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Friday 10 February 2012

Embracing the Alternative Canvas | In Numbers: Serial Publications since 1955 | ICA | London

Text by Daniel Potts

In Numbers does not claim to be an exhaustive survey of serial publications since 1955, but aims to provide the contours of the genre. An extensive collection of artists' serial publications is arranged into different groupings of periodicals in the Lower Gallery at the ICA, proving a diverse array aesthetically and globally, and requiring close inspection. Although periodicals first appeared in Europe around the end of 18th century, this exhibition features periodicals by avant-garde artists working within the last 60 years who adapted the format in their own ways, coming from movements such as Dada and De Stijl. There is no typical publication on display, although a commonality between the artists featured is that they are outsiders. There are general themes of subversion, resistance, evasion and innovation running through works in the survey.

The concrete poetry in the four issues of Daniel Spoerri's Material (1957-1959, Damstadt, Germany & Paris, France), fascinates, puzzles and draws the viewer in with the angular, geometric lineations of verse. Sparse, minimal, though intricate, there is a coolness to the works on display creating a sense of clinical numbness. Where there are large portions of the small pages not used in the artist's execution of the works, their blankness is essential to this effect. Similar at least in this regard are those selected for display from the 24 issues of Edgardo Antonio Vigo's Diagonal Zero (1962-1968, La Plata, Argentina). In this visual poetry the verse is interspersed with sometimes complex geometrical shapes. The use of colour is somewhat unsettling, but this is offset by the sense of balance that comes from the shapes. The overall effect is warmer than in Material, though to a lesser degree the numbness can still be felt, coupled with wonder at the surrealist collected unity of unrelated constituents.

The selection exhibited of the 9 issues of Scott Treleaven's This is the Salvation Army (1996-2003) captures the memory, and conveys a sense of what for many is associated with the melancholy and fury of issues of self and identity. Here, in the exhibition, the Salvation Army is described as "a queer/punk/occult hybrid to operate as a focal point for a (hypothetical) dispersed underground group of 'queers' who felt restricted by both straight and gay concerns." Drawn with pen and black ink and sometimes involving photocopied images, wolves and skeletal nudes are depicted. Some prose is included, in one instance lambasting Christian Fundamentalism, thus tying in with the double meaning of the title of the publication. This conveys the sense of liberation intended as the focal point for this group. There is sort of cool sensuousness to the artwork related in part to the stark contrast of the black and white. Overall, the examples exhibited appeal to the memory of adolescenct melancholy and identity issues, evoking responses similar to those drawn forth in many by the songs of Morrisey. Similarly subversive are the examples displayed of the twenty-six issues of File Megazine (1972-1989) by AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal. The most striking image is of a female nude crucified, wearing a gas mask. This is a black ink, printed photograph with the background coloured red along with the gas mask. It is quite a shocking image at first glance and calls up contradictory responses. On the one hand, the crucifixion connotes divine sacrifice and the elevation of humanity; on the other, the gas mask connotes fetishism and renders the sacrifice as a form of degradation. In this way it seems to impart the essence of misogyny.

The photograph postcard is the form of serial publication used in 100 Boots (1971-1973) by Eleanor Antin. Here we find rows of boots queuing in line along roads, pathways, in restaurants, in houses – in all sorts of natural and articial physical contexts. At first glance it is a humourous, playful series. However, on reflection, taking the historial and political context, perhaps the absence of humanity in the images communicates a sense of anonymity, echoing the enforced anonymity of those conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. Perhaps the absence of colour in photographs lends the images gravity and can be felt ot compound this idea. Whether or not this was the intention, the series of postcards forms an interesting narrative. In a similar way, absence of colour can be seen to lend gravity to the photocopied photographs of Zerokkusu (1970) by Nobuyoshi Araki. Here exhibited , for example, a female nude can be seen; in another, a group of people in an office .The intensity of the tone used in the photocopying process is very low resulting in very vague, faint, grey images. There is a warm softness to them that can be felt to heighten a certain sense that these are faded memories inspiring feelings of nostalgia. Perhaps this sense is related to feelings we have about actual photographs that have faded with time. This is most affecting and beautiful.

In Numbers is a large collection that, in featuring the general format of the serial publication, allows us track the artists' development during particular periods of their working lives. It is a varied though not exhaustive survey defining the contours of an often overlooked genre and containing evocative and thought-provoking works which can be shocking and moving.

