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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

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Sarah Browne: How to Use Fool's Gold | Ikon Gallery | Birmingham

Text by William Davie

One of the current exhibitions at Ikon Gallery is Sarah Browne's exhibition How to Use Fool's Gold. This exhibition is the first UK solo exhibition by the Dublin-based artist and presents a survey of film and sculptural works, including Browne's entry for the 2009 Venice Biennale. Using "the economy" as the basis for her artistic practice, Browne investigates and analyses the way in which differing communities from around the globe utilise material items that can be seen in some contexts to be worthless, but in others develop to help define wealth and status.

It is clear to see from Browne’s choice of title and the site specific details of works throughout the exhibition that Browne is deploying a fascinating use of localised knowledge and intriguing visual experiments to show her concept. How to Use Fool’s Gold - Pyrite Radio (2012), the work which the exhibition is named after, is a simple homemade radio using a piece of pyrite (otherwise known as "Fool’s Gold") as a detector allowing for transmissions to be received without the use of electricity. Browne's use of the gallery space, with a long rope protruding out into the hallway, beckons the observer to investigate what lies beyond the initial focal point. However, it is the radio broadcast discussing an undercover police officer that, through the social juxtaposition, provides the link between the works.

The second piece in the first room is How to Make Muscha in Vaasa (2011) shows a homemade distiller developed by Finnish immigrants during the prohibition age in the US to make water into moonshine. It is placed upon a plinth in the corner of the room, surrounded by technical drawings and plans, as well as primary source accounts of people that have, and still are, using this method to produce alcohol to counteract the tax increases. Browne even goes as far as to list the possible defences that people who have been caught illegally making the alcohol have used, including "art."

The exhibition continues to progress introducing several video projectors and a slide projector which, when the gallery is empty, conjures up an echoing similarity to Browne’s concept. The mechanical devices and sounds are not works of art, but are merely there to allow these seemingly worthless materials to be developed into something of importance to communities. This emulates the process of alteration and production that has made the items valuable in the first place.

The way in which the works are presented to the viewer and the use of space within the exhibition is also a key factor in understanding the artist's concept. The way in which the viewer must circumnavigate around the work rather than being a detached spectator allows them to be at one with the work and its particular context within its community and culture. For example, Carpet for the Irish Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale (2009) and Letter to Eileen Gray sees a huge carpet hanging vertically that almost resembles a Rothko painting. When viewing the letter, it is divulged that the worth of one of the original carpets was £23 million. At first one could simply see the carpet as an ode to Eileen Gray, however across the room a double sided screen shows a projection of a film displaying footage from the Donegal factory, where this style of carpet was originally handmade. The installation becomes ever larger as the viewer uncovers the final two pieces on the inner wall; two pieces of paper entitled One Hour's Drawing for One Hour's Knotting (Sixteen Knots per Square Inch) and One Hour's Drawing for One Hour's Knotting (Nine Knots per Square Inch) which depict their respective titles in pencil drawn grids. Finally, the mask of ambiguity has lifted and the piece offers itself up for interpretation, displaying not an ode to Gray but an ode to the women in the factory that stitched these carpets from nothing.

The final room of the exhibition has a much more conservative layout. A silent film entitled Second Burial at Le Blanc (2011) plays at the far end of the room, showing a procession of people carrying a ticker-tape countdown clock, a glass-domed mechanism. Along the far wall are two frames; in one, a map with correction fluid highlighting a journey and the other, a 5 franc note with the procession hand drawn onto it. Taking into account the underlying theme of "economy" in this exhibition, it is quite clear that this is about the actions of 17 February 2012 where, in the midst of an unfolding European currency crisis, the Central Bank of France ceased to exchange French francs for euros, signalling the end of a system that has continued since the introduction of the currency and this marking the demise of the franc altogether. Further study into this piece reveals to the viewer the fact that the in the small French town of Le Blanc, local merchants have continued to accept francs for goods and services. This procession, and the timer, is an quasi-religious emulation of the death of the old France and the birth of the new. This image brings us to a suitable end; making plain that the one thing that is more dominant in changing lives, materials, and the world in itself, money, is nothing more than Fool’s Gold.

