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Friday 3 June 2011

The Viewer as Subject: Magical Consciousness, Arnolfini, Bristol.

Magical Consciousness - Arnolfini Bristol
Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

Magical Consciousness examines and negotiates philosopher Vilém Flusser’s postulation that the act of looking carries more intrinsic potential than the object being looked at. The exhibition, co-curated by artist Runa Islam, brings together an eclectic mix of media, gathering and juxtaposing works that take the act of looking as a starting point from which to explore the ramifications of Flusser’s philosophy.

On the ground floor gallery, two works investigating the relative significance of context in the process of engaging with an object are showcased side by side. The MacGuffin Library and Killed set off from opposite ends: the former extricating objects from a context in which they held positions of prevailing and absolute importance and presenting them as an unimpressive miscellany of defeated, lacklustre exhibits; the latter demonstrating the overwhelming obliteration of context by what is essentially an undeniable absence in its centre.

The MacGuffin Library comprises a number of MacGuffin objects – the MacGuffin, extensively utilised by filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, is an element in a film plot, often a prop, the attaining of which becomes of such importance to the protagonist as to drive his or her actions to an extent that does not necessarily correspond with the relative ‘value’ of the object itself. Despite the fact that The MacGuffin Library includes a synopsis of the story behind each object, outside their context the objects become as intriguing and inherently unknowable as museum exhibits; their fascination no longer derives from the role they sometime played in the original story they featured in, but rather inheres in the potential re-imagining of said story (or even the altogether different framework reinvented and ascribed to them) by the viewer, in the infinite possibilities of their reincarnation.

Killed displays a looping representation of a series of photographs in which a hole has been punched in the process of editorial censorship. The hole remains in the same place – the centre – of each photograph, but its size is amplified in sudden jolts: slowly at first, then with what appears as ever-increasing malevolence, the hole expands until it takes over almost the entire surface of the screen. Only the corners of the pictures remain in view, and as the film speeds up any likelihood of gleaning the subject of the pictures diminishes into impossibility. The viewer’s attention is forcedly drawn to the resounding absence that defies and frustrates any attempt at discovering meaning in the images presented.

On the second floor galleries, three conceptual works explore the medium of cinema and how it operates after the –seemingly – most important element, the visual, is removed. Recalling Frames, Vera Cruz, and Invisible Film demonstrate, to varying degrees, the potency of sound and words as the predominant means of communication. In Recalling Frames, the image of film grain is projected to the soundtrack of garbled, largely indistinct dialogue – the latter almost drowned out by the accompanying music and rendered all the more threatening for this reason; in Vera Cruz, speech and any other sound are engulfed by the constant sound of sea-waves, and the absence of image is accentuated by the presence of the subtitles at the bottom of the screen; in Invisible Film, an overhead projector projects the image of an old-style projector projecting outside the viewer’s frame of reference. On the outside of the gallery is mounted a screen, on which subtitles are showing (this time on the centre of the screen), accompanied by the shocking and loud soundtrack of screaming, gunshots and swearing.

The absence of the visual intensifies the viewer’s experience of the auditory and verbal, heightening the received information to exaggerated, threatening, almost monstrous proportions. At the same time, the viewer’s position as a subject, looking, peering into nothing is brought to the fore. By questioning the hierarchy that places the visual element at its highest level, the three works explore, to differing degrees, the notion that meaning is no longer elucidated or created through the process of interpretation, but rather in the process of seeing, in the dynamic space taken up by the experience of looking as opposed to the passive experience of taking in and deciphering. All three works demonstrate a preoccupation with current over-reliance (and near fixation) on the visual aspect of art and urge for a re-evaluation of its perceived necessity while denouncing its subjugation of other sensory pathways of communication.

Almeida’s work Inhabited Painting challenges the fleeting involvement of the female body in the creation of art, especially as typified in Yves Klein’s Anthropometries series. Klein’s use of nude female models covered in International Klein Blue as ‘living brushes’ is alluded to only to be refuted in Almeida’s work: the seven panels present a series of black and white pictures of the artist appearing to obliterate her own presence in the frame behind sweeping brushstrokes of blue paint. From the fifth panel onwards however, the artist is shown reasserting her presence, when first her hand, then her arm resurface from behind the blue, eventually pushing it aside. The abstract shapes of the female figure in Klein’s work are replaced by the playful but confident affirmation, in Almeida’s work, of the (female) artist’s centrality as a defining component of the pictorial space, both as the subject creating and as a subject portrayed. The female body reasserts itself as the wielding power controlling the brush, the creator rather than the tool implemented to create.

