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Tuesday 15 May 2012

Image and Identity in Iran | Bi Nam | Ffotogallery | Penarth

Curated by Amak Mahmoodian, Bi Nam is a group exhibition exploring image and identity in Iran. This is the first show in the UK representing the work of a group of contemporary Iranian photographers.! The photographic and video content of the show explores the cultural and social life of modern Iran, with an emphasis on religion, gender and identity.

Bi Nam means “without name” in the Persian language. Using a structure that evokes the classic Middle Eastern collection of stories One Thousand and One Nights, Bi Nam explores the subtleties of everyday life in contemporary Iran and specific codes of conduct that influence a person’s mood, behaviour, relationships and sense of self.

There is an undertow of sadness and longing, but also one of beauty, love and devotion. Amak Mahmoodian, describes the exhibition as; “quiet thoughts from modest photographers for whom the essence of culture is in the display of their works.”

Bi Nam, 21-04-2012 until 12-05-2012, Ffotogallery, Turner House, Plymouth Road, Penarth, CF64 3DH. www.ffotogallery.org

1. Hadise Hosaini
2. Sharare Mossavi
3. Roz Golestani
4. Mohsen Shahmardi
All images courtesy the artist

Friday 4 May 2012

Daniel Linehan: Zombie Aporia | Lilian Baylis Studio | Sadler's Wells Theatre | London

Text by Grace Henderson

Zombie means living and dead. Aporia means logical contraction. The title of choreographer and performer
Daniel Linehan's latest work is a hybrid of two words that have never been joined together before - at least not according to Google. In Zombie Aporia, Linehan sets out to create unusual hybrids; musical rhythms colliding with opposing dance rhythms, or physical manipulations that result in the distortion of the voice.

Like much of Linehan's choreographic output, this work is intent on softly obscuring the line that separates dance from the everyday affectations we all use to express ourselves. Zombie Aporia is showing next week on 9 and 10 May. Daniel Linehan talks us through his latest work.

A: Can you tell me a bit more about Zombie Aporia, and how the work came to be so titled?

DL: In making Zombie Aporia, I wanted to find ways of combining two elements that didn't seem to fit together, creating different kinds of aporias, or logical contradictions. The title itself is a strange hybrid-a pop-culture reference is placed beside a term from philosophical discourse, Zombie plus Aporia, two words that don't seem to fit together, but which to my ear have a pleasing rhythm and assonance.

A: Much of the piece seems to centre on the idea of collision – what in particular is this exploring or communicating?

DL: The collision of two opposing elements allows us as dancers to perform in ways that are unfamiliar to us, and allows the audience to see things that are unfamiliar to them. So, for example, we dance in one rhythm while we sing in a completely different rhythm, or we try to make the audience see what the dancer sees. I am interested in how new meanings are produced when you combine elements that haven't been combined before. I didn't want to create a performance in which we do what we already know how to do, I wanted to put the dancers in situations that required the effort of trying something which seemed impossible.

A: Many of your works blur the boundaries somewhat between dance and our everyday physical mannerisms; why is this and how is this blurring achieved technically?

DL: In my work, the dancers are often trying to achieve a nearly impossible task that requires simultaneous layers of thinking and doing and reacting. This involves an intense effort of concentration and bodily engagement, but the movement vocabulary is not always derived from a recognizable dance technique, so it is not fully "dance," but neither is it fully an "everyday task". I am interested in ways of using the body that inhabit a region somewhere in between recognizable forms. I am not interested in amazing feats of dance technique. The only interesting thing to me about virtuosity is that nobody can fully realize it. Imperfection is the drive that keeps me going.

A: I understand that Zombie Aporia also uses the voice; how does this figure in the work and what does it bring to it overall?

DL: The music for the piece comes only from our own voices. There are no instruments and no amplifiers in the space other than our own bodies and voices. Zombie Aporia is very focused on how the voice is fundamentally based within the body, so I didn't want any other element of sound to interfere with that. We explore how the voice is transformed when one dancer manipulates the body of another dancer. We explore how proximity or distance in space changes how the audience hears our voices. We explore how bodily vibrations and how physical exhaustion alters the quality of the voice.

A: This piece marks your return to Sadler’s Wells after making your London debut there last year with Montage for Three and Not About Everything. What, for you, is special about staging your work there?

DL: Some of my work, like Not About Everything and Zombie Aporia, includes a lot of text (in English), and it seems especially significant to perform these works for an audience whose mother tongue is English. I often use subtitles or librettos in other countries in Europe, and of course many people speak English very well in other places, but I feel like audiences in New York and London can connect to these works on a deeper level. As for performing at Sadler's Wells, I really respect this venue; they are dedicated not only to large prominent dance companies, but also committed to helping less established choreographers like myself to develop and present their works.

A: What is next for you after Zombie Aporia and do you have plans to work with Sadler’s Wells again in the future?

DL: My next project will take a short section from Zombie Aporia and develop the concept further. This is a section in which a video projection exposes to the audience an image of what the dancer sees while he is dancing. I am very interested in how this technique allows the audience to experience dance-watching in an completely different way. I am very happy to have Sadler's Wells as one of the co-producers for this project, and I'm looking forward to presenting this piece there in 2013.

Daniel Linehan, Zombie Aporia, 09/05/2012 - 10/05/2012, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells Theatre, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN. Tickets: 0844 412 4300 www.sadlerswells.com

Thursday 3 May 2012

Sara Greavu & Phil Hession: Titanic Toast | Golden Thread Gallery | Belfast

Text by Angela Darby

Of the many urban myths surrounding the Titanic’s legacy one predominant legend describes how Protestant dock workers in Belfast chalked the letters NPH (“No Pope Here”) on the ships bow thus dooming its maiden voyage. Another tale includes a curse of destruction from an Ancient Egyptian mummy named Amen-Ra whose body was on board in the hold. With the Titanic centenary celebrations predictably focusing on the standard facts the curator of Titanic Toast Peter Richards, Director of The GT Gallery, challenged invited artists Sara Greavu and Phil Hession to “explore alternative narratives and the question of how we remember.”

Sara Greavu addresses the tradition of myth-making through the power of the spoken word. In a collaborative production with Abby Oliveire from Derry based collective Poetry Chicks the viewer is presented with a large format video projection entitled Apocalips Lil and the Night to Remember. Traditionally in African-American communities to perform a Toast is to energetically narrate the tale of an heroic event and this oral artform has been considered the precursor to Rap. Referencing an original Toast, Shine and the Titanic, Oliveire is pictured narrating the stirring tale of a boiler stocker on board the Titanic and how his warnings of the disaster were disregarded due to his lowly social position. At one point the video image disappears (perhaps intentionally or due a technical fault) leaving the viewer in an eerily darkened space listening to the poignant resonance of Oliveire’s recitation. In an adjoining gallery Greavu presents three stunning collages that re-imagine what would have become of the Titanic if its maiden voyage had been uneventful. As many liners were commandeered by the navy during World War I and World War II Greavu has rendered the Titanic in bright geometric forms of orange, red and yellow hues. This battleship camouflage or dazzle was used by the military to confuse the enemy with its busy geometric composition making it hard to decipher the bow from the stern. At the adjacent wall Greavu has repeated the dazzle camouflage but on a larger scale creating an intense visual experience. In this room in particular we are reminded of The Titanic’s battle with the sea, the harsh frozen elements, it’s sinking, the survivors and the fatalities.

