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Friday 27 May 2011

Dipping a toe into Narcissus's pool: Narcissus Reflected, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Cecil Beaton - Narcissus Reflected Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh
Review by Colin Herd

The Greek myth of Narcissus has captivated Western civilization for centuries: an exceptionally beautiful, though proud and precious youth disdains all those who love him and falls instead for his own reflection in a pool, refusing to leave the image until he dies and is changed into a flower of the same name. The myth’s enchanting and interlocking themes of self-obsession, self-image, and image-obsession have proved irresistible to artists and writers throughout the 20th century and remain so today. Guest-curated by the Manchester-based Art Historian David Lomas and Surrealist expert Dawn Ades, the current exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery dips a toe into Narcissus’s pool, surveying the ripples and refractions of the myth in the work of a range of Surrealist and contemporary artists.

At the heart of the exhibition is Salvador Dali’s painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937). There’s always a thrill when a mega-star painting is seen on loan outside of its usual environs, and this painting is no exception. No matter how familiar the image is from reproductions in books, magazines, posters and postcards, there’s a frisson of excitement at seeing the painting in the flesh: the kneeling torso that doubles into a deathly hand holding an egg, sprouting a flower, the group of naked suitors and the young man perched atop a box on a chequered floor, his hips shunted out, his back turned. The electricity or aura the painting produces is of course itself tangled up in the Narcissus myth- the relation an image bears to its original. What makes this particular exhibiting of Metamorphosis of Narcissus special is that the curators show the picture alongside preparatory material and alongside Dali’s accompanying poem, which was intended to be read in conjunction with the painting, but which have rarely been shown together. Giving a sort of commentary or dramatization of the image, the poem is the picture’s own, integral reproduction, a reflection on a painting that’s fundamentally concerned with reflections.

From an artist as well-known as they come, the exhibition moves on to an artist who ought to be much better known in the U.K. and an image that’s rarely been seen outside of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Jess (1923-2004) was a San Francisco-based collagist, partner of the poet Robert Duncan, and along with the New York-based artist Joe Brainard, a major influence on the prominence of the collage in American art of the last fifty years. Jess’s Narkissos (1976-91) is an imposing six foot pencil drawing that Jess worked on for much of his artistic life, and which many argue is unfinished, destined to remain unfinished, the delicate intricacy of its pencil lines appearing as if to vanish in front of the eyes. For Narkissos, Jess worked with found material, everything from magazine pages to postcards to medical textbooks to cartoon strips and photographs of statues. He then reproduced these images by drawing them on paper and pasting them on a large support. The fabric of the image is a gloriously textured surface of copies of copies, an image made of images, traced out in graphite pencil.

Willard Maas (1906-1971) is another American artist (filmmaker and poet) whose work is little known in the U.K, eclipsed by the experimental films of his wife Marie Mencken, and if he’s known at all it’s for the film he made of Andy Warhol’s Silver Flotations in 1966. It’s an event, then, to have the chance to see his 59-minute film-poem Narcissus (1956), a strange and haunting retelling of the narcissus myth, swapping the traditional pool for hand mirrors and explicitly exploring homosexual and heterosexual desire, self-love and the desire for fame and posterity. Desire so hot it melts the rubbery mask of lead actor Ben Moore as he scrapes around a desolate mixed-messages landscape, part 50s New York, part last days of the Roman Empire.

Lomas and Ade’s curatorial style is subtle and connective, a part of the show’s pleasure is in the dynamic and connections between the works of artists from different time periods. Maas’s film was an influence on James Bidgood’s more famous filmic reinterpretation of the myth, Pink Narcissus (1971), which isn’t included in the exhibition but whose luxuriously saturated palette is clearly echoed in Sip My Ocean (1996), Pipilotti Rist’s atmospheric underwater video installation that spans round a corner in a darkened room, blue cushions splashed out on the floor. The duplicate films mirror each other, meeting in the room’s corner which, as Lomas writes in the catalogue, forms a “seam” between the two screens. Two images of the same floating figure converge in the middle to become something else, distinctly genital in some cases, and floral in others. The soundtrack to the film is a self-consciously naïve rendering of Chris Isaak’s song Wicked Game, blossoming into a doubled track, one sweet, one in desperate, screaming, angry crescendo. It’s a gloriously indulgent, and sexy film, an onslaught of seduction, set to loop and almost indiscernible when it restarts, like a trap; on my visit, people sat transfixed for a least two rotations, as if glued to the seabed, staring at the pool Narcissus-like.