Alongside the artworks (of which The Collection of Impossible Subjects, Enigmatic Whistler and Klein Bottle Piñata are especially noteworthy), the exhibition showcases an Obsidian Mirror, an Aztec artefact on loan from the British Museum.

Magical Consciousness is on show until 3 July.


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 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Richard Long/Giuseppe Penone, Haunch of Venison, London

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

The tree of life, a family tree, the ‘Giving Tree’ – trees are a significant part of our everyday existence, but who really stops to look at them? Walking through any art museum, trees will be present in dozens of works, but what happens when they leave the background, no longer used as framing devices, and become the central image? Giuseppe Penone’s current exhibition at Haunch of Venison in London examines these questions by bringing focus, in a variety of media, to an overlooked aspect of our daily lives.

Working in photography, paper and pencil, wood, bronze, and graphite on canvas, Penone’s multi-media approach looks at the interaction between man and nature. In two similar works, Continuera a crescere tranne che in quel punto – radiografia (2010)(It will continue to grow except at this point – radiography) and Alpi Marittime – continuera a crescere tranne che in quell punto (1968-1978) (Maritime Alps – It will continue to grow except at this point), Penone places a steel cast of his own hand grasping the trunk of a small tree. He re-examines this same tree ten years later to find that the tree has grown around this foreign object, thereby adapting to its new situation. Trees are fascinating entities that simultaneously grow upwards, downwards and outwards, and the artist captures this in revisiting the same place over several years and examining the affect of man-made material on a natural growth process.

Through the above examples and other works, Penone demonstrates the resilience of nature despite human intervention. Though I am not sure it is meant to be an overtly environmentalist approach, the artist encourages visitors to question the relationship of humans with their surroundings in nature. In a stunning example of floor sculpture – Lo spazio della scultura – pelle di cedro (2001) (Space of sculpture – cedar skin) – Penone creates a grid of bark from a cedar tree; however, the material used is actually bronze, not real bark. The likeness is remarkable and it is difficult to believe that each element is much heavier and more rigid than it appears. In the middle of the grid of bark, one piece is elevated above the others by a contraption made of tree branches (though this too is also made of bronze). The appearance of weightlessness and malleability further compounds the paradox of materiality. Penone here calls attention to man’s ability to replicate nature; however, this skill is quite limited and complicated. The cedar skins in this piece look like bark, but it is impossible to make paper or firewood from it and it cannot produce oxygen for us to breathe.

Though the Giuseppe Penone exhibit is excellent on its own, Haunch of Venison presents his work in conjunction with an exhibition of works by Richard Long. The two exhibits work very well together because although the media utilized by each is quite different, both artists use the natural environment as their subject matter. In one of the central galleries atop a majestic staircase, Penone and Long each have a work displayed. Penone’s is entitled Spazio di Luce (2008) (Space of Light) and is composed of wood and vegetal resin. The solid monolith of wood is pierced in several locations by holes carved in the place of knots in the wood. This irregular pattern of negative space allows light to enter into the sculpture and also to compose faint spots of light in the shadow cast by the object. Here Penone is taking an element generally considered to be a flaw or blemish on the surface of the wood and makes it beautiful.

Long’s work in the same space is on a much larger scale. Stone Print Spiral of 2011 is a circular arrangment of stones that the artist extracted from a Danish River. The displacement of natural materials in both works within a gallery space allows the viewer to appreciate each for their inherent qualities instead of their place within the environment. Many of Long’s other works on display originate from the act of walking as an artwork and his methods of documenting this action. He utilizes a seemingly bizarre juxtaposition of earth art and conceptual/text based art. One of the central themes of his exhibit is that the man made is necessarily distinct from the natural, but that neither is superior or inferior.

It is rare for two artists’ exhibitions to flow together and complement each other so well, and this interaction between the Giuseppe Penone and Richard Long, especially in the shared space, provides a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking gallery experience.

Richard Long / Giuseppe Penone continues at Haunch of Venison, London until 20 Aug 2011.


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 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Giuseppe Penone
Copyright Giuseppe Penone
Courtesy of Haunch of Venison

Thursday 2 June 2011

Aesthetica: June/July Issue out Today

Inside the June/July issue

We’ve been very busy over the past few months. One of the biggest announcements to make is the launch of the inaugural Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF), which is an international platform for independent short film. The first festival will take place later this year, and we’re very excited! In other news, as the summer season rolls in, there are so many invigorating exhibitions, releases and events for you to visit.

