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Friday 21 October 2011

Subtle Refinement | Mathias Poledna / Florian Pumhösl | Raven Row | London.

Text by Morgan Meaker

For the current exhibition at Raven Row, Mathias Poledna (b. Austria, 1965) and Florian Pumhösl (b. Austria, 1971) have each created a single expansive new work. Poledna has produced a 35mm film for the ground floor, and Pumhösl has made a series of glass paintings for its upper galleries. Bearing the description of contemporary art, visitors may be expecting work of impressive stature, reminiscent of Rothko perhaps, yet upon entering the 18th century rooms, visitors are greeted with the intersecting lines of Pumhösl’s work, titled Fliengende Handler (travelling Hawker). While Pumhösl’s pieces are not immediately breathtaking, being small in size and minimal in detail, the glass paintings are however beautiful in their subtle refinement.

The paintings are dependent on lines and therefore reminiscent of early Mondrian and the De Stile group. Pumhösl moulds a simple recipe of glass and minimal amounts of lacquer paint into a fascinating collection. The apparently perfect lines are, on closer inspection, rife with inconsistencies, giving them a human edge. As well as mimicking human imperfection the panels seem to draw on the influence of nature and the world beyond the windows. As the sun shines in the room and its ray's falls upon the panels, through shadow a three dimensional effect is created, one that is unique to each picture and each day.

The shadows give an impression of an undercurrent of hidden meaning. Pumhösl attributes this ‘meaning’ to an indirect representation of a person with a market barrow, in his words a symbol of ‘primeval capitalisation of the individual, as a basic and unchanged mechanism’. The fact that the simple aesthetic delights of the glass panels are reinforced by such an idea, relevant and poignant in a society such as ours, makes the work more purposeful. It therefore leaves the realm of being an ambiguous vision, subject to the onlookers interpretation as once you have read Pumhösl’s own words your perspective of the lines shifts as your spectating eye is carefully guided.

The meaning of A Village By The Sea is less artistically manufactured and therefore left more to the imagination of the eyes which look upon it. Poledna’s film, created to accompany Pumhösl’s work, takes the form of an excerpt from a black and white musical. Despite its creation in 2011 it adopts a classic feel with a precise attention to detail, everything in shot belonging to the Golden Era. The characters move around carefully restrained by their choreography and despite the attempt to convey an era far detached from our own, there is something distinctly modern about the faces of both man and woman.

This was a film unexpected as a work of art, and therefore this is what it has in common with Pumhösl’s panels. Both then question essentially what the recipe is for a successful piece of contemporary art. Where Poledna confuses the boundaries between the art forms; art, film and music, Pumhösl swaps canvas for glass and shape for lines. The viewer is then forced to consider the process of art and its definition as a whole.

This is not an exhibition for the less than patient art enthusiast, however for those who are willing to pause and consider what they see in front of them they will find the collaboration ultimately rewarding. The exhibition is then thought provoking and subtly beautiful, this is particularly true of Pumhösl’s panels, however Poledna’s film is not without its charm. Raven Row is used as a foundation to the work, enhancing the spectator’s experience, almost creating a third work of art through architectural design. Although perhaps not suitable for visitors with a short attention span, these are artists that reward you for the time and consideration you offer them, offering delicately beautiful and intelligent work in return.

Mathias Poledna / Florian Pumhösl continues until 20 November 2011.

Thursday 27 October 2011, 7pm
Mathias Poledna and Florian Pumhösl In Conversation with Michael Bracewell
In conjunction with the show writer Michael Bracewell will discuss the exhibition and their work with the artists. Michael Bracewell is the author of six novels and three works of non-fiction, most recently Re-make/Re-model: Art, Pop, Fashion and the making of Roxy Music, 1953 - 1972. Since the late 1990s he has written widely on modern and contemporary British art. His collected writings on art, The Space Between will be published by Ridinghouse later this year.

Places are free but must be booked in advance and will be offered on a first come first served basis. Please email info@ravenrow.org to reserve a place. All names must be given for a place, and there is a maximum of two places per email.


