Agnes Martin at Tate Modern

3rd June – 11th October 2015

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

Agnes Martin apparently suffered from schizophrenia throughout her life. For me this adds a spurious interest to the retrospective of her paintings currently on show at Tate Modern. Without this information one may well believe she identified with Minimalist concerns with materialism and object hood. Instead it throws up questions about agency and personal identity that seem to be at odds with her claimed interest in Abstract Expressionism.

 

Agnes Martin is then a puzzle. If as she says, transcendental ideas don’t require objects, time or form to hang onto, perhaps it is not a question of agency anyway and the works are really some kind of disembodied expression of nature that no single person can claim identity for, as critics of Abstract Expressionism would have it. So why is her mental health so interesting when considering what the work is about?

 

A quick read and study of her interests and work it is clear that it is a kind of obsessive perfectionism she is striving for. The titles of her paintings like, Loving Love (2000); I Love the Whole World (1999); and Happy Holidays (1999) also suggest bliss, euphoria, and a longing for quiet. But whether it is a quiet calm that comes from complete separation from all worldly concerns or an intimate calm that comes from the knowledge that one is home, safely contained within the familiar I can’t decide, and it seems to me that maybe she struggled with this herself to the point of madness throughout her life. This is a wild assumption of course but could be borne out somewhere between Harbour Number 1 (1959) and her Islands (1979) series.

 

And what is the function of the grid? These might be clinical questions that want to dismantle her metaphysic, but they do want to know which side of the grid to be on when contemplating her paintings. Some, like the mentioned Islands (1979) move away from the concrete and shimmer with light, while others, like The Grey Stone (1963) and The White Stone (1965) are literally like an impenetrable stone wall, drawn with so much tight obsessional detail that we see her apparently clinging to the solid material surface for dear life.

 

Do we need to know and make a choice anyway? As a viewer I can switch between the two positions more easily perhaps. A mind working this out for itself will struggle to negate its own perspective, I think, unless it is being actively destructive or is that deconstructive. Rubbing things out, literally speaking, and breaking links is a function of psychosis, on a psychoanalytic view. But we see none of this directly in her work, only hear about her chaotic episodes from what we read about her life. Instead we see the opposite: a need to control a world within a system.

 

The lines in the small grid prints On a Clear Day (1975) have been straightened by the printing process to perfection. And what about the need for a mind to strive for perfection - what is that about? Does it really reflect an innocence of mind? Identifying perfection in art with perfection in nature is a curious thing - there are no straight lines in nature. Unless you really do believe that Euclidean geometry exists in a higher spiritual realm that infuses all of nature.

 

The grids are parallel lines that sometimes run off into infinity in two dimensions and at other times are contained within the frame: a grid within a grid to suggest depth. They are brought together at right angles a couple of times to form triangles, one of them in the painting Words (1961) and another in Untitled #1 (2003) to suggest mystical symbols perhaps: both cases suggest to me the impenetrability of language. Curves are out, so we are in Mondrian territory. However, we are not faced with a proposition that abstraction is at the bottom of reality. Are we instead privy to a mind struggling to work itself out? I doubt if we would be so patronising to Mondrian.

 

 

Wintergarden

Sutton House, London, 7 November - 22 December 2013

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

http://www.transitiongallery.co.uk/htmlpages/wintergarden/home.html

 

Transition Gallery has curated its current show Wintergarden at Sutton House, a marvelous restored Tudor house in Hackney. The venue is yards from the site of Loddiges nursery which, although nothing now remains, housed the largest hothouse of palms and orchids in Europe during the nineteenth century.

 

Part of the exhibition included a very interesting walk and talk around the 16 acre perimeter of the nursery by artist Bridget Ashton. The tour group was reliably informed that between, 1785-1852 George Loddiges, son of a Dutch émigré built the nursery from a humble seed business into a world renowned garden centre that cultivated many of the rare and exotic plants grown in our gardens today.

 

I was struggling to understand what I was doing trekking around Hackney on a very grey, damp autumn day, imagining what the garden centre must have looked like, when it occurred to me that that is what artists do. Artists are dreamers after all. Imagining things that aren’t there is our stock in trade. It is also part of Ashton’s clever working strategy to engage her audience so directly in place and narrative as part of her art practice.

 

I then wanted to know what drove the impulse to sell a small piece of Eden to, what would have been the middle classes; to take home and plant in their newly acquired gardens and decorate their interiors. But then that is what this exhibition is doing of course, critically activating the ideological motivations that underpin such a venture.

 

The nineteenth century was a philanthropic age rife with Christian socialist activism but it was also a scientific age and the industrial revolution meant the rise of the middle classes. The nursery was a commercial venture selling the idea of internationalism. Plants from Asia, the tropics and Australia could be imported with the invention of the Wardian case. It was not a universalism that was being sold however, but an individualism more in line with the sole collector and his single specimen.

 

The Victorians loved decoration. It became a sign of their bourgeois aspirations. For an interesting take on the garden ornament INTERNATIONAL LAWNS’, Joppatowne Snowmobile is an oblique exploration of how utopian ideals are often built on shaky foundations and where they can end up. Their photographs of light, moderate to heavy snowmobile and text justifying why it should be used as an ornament are a witty reminder.

 

The Victorians loved artifice. They made wax flowers, stuffed dead animals, collected butterflies; catalogued and categorised everything in sight, and were masters of the universe. What they were also masters of was glass, and what they were really obsessed about was scale. New technologies such as the microscopic lens and glass hothouse meant that they could study and create micro environments that could be manipulated and controlled. Alison Stolwood’s work is interesting in this respect. She has created a mini ecosystem by growing wildlife attracting plants from seed and raised Fritillary butterflies from pupa. Her photomontage ‘captures’ the butterflies in their artificial environment.

 

Annabel Dover’s work references the Victorian craft aesthetic with her paper cut hothouse flowers on hand mirrors, under cocktail glasses in Lux and under glass cloche in Holy Mountain, and I simply love her porcelain Inkcaps and Angel’s Bonnets. Jackie Chettur’s wax flowers, also points to the strange preoccupation the Victorians had with all things artificial.

 

Painting of course always has to confront the fact of its artificiality and there is some good painting here. Darius Lambert’s Isthmus and Caesura looks at the common house plant, taking it outside both its exotic natural environment and the greenhouse, it is dislocated and marooned in a nether land inside the painted surface.

 

One thing I did miss in the show was any work on hybridisation, but I liked the discovery aspect. Finding the artwork amongst the historical artefacts was a challenge and rather than a treasure hunt, the object of the exercise is inverted. This was epitomised by Cathy Lomax’s Outside, a small digital video work situated on a shelf in the damp cellar amongst the old bricks of the Tudor house. It didn’t just bring the Winter garden inside but really brought home a sense of verticality between the historical past and now.

 

 

PART TWO: Obscured Exchange

A.P.T Gallery, Creekside, Deptford - 30 August - 22 September 2013

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

Currently showing at the A.P.T Gallery, Creekside is the second part of three exhibitions that taken together give a triangulated view on the experience of viewing art. Situated between Overt Exchange and Oblique Exchange, Obscured Exchange is an interesting exercise in testing how far the meaning of an artwork can be disarticulated.

