming in the deep end, almost like trying to spot dolphins or fish, when swimming at sea. At one point a woman entered the pool dressed from head to foot in a red suit covered in metallic tassels much like tinsel, but it was unclear if she was a performer or an imaginative visitor, such was the general strangeness of the event.

The highlight of the night promised to be a new piece by Pierre Henry commissioned specifically for the evening, Analogy. Henry is a pioneer of Musique Concrète and has been composing electronic music since the 50s, well known pieces include Psyché Rock and Messe Pour Le Temps Présent, and have an eclectic but reasonably accessible sound- organs, bells, voices, and general psychedelia, but essentially music with rhythm, chords and other familiar musical punctuation. An ideal candidate then, to make the most of the Wet Sounds format: a pool, a sound system, speakers both above and below the water, performance artists, and a willing audience of capable swimmers. So the important question, how did it sound?

Well, as anyone who has ever laid in the bath with their head below the water and the radio playing will know, submersion in water does make a difference to sound. High notes become sharper, while middle and bass notes become flattened and sound more distant, generally sounds take on a different texture and seem, well, more watery. Analogy, along with the other pieces played throughout the evening all could loosely be described as ambient – that is to say, they were not structured pieces of music as one would usually understand it, completely loose in form and featuring long distorted drones and highly engineered samples of noises rather than recognisable instruments. These were pieces that perhaps seem a suitable choice for listening while floating along with another fifty or so people in pool in East London at the tail end of the weekend. But here, in a way, is where the problem of Wet Sounds begins. Although the music or sound art on offer was pleasant, and did provide a degree of sonic interest, it did feel as thought the situation was not being tested as much as it could have. Ambient and atmospheric sounds do suit listening to in water, but surely there are more possibilities.

Floating on ones back with ears below the surface, and taking in the beams and glass roof of the Hall's ceiling, equally floaty music made a fine accompaniment, but at some point the need for experimentation begins to creep in. The York Hall pool depth of 5 metres meant that diving down to hear any sonic differences was restricted mostly by ones own ability to withstand the water pressure and hold ones breath, so this activity of diving and then emerging provided a further way to experience the soundscapes. Ultimately though, it would have been better to be able to sample a wider gamut of sounds and noises, and yes, even conventional music. How for instance would a piano sound when heard deep in the pool, or a human voice singing, or a cello, or a pop song? Hearing the sound art in this context was a great way to appreciate the immersive aspect of it, but essentially, it felt as if there was a lack of variety in the sounds on offer. Wet Sounds wetted the appetite for an immersive audio experience, but provided a range of sounds too narrow to be fully satisfying.

However, if the aim of the Wet Sounds organisers was to provide a different way to think about how music and sound art is experienced, then they have achieved it. The ambition of such an unusual event sets an example for how others could attempt to expand the possibilities for the aesthetic experience. The message is not to readily accept perceived limitations – even an old council owned swimming pool can become something extraordinary – let's hope their ambition keeps growing. If the accompanying sounds could be as playful as the situation then Wet Sounds could become something really rather special.

Spanning two months from 28 Jan 2011 - 26 March 2011, Wet Sounds installs at swimming pools at 7 UK cities. The final event A History of Sound Art presented at Fierce 23-27 March. For more information and tickets please visit www.wetsounds.co.uk

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Exploring Wimbledon's Unique Artistic Community: Q&A with Emma Campbell, Artistic Coordinator

Interview by Bethany Rex

Wimbledon Art Studios is the largest, single site art studio complex in the UK; we caught up with their Artistic Coordinator, Emma Campbell.

To start off, could you tell us a little bit about Wimbledon Art Studios? How did it all begin?
Wimbledon Art Studios was established in 1993 within a working paper warehouse. An agreement between the owner of the paper business (a former artist himself) and an artist friend, agreed to allow the friend free use of a space for a year if he could find 6 other artists who wished to rent space alongside him. Over 40 artists applied for the six spaces! Thus the studios opened with just 6 artists renting spaces alongside the paper business. Now, the original warehouse consists of over 100 studio spaces with another 60 in a purpose built art complex that opened on the same site in 2007. Wimbledon Art Studios now currently houses over 200 artists and by the end of the year will have increased again as another section of the original warehouse is converted into studio space. It is in actual fact the largest single site art studio complex in Britain and as far as we currently know, in the world!

With the less than favourable climate in the art world at the moment, the expansion of Wimbledon Art Studios is impressive. How is this helping to foster a thriving economy for artists and makers?
Art Studios have traditionally been established in rundown buildings awaiting either demolition or redevelopment. Landlords have exploited this temporary opportunity to offer artists a work space for a few months or in luckier cases, a year or so. The property market is slowly making a recovery and as a result we are receiving lots of enquiries from artists who are losing their current rented studio space. Wimbledon Art Studios offers a purpose built art studio complex that provides them with a stable, secure environment and the appropriate amenities to work in without the fear of disruption to their livelihood. Although we are in a financial recession and experiencing huge funding cuts in the arts sector it doesn’t stop people being creative or from people appreciating art! In some cases because of job losses people have re evaluated their life and chosen to take the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Subsequently we have had an even greater demand for studio space than ever before and the expansion of our site is a natural progression of accommodating that demand. Our twice yearly open studios art shows provide an opportunity for all our artists to sell their work without having to pay the higher costs of participating in exhibitions, which can exclude many emerging artists. Hopefully if we can continue to support the amazing talent that there is in this country by providing them with space to be creative and opportunities to exhibit and sell their work then we can continue to have a thriving arts community despite government decisions.

We’re all too familiar with the type of artwork that hangs in the majority of living rooms in the UK, how do you think artists can encourage buyers to spend a little bit more to get something unique and original?
The decreasing size of actual living space in the average home these days means that we are ever more restricted on what we can hang or display on our walls. There is no ‘one size fits all’ anymore in the world of reproduced commercial art and this is where artists really have the advantage over the mass produced high street printed canvases or framed poster prints. An artist can create for you something that is not only a unique and original piece of work but can tailor it to fit that unusually odd shaped & sized wall space (like the eaves of a loft conversion). They can put in tones and colours that suit your tastes rather than your tastes being dictated by the current fashion or home decorating programme. They can create something for you that you will love rather than are just ‘OK’ with. Lets face it once we are home we are surrounded by walls and subsequently spend an awful lot of time looking at them, so you might as well spend it looking at something that makes you feel pleasure rather than spending years thinking ‘‘you know what that has never looked right!’ The value from that, I would say, far exceeds any initial extra financial expense incurred!

You’ve got the Open Studio arts shows coming up in May - have you thought about extending this idea to an exhibitions programme?
I would actually say that the Open Studios Art Shows already provides a similar experience to an exhibition programme perhaps with the exception of the length of time that the work is on display for. The great thing about Open Studios is that visitors get to actually meet and chat with the artists and can ask them questions about their reasons and motivation for the work they produce. There is a level of engagement and experience of the work that you do not have when you either visit a gallery or go to an exhibition. Our Open Studios Art Show occurs twice a year in May & November and have become a well loved and well attended event in the yearly art calendar (approx 5000 visitors per show). Visitors love the fact that they can get a first look at an artists new portfolio of work before it goes to be exhibited at the well known major art fairs. For the artists, it allows them to meet and develop relationships with their clients, which in some cases can last for years.

What’s coming up at Wimbledon Arts Studios? What can visitors expect?
Well, the development and conversion of adjacent warehouse space to accommodate a further 50 studios is incredibly exciting and although it won’t be ready for the Summer Open Studios Art Show in May, we hope it will be for the Winter show in November. Visitors can then expect to see even more innovative and fabulous work from the country’s creative talent. For the upcoming Summer Open Studios Art Show (12 – 15 May) visitors can expect to see behind the doors of approximately 130 artists representing all creative disciplines from painting, photography, ceramics, textiles, jewellery and sculpture and buy directly from them. In addition there will be a café, entertainment for children on the Sunday, free parking and disabled access. Perhaps even more importantly in light of the current financial situation we are all experiencing, it is free entry so you can come along as many times as you like!

What are your aims for Wimbledon Arts Studios for the future?
Wimbledon Art Studios tries to be the best in what it offers. It is incredibly important to us that artists who give so much energy & commitment have outstanding facilities & support within a highly creative & friendly environment. Our desire is to help every artist & maker, at our studio achieve their goals, whether that is being a full time professional artist or providing a creative outlet outside of a day job. Our aim is to keep providing this support and growing with the creative community. With size, comes greater impact for our artists. The media, galleries and the public become more aware of us and that means more exposure and success for our artists.

Why not visit Wimbledon Art Studios for yourself? Their Summer Open Studios run from 12 May - 15 May. For more information please visit www.wimbledonartstudios.co.uk

Monday 7 March 2011

If Destroyed Still True @ Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol.

Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

If Destroyed Still True is the culmination of two years work by performance company Sedated by a Brick. Performed in the intimate space of The Brewery Theatre in Bristol, the play presents its audience with a genuinely bizarre exploration of guilt, loss and denial.

The play opens with a series of tableaux vivants of what could be interpreted as a murder scene. Two characters, a man and a woman, lie motionless on the floor; a third character ineffectively tries to breathe life into their lungs, then sits them around a desolate dining table and tries forcing them to drink tea. When the figures eventually do come to life, the play spirals into an absurdist nightmare with strong Freudian overtones.

The costume changes point to a parental link between the two previously inanimate figures and the third character: this is heightened by the oedipal nature of the ensuing interactions, a sensual violent dance with the female figure and a life-threatening scuffle with the male figure. As the play progresses, it becomes gradually more apparent that we are caught in what is on the surface a murder story dealing with guilt and horror –but, underlying that, is a daring exploration of the Freudian proposition of the love and death instincts, and how they relate to our experience of loss and the inevitable self-accusation that accompanies it.

Scenes of raw and terrifying intensity alternate with scenes imbued with breathtaking pathos. A prolonged scene sees the main character attempt to destroy the physical evidence of the murder by wrapping everything up in bin-liners (this works expertly in the Brewery, as the black bags blend into the background provided by the black wall). With calculated frenzy he places the now lifeless figures onto chairs, and pulls bin-liners over them too. Yet their hands and lower limbs morbidly stick out from underneath, a reminder that eliminating the physical aspect of a tragedy will categorically not make its essence go away.

There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in the play, perhaps as a means of representing the cyclical nature of introspection: the way in which, in attempting to make sense of the events leading up to a personal loss, we end up running around in circles in our mind, trying to apportion or deny blame. The tables are turned (several times) as the main character’s guilt intensifies. The tension between the parental figures mounts, and their struggle for dominance finds the terrified and silenced child figure caught in the middle between them. Much is implied in the course of the play, but nothing is ever confirmed. Who is truly guilty? What crime, if any, has been committed? No straight answers are given. The yarn of the story is eventually eaten up by the characters (figuratively and even, at one point, literally) in an unashamed admission of incoherence and inconclusiveness –qualities which, of course, are perennially present in real life too.

Throughout, the performance is accentuated by a strong undercurrent of impending disaster, a feeling that the characters are walking a tightrope stretched above the dark abyss of human tragedy. This atmosphere would be unbearable if not intermittently broken by moments of odd humour, bordering on slapstick. The performances by Fraisia Dunn, Gareth Mayer and Neil Puttick are unwaveringly captivating, as all three actors maintain a truly admirable level of intensity in their performance throughout the evening. Although on occasion the sheer physicality of the action can become unbearable, there is an unusual honesty about the whole piece which makes If Destroyed Still True a unique achievement.

If your preferences lie with more traditional approaches to theatre, you might struggle to enjoy If Destroyed Still True; if, however, you enjoy all-out, adventurous, highly physical explorations of the medium, you will not be disappointed by this play.

If Destroyed Still True continues at Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol until Saturday 12 March. For more information and tickets please visit www.tobaccofactorytheatre.com Box Office: 0117 902 0344

Image courtesy of Carl Newland

Martin Creed: Thinking/Not Thinking @ Cafe OTO

Martin Creed: Thinking / Not Thinking (Work #1090) from Martin Creed on Vimeo.

Review by Kathryn Evans

Last week Martin Creed and his band showcased their new single Thinking/Not Thinking. One might view this sort of pursuit from an artist primarily known for creating visual works as an amusing side project, but the Turner Prize winner has always seen music as an integral part of his practice. To demonstrate this Thinking/Not Thinking is Work #1090, is numbered in the same manner as the rest of his visual works, although the single is also released in a conventional manner in line with standard music releases.

The evening started with a special showing of Work #610 Sick Film, a 21 minute film of people entering a completely white space and vomiting. The camera is fixed on the space and the performers enter by themselves and vomit with varying degrees of volume then leaves the space and before the next person enters the space is completely cleared. One feels that it is a private act that is being viewed in a very public forum and watching it is quite compelling. Sound plays a huge part in the piece and there are a range of noises that are produced by the different performers. The film seemed to engage a great deal of the audience in a context where film can be hard to concentrate on, and I feel that this was particularly due to the nature of the sounds.

Martin Creed took to the stage with his band, a five piece consisting of Creed on guitar and vocals, bass, synthesiser, percussion and drums. Creed's stage presence seemed at first to be tinged with shyness but as the set progressed he became more relaxed in his role and imparted real warmth in his performance. The music started and there felt to be immediate stylistic references to the post-punk genre. The songs are simplistic in structure, but not necessarily in rhythm, often with driving bass and drums, and the band play together very tightly.

Lyrically there are clear themes/subjects in each song and Creed's vocals are often accompanied by his band building up layers of voices. In line with much of his visual works that explore language and text, the songs have sparse phrases that seem quite apart from an average pop or rock track. Creed maybe trying to impart advice in some songs (If you're low/If you're lonely), exploring ideas (Thinking/Not Thinking) or in two songs he counts to 100 and goes through the alphabet. A number of songs were also accompanied by projected visuals that had a coordinated minimal aesthetic and referenced the songs directly with text.

Thinking/Not Thinking has a distinctive guitar line with two different chords attached to lyrics 'thinking' and 'not thinking'. The tone has a definite melancholy to it and the distorted synthesiser adds to the slightly atonal feel. It is a compact song but one feels that all that needs to be said is said within the stripped back lyrics.

Attending an event which has an artist, who is primarily known for visual work, performing music rather than sound provokes questions about the lines between visual art and sound art, music and noise that are too vast to be discussed here. Instead one can experience Creed's performance as music and, as a credit to the artist, enjoy it in the same manner as music. I was reminded of a quote from the American artist Robert Morris that states that: "Simplicity of form does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience" and this is certainly true from a performance of Creed's music.

For more information please visit www.martincreed.com and for details of their upcoming programme: www.cafeoto.co.uk

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