objects in mirror are closer than they appear: Project Space Tate Modern

I think the River Entrance Project Space at the Tate Modern is one of the most undervalued spaces in London.  I still think about the delicious Nicholas Hlobo show I saw there 4 years ago and the rest of their shows are consistently great.

Their current show  Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear,  is curated by Contemporary Image Collective Cairo and the gallery is drenched in darkness. The show’s premise is to reduce the privilege of the visual perception and reality –  the catalogue opening with a quote from Jean-Luc Goddard’s Le Gai Savoir, 1969.

“If you want to see the world, close your eyes”

Although mostly video works (which is quite the paradox), they’re all interesting ways of dealing with the theme.

There’s one work which is particularly hilarious to watch other people watching: A Middle Aged Woman by Ján Mančuška.  It’s a text piece – a slowly changing script of a narrative – that is presented on a screen and people sit down on the floor to watch it, like it’s a TV show. The ‘action’ they’re reading on the screen is enthralling and the reactions from the audience are fascinating – a cross between watching moving picture and reading a book. But together, in public. Like a group twitter session or old fashion ticker tape views.

Another ‘text versus image’ work,  Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana, is based on the conspiracy theory that the Miserable One predicted Diana’s death through his lyrics. It’s an amusing mash-up of Morissey lyrics, images and pop references connecting music-based poetry with the pastiche of the current Monarchy to create a history that isn’t necessarily real..

Dissonant is a  video installation by Manon de Boer that I came in half way through, so I didn’t get the whole of the work, but I’m going to tell you about the work from my experience.

It began in darkness – you hear puffing and grunting, moving and squeaks of flesh. You get the sense that it’s a woman, exerting herself and because it’s in the dark and I’m a perve, it’s get’s pretty sexual, pretty quickly. I stick with it, wondering what it felt like to listen to someone else having sex and whether, because it’s art, I’m not really prying.

This huffing and puffing sound piece shifts half way through and the video comes (back) into view. It’s not a couple having sex AT ALL, but a dancer rehearsing a contemporary dance work – squeaking and moving, huffing and puffing all over the studio, you perve.

I found that ‘big reveal’ so thrilling! I loved that my first thoughts were sexual, that men left the room all uncomfortable, only to see miss seeing what the true picture was. It also says something about contemporary dance: its sensuality and yet highly visual form.

Reading the catalogue afterwards, I can see that de Boer’s work actually starts with the image of the dancer and her music, with the darkness being half way through. But I don’t think it matters too much – the work is about the darkness, the black gaps that fix our memory of a film and perhaps the intense power of the auditory in a story.

Double is the retelling of a story about parallel universes, by Mančuška. Although in-jokes and meta narrative in art is getting tiresome, what with meme culture knotting us all sideways, this work is enjoyable nonetheless. Probably because, above all else, I love the work of Franz Kafka and this could easily have been made by him.

On a screen, there is an image of a man standing in front of the image of a man on a screen. The second man is sitting, telling a story to someone off screen. It looks like he’s in an institution somewhere, an interrogation room of sorts. The first man is standing, lit as though on stage, telling the same story to an audience off screen, although we only hear his voice narrating. The story itself is one of the first man coming home drunk one night to let himself into his appartment in Praha and faced with a stranger who attacks him. It turns out to not be his appartment, but an exact replica of it in Bratislava  – same section of the city, same looking block, same layout and same key access. A parallel.

Layer upon layer, truth over art over truth, replication and storytelling are all elements to this work. Its simple form allowed for all those themes and ideas to come through.

Yet, honestly, I’m not sure i would have stood and observed the work for as long as I did, if i wasn’t trying to get 3G reception near the door. It’s the first work in the entrance and a little intimidating to stand right in front of the door to view this work. I watched loads of people (friends included) walk right past it. So if you’re reading this before you’ve seen the show, keep that in mind and make sure you stop a while.

image credits:
Double film still, by Ján Mančuška from his site.
Dissonant film still, by Manon de Boer from the Galerie Jan Mot site.

Gallery wrap-up: Judy Chicago and Situations


This week’s art theme is pretty much all about vaginas. It’s odd what trends arise in a city like LondonJudy Chicago is showing at Riflemaker, featuring her early works. Given her particular place in feminist art history, the show was slightly disappointing. The works on  car hoods – specifically the diagrams for them were interesting, but not much of the other works. It coincided with a packed-out session at Whitechapel Gallery, focusing on Judy Chicago’s career, her focus for art as activism and the longevity of her Dinner Party work.

Sarah lucas project space, situation at Sadie Coles gallery featured impressive floor-to-ceiling meat genetalia wallpaper in your face as you walked in the door, including the image of two massive decorated vulva. It was quite spectacular.

The Situation series, run over a month-long period was a courageous show, allowing for a rotating exhibition of works, installations, experimentation and development – works in the ‘kitchen’, on a sink, sitting on tables, hanging from the ceiling and projected onto the wall. It was the welcome antithesis of the ultra-sanitised work of the decidedly boring Richard Prince show downstairs.

Collectors also respond well to works in a space like that. Not every work has to be shrouded in whiteness in order to give it the right space to be.

a match made in heaven

leigh bowery and mike parr. at the kunsthalle wien.

could it get any more tailored to my tastes? only by adding patti smith and kanye west exhibitons in there…

leigh and mike are ongoing influences here at she sees red.

i’m bummed i didn’t know about mike’s artist talk and i am pretty sure i can’t make next week’s talk on extreme art and the body politic, but i’ll be getting to vienna at some stage to see these shows.

you heard it here first.

