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Friday 2 December 2011

Artistic Responses to the Icelandic Ash Cloud 2010 | Under That Cloud | Manchester Art Gallery

Text by Liz Buckley

The Icelandic ash cloud of 2010 brought many parts of the world to a halt, and showed international societies just how fragile our technological networks really are. Despite unbelievably advanced machinery and the ease of travel in our modern world, nature usually always wins. For those stranded in foreign destinations across the globe, the easy option may have been to panic, and spend what was essentially an extended holiday just trying to find a way home. The new exhibition Under That Cloud at Manchester Art Gallery showcases work from 18 international artists, all of which were stranded in Mexico City during the air travel standstill. Fascinatingly, they have all chosen jewellery as a way to manifest their responses to the crisis, as well as their experiences of Mexico and its culture.

The conflict between nature and human technology is a perplexing one. Many of those prevented from flying due to the ash cloud simply put faith in technology to let them know when it was safe to travel again, and get to where they needed to be. Others turned to God. The feeling was that if he had caused this then he was surely the one to rectify it. Jorge Manilla’s necklaces entitled Two Possibilities, embody his religious response to the predicament. As a Mexican artist stranded in Mexico, he did not feel too alarmed by the situation, but instead tried to imagine how others were feeling. Had he been far from home, Manilla said he would have turned to his religion to return him safely; the crucifix on one of his necklaces symbolises this. This artist has used predominantly black for his pieces, as he felt this implied both the negative and doubtful nature of the situation, but also how from the darkness often comes new beginnings.

Colour is definitely a prominent theme in this exhibition. Many of the artists have chosen to use grey, black and silver to represent the mechanical nature of the crisis. Jurgen Eickhoff’s steel and silver abstract mesh brooches signify the conflict between home and far away, and the mass of networks in-between. He feels that “the local has global effects,” and that one small breakdown in a network can bring all corners of the world to a standstill. Disasters such as the ash cloud can often show us the sheer fragility of networking, and how nature can overwhelm even the most complex technology, bringing back a primitive feeling of uncertainty.

While it may have been easy to feel trapped by the upheaval, many saw the ash cloud crisis as an opportunity to experience more of the place they were stuck in, and to absorb the culture further. This is certainly true of many artists in this exhibition. Karin Seufert’s necklace and brooches, made of melted plastic, embody the vivid and colourful personality of Mexico City. She tried to create pieces which for her represented the heat of the sun, the noisy streets, colourful surroundings and exhausting chaos of Mexico’s culture. The deep purple of Jiro Kamata’s Arboresque brooch shows how this artist was also inspired by the rich colours and particularly the architecture of the city. Nedda El-Asmar’s piece Structured Coloured Chaos is a beautifully quirky reaction to her experiences. This artist has used many colourful clothes lines, which she bought while in Mexico, as a representation of how she experienced the environmental qualities and vibrant nature of the place.

Andrea Wagner’s brooches entitled When Skies Were Silent hope to symbolise how society can take for granted the ease of transport in modern life, and this is really the underlying message of this entire exhibition. The artist said, while stuck in Mexico City, she took time to appreciate the “rare beauty of the silent skies,” while air travel was briefly halted. The collection of works in Under That Cloud are an intriguing insight into how people’s reactions can differ so greatly, and how an unexpected breakdown in our global networks can make us take time to consider the vulnerability of technology. Culture is integral to this exhibition, whether it is regarding the vibrant societies of Mexico, or our worldwide cultural dependence on travel and communicative networks. In creating jewellery, which is a beautiful thing, the pieces in this exhibition have managed to extract something positive from the dark cloud, whilst also engaging the viewer with how it felt to be at the heart of such an exasperating situation.

Under That Cloud, 19/11/2011 - 15/05/2012, Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3JL. www.manchestergalleries.org

1. Nanna Melland
2. Caroline Broadhead
3. Andrea Wagner
4. Tore Svensson
5. Cristina Filipe
All courtesy of Jonathan Keenan

Aesthetica December/January Issue Out Today

This issue offers a diverse range of features starting with The Way We Live Now, which is on at the Design Museum and explores Sir Terence Conran’s impact on contemporary life in Britain. Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break runs at SFMOMA and reflects on the position of the individual in the framework of industrial labour.

Anselm Kiefer opens Shevirat Ha-Kelim: The Breaking of the Vessels at Tel Aviv Museum of Art to inaugurate their new building. Zarina Bhimji’s retrospective of 30 years and the premiere of her new film Yellow Patch open at Whitechapel. There’s a visual survey of this year’s winner and shortlisted photographers for the National Portrait Gallery’s photography prize, and we look back at this year’s cover artists with an overview of their works, as well as introduce two new series of works.

In film, highly acclaimed and award-winning director, Pablo Giorgelli, talks about his subtle and beautiful new film, Las Acacias. There is also a round-up of ASFF 2011. In music, we examine the niche genre of musical comedy and chat with American four-piece Wild Flag about their new album. In performance, we look at Danser Sa Vie at Pompidou Centre, which examines the place dance holds in art history.

Finally, Christoph Benjamin Schulz discusses Alice in Wonderland, Tate Liverpool’s latest show.

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

Share Aesthetica with your friends and family this Christmas. With six issues over 12 months, Aesthetica keeps you up-to-date on the very best in contemporary art and culture all year round! Covering the latest exhibitions, events, performances and reviews, Aesthetica offers a comprehensive overview of the international art world. Each issue is liberally accompanied by a selection of stunning images and makes for a beautiful Christmas gift.

Image One: Still from Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break (c) the artist
Image Two: Zarina Bhimji, Your Sadness is Drunk 2001-2006 Ilfochrome Ciba Classic Print 127 x 160 cm Courtesy the artist.
Image Three: Nicolas Floc Performance painting 2005 Interprete Rachid Ouramdane Reims Frac Champagne Ardennes Adagp Paris 2011

Thursday 1 December 2011

ASFF 2011 | Q&A with Maria de Gier | Winner of the Best Music Video Category

The Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) was a dynamic, four-day international event that took place in the City of York from the 3 - 6 November. After screening 150 films in 15 venues across 4 days, and after hours of deliberation, the judges announced the category winners on Sunday night at our Awards Ceremony. Amongst the winners was Maria de Gier, whose music video for Amatorski, Soldier won the Best Music Video category. We caught up with Maria post-festival to talk about the video, and her future plans.

A: Congratulations on winning the ASFF Best Music Video Award. What impact do you think this will have on your career?
MDG: It’s a great kick-start for my film career! This is my directorial debut and this prize really means a lot to me. I have a feeling the benefits will slowly present themselves to me over the next few months, which is an exciting prospect.

A: How would you describe your work?
MDG: To me Soldier is a mixture of pain and beauty. I feel it contains great sorrow, yet hope. It is a collection of lost dreams, but you can still catch a glimpse of them. The overriding message is that all is not lost. War breaks, destroys and tears apart. I wanted to show, not only the horror of war, but also the personal face of war, sort of like a stream of consciousness, or a memory in the mind, perhaps one of a dying soldier.

A:Could you tell me a little bit about your music video and how it came about?
MDG: At the time (and now still) I was very much interested in the possibility of different layers of film merging with each other. I made a short clip that I sent to Amatorski, which they liked very much. That little experiment is the very first beginning of what was to become the music video. Soldier is composed of stock material, mostly from an internet library; an amazing initiative containing accessible knowledge of all sorts mixed with all new material that I shot myself. (www.archive.org) Mixed with all new material I shot myself. When I was editing I felt like I was piecing together an enormous puzzle, but this puzzle came without a box! There were moments when I felt it was an impossible project I had made for myself but somehow I made it all fit. I’m really glad it came out the way I hoped and imagined it to be.

A:What were some of the challenges involved in making your film?
MDG: Mixing the, often very short, fragments of film, collected from hundreds of hours of old news reels and documentaries. It was a real struggle to make everything work together. At some points in the video there are up to nine layers of film that had to merge into one. Finding balance in image, pacing, movement, transition and meaning throughout the whole timeline of the music video was a big challenge.

A:What is your all time favourite music video?
MDG: I have several, it is hard to pick just one. I admire Jonathan Glazer's video for Radiohead's Street Spirit (Fade Out), Royksopps's What Else Is There? by Martin De Thurah. Björk has so many amazing video’s, I could go on for a while...

A: What are you working on next?
MDG: I’ll be working on a cross-over film, art and music video project with the wonderful musician Ozark Henry. You will definitely hear from me in the future, I feel like this is the start of really something.


Maria travelled to York from Brussels via Eurostar and East Coast Trains.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Poet of Modernism | André Kertész Retrospective | The Hungarian National Museum | Budapest

Text by Alison Frank

Following on from the Royal Academy of Arts' show, Eyewitness: Hungarian Photogrpahy in the 20th Century earlier this year, The Hungarian National Museum celebrates the career of Hungarian-born photographer, André Kertész, originally named Andor Kohn, (1894-1985) who spent most of his career as an exile, first in Paris, then in New York. The Hungarian National Museum's retrospective of his career contains two sections. The main section gives a chronological overview of Kertész's career; curated by Michel Frizot and Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, this retrospective was previously exhibited in Paris, Berlin and Winterthur (Switzerland). The second, much smaller section, is a special Hungarian addendum curated by Eva Fisli and Emöke Tomsics as part of the museum's international conference, Views of Kertész.

The latter section looks at the reception and influence of Kertész's photography in Hungary from the beginning of his career to the present day. It begins with a copy of the magazine where Kertész published a photograph in 1917, and ends with some pieces by contemporary photographers responding to his work. This text-dense segment of the exhibition explains that under Communism there was an attempt to appropriate the work of Hungarian nationals living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Successful Hungarian émigrés were taken as examples of innate Hungarian talent, and their work was scrutinised for its sociological dimensions. This led to Kertész being incorrectly categorised in Hungary as a social realist photographer rather than the independent documentarian of emotion he considered himself to be.

The exhibition's main retrospective spreads across five rooms: one each for Kertesz's Hungarian, Parisian and New York periods, a round room for his photographic nude “distortions”, and finally a long narrow room displaying magazine spreads of his photojournalism.

Kertész was 18 years old before he received his first camera, but as early as the 1910s, he was already experimenting with night-time and underwater photography: his Underwater Swimmer (1917) appears particularly ahead of its time. Kertész began by taking photographs of friends and family, especially his brother Jenö who was willing to be photographed in a variety of dramatic and athletic poses. When he was conscripted during the First World War, Kertész took photographs of fellow soldiers at rest. Capturing lighter, informal moments of military life, these images offer an unaccustomed image of World War I.

In 1925, Kertész moved to Paris, where (the exhibition notes explain), he became “one of the leading figures in avant-garde photography”, alongside Man Ray. Characteristic of his modernist experimentation was The Fork (1928), in which he made clever use of shadows to alter the object's usual appearance. For the light-hearted and “racy” Parisian magazine Le Sourire he created a series of “distortions” of female nudes, which he achieved through the use of curved mirrors (hence the curators' decision to exhibit these images in a curved space). Some of these images are intriguing artistic abstractions; others create bizarre funhouse mirror effects, while others still give a disconcerting impression of deformity.

Kertész achieved a more consistent impression with his photographs of artists' studios, starting with Mondrian's. In these, the photographer managed to create a portrait of the artist in absence, making use of light, shadows, personal items and occasionally art pieces to evoke the style and personality of the studio's inhabitant. In Paris, Kertész made his living through photojournalism, contributing to the birth of a new medium of expression. He worked primarily for the news magazine VU, creating more than 30 photo essays between 1928 and 1936.

In 1936, Kertész moved to New York, where he would spend the rest of his life. He was lured to America by a contract with the Keystone agency, which was broken after just one year. Not speaking English, and classified as an enemy alien during World War II, Kertész felt isolated and unhappy in New York. These feelings were reflected in Kertész's photographs of lone clouds, menacing pigeons, and general abstraction which rendered the city anonymous. His work was not well-received in New York, and in order to survive, Kertész spent 14 years taking conventional shots for Home and Gardens magazine. Following his retirement in 1961, Kertész saw his work gaining international recognition, with exhibitions at the Venice Photography Biennale, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the MoMA. In 1982 the Ministry of Culture in Paris awarded Kertész the Grand Prix National de la Photographie.

Long after he had become an established photographer, Kertész said, “I regard myself as an amateur today, and I hope that's what I will stay until the end of my life. Because I'm forever a beginner who discovers the world again and again.” Kertész saw photography as a sort of visual diary that documented the way he felt about the world around him, and insisted that emotion was the basis of all his work, rather than an artistic impulse. The power of Kertész's images seems accordingly to emanate not just from their strong and balanced composition, but from the intense feeling that they capture.

André Kertész Retrospective, 30/09/2011 - 31/12/2011, The Hungarian National Museum, 1088 Budapest, Múzeum krt. 14-16, Hungary. www.hnm.hu.

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art 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!

Víz alatti úszó, Esztergom, 1917
Courtesy La Bibliothèque nationale de France

ASFF 2011 | In Pictures

From Australia, to the Netherlands, South Africa and France, crowds descended on York for the inaugural ASFF. See who came out to play for this year’s event!

ASFF 2012
We will be accepting submissions for ASFF 2012 in December 2011 so check back soon for more information!

Jim Poyner Photography - www.jimpoyner.co.uk, ASFF, Aesthetica, Short Film Festival, York ©jim poyner 2011 all rights reserved

Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Orchestrated Spontaneity of Ryan McGinley | Wandering Comma | Alison Jacques Gallery | London

For his first London exhibition since his celebrated Moonmilk series, Ryan McGinley has assembled seven new photographs, all in the largest format the American artist has yet worked in. Scale is one of the central variables in McGinley's practice, as each photograph taken is initially printed in an array of sizes in order to fix the exact dimensions that allow the image to speak most effectively to the viewer. All prints in other sizes are then discarded. McGinley rarely produces his artworks at this 280 x 180 cm format, the maximum size, and only does so when the photograph truly calls for a vast canvas - an expanse that demands a heightened scrutiny from the viewer, as it does more attention on the part of the artist.

Ryan McGinley's aesthetic has evolved over the past decade from a verité snapshot style to one that is more cinematic, even epic. More director than documentarist, McGinley has recently made photographs in which his imagination has become imprinted on the reality he captures. His working method involves a careful balance of the orchestrated and the unpredictable, the staged and the spontaneous. Although the images begin with choreographed scenarios, the images that result are never wholly pre-meditated. Indeed, it is this very sense of the potential for randomness that is alluded by the exhibition's title, which refers to a kind of fluttering butterfly. McGinley determines the activities and locations of his shoots in advance, preparing elaborate studio-style lighting - despite these contingencies, McGinley's models are encouraged to behave on their own initiative, taking actions as utterly unpredictable as a fall from a cliff or a tumble down a cascade. When photographing his models jumping in a haystack, sliding down a rushing river or holding a wild animal, he cannot know what image will result. The subject matter of his recent work occupies a profound middle ground between reality and the artificial: McGinley's images are dreamed worlds willed into existence.

The taking of the photograph is only the beginning of McGinley's artistic process, as his chromatic interventions and manipulations of scale are central to the emotional and spiritual landscapes evoked by each image. He applies effects to the entire image, rather than to individual sections, printing each image in an enormous variety of colour variations and grain amplifications before deciding on its final appearance. In Purple Beacon, for instance, the artist chose a filter that radically changed the colour of the sky and water, but left the tone of the girls' bodies unchanged. The grain amplifications endow the images with a familiarity and immediacy, relating them to the kinds of casual photography found in family photo albums. McGinley's adherence to apparent realism is not an attempt to trick the viewer; rather, it serves only to make the images that much more evocative and accessible.

McGinley's orchestrated spontaneity also plays heavily into his studio work. In one sense, the physically confining studio offers more freedom than the great outdoors: the element of illegality, a significant concern when shooting nudes in public spaces, is removed. McGinley never demands a pose; he prefers to offer only light direction, allowing for the models position themselves naturally. When making the photograph Jessica, he did not ask the girl to pair a sweet smile with a profane gesture; it was simply what he got, and captured.

McGinley's current practice, which alternates between lengthy cross-country journeys and studio shoots, repeatedly breaks down the barrier between private and public spaces - between nature's space and culture's; between what is personal and what is constructed. Whereas he once photographed his close friends, his elaborate casting process now involves photographing hundreds of people he meets - on the streets, at concerts, through the internet - before selecting a small group with which to travel, and on whom to turn his camera. Although McGinley is no longer so personally involved with his subjects, however, his technique still constructs a powerful sense of intimacy and pathos - particularly when rendered at a scale which commands such physical and emotional presence.

Ryan McGinley: Wandering Comma, 24/11/2011 - 22/12/2011, Alison Jacques Gallery, 16-18 Berners Street, London, W1T 3LN. www.alisonjacquesgallery.com

Ryan McGinley Taylor (Rushing River) 2011
Ryan McGinley Purple Beacon 2011
Ryan McGinley Brandee (Midnight Flight) 2011
Ryan McGinley Amanda (Haystacks) 2011
All courtesy the Artist and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Monday 28 November 2011

Time and Memory | Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand | Parasol Unit | London

Parasol Unit presents a major exhibition of works by two of Sweden's leading contemporary artists, Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand, on show until 12 February 2012.