 

There are several strategies at work here: concealment, misdirection, degradation of the image, fragmentation, to name just a few. The more interesting works for me though were Ami Clarke’s Data Pool (II) and (III) films where she plays with the temporal ordering of words and image. If we think about the way our understanding is synthesised in time by linking a series of perceptions to form a somewhat illusory whole image, here word and image interfere with each other in a kind of ontological loop so that the identity of a thing is never fully realised.

 

Sam Knowles’ The Rudiments of Adam also, is a wonderful critique on the classical philosophy of Descartes. A needle piercing the plaster cast eye is a linguistic play on the pineal axis where the mind and body are supposed to interact. It is a poke in the eye, so to speak, for dualist analytic philosophy. It reminded me purposively I’m sure, of what may be an apocryphal story, about Descartes’ head and forefinger being removed when his body was interred in France. Important indicators of mind and body as they both are, the mystery is where did they go?

 

On the other hand the concrete embodied experience of Aristotle is challenged by the use of digital technologies in much of the work. For example, the gestural mark making of abstract expressionism is diluted of any sense of communicated selfhood by the digital process in Liz Elton’s Washed 1 Duration 1 Hour and 30 minutes.

 

The tactile quality of Bill Leslie’s ceramic sculptures is similarly distanced from the hand in The Allure of the Flesh and Things Being Themselves. Casting them in digital photography and film gives them a virtual reality that is then offset in The Faces of Things. Here we see the scale of the small ceramics in actual space.

 

Moving between media like this is perhaps meant to heighten the object’s opacity or maybe imply that it conceals more than it shows. While other works like Heather Ross’ Things to Come, where she has embedded drawing inside film and film inside drawing, there is no object as such. She gives us edges and folds that allude to nothing and conceal everything; her images just keep moving forwards in time.

 

Mia Taylor’s elliptical sculptures also move in and out of surfaces, twining memories that are historical but could be personal. There is a sense of place and visitation but also of gothic presence in her imagery.

 

I also liked Nick Bailey’s electrical circuitry and enclosure No – where a simple objection will do why say anything else? His Developing Assumptions, also,eerily anthropomorphic: just a red winking light in a small black box, sitting on top a plinth, with an on/off electrical switch. I was tempted to turn it off.

 

His works beg a question. Is an art object a cypher for meaning waiting to be decoded? If the answer is no, we might ask where the sense of agency can be located once deconstructive philosophy has done its work?

 

******

 

Michael Landy

Saints Alive: Anatomy of a Wounded Soul

National Gallery, London, 23 May - 24 November 2013

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

In Michael Landy’s Saints Alive the viewer is confronted with the opportunity to interact with several mechanised saints. I say interact, when what I really mean is, prod, bash and beat them up, so that one is left in no doubt about who is responsible for their pain and suffering. It kind of works against the idea of self-flagellation, but then it gives away a sense of momentary power; like dunking your dad at a fairground does.

 

Landy’s saints are closer to Disney’s animatronics than to the spiritual plane, and I think it is fair to say that you don’t get further from the supernatural than a mechanised object.

 

It is a curious thing pitting medieval anxiety against modern day cynicism – one does not necessary preclude the other. It is still an obsession with the material body that is in question: on the one hand the body is invaded, wounded, dissected, scourged in a fleshly kind of way; on the other, it becomes truly embodied in a rational, enclosed, cybernetic system and completely alienated from any necessity for spiritual connection.

 

The title, Saints Alive should have an exclamation mark next to it. As if Landy was surprised by his own discovery of the Saints in the National Gallery. It would be an ironic exaltation, but it would also capture very well the irony of him landing such a prestigious commission. As he says himself, in the film that runs alongside the exhibition, he has never made a painting in his life. He hasn’t got a religious bone in his body and he is not one for revering the establishment. The National must have taken a very deep breath to let him loose with their collection.

 

What he has done though, is extraordinarily brave and insightful. Being very sensitive to social conventions and hierarchies he has turned the normally sacrosanct gallery room into a noisy, fairground junkyard. His sculptures are a mass of cobbled together cogs, wheels, levers, plastic, fibre-glass, cranks and metal springs that prod, pound, poke and beat the Saints with all the violent muster expected from medieval Catholicism.

 

He is animating painting to a literal point of realisation, but also encouraging the viewer to discover the original works for themselves. It is almost like a treasure hunt. Wandering through the Sainsbury Wings’ iconic paintings, with all their gold, and the wonderful colour palette of the early Renaissance, is really quite dazzling. It is also very surreal to find Crivelli’s Saint Lucy holding her eyes on a plate and Saint Michael slaying a reptilian devil, while a miniature Adam and Eve hang on a scale balance from his waist. This is what I love about the medieval mind, apart from its propensity for the punitive: its imagery is so fantastical but without any hint of irony.

 

Landy started his commission by drawing many of the Masters. He is a good draughtsman and it is interesting that his way in was to copy familiar images like Cezanne’s Bathers. He is reminding the viewer that most art at some level is a matter of copying. He does not shy away from this fact, directly, or should I say, faithfully referencing the paintings in his sculptures.

 

His collages, on the other hand, are, ‘as close as he can get to cutting up the collection’, he says, at one point in the film. They show the body, fragmented; a Frankensteinian obsession with anatomy. The same old anxiety about our lack of understanding into what or who makes us material. Are we in some giant, self-replicating universe or the products of a divine spark?

 

Something to consider is that one day our bodies will become mechanised. Electronics and plastics will be used to interact with our cells, blurring the boundary between what makes us and what we make. It still leaves the question of our origins open though.

 

The idea central to this show however, is not so much origins as stigmata. In Christianity stigmata is a sign of greater humanity; an identification with the suffering of Christ. Sassetta’s The Stigmatisation of Saint Francis shows him receiving the wounds of Christ from a winged Seraph. The Seraph is an ambiguous figure: on the one hand, a heavenly body and on the other, a ‘burning one’ or serpent. An appropriate image perhaps since our future will be marked by a technological ability to self-medicate and heal our own wounds. Whether this will lead to a greater humanity is another question.

 

******

 

Photo 51: from DNA to the Brain

The Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, London, 25 June - 27 July 2013

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

http://www.culture24.org.uk/science-and-nature/art443535

 

Somerset House in a show curated by the Kings Cultural Institute is currently marking the 60th anniversary of Photo 51, the iconic image that led Crick and Watson to discover the structure of DNA.

 

To say this image has had an enormous impact on the development of science is an understatement and so, I think, is this exhibition. Such a momentous achievement is remembered quietly, in four rooms tucked away in the basement of Somerset House East Wing. Not surprisingly, now that summer is finally here, most people were out enjoying the sunshine. A few sun shy visitors were however, prepared to re-imagine the lab environment where, Raymond Gosling, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin famously worked during the post-war years of the 1950s.

 

Three artists have collaborated with scientists and crystallographers at Kings College, London and the Medical Research Council to commemorate their achievements. Today DNA is common currency in biomedical research and it is difficult to imagine how it is that a two-dimensional image can have precipitated such a profound understanding of our biology.