Equally captivating, in the adjacent space, Yayoi Kusama’s installation Narcissus Garden (1966) is a room filled with silver balls, little reflective spheres that bounce reflections off each other, creating myriad images of the viewer as they walk through the ‘garden’, a meadow of multiplicity, of obsession. Taking on the colours and features of the viewers’ clothes, the balls have a kaleidoscopic, floral effect, even as they’re lifeless, and deceptive, skewed reflections of the self. The effect is remarkably calming, a dissolving or diluting of self consciousness, a dissipation into Kusama’s smooth and cool metallic environment.

Alongside the works discussed, Narcissus Reflected includes pieces by Cocteau, Claude Cahun, Florence Henri and Paul Nash and Cecil Beaton, among others. All are as bewitching as the myth they reinterpret. As an exhibition it’s characterized by it’s own form of reflectiveness, the meticulous thoughtfulness of its curators in displaying these works together and the imaginativeness and ambition with which the Fruitmarket has been able to secure loans of important and in some cases rarely exhibited works.

Narcissus Reflected continues at Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh until 26 June.


Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Cecil Beaton, The Narcissus of ’67: A Mod at the Waterhole of Reddish, 1968
modern silver gelatin print
Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

Thursday 26 May 2011

Preview: All the Fits: The Aesthetics of Journalism, QUAD, Derby

Alejandro Vidal Somewhere In A Great Country - The Aesthetics of Journalism QUAD Derby

Examining the intersection between aesthetics and journalism goes back to Dostovesky and his writings on the theoretical link between a commitment to the aesthetic ideal (with beauty at its core) on the one hand, and journalism on the other. The relationship between genuine art and good journalism can intermingle and prove mutually sustaining and a new exhibition at QUAD, Derby explores these apparently opposite realms. Opening this weekend (Saturday 28 May) and running until Sunday 31 July, All that Fits: The Aesthetics of Journalism presents the provocative idea that art and journalism are two sides of a unique activity – the production and distribution of images and information.

Curated by Alfredo Cramerotti and Simon Sheikh, with extra gallery spaces by Lauren Mele, the exhibition brings to the surface how images and information are communicated, and the aesthetic principles used in the act of transmission. Whereas journalism provides a view on the world, as it ‘really’ is; art often presents a view on the view, truth posited as acts of reflection. All that Fits: The Aesthetics of Journalism will examine both as systems of information that define truth in terms of the visible but also what can be imagined. The exhibition will be presented in three chapters: The Speaker, The Image and The Militant. These three separate displays of artwork respond to the overall theme and each include new artworks. The Speaker runs from 28 May - 19 June, The Image runs from 22 June - 10 July and The Militant runs from 13 - 31 July.

Artists include, among others: Eric Baudelaire (France), Renzo Martens (Holland), Hito Steyerl (Germany) and Walid Raad/The Atlas Group, (USA/Lebanon). In conjunction with the main exhibition, NEWS! New Event World Spectacular will be on display in the QUAD Corridors and Digital Screens. Lauren Mele and Hannah Conroy have been commissioned to investigate the ties between contemporary art and journalism and its increasingly progressive relationship. NEWS! New Event World Spectacular attempts to portray a comprehensive array of interpretations of the aesthetics of journalism; and to serve as a platform for further thought and discussion beyond the gallery walls.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of events, including a Q&A with newsroom editors, photo-reporters and journalists and a discussion with Dr. Anthony Downey, Programme Director at Sotheby's Institute London. For further information and tickets visit www.derbyquad.co.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Alejandro Vidal, Somewhere In A Great Country
Courtesy of the artist and Galería Joan Prats, Barcelona

Humanity's Unspoken Rhetoric: rAndom International, Wellcome Collection, London.

