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Friday 23 September 2011

Opens Tomorrow | Bridget Riley: Colour, Stripes, Planes & Curves Kettle's Yard | Cambridge

Bridget Riley (b.1931) is one of Britain’s best-known artists. Since the mid-1960s she has been celebrated for her distinctive, optically vibrant paintings which actively engage the viewer’s sensations and perceptions, producing visual experiences that are complex and challenging, subtle and arresting.

Riley’s paintings exist on their own terms. Her subject matter is restricted to a simple vocabulary of colours and abstract shapes. These form her starting point and from them she develops formal progressions, colour relationships and repetitive structures. The effect is to generate sensations of movement, light and space: visual experiences which also have a strong emotional and even visceral resonance.

After a childhood in Cornwall and two years in Cheltenham Ladies’ College, she studied at Goldsmith’s College and the Royal College of Art. She came to prominence with her black and white paintings in the early 1960s and gained international recognition in the 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Since then she has exhibited throughout the world, with major retrospectives at the Hayward Gallery in 1971 and 1993 and at Tate Britain in 2003.

2011 sees Bridget Riley celebrating her 80th birthday. It also brings the 50th anniversary of Movement in Squares (1961), the break-through black and white painting that marked her out as one of the world’s leading abstract painters. This exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, celebrates Riley's work in light of this anniversary.

For most of her working life colour and our perception of its fleeting nature have been at the heart of her endeavour. This exhibition, organised uniquely for Kettle’s Yard, takes paintings and studies from the last thirty years to trace her progress through four chapters of stripes, planes, curves and stripes again.

Despite being abstract, Bridget Riley’s paintings are rooted in a Cornish childhood of looking at nature. ‘My mother ... would always point things out: the colours of shadows, the way water moves, how changes in the shape of a cloud are responsible for different colours in the sea, the dapples and reflections that come up from pools inside caves.’ Art school training in life drawing instilled a sense of structure, since when a continuing study of the art of the past has stimulated and informed her work.

Deeply influenced by the discoveries of Seurat and the Impressionists, Bridget Riley’s approach to colour was radically affected by a visit to Egypt in the winter of 1979-80. There she found a palette of four colours, a red, a yellow, a turquoise and a blue plus black and white, which had endured for thousands of years and these became the basis for a series of vertical stripe paintings exploring their potential for interaction. ‘It was a very sturdy, solid group of colours with infinite flexibility.’ As the series went on so the palette expanded in rhythmic compositions of startling variety.

A desire to dig deeper into pictorial space, coupled with her careful study of Cézanne, especially his practice of drawing with colour, led to a new structure – the introduction of planes formed by the junction of intersecting verticals and diagonals – and of colours and contrasts. And then a longing for the return of curves and for work with larger areas of colour brought paintings where flat planes of colour appear to weave in space in compositions of lyrical and exuberant rhythms.

Now, using a close harmony of hue and tone spiked by strong contrasts, Bridget Riley has taken up vertical stripes again in her most recent paintings – the Rose Rose series. Despite their rigorous discipline, their subtly modulated planes offer a new plastic sensuality and radiate a tender yet powerful warmth.

Bridget Riley: Colour, Stripes, Planes and Curves opens tomorrow and continues until 20 November. The Kettle’s Yard exhibition coincides with Bridget Riley: Gouaches 1978-80 / Paintings 2011 at Karsten Schubert, London from
6 October - 18 November 2011.


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Bridget Riley in front of Justinian (1988)
© Bridget Riley 2011.
All rights reserved. Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Thursday 22 September 2011

The Real & The Non-Abstract | Ingrid Calame | The Fruitmarket Gallery | Edinburgh

Text by Luke Healey

The Fruitmarket Galllery's summer exhibition of work by American artist Ingrid Calame whose beautifully-coloured, intricate drawings and paintings have a specific, if abstracted relationship to the world. Calame's paintings and drawings all begin with tracings of marks, stains and cracks on the ground made by the artist in various urban locations. Back in the studio, the tracings are combined layered and re-traced in coloured pencil, painted in enamel and, more recently, oil paint. The paintings and drawings that result from this singular process are beautiful and intelligent abstract works. Displayed in a gallery, they retain their connection with the world outside at several removes, exerting an oddly insistent presence.