Taking a documentary approach, Phil Hession’s video installation Sing Along, If You Can attempts to analyse certain aspects of the Titanic’s original purpose. The artist spent eight days on board a trans-Atlantic cruise liner and by physically experiencing this form of transport Hession places himself within the context of the passengers. By keeping a visual diary of his time on board we experience the journey from the artist’s perspective. The recorded conversations that ensued with the cabin crew and fellow travellers range from discussions on safety, evacuation procedures and the reasons one chooses to participate in a voyage of this nature in the first place. Hessian skilfully captures the inherent oddness when strangers are placed in close proximity by chance.

Both artists have employed thought provoking and engaging methods to approach this overexposed subject and in doing so they manage to reinvigorate elements of the Titanic’s legacy.

Sara Greavu & Phil Hession: Titanic Toast, The Golden Thread Gallery, 84 - 94 Great Patrick Street, Belfast, BT1 2LU. www.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk

Phil Hession Sing Along, If You Can
Courtesy the artist

Wednesday 2 May 2012


It's now only one month until the deadline for The Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2012 (ASFF) and here in the Aesthetica offices, we're getting very excited. We've already had some excellent entries from filmmakers across the world, and with an amazing line-up of masterclasses and networking events with the likes of Warp and BAFTA, ASFF 2012 is going to be truly spectacular!

Time is running out for you to get involved! If you want to take part in this fantastic event, and share your work with an international audience, visit www.asff.co.uk to enter today.

ASFF is a unique film event, showing international short film in 15 iconic locations across the historic city of York from 8 - 11 November 2012. It's a fantastic opportunity to see your film in new and surprising visual contexts, and with the whole city teeming with the vibrant film community, you can be sure to meet industry professionals as well as filmmakers and people who share your passion for film. Plus there are also some wonderful prizes at stake, including up to £500 in cash, reciprocal screenings at other festivals, and editorial coverage in Aesthetica Magazine.

Whether you're an established or budding filmmaker, ASFF 2012 will enable you to connect with new worldwide audiences and interact with some of the biggest personalities in the film industry today. If you've got a film of up to 25 minutes, we would love to see it!

Visit www.asff.co.uk for more information and to submit today!

Courtesy the Aesthetica Short Film Festival

The Viewer as Spectator, Subject or Performer | The Catlin Art Prize 2012 | Interview with Poppy Bisdee

Text by Bethany Rex

The Catlin Art Prize, an annual event showcasing the most promising art school graduates one year on 
from their degree exhibitions, opens tomorrow at the Londonewcastle Project Space and includes new work by artists who demonstrate real potential to make a mark in the art world during the next decade. Following the publication of the Catlin Guide 2012, the shortlist of artists taking part includes: Gabriella Boyd, Poppy Bisdee, Jonny Briggs, Max Dovey, Ali Kazim, Adeline de Monseignat, Soheila Sokhanvari and former winner of the Aesthetica Creative Works Competition, Julia Vogl. Working across painting, sculpture, performance and film, the shortlist is incredibly diverse, however, there was something about the work of Poppy Bisdee that caught our eye.

A former student of Wimbledon College of Art and a recipient of the LUX Moving Image Prize 2011, Bisdee was recently selected from more than 10,000 graduating students to show her work in Future Map 11, an important annual exhibition which returned to the Zabludowicz Collection for the second year running.

Aesthetica caught up with Poppy Bisdee ahead of the opening to find out more.

BR: Let’s start off by talking about what you do. What is the main thrust of your creative practice? Where did it all begin for you?

PB: I am fascinated by the viewer's experience of art, and the ephemeral elements which make up that experience such as light, space and time. I am interested in the relationship between the viewer and the artwork, and the role of the viewer within the exhibition environment. My work is often a response to a space where it is ultimately to be exhibited. I use various recording and presentation technologies such as film and projection to create minimal sculptures and installations which reflect the exhibition space, the viewer's presence, and the duration of the viewing experience. By mirroring the viewer's physicality through images, sounds and shadows, I hope to bring in to question their role as spectator, subject or performer.

BR: What work will you be showing in the Catlin Art Prize?

PB: For the Catlin Art Prize I will be showing a 24-hour delay video installation, presenting the viewer with a video of the space they are standing in, but 24-hours before. The space will be constantly recorded, so those viewers will be shown in the video the following day. The playing video will also be visible in the recording, so there will be a repetition of the space throughout the recordings. This piece evolved as a development of previous works where I used photography to capture and present the exhibition space.

BR: Why have you chosen to work with recording technologies and projection and what are you hoping to achieve through these media?

PB: Using recording technologies, such as photographs or films, allows me to capture the space and the viewer's experience. Recording film, video or audio allows me to not only capture the visuals, but also a length of time, such as the duration of the viewing experience. Using presentation technologies, such as film projection or data projection, allows me to present the viewer with these recordings. Through my work I explore the sensory qualities of various forms of recording and presentation technologies, for example the quality of light or the mechanical sounds of an old film projector, with the aim to heighten the viewer's perceptive senses. I am especially interested in projection technologies as a projection uses the same ephemeral elements that make up an experience, light, space and time. Projection allows me to explore my ideas of mirroring a space within a space, for example I have created projections of spaces, which fall directly onto the walls of the space where they were originally recorded.

BR: If you had to condense your work into three overarching ideas, what would they be?

PB: If I had to condense my work into three overarching ideas, the first idea would be to explore our self-reflection on our immediate presence in space and time. The second would be to explore our understanding of the exhibition space. The third would be to explore our relationship as viewers with the artwork.

BR: The viewer is a central element in your work, Could you expand on these roles of spectator, subject and performer?

PB: My work is made to draw attention to the viewer’s experience which makes them part of it, and in a way they complete it. This brings into question whether they are spectators of the work, there to simply view and experience it; the subject of the work, there to satisfy the work’s concept; or the performers of the work, there as a physical element of the work. In my opinion, the viewer of my work is all three. With a lot of artworks the viewer is just a spectator, but when experiencing my work I would like the viewer to think more about their role and relationship with the work.

BR: What is your personal opinion on art prizes? What purpose do you feel they serve?

PB: I feel that although art prizes are a great opportunity for artists to gain more exposure in the art world, more importantly they allow the artist to develop their art practice further, giving them more confidence in their ideas, and sometimes allowing them to make work which would otherwise be beyond their means.

BR: What’s next for you?

PB: I am working towards a group show in the summer; details are yet to be confirmed. I am also in the early stages of organising a show with a group of fellow artists, so always looking out for exciting and unusual possible exhibition spaces. For more details and updates, please see my website: www.poppybisdee.com

The Catlin Art Prize 2012, Londonewcastle Project Space, 03/05/2012 - 25/05/2012, 28 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DP. www.londonewcastle.com

To read more about how Julia Vogl promotes the idea of community in her work please follow this link for an in-depth interview Aesthetica conducted with the artist in February.

Poppy Bisdee Measure
Courtesy Art Catlin

Friday 27 April 2012

Dialogues With The Physical | The Space Between | Tate Britain

Text by Travis Riley

Facing out from the entrance of The Space Between, (the title given to the recent rehang of the Tate’s contemporary collection) kneels a disfigured male, with disarmingly large, erect phallus protruding heavenward from between his legs. The work, NUC CYCLADIC (2010) is one of three pieces on display by Sarah Lucas, each a small sculpture stood atop two breeze blocks, which themselves stand upon an makeshift MDF plinth. The sculpture is made simply from “tights, fluff, and wire”. The beige tights create an evocatively flesh-like surface as they stretch across the contours of their filling. Whilst, only hinting at recognisable bodily shapes, the forms the models imply are explicitly figurative. At the rear of the models the sewn joints in the tights are left on show, just like the human body, we are uncomfortable seeing the parts that would usually be hidden from view. One of the works looks less like a single figure, but instead two nude bodies embroiled in a struggle, undoubtedly erotic.

Looking past the models to the far wall of the gallery space Tacita Dean’s Majesty (2006) comes into focus. A four by three metre image of an oak tree, equal parts imposing and sturdy, entwined and spindly. The tree is printed in strong, almost reflective ink, its form stands out dramatically from the background of the image. On close inspection it becomes apparent that the tree has been outlined, the rest of the image smothered by marks of white gouache, leaving only the tree’s stately structure as foreground. Beneath the tree, and echoing its black tangle of limbs sprawls Garth Evans’ Untitled No. 3 (1975). The piece is a rectangle of black rubber spread rug-like on the floor. Made up of short, affixed rubber strips the work hints first at a grid structure, which is never fulfilled. The inbuilt disarray in the connected strips causes the rubber to climb-up from the floor in twists and tangles, only occasionally lying flat.

The opposite of a rug, Alice Channer’s (Sleeve) (2009) is composed of four fabric strips, each hung from a steel hook on the ceiling. One side of the fabric bears a vertical monochromatic stripe detail, reminiscent of a bad pair of curtains. Stretching from floor to ceiling and back again each strip forms a loop; the shape appears industrial, giving the impression of a heavy-duty loom or conveyor belt. It's almost as if the piece should be rotating, following the directionality provided by the stripes. The material quality however, is not industrial, each loop of fabric is made up of more than one strip, and the joints attaching one piece to the next, whilst neat, are not hidden. Furthermore, when each loop reaches the ground, one periphery of the fabric breaks off, trailing flaccid across the floor to its end, breaking any illusion of possible motion. 

Lucy Skaer’s Zero Table (2008) consists foremost of a reasonably elegant, dark wood, dining table. The top surface of the table has been carved to form a positive impression of the figure of a zero. The figure in question is stained a dark, inky black, and on the floor are two A0 sheets. Each has been printed with the same zero. The prints have a remarkably authoritative, matt-black colouring. The literal transference from table surface to printed image immediately confounds the table’s practical implication, but also betrays a process that goes unspoken in this informal layout. To produce these prints a heavy mechanical process needs to have taken place. Aside from its printing-plate the table bears no scar, the images act as evidence.

Anna Barriball’s Untitled (III) and (IV) (2006) make use of slide projectors to show corroded images of, what appears to be, a family holiday. Each of the two projectors is stuck on one image, I keep expecting another slide that reveals something more than these damaged pictures, but it never comes. Next to the projectors sits Rebecca Warren’s In The Bois (2005). Three mock-museum vitrines are fixed to the wall. From their cheap MDF surfaces, to their mal-fitting Perspex fronts with rusty nails jutting out, to the shoddy wooden post that props up the third box, they seem to be entirely incorrectly made. Inside, the image is continued, their contents range from twisted neon lamps, to lumpen, half-painted clay masses, to pom poms, painted polystyrene balls, off-cuts of wood and clay dust, complete with an affixed detritus of human hair and fluff. Unable to contain the mass of undesirable museum pieces, the objects spill out, also standing on the top of the vitrines. These boxes couldn’t be further from the museum displays that they initially evoke.

Stepping through Becky Beasley’s work, an installation complete with dual-tone lino floor, that riffs off of the scale and tones of a set of swing doors designed but never made by designer, Carlo Mollino, you enter a dark projection space. A rumbling film projector on a tall black plinth takes centre stage. The film being shown is Graham Gussin’s 1999 work, Spill. In grainy black and white we are introduced to empty industrial spaces, large rooms with evident functionality, but no present use. The rooms gradually begin to fill with a fog, at first trickling in wisps, eventually pouring, a fluid torrent engulfing the vast spaces, and after twelve minutes, finding its way outside onto the roof of the building. The use of mist can be aligned with both theatrical and cinematic traditions, but in this case the impact is far more profound. By making the mist the subject, Gussin transforms it from a now disparaged atmospheric effect to a substantive motif of its own. As it spreads through the spaces, the eddies and currents of fog are sublime.

The title of the show, The Space Between, highlights an evident theme. Each piece holds its own immediate dialogue with physical space. To take further examples from the show, Karla Black’s full-room installation (At Fault, 2011), collapses under its own weight into a pastel-coloured and powdery, paper heap, yet equally fills the space with a bath-bomb perfume, and Ian Kiaer in his Ulchiro Project (2007), generates structures to fill a specific, hypothetical, spatial function. A tall, yet delicately thin, steel structure, leans into the room. From the side the miniscule angle is almost imperceptible, yet when faced with the sculpture, there is the overwhelming sense that it will fall forwards. The exhibition title deserves further consideration. Each piece shows signs of its making or subsequent processing. Sarah Lucas takes material that is used to cover human flesh in order to make an image of skin, Lucy Skaer’s images provide evidence of a material process that has taken place, but is not shown, and Tacita Dean’s Majesty, reveals a resplendent image, but only by concealing those facets of material deemed irrelevant. The works in the show exhibit a deliberate tension between image and material and doing so define a recognisable, though not physical, space between them.

The Space Between, 19/04/2012 – 01/2013, Tate Britain, Millbank, 
London, SW1P 4RG. The Space Between is part of the BP British Art Displays. www.tate.org.uk

The Space Between
Installation View
Photo: Tate

Thursday 26 April 2012

Art Doesn't Act and Doesn't Work | Forget Fear | The 7th Berlin Biennale For Contemporary Art

For the curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Polish-artist Artur Żmijewski, the concept of the Biennale is simple - presenting art that has a transformative impact on society, that opens a space where politics can be performed. Subtitled Forget Fear, the Biennale takes place against a backdrop of hostility; citing the decline of support for culture in Europe (namely the Netherlands, Greece and the UK) and the arrests of Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot as a driving force. There are key themes of course, ranging from the political effectiveness of art to the way art is employed to construct historical narratives, but there's something more significant at stake here - a drive to influence political and ideological agendas and goals.

Forget Fear is all about stepping into the fire. Working in collaboration with associate curators Voina and Joanna Warsza, Żmijewski has chosen to present almost exclusively new works in the Biennale as opposed to adjusting existing projects to a theme. The Biennale takes place in various venues in Berlin, including public spaces. There will also be temporary projects and events as well as "Solidarity Actions" in Germany and further afield.

In 2011, Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza spoke with Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA PS1 and the Founding Director of KW Institute for Contemporary Art about their aims for the Biennale and the idea of art as a societal force in relation to the current contemporary landscape.

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: What do you expect from art? Not from the Biennale per se, but in general?

Klaus Biesenbach: I expect a certain disruption. Over ten years ago I did a series of exhibitions in the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. I showed Teresa Margolles and Santiago Sierra. Margolles brought a container of liposuction liquid with her. Just imagine: rich ladies in Mexico City want to be skinny, while all other people do not have enough to eat. So their fat is being sucked out of their bodies, and Teresa got some of it and she made a Jackson Pollock-like painting out of the material, a big, golden, shiny dripping painting on the large wall in the main exhibition hall. You always think art has to be utopian and has to draw an idea of a better world, more eternal, more true. And all of a sudden, artists like Sierra and Margolles appear and became a part of what they criticize. Margolles by the very material she was using. And in Sierra’s case by the contracts he always made. You basically sign a contract and obviously you are exploiting someone. So you are not just showing "beautiful art" and making the world better. You somehow exploit the same system that you criticize, and you are a part of it.

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: Should art take part in the current moment? Or should we keep a distance to reality?

Klaus Biesenbach: I think art has to prove that is has a certain amount of courage. Art has to be unafraid. Art anticipates developments, hopefully in a fearless way. The request to the artist should be, "Be responsible and be unafraid."

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: What should artists be responsible for?

Klaus Biesenbach: That they are citizens, that they are human and political beings, that they are free in this given moment in time, knowing about what has happened, and understanding that their actions will be looked at. They could understand that there is a certain responsibility that they could influence something that is going to happen.

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: Through the rise of neoliberalism art was transformed into never ending competition between artists. This is capitalistic logic—different parts of society fight each other for profit. Artists became an army of individuals, who are not aware that they could create collective power and be stronger.

Klaus Biesenbach: When I came to Berlin in 1989, when the Wall fell, that was kind of a capitulation of socialism. The utopian idea of capitalism and the utopian idea of socialism is a dichotomy and part of the “bloc mentality” that I grew up with. As a child I never thought that one was right or one was wrong—it was just a reality that both existed. But after the Wall we first saw the capitulation of socialism as an idea, and now we are in the very moment of what seems to be the capitulation of democratic capitalism as an idea. So what is going to happen? Is it a vacuum? We know that if we look at the twentieth century, there are all these ideas of coming together, of solidarity amongst equals, solidarity with having a leader or not. To use a current example, many people commented that Occupy Wall Street did not have a leader, or did not have a "face." And then when the camp [in Zuccotti Park] was dissolved people said, "Oh no, they don’t even have a face. They don’t have a person who could carry on without the park." But the absence of one designated leader was part of what made Occupy Wall Street effective. They created a new deal. We should also be aware of what we do in the art field as they are aware of what they do in the field of politics or economy. You are part of a deal. And when it comes to the Berlin Biennale, I don’t know how you would deal with this. With public money, you are a part of a system, of a country. You are in the position of claiming to be independent, responsible and unafraid and I do not know how you achieve it without selling out, being on someone’s team, carrying someone’s brand, or taking private or public money. I never understood how to escape this logic.

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: But we never wanted to escape from this dilemma. We have never fetishised independence. Independence from society and the freedom of the artist are illusions. And if you have these illusions as an artist, it is very easy to be manipulated. We see many artists who are going down this path. They are manipulated and don’t even know that they are being manipulated. So, it is important to start to be aware and transform ourselves, or yourself, into political subjects. That’s why we asked artists: "What is your political stand? What are you dependent on? What community do you represent?"

Klaus Biesenbach: What about your decision to name Voina as associate curators of the 7th Berlin Biennale? I’ve learned more about Voina recently, and I am so impressed by what they do. They are so unafraid. Either they are crazy or unafraid, or both. But it’s very impressive. I am in Russia quite often; it’s an unbelievably brutal country. Sometimes as an artist or curator or art person, when you go to some of these places it’s a little bit like being journalist in a war zone; in a war situation you can say: I’m a journalist, don’t shoot me. It’s the same as: I’m an artist, don’t shoot me. Sometimes you have this stupid idea you cannot get shot, but of course you can get shot. It’s the same bullets, the same material.

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: Exactly because they don’t feel fear—they are not driven by it. Voina want to be responsible. They don’t want to be treated like protected artists, like people who are untouchable. They take a certain responsibility and they take action.

Klaus Biesenbach: Do they know who they are?

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: Politicians. Hopefully one day, they will declare it. It is part of strategy, to accept that you can really treat yourself seriously as a political entity and as somebody who can influence political processes. I'm thinking here about some other artists as well. They are using a kind of camouflage, but one day, there should make coming out. Do you know any such artists?

Klaus Biesenbach: Abbie Hoffman did this. Also Joseph Beuys, Christoph Schlingensief. Who else is on the way?

Artur Żmijewski & Joanna Warsza: Marina Naprushkina from Belarus. And, I would say, others who are part of the 7th Berlin Biennale project. They started politicizing art in a very substantial way. They reversed the process of de-politicizing art. It started years ago and somehow the exhibition based in Berlin was evidence of it—we saw fully de-politicized art. But at the same point there are people who are smart enough to use art for political reasons. Unfortunately usually these people are not artists.

Klaus Biesenbach: Earlier in 2011 I watched TV and there was the Arab Spring in Bahrain, the first dead people, the first people killed. You look at China and you know that something is going to happen; you look at Russia and you know that something is happening right now; you look at Mexico and think, "God, that got out of control." In some areas of Greece there is 25 percent unemployment, what can people there do? You see the images from riots in Libya or Egypt. Something is happening, imploding or exploding, also in New York where I live. But now I am sitting in Berlin, and I feel strange calmness here. The idea of democratic capitalism simply doesn’t work anymore today in many economically succesful regions in the world! At the same time in Berlin you have this ongoing art festival. You are surrounded by artists, exhibitions, and galleries. Every day in Berlin is like the opening week of the Venice Biennale or a day in Kassel during Documenta. One has the impression that everything here revolves around art, all day, every day.

The 7th Berlin Biennale: Forget Fear, 27/04/2012 - 01/07/2012. www.berlinbiennale.de

Copyright Tomas Rafa

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Big Brother is Watching You: David Dunnico: 1984 Looks Like This | Salford Museum & Art Gallery

Text by Liz Buckley

George Orwell’s enigmatic novel 1984, first published in 1949, got the world thinking; was this a prophecy, or simply science fiction? First written not so much as a prediction for the future, but as a topical fiction story, Orwell’s prophetic tale has turned out to be chillingly relevant to every generation since its publication. The current exhibition 1984 Looks Like This at Salford Museum & Art Gallery centres on the story of 1984, as well as the photography of David Dunnico, who as an artist has occupied himself with issues surrounding surveillance, as well as the unnerving relevance of Orwell’s novel to today’s society. This exhibition offers a collection of work by Dunnico, as well as his impressive collection of copies of 1984 and related ephemera, showcasing not only the changing covers of the book but also its consistent relevancy to our modern culture.

David Dunnico, a Manchester based artist, uses his documentary photography to highlight just how integrated surveillance cameras are in our modern landscape. Dunnico’s blunt black and white shots include CCTV and its familiar signage around the Manchester and Salford areas, showing the sheer abundance of such surveillance equipment in just two cities. As a society we have grown to largely ignore surveillance, as we become more and more overwhelmed by warnings such as “CCTV may be in operation in this area.” It is easy to forget that in the city you could be caught on camera over 300 times in a day. With reality shows now covering every possible area of life, and billboards on the daily commute telling us how to think, it seems we have welcomed big brother with open arms, and are quite happy to hide from the negative connotations of surveillance. Even the infamous phrase “Big Brother is watching you,” which many only now connect with the popular reality show, is in fact an invention of Orwell’s.

Dunnico’s collection of photographs for this exhibition highlight for the viewer just how many CCTV devices are out there and can be captured hiding amongst the architecture, even in simple pictures of the urban landscape. A camera even watches the gallery space as viewers explore the exhibition, showing their image on a television screen. While surveillance techniques can be useful for criminal investigations and prevention, it is unnerving to know that your every move is monitored, and even the layout of the city has been engineered to deter suspicious behaviour. The "Telescreens" as described by Orwell in 1984 were designed to make society nervous and encourage people to act more warily in public. As it turns out, such "telescreens" have become an integral part of our living environment, and, in turn, 1984 has become an increasingly pertinent story for our generation.

The impressive collection of 1984 copies as collected by Dunnico are all on show in the gallery alongside the artist’s own work. The continuing publication of Orwell’s novel is highlighted here with its many different covers, and is indicative of how this fictional story made significant observations way ahead of its time. Many of the covers for 1984 bare the familiar eye symbol which we now associate so closely with Big Brother, and perhaps the most unnerving is the 2008 Penguin Reader version, adorned with 18 eyes watching a solitary black figure. A lot of the older book covers have a lurid and trashy appearance, implying a fashionably cheap science fiction novel, certainly not symptomatic of the significance that was in store for 1984.

1984 Looks Like This is certainly a thought provoking comment on surveillance in our modern society, and shows how CCTV has even picked up connotations of being urban and edgy in popular culture imagery. For those not familiar with the text, this exhibition explores how this novel is increasingly relevant to continuing generations, and how a topical science fiction story rose to fame with its prophetic predictions. David Dunnico’s photography reminds us of the constant evasion of privacy going on all around us and our growing familiarity with even the warning signs for CCTV surveillance. Dunnico’s images alongside a mixture of classic and contemporary copies of 1984, as well as recent Manchester Evening News posters warning us of naked airport scanners and increasing numbers of cameras, makes for a vigilant and evocative exhibition.

David Dunnico: 1984 Looks Like This, 17/03/2012 - 01/07/2012, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Peel Park, The Crescent, Salford, M5 4WU. www.salford.gov.uk

Related Events:

Cover Story: Artist Talk by David Dunnico
Saturday 2 June: 2 - 4 pm
As part of the exhibition, documentary photographer David Dunnico talks about the cover designs of George Orwell's book 1984.

Documentary Photo: Artist Talk by David Dunnico
Saturday 16 June: 2 - 4 pm
David Dunnico talks about how to make a start in documentary photography. This talk is aimed at amateur photographers who are interested in making their own documentary projects.

Both talks are free of charge and do not need to be pre-booked.

Courtesy the artist

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Currents 106: Chelsea Knight | Saint Louis Art Museum | Missouri

Text by Laura Elizabeth Barone

Chelsea Knight’s current solo-exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Currents 106: Chelsea Knight, is a two-part, show, split up into two galleries on opposite sides of the museum, each of which have a distinct – though language based - all-encompassing environment. Knight is clearly fascinated by the power of language, by what is meant and by what is said, and how language enables us to maintain ideas of our own race, class, gender, and identity every day. In one of the galleries is a short film, titled The End of All Resistance (2010), a single-channel, 29 minute video of psychological test and play. Across the hall is Frame (2012) an installation meant to look like a construction site with photographs and an 11 minute film with real construction workers reading and commenting on feminist texts.

The End of All Resistance consists of three pairs of people: two male, U.S. army interrogators, a married couple, and two female actresses. The married couple and the actresses were both given scripts based on the techniques demonstrated by the interrogators from a U.S. army manual on torture. In using the techniques to discuss their own marital and quotidian issues, the married couple becomes aware of sources of conflict, power, self-interest, and ambition within their own relationship, and the actresses’ near exact mimic of the interrogators technique reveals the inherent performative aspect and character play within a questioning session. The film is divided into nine sequences, each one, a demonstration and acting out of a specific technique, such as the "Fear-Up" technique, or the "Repetition Approach," the "Silent Approach," or the "I have a Vision" technique, in which the interrogator describes the person’s ultimate "happy place" in exquisite detail, promising fulfilment of that place if the one being questioned cooperates. Sitting on a bench, facing the film in a dark room, the film allows us to look reflect upon ourselves, how we manipulate through language, even unknowingly, and forces us to examine the cost versus the benefit of this for both ourselves and the other person.

Frame, by contrast, explores the performative aspects of language by pairing a stereotypically unexpected combination together – construction workers and feminist texts. The construction workers, non-actors, are filmed while building the set for Frame, while also reading, sometimes their own interpretation, of theoretically heavy readings. In an interview in the gallery guide with curator Tricia Y. Paik, Knight said the work was meant to “reference the proximity of labour environments to discursive environments,” thereby bringing to light the connection between life and theory (or lack thereof). Knight’s film attempts to bridge the gap between the people writing theory versus the people living it, and questions if that has to be mutually exclusive. The whole environment of Frame implies the viewer in these constructs as well; you can walk around the "construction site" while listening to or watching the film, experiencing the constructed product of the labour while hearing both male and female construction workers speak of the societal constructions of women.

Knight’s exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum is at an exciting time in her career – Knight is the 2011-2012 Henry L. and Natalie H. Freund Fellow and the Triangle Arts Association Artist-in-Residence for the year. Fittingly, it’s also an exciting time for the Saint Louis Art Museum itself, as it has been undergoing a major and costly expansion project to be complete in mid 2013, making Frame a particularly poignant and timely piece for the museum, itself surrounded by construction noise, machines, and workers all day, every day. Now that some of that construction has been brought inside through Frame and that viewers have been given a lesson in manipulation through The End of All Resistance, Knight has aided us greatly in becoming aware of how we play identity, some of the reasons why, and making us question if we really want to keep doing so.

Currents 106: Chelsea Knight, 06/04/2012 - 01/07/2012, Saint Louis Art Museum, One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO. www.slam.org

Chelsea Knight Untitled (2012)
Chromogenic Print; 40 x 50 inches
Courtesy of the artist

Monday 23 April 2012

Miró: Sculptor | Yorkshire Sculpture Park | Wakefield

Text by Elizabeth Holdsworth

The sky is wide in Wakefield, or at least it appears so. Shouldering this weight of blue, Joan Miró's bronze sculptures trample the neat lawns of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the glossy black of polished bronze a slick upon amorphous and primal bodies.

Split between the Underground Gallery and the outside Gardens, the exhibition spans the entire career of an artist perhaps more primarily known for his paintings, examining his sculptural output in a first major UK exhibition. In the open air, Miró: Sculptor highlights the Catalan artist's predilection towards ancient figurative forms: earth mother totems prising open cavernous clefts containing within the origins of the world. Although also known for his use of colour, sun soaked primaries outlined in black and bleached out chalky white, these polished bronze outdoor sculptures reflect another side to the artist in the more muted yet crystal clear air of Yorkshire.

It was from the mid 1960s to the end of the artist's life which saw his most intense period of sculptural production. The result, over two hundred bronzes, loosely fall into two distinct categories: those moulded from clay and those assembled from scrap or found objects. The moulded works form the smooth and rounded lady lumps of figures on show in the open air, while the assemblages are more often rough and jagged in texture, many painted in bright pop colours. These bright assemblages in bronze instil a greater sense of the phantasmagoric than that which the artist claims to be his more "conventional" approach to painting and printmaking. However, the prints displayed alongside sculptural works in this exhibition hold no less striking and fantastic a power than the sculptures, being specially selected to reflect and complement the works on show.

The first room of the Underground holds a number of similar amorphous ebony figures to those seen outside, the 1966 twin works Oiseau Lumiere and Oiseau Solaire emphatically occupying a corner each. On the walls, the black, red and blue examples of the artist's lithograph prints resemble childlike daubings in poster paint, further emphasising the sense of the primitive, the naive and the pure. With a focus on the return to nature, Miró's sculptures are as much about simplifying elements to purer forms as they are about fantasising and dreams.

The exhibition makes the opportune connection between Miró and the Surrealists in its "project space" at the end of the line of galleries in the Underground. An educational room offers an extraordinarily large amount of material for students to engage with all aspects surrounding the artist's practice, displaying his sketches and objects with audio-visual information and a bewildering amount of wall text. The tradition of Surrealism was, however, too restrictive for Miró, so although there were corresponding tendencies he could never himself be categorised as a Surrealist artist. So much the better, as to make this classification would in fact be performing a disservice to an artist whose vision was entirely his own.

As the work in Miró: Sculptor is not displayed chronologically visitors are presented with a delightful contrast of techniques and finishes. The smooth, finished bronzed are displayed in conjunction with the round, assembled ones. These collaged pieces, cobbled together in deliberate crudeness then immortalised in bronze, contain an amusing array of everyday, worthless objects. On this first occasion were spotted parts of a broken doll, a used bar of soap, a tap, a wooden spoon and a set of false teeth.

In an interesting yet rather blunt estimation from Jacques Dupin, poet and friend of the artist: Miró "shows no skill or ingenuity in the manipulation and combination of objects. His instinct saves him from cumbersome superfluity occasioned by manual skill and the tricks of the trade." In other words, these works highlight a particular method of making which demonstrated a new kind of artistic gesture. Undeniably goofy, yet strangely and contrarily elegant, the works on display in Miró: Sculptor indicate the breadth of work of one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Split between inside and out, and as with all exhibitions at YSP, the work has the drama of rolling landscape and open sky to contend with and is perhaps in danger of being overshadowed by its dramatic cloudscapes.

Miró: Sculptor, 17/03/2012 - 06/01/2013, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4LG. www.ysp.co.uk

Copyright Successió Miró ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2012
Photo: Jonty Wilde

A New Art Fair for Yorkshire | Saltburn Arts Fair | 3 - 5 August 2012

Saltburn-by-the-Sea still has a pier, making it a seaside resort in the traditional and best sense. This time last year, the local creative community was preparing for The Exhibitionists , an artists open studios event that celebrated the quality and diversity of the work being made in the area. Following the success of The Exhibitionists, curators Jenny Hall and Becky Mitchell have taken things one step further by launching Saltburn Arts Fair, the first event of its kind to take place in the area. Aesthetica spoke to Jenny and Becky to find out more about the fair, and how artists can get involved.

A: To someone who doesn't know much about Saltburn-by-the-Sea, can you just talk briefly about your choice of location and how the area lends itself to an event of this kind?

SAF: Saltburn-on-Sea and the immediate coast-line has a long standing reputation as a melting pot for creative endeavour, achieving fame in the 19th century as the home of the Staithes group. Traditionally Saltburn has been at the heart of the creative community in the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire region with one of the highest concentrations of artist studios and creative businesses in the area.

A: Where did the idea for the art fair stem from? 

SAF: After we put on The Exhibitionists we had a lot of feedback from the creative sector indicating that there was an appetite for a curated arts fair in the area. We drew inspiration from events such as Brick Lane and Brighton Arts Fair and, working in partnership with the local creative community, mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) and the local authority, have put together a programme that will act as a beacon for quality, tourism and localism. The team will work with a nationally recognised artist, who that will be will be announced later this month so keep an eye out!

A: It’s good to see you are working in collaboration with mima. What will the gallery bring to the programme of events? 

SAF: On Saturday 4 August mima will host a symposium, taking the theme of "People and Society" the Symposium will bring together top named speakers from the arts world. The Symposium will be followed by a series of performative and live works based at Saltburn Arts Theatre. Mima will also be assisting with the curatorial panel as well as organising a Northern Rail mima train to assist all those late night revellers travelling to and from the launch event. 

A: Could you talk us through the highlights of this year’s programme? 

SAF: We are still in the early stages of developing the programme, however we already have an amazing line up of performers and musicians for the launch event on Friday 3 August - tickets will go on sale in the next month. Saturday will open with a thought provoking Symposium curated by mima followed by live performance and live 'Art Fair' installations at the Community Theatre. Sunday will see over 40 artists demonstrating and exhibiting their work in the town centre with fringe events at local galleries.

A: How can artists get involved with the art fair? Are you looking for a particular type of work?

SAF: Artists are asked to apply through the Arts Fair website. Our theme is "People and Society" and we are interested in artists responding the way in which their work interacts in different contexts such as the "Fair". The event is flexible and can accommodate live art, time based pieces at the community theatre as well as stall based performance and exhibitors.q

Saltburn Arts Fair, 03/08/2012 - 05/08/2012. www.saltburnartsfair.co.uk

Image courtesy of Bob Mitchell

Saturday 21 April 2012

Interview with Satis House Project Space Belfast curators Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese

Over the next two years contemporary art in Northern Ireland will experience developments progressively on par to other successful regions in the UK. In 2013 the prestigious Turner Prize will be hosted by a select venue in the first UK Capital of Culture Derry/Londonderry. In Belfast the much anticipated multi-functional Metropolitan Arts Centre (The MAC) will open to the public this month. Adding to this sense of growth a unique project space entitled Satis House launched its inaugural exhibition last month. This initiative has been instigated by two former Catalysts Arts Directors, Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese. Dara is also curatorial assistant at The MAC and McAleese spent three months on a curatorial residency at SOMArts in San Francisco last year. Their intentions for the space states that they will be showcasing "...both emerging and established artists, inviting them to respond directly to this unique environment."

The selected artists Claire Hall, David Frederick Mahon, Ricki O’Rawe and Anne Marie Taggart all individually engendered thought provoking outcomes to this curatorial challenge. As one ascends the stairwell to the main gallery Claire Hall’s emotive vignette of sounds transcends quiet, soft waves punctuated by louder, brasher, harder undulating notes. Hall’s intention here was to "...play with the idea of memory, looking into a mirror and you see something different from the person who looked into it before you although it's the same mirror..." On entering the gallery space this same sense of introspection was collectively evident in the hauntingly forlorn sculptural installation by Anne Marie Taggart, the poignantly melancholic text piece by Ricki O’Rawe and the reflective performance interactions by David Frederick Mahon.

Angela Darby interviewed the Satis House curators Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese to gain further insight into their intentions and future plans for the project space.

AD: What is the impetus for establishing this new project space in Belfast?

ED/KM :We have been involved, both collaboratively and independently, in curating art projects in Belfast and further afield over the past couple of years. Satis House has stemmed from our shared desire to completely immerse ourselves in current contemporary art practice. We want to create a further platform for local artists to exhibit work without limitations or constraints, as well as bringing significant international work to the city. The decision to locate the project on the Ormeau Road was also important to us, as there is a huge number of artists living in this area with no official venue for artistic presentation near by.We also wish to create opportunities for ourselves in order to advance our own curatorial expertise through working with these artists and establishing connections with our international peers.

AD: What type of artistic practice will Satis House profile?

ED/KM: We feel it is of the utmost importance that we involve the wealth of talented artists in our immediate vicinity; to exhibit the best of this work in a solo capacity, as well as alongside other international pieces in curated group shows. We aim to create an environment where artists will feel comfortable and confident to develop more experimental work – work that perhaps would not be considered for inclusion in other exhibition spaces.

Also, we don’t particularly want to limit the scope of the projects in the house to a visual art format – our opening exhibition included an experimental soundscape by Claire Louise Hall, a local musician and DJ, and a text piece by Dr Ricki O’Rawe, a literature scholar at Queens University. So really, our curatorial interests are broad in terms of artistic disciplines, but are currently focused on the presentation of work in alternative spaces. In the coming months, we’d also like to facilitate screenings, talks, and debates in the space, specific to the exhibitions on display, or responding to relevant cultural happenings in our area.

AD: In terms of the inaugural exhibition, how did the sculptural installation by Anne Marie Taggart relate to the performances by David Frederick Mahon?

ED/KM: The inaugural exhibition was developed slowly over the past few months with all of the artists meeting in the space on a regular basis – whether it be for dinner, tea, or simply a quick chat. We wanted all of the work to come together in a cohesive and complementary manner, and for the artists to feed off each other in terms of thought processes and ideas. Therefore, both Taggart’s installation and Mahon’s performances were inextricably linked from the outset.

Taggart’s response to the space and the literary connotations of Satis House resulted in a sombre exploration of loss, creating a display that referenced both human presence and absence simultaneously. When performing in these surroundings, Mahon drew attention to his physical occupation of this room, using the mirror to duplicate images of his body, and spoken word to flesh out the suggested fictions in Taggart’s sculptures.

However, central to Mahon’s performative practice is an almost unwavering focus on the immediate present, and so external factors such as the audience members in attendance on a particular day, or indeed insects flying in from an open window become just as important as other inanimate objects in the room.

AD: Do you feel the site specific nature of SH project space will challenge the future selected artists?

ED/KM: Absolutely, yes. We at no stage want the space to become a blank canvas for artists to simply exhibit existing work – we wish to encourage at all times the development of new ideas specific to this unique environment.

The reception of art in a domestic context is entirely different to that of a professional gallery setting, and we want to celebrate this at Satis House – we want to focus on the present and future potential of the space as a site for contemporary art whilst always being acutely aware of its previous varied identities.

This project will (hopefully) be an exciting challenge for future artists and audiences, as well as for ourselves as curators .

AD: What other projects have you planned for the upcoming year?

ED/KM: The next exhibition will launch on 26 April and will be the first solo presentation in Ireland of Scottish artist Liam Crichton’s work.

Then, as we head into the summer months we hope to take part in a curatorial exchange with Outland Arts, a new contemporary art organisation based in Fermanagh, as well as exhibiting exciting new work by a recent graduate of the BA programme at the University of Ulster.

We are also currently working with Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Ciara Hickey, and Alissa Kleist to develop a larger showcase of contemporary art in domestic spaces, which will culminate in a weekend of artistic activity in the broader Ormeau area at the end of August.

An open call for proposals to exhibit in Satis House will be announced in the coming weeks via our Facebook page, and we hope to have a website for the project up and running within the next month.

The inaugural exhibition at Satis House Project Space, 86 Deramore Avenue, Belfast, took place from 30/03/2012 - 14/04/2012. Their next exhibition will launch on 26 April. Further details are available on their Facebook

Ricki O'Rawe
Photography: Simon Mills

Friday 20 April 2012

The Transcendental World of Photographer Jordan Sullivan | Roadsongs | Clic Gallery | New York

Text by Bethany Rex

Brooklyn-based photographer Jordan Sullivan was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Ohio, Michigan, and Indonesia. He studied at the University of Michigan and University College London before moving to New York City. He previously worked as a construction worker in central Texas, a touring musician in New York City and as an artist assistant to photographers Mike & Doug Starn. Sullivan has exhibited in the United States and Europe, participating in PhotoIreland (Dublin), Flash Forward Festival (Boston) and Photomonth (Krakow). The photographer has also published three volumes of his own work, including The Ghost Country in collaboration with Pamela Love. Sullivan's latest project Roadsongs will be exhibited at Clic Gallery, Manhattan until 13 May. We spoke with Jordan to explore his influences and the inspiration behind his latest series.

BR: You’ve had an interesting and incredibly varied career path. What initially inspired you to pick up a camera and start shooting professionally?

JS: I knew early on I had no interest in a normal life. Sometimes I'll sink into some sort of routine for a second, but it never lasts too long. I need things to stay weird. I grew up reading Henry Miller and Kerouac and watching those old Wim Wenders road movies. I'd be in some high school math class just dreaming of when I could hit the road and go on these adventures. I've always imagined when I'm old I'll have this room and the walls will be covered with pictures of all the people and places I've known. Hopefully, if I make it that far, I'll be proud of all the good and bad times and all the mistakes and everything. Even now I've amassed a pretty decent archive. I started taking pictures when I was in high school. I'd go shoot photos and make these odd VHS short movies in downtown Detroit, mostly about teenage runaways for some reason - I've always been so obsessed with escaping and leaving home. But I didn't start having gallery shows untill much later, and it seemed to sort of happen by accident. I was mostly focused on writing novels and short stories. Art and photography was sort of this secret life I had and somehow people started finding out about it, and everything went from there.

BR: Most of the images in Roadsongs have a ethereal, almost nomadic quality to them. What is it you’re trying to capture in these works?

JS: Usually, I'm looking for an image that expresses some sort of emotion - loneliness, love, or just some sense of calm - but for Roadsongs I also wanted each picture to have a sound, to be these sort of picture-songs. I always think about music when I'm shooting or editing images, but for this show I really wanted each picture to be a song, and the whole show to be suggestive of an old folk album or something. Even the text on the pictures reads like weird forgotten song lyrics.

BR: I think when I first looked at your work I thought immediately “Americana” which is a theme that has become very familiar in photography of late. Are you particularly influenced by these references?

JS: If so, it's an unconscious thing. I didn't set out to make an exhibition or a body of work specifically about America. I was trying to express something more personal, but I've always been fascinated by artifacts and antiques and fossils, both from America and around the world. The photographs in Roadsongs were shot in America and the accompanying text on each image definitely explores things specific to being American and growing up here, so I in some ways it did turn out to an exploration of this country, but the work is in no way a social or political commentary, it's more about about looking at these beautiful and messed up places and hopefully creating some sort of spiritual connection to them.

BR: Talking of references, are you motivated by any particular photographers? Where do you glean most of your inspiration?

JS: That's hard to answer because I love so many photographers and artists who are all so different from one another, and I really try to work in a bubble with as little outside influence as possible. In terms of inspiration, I don't know where it comes from or how often I'm even inspired. Inspiration is such a weird and kinda lofty word anyway. I treat art and photography like any job. I get up, I drink coffee, I sit in my little studio and sometimes I make something and sometimes I just wait. The waiting can go on for days though, but the waiting is important, it's work, it builds up patience. Then all of sudden in two seconds you will know exactly what you need to do. I don't how much of it has to do with inspiration though. I know I have this need to create, to articulate something, but I mostly work more out of a weird sense of duty, or maybe its just a habit at this point. Art definitely keeps me out of the bar to some degree and that's not a bad thing. But if I worked only from inspiration I probably wouldn't get much done.

BR: You've previously spent time in Europe and Indonesia but are based in NYC at the moment. What do you miss most about London and Indonesia and would you ever go back?

JS: I wasn't in Europe or London for too long, but time doesn't matter. I've spent single nights in cities that have changed my life forever, and London definitely had this insane affect on me. I loved it so much there. It was a such a weird time. I was there during the July bombings. The bus exploded just a couple blocks from my house. I remember walking outside that morning and seeing this business man covered in dust and blood just standing alone on a street corner. Down the block another man was on his knees crying. I took some photos that morning and when I got home I realised I'd loaded the film improperly so it's all just in my memory now, and I'm kind of glad. I felt awful for taking those pictures. That all happened my first week there, and it really freaked me out. I'd never lived in a big city before and it was so insane to me. I'm from a hillbilly town and the suburbs of Detroit. London was another planet. I used to just walk around for whole days there and then stay out all night wasting what little money I had. It was so much fun. It was sort of my introduction to this whole new world, and I definitely would love to live there again.

BR: Could you give us a sneak preview of what you’re working on at the moment? Any new collaborations on the horizon?

JS: There are a couple of things in the pipeline. In the immediate future I have a solo show opening in NYC on 17 May at Underline Gallery. The show is called NATURAL HISTORY and combines two installations that span 70 years.

Jordan Sullivan: Roadsongs, 19/04/2012 - 13/05/2012, Clic Gallery, 255 Centre Street, New York, NY. www.clicgallery.com

All images from Jordan Sullivan's Roadsongs series. 
Courtesy the artist and Clic Gallery, NYC.

Contemporary Street Art From Israel | Broken Fingaz Crew: Crazy Eye Hotel | Shop 13: The Old Truman Brewery | London

Text by Bethany Rex

Broken Fingaz are a pioneering, multidisciplinary street art collection from Haifa, Israel. Heralded as the first crew to emerge from their homeland, their widely acclaimed and dynamic work includes graffiti, graphic design, installation and music. Since their beginnings 11 years ago, Broken Fingaz have steadily built a worldwide following, exhibiting on walls and in gallery shows around the work. In 2010 they took their work to Art Beijing, China, and in 2011, their success was elucidated by simultaneous exhibitions opening at Israel's two most prestigious art institutions, the Tel Aviv Museum and the Haifa Museum of Art.

Presenting a new large-scale, mixed media installation, the exhibition is the crew's first major show inside Europe, Broken Fingaz Crew's latest exhibition Crazy Eye Hotel opens today at Shop 13 at The Old Truman Brewery in London. Aesthetica caught up with the crew ahead of the opening.

BR: For those of us who don't know, who are the BFC? How did the collective come together?

BFC: We are Kip, Unga, Tant and Deso. We formed in 2011 in Haifa. Kip and I (Unga) grew up together - our parents lived together and worked together in a commune in the mountains. Kip and I started painting in High School, and Tant joined in 2005. Deso is the only one not from Haifa originally, he came from Russia to Israel 12 years ago. We met through doing graffiti - it's such a small city that everyone just gets to know each other that way.

BR: Could you talk us through the name of the collective?

BFC: There's no meaning to our name. It's just something we thought was cool in High School and it has stuck ever since.

BR: This is your first European exhibition. What should visitors who have never seen your work before expect?

BFC: This is actually our first solo exhibition on this scale, ever, anywhere. So, we pretty much brought together everything we have made in the last year; from sculptures, installations, painting and inks to some new work we have created specifically for the site. Hopefully people that didn't know us before will be able to come together and get our vibe from just seeing all of our stuff together.

BR: The press material features a quote from Professor Catherine Hezser from SOAS which refers to the BFC as being "at the forefront of contemporary street art in Israel." Is there a big contemporary street art scene in Israel and, if so, what do you think has motivated this?

BFC: You cannot really say that it's big, but there are certainly some talented people and it's slowly growing. Since the scene is so fresh, there is a lack of foundation or history in graffiti and street art in Israel, but there are benefits to that; it's very independent and not controlled by money yet. That being said, most of the people doing it are doing it for the love, not for commercial reasons.

BR: Your work explores the hinterlands between street art and graffiti. Where are the main differences between these disciplines in your eyes?

BFC: We never separate the two...we love letters and characters, your could say our aesthetic is more street art. Our approach is more graffiti, in the way that we still like tagging and finding unusual spots like rooftops. We still love to get out on the street.

BR: Who or what are your main influences?

BFC: We really like illustrators from the past like Toulouse-Lautrec up to more contemporary artists such as Jim Philips and all the 1970s and 80s skateboard illustrators, the list goes on!

BR: What should we expect to see from BFC in 2012? Even more new work?

BFC: Definitely. It's our first time in 2 years that we don't have an immediate plan. We've just finished up shows in China, Cambodia, Israel and now, London. We want to stay in Europe for a while and see what opportunities it will bring.

Broken Fingaz Crew: Crazy Eye Hotel, 20/04/2012 - 29/04/2012, Shop 13, The Old Truman Brewery, London. www.no-way.org.uk/events/broken-fingaz

Tel Aviv
Courtesy the artists

Thursday 19 April 2012

Navigating Contemporary Oddities, Ideas & Ideologies | Shezad Dawood: Piercing Brightness | Modern Art Oxford

Text by Asana Greenstreet

People are always wishing, hoping for some sort of transformative experience from art. Gazing at a Gainsborough is all well and good, transporting the viewer back through two centuries of history. But what ought we to do when an artist takes us on a journey that we are uncomfortable with? At Modern Art Oxford, walking up the stairs strangely makes the visitor focus on the time and speed of the journey: on the distance travelled vertically, towards darkness.

This fast approaching sci-fi feeling, is confirmed on entering the exhibition space: a large circular bright white seating area, and a "floating screen" playing Dawood’s Trailer (2011). A man approaches each visitor carrying two crumpled plastic microporous material pieces. And then a plunge back to earth, as the realisation of being in a gallery space – the medium itself transformed – hits home as the visitor covers their feet to take a seat on a purpose built viewing platform.

In the first room of the gallery Modern Art Oxford presents Trailer, a shorter edit of Dawood’s feature length film Piercing Brightness, to be released this year. The title urges anticipations of a cinematic experience of a short film. 15 minutes in length, Dawood pushes the average attention span to the limit until the 10 minute mark, where, despite the self-awareness of being in the gallery, all cognitive understanding of real time is lost. A testament to its formal qualities, it is possible to spend a prolonged period with the film, watching it again, in the hope of understanding it. On being questioned about the site specificity of the films’ display, exhibition organiser Melanie Pocock says the artist “is interested in what happens when objects are looked at, how they morph into being by the person who is looking”.

In expanding on the above, it is Dawood’s use of montage, various light sources, and other cinematic devices that make for an interesting attraction to the projection of the artwork. The impressive installation of both the seating arrangements and the film are to be applauded, as they add to an immersive experience of the piece.

The film Trailer ostensibly deals with real life subjects such as immigration, and identity. However, it seems the construction of any narrative that contains these themes is as much to do with the person watching the film, as they belong to the artist as the maker. This type of audience engagement with the work is interesting because, just as piercing brightness does, it conceals as much as it reveals.

The textile paintings in the middle gallery are just as thought provoking. These manage to link abstraction, geometry, calligraphy and architecture together. Using acrylic to paint on vintage textiles, Dawood creates a dream-like space located within the physical material of the cloth. What the viewer sees is never explicit; however, the convergence of cultures is easily spotted in the marriage of European and Arab inspirations. The latter appears to embody the spiritual in geometric form. This is combined with references to the great 20th century modernists such as Barbara Hepworth, Paul Nash, and perhaps even Ben Nicholson, as curator Michael Stanley indicates in the exhibition catalogue. This display is a much needed break in the exhibition’s development, though it feels a little static.

New Dream Machine Project (2011) is a film that tries to create a reverie, promoting a hypnotic feeling within the viewer. Perhaps derived from the full length screen installation, this space does have a heightened reality to it, and once again engulfing the visitor into the film. Dawood’s practice is so interesting precisely because his artworks play with the space that contains them, encouraging the viewer to become self-aware of and within their location.

Shezad Dawood doesn’t ask questions, nor does he attempt to offer answers to questions the visitor may have. Don’t ask, just give into the experience of it. Conventionally science-fiction, this exhibition is a must see, although more compelling because Dawood plays with the traditional understanding of the genre to navigate contemporary oddities, ideas and ideologies.

Shezad Dawood, Piercing Brightness, 05/04/2012 - 10/06/2012, Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP. www.modernartoxford.org.uk

MASK (played by Houda Echouafni) giving orders to the aliens
Piercing Brightness by Shezad Dawood 
Production Still, 2011
Courtesy of UBIK Productions Ltd
Photography: Richard Harrowing

Piers Rawson: Small Moments: The Human Face of Semana Santa | Forest Arts Centre | New Milton

Carrying just a single, unobtrusive camera, photographer Piers Rawson spent several days on the streets of Seville during the Semana Santa Easter celebrations.

Rawson was looking for the more intimate, human face and telling details behind the solemn outward formality and religious fervour of the Spanish Holy Week. Behind the showy theatricality and emotional intensity of the famous processions, this is a time for families, for commercial opportunities and for the display of social status.

Battling through the communion clothes, shoes and mantillas competing for space with tear-stained Madonnas, sugar-candy penitents and confectionery crucifixions, Rawon's images of lifelike mannequins and emotive devotional statues reveal the reality behind the suffocating hoods of the penitents.

Small Moments: The Human Face of Semana Santa, 18/04/2012 - 19/05/2012, Forest Arts Centre, New Milton, Hampshire, BH25 6DS. www.scenae.co.uk/www.forest-arts.co.uk

All images courtesy the artist

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