Thoughts of Growth and Loss: A review of Martin Creed, What’s The Point Of It?

 

Sitdowncomedian, and I took ourselves to the Martin Creed show at the Hayward gallery. We were both struggling a little, heavy hearts for different reasons, but found it a perfect antidote.

It was the first time I’ve seen the breadth and the depth of Martin Creed’s practice*.

Until this point, it’s only ever been catalogues, a few displays in group exhibitions/biennales/etc and a ramshackle live performance at Goldsmiths. I
 think the man is pretty great, I just didn’t realise how much until this show.
 
The thing about this show is that you just have to see it. You don’t even need to know anything more about it than that.  
 
Which renders this post a little superfluous. However, I will do my best to write something about it, so that you can make a point of seeing it.
 

Succinctly, it’s a show about ascendence (and descendence).

In as many ways you can possibly think of.
 
The curators at the Hayward have done a shit-hot job of taking you on a journey along that simple-but-profound-idea and it is immensely satisfying.
 
It is also the busiest show I’ve seen in a while, because of the frenetic and prolific nature of his work.
Yet  because of the size and the purity of his investigations, it’s not cluttered or overstated. Which feels an odd thing to say about a show that repeatedly speaks about the same thing over and over and over again.
Because he comes at it from a variety of angles, it is clear and pure – crystalline.

A diamond says the same thing about carbon over and over again and is brilliant and dazzling, without being bloated or overstated.
This show is like that.
 
Yes, I know, I just compared Martin Creed’s show to a diamond.
Perhaps I am guilty of overstating.
 

Anyway, without giving too much of the show away, you can look forward to highs and lows, ups and downs in a gorgeous cascade of variety, including:
 
Colour spectrums (ascending light/colour)
Musical scales (ascending and descending) on the piano – played by the security staff
Towers of boxes (ascending space)
Towers of other objects (ascending form and line)
Phallic cacti getting bigger/smaller (natural order)
Cocks doing the same 
A newly erected wall (it’s all about getting it up)
Even the ramp was blocked off (for clear reasons to do with safety) and you had to climb up and down those stairs.

Up and down, up and down, again and again and again.


It sounds like a Doctor Seuss book in visual form.

Perhaps it’s exactly like that – filled with direct poetry, profound ideas and joy joy joy for the hell of it.

 
A couple of nice and fitting diversions from the theme include the massive swinging MOTHERS sign. It didn’t wow me that much the second time around, but it is a crowd-pleaser.
 
The funny film of a dog and a couple of people tracking back and forth across the screen. It could be arbitrary, but it seemed to be triggered by people crossing the space, which I liked. And a cool trick with a car doing something similar;

The wall of tape – which was sort of like a colour spectrum, but more linear and ridiculous. 
Nipples and arseholes/nautical installations and objects, which were lovely (although not quite as lovely as Sue Webster and Tim Noble when they do similar things);
 

And a special mention to The Balloon Room. Although I was in no state to really plunge into that fit of joy on that day, by all accounts it was pretty exciting, if not a bit claustrophobic (like the Gormley White Light room). It is an installation that finely balanced childlike and simple joy, with opportunity for deep anxiety. That takes a certain skill.

The great wall of broccoli prints did something similar, although rather than anxiety, it produced a clear fantasy about being Martin Creed’s Broccoli Assistant:

 
(at a party)
“Oh, nice to meet you, what do you do”
“I work for Martin Creed, I’m his Broccoli Assistant”

with the business card:


Lauren Brown

Broccoli Assistant
Martin Creed Studios
London, UK


See? The exhibition takes you to some absurd places, without being obtusely, or disrespectfully ironic (everyone knows how much I hate irony as the core of an artwork). And because it is so generous, it also leaves plenty of room to dislike works without feeling left out or hating the whole show.


Like all good art shows should.


If you want a flourish for the well-rounded experience at the Hayward, pop across the way and head into the Royal Festival Hall, to the Singing Lift. It features his permanent ascending/descending sound work, which overlooks a different perspectve of the balloon room.

In fact, this added exterior perspective of the show was great and not something I had seen in many shows at the Hayward. It was a reflection of an exhibition which concerned itself with entirety.