Mathias Poledna
A Village by the Sea, 2011
35mm black and white film, optical sound
Photo by Marcus J. Leith, courtesy Raven Row

Don't Miss | Stuart McAlpine Miller | Hay Hill Gallery | London

Stuart McAlpine Miller graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1990. Having worked to develop his unique style, McApline Miller is now concentrating his attentions on an exciting new series of work as premiered at Memories & Futures, Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. Hay Hill Gallery is delighted to present the latest collection of McAlpine Miller's work.

Speaking about his new body of work, McAlpine Miller commented: "This new series of works celebrates the culmination of ideas based upon the last 20 years. These paintings concentrate and focus on the fading of one idea into another with distorted images and abstracted thoughts. Based on the notion that we live in a throw away world each painting both suggests and questions the importance of certain celebrated things. Celebrity, Fame, Money and Greed feature as important issues for each of us. These are depicted as both fading memories and future hopes. The comic imagery signifies the unimportance of these things and helps to suggest that they have been manufactured for a temporary audience. Looking more closely the paintings illustrate a feeling of shallow existence. Surrounded by a myriad of colour, shapes and abstractions our lives are exactly the opposite. The 'Living For The Moment' society, which actively encourages human singularism, seems almost unsustainable. Perhaps a return to truer values is the way forward. Certainly with current consumerism and appetite for fame and success, societies will neither progress nor benefit. Take a look…now take a closer look."

Stuart McAlpine Miller continues until 5 November 2011.


Courtesy the artist

Open Eye Gallery Liverpool Presents | Mitch Epstein & Chris Steele-Perkins | Opening 5 November

Open Eye Gallery has been one of the UK's leading photography spaces since 1977, and is the only gallery dedicated to photography in the North West of England. 2011 represents an exciting milestone in the history of the gallery as it moves to a brand new purpose-built home, twice the size of its former incarnation. The new gallery space will open on 5 November, presenting work by world-class photographers Mitch Epstein and Chris Steele-Perkins for its programme of inaugural exhibitions.

The new gallery is a bespoke space developed by Open Eye director Patrick Henry with architects RCKa and comprises three areas for exhibitions. The main galleries on the ground floor will showcase an international programme of cutting-edge contemporary photography, opening with award-winning, New York based photographer Mitch Epstein’s acclaimed American Power series. Awarded the prestigious 2011 Prix Pictet photographic award, the body of work reflects on energy production, power politics and the American Dream gone awry.

The first floor of the gallery will house a series of exhibitions drawn from the richness of the gallery’s archives, launching with Magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins’ The Pleasure Principle, while the gallery’s exterior wall will be used for large-scale Wall Work commissioned pieces, the first being a striking new artwork by S Mark Gubb.

Further highlights from the opening year’s programme include Richard and Famous in January 2012: An exploration of celebrity and fandom curated by the highly influential photographer Martin Parr featuring work by Australian photographer Richard Simpkin and LA-based Simone Lueck.

The inaugural exhibition programme opens on 5 November and runs until 23 December. Open Eye's new space is located in a development on Liverpool’s Waterfront and is a stone’s throw from Tate Liverpool and the Albert Dock, in the heart of the city’s rich cultural quarter.


Images (Top to Bottom):
1. Hypnosis Demonstration, Cambridge University Ball
From The Pleasure Principle (1989)
Chris Steele-Perkins
2. Blackpool Beach
From The Pleasure Principle (1989)
Chris Steele-Perkins
3. Photo Opportunity During Territorial Army Exercise
From The Pleasure Principle (1989)
Chris Steele-Perkins
4. American Power
BP Carton Refinery, California 2007
Mitch Epstein. Courtesy Thomas Zander Galerie, Cologne.
5. American Power
Las Vegas, Nevada 2007.
Mitch Epstein. Courtesy Thomas Zander Galerie, Cologne.
6. American Power
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, Nevada/Arizona, 2007
Mitch Epstein. Courtesy Thomas Zander Galerie, Cologne.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Aiming Towards Extreme Mediocrity | Jaakko Mattila | Lowest Common Denominator | James Hockey & Foyer Galleries | UCA Farnham

Jaakko Mattila - Artist from Rami Lappalainen on Vimeo.

On show until 17 December at the James Hockey & Foyer Galleries, part of the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, is international artist Jaakko Mattila with his new exhibition Lowest Common Denominator.

Now based in Oulu, Finland, Jaakko returns to UCA, where he graduated in 2001, with an impressive collection of oil, gloss, watercolour and print.