Review by Sarah Richter, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

Decorating Euston Road in the windows of the Wellcome Collection is an installation by rAndom International entitled Reflex. The light installation, which inhabits two large sets of windows, is composed of evenly spaced brass rods adorned with specially designed LED chips and is based on an algorithm that emulates collective decision making found in large groups of animals, such as ants or birds. All identical, the lights react to passers-by on the street and in a way record our migratory patterns as well. As one walks by the Wellcome Trust’s windows, the installation is seemingly unassuming, but as soon as one swiftly walks by the piece, the lights gracefully twinkle and rush swiftly down from post to post trailing behind the pedestrian. In this sense, everyone who passes by the installation, whether they want to or not, are participating in the art. Without the pedestrian, the work wouldn’t work, wouldn’t be activated or have any artistic presence and thus the viewer is, in a sense the art work.

Whilst the installation is meant to depict the algorithms found in nature, the installation shows that humans also have patterns of predictability, much like other animals that travel in groups or pack like formations such as birds, fish, ants, lions and so forth. Representing society’s commonplace desire to be part of a crowd, to follow the pack and fit in, Reflex demonstrates this innate human desire in an astonishingly subtle and modern way. Since the piece adorns the windows of busy Euston Road, the installation is a reflection of the inhabitants of the location. Creatures of habit who pass the window display daily, illuminating the windows, causing the brass rods and LED chips to buzz and literally glow with their sensation, their movement and their sheer presence.

As much as we like to separate ourselves and place ourselves at the top of the animal hierarchy, we are not much different from our animal friends who, much like humanity, want to be part of something, belong somewhere and find similarities and ultimate companionship in this maze of life. The basis for this light pattern represents that of unified movement attributed to members of the animal jungle, but the installation allows members of the urban jungle to ignite its message and establish their own migratory patterns. Although the idea of being surrounded by people but feeling totally alone can sometimes emerge in this concrete jungle, this light installation shows that, although we may not know everyone around us, we too act with pack like tendencies. Habitual routines and algorithms of movement are something that we participate in every day: taking the same route to work, visiting the same supermarket or bank, walking the same path to the gym or, my personal favourite, the local bakery.

Even though we place ourselves as humans, the most elevated of species, higher than that of our animal friends we aren’t much different at all and like it or not our patterns or movement and response emerge and our often just as similar as that of animals. The lucky commuters, pedestrians, tourists and art lovers who take the time to traverse past Reflex are fortunate enough to create their own algorithm, their own pattern reflective of how we all make collective decisions to walk on the same side of the street to get to the McDonalds on the corner or the Euston Station stop. Collective decision making, whether or not we actually discuss with the person next to us about ordering the same skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks, means we are participating in an unspoken, collective decision to choose this particular coffee shop, the route, this tube stop. It is this unspoken rhetoric of collective decision making and unanimous understanding that is reflected in the windows of the Wellcome Trust - more than just an artistic illustration of a scientific study it is an aesthetic representation of humanity’s daily self.

Further information on is available at their website rAndom International. The installation Reflex will be on display at Wellcome Collection until April 2012: Wellcome Collection.

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Filmmaker Series – Part 4 Q&A with Daniel Wirtberg

Daniel Wirtberg Love Child - Finalist in tthe Aesthetica Short Film Competition 2010

Filmmaker Series – Part 4 Q&A with Daniel Wirtberg

For the fourth instalment in our Q&A series with last year’s Aesthetica Short Film Competition winners we speak to filmmaker Daniel Wirtberg about his film Kärleksbarn (Love Child) for some insights about the film and about growing up in Sweden. Daniel’s film is a sweetly comic look at what happens when a couple’s affection for their new cat begins to replace their love for their daughter.

Love Child was a finalist in the Aesthetica Short Film Competition 2010. This year, the Short Film Competition has been further developed into a festival and the deadline for submitting to the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2011 is 31st May 2011. Selected entrants will receive screenings at ASFF, Rushes Soho Shorts, Branchage Film Festival and Glasgow Film Festival as well as inclusion on the Aesthetica Shorts DVD, to be distributed with the December/January issue of Aesthetica.

One winner will also receive £500, training with Raindance and membership to Shooting People and our runner-up will receive £250.

All genres of films are accepted, the only restriction is that films must be 25 minutes long or less.