From the outside ‘car park’, you could see the image of the two dogs on the side of the opposite building, and from exterior balcony, you looked towards the towers of The Shed and the Tate Modern – which had similar forms to those seen instide. (I did have a little wish that the tower of the Tate Modern had been painted in a colour spectrum by him, so it would tie all in nicely across that southern bank.)


Anyway, you should go and see the show.  I’m going back for seconds soon.

*I always call him by his full name Martin Creed. Just Creed or just Martin seems weird to me.

Image: pinched from the martin creed site itself.

Confiscated Childhood: A review of Afro Supa Hero and Confiscated Cabinet at the Museum of Childhood

It’s not far from where I live, but I had never been to the V&A’s Museum of Childhood before now. Crazy, huh. 

 

Anyway, last week I finally went to check out their two concurrent shows: Afro Supa Hero and Confiscated Cabinet

 
 

If I’m honest, the building itself shocked me a bit, reminding me of a starker version of the Pitt Rivers Museum (which is a weird museum – another story). It was all open and noisy. I don’t know why, but I was expecting more of a library, journey-type museum, rather than an (admittedly, gorgeous) open hall and with massive ceilings and balconies around the outside. 

 

I was also hungry at the time, so some of these opinions may be slightly skewed.

 
Wow, I’ve digressed already.
 


Afro Supa Hero – Jon Daniels


 

I loved the underlying idea behind Afro Supa Hero. I loved seeing the comics from the 1960s onwards –  I wished I could have read some of them there. I’m not even into comics that much, but there were some seemingly great action stories and ace history-based ones I wanted to peer into (especially the one about Harriet Tubman).

 

But the historical journey of Afro action figures and heroes was the really interesting bit. It was a relief to see a shift from their names being ‘Black XYZ’ to just XYZ. That’s polite of everyone.

 

Some renditions of famous black characters into toys was embarrassing – you could compare the printed image on the box to the way they’d been rendered in 3D and you could tell sometimes it was just like – “eh, we’ll just make White Lady Action Figure into darker skin and it’ll be fine!” Cringe.  

I learned that Jean-Michel Basqiat and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry have action figures (!!). Which is pretty rad, although i never really played with dolls (cough). And, on a selfish level, I was a bit bummed that Frozone from the Incredibles wasn’t in there. Maybe he’s missing for a reason. Like licensing blah blah. 
(Or maybe Jon Daniels doesn’t like Frozone?)

At the end of the historical/collectible action figures was Jon Daniels’ own super hero design.
And it was fly – matching mega afros, the earrings matching the goatie? red, yellow, green and black colours of Africa? Loved it. 

 

There were mock-ups and lego versions, although I really want to see them in production. Surely Momiji dolls need a new range – I would have bought some Afro Super Hero dolls, for sure.

Well, I say that, but I couldn’t afford to buy one of the cute mugs on sale, so who am I kidding ( I would like to think that the money went to Daniels himself and not back into the V&A merch pot)

But what Daniels’ show highlighted, of course, was the limitations of scope in action figures and super heroes and how that perpetuates the limitation of scope in pop culture of human beings, especially human beings of colour. Starting from the beginning. In childhood.

Super important issue to tackle.

 

And, here’s where I add to the problem: I wanted to draw even more out of that show. 

 

I wanted to extend it into a whole show about race and childhood and toys. 
Like, looking at the Mamie Clark research from the 1960s on colour dolls and how she changed the way race and childhood imagery was understood; it has had an influence in psychology, cultural studies, art and image-making and of course education. 

And I could totally imagine a wider scope that takes those ideas, includes the excellent ones from Daniels’ work and extends even further – Makie dolls, Bratz, Barbie, Fino and Bino dolls, Home-made toys/dolls from non-western cultures, etc.

 

I wanted to see more, not because I’m culturally greedy (although there is that), but because the influence toys/dolls have on us as adults is significant.

With them we learn to play, to associate, develop identity, understand our body and the abstraction of the internal experience to a external object in identification – we boil down our expansive selves into these very particular objects.

 

And a show like that would become a museum show about the history of where limitation starts. The history of where adults decide how small a box they can squeeze future adults into, in order to get the best possible outcome for current adults.

 

Wouldn’t THAT be a cool show to see?