 

Christine Donnier-Valentin has an interest in architectural spaces and has caught the claustrophobic quiet of the windowless rooms they worked in. She has photographed everything from the chemical stains on the floor, the test tubes and original DNA samples, to the Victorian water pipes in the corners of the research labs. Documenting their tools and working environment, her photographs will be the last record of the labs before they disappear forever and are redeveloped.

 

Shelly James has focused on the double helix symmetry of DNA and the X-ray crystallography processes used to tease out its molecular structure. Producing beautiful glass sculptures of moiré patterns and the diffraction pattern in Photo 51. While Marcus Lyon’s photographs explore new ways to communicate contemporary ideas about migration, health, urbanisation and poverty, areas where biogenetics research today plays a hugely important role.

 

The exhibition’s focus on the image brings to mind the other iconic photograph, Blue Marble, the first full image of planet earth taken by Apollo 17, on December 7, 1972, as it left earth’s orbit for the moon. Both images traverse the extreme ends of our perception and place in the universe. Neither image is one that can be experienced with the naked eye. Both rely on a maximisation of brain power and the highest achievements in technology for their existence.

 

This in itself must be wondered at: to see through the lens of DNA. However, crystallography, the tool with which we can see it, does not actually show us in conventional terms how light is refracted from its object. It uses X-rays to measure the scatter pattern (optical diffraction) as they pass through the lattice of an atom. The diffraction pattern is therefore a kind of third order perception in line with Plato’s belief that we can only ever have an indirect experience of nature.

 

Philosophers like to debate whether our perceptions of nature are defined by preconceived structures and languages. Scientists appear to take this for granted: expanding scientific categories is the name of the game and our knowledge is limited only by what we can see. Marcus Lyon explores this idea by playing with colour, symbol and form so that we become aware of how we quantify and qualify information according to visual comparisons and often very slight variances. His 50 Benches (2013), for example, reminds me of Warhol and his teasing out the minute changes or errors in the reproduction process of our iconic images. There is no first image in a series of copies, only a comparative truth that has its parallel in the operational processes inherent in DNA.

 

Concentrating on what DNA can tell us about the brain, the show looks at how genetic codes are mapped to various neurobiological diseases and pathologies. The key here is the word code, which is essentially, an indexical marker of a relationship between what is recorded in the DNA and what is expressed not only physiologically but behaviourally, as with depression and alcoholism, for example. This code is then annotated and put into a database and becomes a piece of bioinformatics data that can be read and analysed in all sorts of clever statistical ways.

 

This is all very useful when trying to predict vulnerability to malaria, or susceptibility to neurodegenerative disorders, but what does it tell us about personality or consciousness? Can we find the elusive ‘self’ in DNA let alone in the brain? Arthur C Clarke seemed to think so, and strands of his DNA will be launched into space on the Sunjammer solar sail, in late 2014, for any interested aliens to read at their leisure, if ever discovered. But what would it actually tell them about Arthur C Clarke? Is such an act simply an expression of a successful writer’s ego? Personally I think his 100 books would say more about him, although postmodern theorists would debate this too. It depends on what kind of information you want and what it is needed for – information does not just exist in a vacuum. Another reason I find this such a puzzling thing to want to do. Scattering one’s ashes off Land's End doesn’t make any more sense, so there is commemorative factor to consider, of course. With this in mind it seems appropriate to celebrate the fact that a single image has propagated so much science. Andy Warhol would be proud.

 

*****

 

Craftivism: making things happen, slowly

Craft and Social Exchange Conference - 3rd June 2013

Toynbee Hall, Whitechapel
Reviewed by Sharon Mangion
 
The recent Craft and Social Change conference looked at how craft can affect a ‘soft revolution’ by turning away from top-down structures towards a more DIY culture. But, as Sharon Mangion reports, the 'slow' logic of the Craftivism movement is combining once solitary practices with new media technologies to reconnect communities and mobilise global audiences.  The recent Craft and Social Change conference, organised by Norwegian Crafts at Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, London, had a broad and ambitious scope, looking at how craft can affect a ‘soft revolution’ within societies. As well as talking about social campaigning against poverty and injustice, it discussed the current turning away from top-down structures and processes towards a DIY culture and a more generous and dignified economics. It also spoke to me as an artist-maker struggling to re-engage with the making process.
 

In a vast digital market place that appears to operate mainly by driving the price of everything towards zero, making a living from one’s craft is difficult, but not only financially. Ironically, the proliferation of platforms on the Internet can make you feel even more isolated, and arts and craft products less visible.

 

Artists have, of course, always struggled with the market and more often than not have to do other jobs to make ends meet. Recently, for example, I found myself working for an NGO campaigning for social justice and was struck by how fast-paced the campaigning environment can be. The emphasis on ‘action’, while invigorating, can also be exhausting, with everyone busy planning campaign strategies, eager to get out and target their local MPs.

 

It was interesting therefore to hear Sarah Corbett talk about her Craftivist Collective and how she wants to slow things down and take a more restful approach. Its main focus is using craft activities to engage marginalised communities, raising awareness around social issues through a process of gentle, non-threatening, soft guerrilla campaigning.

 

Craft + activism

Craftivism is about encouraging social engagement without having to be in constant fight mode. Its protest stitch-ins are small interventions that do not strong-arm, but quietly remind people about social injustices, leaving it to the individual to join in if they want to. No-one should be in any doubt about the power of such an approach, however. Currently, a giant jigsaw patchwork quilt with 700 messages (and counting) sewn into it, in support of Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger campaign, is touring the country. The aim is to put hunger at the top of the G8 agenda – the quilt will be displayed at Hyde Park on Saturday 8 June when 100,000 people are expected to rally in support of its message. In fact the Craftivist movement now has a large international reach to places as far away as LA, Vancouver and Melbourne.

 

Using craft as an activism tool has a long history. Ghandi and his spinning wheel is an iconic image, as is the Suffragette Handkerchief. Using craft to focus and collect people’s labour to produce better and more sustainable ways to live and behave also goes way back. The late 19th and early 20th century abounds with collective communes attempting to realise the utopian dream. Adam Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts, was at the conference and talked about the modern-day community living project at Coniston in the Lake District, a project based on Ruskin’s Arts and Crafts model developed when he lived there in 1852. Again, hand-crafted work is the driver in arts and education, bringing a working community together.

 

Tracey Emin famously uses embroidery to record the important instances, memories and names that make up her life. In her case, however, craft is used to express an old fashioned individualist aesthetic, while still managing to traverse the feminine subject/victim line in an empowering way. Her work references craft as a powerful critical tool in the feminist movement of the 1970s, where it was used to critique the patriarchal knowledge systems that frame the ‘feminine’ experience.

 

‘Slow’ logic

Janis Jefferies, a leading academic in the language and politics of textiles and digital arts technologies, argued at the conference that a lot of work still needs to be done in reconfiguring our knowledge and value systems, particularly in relation to the boundaries between the home, the individual and the global platforms that are a product of the digital age. This is something Craftivism will have to contend with now that it is having such a broad reach. As well as its 50 or so stitch-ins, it is drawing audiences with different agendas through projects with large corporations such as the Tate and Instagram, and print media magazines like Company and Rewind.

 

It is a ‘slow’ dialogic practice that appears to be underpinning the turn towards craft and DIY as an alternative strategy of thinking and living. Again, this ‘slow’ logic draws on history: the Slow Food and splinter movements of the 1980s. It’s an approach that is rejected as outmoded and misleading by Helen Carnac, curator of projects such as the touring exhibition Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution (2009) and the online exhibition Making, Unmaking, Repair and Repetition (2010). She prefers a more reflective method, one where knowledge and experiences are acknowledged as moving backwards and forwards in a continuous, open-ended dialogue that is embodied in materials, histories and processes – so that communities can connect rather than struggle within traditionally singular, solitary practices. This connection becomes a fire-line through which craft can mobilise everyone in lots of different modes of operating.

 

Sarah Corbett’s personal transformation from ‘Lonely Craftivist’ to founding the international Craftivist Collective seems to embody that very idea. It is not just about connecting laterally, but in a deeper, more meaningful way, through small, simple, achievable steps that anyone can do. The intimacy of the sewing circle has somehow grown into a lobbying bridge: from small conversational pieces towards effective public engagement with the power to mobilize global audiences. Not bad going for an introvert.

 

******

 

At the Edges

Angus-Hughes Gallery, London, 1 - 31 March 2013

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

I like the title of the exhibition At the Edges currently showing at the Angus-Hughes Gallery. It aptly captures the position not only of landscape painting but of art about nature in a world dominated by the city. As if the viewer's depth of field had to be expanded in a short sighted age. It sounds grand but that is the thought that occurred to me as I looked at Hannah Brown's small painted landscapes. The viewer's gaze is sometimes directed towards the horizon by the diagonal lines of pathways and hedgerows; sometimes obscured by trees and at other's green foliage is punctuated to reveal it. The world she creates although familiar also has a strange primordial feel about it: everything is a soothing green, soft and beautiful and empty of people. It can't be real! But that is the point – there is a fine line between the ideal and real perception of beauty that runs through Romanticism towards a sentimentalised vision of nature.

 

Boo Ritson's collaged photographs make this point too, but this time the horizon is the American dream. Her digital landscapes look like American vistas but are actually constructed from images closer to home, her back yard in Chesham. The idea of the horizontal planar is brought home by her displaying one image on the floor of the gallery so that the viewer is in no doubt of the image's flatness. In another the image raps around the corner of the wall, again emphasising the three dimensionality of the viewer's perspectival vision. The body becomes the point of reference located in real space. Hanna Brown also takes the viewer out into the real space of sculpture, with her, Model for a Mute Triangulation Pillar.

 

This playing with points of reference continues with Gary Colclough's exquisite drawing machines. He has framed his beautifully precise pencil landscapes in geometrical supports that elevate the image both literally and figuratively, echoing platonic ideas about abstraction and also the geometric motifs and roundels found in the decorative arts. Positioned on the edge of drawing and sculpture, while referencing the painted landscape they are perfectly balanced and minimal too in their aesthetic. I was also so happy to discover the reference to the 'spiritual energy batteries' of The Aetherius Society, pointed out by Graham Crowley's essay on this show, and the allusion to a quiet, spiritual atmosphere and magical conversions. It put me in mind of Emerson's Transcendentalism.

 

It might not be possible to experience nature through a 'transparent eyeball' as Emerson wanted in the mid-19th century. Our experience of nature today is so mediated by an historical understanding of concepts such as the wilderness, the garden, botany, evolution, etc, and the perceptual eye of painters such as Turner, Constable and one of my favourites, Claude Lorrain, to believe in a direct, unfiltered experience. The wilderness for example, has been deconstructed to such an extent that it is difficult to say with certainty if what we see is wild at all and has not been altered at some other point in time by man's interference through enclosure, deforestation, mining, species control, etc. Such concepts frame our perception and experience of the all-pervading thing we call nature in a dialectical relationship. The wilderness, becomes a metaphor for an infinite chaos that is bounded by the discrete, concrete form of language. The landscape in this case however, is not just a conceptual category or ‘idea’ through which nature sees itself. The materiality of language and the ‘realism’ of our perceptual vision is emphasised in a multi-media approach in a seemingly effortless dance between the idealised space of painting, the virtual world of the digital and three-dimensional sculptural form.

 

I want to hold onto Emerson's 'transparent eyeball' for a bit longer. It ‘speaks’ of a kind of conceptual realism that is hard to maintain in today’s cynical climate. To believe that the individual's experience of nature is one's own, purified of history; a seeing without memory, even if it is an illusion is seductive. The individual is important to this idea: the 'self' reads nature as an outward sign of the Spirit and identifies with it internally. This is not only a biblical concept it is a unity of mind and body that fuels both philosophical and theological discourse within Transcendentalism borrowed from Buddhism and the Bhagavad Gita. There is no such illusion in Jane Ward's digital paintings. Switching between the surface of the real and the internal projective space of the ideal is operating in her apocalyptic work but the outcome is ambiguity. This Horizontal Landscape for example, suggests a precipice; of being on the edge of vision; as Emerson wanted, at every moment – but a visual world renewed at every moment means a destruction of history; of any sense of before. In her virtual world the inside of painting erupts onto the surface into the materiality of paint, into a kind of renewal. The mind and body paradox is apparent again in Impact Scars where the scars of history operate on both a physical and virtual place and are not repressed.

 

All the work in At the Edges leaves a question about the private, intimacy of experience in the face of history, for me, but in spite of this the relatively small scale of Hannah Brown and Gary Colclough's works give the kind of self-contained intimacy offered by the miniature. Even when the works cross the boundaries of their own medium, moving between digital photography, sculpture and painting there is a quietness about it. Nature might be ‘mute’ but it does not mean it can’t be spoken about.

 

*****

 

Deptford A.W.O.L.

Menier Chocolate Factory Gallery, London, 9 - 13 June 2009

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

Showing at the Menier Chocolate Factory Gallery at the moment is the Creekside Artists’ exhibition Deptford A.W.O.L., which will be on until Saturday 13 June. There is some good work in this show. Some highlights are Sofie Pinkett’s drawing series Schisms which are painstakingly put together with over layered paper and pencil. Shards of transparent glass and architectural debris break through the surface plane like remnants of a romantic past; they remind me of Friedrich’s Sea of Ice. On the point of collapse or perhaps ruins that refuse to disappear they also remind me of Wilfred Bion’s idea of the ‘little catastrophes’ that the mind has to deal with in its everyday battle to stay alive and creative. Heartbreaking and poignant.

 

Paul Coombs' exploration of the portrait tradition has produced some really effective paintings. With a mixture of Baconesque, Bazelitz and cubist techniques, identity is presented as a moving target in our hyper revelatory age. Sometimes grotesque and at others comic he really does capture the fragmentation and vulnerability of the ego. The theme of fragmentation is continued in Richard Waites’s fractured landscapes. In this case the environment wrestles with built structures and he uses a nice mix of painterly techniques to give a sense of the conflict between them. One wonders which will win in the end.