Christine Kapteijn, UCA Galleries Curator and Manager spoke to Jaakko before the exhibition:

CK: How do you choose the medium for a particular work? How does that develop?
JM: Most of the ideas come from the media themselves; it’s a natural process, they choose themselves. The media have these qualities I like about them, their own physicality. Somehow, with the images or paintings I try to make, the medium tells me where to go. I just think about what it is possible to do with one medium, what kind of image would best be done with that sort of medium. For example, in watercolours I can make some shades pretty close to white, in ten layers and with amazing qualities from the paper and the pigment. But then again, with oils you can achieve so many other effects. They are pictures, so it’s all about the surface and how it feels. Nowadays I don’t really plan as much as you might think. For example, this piece here I have in the background, the main piece, I didn’t really know what I was going to do – I just stretched the paper and then I started painting (One as shown in the video). So it’s different for each piece of work.

CK: Does the medium also indicate to you the scale of the work?
JM: Yes, actually, because of their physical properties. You can’t drip watercolours for more than two metres, for example, because of the properties of water. With gloss, there’s a physical limit to paintings too. I can’t make any paintings larger than three metres squared because I can't really size them properly. I have never been given the scale for exhibiting these larger works either. The show at the James Hockey & Foyer Galleries is the first time I can exhibit the gloss pieces. I always wanted to show three of these landscapes together, because I use three different backgrounds: white, black and grey. They are very large so it is the first time I can present the complete series together. That in itself is going to be quite strong. I am looking forward to it.

CK: You say your pictures are about the surface?
JM: Well, all pictures are about the surface.

CK: Yes, but your pictures go further than that. They are very much about what is behind the surface, it seems?
JM: Yes, definitely. I try to eliminate the surface, that’s the thing really. That’s critical for me. And when I look at paintings too, I like pictures that somehow don’t make me think about the surface at all. If the painting is good you'll easily get behind it.

CK: How do you plan and execute such works?
JM: I research colours in depth. It’s like chemistry: I buy the pigments not the names of the colours or anything like that. I have a list of all the pigments in the world; I know all the chemical formulae. But it’s still pretty basic. Each pigment and each colour have totally different qualities. You can clearly see in the watercolours and in all the paints that certain areas of colour are really difficult to make; you have to work at a mixture. Colour and tone are these elements that we separate visually. And that's why I use all these colours.
I like to question things all the time too and think about what you can do and how to present it. Otherwise it would be kind of boring. For example, in my next solo show at the Oulu Museum of Art in 2012, I will be creating a mural in watercolour technique, directly onto the wall. It's going to be interesting, I think it will work.

CK: Don’t you ever repeat yourself?
JM: I sometimes do the same thing because I'm quite critical. If I haven't executed some visual idea as well as I should have, in my view, I might do it again or I will try it on a different scale. There are certain elements like this circle or like these spirals that repeat themselves in my work because I really like those forms.

CK: What I find strange is that your work looks really planned and considered but at the same time utterly direct and in the moment.
JM: Yeah, for this circle here there was no preliminary drawing or plan. It’s not even a real circle; it’s a little bit wonky. I repair it and fix it a little as I go along.

CK: Right, so are you on a continuous feedback loop: adjusting all the time?
JM: Yes, like these big gloss works, which take a few hours a day for one piece and are absolutely huge. You wouldn’t think that. It's a very different process all the time.

CK: How do your prints relate to your original works; do you find they provide a release, a different distance to the process?
JM: Yes, prints are strange because they are the only works that involve a lot of planning because of the process: it is really slow. The copper prints are especially slow, involving a lot of chemicals and a lot of different phases within one work.

CK: When you refer to ‘global visually interesting art’ in your statement what do you mean?
JM: Well that's the central point: Lowest Common Denominator refers to what people find aesthetically or visually interesting. But that should not depend on where you are from or what you have seen, for instance, how many TV shows or movies or Disney films you have seen as a kid, it’s about looking at something and sharing that immediacy with everybody. It basically has a powerful and direct impact; it goes straight to the core. I have absolutely no political agenda whatsoever in my work and I’m not trying to be clever about it, the opposite really.

CK: So would you consider this a craft attitude to art?
JM: Maybe, I don’t know whether you can call it that. I think a lot of craftsmen are real artists.