In art, we head to the Guggenheim Bilbao where the Luminous Interval from D. Daskalopoulos Collection features the works of over 30 internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Damien Hirst and Paul McCarthy. The show offers contemplation of some of the most powerful works of the past few decades. ArtAngel launches a new commission at MIF and we also look back at 20 years of their work.

Bruce Nauman turns 70 and to celebrate The Kunsthalle Mannheim is exhibiting a massive retrospective of this prolific artist’s career. The master of remix, Cory Arcangel opens his new show Pro Tools at the Whitney in New York City. We introduce the work of Jason Schembri with his Factory Girl series and present a visual glimpse of what’s on offer at this year’s PHotoEspaña.

In film, Golden Bear winner at the Berlin International Film Festival, Bal by Semih Kaplanoğlu, traces the past. We also have a preview of ASFF, giving you the heads up about the UK’s latest film festival. In music, French band, Underground Railroad, chats about their latest album and we examine how the Internet is changing radio. In theatre, Marina Abramović is back in the UK and discusses her latest production The Life and Death of Marina Abramović (with Willem Dafoe and music by Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons).

Finally, we celebrate the opening of The Hepworth Wakefield and speak with Simon Wallis, the gallery’s Director, about the UK’s newest public gallery. Enjoy!

Pick up a copy from one of our stockists or online from our shop.

A Knowledge of Things Familiar: David Beattie, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin.

James Merrigan is an artist and art writer based in Dublin.

David Beattie’s work has an element of alchemy about it, where banal objects or happenings are transmuted into metaphysical experiences. A previous incarnation of this trend of energy efficient alchemy by the artist was shown at Oonagh Young Gallery Dublin in 2009. The work entitled cloudmaker, consisted of a head height metal tripod; an upturned plastic water container, that was wedged into the apex of the tripod; and a portable hob with a hot plate, placed on the floor directly beneath the pierced cap of the upside down dripping water container. A cause and effect scenario was manufactured by the mixed media setup, when the slow drips of water from the container touched ground on the hot plate – evaporating into a cloud. This apparatus was in fact a reversal of the natural phenomenon of clouds making rain; here water was made into clouds. Beattie’s solo show at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Dublin, entitled A Knowledge of Things Familiar, sets the premise for similar 'cause and effect' scenarios, but this time his focus is on sound, or more specifically “infrasound” (sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility).

Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (TBG&S) is slap-bang in the middle of Dublin City. I use the adverb “slap-bang” to get across the idea of noise or noise pollution that is part of the sensory overload of the city. This element of noise is important in the context of 'receiving' Beattie’s subtle output at the gallery. In counterpoint to the city, the art gallery is usually a space of gaping absences and focused presences, where the viewer negotiates around an object to experience and ‘read’ what the artist has left for them; but also what the artist has perversely left out. It took two visits to TBG&S to account for this review of Beattie’s work at the gallery. On the first visit no high colour, acute sound, or moving image registered as a starting point, but observing other individuals in the gallery negotiating the objects highlights the fundamental experiential essense of the work from an anthropological perspective.

At one end of the gallery Beattie presents a setup of floor bound objects, which include a UV light, a microphone, a tape recorder, and sheet of corrugated steel tilted against a wall. It was interesting to observe other visitors and what they made of the composition of objects, one individual knelt down before the setup, picked up the microphone and announced "one two, one two." The invigilator was over in a flash to apologetically explain that was not the right procedure of interaction with the art work. W.T.J. Mitchell would call this a primal meeting with technology, such as shouting at the T.V.

The other work in the space invited a similar physical interaction by another individual; who got down on all fours beside a speaker box (that seemed to emit a low frequency sound), and put his ear up against the face of the speaker. It was only on my second visit to the gallery that it became clear that both of these episodes of physical interaction were blocking the ‘effect’ that Beattie had manufactured in the gallery.

Paul Valery once wrote of “the active presence of absent things," but on the second attempt to view Beattie’s work I didn’t have to strain so hard to experience these “active presences” amongst the formally intriguing objects. I continued where my first visit had been cut short, (the image of the fellow with his ear to the speaker still phantom-like in my memory). The low frequency sound emitting from the speaker was felt rather than heard. A couple of metres from the speaker a large square sheet of glass is vertically positioned on the floor, sandwiched between two concrete blocks. The sheet of glass is positioned at an angle that bounces and directs the sound from the speaker into a head height steel shelter, enough space for the viewer to walk into. Standing in the shelter I felt nauseous, as if the sound was held within the shelter. There is something of the farmyard about the shelter and the herding of the viewer to end up in the metal canopied pen.