Sarah Browne: How to Use Fool's Gold, 15/02/2012 - 22/04/2012, Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2HS. www.ikon-gallery.co.uk

Sarah Browne
How to Use Fool’s Gold (Pyrite Radio) 2012
With thanks to Geoffrey Roberts
Photo: Stuart Whipps

Tuesday 17 April 2012

A Celebration of British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age | V&A | London

In preparation for the Summer Olympics and in conjunction with a trend of promoting British culture, the Victoria & Albert Museum explores the many facets of British contributions to modern design. Using the 1948 London Olympic Gfames as its starting point, this exhibition chronicles the character of British design from it’s traditional beginnings, subversive period, and finally the contemporary excellence in technology and engineering.

The exhibition inhabits three immense galleries and each of these galleries has it’s own distinct character. The first gallery represents the conflict between tradition and modernity, primarily in the 1950s and 1960s. After World War II when Europe was torn to pieces, the efforts of reconstruction created several views on how Britain should proceed. While there was a mentality of maintaining “Britishness” and tradition, many designers demonstrated that the UK can move into modernity without losing its heritage.

One particularly stunning portion of this gallery is devoted to the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral, heavily damaged by bombing. While nothing can replace the magnificence and history of this building, a new construction was made utilizing modern aesthetics. The views from the new structure highlight the ruins of the old cathedral and become a microcosm of the potential of British architecture – the new and the old can exist together, respecting tradition and embracing new trends. A large model of the abstract stained glass windows designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens (1958-1959) glow within a somewhat dark corner of the exhibition highlighting (if not somewhat heavy-handedly) the theme of rising from destruction, creating a parallel between Christianity and British identity.

This first gallery is a bit chaotic in the sheer volume of material represented. Beginning with the 1948 "Austerity Games" as the Olympics we called that year to the 1951 Festival of Britain and 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. From these set, historical dates and events, the gallery loses a bit of cohesiveness as it jumps from fashion to product design to jewellery to graphic design. There are examples of domestic life and characteristics of design from the more traditional 1950s to the bold geometry of the 1960s. Despite the confusion in this gallery the juxtaposition between what is perceived more as “high design” like fashion and jewellery is paired alongside more practical everyday objects. This contrast is at first a big shocking (a gorgeous gown worn by the Queen positioned directly next to a full size stoplight), demonstrates that all design has had an impact on contemporary culture, even what is considered quotidian and perhaps banal.

Moving next into what is a bit like the rebellious teenage years of British design, the second gallery is devoted to the theme of subversion. Young designers used their fresh outlook to radically change the face of design in the 1960s-1980s. A significant portion of this gallery is devoted to the music industry where the Brits excelled – such acts as the Beatles and David Bowie are unrivalled in success and iconic status. A Ziggy Stardust costume next to album cover designs illustrate how music pervaded all aspects of design and fuelled a new generation of innovation. In terms of gallery design, this second gallery is most successful in a dark, edgy design that dramatically highlights the objects on display and the theme of rebellion.

The last gallery initially appears a bit bland with the pale grey walls and more open-plan layout, but the section, entitled “Innovation and Creativity” explores the transformation of British design, particularly in recent decades. The gallery texts explains that design has made a move “from traditional manufacturing towards innovative financial, retail and creative services.” This transition changes the aesthetics of the products designed, but there remains a quality of “Britishness” that is not easy to describe. This section features a sport yet elegant 1961 Jaguar, household products and appliances, and even a section on video games. The relatively recent acceptance of video games as art or design is here explored as combining a number of fields including art, computing, story-telling, music, and technology. Concluding the exhibition is a section devoted to architecture featuring intricate models of London’s iconic modern landmarks including Lloyd’s of London and the Gherkin. To bring everything full circle, back to the Olympics, a maquette of Zaha Hadid’s aquatic centre for the 2012 games demonstrates the changes in design since 1948.