CK: Yes, true, but those terms continue to have meaning, don’t they?
JM: A great painting is both craft and art. That is associated with a lot of things in life.

CK: I am intrigued by what you mean when you talk about ‘mediocre’ in relation to your work.
JM: Hmm, well, normally ‘mediocre’ is a word that has negative connotations.

CK: Definitely.
JM: Which I like, actually, because it relates to everyday common things. It doesn’t set up barriers; it refers to the general, the universal.

CK: Because it’s actually a very derogatory word, ‘mediocre’, isn’t it, especially in art. Is that something you like to play on?
JM: Well, I don’t like being bad. The works I exhibit I think they’re OK, at least...

CK: I think they’re more than OK. You’re pleasantly modest! I’m just intrigued by the idea - I think it’s really interesting - of art having impact regardless of the cultural background of the viewer. Is this a political aspiration, or not?
JM: No.

CK: No, so why would you go for it then? Why would you want to reach everybody?
JM: No, I don’t want to reach everybody. I just want to make work that potentially reaches everybody, that does not discriminate against any viewer: art which has impact regardless of cultural background or education

CK: Is that because you are working towards this potential of art? Is it an overarching theme in your work, an aspiration which informs all of it?
JM: I don't really think about it in that way. When I make the work, I just make it. Maybe it’s a way for myself to understand what I do a bit better. But if you look at my website, for example, people from all over the world go there, so it has succeeded in some way. Great art speaks to all people.

CK: Great art speaks to all people but that may not have been the overriding intention behind the work, is that we are saying?
JM: Yes – it's a personal thing. You have personal reasons why the work appeals to you, which you can't explain. When you go to beautiful places in nature, for example, you don't question the concept behind it and behind finding it beautiful. People have different viewpoints all over the world, their own opinions. I respect that.

CK: Natural harmony is an essential part of the aesthetic in Finland. There must be something in your background which makes you think of that link between nature and aesthetics. Do you recognise that as an influence?
JM: Yes I think so. Flat landscapes are an Oulu thing. And we don't really have this cultural heritage and long history of successive eras like England, we’re still a young nation. That is why the Modernist aesthetics I've grown up with must have been a strong impulse. But, interestingly, in the Finnish art world there are not that many people who make my type of abstract art.

CK: No, that's right. I noticed that when I visited Finland in 2008. Your work is totally different from what I saw in most museums with an international agenda, which didn't really seem to connect with the Finnish sensibility.
JM: Yes, I guess so… especially in the area I'm from where there are huge flat landscapes like the bottom of the sea because of the ice age. We have this amazing horizon here. Landscape is such a traditional form of painting also, I wanted to give it a go somehow - and I'm quite thrilled to have three of them on the same wall in this show. It’s going to be really exciting.

Jaakko Mattila: Lowest Common Denominator. 7 October – 17 December 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!

Jaakko Mattila painting his current work One 2011 at his studio in Suvilahti, Finland by by Rami Lappalainen.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Frieze Art Fair 2011: The Verdict

Text by Emily Sack

The past weekend one of the most renowned international art fairs settled into London’s Regents Park for an autumnal weekend of exploring galleries and artists well known and newly emergent. With 173 galleries representing 33 countries, Frieze Art Fair brings together some of the best artists from around the world.

Immediately entering the pavilion, the amount of people and immense space to cover is overwhelming, but the excitement of so much art in one place soon overpowers the initial shock. Frieze is divided into two primary categories: the main portion occupied by more well-known galleries such as Lisson Gallery, White Cube and Wallspace, among many others, and Frame, a section devoted to young galleries presenting a single artist’s work.

In a prime location for visibility, the Lisson Gallery utilizes their large space to promote the diversity of artists represented by the gallery. From large painted and altered canvases by 2010 Turner Prize short-listed artist Angela de la Cruz to monumental reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor, a variety of media are represented. Other artists displayed by Lisson include Richard Wentworth, Julian Opie, Marina Abramović, and Rashid Rana. The overall display is a bit chaotic but the individual works still manage to demand attention and shine individually.