I wrote of noise and the city earlier, this tangent hints at my personal assumption that you need optimum conditions to receive the frequencies that Beattie is outputting at TBG&S. Although formally fascinating, I can only assume what is happening in the first setup, between the UV light, the microphone, tape recorder and corrugated steel – I presume a similar thread of sound waves that end up vibrating the steel. In saying that, an explicit disclosure of the function of these apparatus would overshadow the effect that is caused, felt and seen in the gallery — the corrugated steel seems to shimmer? The definition of a phenomena is one of wonder and is usually verbally uncooperative. The accompanying literature does mention “at 18hz[hertz] the human eye is thought to resonate causing hallucinations in the form of shadows or ghost-like forms.” I am left with ghosts in my understanding, but I also remember the nauseous feeling that I experienced in the shelter. This fabricated shed by Beattie succeeds in blocking out the noise pollution of the city that unavoidably filters into the gallery, but also traps the 18hz sound wave that the artist is 'bouncing' off the functional props in the gallery. In this instance, Beattie is acting as the medium, and his message is received loud and clear.

David Beattie, A Knowledge of Things Familiar at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios Dublin, runs until June 30A , 2011.


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 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

A Knowledge of Things Familiar
Courtesy the artist

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Photographic Explorations of Identity: Guernsey Photography Festival: 1 - 30 June

Recognising the true potential of photography and following on from the success of the inaugural festival last year, The Guernsey Photography Festival presents exhibitions by Martin Parr, Richard Billingham, Samuel Fosso, Carolyn Drake, Francesco Giusti, Adam Patterson, Dana Popa, Nelli Palomäki and a retrospective by influential 1960s British documentary photographer Tony Ray-Jones. Opening today (1 June) and running until 30 June, the year’s festival explores the theme of Identity and features a range of interpretations from personal to social to political. From Francesco Giusti’s Congolese dandies in colourful suites, to Carolyn Drake’s compelling documentation of the changing landscapes and communities of Central Asia’s Paradise Rivers, and Samuel Fosso and Nelli Palomäki’s striking takes on classic portraits, notions of self and place are presented in diverse contexts.

With a programme that includes more than 20 exhibitions and over 30 fringe events, we’ve included a selection of exhibition highlights that this year’s GPF has to offer:

Martin Parr
Martin Parr will show work from his ongoing series Small World, which offers a biting satire on the homogenisation of worldwide tourism over the last three decades, through his larger than life observations of holidaymakers around the globe. This will be shown along with the work of one of his photographic inspirations, Tony Ray-Jones, whose black and white documentary photography surveyed the distinctive eccentricities of the British leisure classes of the 1960s with surreal humour, before his untimely death aged only 30.

Richard Billingham
Richard Billingham’s acclaimed and controversial portraits, Ray’s a Laugh, which depict an honest and searing account of his parents’ troubled home-life, will be presented together for the first time with new work portraying his own young family. Also shown will be a series of videos produced by the artist in the late 90s.

Samuel Fosso
Samuel Fosso, one of Africa’s most eminent photographers, will exhibit his African Spirits and Tati series of self-portraits. African Spirits presents the artist inhabiting various icons of black identity, from cultural leaders to the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, while the Tati series shows Fosso dressed up as fictionalised characters. Both reflect his ongoing experimentation with the techniques of portraiture and the self-empowerment and sense of beauty which their theatricality projects.

Carolyn Drake
The acclaimed American photographer presents Paradise Rivers, which follows the Amu and Syr Darya rivers of Central Asia from their source in the valleys of the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains, downstream across Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan to their dwindling ends, crossing into the lives of people and layers of history that they intersect along the way. Called the Rivers of Paradise in early Islamic writings, the rivers have sustained life for forty thousand years. When Moscow’s rule ended in 1991, five new Central Asian nations appeared, burdened with plunging economies, artificial borders, and a growing ecological crisis.

Francesco Giusti
Italian photographer Francesco Giusti presents his award-winning series, SAPE, colourful portraits of Congolese gentlemen dressed in brightly coloured, bespoke tailored suits. Each belongs to SAPE - the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes – a membership who consider themselves artists and who are respected and admired by their local communities. Offering a touch of glamour to their humble environments, every weekend the members gather in bars and dancing halls to parade in the streets, in an expression of urban culture looking for new reference parameters and codes, such as non-violence and elegance.

Nelli Palomäki
Finnish photographer Nelli Palomäki conveys the magic of portraits from the past through her exploration of classic black-and-white portraiture. She will show recent works, which present children revealing behaviors mirroring the ones of adults.

Adam Patterson and Dana Popa
An exhibition of two emerging photographic talents, who each return to their respective homelands of Northern Ireland and Romania, in an exploration of place and identity following an extended absence. Most recently spending six weeks covering the Chilean miners rescue, Adam Patterson was given a special mention at this year’s World Press Photo awards for smuggling a camera to trapped Chilean miner Edison Pena, who photographed conditions while trapped underground.

Tim Andrews Project: Over the Hill
Following his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, Tim Andrews answered a small advert in Time Out and was photographed in the nude for a portrait project. Filled with a sense of creativity and liberation, Andrews has spent the last three years sitting for portraits by 128 photographers including Rankin and Harry Borden.

Jocelyn Allen
Jocelyn Allen is just 23 and completed her degree in 2010, the year in which she won the Guernsey Photography Festival competition. She was also selected as one of thirteen artists to represent the UK in the 2011 International Biennale of Young Artists of Europe and the Mediterranean. For the festival, Jocelyn Allen presents One Is Not Like The Other, a project commissioned by Guernsey Photography Festival, as part of her competition prize. Here, Jocelyn explores the theme of identity by looking at her closest relatives, whose clothes, mannerisms and poses she imitates and presents as sets of double portraits, i.e., herself and grandfather.

Guernsey Photography Festival: 1 – 30 June 2011

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 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Copyright Martin Parr, courtesy Magmum Photos

Thoughtless Gestures + Obsessive Beauty: Scotland + Venice present Karla Black, Venice Biennale

Taking place across a six-month period, from June to November, this year’s Biennale di Venezia seeks to understand the significance of art in a globalised world. In a contemporary artistic culture where the concept of anti-art has passed, the Biennale’s programme pays particular tribute to The Age of Enlightenment, the idealisation of reason and European scholarly practice that characterised it. Aiming to highlight the Biennale’s place in a globalised world, the Biennale welcomes new country participants, which include Andorra, Saudi Arabia, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Haiti.

As the world’s largest and most prestigious showcase for contemporary visual arts, Scotland + Venice present a solo presentation by Karla Black. Black (b.1972) lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland. Her work has been shown in major museum and commercial gallery exhibitions in the UK and abroad. Recent solo exhibitions include Karla Black at Capitain Petzel, Berlin, Karla Black: Sculptures with paintings by Bet Low at Modern Art Oxford and Structure and Material at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield.

Curated by The Fruitmarket Gallery, 2011 Turner Prize nominee Karla Black presents an exhibition of new abstract sculptures that hover between energy and mass – pulverised, atomised, piled, layered, supported, suspended and spilling out onto the floor; a mass of colour and material that fills the 15th century Venetian Paazzo Pisano. These ‘almost objects’ have been intimately and painstakingly worked in situ by the artist into detailed aesthetic forms. While not exactly site-specific, these works have been made with their physical and conceptual context in mind. In this exhibition Black presents forms and compositions in Vaseline and marble dust, sugar paper and eye-shadow, soil, powder paint and plaster, polythene, cellophane and soap, in crumbling, peeling washes or dustings of high key mid-colours like peach, baby blue and pastel pink. Black describes these works as being caught between thoughtless gestures and seriously obsessive attempts at beauty.

As the fifth presentation from Scotland + Venice, a partnership between Creative Scotland, British Council Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland, Karla Black’s presentation builds upon the critical success of previous projects which have features artists including Turner Prize winner Simon Starling and nominees Cathy Wilkes, Jim Lambie and Lucy Skaer, and last year presented the first solo exhibition for Scotland at the Venice Biennale with the work of Martin Boyce.

Black’s forthcoming exhibitions include Turner Prize 2011 at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (21 October – 8 January 2012) and Georgia O’Keeffe/Karla Black at Kunsthalle Vienna (2013). For further information and visitor information visit scotlandandvenice.com

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 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Karla Black, Installation View, Palazzo Pisani (S.Marina) at the Venice Biennale, 2011
Courtesy the artist and Gallery Gisela Capitain.
Photo: Gautier Deblonde

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Rediscovering the Past: Rückblick: Reminiscence in 19th Century Photography, Daniel Blau, London.

Review by Lauren Sperring

In our contemporary society, photography is a medium of the masses. It is taken for granted, a tool perpetually present, tying us to the images we create, as digital media constantly offers us new ways of capturing ourselves, our family and our emotions. Beyond this consumption, photography is a long accepted part of the art world and whilst many of the highly heralded contemporary pieces of the past several years have been centred on the photographic image this widespread acceptance is a recent move. The birth of photography in the early 19th Century gave way to a barrage of scepticism, criticism and anxiety toward this new tool. Ranging from folk tales of stolen souls, to academic criticism of its merits, photography was condemned to the act of scientific cataloguing. Some photographers did just this, making documentation their sole purpose, a constant amongst a sea of daunting technological progression. This turned into an act of looking to history for many, a moment in which to use this new medium to rediscover the easily neglected past.

It is in the heart of Hoxton Square that this renaissance comes to life, appropriately so in the centre of the contemporary vintage revival, East London. Perhaps it is this air of nostalgia that drove Daniel Blau to put forward Rückblick: Reminiscence in 19th Century Photography as their second show since opening just over a month ago. This Hoxton based space is an offshoot of the well established Daniel Blau Gallery in Munich, and is driven by photography. A small, narrow space, the gallery seems ideal for the minimal arrangement of vintage photographs by a variety of photographers; the walls are lined with crumbling architecture, naked bodies, ancient sculpture, and darkened forests. Nothing is off limits, so long as it engages with the all encompassing theme, reminiscence.

This immense scope of material is never daunting, however, and the exhibition adopts the feel of an archive, a catalogue marking the vital points of human history. It could be difficult to understand what an archive of visual material will offer us in this technological age, yet it is apparent that it is the air of vulnerability that makes this collection so engaging. Pieces such as Maxime Du Camp’s Nr 56: Colosse monolithe d’Amenophit II (1850) and Mother and Son (1855) by Jean-Baptiste Frenet capture the fragility of humanity and all of our creation, as both buildings and bodies begin to deteriorate with age. Frenet’s image is particularly noteworthy, the son’s eyes worryingly vacant, his body barely corporeal, fading away before our eyes. It is this vulnerability that has been largely decimated in the modern world, as machines and computers continue to protect us from everyday burden, making this exhibition worthy of attention for just that peculiar feeling of nostalgia towards an aspect of humanity that is slowly falling out of our consciousness.

The truly outstanding moments of this show are found in the details, the small consistencies that draw all the images together to escape notions of cataloguing, documentation, in favour of something creative. One instance of this is the perpetual appearance of the curve. Whether it is the curve of the female body as seen in Etude de nu Allonge (1870) or the curve of architecture, their presence renders the curve a symbol; the enduring symbol of nature, of coincidence, a moment of aesthetic chance that technology has no time for. Beyond the visually pleasing, the curve acts as the last bastion of man’s capabilities, playing on our perceptions in a moment of remembrance. There is no place for the manufactured in this exhibition, and each image wills the viewer to let time slow, to ignore the rush of human traffic outside on the square and to let vulnerability and natural beauty take hold.

On leaving the exhibition, it is easy to wonder if the display of the images was somewhat limiting, or if perhaps the use of nubile female bodies and portraits of wise old men is both expected and stereotypical, disappointing in the knowledge that part of the joy of vintage photographs is the ability to experiment with display and meaning in order to subvert their usual readings. However, this criticism does not impact on the charming quality that this exhibition holds. It does not quite feel like stepping back in time, but it does feel like an ache to rediscover the past.

Rückblick: Reminiscence in 19th Century Photography runs at Daniel Blau, Hoxton until 4 June. Further information can be found on their website danielblauphotography.com

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 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Etude de nu Allonge 1870
Courtesy the artist and Daniel Blau

Cannes Film Festival 2011 Round-Up

Cannes 2011 Round Up
Round-up by Eftihia Stefanidi

Closing on 22 May, Cannes 2011 was one to remember and though Cannes’ milieu may appear frivolous, tasteless and absurd from its exterior, the real treasures lie behind its theatrical doors, where, each year, the vocabulary of cinema awaits to be enriched by innovative filmmakers. Marking its 64th manifestation, this year’s festival was one of the greatest of recent times. After two weeks of truly inspiring films, one way to treat symptoms of Stendhal syndrome is by reflecting on the ones that were a true delight.