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Mostly artefacts and artifice: history in public

This week’s wrap-up stretches across museums and institutions concerned with history.

The Money Gallery: Britism Museum
The Money Gallery is a gallery that, would benefit from being properly expanded. The historical coinage/artefacts of trade are really interesting, including the chinese coins that didn’t change in 2000 years (that’s good design for you. The modern era of currency hasn’t really been explored that well and could unpack the nature of currency, value and monetary history.

The history of accounting was briefly covered with a monument to pretty much the first auditor, but could have expanded right out. Questions that could have been investigated include: How did accounting evolve? How did we, as a society, come to agree on ways of managing money? How did we establishing methods of checks and balances?
Given that money and trade and currency underpin society, British history and London as the centre of global Finance, I think it would give laymen an insight into finance and the ways in which it intersects with history, art and anthropology.

On the Road: British Library
The British Library is currently displaying the original scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Toad. It’s a beautiful object that just oozes that manic style of the book and connects history, the importance of collection and the legacy of beat poetry. You couldn’t really read the words on it – with low lux protecting the manuscripts integrity making it a little difficult – but there were chunks of break-out text that reminded me of how great the book is.

The Jewellery Gallery: Victoria and Albert Museum
As a compliment to the history of trade and artefacts at the british museum, the jewellery gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum is about craftsmanship and social identity through the history of personal ornamentation. Of course it could be waaaaay bigger but, for a mostly-private collection, It is still pretty amazing.  Although it rarely changes, it is a gallery that those living in or visiting London can pop into for inspiration and a reminder of the immense wealth and power that is conveyed through bespoke jewellery.

On the street: Blue Plaques
When not popping into museums, of course you still get to experience a sense of history about London and history through the blue plaques scheme.

We walk past places where REAL SHIT HAPPENED. Yesterday I came across the old residence of Emmeline Pankhurst. Being a foreigner, Emmeline Pankhurst has, until now, been just be a name in the history books, or a link on wikipedia. Not a real person who did amazing things! Yesterday I had a moment where the history of her life and the reality of mine suddenly connected. Lineage.

In Australia, I’m removed from that. Which is exactly why colonisation works – I’m completely divorced from the immense history of the land I was raised on because my ancestors killed pretty much everyone who could have possibly passed down that history. And, because I’m from english stock and so far from the sites of my family history, the concept of being connected to history is a little foreign to me. Which is why I’m particularly enjoying the cold, dark and grey city I’m in.

justin mortimer

I really like the Haunch of Venison’s Eastcastle Gallery.

Each time I’ve been in there, there’s a really great show on, and I can just enjoy the work. I’ve also always felt the staff to be friendly and open (not always a given in Central London galleries).

The show on there at the moment by Justin Mortimer is quite a beautiful show. Mortimer is a painter and, although I have a dysfunctional relationship with painting, this work (and other work of his I’ve seen recently) reminds me why the love exists in that love-hate relationship.
I also feel like Mortimer is addressing a new aesthetic in painting that I haven’t really noticed until now. That aesthetic is something that was actually brought in by photography – something that I call the Vice Mag/Richardson aesthetic. It’s one that, within the context of photography and media arts, I loathe. I cannot stand it and friends know not to mention Terry Richardson in my company if they don’t have 10 minutes to listen to me rant violently.
However, the translation of that harsh, party-party-fuck-me-i’m young-and-sinister look – its framing, lighting and composition – translates really well into painting. Especially in the hands of Mortimer. 
The slightly-detached position that painting affords a dark subject, using contemporary settings, naked youth, stark lighting allows these symbols and meaning of the work to filter through. The wasted youth aspect of the characters in Mortimers paintings are not People I Might Know as they are in Vice mag photo shoots (which is part of my problem with them). In these paintings, they become figures doing actions that i need to pay attention to. They aren’t as directly accessible anymore, so provoke me as a viewer to pay attention.
And yet these scenarios are those that are very much occurring right now. The inbuilt-camera-flash type of lighting contrast (different to actual chiaroscuro), the RGB monitor skin-tones, the urban backgrounds and ‘no pics it didn’t happen‘ style of framing are all those I’ve seen online for the last 5 years. 
This is not the 20th Century I’m looking at, here.
What I also like about these works is that they’re not trying to portray a life I might aspire to, but are not sanctimonious or baroque in codemnation. They’re gritty – possibly depraved – without taking themselves too seriously, and light without being glib (criticisms I have of other media using similar treatment). They’re symbolic, but not so overloaded that they’re confusing; realistic without being self-centered or mind-numbingly autobiographical.
And the great thing is that they don’t look as good in the book. They’re made to be paintings. They’re intended to be experienced as a discreet object, not just an image or a shorthand version of them.
I have issues with paintings that become photographs far too easily – they lose the essence of why using goopy, messy, expensive materials matter. Mortimers works, although drawing from photomedia, are not photos. They’re not even potential photos. They’re solid pieces of shimmering oil that have depth and movement and firmness all at once.
I’m going to go back several times for this one.
image credit: Haunch of Venison’s website
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