 
OK, I’m being a bit ascerbic, but I do think that, given the influence of dolls from childhood into adulthood, especially when it comes to race and culture, it’s a massive topic that deserves even more attention.
 

And speaking of home-made toys/dolls….

 
Confiscation Cabinets – Guy Tarrant
 
 
 

These cabinets of confiscation were fascinating: A collection of toys/weapons/objects that have been confiscated from school children over the last 30 years.

Hand-written notes, those paper-based things girls play with, knives, flame-throwers (what?!), stones, playing cards, chewing gum, etc.

 

It was organised according to ‘age’ and ‘gender’. Two cabinets each for girls, two for boys. Two for lower grades and two for higher grades.

 

That sorting in itself intrigued me. 
Yes, there are obvious links between boys and girls of similar ages. But i think it also would be interesting to make the cabinets sortable in different ways. 
Like, actual age – what do all 9-year olds hide. 

Or chronology – all the things confiscated in 1991, or 2007. 
Maybe even by kind of school – what do grammar school kids bring and what do comprehensive school kids bring?
Actually, given the place of class and schooling in the UK, that would be particularly enlightening.

 

Vack to the display at hand, it was still enlightening for me, as a woman (who was previously a girl at a catholic primary and single-sex private high school) to see what was gendered. 
So it wasn’t just in my school – girls really do use words as weapons. And vanity is a weakness (one conditioned, I argue).

So much make up, cruel notes and there was a chewing gum/hair attack sample that was simultaneously gross and stark reminder of the nature of our attack/defence tactics: long-lasting and shame-based.

 

Boys? Garden-variety violence.

I knew it, but the image of some of the sticks and metal rods brought to highschools still made me go a little weak at the knees. How the hell you’re supposed to cultivate nuanced social interaction when that’s a threat, I have no idea. The fact that men grow up to be sensitive at all? Bravo. Hats off to the sensitive ones!

 
 
 
A History of Childhood

I do wish shows like both of these could be seen and talked about more. Especially because, given that we all have childhoods and those become our adulthoods/society at large, it’s amazing that more people aren’t fascinated with the history of the small but constant ways in which we really belittle ourselves as humans.

 

I know, clear reminders of painful history and the failings of the human condition is not traditionally a thing that we enjoy pondering over on a wet Sunday (except if you’re in a cinema), but I think I would like them to be.

 

Perhaps if we could see these childhoods in museums (in an abstract way) and how they project forward, we might be better able to make decisions about our own adulthoods, or any childhoods we may be in the business of influencing right now.


Details:
Afro Super Hero
14 September 2013 – 9 February 2014

Confiscation Cabinets 
9 November 2013 – 1 June 2014

At V&A Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Rd, London E29PA

images pinched from the V&A Museum of Childhood site.

word. sound. power: an exhibition review

A few weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny day in London, my fellow smart-lady, Zana, and I covered ourselves in wordiness along the southern bank of the Thames.

We sandwiched the BFI’s screening of Right On! between visits to the Tate Modern Project Space for their brilliant exhibition Word. Sound. Power.

Right On!

The Herbert Danska film is of the (original) Last Poets –  late-60s poets, performers, griots-if-you-will, from New York City. And crucial influences on the development of rap and hip-hop.

It was an amazing film, consisting of an 80-minute flow through eight pieces by the trio, backed by drums, costume changes and amazing black male power on a hot summer afternoon/evening.

The series of spoken word performances –  poems, matras, incantations –  were performed, spat and hand-delivered from the rooftop of a hot Harlem block on a sunny afternoon in 1970, to a dark soporific theatre in London.

As the sun tripped from east to west across the sky, the trio: Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, interchanged between lead performer. The different forms for each poets flow, their particular voice and rhythm were mesmerising and supported by a powerful drums, occasional dance and the uhs, ahas and energy of the other two artists.

Works like Poetry is Black, Jazz and James Brown were not so much choreographed, but embodied. As crucial element of the relationship between words and the body, between the themes of race, sexuality, white power and poverty, as they came spilling out.

 

 

Word. Sound. Power

Whenever I think about this show, lyrics from the Sub Swara ft Dead Prez song Speak My Language (Machinedrum Mix) comes flooding into my mind:

“This is word sound power, this is rebel soul.