Stepping into the gallery, one encounters a series of immaculately hung, bright, idiosyncratic paintings in industrial acrylic. These works really are quite stunning to look at, and not just on first impression: abstract but somehow living, the canvases, drawn from the early years of Calame’s career, resemble alien growths or extra-terrestrial cataclysms, and seem to morph and metamorphose with increasing violence the longer one stands in front of them. Marcel Duchamp famously spoke of titles as providing a vital extra element to the artist’s palette, and the iconoclast’s observation is vindicated by these works: titles like weh-HEY-y-JUgo (2004) and Vu-eyp? Vu-eyp? Vueyp? Vu-eyp? (2002) recall a range of sources, from arcane slang to Edwin Morgan’s poem The First Men on Mercury to the post-human, post-language song titles of British experimental techno outfit Autechre.

This fantastical aspect already gives Calame the edge over recent analogues such as Creed and Bustamante, whose aesthetic approaches were wrapped up in logical positivism and spirituality respectively. The more soberly titled Drawings and Working Drawings which form the rest of this show also display a depth of research that further gives Calame the march on her better-known contemporaries. Forming the basis of the acrylic paintings on the ground floor, these large images are created from overlaid tracings on mylar. Calame’s source material are the stains, marks and graffiti that constitute the visual ambience of the modern urban environment. Immediately embedded in Calame's work is thus a subtle form of institutional critique: the issue of what relationship the institution should adopt to street art is a fraught one, and these large, delicate abstract drawings offer a welcome interpolation in a debate that has a tendency to become polarised and shrill.

While Calame talks of using ephemeral traces to focus her mind’s eye on the “real” and the “non-abstract”, the artist’s work never becomes earnest or excessively concerned with “authenticity”. Like her acrylics, these drawings always resemble something else: large-scale maps, in the case of her overlaid 2011 traces from the banks of the L.A. River and the ArcelorMittal Steel Shipping Building in Buffalo, New York; and galaxies or nebulae in the case of her single-layer tracings from the Wading Pool of the latter city’s Perry Street Housing Projects. Minute faithfulness to the urban realities of late capitalism engenders a geological or geological vagueness. This game of comparative topologies could be just that – a game – were it not for Calame’s evocation, in the interview which accompanies the show, of information culture as an antagonist in her work.

In a short but potent essay which accompanied her 2010 show at Collective, just up the road from the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh’s Old Town, the German artist Hito Steyerl argued ‘In Defence of the Poor Image'. The ‘Poor Image’, Steyerl understands, is ‘a rag or a rip; an avi or jpeg, a lumpen proletarian within the class society of appearances’. They are images once in possession of an aura, now subject to transmutation and compression. Working with the urban equivalents of these virtual images, Calame subjects them to an ambiguously decompressive operation. Lumpen visual material is converted into full-colour monumentality, not least in the sole original commission featured in this show, the untitled drawing that takes up a whole first-floor wall, produced by pounding (or ‘pouncing’) bags of pigment through the holes of a transfer, in the manner of a Renaissance cartoon. In spite of its scale, however, this process is far from triumphalist: one needs only think of the ArcelorMittal company’s preferred visual statement, the Anish Kapoor-designed Olympic gewgaw that will be East London’s ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit,’ to gain a sense of how tentative and nuanced Calame’s own works are in comparison.

Calame achieves that rare thing: work that visually compels and yet dances provocatively round all manner of issues relating to the visible; and even rarer, a fresh interpolation into the debate surrounding abstraction and representation.

Ingrid Calame: Edinburgh Art Festival Exhibition continues until 9 October.


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Installation view
Ingrid Calame, The Fruitmarket Gallery
Photograph: Ruth Clark

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Shifting Identities | Entanglement: the Ambivalence of Identity | Iniva | London

Text by Lara Cory

In the bustling back streets of Shoreditch you’ll find the imposing Rivington Place building. Upon entering the sleek, black façade, you’ll find yourself inside Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), an institute that supports the debate and visual expression of diversity in society. Through exhibition, publications, multimedia, education and research, Iniva hope to destablilise existing hierarchies in visual arts culture and provide support and opportunity to a wide variety of culturally diverse artists, curators and writers.

Entanglement: the Ambivalence of Identity explores cultural identity, belonging and affiliation where despite the heaviness of the topics on display, they are discussed with a mixture of seriousness, humour and irony. This poignant and original selection of sculpture, film, installation and photography shows a fascination with how the artists see themselves and how others see them, reminding us that our identities are continuously shifting as we negotiate society.

The five artists on show are a mix of emerging and established talents representing a variety of age groups and heritage. Chosen for their biographical complexities, Simon Fujiwara, Anthony Key, Dave Lewis, Nina Mangalanayagam and Navin Rawanchaikul were invited to reflect on how their own lives correspond to the complexities of identity in society today.

Dave Lewis’ Contact Sheet welcomes you as you enter the gallery. A row of black and white photographs of men of different cultural heritage accompanies a light box presenting ethnographic data that explores personal, mythic and national identity. Lewis questions the objectivity of photography and data as it relates to science-based ethnographies; inviting the viewer to consider the consequences of misrepresentation of certain demographics in British society. Using a mixture of Polaroids, hand-written annotations, clippings and diagrams, Lewis conveys his frustrations with the homogenous cultural and racial profiling in the name of science, research and the seemingly objective forging of identities.

In the light-filled show room, Simon Fujiwara’s contribution provides a dramatic contrast. Set in the darkness of a blackened room, lit by one halogen bulb and a large screen TV, Fujiwara’s piece Artist's Book Club: Hakuruberri Fuin no Monogatari is an installation that includes a video of Fujiwara playing an exaggerated version of his self being interviewed in a spoof arts programme. Fujiwara juxtaposes authenticity and irony while comparing the ironic stereotyping in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to perceptions of cross-cultural identities in society. His intention is to leave the viewer uncertain as to what the truths are about his identity, and to perhaps question the perceptions of truth of anyone’s identity.

Moving on, you come to Nina Mangalanayagam's silent video Lacuna, which screens in a grey space with a grey bench. You are faced with Mangalanayagam's head as it wobbles, expressionless while she practices the ‘Indian Head Nod’. Subtitles relay anecdotes from her childhood about racial differentiation and exclusion. Mangalanayagam’s piece also consists of a series of photographs called Homeland, that show her and her father partaking in various cultural activities that seem in contrast to their own cultural appearance. The absurd, confrontational element of both pieces reflects Mangalanayagam's feelings about her own identity and confused sense of belonging.

Anthony Key’s sculptures use food as a theme to explore the larger theme of cultural entanglement. Key playfully uses noodles to embody the title of the exhibition in his giant spool of barbed-noodles, Trespassing. Key feels the piece symbolises how we become entangled and even trapped by our outward identities. Key’s largest piece and perhaps the exhibition’s most striking item is the chopstick sculpture that runs the entire length of the glass wall of Iniva’s gallery space. 8,000 chopsticks have been strung together with twine to form a kind of never-ending placemat. Each chopstick features the name and address of a Chinese restaurant in Britain highlighting the simplification of cultures in society and how this contributes to stereotyping and often false perceptions of the individual.

The final part in the exhibition is Navin Rawanchaikul's contribution that sits alone in the top floor of the gallery. Rawanchaikul's piece is presented in a darkened, grey space where you can sit and watch the video, Hong Rub Khaek (Khaek Welcome), view the painting Mahakad and read the letter From Pak-kun to Mari. Rawanchaikul focuses on the shifting identity of local cultures as they absorb the influences of immigrating cultures. His exploration through various mediums offers a gentle dissection of life as an outsider and the complications of an identity formed within the benevolent constraints of another culture.

Dr Alice Correia, provides the introduction to this exhibition and the accompanying essay Routing ‘Identity’ in Britain and suggests that ‘identity’ continues to change as we evolve in this globalised society. From something that was once a cause for dissention and alienation, internationalism and hybridity has become ordinary. In our globalised state, perhaps we can form new ways of cultural togetherness that doesn’t require containment but rather celebrates the complicated entanglement of disparity.

Entanglement: the Ambivalence of Identity is a must see show. In a city of mixed cultural influences, we can all relate to this examination of cultural identity and feelings of belonging and exclusion. Rather than focus on the fertile potential of self-pity and helplessness, curator Tessa Jackson’s exhibition invites a welcome combination of humour, irony and serious discussion to an ever-changing, dynamic and relevant debate.

Entanglement: The Ambivalence of Identity continues until 19 November.


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Nina Mangalanayagam from the series Homeland (2008)
© the artist

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Welcome to the Real World | Peering Sideways | Project Space Leeds

Text by Daniel Potts

Peering Sideways consists of three new exhibitions running concurrently at PSL. The title suggests at once that the viewer is encouraged, through the prism of the artists’ vision, to look askance at the familiar and hints at the artist-peers taking part in the show, which aims to examine the idea of collectivity. Here, collectivity is to be found through collaborative practice, affiliation through studio membership, the formation of artists’ groups or the artist-peers choosing other with which to exhibit their work in a group format. The project brings together artists’ groups from across the UK (London, Manchester, Wakefield). The three constitutive exhibitions titled Welcome to the Real World, Sorry for the Inconvenience, and, Other People’s Problem.

Welcome to the Real World consists of work by artist-members of The Art House in Wakefield. Here, the intention, in bringing these individuals together, is that the viewer questions how networks shape our perception of the real world. The work conveying and compounding this sense with the greatest universality is Marion Michell’s five-part exhibit, titled individually: (i) Edith’s Shoes; (ii) Changeling; (iii) Gym Turtle; (iv) One and one walked hand in hand; (v) Not filth, not hairs. Materials and textiles are used here - tissue paper, crocheted fibres, crocheted cotton, crocheted wool-silk – fashioned and woven into articles, mainly clothing, which are highly evocative of childhood. The viewer is encouraged to consider difference and how it might be experienced with the emphasis on the way in which a child might not feel ‘right’. This is achieved, for example, in the choice of colour of the materials used – they are not the bright and cheerful primary and secondary colours one associates with the accoutrements of the child of today, but dull browns and greens and off-whites. In the woven items of clothing there is something viscerally irksome in the evocation of a certain melancholic nostalgia to be found in the contrast between the relative largeness of the weave itself and the smallness of the garment. As mementos of innocence, the pieces do not celebrate innocence in the way, as one observes, a parent or guardian might instinctively do with joy, but they speak of the desire, pleasure and pain of the innocent. Such is evoked with great delicacy and is self-evident in the works, taken together, without explanation.

Sorry for the Inconvenience brings together five artists based at or affiliated with Manchester’s Rogue Artists’ Studio. Striking in its composition, Dan Mort’s Parisian Street Scene is an abstraction made from surfaced urethane arranged around a carpenter’s T-square. A mysterious, distorted, small painting is attached. The piece seems to achieve Mort’s intention of seducing and infuriating the viewer. One is seduced by the cascading grace of its composition – the arrangement of the surfaced urethane imparts a sense of the patterns found in nature, perhaps, in the collective movement of shoals of fish or flocks of birds – only to be infuriated by the apparent potential for multiple meanings in the work: the T-square is reminiscent of a crucifix, patterns found in nature are detectable, why is the picture distorted, and why is the work so-titled? One is minded of the seduction and frustration surrounding those works of art requiring an almost solipsistic esotericism relative to the mind of the artist, and the confusion felt by many when encountering new work. As such it is an amusing but graceful piece

Other People’s Problem’s features peers from the MA course at Goldsmiths, University of London. The artists here engage with macro issues effecting a populous socially and politically with work that is polemical in nature. The Future of things Past, by Sophie Carapetian, is a large-scale, two-dimensional work. Somewhat reminiscent of newsprint in the use of black and white, the piece communicates a sense of ordered chaos in the fairly regularly positioned repetitions of the face of Karl Marx among other objects. Marx’s face is sometimes distorted, sometimes not. The regular (though not strict) positioning of Marx’s face causes one to reflect on the pervasive nature of his influence in every corner of the world. That the piece is in black and white and, perhaps, reminiscent of newsprint suggests contemporaneity and invokes the recent social disorder in the cities of the UK. If the work is a link between the future and the past through Marx, one considers whether the distortions of his face are a reflection of the rampant individualism and apparent materialism detectable within the recent disorder. Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that ideologies can be distorted. Or is the repeated appearance of Marx an emphatic declamation of the need for collective action on global pressures, resonating with the common idea of collectivity that runs through the entire exhibition? It is a striking piece.

Peering Sideways runs until 10 December 2011.


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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!

Dave Griffiths Courtesy the artist

Monday 19 September 2011

Last Chance To See | Bold Tendencies | Levels 7-10 | Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park

Text by Paul Hardman

The immediate appeal of Bold Tendencies, particularly on a sunny day, irrespective of what the art is like, especially if you haven't been before is simply to visit the venue. Located on the top two floors and roof of a seven story car park in Peckham, the view is fairly epic, and since the temporary gallery space is complemented by having Frank's Cafe and Campari Bar strapped onto the building it is a pleasure to be in the space itself. Specially appointed by the Curatorial Council, the 15 large-scale new works by international artists commissed for the space, take central stage.

In fact the drama of the site offers a particular challenge to the artists, this is far from the ideal 'white cube' situation of the contemporary gallery. The artworks must stand under a low ceiling or the open sky, surrounded by the raw surface of the concrete and framed against a panorama of all the prominent London skyline, competing with the Gherkin, the Shard, the London Eye, all only a couple of kilometres away.

In this case then, the first idea in both the artists and the curators minds must be, 'let's go big!, 'let's go rugged!', and so-on. In previous years this has been the case, with sculptures on giant plinths, and a diving board like structure (Theo Turpin) installed on the roof that could be climbed upon so that visitors could get an even higher perspective. This year there is an element of this approach, in some cases more successful than others. With some of the objects on display there is a slight feeling that they aren't benefiting from the situation, they just seem a little insubstantial in this setting. A good example of this effect is the two huge (3m perhaps) inflatable rats that stand on the roof facing each other. One slowly deflates while the other inflates, to a soundtrack of an overblown love song pounding out of some speakers. In a usual wall bounded gallery space, these giant horrors would be overpowering, here they maintain some effectiveness, but the power is undoubtedly dimmed.

However, one shouldn't dwell overly on this difficulty; elsewhere in the exhibition the setting fits the work extremely well. Ripper Teeth by James Capper takes a group of great sharp hooks, teeth and claws from digging machinery and displays them on light-box plinths, huge, heavy and dangerous looking. These are located under the low hanging roof of the car park, and spread out, using the scale of the space to good effect. This piece is linked to several others in the show by certain motifs, such as machinery and danger, and certain materials, such as steel. The show is not billed as having any theme, but on viewing all the artworks it becomes apparent that the selection is not completely unrelated.

Up on the roof, The Price of Danger, by Camille Henrot, an aeroplanes wing has been dissected so that the internal structure is displayed. In a piece by David Brooks several fork lift trucks lift and break sections of a winding wooden track – so we have machines being dissected and also doing the damage themselves. Another instance is Bettina Pousttchi's contribution, AHEAD ONLY, a collection of apparently real steel bollards, polished to the most insanely shiny point possible. This surface effect draws attention to their less than perfect shapes, since they have been bent and twisted in a way that is quite common for bollards out on the street, but here in this stylised scenario, the forces necessary to do the damage take on a different aspect, as the violence of the distortion is juxtaposed with the extreme attention that has been paid to polishing the objects clean.

It seems as though the curators have been deliberately gathering together work that has a definite shared fascination with the industrial, the mechanical, the dangerous and the hard sharp qualities of metal. This occurs even in some of the more restrained pieces. Eva Berendes' work Untitled (Osaka) takes some of the primary forms that are familiar from sure influence Sol Le Witt, triangles, semi-circles, and the three step triangular ziggurat shape, and renders them in sheet steel. The same material is used by Lilah Fowler in tube:fencing (their lowercase) this time cut and laid flat on the floor or against the wall.

The game of looking for connections and oppositions is part of the appeal of a group show such as this, but it is far from the whole story, other work that don't fit so comfortably alongside the other pieces still make valuable contributions to the visit. In particular (Untitled) Harvest Architecture by Michael Dean. This is perhaps the easiest work in the show to miss, as he has hidden it in the cracks of the architecture and piled in dark and dusty corners of the carpark. The work is a small paper back book, with no text, and lots of blank pages. The pages that do carry and image show folded prints of photographs of the space itself. First wrapping and restructuring the building into images, then into sculptures, back into images and finally placed via the books back into the gallery. Through his convoluted but reflective process, Dean has found a quiet but ultimately masterful way to get the upper-hand in this challenging location.

Aside from the main exhibition, an exploration of the Bold Tendencies website will reveal a great season of events and film showing continuing up until the end of the show.

Bold Tendencies continues until 30 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 Hannah Barry Gallery and the artist

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