 

Necole Schmitz' family portraits have an intriguing quality about them. Drawn from events in her family life they are Gaston like with lots of hoods and his mix of the comic and sinister. That is not to say they don’t have a very original expressiveness about them. That is what I like about them. They pack a powerful punch and are fantastically dark and bold.

 

A dark but brooding theme this time is carried on in Claire Morton’s large painted interior. I like the motifs in Claire’s painting; they are the stuff of nightmares and she has created some interesting light effects in the work. Caroline Underwood’s work on the other hand has a much lighter feel to it. Concentrating on the materiality of her work, 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night are a record of bird flight in the former and star constellations in the latter that she observed during a 24 hour period. These large drawings really show her hand at work and give an echo of the elemental forces in the act of mark making itself. Lovely, ethereal stuff.

 

Your can see further details about the work on the Creekside Artists website: www.creeksideartists.co.uk and they will be opening their studio over the weekend of 20 and 21 June so you will get another chance to see the work on show here. Creekside Artists, Unit A 110/112/114, Faircharm Trading Estate, Deptford, London SE8 3DX.

 

*****

 

One Thing Against Another

Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, August - 21 September 2008

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

This week I went along to see an interesting show organized by Portsmouth’s Aspex Gallery. The show, One thing against another, included work by five artist, Alice Walton, Eduardo Padilha, Sam Basu, James Ireland and David Kefford, who were invited to respond to and make work for a number of public sites including the Norrish Central Library, Victoria Park Aviary and the Natural History Museum butterfly house as well as the gallery space itself.

 

Mixing an interest in site specificity with the rawness of a cardboard and glue aesthetic much of the work seems concerned with the relationship between language and materials. While it is difficult to talk about the language of materials without veering off into associations thrown up by the total image of a work what is interesting about this show as a whole is the tension drawn between the idea of inside and outside space, both physical and metaphorical. Alice Walton’s constructed room within the gallery space for example, takes an oblique look at the archive in its various forms: as a room for stacking and ordering books, as place for containing specialized knowledge, as cardboard container for holding documents and as photograph for capturing memories and images of the persona. All of this is ingeniously turned inside out, questioning what it is that actually structures such mnemonic systems.

 

Eduardo Padilha’s Soft Sculptures also explore the idea of the archive but this time in a more soporific way. Embroidering newspaper headlines such as ‘postcards from the edge of rediscovery’, ‘collect and survive’ and ‘abstinence conundrum’ onto reclaimed mattresses and sleeping bags previously used by the homeless, he has set up a lounge area within the public library for home sick souls to come in from the cold it seems. Working more like slogans, his embroideries offer the viewer clues to the mechanisms of psycho-social dependencies and alienation, perhaps from knowledge that is apparently available to everyone.

 

Sam Basu’s work takes a more humorous stance on the arbitrariness of language. Mixing sci-fi and hippy culture aesthetics in his My hippy love commune, his large octagonal plastic light machines floating incongruously inside the guinea pig cage at the Victoria Park Aviary comment on the apparent contradictory exclusions of language. Like machines from outer space they could have come straight out the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. His geometric forms are also like codes for the ‘space’ in language suggesting Wittgenstein’s argument that geometry is a metaphysical construct or picture that obscures the true grammar of language.

 

For me, James Ireland’s Practical Significance and Common Goal also brought the idea of how we use language into focus. His beautiful elliptical forms precariously balancing branches within them had a more universal perspective however, while, I think, Sam Basu’s work speaks more directly about the place they are situated. His Field Dynamics I, for example, while also being quite abstract is like a giant cat’s cradle spanning the two architectural pillars in the gallery. Mapping the space with string brought to my mind all sorts of vague notions about string theory and symmetry but also highlighted the tension between abstraction and materiality.

 

David Kefford’s work on the other hand, I think, takes a more rounded look at how dynamic language is when in full use. It’s metaphorical, self-reflective and literal possibilities become apparent in his clever use of materials which somehow manage to speak for themselves. A sock dips its toe in a narcissistic pool of black plastic in Self-reflection; a hockey stick and Le Cross stick merge to speak about the game of language in Entrap; and the viewer is warned off delving too deep into the structure of language in Penetration. His Entice was also a real treat taking the viewer outside of the gallery to the Butterfly house where his suspended feeding frames made out of lamp shade frames, colourful scouring pads used to feed the butterflies sugar water clearly speak about metaphors of light and growth.

 

I loved also Eduardo Padilha’s use of plastic crates to make his ghostly white stencils which merge so imperceptibly into the gallery wall that I almost missed them and his colour net skylights in the Norrish library. Both pieces very subtly using the language of painting while integrating and reflecting their situation which, in a way, sums up for me how the show works as a whole so successfully.

 

*****

 

Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae

Dilston Grove, Southwark, 14 May 2007 - 15 June 2008

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

Dilston Grove, a former church on the edge of Southwark Park, as a venue for staging art installations, is fantastically evocative A dark cavernous space that conjures up gothic specters, it is an ideal space to explore the metaphysics of light. Mark Ingham’s Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae showing until 15th June fills the space with jewel-like light projections that directly reference Althanasius Kircher’s (1646) tome on light and shadow.

 

With 100 or more projected images taken from his family album dispersed amongst others exploring the site in which the church stands, a magical homage to childhood memory is created. A fragile interplay of place and time is suspended in spheres of coloured light that point to the question of how far images can be considered local, universal, ideational or concrete. The threshold between light and dark is mediated by the grainy effect of the degrading walls the images are projected on, with flaking paint and gravel protruding into the images to remind the viewer of the real stuff of surfaces.

 

What is interesting about this show is the technology needed to create the projected images. Echoing Kircher’s use of the camera obscura as a kind of technological expression of light, SLR cameras are used instead to evoke the idea of a recording device that captures time as well as light. Kircher’s ‘magic lanterns’ have become time machines that use light to navigate through space.

 

I found it interesting to discover a few years ago while studying psychology, that autistic children are more able to determine what others are thinking, something they normally have difficulty with, if they imagine perceiving them through a camera. The camera acts as a kind of hidden eye for the child. This show also brings to mind the idea in science that any empirically valid result must to some extent reflect the apparatus by which it is tested with; a phenomenon also present in the theory of quantum mechanics, where it is the perceiving apparatus that is thought to collapse the wave function.

 

All of this, while a long way from Kircher’s interest in the camera obscura as an expression of the metaphysical aspects of light and dark, brings to my mind an interest in methodology that avoids being anachronistic. Instead a historical and a more personal lineage run parallel to each other with up to date technology, although not quite digital, but then the importance of the SLR’s role in projecting the same photographs taken years ago is an important aspect of the work.

 

As projection devices the number of cameras needed to create the effect maybe a bit overstated, but, achieve a beautiful decorative patina on the church walls all the same. The juxtaposition and overlaying of images in the mind make up our own personal patina of memories and using transparencies to project such memories for public viewing crosses a liminal threshold between the public and private that perhaps only photography can get away with. It also raises the question of how memory relies on artifacts such as the photograph to reify its existence and vice versa, how the photograph relies on us to project meaning into it.