Lynne Ramsay’s family-centred drama We Need to Talk About Kevin set the bar high. A flawless Tilda Swinton plays a mother struggling to cope with her vicious son, Kevin, and the aftermath of his actions. Tackling the intriguing subject of evilness in children, the question is left to linger as to how much of Kevin’s condition is a result of parental negligence or simply pure chance. An unusual and intelligent story, its use of intricate flashbacks and exquisitely manipulated colour and framing keeps you on your toes, wondering where Kevin’s vice comes from.

Described by the director as a horror film without screams or frights, The Skin I Live In is a brilliant suspense thriller that cements Pedro Almodovar’s proficiency in turning soap operas into formidable ambient dramas. The Spanish director’s self-referential aesthetics, choreographed in perfect tune, are absolutely thrilling. Set in contemporary Madrid, a plastic surgeon has imprisoned a young woman, using her as guinea pig for his enigmatic experiments. At the same time, he seeks revenge against the man who raped his daughter. Almodovar’s surrogate muse, Elena Anaya, shimmers with indulgent passion, while Banderas perfectly balances his character’s obsession, eroticism and vengeance. As the genre dictates, there are moments of excruciating loiter, similar to the ones in the variously received Broken Embraces. This might disappoint the impatient viewer, but should they hang on, they will be rewarded with a gripping twist.

Palm d’Or winner and also the most anticipated film of the festival, Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, was a transcendental experience in its own unclassified category. The genesis of cosmos, the history of the universe, the era of dinosaurs, all provided the cosmological tapestry for a father-and-son story to unfold. Narrated largely by a spellbinding voice-over, Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn), a businessman lost in a modern city, recounts his childhood memories of growing up in the 50s, where the majority of the film takes place. A stream of consciousness on how to come to terms with the loss of a younger brother and the traumas from a militant father (Brad Pitt) gives way to the more existential questions of what, when, where and how we humans got here, but also where we are going. Despite the overly archetypal characters involved in under-developed storylines, Malick creates an intergalactic world of impeccable imagery that dissolves fluidly into the deep subconscious. Jack’s inner voice may ring bells with one’s owns inquisitions and can be intimately resonant, yet, due to the film’s opaqueness, whether it all makes sense is a subjective call.

What better way to compliment a treatise on the birth of the world than an overture about the end of it all? Lars Von Trier’s discharge note from depression is Melancholia, a stunning audiovisual experience of over-dramatised vignettes inspired by German Romanticism and dressed with Wagnerian grandeur. Trier stretches the anticipation of an upcoming abyss as planet Melancholia is meant to hit the Earth, dichotomising the story between the points of view of two fundamentally different sisters. The Danish provocateur’s slick visual style has matured; his themes apparently more mainstream, and his female leads are in excess of dominance. Accepting the minor flaws of Melancholia as a work that may not make any literal sense, is a prerequisite, it’s the visceral aesthetic quality that makes it haunting.

To summarise this year without word of some of the festival’s other wonders, would be an injustice. Drive by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn was the critics’ guilty pleasure. Affectively balanced with a feminine 80s soundtrack and a wonderfully contained performance by Ryan Gosling, Drive’s raw adrenaline, stylised violence and, of course, romance carried the audience away. Another healthy pause from the highbrowed existentialism that dominated the line-up was Ali Kaursimaki’s Le Havre. Seeing life’s hardships from a lighter prism, the director returns to social realism - casually downplayed by proverbial deadpan performances – offering a sharp and humorous critical commentary on immigration behind the film’s nonchalant demeanour. Familiar atmospheric set designs, with their astounding colours add an otherworldly touch that seems to exist only in Kuarismaki’s universe. Dardenne brother’s latest, The Kid with a Bike, verified an evolution of the duo’s signature style: rhythmically elegant camera work and a dramatic soundtrack were introduced, marking the first time the Belgian duo used imposed musical themes in a film. Lastly, Michael Hazavanicus’ The Artist, a silent film that recreates the Hollywood era of the 1920s, blossomed amongst the most uncomplicated and heart-warming of all. Two hours of cinematic bliss, like in the old times.


Monday 30 May 2011

Point of Interest: Peter Marlow, Wapping Project\Bankside, London

Review by Kara Magid, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond, The American International University in London.