Located in a somewhat distant corner, the Johnen Galerie of Stockholm presents an interesting collection of works. Most notably is David Hahlbrock’s A Possible Forest (2011) that creates a tree from individually sculpted wooden pieces. The tree is formed by a web of mismatched and carefully organized branches. This piece reflects a minor theme found throughout Frieze of sustainability and man’s ability to replicate or create nature. Standing against a brightly papered wall, A Possible Forest is subtle and poetic.

While some exhibition spaces relied on simplicity, others became high-profile showpieces. The Frith Street Gallery contained large-scale works by Tacita Dean lining the walls, but the main centerpiece was Cornelia Parker’s 30 Pieces of Silver (with reflection) of 2003. In this work, fifteen silver dinner service pieces are suspended from the ceiling partnered with a reflection or shadow, created by melting and flattening a matching object. The two pieces hang several inches above the floor at a perpendicular angle from each other creating the illusion of a mirror or reflecting pool hovering in the gallery space. The spectacle was heightened by almost entirely enclosing the space and limiting the number of visitors allowed inside.

Though London boasts an impressive number of international artists, it is refreshing to see galleries from Asia, South America and continental Europe promoting the best of their artists. The Tomio Koyama Gallery based both in Tokyo and Kyoto showcased Yuko Someya who creates mixed media works referencing traditional Japanese watercolours but in a completely contemporary manner. These works emphasize the delicacy of traditional works but incorporate a collage aesthetic and give the natural subjects an edgier feel.

Other notable works include large-scale plans by Christo for the Arizona River project and others at Annely Juda Fine Art, London and Aristarkh Chernyshev and Alexei Shulgin’s Invisible Messages (2011) at XL Gallery, Moscow that incorporated hidden messages within a sculpture only visible through a digital camera or camera phone. Many inquisitive viewers were also found puzzling Martha Friedman’s Cucumber (2003, 2011) displayed by Wallspace, New York. This work contained polyurethane cucumbers suspended between sheets of plexiglass. Throughout Frieze there were inspirational pieces and displays and also those that were just purely entertaining.

Among the Frame galleries, Hunt Kastner of Prague stood out for its display. Representing Eva Kotatkova, the exhibition contained several neo-Dadaist works utilizing the muted colour palatte and college techniques that characterize the European strands of this early twentieth-century movement. While many of the galleries and artists represented in most of the fair are well-known, it is exciting and refreshing to discover newer artists.

A visit to Frieze Art Fair is incomplete without a walk around the Sculpture Park. Ten artists represented by ten galleries installed representative pieces in the beautiful surroundings of Regents Park. From the humourous Angry Pins (2011) by Des Hughes containing three enlarged pins featuring angry facial expressions to the whimsical Circle Dance(2010) by Tom Friedman depicting a ring of dancing silver-coloured children, the works in the sculpture park are as varied as those within the pavilion. Overall the experience of Frieze, though initially overwhelming, is full of discovery and activity granting an expansive exposure to the international art world.

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!

Frieze Art Fair 2011
Photo by Linda Nylind Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze

A Mosaic of Collective Unconscious | Museum Show 1 | Arnolfini | Bristol

Text by Regina Papachlimitzou

Arnolfini is celebrating its 50th anniversary with one of its most thought-provoking, genuinely moving, and tantalisingly challenging exhibitions yet. Museum Show sets out to outline the drive in contemporary artistic practice to create museums, ‘semi-fictional institutions’ simultaneously exhibiting and embodying the artist’s work. In this respect Arnolfini serves as a meta-museum, bringing together a host of self-contained mini-museums in an attempt to map previously unchartered territory in the contemporary artworld.

A common thread running through the works in the ground floor gallery is that of failure in its several guises: from The Room of Sublime Wallpaper (one of the rooms to be found in the explicitly named Museum of Failure) made up of aesthetic components spectacularly missing their marks, to the absurdly pointless Museum of Safety Gear for Small Animals, via the microscopic and consequently ineffectual A History of Art in the Arab World, failure is examined as an inevitable feature of human predicament and therefore an element necessarily informing artistic production.

From a distance, Ellen Harvey’s Sublime Wallpaper appears as an enclosure of surrealist landscape, mountainous ridges bearing windows that open behind and beyond them; on closer inspection, the windows turn out to be mirrors, the mysterious landscape is nothing but wallpaper, even worse, it is wallpaper ludicrously complemented by newspaper clippings, any remaining ideas of soaring and flight inspired by the painted images crashing violently into the mundane of discounted electrical equipment adverts and articles on world economy.