 

The photograph can be both a hermetically sealed object and a universally vacant image all at once and this dichotomy is heightened by emphasizing its light projected qualities. Projection as a Freudian concept is thought of as a subconscious externalisation of aspects of the self that the personality cannot quite integrate into consciousness. I like the idea that public access to these photographs can mediate a shared sense of loss for histories that are both personal and collectively understood. But it also reminds me that memory, at its most formal, is an aesthetic phenomenon where projected light is etched onto the mind as colour via the spherical shape of the iris, blink and certain aspects of the image are missed and it all disappears in a second. When the camera shutter blinks, however, light is captured and leaves a legacy that can be put to various expressive uses, whether personal, political, philosophical, theological, technological, the list could go on.

 

This show takes a fascinating look at how visual artifacts struggle to transcend time and place and must be considered within a long historical tradition of explorations into light and dark.

 

*****

 

Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art

CCA, GoMA, Royal Concert Hall, In Transit, Glasgow, 11 - 27 April 2008

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

I finally got to visit Glasgow's GI Festival after a mix up with my ticket booking, albeit on the last weekend, knowing that I would only get to see a glimpse of the vast array of work on show all over Glasgow town.  My first stop was Catherine Yass's Hire Wire at the CCA, a multi-screen film and video installation that includes footage of Didier Pasquette traversing the high rise gap between tower blocks at Red Road in Glasgow. The large scale film projection of Didier's daredevil feat is mesmerizing in its bravado the scale of which is drawn by filming the vertiginous wire between the blocks and from this vantage point the height of the blocks can be experienced as if looking down from the top as he inches his way across the wire. The giant modernist blocks are beautiful from a distant viewing but get up close as the film does and it is clear they are brutal in their detailing, shabby and alienating in their isolated habitat, they are not meant to be seen from this vantage point. It seems as if Didier is trying to bridge an unbridgeable gap.

 

Catherine Yass' black and white lightboxes also give a sense of the starkness of the landscape. The tower blocks are like giant alien watchtowers guarding a space that makes for beautiful imagery even when stripped of its colour but that nobody would want to live in unless they had too. I thought I might be able to develop my line of thought on the fragility of this type of imagery by seeing Harold Turek's Hinterland but this exhibit was closed frustratingly, so I moved on to the Artists' Book Fair at the Glasgow Concert Hall.

 

This is the first time GI has hosted the book fair and I was a bit disappointed at the craft fair, hobby horse feel the venue had. With some new age style, twee offerings from some of the stalls and others offering information on book-binding, book-making, audio-books, letter-press books, antiquarian books, conceptual books on books as art, there were some quirkier stallholders like A shoal of Mackerel for example. With books like The Spilled Milk of Haunted Nations by Lina Persson and Tactical Magic by Marcus and Lari Lagerquist I could have spent all day alone with their publications. They also had a copy of Natalie Regard's Void Painting, 2005 a huge 480 x 800cm painting translated into a 7 kilo, 500 page book. I was surprised priced at under £50 how an edition of 500 could have been printed at all, but of course profit is no reason to make a work of art.

 

There were some other gems like Jayne Hyslop's Garden Map from Second Century Press and impressive sculptural books from Heather Hunt Book's Observer Series, 1950-1970 and I am sure a lot more in between that I just did not have time to see. That is the trouble with this type of event, a book takes time to read and digest and exploring its objecthood as an art object is all very well but also takes time and ingenuity for it to capture the imagination, especially with so much else competing for attention. One stall did manage to make me linger though and that was Zeynep Arman's research project on the relationship people have to the everyday objects in their lives. Her Imagine No Possessions takes a simple, uncomplicated yet philosophical look at how we attach meaning to our objects and how we tend to personify our environment. After taking a couple of her booklets I felt a bit more grounded amidst the thrall of information coming my way and headed off to see Jim Lambie's Forever Changes at GoMA.

 

It says in the exhibition guide that, ‘Lambie's work doesn't define itself against its predecessors, but draws its energy from an easy acknowledgement that art can both affect everyday experience and be shaped by it'. I thought he might be interested to know that someone tripped over one of his concrete archival floor pieces Sonic Reducer, 2008, as they were walking around the show. His disorientating vinyl floor The Strokes, 2008, certainly did its job even with the exhibition guides handing out strips of paper warning visitors about the potential hazard of the floor pieces. In his kitsch, pop style that sits nicely against the grand, columned ornateness of the GoMA gallery there are lots of optical and celestial references about the viewer's voyage through the visual. This is all surface stuff.  Seven and Seven Is or Sunshine Bathed in Golden Glow, 2008 a collection of colourful chairs and mirrored bags arranged in a hickledy-pickledy fashion is in fact formed into a spectrum arc. Stars of Cancer, 2008, all mirrors and eyes is also quite orderly, put together to form the constellation of cancer. There are apparently no deep connections to be made here. With his Get Back, 2008, the viewer's way into the gallery is blocked by a multi-coloured fabric brick wall resting on two pairs of patent shoes, this show seems to me to be more about painting and its battle with modernist conceptualism.

 

Moving on to In Transit to see Dani Marti and Katri Walker's video installations I was stopped in my tracks by Marti's David, 2007, a powerful, poignant portrait of a homeless teenager on the streets of Glasgow. This was manipulative subject matter I know, with the lens centered unremittingly on the teenagers face, his eyes drifting in and out of consciousness while he holds a chewed begging cup. I felt like I do when I walk past the homeless begging on the street only this time from a safe distance where I could indulge my sympathy.

 

Testing the documentary genre's power to tell the ‘truth' the next film Aguamiel, 2008 by Walker again explored the idea of shifting consciousness but this time in a more hallucinogenic way. The viewer is told the story of a small, Mexican community making and selling a fermented cactus juice pulque for their living. They tell us a convincing lie that it is good healthy tipple that will enhance the libido and the psychedelically coloured containers on the market stall where it is sold give some hint as to its chemical properties.

 

The next film Under the Coolabah Tree, 2008 by Marti was a riot of funny dialogue about art and celebrity, lesbians and Osama bin Laden between the artist, a painter and an electrician stranded out in the Australian outback. It has a strong Beckettian feel to it with the isolation of the characters heightening the subjectivity of the viewer and comic touches that put their artistic aspirations into perspective. One minute they are arguing over who makes the tea and the next discussing the beauty of the light bouncing of the cloud formations. I bet they would be great fun down the pub.

 

The mastery of the lens over its subject is further tested in Walker's Señor Celestino on the Edge of Heaven, 2008, a moving portrait of a man's faith. Celestino has been commissioned by God to build a church and while at first such a grand, crazy scheme seems absurd, when he challenges the film maker on who is the better artist, it is difficult not to want to reward his life long commitment. His unwillingness to be passively observed and judged by the lens gives him a power that one almost believes comes from God himself. He says at some point that those who do not acknowledge the power of the father cannot be artists, or something like that, and I think, in the Lacanian sense, he is right.

 

*****

 

Unheimlich

Leeds Met Gallery, Leeds, 18 April - 17 May 2008

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

It always surprises me that we are so habituated to the everyday stuff of existence that life does not seem strange to us most of the time. There is probably a good evolutionary reason for this as experiencing the Uncanny on a regular basis would kind of dilute the experience and perhaps cause a lot more mental instability.

