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Friday 26 August 2011

Ryan Gander: Locked Room Scenario | Londonnewcastle Depot | London

Text by Charles Danby

There were momentary points of sensory poetic and visual intrigue within Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario, the optical slightness of a darkened corridor that led to an unwitting approach of ones own shadow in a space indeterminate in scale, direction and makeup. Here there was an overwhelming sense that the ceiling was narrowing like an all too familiar cinematic illusion. Odd shafts of light, such as the thrown-back light of a slide projector, were all that illuminated the environment. The scenario was entirely compelling.

Added to this there were plenty of locked doors, a number of which flanked a (or the) locked room. The locked room was circumvented by a network of constructed and altered corridors that disclosed varying views of the entombed artworks (or further props within an artwork), the vistas becoming more explicit as further routes were navigated. But such disclosure led to little, the glimpsed ‘supposed artworks’ when seen most clearly echoed with little more than the familiar. A large obtusely figurative amorphous (Yves Kline blue) fabric clad sculpture, a heavily designed wooden lectern with formal propped image arrangements. These were regular Gander artworks pretending through conceit not to be, and through a transparency of that conceit to be again - but as something else (perhaps). Ultimately that something else was not so much elusive as not necessarily that interesting, and perhaps it was that lack that ultimately appeared underwhelming.

Gander’s works are connective, in spatial proximity and across time, works are connected to other works through undisclosed and occasionally ungraspable logics. Single strands (and one line jokes) multiplied, cross-fed and interwoven, parts easily unpicked, parts easily missed. It is this methodology that was here transformed to the physical world, to be played out through the wandering of the viewer, their situation of experience also being the work. The work was an arena to be explored, with each encountered door as readily leading somewhere as nowhere. Within this the disparity between the constructed elements and the manipulations of existing aspects of the building created fault lines that perhaps highlight and reflect where the translation between the methodologies that Gander ordinarily utilises to link detached autonomous artworks failed to match with those that, in this case, propose to link stage with environment as artwork.

Gander’s works propose (through the vehicle of narrative) that there are certain logics to be ‘got’, in someway understood (even if the dislodging of this notion is what Gander might ultimately be interested in). In ‘getting’, which in itself may be no more than witnessing or experiencing, Gander solicits a sense of missing. For Gander the emperor’s clothes are both new and worn through. In the case of the Locked Room Scenario the tropes and artworld plays are apparent, all too predictable, all too internalised. A disused warehouse in a slightly (but not too much) out of the way location. A pile of mixed sized post and packages sent to the address (addressed to the fictional artists of the exhibition at the fictional gallery of its running – perhaps but not necessarily connecting to the St Martin’s art school project that the title appears to assume). A printed timeline contextualising the conceit of the fictional artists, their interaction with artworld events and artists. Within this timeline photographs of the artists appear in customary documentary monochrome, Gander exposing the mythologies of documentation within art historical heritage. Unravelling ideas through multiple fractures is an active part of Gander’s strategy. On a postcard stand, the ‘artworks’ seen only in glimpses were revealed as printed postcard images, set to standard museum fare. The amorphous blue structure (in the postcard) is seen with a cardboard sign that reads, ‘If I was monochrome I would be better appreciated’.

Characters, amateur or otherwise actors were also present, mixing, obstructing and discretely disclosing narratives. Polite graffiti on a side and back wall, and a skip filled with the waste material, a prominence of blue felt fabric, were further staged vignettes within the expansive tableau, but their transparency seemed only to add to an overstretched signposting of a constructed conceit rather than offer further dimension to it.

The St Martin’s Locked Room (1969) was about an empty space, a space not for the problematic clutter of rhetoric or expectation but a space for extracting underlying issues through time, activity and community. While such sentiment has permeated art schools and subsequent studio practices its flipside arguably lies in a counter point of circular return, a leaning on the past, a construction of fiction from a point of empty vacuum in lieu of a concrete present.

Where Gander’s strength is best deployed in the Locked Room Scenario is in the small (non narrative) material details of composition, choreography and construction rather than in its overall logic or outcome. In many ways the overall is a distraction from the parts and fragments. The moments of intrigue are those that articulate and celebrate materials and ideas rather than those that over-expose them or unwittingly enforce their separation.

Ryan Gander Locked Room Scenario, Londonnewcastle Depot, London
30 August - 23 October


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Locked Room Scenario – Ryan Gander
Photographer Julian Abrams
Commissioned and produced by Artangel with the support of Londonewcastle and the Lisson Gallery

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Mario Merz: What is To Be Done? | Henry Moore Institute | Leeds.

Text by Daniel Potts

In Mario Merz’s (b.1925) first solo exhibition in the UK for nearly 30 years, What is To Be Done? presents 12 works made between 1966 and 1977, many of which have been rarely exhibited in the last four decades. Merz was a leading figure of Arte Povera, a term referring to a loose grouping of Italian artists who turned their attention to their surrounding environment in the immediate post-war period. The title of the exhibition, echoing a speech of Lenin's from 1912, relates to a time of great political, social and ensuing, artistic upheaval, drawing attention to Merz’s creative reaction to the dileama he faced as an artist of: what can an artist do in the face of a precarious future?

Exploring the role of art in mundane human experience, Merz turned away from representing modernity for its own sake, instead seeking to explore the role of art in day-to-day life, turning to materials that were ready at hand. In Merz’s case, these include glass, metal tubing, blankets, bottles, wood shavings and neon, the focus of the selection of works in his exhibition. Merz began using neon in 1966, seeking to find a contrast between natural phenomena and the logical that would complicate and energise his chosen materials. The neon passes through different forms – in this exhibition these include a car, bottle, blankets, glass and wax. Merz described his use of neon operating as a ‘kind of thunderbolt that would enter objects’.

Using materials from daily life, in this case incorporating and arranging them with an injection of the complex mathematical sequences found in the natural world, Merz successfully married physically mundane objects with natural processes. This is executed perfectly in Igloo Fibonacci (1970). Here brass pipes, steel hinges and eight marble slabs with adhesive tape are arranged into a sort of parabolic cage (or igloo) with the proportionate increases in the length of the brass pipes reflecting the Fibonacci Sequence (a sequence of proportional increase discernible in the component units of pinecones). Certainly, the employment of the natural mathematical sequence engages the viewer with a sense of grace, made more emphatic by governing the fashioning of what one feels to be disposable, mass-produced objects, usually associated with a utilitarian sort of clumsiness.

A short video on repeat is the medium through which Merz expresses the dual combination of natural process and proliferation with objects found in the day-to-day. In Lumaca (1970), a film portrait of the artist from Gerry Schum’s Identifications series, Merz is seen to draw an equiangular spiral (a pattern found in sunflowers) on to a transparent Perspex sheet held in place in front of the camera. A snail is seen to be following the line of the spiral. The Perspex shown and, indeed, the television set on which it is displayed are reminders of the everyday, but they seem less significant when one perceives the contrast between the employment of an organism from the natural world and its use in a mathematical abstraction from that same world. There is something unsettling in this contrast, perhaps because of the incorporation of a living organism into such a clinically refined phenomenon. The disquiet is only compounded by the eerie repetitions of the video.

The exhibition pays particular attention to Merz’s use of neon lighting. In the piece Objet cache-toi (1968) the title is spelled out in neon around one of Merz’s signature igloo structures, constructed from iron rods and mesh and fleshed out with linen sacks. In Automobile trapassata dal neon (1969 – 1982) a car is shot through with an arrow of light. Again, this speaks of the incorporated contrast evident in the other pieces using neon: a contrast between the piercing shafts of neon light – these impart that sense of scientific abstraction from nature implicit in the use of mathematical sequences from the natural world in the aforementioned works – and found objects such as a wine bottle, a linen salami cloth and a vat of food, which, although fashioned through human abstraction, speak of everyday human experience. These objects speak of the utilitarian clumsiness associated with mass production and they are made complete with a grace that comes from the expertly chosen positioning of the contrasting neon lighting.

Reading the exhibition as a whole in this way causes one to reflect upon the aptness of displaying this work in the UK at this time. The incorporation of apparently mass-produced objects with the processes and proliferations of abstractions from the natural world as a reaction to post-war social, political and artistic upheaval, improves and resonates with our own sentiments surrounding the idea of the aesthetic authenticity, or lack of it, of mass-produced items. In a broader context, the comodification of culture accompanying the industrial revolution still affects how many perceive the authenticity of cultural artefacts as ‘high’ or ‘low’. The mass-produced capital of mechanised warfare in the Second World War was the more immediate and horrifying manifestation of mass production when Merz lived and worked. The everyday objects used by Merz in the twelve works are used in beautiful and graceful ways that cut through any false notions we might have regarding the aesthetic authenticity of mass-produced objects, and, in a way that pushed the boundaries of artistic convention in his own time.

Mario Merz: What is To Be Done? continues until 30 October.

To complement the main gallery show, on Thursday 27 October, there will be a one-day Mario Merz conference, The Politics of Protagonism, which looks at the social and political ambitions of Merz’s 1960s and 1970s work.


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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 Mario Merz/SIAE/DACS
London 2011/André Morin

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Science Vs. Self | See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception | Work Gallery | London.

Text by Karla Evans

There is no question to the relentless speed at which technology and science are evolving; it appears in the palms of our hands in our ever-accessible phones and materialises before our eyes in our multi-tasking computers. See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception at Work Gallery takes on this Herculean topic and instead of playing on technology’s direct effect on the world around us, hones in on its more controversial impact on our very own bodies.

The exhibition brings together artists from all creative genres featuring architectural sketches of buildings never realised, performance art videos played on iPads and fully installed robot-like structures. There is no shortage of varied mediums or pure aesthetic stimulation, which after references to prosthetics, cybernetics and neuroscience in the information leaflet, is a happy find.

An interactive work that immediately gets the ‘science versus self‘ debate started is Golan Levin’s Eyecon. A large Mac computer with an inbuilt camera captures a two-second video of your eyes; the footage then instantly appears on the screen before you and is surrounded by other eyeballs that have participated moments earlier. The simple act of seeing your own two eyes playing on a recorded loop confronts you with your own being: it is the natural looking directly at the artificial and the very crux of the exhibition itself.

Typically when technology is the focus of a show there’s no escaping its dark references to a dystopian society not unlike Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World. Australian performance artist STELARC echoes these implications in a video piece in which he steps into and wears a giant metal contraption that sends him across the room without control. It is both oddly funny and extremely dark; raising the question, can we contently coexist with technology flourishing at this rapid speed?

On a similar topic of body extension German installation artist Rebecca Horn is given an appropriate appearance with stills from her cult book Unicorn (Einhorn). Horn was the subject of a Hayward retrospective in 2005 and remains a leading figure in the art world’s extrapolation of the body. Her famous modification suits are pictured featuring outfits with vertically projecting unicorn horns attached and overalls with too-long sleeves. All of which subtly implies the worrisome prospect of body modification in a more literal and definitive sense.

But, this isn’t an exhibition inciting fear or seriousness, if anything See Yourself Sensing’s overriding feeling is of playfulness and opportunity. Artist Didier Faustino humorously covers his face in a mask of pink chewing gum to demonstrate the relationship between skin and its surroundings and design lab BetaTank take the edge off in a high-tech lollipop implanted with microchips that lights up on your tongue’s first touch.

It is also encouraging to see the projects that hold potential and actively harness technology in hope of bettering the bodies of the world. Industrial Facility sets out to conquer unattractive hearing aids with a pair of clear framed glasses in which a tiny microphone and speakers are cleverly set. Following the same brief is Auger and Loizeau who’ve impressively created a miniscule hearing aid that can be fitted inside a tooth: an internalisation of technology that hopes to one day sit alongside medicinal triumphs such as pins for broken legs and pacemakers.

As with many group shows offering a wide scope of both mediums and artists there is no one overriding thought channelled in the exhibition but instead a refreshing mixture of positive initiatives that glimpse into the not so distant future and fantastical creations that yearn for a purely artistic response.

See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception runs until 24 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!

Didier Faustino [G]host in the [S]hell (2008) (Detail)
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Michel Rein.

Monday 22 August 2011

Home, Sweet Home? Bristol & West: Photography by Martin Parr | M Shed | Bristol

Text by Bethany Rex

Based in a converted 1950s goods shed, M Shed will exhibit a major retrospective of Martin Parr’s work, shown in Bristol for the first time since the artist moved to the city a quarter of a century ago.

M-Shed, Bristol’s latest new-museum, will tell the story of the city and its people, both the well-known and ordinary, across three main galleries, Bristol Places, Bristol People and Bristol Life. For Bristol and West, Parr will be focusing very much on the ordinary, showcasing images that focus on his continual interest in how people live, how they present themselves and their values.

In capturing the city and its surrounding areas, Parr presents a collection of images that are immediately accessible and entertaining, despite being both affectionate and critical. In true Parr style, Bristol and West captures the world as he sees it and not how people might expect it to be.

They include early morning swimmers braving the icy cold waters of the Severn Estuary in Clevedon, a quintessentially British game of bowls on an uncharacteristic glorious afternoon, an ice cream van in the upmarket hilltop community of Clifton, revellers at the St Paul’s Carnival and Bristol’s annual Caribbean street party.

As part of the Bristol and West exhibition visitors to M Shed will be invited to select their favourite images from the show. The most popular photographs chosen from the 60 images displayed will then become part of the M Shed’s permanent art collection.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of events, including an in-conversation with Martin Parr on Tuesday 11 October 7pm. For further information, to book tickets, and to cast your vote visit the website.

Bristol and West: Photography by Martin Parr will be on display from Wednesday 31 August – Sunday 27 November.


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!

Martin Parr/Magnum

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