This phenomenal exhibition is rebel soul, curated by two amazing women in conjunction with the fantastic KHOJ artists collective from India. It features 6 artists making work about sound, the voice, the word and power (not that you needed my help in making that leap).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has two works in the show. His work with Janna Ullrich, Conflicted Phenomes (pictured, pinched from the Tate website) is visual research and data map of Somali spoken language tests enforced to ascertain cultural original, to satisfy criteria for refugee status. As a data excercise on its own, it’s quite beautiful – with its graphic keys to each person’s relationships and language connections

As a reflection of official policy on the business of people’s asylum and freedom implemented by outsourced agents, without checks or balances, it’s creepy.

I was originally suprised to see that Australia uses this for their immigration processes. Then I really remembered Australia’s immigration processes and was unsurprised again.

His other work in the show, The Whole Truth, shines a light on the relationship between the place in which the voice and power intersect: the Lie Detector; When the voice is used to support incarceration, the place in which a person’s (political) voice is removed – according to Foucault.

Caroline Bergvall‘s word drawing and spoken piece was quiet, but striking. A poem, with all of the letter o-s taken out, and placed on the opposite wall, creating a spacial relationship to the word and the sentiment, supported by the surround sound work. It was simple, but I felt things.

Zana and I went back twice to see Mithu Sen perform I am a Poet and both times we missed her – she cancelled one performance, as it was too much to do too many in the day, and then she must have finished the reading early, because it was already over by the time we arrived after the movie. We were both super disappointed because we wanted to hear her.

But her work in the gallery is interesting and engaging nonetheless. I loved her underlying premise of nonsense as resistence. The language is crucially human and that defying the technology of language, there is a core resistance of all that is human.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum and his videos Arise and Keep Evans Safe Tonight were seemingly a major focus for the exhibition. Although, to be honest, I didn’t feel like they were as crucial to the themes of the show as some of the other works, or the exhibition as a whole. Just my opinion.

The interviews in KEST were quite lovely, giving young men a voice and ability to speak out. I especially enjoyed the KEST boys speaking of the common diasporic experience of going back to the land of one’s parents and suddenly feeling the ease of a culture that is deep within.

Added to the work in the gallery, the essays in the catalogue were amazing.

Both women speak about the relationship between sound, power, culture in different, but equally engaging, ways. They provided second and third angles on the underlying themes of the show, providing a solid triumvirate, reflecting the title itself.

Hansi Momodu-Gorden from Tate Modern writes about the experience of sound, referencing Brandon La Belle and speaking about it as a means of creating an ‘aesthetic space’ and the apparatus of the vocal, quoting Louis Chude-Sokei.

Asmita Rangari – Andi from Khoj speaks about the privilege of using the voice (and other sound means) to speak out – the ability and agency to articulate and the place of silence in this privilege.

The place of words, sound and power in contemporary aesthetics, culture and politics are particularly present at this time and the exhibition is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in any of these things, as well as the ways in which political ideas can be presented aesthetically not didactically.

The exhibition is on until November 2013.

Crying in exhibitions: Review of [re]locate at Bermondsey project space

I’ve seen thousands of exhibitions and some really inspiring and moving shows. I have lists of biennales, collections, artist-run things and performance showings on this blog.

The list of shows I’ve cried at is very small. It consists of  just two: Vernon Ah Kee’s this man… this woman... at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane and the new addition Tahera Aziz‘s [re]locate at bermondsey project space.

You can read about the vernon ah kee response in this post.

Background: twenty-year anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Children’s deaths are never pleasant – they are a reminder about the rotten nature of humanity. And when a child’s death also exposes the cancerous way in which we protect that rottenness, it’s especially heinous.

I’m not from the UK, so my experience of this show was as an outsider who had heard only a whisper of the murder case – primarily when the killers were finally convicted not long before I arrived here. But the case and the media/culture surrounding it holds a key place in the London psyche.

The work: audio documentary
The crux of the work at the amazing Bermondsey Project Space is the audio work. It is a darkened sound space – no visual stimulus at all, but a surround-sound, multi-channel re-interpretation of the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Different characters in different sides of the room, some are more audible than others. The people at the bus stop (witnesses), the police ‘responding’ to the crime, the locals living in the area, Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks, people who were first on the scene and the perpetrators.