Cecilia Edefalk (b.1954) uses traditional methods of oil and tempera in her paintings, which are executed on small canvases. Edefalk often places her work in carefully choreographed arrangements, using mirror effects, displaying paintings at 90-degree angles or turning canvasses upside-down, which lends a quality of performance to her shows.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand (b.1974) uses a meticulous technique, painting with only black ink and water to create photo-realistic drawings on large sheets of paper. Her work is based on photographs found in her family album of her father's early childhood in Sweden. These images present deeply personal scenes of family life, given a haunting resonance as imposing, monochromatic drawings of an era frozen in time. The precise and demanding work of depicting this archive allows Wåhlstrand to physically and psychologically connect to her father who died when she was one year old.

Aesthetica caught up with Cecila and Gunnel to find out more after the opening earlier this month.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand

A: The family photograph is one of the major motifs in your work. Could you talk us through what this type of photograph means to you?
GW: Before I started painting in this photographic way, I used to paint really fast, often finishing one painting a day where I allowed the ink to spread and chance came into play. I used images, photos of people unknown to me or photos I had staged myself, but this way of working eventually came to an end because it felt too made up to me and I had a sense of circling, avoiding something more essential.

Since my father died when I was only one year old, the photos that remained of him were always very important to me throughout my whole life. At one point, I began every day by flickering through these photos to become focused, and soon realised I needed to find a portal into these pictures, a technique that allowed me to remain in each one of them for as long as possible, since when they were finally finished, I would never return to that certain image or moment.

The black ink is extremely permanent - you can only work from the light quality of the paper towards the darkness of the ink, and never take anything back. Once it's there it's permanent - like a slow developing process, which I liked. The level of concentration this technique demanded from me was somehow similar to the concentration within the image, and this similarity made me feel close to them in a very intimate way.

A: This concept of remembrance is a key one in your work. How do you both perform and interrogate the idea of memory, and remembrance in the work on show in this exhibition?
GW: They are not my own memories, but through painting them they somehow become mine. I can't just paint the mere surface of the photo, I have to go further and understand how everything works and what it looks like from all angles. Only then can I delve into the picture and almost experience the feeling of having been there in that moment. Through recreating the past, that which will be is also added. Therein lies one of the many differences between photography and painting.

A: The family photograph is often discussed as the place for the identification and the formation of identity. Is this something you can relate to?
GW: Yes. They are the origin and the very core of me.

A: What aspect of Edefalk’s work first appealed to you?
GW: The first time I saw her work was at a large exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. She was showing grey paintings, some of which are part of the show at Parasol unit. They stayed with me and helped me take the leap into grey myself.

A: And now you know her work better?
GW: I have been following her work since that first time, but some of the older paintings included in the show were new to me. It's nice to see all the stages she has gone through over the years, and how the spiritual, ethereal quality has always been there. One of the striking things about her work is how the ever present inner bright light almost obliterates itself and makes the air vibrant.

Cecilia Edefalk

A: The relational nature of your work requires the physical installation of your paintings to become an integral part of your practice. Could you talk us through how you have installed the work in the current show at Parasol Unit?
CE: The space itself is the starting point for the installation and also the distance between the works. First I was very confused as the different works I am showing are picked from my entire career as an artist and Ziba Ardalan (Director/Curator at Parasol) helped me with the outlines of the installation. She knows the physical space and I know the space in my works. It was very excitng to put the exhibition together, linking the paintings and sculptures together and thereby creating a new and old story that exists physically during the time the exhibition is up but that also exist as a memory for those who had the opportunity to see the exhibition.

A: What aspect of Wahlstrand’s work first appealed to you?
CE: The vibrating stillness.

A: And now you know her work better?
CE: The way she is investigating and creating darkness , shadows and light.

Time and Memory: Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand, 23/11/2011 - 12/02/2012, Parasol Unit, 14 Wharf Road, London. www.parasol-unit.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary art 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!

Gunnel Wåhlstrand, By the Window, 2003–2004.
Ink-wash on paper, 151 x 198 cm, The Michael Storåkers Collection.
Photograph Björn Larsson

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