Fashion remains an important feature throughout each of the exhibition. The floral patterns of Laura Ashley in the first gallery recall English heritage and gardens. In the second gallery a small space recognises the emergence of the boutique culture and the mod styles of Mary Quant, among others. The punk aesthetic as characterized by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren is paired with ornate hats from Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones. Embracing the new technological identity of the UK, Hussein Chayalan’s Video Dress (2007) contains LED lights embedding with hundreds of crystals to create the action of a blooming flower within the “fabric” of the dress.

British Design 1948-2012 explores over half a century of innovation and skill in design. The range of media, ideas, and designers represented is impressive, but create a somewhat overwhelming exhibition. The objects on display span elite/luxury culture through to everyday objects allowing the exhibition to be accessible to everyone.

For a comprehensive introduction to British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age please see Aesthetica's feature on the exhibition in the February/March issue. We've sold out of this issue but you can download a copy of the article here.

British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, 31/03/2012 - 12/08/2012, V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL. www.vam.ac.uk

British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age Exhibition
Courtesy of V&A Images

Monday 16 April 2012

Bridging the Gap Between Landscape and Abstraction | David Wightman: Paramour | Halcyon Gallery | London

Born in Stockport, David Wightman's first exposure to art was through the Manchester Art Gallery where he became captivated by the pre-Raphaelite collection and the fantasy worlds of William Holman-Hunt and John William Waterhouse. Wightman has come a long way since those early days. In 2010, Wightman was awarded a fellowship in Berwick-upon-Tweed by Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship, English Heritage and has exhibited at Sumarria Lunn, Cornerhouse, William Angel Gallery and Found Gallery.

Wightman's latest exhibition at Halcyon Gallery is the first solo exhibition of works by the artist and shows over 15 new works completed between 2011 and 2012. Bridging the genres of landscape and abstraction, Wightman's work holds a graphic preciseness that has earned him extensive recognition.

Inspired by Caspar David Friedrich and Ad Reinhardt, Wightman creates his landscape and abstract paintings using a systematic process that relies on craft and discipline. Every work is made from individual pieces of wallpaper, painstakingly cut with a surgical scalpel and placed side by side, never overlapping. After stretching a canvas, he applies the wallpaper, then sands and primes the work, ready for painting.

The exhibition catalogue includes an introduction from Cherie Federico, Editor of Aesthetica. We've included a short excerpt below:

"You must spend time with Wightman’s paintings; on the surface they are beautiful and intricate, but like the layers they are made from, there is so much depth to these works – they contemplate not only artifice, but also the natural versus the manmade. His combination of craft and skill redefines genres and blurs meaning. As an emerging artist, this show at Halcyon is his first major foray into the international art world, but it’s only a matter of time until David Wightman justifiably gains wider recognition."

David Wightman: Paramour, 19/04/2012 - 20/05/2012, Halcyon Gallery, 24 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QQ. www.halcyongallery.com

Zauberberg (2011)
Paramour (2012)
Teton (2012)
All images copyright the artist. Courtesy of Halcyon Gallery, London.

Hans-Peter Feldmann | Serpentine Gallery | London

Text by Travis Riley

Despite having gained a considerable reputation across Europe, and having won the $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize in New York (2010), this is Hans-Peter Feldmann’s first show in a public gallery in London. Feldmann is known and acclaimed for his artist’s books. Called Bilder (Pictures), each is numbered, and contains a series of related photographs. He has carried this mentality of series and collections throughout his art. One Pound of Strawberries (2004) depicts its title. Although defined by their collective weight, the strawberries have been separated, each isolated into its own small, stark, photographic image. Another series is entitled Car Radios While Good Music is Playing (2004). We see the radios, but of course, cannot hear the music.

Feldmann is, above all, a collector. The central room of the exhibition is filled with found items. The space is dominated by gaudy, garden statues of David and Venus. The pieces, which face each other, are oversaturated in every sense; skin vividly pink, David’s hair impossibly yellow and eyes a vacant, bright blue. Behind them, potted bouquets of fake flowers grow out of the gallery wall. The pale, ceramic pots are affixed by their bases so that the showy false blooms confront the viewer head on. The effect is surreal. The wall opposite the flowers houses a collection of fifteen, amateur seascape paintings. The haphazardly stacked, gilt-framed canvases recall a Parisian salon, albeit a distinctly thematic one, as each image depicts only sea and sky.

Aside from this showy moment, the exhibition is predominantly filled with smaller gestures. A chair sits, stacked upside-down on a plinth, explained by the title, Memory of my Time as a Waiter. Two images of a bath are shown; the text alongside reads "Bath. Before and After”. In the second image, the bathmat has been rumpled. A black and white photographic image shows two children. One child stands astride a scooter and reaches out to touch the forehead of the other, but where the finger ends, the second child has been cut out. A shadow stretching out across the base of the image and a white silhouette is all that remains of the removed youngster. There is something curiously touching about the moment depicted, its beauty brought out by the sight of the stark gallery wall beneath the image.

Shadow Play is given a room of its own. Beyond a black curtain, Feldmann has placed a multitude of kitsch toys and ornaments onto turntables. Light is shone across them to create a constantly moving forest of shadows on the far wall. The filtered glow is soft and murky, and the drifting shapes conjure up archetypal images. There are two planes taking off, a dog catching a frisbee, newlyweds posing for a photo, a gentleman’s pipe, Michelangelo’s David, and the Eiffel tower. In the foreground, the lights, made from old coffee tins and a jumble of wires, cast a harsh glare across the real objects, which are far from the ideal forms they project. Barbie is contorted into an uncomfortable position, the bride’s veil turns out to be cheap gauze, and the dog is suspended at an abnormal angle, held up by a metal stick protruding from his rear. Even the turntables are cheap plywood. This feels like Plato’s cave in reverse. The shadows show us perfect forms, but directly before us the reality is inescapable. By showing these projections, Feldmann makes visible the qualities in these objects that fascinate him.
In a new work, Feldmann has bought the handbags of five women for €500 each. The bags, complete with contents, are laid out in separate vitrines. The piece recalls the voyeurism of an earlier work, a set of photographs from one of Feldmann’s earliest books, (Bilder 11, 1969), which contains a series of seated, skirt-wearing, women’s knees, photographed front on. The societal taboo of venturing into a woman’s bag unannounced is pervasive. The bags are identified by name, city, and age, and whilst they contain a fair crossover of expected items: makeup, purse, phone, tampons, cards, scrunchies, and keys, each bag also has a personality. Suzanne, Berlin, 38 years has amassed a mess of coin change, sugar sachets, and cigarette filters, whilst Renate, Cologne, 43 seems tidy and organised, she even has a toothbrush. There seems a risk that a gesture of this nature could border on the perverse, but it doesn’t. The handbags are met with a polite curiosity; it is enjoyable to meet a person this way.

Before leaving the show I find myself returning to Time Series (1974). It is not one work but several series of photographs, which include a boat moving down the Rhine and a window being cleaned; a whole roll of film expended, capturing an incremental passing of time and an otherwise inconsequential act. There is a poetry in the gestures, like the other pieces, Feldmann seems to have captured something that can’t be present in the gallery. The time passing in these images is the equivalent of the mass of the strawberries, the music blaring from the car radios, the perfect forms hidden in the kitsch models, and the women who are only present through the contents of their handbags.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, 11/04/2012 - 05/06/2012, Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA. www.serpentinegallery.org

Hans-Peter Feldmann
Installation view, Hans-Peter Feldmann
Serpentine Gallery, London
(11 April - 5 June 2012)
© 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones

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