 

Exhibitions like Unheimlich now showing at the Leeds Met Gallery are designed to remind us of those cracks in our everyday perceptions and this one does it very well, although to be forewarned is to be forearmed as they say which has the danger of making it a bit of an academic exercise.

 

Having said this I was excited by the prospect of being taken out of a dreary, grey day in Leeds and wasn't disappointed. This turned out not to be an escapist exercise though, nor was it just an essay on Freud's unconscious and anxiety dreams. With a strong allegorical line running through several pieces exploring our evolutionary trajectory through nature, ideas about subliminal linguistic processing and our morbid voyeuristic tendencies I was impressed by the diversity of themes running through the show.

 

In Rachel Goodyear's richly worked-up series of little drawings for example, one is led back to the idea that human nature is reflected in nature in Buttercup, 2008 and our inherent animal nature in Itchy Back, 2008 and Girl with Foxes, 2007.  Steven Bishop's Suspension of Disbelief, 2007 where man made neon lights invade the space of the natural world is also a wonderful play with visual metaphor. The creature of the night, the wily fox's taxidermic body is suspended in mid air, pierced by neon rods bringing in the question of where the real lies in relation to illusory world of art. Clara Ursitti's E.C.C.O., 2007, an exploration of pseudo science and the world of self-creating systems could be a de-programming film from the school of Scientology. With its hypnotic, transgressive commentary on the parabolic super-self overlaying images of our contested evolutionary home, the underwater realms of the deep sea, or perhaps it is a neuro-linguistic eco programme for re-habituating us to the environment. It is a clever play between language and the figurative that is also apparent in her Selection from the dolphin girl porcelain collection, 2006/7 with its fractal and morphed forms and shadows evolving in a light, dark dualism.

 

The viewer is reminded of how clunky Freud's theory of the unconscious appears to us now with its original emphasis on tracing mental neurosis back to physical systems in Pete Smith's Lot, 2008 with his mechanical dolls and vibrating mattresses. I like his title, which brings to my mind the idea of chance in the field of the unconscious and how we are at the mercy of what happens in our sleep. I like too Matt Lippiatt's Diving Board, 2008 and the idea of the leap of imagination, into the unknown. His work goes to the heart of the Uncanny and the sense of loss that a shift in perception brings to consciousness. His Missing Posters, 2008 are more like wanted ads on a dating site mixing a sense of longing with a macabre voyeurism at what might have happened to the missing.

 

A nicely curated show by Matt Roberts, that looks outside the world of Freud as well as inside it. At the dreams and stories that make up our everyday assumptions about who we are and where we have come from.

 

*****

 

The Cloud Series

Dawn Shorten, Seven Seven Contemporary Art - 4th-28th October 2007

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

In today's cynical world it is difficult to appreciate let alone represent a sense of the sublime in nature without it collapsing into sentimental pastiche or parody. Our wonder at nature’s power is not necessarily tempered in the postmodern age but may have been replaced by growing anxieties about the industrial world’s affect on the environment and it is perhaps not surprising that we expect some kind of backlash from the natural elements to overwhelm us at some point.

 

This of course is what constitutes the concept of the sublime. Not our worries about our effect on nature but an idea that somehow contains its uncontainable power. A word that frames an experience and feeling that is beyond words or concepts. This is the central paradox that came to my mind when viewing Dawn Shorten’s show The Cloud Series currently on at Seven Seven Contemporary Art. How does a formal system whether words or art come to both represent and be so divorced from its subject?

 

Her neat little cloud paintings referencing old master paintings from Constable to Ruisdael floating white gouache on translucent drafting film are delicate portrayals of disordered evaporative systems. Lifting from the Romantic tradition’s preoccupation with dramatic landscapes they have been isolated and reduced in scale to great effect. Produced in series with no colour to enhance the viewer’s emotional response they simply show a representational system at work.

 

Similarly, the conic projections involve systems such as, maps, mirrors and projective geometry to highlight I think the reflective tendency again so central to the Romantic tradition’s take on what would have been in the eighteenth century man’s position in relation to the natural world. There is a wonderful topographical effect as the projections rise up and fold back into conic mountains that threaten to collapse in on themselves. A great metaphor for how our aggressive actions can rise up and come back to haunt us.

 

Reminding the viewer of how our representational systems frame our view of the world in formal terms may seem academic at times but this is a very postmodern concern: how to represent the unrepresentable without idealising it. But these little paintings and projections are not reflecting an abstract concept of the sublime, they are acknowledging the language of the work as having power to take on big concerns with a formal consistency that presents the sublime in manageable bite size pieces to great homeopathic effect.

 

A great little show that is not preaching to the converted or the uncoverted for that matter, just a subtle exploration of scale in the grand scheme of things.

 

*****

 

Untold

The Sassoon Gallery, 21 Apr — 4 May 2007

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

Untold stories of the discarded, the overlooked and the hidden where interior worlds meet the body, the playground, the urban streets and the gallery space itself, are brought together in a show by four artists, So-Ha Au, Catherine Hughes, Andrew Humber and Kelly Ratchford at The Sassoon Gallery, a tucked away space in Peckham.

 

So-Ha Au's dressmaking patterns are delicately deconstructed schemas charting the skin's spatial matrix as boundary between appearance and invisibility. Her paintings present a disturbing twist as their fragility rubs against the absent fragmented body. Map like they could be ariel views of harbour jettys, their ambiguity heightening the distance between tangible and lyrical landscapes.

 

Bringing the theme of absent bodies to life Andrew Humber's sculpture is a compelling mechanical doll like contraption that plays with the exchange between physical objects, representational space and the viewer's perceptual field. Drawing the viewer into a participatory world where encounters with the environment are sensed, logged and displayed in a reactive loop Andrew cleverly brings together science, engineering and art revealing the divisional possibilities in sculpture. As Marina Warner has noted in Phantasmagoria it is interesting that such encounters with automata while being real and direct serve to remind the viewer of their own invisible interior world, like looking in a mirror without a reflection....creepy.

 

Catherine Hughes's paintings also take a second look at an elided world but this time it is at the discarded objects that litter our urban environment. Critiquing ideas of value and the once privileged status of painting in the hierarchical world of art, particularly history painting, one wonders at the history of these objects and whether precious moments like social get-togethers and childhood milestones have really been forgotten.

 

Kelly Ratchford's drawings also allude to an undercurrent that is not only present in the media, well perhaps more blatantly in the media, but also in the collective unconscious if one believes in such things. It also reminded me how art can negotiate tricky and uncomfortable subjects with humour and irony. Collapsing the space between childhood drawing and a sinister fascination with corruption these little drawings have a powerful punch.

 

A thoughtfully curated show by So-Ha Au Untold has brought together a body of work that has a lot to say about the understated boundaries that frame our experience of the everyday shown here as fragmented exchanges between painting, drawing and sculpture.