Peter Marlow's Point of Interest photography exhibit is on view at The Wapping Project Bankside gallery from 24 May - 2 July. The Wapping Project Bankside is a gallery focusing on lens-based media founded by the Director of the Wapping Project, Jules Wright. Marlow joined the gallery in 2009 and the site provides Marlow's photographs with a generous amount of space in which they can truly flourish. The first photograph we encounter when entering the exhibit is of a shopping cart left astray in a public space. This large-format image allows for the viewer to ingest each detail and also to get a feel for the wide expansive space in which the shopping cart has been positioned. Because this photograph is not in black and white, it resembles a scene we might pass by while taking a random walk outdoors. Most of Marlow's colour photographs first seem like visual documents of mundane life but as one makes their way through the exhibit, it becomes clear that this is not Marlow’s intention. What he is attempting to do is to capture instances of abandonment in which various objects are the victims. No longer is the solitary shopping cart a commonplace object but a trace left behind by reckless human behaviour.

This idea of abandonment is pushed further by the flooding surrounding the cart and under which it is submerged. Marlow’s photographs display how something that once served a particular purpose can easily be left behind. He is particularly good at presenting this theme by placing objects in contexts that do not relate to them whatsoever. In this way, Marlow's photographs also completely deny our expectations. Whilst we expect to see a shopping cart in front of a grocery store - the fact that it is submerged under water allows it to be reconsidered by the viewer. The shopping cart has no purpose in the context of this photograph. By calling attention to context, Marlow brings up an important point - that context is extremely relevant in viewing contemporary photography.

The theme of abandonment reoccurs in different forms throughout the space of The Wapping Project. In a large format, colour photograph entitled Empty office in Clerkenwell/England (2002), Marlow captures the interior of an abandoned office space. In this image, light comes in from outside on a sunny day and presents itself on the floor, emulating the shape of the window through which it enters the room. This white-washed lighting provides the photograph with a sense of serenity, emphasizing the potential vulnerability that might be experienced by a thing if it is to be abandoned. What is left behind in the interior of this image are telephones no longer supported by desks and so they find their place on the floor. Because all of the telephone receivers are hung up, it appears as if their purpose has been discontinued. Ironically, the design of the telephones is reminiscent of older models and this only seems to drive the point home that these objects have been abandoned and will also soon be replaced. Once overused and talked into by humans - in this photograph, they have become entirely forgotten. Here again - Marlow makes us aware that something once serving an important purpose can become something that no longer has one at all. By presenting us with an office space, he also challenges our expectations. Who would have thought, that in the context of an office space where communication is pertinent, the means of this communication could become obsolete?

By capturing a variety of different locations and spaces, Marlow reminds us that no place is safe - instances of abandonment can occur anywhere and they are not just experienced by people. People, in fact are nowhere to be found in Marlow's photographs. Besides for Marlow himself, the only references to human life are represented by the traces they have left behind. These traces range from human footprints, dug up holes in the dirt, or the careful assemblage of Lego people and their accessories. In Marlow's photographs, humans have projected themselves onto objects and modified locations and then in the next breath, they have left these things behind. This is as if to say an object or location is only significant when it is being altered by human life. By visiting The Wapping Project Bankside gallery, one can view these powerful statements communicated by Marlow through his photographs.

Importantly, the exhibit is not limited to colour photography but also includes ten smaller black and white images. Finished in gelatin silver - they are dazzling prints mounted on museum board. Not only can Marlow present his viewers with significant themes - he can also employ this theme whilst also experimenting with different media and techniques. In a black and white print from 1996, the subject is a disused coal mine which later became the location of an Earth Centre. The context of this image is Doncaster, England and the replacement of the coal mine by the Earth Centre is emphasized by the detail Marlow has chosen to capture in this photograph. He does not simply take a shot of the Earth Centre as it stands today but shows the way in which concrete now covers and discontinues a route that once lead to the now obsolete coal mine. Because coal mining was once largely practiced in Doncaster and is no longer important today - Marlow again shows how something can lose its significance once it is befallen by change. In at first appearing ordinary and subtle, Marlow's images actually capture the essence of changes that have taken place in particular contexts. By presenting us with locations that were once occupied but today are abandoned, Marlow makes us consider the stability we might assume something to have. Perhaps everything at some point will become victim to abandonment. This exhibit is a good reminder of what photographs can do, capture the fleeting nature of appearances.

Point of Interest continues until 2 July.

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, href="http://aestheticamagazine.blogspot.com/2011/04/aesthetica-aprilmay-issue-40-out-today.html">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!

Peter Marlow
The Experimental Station, Dungeness / England 2006
C-type print on Fuji Crystal Archive, mounted on aluminium, signed.
Edition 1/7, 73x73cm

Peter Marlow
Road near Koya, Wakayama Prefecture / Japan 1998.
C-type print on Fuji Crystal Archive, mounted on aluminium, signed.
Edition 1/7, 73x73cm

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