It was an intense interpretation/dramatisation/re-enactment of the events of that night, in which a young black boy was killed for his race and in which the police were responsible for the lengthy delay in bringing about justice.

As a viewer, I became a ‘witness’ to the crime with zero agency. Completely unable to change anything about the course of events playing out to my ears. Immediately I felt fear, frustration and absolute despair at the ongoing racism, violence and the negligence from the state (and their representatives).

I felt my whiteness and my complicity.
And it is painful.

The contextual imagery, timeline and books about the case shown in the second room were also really helpful for someone like me who is outside the immediate throng of the case (including the incredibly role of the Daily Mail, risking litigation and challenging the police to charge the murderers).

It’s probably not new for those who lived through it to see all the stuff. But it is still powerful.

I also felt the nature of my privilege in that case. I have the chance to view this stuff objectively, to feel the sadness, despair, rage and then walk away. It’s not my life. It’s not my (immediate) community’s life. And it’s not the kind of thing I suffer.

Despite that, it reminded me of the countless Australian death-in-custody cases, the TJ Hickey case – the frustrating and ongoing institutional racism, especially enacted on young black men in the streets across the world.

After experiencing the work, I sat for ages and watched the astounding documentary secret policeman, which exposed the phenomenal amount of institutional racism in the UK police force. It’s jaw-dropping and unsurprising at the same time. I had never seen anything like it – certainly no Australian police force, or journalist, would dig that deep or go to that length.

I left feeling completely gutted. It’s not often I leave a show like that and it felt amazing.
As a whole, it is a work that facilitates immense feelings and to that end, it is spectacular.

There are a stack of events associated with the exhibition – sadly i had to miss last night’s screening of john akomfrah‘s handsworth songs (1987), but will be there next week for the conversation on expanding the documentary from outside the field of vision.

You must go and see this work. Really.

art13

On the first weekend of March I went to Art 13, yet another art fair in London. It didn’t feature any of the super-large galleries, which I quite liked, but did include galleries selling high-calibre work, a few more-experimental spaces, some publications and a performance focus.

It wasn’t so OTT that it was incomprehensible, but it had enough muscle to present a powerful view of art from the UK – with some galleries from Europe, Asia and South Africa.

Method


Because art fairs, like biennales, can be simultaenously overwhelming and underwhelming, you need to have a clear method for maximising your experience.

I was lucky enough to be able to go over 2 days. and, I have to say, over that time I think I nailed it. I did a loose sweep of the spaces of Friday and made it a bit social, catching up for drinks with Simone of discoballbreaker fame.


New galleries
I’m not a long-time londoner, but I do visit galleries fairly regularly, so it was refreshing and enlightening to see some of these new-to-me galleries, meet some of the staff and get a feel for what kinds of works they’re showing.

Fold gallery were showing a series of small works, mostly 2D, showcasing the intimate and accessible aspects of their artists’ capabilities. I quite liked the relief sculptures by Mark Pearson, totems of bands like Wall of Voodoo* The rest of the show also struck me as something uplifting and comforting – like I could have walked into someone’s home with a series of small works on the wall. Small enamel graphic paintings, patterns, etc.

Aando gallery is a German gallery which I had seen at a couple of the (comparitively awful) Berlin art fairs during my. It was great to see their works again, especially the work of a German pair  Andreas Greiner and Armin Kiplinger – a live sculpture of evaporating water drops, forming perfect spheres of joy, rolling around on a hot plate, fed from a drip feeder. So simple and beautiful.

In my palatial home, I would have it in the hallway.
That’s just how I would roll. In my palatial home.

Zimmermann & Kratochwill
When I wandered into this gallery space from the crew in Graz, what struck me was the images of nail art. The artist Poklong Anading was using the trend to talk about unskilled labour in the Phillipines. The curious objects on the wall were relevant to the process. I also saw a previous body of work featuring the cleaning rags found on the streets of Manila and really liked the singularity of focus and the street-references.

IMT
I have been meaning to get to IMT since forever. It was great to see what they were showing and I really liked the coal eyes for the wall by Laura Pawela (above).