 

*****

 

Thy Neighbours’ Ox 2

Space Station Sixty-Five - 3 December – 27 January 2006

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

https://www.a-n.co.uk/resource/thy-neighbours-ox-2

 

While the earlier show ‘Thy Neighbours’ Ox’ in 2003 took a ‘shared right’ stance to the ownership of art objects, ‘Thy Neighbours’ Ox 2’ recently showing at Space Station Sixty-Five wants to celebrate a greedy aesthetic. Using a home-grown folk approach to making, craft and DIY objects are made to counter global mass production values with a sumptuous and gothic concentration on materials.

 

By collapsing brute and ideal aesthetics that seems to have so preoccupied art in the last century, quite a bit of the work refers to the problem of expressing Romantic ideals in art, the impossibility of living up to them and the ease with which they have been used to set up social hierarchies. Cathie Pilkington’s Jetzt Hab’ Ich Dich! (I’ve Got You Now!), for example, is a chilling tableau of a traditional Nordic troll-like toy, in this case a hedgehog hunter, proudly displaying its ermine catch, inverting the classical primitive hierarchy that continues to dog art. Emma Talbot’s Pillow Book floats images of pretty girls and boys across a screen that have a Mills & Boon take on the Romantic while Paul Jones’ wonderful Popcornaut, looking, searching... envelopes has craggy landscape doodles on the back of envelopes, including one from the Inland Revenue Contributions Office.

 

Edwina Ashton also does a wonderfully comic turn on nature and the Romantic in her films, Beetle and Beautiful Pot. The latter has a giant caterpillar negotiating the roundness of a flowerpot with raw sausage meat which I defy anyone not to have a giggle at. The theme of the raw and the cooked is continued in Gayle Chong Kwan’s photographs, Cockaigne prints that have iconic emblems like Babel’s tower rendered in uncooked pasta and other more gory food stuffs, while bourgeois values are reassessed and found to be just as fetid in Paul Jones’ tumour-ridden Sideboard and outmoded in Shane Waltener’s Web doilies.

 

The mood of the show is not reflective though. Susan Collis’s How to tell the difference between the Living and the Dead with the statement ‘Drop Blind Angel’ displayed in party decorations might be a relinquishing of such ‘high’ ideals and aspirations but it is done with revelry in mind, not wistful contemplation. Starting with the assumption that art has something to be coveted begs the question whether it can ever be a democratic medium. Stephen Nelson’s Fungu should have been allowed to strut its stuff on centre stage to make this point but interestingly was tucked discretely beside a TV monitor. Sarah Jones’ Hoopla-gate was the most intriguing piece for me though, commenting more abstractly I think, on how easily we can be deceived by the powers that be.

 

*****

 

BOOM

One Small Step, 19 Oct — 17 Dec 2005

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

It is good to see students at rival art institutions collaborating and exhibiting together. Joseph Richards an RCA graduate and Jonty Lees from the Slade both take a playful look at the possibilities in drawing through other media, such as, paint, plasticine, film, blue tac, enamel, chalk to name just a few of the materials used. Their joint show BOOM at One Small Step in Clerkenwell negotiates a contemporary art space that doubles as a music and commercials production company and in a visual conversation between the two artists that plays against the gallery’s combined interests they explore the rhythm of drawing and imagery. For example, our taken for granted view that experience is continuous is disrupted in Joseph Richard’s film, Rise to Set. This humorous and technically aware film uses editing to great effect and works by bringing the artificiality of the image to our attention yet still left me guessing as to whether he really sat on the same spot for a whole day. Jonty Lees films also play with the idea of perpetual motion and use clever, simple devices in Windmill and TT Matic to create wonderful drawing machines. His ping pong machine adapted out of a leaf-blower for example, shows a systematic and self-referential tendency still at work in contemporary art practice and seems to point the finger more specifically at painting.

 

The rhythm of drawing changes dramatically in Joseph Richard’s painstakingly detailed pencil drawings, which show an obsessiveness that is exploded in the content of Bolder and a doodling in his smaller drawings with a comic quality that puts one in mind of Philip Guston but without the emotional punch of Gaston’s imagery. The tackiness of blue-tac in his Awoken by the Light, has hints of the grotesque, but this show to my mind is more about the discrete nature of drawing and more broadly, representation, rather than any broken down line between abstraction and figuration. Joseph Richard’s imagery verges on the fractal and surreal. His simple language of dots, repetition and doodles make delicate and quirky patterns and objects that reflect not only a movement between micro and macro worlds where things emerge and disappear with their own rhythm, but also allows the irrational to poke through the sensible world of reason.

 

Although the conversation between the two artists may at first appear to be one sided through sheer volume of work, in the end this sort of collaboration proves complimentary in strategic terms. With each artist cueing the other at different intervals they do achieve a certain tempo. Jonty Lee’s Ping-pong appears to be emblematic of an out-moded individualistic practice in contemporary art while Joseph Richards seems to want to retain a certain amount of expressiveness in his.

 

*****

 

Informal

Hayes Lane Market, 6 — 11 Nov 2005

Reviewed by Sharon Mangion

 

There is always a slight air of anxiety about the people who come to Hayes Lane Market, as if they are not quite sure what is going on or what they should do there. Either embarrassed at watching painters at work, or not quite sure if they ought to be there or not – is it a market, a studio or exhibition space: the territory is not marked out clearly for them.

 

The InFormal show by Goldsmiths' postgraduate textile students similarly, looks at textiles through a disparate range of media, including photography, installation, video and sculpture that makes orientating oneself around the space a challenge, although perhaps not as much as usual, since being under the umbrella term of 'art' can be comforting.

 

Having said that, division has always posed an ontological problem for art: there is no real consensus as to what separates the art object from everyday objects or what art really is even though a lot of people seem happy to do and accept an awful lot of stuff in its name.

 

In this case Textiles is used as a conceptual reference point and takes an interesting turn on the Modernist concerns with thinking through materials. Textiles has always to my mind had a comfortable relationship with its materiality that other media, like painting, photography and film all strive for. However, the sensuousness and directness of touch associated with its making has tended to reinforce the medium in terms of cosy traditions of the domestic interior and craft. So by linking other media to the idea of textiles instead of concentrating on its material quality this exhibition reveals textiles’ divisible nature. Emi Arai’s screen for example, while seeming to have a nostalgic relationship to Japanese screen embroidery, weaves thread, plastics and photography together bringing old traditions of craft and newer production techniques in line with each other. Jolan Bogdan, takes a sympathetic look at the alienating conditions of mass media culture: the hoody lad wants to become something and belong but is left slumped in armchairs and heaps of apathy. Tristan JS Scutt’s Trappy-Tris health plan also comments on the digestibility of media images and how they can shape identity in a disturbingly humorous array of portrait photographs and dietary paraphernalia. Other works that reveal textiles’ versatility include Fumi Kato’s Video which takes on the broader relationship between the fragile naked body and catastrophic environmental events while Dr Polly Fibre's performance shows some interconnections and a circularity in making by manipulating sewing machines to create rhythms, shadows and fabric documents.

 

Installation also plays an important role in the examination of how the body interacts with interior spaces in Eleanor Lawlor’s work and while it may have proved a struggle to try and see the connection to textiles in this case I couldn’t help feel in the end that her ‘Interior games’ could also have made a good title for the show.

 

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