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Friday 19 August 2011

Radical Individualism | Callum Morton: In Memoriam | Heide Museum of Modern Art | Melbourne

Text by Emily Bour

“This isn't the right place, why are we at a funeral home?” To have driven the 30 minutes to go to visit Callum Morton: In Memoriam at the iconic Heide Museum of Modern Art, I must admit slight frustration when confronted with the imposing 'Le Pine Funerals' sign at our arrival. This was, of course, our first taste of Melbourne artist, Morton's, part site-specific project, part mid-career survey show. Drawing upon almost 20 years of Morton’s work, and also presenting a number of exciting new projects, including Monument #25: Vortex, a glass-fronted shop constructed by the artist onsite, In Memoriam certainly lives up to expectation.

The less than welcoming mock replica sculpture In the Pines (2008) is a work that must be taken with a pinch of salt. Drawing on the history of the affectionately termed Heide, Morton plays with the idea of the historical sight as a “tragic and haunted place, or a repository for a series of ghost stories.” Humour is an appropriate drawcard here, especially when many of the works (including installations, scaled models and photographic prints), quite literally, re-construct a heavy architecture of our past.

The forty-five year old, Canadian-born and Melbourne-raised Morton is the son of an architect. His works reflect a thorough understanding of built space, evidenced by the accuracy and immaculate constructions of his models. Nestled in one of the darkened rooms separated by custom built walls copying the architecture of the Heide II, we find International Style (2009). We see a model replica of the famous Farnsworth House by modernist giant, Mies Van Der Rohe, and signs of a party are clear. A soundtrack of chatter and music, and the sight of colourful lights behind the drawn curtains of a house so renowned for its transparency of living point to this, until the sound of a gunshot is heard, followed by screams. The injection of narrative here is mirrored in a smaller, more primitive maquette of a shack by Le Corbusier. Cabanon and on and on (2002-3) depicts the home where the architect passed away from a heart attack. When peering into the cut-out house, the significant architect's personal history is referenced by a seductive plasma globe which alights with the sound of a quickening heartbeat, until it flatlines and all goes dark.

Morton’s work often requires the visitor to look twice In contrast to the immaculate models elsewhere in the show, I'm thrown by Monument #26: Settlement (2010). A crudely constructed cardboard box, covered with vivid tarpaulin that is all held together with orange string and tape - an aesthetic that seems out of place. The placard for the work lists materials of; epoxy resin and polystyrene, all anomalies considering its appearance. But of course, it is a counterfeit. With the same awe normally reserved for copied luxury brands, you can't help but go back to it, and admire the paint job.

This kind of double-take is less apparent in what seems like the more decorative, and therefore collectable, Screens series, which Morton has developed over the years. A gallery goer fittingly points to one of the mirrored screens with cut-outs, and states that this room is her favourite, because she can see her reflection and a photo here would look good on her Facebook profile. Of course I have to laugh, but really, it is admirable that Morton's work reaches out to such a diverse audience; one that would be willing to travel for the art.

This kind of radical individualism, so definitive of our contemporaneity, stands in sharp contrast to the ideological optimism of post-war modernism in architecture. New materials and processes conjoined to the idea that design could change the world for the better. Government constructed public housing represented an attempt at improving social welfare, ideals that Morton says he is “reconditioning” rather than abusing.

It may not be abuse, but it's definitely calling out a message for change, somewhat like the soundtrack attached to the 1:34 scale replica commissioned apartment, Gas and Fuel (2010) where a child begs: “Help me, help me.”

Callum Morton: In Memoriam, continues until 16 October.


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Courtesy of the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Spires and Squires | FLOW | Oxford Canal.

In 2008, the Department for Culture Media and Sport announced the Cultural Olympiad. A four year programme of cultural activity, it includes national and local projects as part of a UK-wide cultural festival. There has already been a lot of noise about the project from both sides. There’s the party-line suggesting that the Cultural Olympiad is a unique proposition, tracing a seamless path between sport, education and culture, and then the dissenters who are asking the age-old question – who is paying for it? What are the benefits in real terms?

With any project of this scale, it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly the Cultural Olympiad is. However, it’s certainly ambitious. Part of the programme, FLOW, Northamptonshire’s lead project, will deliver a series of new site specific artworks that explore and respond to the journey of water through the country focusing on different aspects of the country’s waterways, from its major canals and rivers, to its iconic water towers and reservoirs.

The rhetoric is hard to keep up with at times, but the works speak for themselves. Opening tomorrow, August 18, is a major commission by environmental artist Steve Messam. This work, entitled Seven Spires, sees seven 4-metre high red spires installed in the Oxford Canal on the approach to the Grand Union Canal junction and the historic narrow boating village of Braunston. Exploring both the county’s relationship to its canal network and its long standing reputation for being the county of spires and squires, Seven Spires uses solar technology and LED lighting to transform the landscape.

Seven Spires and 84 Spires, by Steve Messam, can be seen 18-29 August as part of FLOW, a countywide series of new site specific artworks set in Northamptonshire’s rivers, canals and waterways. FLOW is part of the Igniting Ambition Festival 2011 and UK Cultural Olympiad.


Courtesy the artist

Construction | Destruction | Nostalgia | Memory of a Hope | Ceri Hand Gallery | Liverpool

Text by Kenn Taylor

Devised with gallery artist Matthew Houlding, this exhibition at Ceri Hand Gallery draws on a key text by Henri Lefebvre and the autobiographical writing of JG Ballard, reflecting spaces caught between construction, destruction and nostalgia. Each gallery artist was invited to select two artists in response to Houlding’s concept. The resulting exhibition includes 36 artists and over 100 art works, including film, photography, painting, sculpture, text and audio work – much of it seen for the first time in the UK.

The resulting group show, Memory of a Hope, is crammed and complex, meaning the level of dialogue allowed between pieces varies. The highlight of the show, Geraint Evans’ Homebase (2011), selected by Mel Brimfield, is a vivid portrayal of a log cabin display in the corner of a DIY store. Commenting on the concept of the ‘take-home’ aesthetic, Evans’ depiction of a collapsed corner of the cabin’s flimsy picket fence and the shop’s grim utility, lays bare the facile nature of this idealised way of living.

Curious in its technique and vision is Kim Rugg’s This is War Kid (2008) a comic book carefully cut up and re-assembled as a fractured, multi-textured work that is almost sculpture. Also of note is Mary Griffiths’ Where Few Dwelled (2010/2011) series, a collection of detailed graphite on paper works, formed from interlinked patterns and shapes, which moodily recall the infinite world of space and physics. A highlight is Riccardo Baruzzi’s B_2134567 (2011). Apparently a screen grab from the head-up display of a military aircraft after its weapons have hit their target, the materials are shaped into a stark 3D topography that could be a representation of the landscape that is being devastated. Its content, form and colour are all riveting.

Oddly compelling is Tessa Power’s A Happy Death (2011) a 16mm celluloid film work across three separate CRT monitors of a horse, on each monitor red, blue and green respectively, collapsing, dying and then getting back up. Another work fascinating in its detail and technique is Elizabeth Rowe’s Rock Walks and Nail House (both 2011) made from newspaper sheets obliterated and enhanced by colour and patternation, a complex and intense re-appropriation of a mass media product.

Memory of a Hope is an interesting curatorial experiment which has created a varied and interesting show that has managed, just, not to be overwhelming, in this compact space.

Memory of a Hope continues at Ceri Hand until 3 September.


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We hope you enjoy 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. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Courtesy Ceri Hand Gallery
Photography by Helen Palmer

Monday 15 August 2011

The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture, Saatchi Gallery, London.

Text by Lyndon Ashmore

At first glance the exact shape of things to come suggested by the sculptures included in this exhibition can seem disparate and inconclusive. The selections are testimony to the broadening materials and mediums available to the sculptor; from the amalgamation of found objects in Anselm Reyle’s Untitled; to Rebecca Warren’s coarse modelling of clay; with Roger Hiorns’ ‘no-hands method’ precariously sat somewhere in the middle. It is a riotous collection of materials and imaginations that are assimilated here in the Saatchi Gallery’s first exhibition exclusively of sculpture.

Thematic preoccupations, however, do emerge. Sculpture facilitates a potential for a powerful conveyance of movement; sculptors from Bernini to Moore held a Promethean ability to shape a kinetic fluidity from marble that reaches well beyond the plinth. In these modern mediums however, many of Saatchi’s sculptors excel in successfully capturing a movement that is uncanny and powerful. No pieces evoke this quite as well as Dirk Skreber’s Untitled (Crash 1) and Untitled (Crash 2). In the two pieces Skreber has wrapped two cars around metal columns suspending them above the floor as if in mid catastrophic crash. Approaching the sculpture is a bizarre experience: such heavy, daily machinery in a violent suspense of animation seems threatening, like holding your breath around a slumbering lion.

Similarly, David Altmejd has produced a group of faceless individuals engaged in a joyless, convoluted orgy reminiscent of one of Dante’s infernal writhing circles: a purgatorial mess of penetration punctuated by a less than redemptive pair of wings in a piece sardonically entitled Healers. The hot, neon scrawl of Anselm Reyle’s light installation Untitled is another example of animation in stasis. Sculpture of this kind is intrinsically engaging. Like coiled springs, the potential movement of the pieces is in some way discursive with the viewer and suggests a relevance and function beyond the immediate aesthetics of the sculpture.

Other preoccupations are clear, there is particularly an inclination towards the grotesque. Exaggerated contortions of the human body are prolific and various figures appear to groan in the corners of the gallery, most notably in Berlinde de Bruyckere’s haunting Marthe. Typically this extends to the frequent conspicuous inclusion of sexual organs: in order to be displayed one feels the addendum of something breast like or phallic (preferably both) was necessary. Although in most cases, notably the parodic nature of Rebecca Warren’s Corccioni, this avoids being gratuitous. De Bruyckere’s Frankenstein-like K36 (The Black Horse) is another wonderfully disconcerting piece and represents a further successful foray into the grotesque that in its subversion of something familiar exploits the uncanny.

Sterling Ruby’s collection in Gallery 10 has a unique atmosphere to its composition. Its rough aesthetic and vastness – while making good use of the gallery’s abundance of space – is overpowering and alienating making it immediately evocative of an alien terrain which initially left me a little cold. Although I dare say this was intentional. Not all the pieces are fundamentally confrontational though; after feeling the contamination of Peter Buggenhout’s post-apocalyptic dust bunnies in The Blind Leading the Blind #21, Bj√∂rn Dahlem’s The Milky Way feels redemptive and cleansing, particularly in its location at the heights of the gallery’s top rooms. Stretching across the room, the wood and neon light construction is immediately reminiscent of its title and pays homage to it with its purity and unobtrusive simplicity.

Also of worthy note is Richard Wilson’s wonderful 20:50: the only permanent installation at the Saatchi Gallery. It is a suitable complement to the other rooms of sculpture and is infallibly meditative, a crowning of this collection despite its permanent placement. I feel that alone this merits a visit to the gallery. It also highlights the great use of space in this exhibition; housed in the old Duke of York barracks the gallery has a number of vast rooms and the abundance of space available is perfectly exploited and handled to the benefit of the installations in a way that isn’t as easily achieved in exhibitions focused on wall hangings.

As could perhaps be expected from the Saatchi Gallery the title of the exhibition is largely a marketable sound-bite of convenience. Many of the artists are far from new, let alone undiscovered, as the title may suggest. Nevertheless, there is a great deal on offer. Many specific works are deserving of individual praise, but what is most satisfying in this collection is indeed the numerous directions that appear to be manifesting. Concerns of commoditization and human interference resonate alongside other anxieties of the fractured individual and the frightening nothingness of the morphing sexless left trailing behind the consequences. A frightening vision indeed, but nevertheless one that is largely thoughtfully executed.

While the speculative enforcing of a narrative upon the pieces from these twenty artists is likely to be counterproductive, there is still much to be gained from their individual high concept genesis that points promisingly towards the shape of an artistic future that is now being sculpted.

The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture runs at Saatchi Gallery until October 16th 2011.


Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy 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. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image (Top to Bottom):
David Batchelor Brick Lane Remix I (2003)
Dirk Skreber Untitled (Crash 1) & Untitled (Crash 2) (2009)
Anselm Reyle Untitled (2010)
All images courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery

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