In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955, 25/01/2012 - 25/03/2012, ICA, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. www.ica.org.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Photography: Mark Blower

Thursday 9 February 2012

The Passage of Materials | Steve Claydon: Culpable Earth | firstsite | Colchester

Text by Emily Sack

Colchester in Essex is known as being the oldest documented town in the UK. A visit to this charming city is likely to include a tour of the castle, a pint in an historical pub, and, surprisingly, a large golden arc of a building showcasing cutting edge contemporary art from around the globe. Opening just several months ago, the new creation by Rafael Viñoly Architects makes its presence known in the historical town, encouraging an emphasis on the contemporary. Steven Claydon’s first solo UK show is the second site-specific exhibition created for the impressive space.

The contrast of old and new that is apparent in Colchester is a concept frequently explored by Claydon in his body of work, and in particular within Culpable Earth. Two of the pieces incorporate historical motifs in the form of faces as seen in sculptures and fountains in classical Rome or the Renaissance. In Who Conjured You Out of the Clay? (2012), a portrait bust of an anonymous figure sits atop a vermillion-coloured cube. The man bearded and in a flattened hat, seems at home in the gallery space – an image seen time and again in endless variations. The delicate moulding and muted colours contrast dramatically with the smooth, vibrant cube. Beneath the cube, at a vantage point more suitable for children than adults, lurks a mysterious beast waiting to devour whoever steps too close. Perhaps this creature belongs in a Last Judgement scene or is a descent of a fairy tale monster, but its presence reinforces the contrast between the historical and contemporary within the one.

A conversation with the artist revealed an interest in the lowest common denominator of objects, such as atoms and pixels, and this theme is incorporated in a number of the works on display. Several works include the cube form, often as a metallic framed cube, hollow and without surfaces. This references a simplistic conception of molecules and chemistry – the building blocks of life, so to speak – become some of the building blocks of the exhibition. The pixilation of images rendering an image in a series of tiny squares is explored through an interesting work made of beeswax. Dozens of rectangular pieces of beeswax are pinned directly to the gallery wall. From a distance, individual rectangles can be discerned, but on closer examination, it becomes apparent that each piece of material is printed with hundreds of tiny hexagons. This serves to remind the viewer that what is perceived as the lowest common denominator is rarely as simple as it is originally thought to be. Another aspect of the simplification of parts is the motif of primary colours of light: red, blue, and green throughout the exhibition in video and two dimensional works. These three colours on their own are limited, but combined in varied proportions a vast rainbow is possible. Despite the interest in the simplest of parts, Claydon acknowledges their limitations and explores the possibilities of their combinations. This is most apparent in the abstracted construction of a vehicle combining found objects in the form of wheels with assorted other media. Each piece of the puzzle remains separate and individual though their joint placement implies a complex machine.

Claydon plays with the viewer through the dichotomies of simplicity and complexity as well as history and modern. However, Claydon’s attention to the senses is what separates this exhibition from others because it is no longer a work of the visual arts, but a feast for the senses. Sight is clearly the most obvious of the senses, as highlighted in previous mentions of contradictions and complexities throughout the exhibition. The pixilated work constructed of beeswax exudes a sweet and organic scent that permeates the gallery space. The work could have been executed in any number of materials, but by electing to use beeswax, curiosity is heightened in the viewer by the increased depth of perception. Upon entering the building and approaching the exhibition space, a wavering drone fills the lofty passageway. Carrier (2012) is constructed of ceramic, a microphone, amplifier, and powder-coated steel. These unlikely materials unite to create a large bell from which a microphone is suspended, hovering like a pendulum over the amplifier. Variations in condition – from a draft to nearing footsteps – alter the position of the microphone thereby changing the quality of sound. Despite the works being held under the ‘no touching’ policy common in most gallery spaces, several of Claydon’s works give the impression of touch by the emphasis on materiality. The aforementioned Who Conjured You Out of the Clay? resembles marble or other stone, perhaps clay (as hinted in the titled). In actuality, however, the figure is composed of polyurethane foam. This contradiction in perception inspires an urge to feel the work to verify the claims of the object label. Additionally, the video installation entitled The Earth at Work includes images of pottery wheels and the sensuality of the wet clay in the potter’s hands is almost palpable.