Bill Burns’s Safety Gear museum similarly deplores the discrepancy between modern-day aspirations and the reality brought about by our actions: the museum’s safety gear collection, made up of animal-size models of safety gear equipment, points to the unnatural situations humans have created for animals the world over by destroying their habitats in the drive to fuel and maintain humankind’s current lifestyle. The solution proposed by the museum, which is for animals to take up unnatural means of protection in turn (hard hats, lifejackets, gas masks and so on) is obviously not viable, approaching as it does the problematic situation from the anthropocentric viewpoint that created it in the first place.

Walid Raad’s Art in the Arab World consists of a scale-down model of a gallery populated by his Atlas Group project documenting the Lebanese wars shrunk to 1/100th of the original size. The gallery is perfect in every detail down to the individually constructed tiny floorboards; the works themselves are, however, woefully – and pointedly – unexaminable, the lettering on the walls unreadable, the pictures small and blurred. The work leaves you unsatisfied and yet simultaneously, through the poignancy of its theme and its minute detailing, it creates a certain urgency, a yearning for more: more art, more information, more interaction.

In stark contrast to Raad’s realistic representation of gallery space stands Herbert Distel’s The Museum of Drawers in the first floor gallery. Here the museum has metamorphosed into a haberdasher’s thread storage space, miniature artworks neatly laid out each in its own enclosed compartment, reminiscent of classified geological specimens. Here is no question of experiencing the artwork from up close as with Raad’s work, where the only thing preventing the enjoyment of the work was a disproportion between the size of the gallery and that of the audience: The Museum of Drawers is emphatically sealed off, affording only a bird’s eye view to the audience. Populated by artworks of the most famous/notorious artists of the 1960s and 70s collected by Distel, its ostensible status as a catalogue of renowned art practitioners juxtaposed with its hermetically sealed nature invites some difficult questions on the perceived exclusiveness of art. At the same time, the fact that the drawers can be stacked in a cabinet, pulled out, rearranged at will renders their contents at once ridiculous and pitiful, revealing their potential identification as commodities to be enjoyed but ultimately dismissed and locked out of the way.

The usurpation of the role of curator/collector by the artist inhering in the museum artwork is even more evident in Susan Hiller’s After the Freud Museum, an extensive installation consisting of archaeological-type boxes displaying various artefacts belonging to and collected by the artist, in a deliberate echoing of Freud’s own ‘museological’ collection. The lid of each open box carries a written or pictorial description, sometimes closely relating to the object in the box, others only loosely, or even not at all. The objects themselves are as diverse as antique bottles half-full of water collected from the mythological rivers Lethe (Forgetfulness) and Mnemosyne (Remembrance), to commemorative sweets from Charles and Diana’s wedding. These disparate elements come together in a mosaic of collective unconscious, a catalogue-cum-map of how we live, love, and die in the world.

Museum Show Part 1 continues at Arnolfini, Bristol until 19 November. Works from the show are also presented at a number of other locations in Bristol. Marko Lulic's Museum of Revolution will appear at the M Shed across the harbour from Arnolfini, and the World Agriculture Museum can be found at the former Bridewell Police Station. Museo Aero Solar was presented as a mass-participatory event in Hengrove Park, Bristol on Sunday 9 October. For a map please click here.

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!

Marko Lulic
Museum of Revolution
Installation shot, M Shed, Bristol 2011
Photo: Jamie Woodley

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Aesthetica Short Film Festival | Online Exclusives | Rhett Wade-Ferrell | Sparkadia's China

Incorporating creative programming and alternative venues, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) is the latest addition to the film festival circuit. To celebrate the launch of ASFF, we are running a series of interviews with the filmmakers throughout October. Here you can find out more about what motivates our filmmakers, and ASFF will give you the opportunity to experience their short films first hand. To watch these films, visit the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) website to purchase your ticket. Don't miss your opportunity to experience short film in the historic city of York.

Rhett Wade-Ferrell at Moopjaw, Director & Producer of the music video for Sparkadia's China was shot in Victoria, Australia earlier this year. Rhett spoke to Aesthetica about the video, hip-hop and being friends with Jay-Z.