It was such a simple idea and, from a commercial perspective, such a great piece. Cast silicone, coated in coal (which initially I though she meant kohl) and mounted on the wall at the height of the artist. Although, I guess they could be mounted at your height, or any person’s height really. I love the idea that the works come with measurements – how high to hang them. And that their this slightly creepy, but incredibly beautiful works.

Performance

The last few art fairs I’ve been to have had lots of talks, but not so much actual performance and I don’t remember being at one that had a booth and a rolling programme dedicated to it. Even if i didn’t get to see too much of it, it was an excellent piece of planning and it helped to make the fair more of an event

I got to see about 10 minutes of the Juneau Projects (above) and their bleak futuro-romantic epic based on future centered wholly around data mining, information and post-civilsiation. They read a spoken text work and played intruments – fluoro-pimped synthesisers, surrounded by fluoro plexi-glass toys and wearing wooden amulets. It was like Children of Men, Kraftwerk and last year’s H&M range all in a blender.

I enjoyed watching it, and having something to watch. Although, the aesthetic, which is part of the current fluoro-woodsy-scando-flavour left me cold and the content slightly depressed. Probably because I’m still in denial and the truth hurts.

Ceri Hand
As someone whose work has hovered between installation, drawing, performance, etc – it’s always refreshing to know that there are galleries who are working with artists to expand that kind of practice into a way to  maybe make a living from it. It’s not easy and it’s not perfect, but Ceri Hand are one of the galleries who are continuing to have the conversation with collectors and artists to bring them together in a way that can serve both sides as much as possible.

Despite my meh kind of attitude towards photography (which is entirely subjective), the performance detail from Bedwyr Williams with false beard, smeary make-up, damsel-in-distress look was striking and an obvious entry point into what performance brings to art collections.

Șükran Moral is a performance artist from Turkey whose work at the Galeri Zilberman stand was of a female mannequin in the middle of the space; legs-up, like in gynaecology stirrups, with a TV hiding her cunt. The movie was of a naked woman coming out of a haman, being covered by an attendent. Although the word Șükran has no significance in Turkish per se, I love the that pronunciation of her name in Arabic/English is the equivalent of ‘Thank You Moral’. What a great performance name. It goes so well with the edgy pushing work that she makes.

I love contemporary Turkish art – especially that of a performative nature and a lot of women are keening, striving to break out. I saw a lot of it at TANAS in Berlin (thanks to the big Turkish contingent there) and I feel like they have a sense of freedom and energy that loads of European artists are unable to access at the moment.

Publications

Jealous
Their centrepiece was a gorgeous A0 book open to a beautiful shade of aaaah-zure blue, referring to the seas of the world: Thomas Jenkins’ Atlas.

With real focus on print collaboration, they work with emerging artists to create limited edition print-based shows and publications to extend their practices. It reminded me a little of Lucas, Micky and Diego at Big Fag Press, but a little more white-glove. They’re a great gallery/project to be involved with.

Outsiders
I didn’t manage to get back in time to see the live print-run, but Outsiders (the print-arm of Lazarides gallery) had set up ‘shop’/press in the space and were printing and handing out free posters of some of their artists.

I have a bit of a hard-on for Conor Harrington at the moment, so it was great to see a couple of his prints kicking about. I coveted. Hard.

Given that, In a recession people don’t have as much disposable income to spend on blingy things like art, having a print arm is excellent business from Laz & Co and loads of people would leave the fair with a print or two under their arm, that will eventually become an original some day soon.

There were more traditional magazine publication stands along one side of the main hall, but they were pretty light on.

I know that everyone goes on about how print media is dead, blah blah, but I think somethig extra special could have been done with the magazines – online and offline that do continue to bring art to our mediated minds: e-flux, artsy, artinfo, zines, small magazines and even art bloggers. Ahem.

Education
Mind had a stall, showcasing a series of work by Simon Sempel and giving away a free poster of his. Focusing on mental health, Mind have a project working with artists to highlight mental health issues and work with artists on related projects, insittutions, etc.

I am personally interested in what Mind are up to inconjunction with artists, because I have an ongoing belief that artists need to be embedded across most public sectors in order to provide a different kind of relationship to art.