Each of the works in Culpable Earth embodies at least one of the three dominant themes creating a varied and intellectually stimulating exhibition. In order to further the historicism and relationship of the work to the site, Claydon curated a small exhibition in an adjoining gallery called Equivalents. The title comes from the Carl Andre work featured (Equivalent VIII) referencing the multitude of possibilities that arise from the same simple components. Paired with Andre’s famous brick sculpture are several small Constable cloud studies. Both men working with bricks or the effects of water and air, attempt to document the complex results of basic combinations. And just in case the viewer has not been suitably challenged by the dichotomies of the exhibition, the works in Equivalents attract attention to the brick on the ground while simultaneously drawing the eye upwards as if to view the clouds in the sky. Steven Claydon has created an impressive collection of works for this exciting new space, and it will certainly be interesting to see what comes next.

Steve Claydon: Culpable Earth, 04/02/2012 - 07/05/2012, firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1JH. www.firstsite.uk.net

Join artist Steven Claydon and Michelle Cotton, firstsite's Senior Curator, as they discuss the works in Culpable Earth at 7 - 8.30pm on Thursday 16 February.

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Photography: Andy Keate

Simultaneous Shock & Awe | Dana Schutz: If The Face Had Wheels | Miami Art Museum

Text by Heike Wollenweber

Dana Schutz (b. 1976) has developed a distinctive visual style characterised by vibrant colour and raw and tactile brushwork. If the Face Had Wheels is a survey of the artist's work (spanning 2001 - 2011) that includes 30 paintings and 12 drawings, inviting viewers to enter into a world where fantasy and humour meet horror. Not an absurd question for Schutz. Her art is intense, ambivalent, bright and happy but with a grotesque and disturbing side, often based on hypothetical situations in fictional spaces such as Gravity Fanatic (2005), which depicts a woman reinforcing the existing gravity, therefore rendering her venture pointless.

The exhibition opens with Sneeze (2001), a painting capturing the feeling of a sneeze rather than just the visual image of someone sneezing. Sneeze, exemplifies Schutz’s penchant for creating art out of every day life. Schutz’s art evokes feelings, often very conflicting feelings, as her paintings are at first glance very bright and happy but upon further inspection the humour in her work often mixes with a feeling of discomfort or horror. The ambiguous feeling left thereafter is what makes Schutz’s work so intense and strong. Her paintings are powerful and reveal deeper meanings, additional ways of interpretation and intricate visual layers every time one engages in the work.

Schutz’s paintings are detailed and thick layers of oil paint lend a sculptural appearance. Her art has been described as disturbing, compelling and bizarre and indeed, it is all of those things because she manages to represent what adults in her age group have experienced. Inspired by real life Schutz’s art comments on life in the US in the new millennium as her generation moved from stability to uncertainty and anxiety caused by the recession.

The compelling art of Schutz depicts the life of her generation with a dose of subculture and the music of her time. The paintings Her Arms (2003), the The Autopsy of Michael Jackson (2005) and The Breeders (2002) are all based on musicians. The Breeders, depicts indie rock duo Kim and Kelley Deal built from two halves of body parts of Schutz’s fictional character "Frank", the last man on Earth as envisioned by the artist.

"Frank" is a central character in many of Schutz’s paintings such as Frank On A Rock (2002), Frank as a Proboscis Monkey (2002) and Reclining Nude (2002) in which Frank seems to pose for the artist in the style of conventional art but with an attitude of carelessness, somehow unaware of his status as the one keeping the human race in existence.

Body parts can be seen in many of Schutz’s paintings. Characters eat their own eyes (Eye Eater (2004)) and facial matter (Face Eater (2004)) or look upon a collection of noses, feet and arms to choose from as in Twin Parts (2004). The devouring of the body and self-eating essentially reflects upon a thought process of remaking and recycling. The artist draws a relation to art as there are limitless possibilities of reconstruction and new creations only eradicated as art if the process is based solely on survival. Schutz seems fascinated with the destruction and re-assemblage of not only the human body but also society and the artist engages in current affairs, changes and the future of humanity in her work and body parts take on secondary meanings relating to society structures.