You can see China in the following venues during ASFF:
Friday 4 November: Bar Lane Studios 11:00 - 17:30
Saturday 5 November: Bar Lane Studios 11:00 - 17:30

Firstly, congratulations on being in the Official ASFF Selection! What impact do you think this screening will have on your career?

I'm not sure what impact it will have on my career in the long term but it's great to have music videos screened in a more social forum, as opposed to just on YouTube where discussions can only take place online.

How do you describe your work?

That's difficult as I'm still at the early stages of developing my own style, and the process of understanding my method of working is more of a slow burn than a clear cut vision. I have been using this term I came up with recently, Hifi/Lofi, which has helped me to define what me and the team at Moopjaw do with our music videos. It's basically the juxtaposition of Lofi elements like cheap props and playful acts and Hifi production. In this way, our videos make for different views because you're watching something with a DIY aesthetic, coupled with high production values. We think this makes for a humorous viewing experience.

Could you tell me a little about the film and how it came about?

Absolutely. The label sent me a copy of the song and I honestly couldn't work out if the song was serious or not. I put some time into researching the band, and it did seem like the singer was a reasonably serious guy, and given that the only way I could see a music video working for the song was if it was verging on the ridiculous and made a point about the big choruses and key changes in the song. I also had him play it really straight, that way you can't tell how he feels about everything going on around him.

What were some of the challenges involved in making the music video?

Rhia who is driving the car couldn't actually drive a manual gear shift so it's the Director of Photography doing the driving and we have Rhia sitting in the passenger seat pretending to drive. I think she pulled it of! Also the girl with the cut on he knee (wearing roller skates) was supposed to skate around the crocodile with a piece of rope and tie him up, although when she arrived we realised she couldn't skate at all. We changed the scene to what you see in the video which I was was a much better result. The guy kickboxing on the cliff nearly threw up because it was so hot and he had only just eaten, there are also some other difficult scenes in the video, for example the shot with the egg in the face. That's a hard role to fill and in the end, it was actually the art director and stylist who did it.

What is your all time favourite music video?

Its hard to have a favourite music video because I think what I tend to like at the time is relevant to whatever is happening at that time. For me I always get excited when someone does something completely different to everything else. It’s nice when something is completely off trend and a different approach or way of seeing the form of music videos. It’s an obvious choice but I still always come back to Spike Jonze, purely because I think his work in MV’s is not only interesting and unique ideas but most of all I think they make the music exciting and the artist exciting. I think they really make people want to hear the song again and again and he manages to get the right kind of performance from the artists he works with so as a viewer you actually feel like you are seeing a real part of their personality.

I will use the most recent example to explain what I am saying, take the Jay Z and Kanye video for Otis, its still a hip hop video with all the icons and trademarks in it, but it makes me laugh and think to myself “Jay Z and me could really be friends, we could mess around on the weekend and share a few laughs”. I am sure that is not the case, but that side of his personality comes through in the video because he breaks character in a way I haven’t really seen him do before. This is something I think Spike is a real master of when it comes to working with talent. I think Kanye is pretty flat in terms of presence in that video but Jay Z is such a big character that it’s hard to stand out next to him visually and sonically. I think I would also really like to drive the car in it…

What are you working on next?

Well, I am back in New York now and have just signed to a production company called Rabbit. I hope to be directing some more commercial projects whilst I finish off my first feature film script, which we will start working on in February 2012. This is really exciting for me as I have always wanted to work in feature films and it's taken a lot of work to get me to the point where I am ready to get back to narrative storytelling. I made two narrative films in 2005, and if I had submitted these, I don't think I would be in this festival! My producer tells me I am better off trying to get funding for a feature with only music videos to my name, than presenting a bunch of average short films so, for not, I am keeping those two little gems in the dark!


The Aesthetica Short Film Festival is the first film festival ever to be hosted in the historic city of York. The festival is a celebration of independent film from across the world with 150 films being screened from 30 countries. ASFF opens 3 November and continues until 6 November. For tickets and further information visit the website www.asff.co.uk or call (+44) (0) 1904 629 137.

Monday 17 October 2011

A Triumph of Narrative over Technical Limitations: The 8th Reykjavík International Film Festival

Text by Alison Frank

The 2011 Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) took place in the Icelandic capital from 22 September - 2 October. The festival's main competition category, 'New Visions' was reserved for directors who have never, or only once before, made a feature film. RIFF's signature Golden Puffin for Discovery of the Year went to Russian director Angelina Nikonova's Twilight Portrait (Portret v sumer kakh, 2011). In a triumph of narrative over technical limitations, Nikonova and lead actress Olga Dykhovichnaya collaborated to write and produce this film, which confronts problems in Russian society through the figure of a social worker (Marina). Marina has become disillusioned: she belongs to a hypocritical middle class, while the lower class families she works with are trapped in cycles of abuse. When she herself becomes a victim of abuse, and is presented with an opportunity for revenge, she takes a radically hands-on approach to changing a small corner of Russian society.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, New Visions also included Follow Me (Folge Mir, Johannes Hammel, 2010), a film that made narrative subordinate to aesthetic vision. Its slender storyline follows a family: a woman, her husband, and their two young sons. The woman's determined cheerfulness frequently descends into paranoia, and it is unclear whether her mental problems pre-date her family life or are the result of it. When her husband also begins to behave strangely, there is a blackly humorous sense that madness has infected both parents, leaving the sons to fend for themselves.

Apart from an opening sequence in colour, reminiscent of 1970s home movies, Follow Me is shot in 35mm black-and-white. It is characterised by beautifully composed shots, where the camera gravitates toward tiny alterations in the characters' facial expressions, particularly those of the volatile mother. As if to emphasise her manic alterations, the mother is played by two actresses, a technique previously employed by Luis Buñuel in That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet Obscur objet du désir, 1977). Daniela Holtz plays the role of the mother for most of the film, but Charlotte Ulrich periodically steps in, making the character appear older and more profoundly troubled by the world around her. Unlike in Buñuel's film, the two actresses are similar in appearance. In fact, there is a strange resemblance between Holtz and Ingrid Bergman, while Ullrich resembles the actress's daughter, Isabella Rossellini.

Several films in the New Visions category achieved a successful balance between narrative and aesthetics. One such film was Joachim Trier's Oslo, 31. August (2011), which traces a day in the life of Anders, a recovering drug addict. Having reached the end of his rehab programme, Anders is about to return to the outside world. The film follows him as he attends a job interview and attempts to reconnect with friends and family. People are often surprised by what Anders has gone through, and can be mistrustful of him. but Anders' biggest obstacle is his own belief that he is a failure, which balances him on the edge of self-destruction.

The film boasts a script so strong it could work well as a radio play: every time Anders meets someone from his past, they engage in a dialogue that feels authentic, reflecting both Anders' own feelings and other people's everyday lives. Crucially, it also incorporates humour, welcome in a film on such a heavy topic. The film's aesthetic, while minimalist, nonetheless makes an important contribution: the simple Scandinavian interiors, generic exteriors and static camera reflect Anders' own alienation, his diminished point of view on life. The film's closing image is the sole romantic and artistically self-conscious shot in the film, evoking Henry Wallis's 1856 painting The Death of Chatterton.

RIFF is by no means summed up by its competition section aimed at newcomers. It also showcases the work of established directors, with new films that have made an impact at other festivals. There was, for example, Aleksandr Sokurov's Faust (2011), fresh from Venice where it won the Golden Lion. Short on narrative, like Sokurov's earlier film Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg, 2002) Faust's emphasis is on atmosphere, which the director achieves like no other. Faust recreates a past world, complete with its earthy, visceral reality, as well as its ethereal beauty in the form of Gretchen, a young girl who becomes the object of Faust's obsession. The audience has the sense of entering the director's imagination while never quite abandoning the real world.

Honouring another master of atmosphere, RIFF screened three films by Hungarian director Béla Tarr: Family Nest (Családi tüzfészek, 1979), Werckmeister Harmonies (Werckmeister harmóniák, 2000) and his most recent film, declared to be his last, The Turin Horse (A Turinói ló, 2011). In a special ceremony at the Icelandic President's house, the festival presented Tarr with a Lifetime Achievement Award.


The Aesthetica Short Film Festival is the first film festival ever to be hosted in the historic city of York. The festival is a celebration of independent film from across the world with 150 films being screened from 30 countries. ASFF opens 3 November and continues until 6 November. For tickets and further information visit the website www.asff.co.uk or call (+44) (0) 1904 629 137.

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