To submit visit http://www.asff.co.uk/submit.htm

Deadline for entry: Tuesday 31st May.

Please note, we will accept delivery of DVDS until 14th June, as long as they have been entered by 31st May.

Q&A with Daniel Wirtberg

How did you begin filmmaking?
I grew up in a small, rural community. There was no one around who was into filmmaking. My best friend’s father had this camcorder that he kept locked in his mini bar. So when he was out of the house, we picked the lock, we got the camera and went out in the night to shoot something. We shot everything that moved. Then step-by-step it developed into some sketches. So it involved a lot of playing with this camera at the beginning.

What was the most challenging aspect of making Love Child?
It was 2 weeks prior to shooting and I still did not have the lead actress. I just could not find her. It was very problematic to find a 5 year old who was willing to do it or whose parents would allow it. So I desperately browsed the Internet and found a casting agency located in my region. And there was this headshot of this angel. Tindra. So I called her mother and step-by-step I managed to befriend her. We hung out, played around. I took her to play mini-golf and we had some candy. She was very professional from the very beginning. But she did not want to rehearse. She said: “I want to do it for real; I do not want to fake it. When everything is there, I promise I will do it for real. But I do not want to do it now.”

What makes a good short film?
A good short film is a film that takes the audience somewhere they did not expect. It’s important to play with the form. You have so much freedom in the short format. You can play with everything-- the editing, the image, the sound-- in a totally different way than you can in a long format. There are no restrictions. Love Child is actually quite conventional in its form. It has the structure of a feature film in a way. But it plays on just one single emotion, like a strong piano key, and that is something a feature can never do.

What are your future plans?
I’m developing scripts for longer fiction films, directing music videos and commercials and I’m working hard on getting the earlier films I have produced out in the circuit in the same fashion, or preferably even better, as with Love Child (which has now been invited to 120 international film festivals since 2009), a film that I also distributed myself and will continue to do with new projects – and all my plans somehow add up to the same ambition, to get the means to reach the long format filmmaking. With hard work and devotion, it’s just a matter of time.

Find out more about Daniel’s work at www.daemonfilm.se. Find out more at ASFF at www.asff.co.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

A Pictorial Stream of Consciousness: Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Sprüth Magers, London.

Review by Jessica Jones-Berney

As I follow the row of Philip-Lorca diCorcia Polaroids lined up against the otherwise sparse white walls of Sprüth Magers, it is like tracing the random fluctuations of a pictorial stream of consciousness. There is no recognisable chronology linking one photograph to the next, just a visual train of thought rapidly shifting narrative, context and subject matter so that our individual perceptions are befuddled. It's a rather humble, scaled-down display compared to the grandiose style accustomed to some of diCorcia's high-conceptual exhibitions. However, this is probably why it feels like I am raiding the inner sanctum of diCorcia's mind; each Polaroid offers a semblance of a life that is verging on the ethereal realm. Although it is clearly fictionalised documentary, where location flits easily from intimate scenes of a mother and child nestled on a bed together to barely discernible woodland scenes, its surreality is utterly captivating.

Having got to grips with conceptual photography in the 1970s, few artists could pull off diCorcia's bizarre juxtapositions. Namely the naked silhouette of a woman, illuminated by the gentle hue of bedroom lighting, pitted against a white haired man conspicuously hiding amidst trees. But it works because the allure of diCorcia rests in the curiosity his work conjures. I can't help wondering what lies beyond the parameters of each frame. Who is the elegant woman draped in silver beside the burnt out taxi cab? Why is a business man clutching a bag of sumptuous oranges instead of a suitcase? Is that Damon Albarn in a bus top?

In fact, the only constant throughout the exhibition is diCorcia's penchant for frames within the frame, using windows and mirrors to capture his subjects in unique and remarkable ways. Considering how the camera/mirror combination summons up notions of surveillance, this faux invasion of privacy would be unsettling if it wasn't so fascinating. DiCorcia's technique makes the mirror's two dimensional function more malleable, using reflections to reveal more angles of the subject and add depth to the photograph.

Perhaps most enthralling, albeit unexpected, are the lascivious shots of acrobatic pole dancers. I should probably tone down my gaping but the precariously compromising angles from which these women hang are such an impressive display of athleticism, skill and endurance, that I am unashamedly captivated. Gone are the sordid neons lights and leering crowd we ordinarily associate with such performance parlours and, in the absence of which, they become rather beautiful.

Things turn from topless to extraterrestrial as I approach the Polaroid of a man crouched on a motel floor, peering into a draw emitting celestial red rays. His face is illuminated with the kind of crimsony amber glow E.T exudes, adding a little mystique to an otherwise mundane hotel room. And I suppose the charm of diCorcia's visual vignettes is imbuing intrigue into the ordinary. Photographic duo FrenchMottershead showed a similar tendency at their recent Over The Threshold exhibition at 1 Berwick House, delving behind the doors of Soho residents to recreate classical tableux with their amusing signature twist. While Paul Graham's exhibition at Whitechapel, proves that there is a picturesque side to one of Britain's least glamorous motoring backbones, the A1.

From scenic to sultry and intimate to explicit, there is little clue as to where diCorcia will take you next in this exhibition. Regardless of the meticulously choreographed process behind this work, he somehow manages to create fleeting, transient images that capture seemingly off-the-cusp moments in enchanting and original ways.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia's Roid continues at Sprüth Magers, London until June 18. For further information visit their website: www.spruethmagers.com

Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London & David Zwirner, New York

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Spatial Form in Social and Aesthetic Processes: Concrete Geometries, AA, London.

Review by Nathan Breeze

Concrete Geometries is an ongoing research initiative at the Architectural Association directed by Marianne Mueller and Olaf Kneer. Derived from ‘Concrete’ referring actual, non-abstract experience and ‘Geometries’ referring to spatial form, it is an investigation into the relationship between spatial geometry and social practice. In short, the research poses the fundamental question that drives architectural practice; how can the design of the built environment affect human behaviour and processes?

Over the past 18 months the initiative has collected a diverse range of completed work from all over the world that critically explores this immediate relationship. Those selected range from the photographing of people maintaining personal space in Canary Wharf to imaginative interventions encouraging interaction in a school in Berlin. The selected work is currently on display in the Front Members’ Room at the AA, which features a site-specific installation by the artist Fran Cottell (whose work is also displayed). A raised platform cleverly allows for a variety of conditions for social interaction; terraced seating, narrow passing spaces and more generous spaces to consider the work.

In the attempt to structure the wide variety of submissions, the curators have divided the research into four categories; Perception and Cognition, Social Contracts, Sensory Engagement and Relational Space. Walking around the exhibition I found that the most interesting and convincing projects showed images of people interacting with the designed space. Of particular note is Dymaxian Sleep; a garden designed in Quebec by Jane Hutton and Adrian Blackwell. A mesh hammock-like structure allows the visitors to sit above the aromatic plants, shifting the ocular centric experience of being in a garden to one dominated by the smell of the plants as well as new social conventions.

For me, I would have liked to have seen more variety in the way the projects were represented. Architects and designers often fall into the trap of prescriptively describing how people will use the space as the result of a series of theoretically informed moves they have made. In particular I feel film could have been used to present a more convincing, ‘concrete’ documentation of the projects; bringing in the enriching dimensions of time, sound, movement and atmosphere. Nevertheless it is a very promising start which, as the directors mention, aims to open up previously absent debate; allowing for the cross fertilisation of new ideas; both anthropological and spatial.

In addition to Fran Cottel’s site-specific installation, a further case study for Relational Space could be found in the design and the layout of the school itself. It’s grand yet domestic character and circulation patterns linked by a bar and central terrace, create (as was the case on the warm opening evening) a rich variety of intimate and public, formal and informal social spaces.

It is no surprise that it is at the AA where these questions are being posed and relationships investigated. With a list of past students including now internationally recognised architects Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and David Chipperfield, the AA has consistently been at the forefront of pioneering Architectural Research. I look forward to the next stage of the investigation.

Concrete Geometries will be exhibited in the Front Members Room at the Architectural Association School of Architecture until 28th May. More information: www.concrete-geometries.net

Room Drawing Installation - Christine Rusche, Germany
Transforming existing spaces with graphic means
Credit: © Christine Rusche

The Crucible: York Theatre Royal, Finishes Saturday 28 May - Don't Miss It

Review by Grace Henderson

Exposed, enclosed, surrounded – in Arthur Miller’s classic but timelessly terrifying drama The Crucible, no protagonist escapes these feelings. Set in the claustrophobic, deeply superstitious small-town community of 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, the play charts the mass hysteria that broke out during the real-life Salem Witch Trials. Though written by Miller in 1953 as a comment on McCarthyism, many parallels can still be drawn today with the tragic and unstoppable events that ensue during The Crucible. The finger-pointing and whispers that escalate out of hand during the course of the piece bear an uneasy resemblance to the situations we have all experienced in the playground, in the boardroom, and wherever it is easier to be the accuser than the accused.

It was an inspired decision on York Theatre Royal’s part, then, to make The Crucible the first production in its ambitious In the Round season, running until mid-November. To experience the play set in this way is to feel almost complicit in the events that bring about the demise of so many innocent people; literally encroaching upon the action makes it so involving, and as disturbing as Miller could ever have intended his work to be. There are moments, too, that are so human and emotional that the viewer is made to feel like a trespasser or, worse, a spy of the sort that got everyone in trouble in the first place. A case in point is the heart-wrenching second act reunion of hapless couple the Proctors (stand-out performances from Stephen Billington and Helen Kay), both accused and imprisoned separately up to this point. The moment of silence that passes palpably between them as they see one another again speaks volumes about love, resolve and the human spirit.

York Theatre Royal’s In the Round series carries the subheading “ensemble season” and, if The Crucible is anything to go by, this describes what’s on offer perfectly. Miller’s play employs a large cast to suggest the scale of the havoc wrought by the witch trials, and demands uniformly strong performances. York Theatre Royal’s ensemble delivers, to an extent that it seems almost unfair to single too many individuals out for praise. A nod must go to Neil Salvage, though, for finding and making the absolute most of the humour inherent in his character Giles Corey – comedy that is much-needed to balance out the tragedy elsewhere. Also noteworthy, and in keeping with York Theatre Royal’s ethos of nurturing emerging talent, is the fact that many of the ensemble players here are drawn from the RSAMD. Sharing the stage with York Theatre Royal regulars, and faces recognisable from television and film, these newcomers more than hold their own.

Not everything about this excellent production is new, though, and rightly so. The Crucible’s resonance is such that it doesn’t need to be modernised and revamped at every turn. Director Juliet Forster clearly recognises this, and as such turns her attention to exquisite period detail and a pared-down look and feel that evokes the restrained and repressed atmosphere of the time and setting beautifully. In the round, you can almost smell the starched collars of the prim-and-proper attire worn by the inhabitants of Salem, and feel the chill of the darkness that lies beneath the surface.

The Crucible continues at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 28 May. For further information please visit their website. Box Office: 01904 623568

Image Credit:
Karl Andre Photography

Monday 23 May 2011

The Most Beautiful World in the World: Friedrich Kunath, White Cube, London.

Review by Matt Swain

White Cube Hoxton Square presents the first solo UK exhibition by Friedrich Kunath. Born in Germany and based in Los Angeles, his work covers an impressive range of mediums, encompassing sculpture, painting, drawing, photography and installation, often incorporating text among these techniques. Conceptual art, German romanticism and Symbolism permeate Kunath's artistry and he frequently references popular culture - song titles are a particular favourite - together with lyrics and books.

Entering the ground floor gallery is at once like entering a museum of the extraordinary. There is a great air of adventure and the heady aroma of incense fills the room as you are confronted by the horn playing banana man sculpture that is Starlite Walker. Welcome to Kunath’s improbable and surreal utopia; the world according to Kunath.

Kunath has a variety of drawing styles which are layered onto colourful watercolour washes, often accompanied by handwritten text, cartoons and doodles. Throughout, he explores themes of love, hope, despair and vulnerability that are infused with tragicomic pathos and dreams of possibilities. These works are about human beings trying to find their way in the world, lost souls making explorations of the human condition. Male figures, non-specific and often alone are caricatures that can elicit sympathy or even empathy, becoming cartoons of emotion. I heard I was in town bears the text ‘Over-lonely and Under-kissed’ whilst Let those I don't care days begin depicts a seated man resting on a staff beneath a tree at sunset pondering his life. In particular, the middle aged male protagonist questioning how his life has unfolded continually reappears, reflecting on what has gone before and what lies ahead. There are regrets and aspirations as destiny unfolds in Younger Men Grow Older, a rich and multi-layered emotional journey and the psychedelic Paisley Past.

Amongst the visual bombardment, one could initially assume that the lone figure who repeatedly occurs in Kunath's work endlessly searching for his heart and home is self-referencing. In reality, it is almost certainly a longing for human connection and revelation, a comment on society's values and a desire for a return to a more simplistic way of life and a certain purity. Sharing loneliness can be a beautiful thing; this is about life journey of the individual - people struggling to define their lives. Yet there is resilience in these characters - they keep walking, keep moving on and are here to share their tale. We are looking at playful optimism fighting what is ostensibly mid-life crisis. They are shadows against sunlight, a visual representation of the vulnerability of man against the vastness of the world and all that it brings.

The relocation from his native Germany to Los Angeles has clearly had a sizeable impact. Californian counter-culture has bled into Kunath's work, the results of which he has readily acknowledged, stating: “the colours got brighter and the topics got darker". This is a place where the skies are not cloudy at all, at least until you close your eyes. The desert landscape of I saw God's shadow on this world shows cacti providing shade from the burning sun. In a world shrunk by globalisation and information overload, our attention spans have been splintered into tiny fragments, yet somehow Kunath has used this to his advantage, seizing on small moments, forgotten oddities, the faded and the obsolete, ensuring that his works don't fall prey to commercial navigation. Kunath's elements are culturally deeper, representing the layers of life - each piece is unique but universal. All the sleeves are brown and the tie is grey (California Dreaming) features a man on a battered raft floating on a wild sea, the text of the title inscribed above him.

Part of a series of surreal sculptures, The tear will love us apart, shows a reclining male sculpture watching a film chronicling a journey between past and present, whilst a model train runs through his head and body. In One day we will follow the birds, we discover the source of the incense, a powerful and evocative stimuli for the human spirit. This is a remarkable piece, a spoken word track over a melancholic piano backdrop, the voice intoning from the loudspeaker thoughts and emotions such as: "I didn’t expect to remain the same but I didn't know what to expect" and "No matter how hard I try to remember, sometimes I forget to come back". A figure next to a second loudspeaker, wearing Kunath's clothes and holding balloons observes all of this, whilst a bird rests on his elongated nose. It is as if you are falling in love one minute and then saying goodbye to your heart in the next, a temporary dislocation of the senses. Kunath is pulling you into his world, circumventing reality.

In the first floor gallery, Sad Polo (One of these days, these days will end) is a denizen of vibrant colour, jockeys battling underneath the text of the title, whilst Window Pain depicts a young boy sitting on window ledge staring into a night sky, one suspects in wonderment rather than melancholy despite its title. The defining beauty is in the implied and sometimes explicit realism that Kunath brings to this improbable world and the universal shared experiences of yearning, disappointment and discovery. Nobody should ever be afraid to be brave and Kunath fearlessly evokes memories and emotions with a real sense of intimacy. Ambition is evident in Kunath's range of scale, his passion inextricable from all of the ideas, colours and happenings that run through his work. Literary, evocative and deceptively simple, it is a surprisingly smooth, cohesive ride against a backdrop of optimism which Kunath then seeks to undermine with subtle irony ambiguity and self-deprecating humour.

There are contradictions, but they are beautiful, deliberate, poetic contradictions, the kind that can only be found by someone in love with this life, and who can see all of it's subtleties and intricacies. That we should always remain inherently hopeful is reflected in the title of the exhibition. Strangers that will never meet again, faces that we'll never see again, one day that will never be again; it is all here, in this room, in the here and now.

The Most Beautiful World in the World continues at White Cube, Hoxton Square until 4 June 2011.

Friedrich Kunath
© the artist
Photo: Ben Westoby
Courtesy White Cube

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