The How We Would... series, conceived as the artist’s depiction of the present serves as a time capsule of sorts for future generations. Included in this series are How We Would Give Birth (2007) and How We Would Talk (2007), ironically a woman in a phone booth, a device already antique in the era and culture in which the piece was created.

Dana Schutz’s most influential work relates to everyday life with an absurd spin as in her Tourettes and Verbs series paintings Swimming, Smoking, Crying and Shaking, Cooking, Peeing. To sum up her exhibition If The Face Had Wheels Schutz could add another painting: “Thinking, Laughing, Gasping”, simultaneous shock and awe.

Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels, 15/01/2012 - 26/02/2012, Miami Art Museum, 101 W Flagler Street, Miami. www.miamiartmuseum.org

Dana Schutz The Autopsy of Michael Jackson (2005)
Courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Interview with Julia Vogl: Winner of the Creative Works Competition

Text by Bethany Rex

Following the successful Creative Works Competition, Aesthetica Magazine has launched an annual Aesthetica Art Prize. The Aesthetica Art Prize is open for submissions from now until 31 August 2012, and provides an invaluable platform for emerging and established artists, offering contenders a first prize of £1,000. The four shortlisted professional entrants and four shortlisted student entrants will also their have their own exhibition at a venue in York, their work published in the Aesthetica Art Prize Annual and their work praised in Aesthetica Magazine.

We speak with the winner of the 2011 Creative Works Competition, Julia Vogl, an installation artist whose public artwork challenges the role of the artist and art in relation to political events, social behaviour, and the community where her work is shown.

BR: You recently won the Aesthetica Creative Works Competition (now the Aesthetica Art Prize), what made you enter the competition? What does it mean to you to have won?

JV: I kept hearing about the competition, but I didn't pay much attention as I don't usually enter contests. But then I read about Aesthetica Magazine, being a magazine that reflected on art, design, architecture and their overlap of territory, and I thought I would be an idiot not to apply, as my work really deals with that.

It is awesome that I won! It always feels good to win something, but to be part of a publication that features so many really great works and artists is really gratifying. It has been a terrific boost to my confidence, especially at a time where being an artist is fiercely competitive and hard to finance.

BR: Your work Colouring the Invisible was a five storey installation including 150 windows coated in multicoloured translucent vinyl. Could you briefly talk us through the idea behind the piece?

JV: The Slavonic School of Eastern European Studies, at UCL, has this incredible glass atrium, and when I saw it, I felt instantly I had to respond to it. The main subject studied there is language. Despite passport, or national identity, the thing that bridges many who use the building is language. I wanted to make a work that would reflect both the users and the architecture. I surveyed over 450 users of the building what languages they were fluent in. I received over 53 different languages. I linked a language with a colour of transparent vinyl and coloured a third of the glass in the atrium proportionally with the language. So English which was the most popular was turquoise and about 1/3 of the glass is turquoise. I was happy to learn later the architects for the atrium were inspired by Vladimir Tatlin's 1919 The Monument to the Third International (Tatlin's Tower) (never realized) who was influenced by the tower of Babel. As language is invisible, the idea was to transform the space and bring to light all the diversity- as well as draw more attention to the mesmerising architecture- hence Colouring the Invisible.

BR: Your artist statement focuses on the idea that “the art work must respond to site & or community.” Social practices in art are certainly gaining ground in terms of institutional recognition. Would you say your work fits into this genre?

JV: A critical turning point in my art practice came when I worked for Public Art for Public Schools in New York City. My job was to commission permanent art works for new school buildings. There I started to understand the role that public art can have in a community. It can make neighbourhoods safer, it can lead to positive engagement with strangers and generally it can beautify an otherwise neglected area. Here is where I became dedicated to making what I term my social sculptures. I am not interested in making large works that just it in a plaza, but making works that engage people, in either the making or experience of the work. I am also committed to challenging some social issues- and engaging in a social practice enables me to make work to serve as a catalyst for this.

I think institutional recognition of socially engaging works come from a somewhat broken society. Institutions investment in public works, initially seemed to be more prevalent during bad economic times, (The Great Depression, the 1970s and today) when there are social problems that policy is not immediately addressing. Public Art can not replace policy! It can however aid to bringing to light issues that are of concern in a community. Alternatively with immediate social networking and communication, people’s attention spans have shrunk, and social practices, guarantee an instant experience and that is probably very appealing for many institutions.

BR: What are your thoughts on art awards as a whole? Does the art world take itself too seriously?

JV: I think the jury is still out on my thoughts about awards. As a kid I never got any awards, and I was very always jealous of those who did, but I learned to make good work to make good work, and not for the recognition I would receive. I can’t deny that being short listed, or awarded something has made my CV stand out to certain people (including my parents!), and has as a result led to greater opportunities to make more work, and keep doing what I love to do. Also monetary awards, travel awards or studio awards are incredible gifts of encouragement.

Yet I do feel that certain parts of the art world pay to much attention to what is written in a CV rather then the visuals in front of them. I really liked that the application to Aesthetica Creative Works, was purely based on the work. Yes the art world takes itself too seriously, but that might be a response to the incredible demand to be apart of it. Strangely I think that those who make their own opportunities have more fun and become more successful - even if the road is longer!

BR: Do you think winners of these kinds of awards should receive monetary prizes? Is the scene too money driven these days?

JV: I like that this year they are offering, exposure in Aesthetica, and a show, as well as money. Standing out in the art world means continuing to make work and have it be seen but it also means getting your name out there. But of course at the end of the day an artist needs to eat. In fact I don’t think enough competitions or opportunities in the art world supply monetary rewards, and it is assumed that artist will work for free. I think only one part of the art scene is money driven, in my field, Public Art, many of my works are unsaleable. When I showed at The Affordable Art Fair in October - I wrote friends encouraging them to come see my work - with the understanding that my work was neither affordable nor for sale. Still the AAF supported me- and that was really great!

BR: How would you say that your style has developed over the years? Have you been influenced by any particular artists?

JV: I have always loved architecture, Lego, Bauhaus/Modernism, and textile design- this feeds into my aesthetic sensibility. I have also loved political campaigning- this comes from wanting to know what people think and understanding the world we live in. Conceptually I am captivated by Eliasson, Christo & Jeanne-Claude, and more recently Tino Sehgal and Francis Alÿs. I came to the Slade in 2009, as my undergrad Professor would describe me as “a bull in a china shop.” A bit all over the place but with determination. The Slade really allowed me to explore and then find a rhythm, and even create a manifesto to make strong works that would include all my loves- so I could make the work with a process that really excited me.

BR: What’s next for you?

JV: Recently I was included in the Catlin Art Guide, edited by Justin Hammond- it is a survey publication of the top 40 new emerging artist in the UK, so that is pretty cool. I am currently waiting to hear back from the Arts Council about funding my project HOME, a visual audio installation to pop up in London during the Olympics.
I am also working on my curatorial debut with the project ART VENDING. You will just have to stay tuned for where you might encounter that project.

I am always applying, proposing my own projects, experimenting and working in the studio. I have learned that the art world does not give you a time line of when things will happen, you never know tomorrow I could get an e-mail from The British Museum commissioning me to make a work for their incredible atrium. More likely I could also just get a call from a friend to be part of a group show in Peckham. Either way, it seems like there are countless exciting opportunities for an artist today, so I am just going to continue making good work and time will tell me what is next!

From 27/02/2012 - 03/03/2012, Julia Vogl will take part in YBA 2.0 Series, a group show at Frameless Gallery, with Thomas Adam and Sarah Pager. www.framelessgallery.com

For further information on Vogl's work, visit her website - www.juliavogl.com

The Aesthetica Art Prize is open for submissions until 31 August 2012. For further information see the website or call +44 (0)1904 629 137. If you would like to find out more about the finalists of the Creative Works Competition, you can purchase a copy of the Annual 2012 here.

Colouring the Invisible, Installation Shot
Courtesy the artist

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Jean-Marc Bustamante | Peintures Carrées (Square Paintings) | Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac | Paris

Text by Matt Swain

Peintures Carrées (Square Paintings) is a new exhibition of works on square, screen-reprinted Plexiglas by French artist Jean-Marc Bustamante (b. 1952). Bustamante is a noted conceptual and installation artist who incorporates ornamental design and architectural space into his work. Emerging principally as a photographer in the 1970s, Bustamante has since explored the space between photography, sculpture, architecture and decor. His work represents mental landscapes and combines different artistic languages where past experiences blend to create a unique visual experience.

This new series of work, titled Colorito Colorado, makes reference to the Renaissance era when the key characteristic of the Venetian school was colour rather than drawing, with form achieved by painting in layers. Indeed, the initial impact is all about colour and the colours are dazzling. The shapes are reminiscent of simple, computer scribbles that could be construed as flattened sculptures. The process begins with Bustamante expansively drawing or applying large strokes of colour with felt pen on graph paper. Any trace of human interaction in the form of brush strokes or the layering of paint is removed through computer processing, and the image is then transformed on Plexiglas by the traditional process of silk screening. The Plexiglas plate is held in place by steel studs and defined by a steel frame.

In this context, and in the use of industrial processes, it is not surprising that some critics have made reference to Warhol in terms of simplicity and ethic, although Bustamante's work suggests that there are secrets to be uncovered and a greater level of detail beneath the somewhat flat, simplistic exterior. Bustamante likes to intrigue the viewer and this ambiguity leaves much of his work open to interpretation.

These works significantly develop his exploratory techniques using light and colour. Cardinal (2010) shows a falling range of colours set against a background of simple grey lines which serve to cast a shadow upon the gallery wall, symbolising motion versus stasis. This ambiguous relationship with form brings a sense of detachment for the viewer which can also be seen in Spring (2011). Using the same combination of colours, this relies less on motion and more on the stability of the senses.

Throughout, Bustamante's work is both playful and refined. Radiant (2010), possesses flashes of colour upon water whilst Mercator (2010) is the most direct work here, hinting at the artist's background in photography as well as giving a static chaos that explores the philosophical boundaries between painting and photography. Symbolically, the simplicity represents Bustamante's rejection of the poetic snapshot that is synonymous with French creative photography.

Bustamante's unique visual sense of the world lies between space and the context of place as well as the relationship between industry and technology. Ultimately, light and colour have replaced mass and gravity at the heart of his work, creating a renewed sense of timelessness. These works consistently attempt a new and thoroughly modern kind of painting and successfully offer an alternative way of looking at pictures for a brighter, simpler future that has been shaped by the past.

Jean-Marc Bustamante, Peintures Carrées (Square Paintings), 10/01/2012 - 25/02/2012, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Debelleyme, 7 Rue Debelleyme, 75003, Paris. www.ropac.net

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Monday 6 February 2012

Visual Games | David Evans' Critical Dictionary | WORK Gallery | London

Text by Travis Riley

The exhibition’s title puts in mind an idea of declassification and redefinition. It is borrowed from Georges Bataille (1897-1962), whose Critical Dictionary was printed as a regular section of his surrealist journal Documents (published in Paris from 1929 through 1930), and functioned on the basis that “A dictionary would begin from the point at which it no longer rendered the meanings of words but rather their tasks.” This endeavour is embodied in David Evans’ curation of the exhibition. Far from attempting to become the usual invisible curator, he has made his presence very clear, structuring the works in the show dictionary-like, around a series of terms, each of which has one or more artwork to engage with it.

The clearest moment of declassification of a term comes in the threefold definition of ‘R/Rotten Sun’. On the far wall, facing the gallery entrance is the most immediate piece to fall under this header. Penelope Umbrico’s Flickr Sunsets (2010) consists, as the title would suggest, of sunsets appropriated directly from a Flickr search. In each case the image is cropped close to the sun, and printed at 4” x 6”, regardless of quality (or pixellation). The photos are arranged on the wall, as a grid, with no white space between them. The repetition causes the luminescent orbs to lose their individual significance, and although their light has been captured, no true sunlight can emanate from the resulting photos. These are rotten suns, but this is due to their flawed depiction.

In Dominic Shepherd’s Black Sun, (2008) the sun does not wish to be light. It is a circular, black mass, stuck, to a pre-existent (previously sunless) photograph. The appropriated image is Silent Water (1946) by Anthony Peacock. It is essentially a gaudy postcard image, comprising of a nude woman, some still water, and a wooden rowing boat. The image is given a strange weight due to the stark, contrasting addition. The black sphere, hanging precariously above the woman’s head, appears to be in woodland, not the sky, but nonetheless takes the label of sun. Without the context of its definition given by the picture’s title this intervention wouldn’t be a sun at all, and yet the viewer is given no choice. The sun is not only rotten in colour, but also because it is only a sun by a thin denotation.

The final image in this curated triptych is David Hazel’s Untitled (2005). It is a circular print comprising of a pure white circle at the centre that gradually emanates into blackness at its exterior edges. It is the opposite of the solid edged Black Sun that faces it across the room. A de-definition is contained in these three rotten suns. Their separate depictions cannot be reconciled, and if the viewer wished to find meaning in the term, they would be forced to choose between them. This fulfils Bataille’s idea of a critical definition. The contention between these pieces can no longer concern the meaning of the term only its task, those things to which it will be assigned.

Critical art has the potential to be humourless and overwrought, however in this exhibition, it is critical playfulness that takes the fore. Despite the underlying framework, the selected pieces do not lambast or condemn their subjects, merely reflect upon them. Under ‘G/Greenwich Meridian’ comes Simon Faithfull’s 0°00 Navigation (2010). The piece is a series of monochrome photographs arranged in a horizontal sequence, ceiling to floor. A lone male figure is depicted, travelling the route specified by the title, however Faithfull’s chosen photographs of the pursuit add a narrative of their own.

Unable to deviate from his inflexible trajectory, the figure is depicted in farcically avoidable situations. Most striking is a needless immersion, chest-deep in a pool of water. On one hand this implies a reductio ad absurdum criticism of the seemingly arbitrary placement of this significant line. More apparent however, is an inherent self-criticism. The rule-based journey entails an absurdity in its strictures. The Greenwich Meridian’s purpose is not to be walked, and as such the criticism falls on the walker as much as the route.

Throughout the exhibition small pockets of interrelation can be found. The theoretical work of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and Guy Debord (1931-1994) plays an especially formative part in much of the art shown. A particularly strong Debordian psycho-geographical theme can be drawn between Faithfull’s 0°00 Navigation, Paola Di Bello’s La Disparition (1994), a Paris tube map with damage implicit in its printed reproduction, and Office of ExperimentsOvert Research Project (2000-2009), a photographic attempt to map advanced labs and facilities in the UK.

The exhibition follows the dictionary protocol throughout, but this is not an attempt to comprehensively capture all letters or terms. It is a dictionary, but freed from the rules of meaning, it seeks to investigate the detail and find correlative patterns. Here lies the strength of the exhibition. In all of its curatorial intent, it retains a fundamental principle; in a critical dictionary there can be no definite meaning. Evans’ curation forges a categorical framework, embracing definition, but refusing to use it as a constraint.

Critical Dictionary, 27/01/2012 - 25/02/2012, WORK Gallery, 10A Acton Street, London, WC1X 9NG. www.workgallery.co.uk Event: One Plus One: Picture Editing After Bataille, David Evans and Patrizia Di Bello in conversation, Wednesday 15 February 2012 6.30-8pm, RSVP to press@workgallery.co.uk

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Office of Experiments, Overt Research Project, 2008-2009. All images courtesy the artists

Sunday 5 February 2012

Palm Trees and Poker Players | James Hockey & Foyer Galleries | University for the Creative Arts (UCA) | Farnham

Text by Bethany Rex

Helen Carmel Benigson (b.1985) is media-savy that is for sure; her work layers colour, print and sound to create immersive, dreamlike and hyper-sensual installations that explore the politics of sexual difference and female empowerment. Benigson looks at the nature of identity, performance and masquerade, and her latest exhibition at the James Hockey & Foyer Galleries at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) at Farnham is her largest exhibition to date.

Working in a range of media, Benigson's work is described as a "collision of all things sexy, cool and current." That's quite a big claim for someone who cites The Hills and the Kardashians as inspiration. Still, through her continuous reference to virtual reality, the concept of the alter-ego and the advent of the online profile (Benigson often performs as LA-born rapper Princess Belsize Dollar) Benigson reminds the viewer of the difference between the real and the virtual, and of the dangers and consequences of each type of existence. These are all important borders to explore.

Comparisons to Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist are understandable; saturated colours, psychedelic patterns, a palette that teeters on the border between provocation and parody, it remains to be seen, however, whether Benigson's delight in the dangerous and provocative is matched with a craft that is considered and a narrative that extends beyond 140 characters. We caught up with the artist named by The Independent as a potential successor to Tracey Emin to explore the truth beyond the fiction, maybe.

BR: Could you talk us briefly through your background? When did you first start making work?

HCB: I have just completed my MA at the Slade. I grew up in London and have been making art from an early age, although made my first video, at the age of 18, when I interviewed a butcher.

BR: When did Princess Belsize Dollar come into being? What does she represent?

HCB: PBD is a rapper, born in LA. She stands for a feminine, super-sexy activist who performs as a version of myself as well as a completely severe alternative.

BR: As an artist, you are often described as provocative. Do you feel this is an apt description of your practice?

HCB: 1% provocative, 99% evocative. Obviously my work borders on spaces of contention, such as the locations I choose to make work in, as well as making work about bodies. I am interested in the space of occupation / conflict and yes – provoking something harder / more intense / imaginative.

BR: Reading about your alter egos, it’s overwhelming. Could you briefly talk us through all these different versions of yourself?

HCB: There is my cousin, who is me, but not quite me, in that she looks like me, but not quite and lives in Switzerland so Swiss-German is her first language, although English is her mother-tongue. I also create avatars, who look similar to both of us. Then, there is PBD, a super-sexy, sweet version of myself. I am also now working with dancers, who do not look anything like me, but all stand in for me within the context of the videos. Identity is continually being framed and re-framed within the videos, sound and installations.

BR: What is it about the boundaries of cyberspace, and this idea of identity in different territories that captures your interest?

HCB: My practice is situated in a space that both replicates and borrows gestures and symbols from cyberspace and reworks them in a way that becomes a framework for the body and identity. There is now a new space to work about and in - that of online and cyber. My work is concerned with biology and technology and how new currents of information and communications are changing. This can be seen is our own schizophrenic performances on a daily basis.

BR: What work have you prepared for the exhibition at UCA Farnham?

HCB: I am making 8, 10 and 15 foot polystyrene palm trees that will become screens as I project videos onto them. I am creating a sort of faux-beach space, filled with real sand, the palm trees, enlarged beach-balls, deckchairs and a huge cinema screen. Visitors can come into the space, relax on the beach chairs and watch the films. I have also made a new film, set in the sand dunes in South Africa and at a poker game. This film, will form a section of a new, more extended film that I am working on to do with insomnia, poker and sleep-talking . At the opening of this exhibition, I will be rapping with my musical collaborator, Helen Bellringer. There will also be live poker games. Boys are invited to play poker, using my own customised playing cards and poker chips.

BR: How do you consider the interplay between photography and the more conceptual pieces in the context of this show?
HCB: I think about all the works, as sculptural objects and the relationship between the objects and the body. Much of photography comes from the videos. The videos work as a series of still prints, and I enjoy the idea of being able to print every image from the video and turn it into an object. In this show, most of the photography is in the Foyer gallery and the beach installation is in the James Hockey gallery, so there is not a physical relationship between the two.

BR: Are there any photographers or artists or just people from everyday life that have inspired the project?

HCB: Yes, Yto Barrada, made lots of work about palm trees, that I really like. I have just come back from LA and Cape Town, where every street is lined with palm trees and that has inspired it too. I recently saw Ryan Trecartin’s show in Paris, which was amazing and also Phyllida Barlow’s recent show at Hauser and Wirth – in her work there is a sort of fake monumentalism, which I completely relate to. Pipilotti’s Rist’s recent show at Hayward was also brilliant. I have been re-watching a lot of Entourage, set in LA, so that has also influenced me, I am sure, if only subliminally.

BR: Your work is often described as breaking such borders as those between the self and the world; art and life, and other dichotomies we are all too familiar with. I feel as those these boundaries were broken long ago. Do you bring something new to this ongoing discussion?

HCB: I feel that my practice both acknowledges and contests the limits of these boundaries. I am interested in the limit of something as a space in itself. I don’t think my work sets out to address the borders between self and the world, or art and life, although obviously identity within territory is a concern. I think there is a big difference between presenting dichotomies, which I don’t aim to do, and performing occupation, which I hope my videos begin to do.

Helen Carmel Benigson: Palm Trees and Poker Players, Curated by Christine Kapteijn MA(RCA) MBA, 27/01/2012 - 17/03/2012, James Hockey & Foyer Galleries, UCA Farnham. www.ucreative.ac.uk/galleries Helen Carmel Benigson is represented by ROLLO Contemporary Art

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you're missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine.

Installation shot
Courtesy the artist

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