I also think it’s important to include these kinds of organisations/projects in Art Fairs – not just for awareness, but from an investment point of view. It could be an interested area to pursue in art fairs, an investor information section that supports organisations like Mind, those embedding artists in schools and prisons, etc.

Large sculpture

Some of the projects for the art fair weren’t quite as embedded as they could be – certainly not as much as I’ve seen in other art fairs.

The inflatable and mechanical flower by korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa, opening and closing/inflating and deflating at intervals – like something out of a nature time-lapse movie. It was so simple and so captivating, I regressed to a 5-year old and just enjoyed it. Imagine waking to that as your alarm clock in your palatial home? Hello, opening flower! OK, so it’s nothing conceptually rigorous or challenging and is in EVERY art fair right now, but hey, sometimes art just needs to make me feel like waking up in the morning OK?

El-Anatsui is always a crowd pleaser and seeing a couple of his gorgeous, gorgeous works is like seeing your nan. A smile of nostalgia and comfort. He will always sell well and I am glad about that.

Obelisk by Michaël Aerts

Made from custom road-cases, this sculpture is the imagined means by which a trad art piece might be transported around the world – complete with a pulley system and modular road-cases. As a form it was fun, alluding to the globalised nature of art, the practicality to public art and gallery logistics. Also perhaps a reference to how a lot of art purchased for large collections ends up in storage in warehouse somewhere.
Overall, there was some new and interesting work to see, and there is still a market for good work for people to buy and that perhaps the commercial aspect to art isn’t quite as dull or insipid as I had previously perceived.

Death: Mike Nelson and Susan Hiller

I have the great fortune of living around the corner from Matt’s Gallery. 

This is especially fortunate when the day is wet and cold and the gallery’s private view is so full that people are queuing down the street in the rain to get into a Mike Nelson installation.

Which is what it was like a few weeks’ ago when I went.

The Mike Nelson and Susan Hiller shows are an excellent combination of contemporary British Art. I like both artists for different reasons, so it felt like a two-for-one deal – great bang for your buck.

Mike Nelson

The insane passage of human bodies that preceeded More things (To the memory of Honoré de Balzac)  is mostly due to the fact that there is so much sculpture – fairly delicate sculpture – jammed into the gallery, requiring a 6-person limit. It also has the added bonus of generating a fair amount of hype and, if I’m generous, perhaps is the real Mike Nelson at work.

Especially because the work inside the gallery is kooky but not what I have come to know from his work.

Yes, there’s his wild-west aesthetic that we all know and love, a few dramatic and poignant pieces – especially an intense assemblage work featuring an Israeli produce box, Arabic signage, American Op.Desertstorm badge and an ‘enter at own risk’ sign – but not the usual installation and spatial influence that thrills me.

The element of surprise or unexpectedness in his work is not obvious, apart from the casual ‘oh, it’s a skull’ and a little more of  ‘oh, this isn’t like his usual work’ reaction, which isn’t satsifactory. It probably means I didn’t try hard enough.

Susan Hiller
On the day of intense queuing, Channels, the Susan Hiller room, was as much a physical respite from the crowds as an aesthetic balance for the Nelson work.

A largely-empty room, with the entire back wall filled with TV sets and screens of various sizes, colours and content. Mostly graphic (not uncomfortable, I mean, plain colours, lines, like graphic design), the screen sculpture conveyed the rhythm of conversations played out – a series of interviews on people’s near-death experiences.

Green oscillators, static, black screens, blue screens and the occasional flicker give an appropriate ‘backdrop’ for listening to sound works: documentary and fractured, you can dip in and out of these stories in the way that radio functions at its best. Or you can sit and stare mesmerised as your eyes wander over the faint rhythm of slowly changing screens as you listen to the whole narrative of these people’s deaths.

The place of light in the space is great, as the audience are bathed in this pale blue light, ghostly and slightly horrific (especially if you’ve ever watched either version of The Ring).

These two works together, opposed creates a beautiful and uncanny death theme running across the gallery, which I loved. The movement from this mortal coil from two different perspectives: hers from direct but calm curiosity in the active dying moments of people’s lives, to his deserted, Death Valley, departed graveyard of symbols that allude to it.

The exhibitons are on until the 14th April, so head to Mile End and check it out and feel free to pop over for a cup of tea afterwards.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx