Thursday, 29 November 2007

“Is All Modern Art Left – Wing?”
Debate at the South Bank Centre, London 14/11/2007

Daniella Saul

An hour and a half of heated debate about the current state of contemporary art practice, was the promise on The Art Fund website. As part of a series of talks organised by the Art Fund and chaired by Tim Marlow, head of exhibitions at White Cube, this one attracted four high profile speakers to address the question. A controversial artist, Grayson Perry, a Tory politician, Ed Vaizey (also the Shadow Minister for Culture), an arts consultant for a research institute into multiculturalism, Munira Mirza, and Jonathan Yeo, the British celebrity’s portrait artist of choice who recently painted a porno- portrait of George W. Bush. After three tentative introductions by the panellists about themselves, Ed Vaizey proclaimed rather predictably that he would make his sound like a party political broadcast. In his opinion, all modern art is actually right – wing. Which art? Does this mean all Modern Art and Contemporary Art?

Surely in order to conduct a legitimate debate about art practice one must first define their borders. Assuming that the audience all know that he means Contemporary Art, he argues that since this art is highly individualistic, made by entrepreneurial artists and “is concerned with freedom of expression” this makes it art of the right, and not of the left. This sounds more like a Conservative defence of neo-liberal economics and its conditions for art-making rather than defining any political leaning in the content of the work. Any weighty counterpoint to this was unsurprisingly absent from Jonathan Yeo’s remarks, who’s only claim to fame is his rebellious schoolboy attempt at “leftist art” with his portrait of George W. Bush collaged from pornographic images. So far, all of Vaizey’s examples of contemporary art used to illustrate his points seem to have been plucked straight from typical sensationalist media coverage of the work of the old YBA canon.

If this art is the justification for his point that British Contemporary art is not engaged in current political debate, perhaps he should look more closely at what other artists besides Damien Hirst are doing. Grayson Perry’s glazed ceramic pots have long been surfaces on which to satirize the politics of the art world, and paint delicately worded messages from “Heteros Murder Children” to “Muslims Are Softies.” Surely this counts as an engagement with current political issues on some level. However, to suggest, as Munira Mirza does, that British artists should make work that explicitly addresses sensitive issues such as Islamophobia and immigration quickly turned the debate away from art and more into a Question Time style political discussion that Tim Marlow had to try hard to contain. Somewhat lost in the turn in the debate was one of Grayson Perry’s remarks which made more than enough sense as to what he thinks Contemporary Art should be doing with regards to politics: “Well it’s no good asking me. I put forward the question in the work. I don’t answer it.” Exactly that, asking the questions about the world we live in, not solving its problems.
Jaki Irvine - "In A World Like This" Chisenhale Gallery, 31st October - 9th December 2007 - Daniella Saul

The viewer entering the Chisenhale Gallery’s expansive space would be forgiven for thinking he has just walked into the fresh open-air again, not into the East –end chill outside, but into a rehabilitation centre for birds of prey. Irish artist Jaki Irvine’s new show comprises a nine screen video projection shot at the Irish Raptor Research Centre in County Sligo, Ireland. At The Eagles Flying Centre, Irvine recorded the rehabilitation processes of neglected, injured birds. The nurturing relationships fostered with their handlers are set to a cacophonous soundtrack of squawks, bells on the birds’ necks clanging intermittently and encouraged calls from their handlers.

The birds’ promising progress, captured by Irvine as a snapshot of typical day’s activity fosters a budding emotive type of spectating on the part of the viewer. This is achieved entirely through the arrangement and size of the projections onto the gallery’s walls and the timing of certain images onto the walls. This arrangement re-creates the probable spatial arrangement of the centre’s open terrain, with a focus on three poles of activity : the birds’ at rest, their trusting relationships with their handlers, and their flying exercises. The viewer enters the space into another almost square space in the centre of the gallery, built from two walls forming an L- shape, leaving the top left and bottom right hand corners of the space open. This is the flying arena, where the birds swoop from their handlers arms, in sometimes tentative and hesitant flight, to a target further away. The viewer is a privileged audience to a rare and triumphant spectacle. In this double L-shaped space, depending on the direction of the bird’s flight, the viewer must shift both their gaze and body in order to follow its direction. To the right hand side of the gallery space, a continuous projection shows resting birds perching majestically on various posts scattered in an expanse of greenery. To the left hand side, on four smaller screens, the nurturing relationships between the birds and their three handlers can be seen as the handlers seem to pose with their vulnerable charges perching on their elbows, as if for their portraits. The viewer’s sense of curiosity to repeatedly return to each of the screens is created by the sonority of bird calls across the gallery, impossible though it may be to be sure of any connection between them.

Linear narrative is eschewed here, in favour of creating a poignancy individual to each of the areas of activity one sees captured in the images. Irvine’s work is a looped projection and within it the activities depicted in each of the three areas all occur in real time. However, their duration seems interminable as this work captures a moment of progress in an ongoing enterprise, suspending it for the viewer to revel in its success.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

I Make Up - Tom Trevatt

12th January 1765, 20th May 1990 and 2nd December 2005

…this actuality that calls forth I, preserved, persevered, sublimated. That holds back in ineluctable prominence. That maintains division, disillusion, distinction. This actuality dramatising the symbolic of inconsequential I-ness…

…as one ascends the escalator at Southwark station, the sky is presented as geometric patterns, blue glass on walls and roof of the intermediate concourse, a vaulted wonder, the dome…

… for the last time mascara is applied, small drops of tears carry black blobs of this stuff down cheeks staining the fucking sofa…

…Les Deux Plateaux, a non-monument, erupts as imagined planes across the Palais-Royal in Paris. Buren prefers the term “polygons” for these fluted columns due to their cross section, the trademark 8.7cm stripes offering the various sides to these shapes…

… IKB #002FA7…

…the subject is said to exceed itself in communication. This excess of the subject, whereby it overflows in communication, allows community as such to occur since it means we are not isolated as discrete identities…

…the architects Future Systems used International Klein Blue behind the aluminium disks on the outside of the Bullring in Birmingham…

…we play this game. You stand in a street, maybe a shopping centre is best. There are just two of you, it doesn’t work otherwise. And one person discretely starts following someone. The other person then has to follow behind and try and guess who it is the first person is following. The trick is to do it so casually that you fool them into thinking you’re not following anyone at all…

…I am indirectly responsible for, among other things, the death of adequate resistance, architectural incompetencies that caused the structural decay of a cottage in South Devon, the switch in swallow’s migration patterns, the Cold War, the death and mutilation of thousands of innocent children in Vietnam and Cambodia due to landmine accidents every year, Global Warming, the certain demise of a number of highly suspicious donkeys, lack of humanitarian aid, the spread of HIV, Syphilis and Chlamydia, Timothy McVey, the heartbreak of someone I love, the mounting trepidation one feels when watching a horror film, sunrise but not sunset, the abrupt reconciliation of subject into object, not putting out self-immolators (you wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire - for fucks sake I can’t go in a urinal if I think someone else is on the room), the decline of the Welfare State, increase in taxes, decrease in taxis and numerous counts of liver damage…

…on the outskirts of London there is no-one…

…so there’s this girl called Idriel or something, maybe Sara, and she is a empty vessel, so fucking representative of nothing that the only way she can express herself is by becoming a fan of something. A fanatic. So she starts up this website and on it lists all the things she is a fan of. Like Kill Bill, Douglas Adams, Dresden Dolls, Luna Lovegood (whoever that is), IKB, American Gods and so on. But she’s not just a fan of these things, she has joined a fan listing online to claim her fanship of this or whatever.Its crazy, like she defines herself by who or what she likes…

…even bare walls look barer now, its not as though they got less full of matter just in one day…

RCA Secret Exhibition - Sophie Risner

16 - 23 November 2007

Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore

‘Have we time, in this world of ours, to love things and see them in close range, in the plenitude of their smallness'

Gaston Bachelard

Postcards through-out history have been moments or 'extraordinary assemblages.' The recount of long forgotten places and lands discovered relayed back to loved ones. Whether they are hand-made or purchased by the side of the road they espouse meaning and discovery, whilst simultaneously managing to be a personally constructed account geared to a certain audience or set of eyes. Postcards are whimsically kept and ordered, filled into place by their receivers, only to be pulled out again through moments of nostalgia. Postcards it seems have become and still are, a perfectly viable form of communication through art and beyond tourism. As technology becomes the communication de rigueur in a world permeated by the world wide web it is still enamoring to see that postcards are still used and even better still embellished upon for the sake of art.

The RCA Secret exhibition is held annually at the Gulbenkian Gallery, the main space on entering the building which is situated next to the Royal Albert Hall. The show itself has been running for 14 years and has secured quite a substantial sum for young artists during their studies, with this years show raising over £90, 000. The shows main pull is the amount of celebrity artists that still submit work and this year was no exception, with the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Yoko Ono and Greyson Perry.

With a show such as this there is a difficulty in critiquing aesthetic as every detail of originality through curatorship is regimented through an age-old display model. I've been attending the show for 3 years and not once has the layout or the running system ever changed. This may be why the show neatly fits into the structured remit of a typically unadventurous RCA project. Steeped in tradition it's a show or rather showcase of work that doesn't beg you to unnaturally 'think.' It begs no questions and demands no authority. In fact the RCA Secret exhibition seems to barely make a blip on the London Arts Calendar at all. This is not to discredit its role, what it lacks in adventure and doesn't command in ambition, it makes up for in representation. I'm not talking about the obvious possibility of owning an original Hirst or walking away with a sketch by Quentin Blake, I'm talking about the role of representing art practice from outside of the London art network. Smaller practices up and down the country get the opportunity to become involved in a international show in a well known arts institution. This could be seen as charity in itself.

'The artist, freed from the burden of subjectivity, present their gifts from the other side of themselves, swaying as they do the timbre of the multitude.'

Richard Falls, November 2007

In this sense there is a structural coming-together of artists and their work, the unifying of latter known and famous artists under one roof with one rule and completely anonymous. This is the glory of the RCA Secret show. The fact that a smaller artist practice can rest on the same ledge and next to a well known artist is a dynamic that is rarely seen within the constructs of a central London art space. This isn't just a subtle comment for the shows success but the reason why year-in-year-out people find time in their busy schedule to visit it, and more importantly artists find time to create for it. What it lacks in theme and curatorial direction it makes up for in an autonomous appreciation of image as image not on merit of name as image. Another point of justification for the success of this show doesn't have to come from the amount of money it generates for RCA students, but as a bench mark moment of appreciation for works outside of London that wouldn't and doesn't get a voice within London. Saying this the very anonymous nature of the show could counter balance that. To reflect on the Richard Fall quote above is to justify that the small offerings by each individual artist are symbolic elements of the multi-faceted paralleling of practices throughout the UK and beyond. A major force in the art world this is not, but as a tributing factor that maintains and keeps alive many unspoken moments of artistic production and progression RCA Secret it is.

Capital Letters for Duplicity

(In a room with Robert Morris and Carl Andre)
Written by Catherine Borra

I looked away from the window for the light was too strong.
I turned back to the room and wondered if there would be any difference, yet no: all the steel square plates were there, arranged to form some bigger square: not great, nor grand; just bigger.
The squares reflected the blank, white shades of the room in the same, non-obvious, opaque way, just as they were doing before, and they themselves were reflected by the mirrored sides of four cubes engaged in an infinite mute dialogue, between each other.
Objects. Objects! You cannot have any great relationship with a motionless form that engages so little with its contingencies: the squares will stare up at the cubes like a bed-ridden old man that has lost his glasses, and the cubes will toss a glance back to them, still absorbed in their everlasting picture frame of uncontaminated perfectness. This could go on forever. I was clearly uninvited.
I was pushed back, put on a hold – numbed by the rigueur of this private act. I was to disturb if it interrupted the scene with some new reflection. What was left was me, with no particular need for prevalence, no expectation or special need, no need to step out from my own privateness, but willing to wait for a while.
And finally it happened: a horde of school-children rushed into the room, a horde of little prevailing Is, each with its own particular smell and voice-tone, so strong that they disrupted the silence of the cube and square dialogue.
Cubes and squares just had to look around, no matter how hard they concentrated. They were stepped on and they were contaminated with all kinds of fragmented reflections.
There were dashes of colour flying around the air.
This was enough to shake I out of its seclusion and join in the tension. I is a social individual after all.

Compagnie Beau Geste – Transports Exceptionnels – Southbank Centre’s Jubilee Gardens, London.

Sunday 7 October 2007

Reviewed by Catherine Borra

On Sunday 7/10, the experimental artistic group Compagnie Beau Geste presented a ballet called Transports Exceptionels at the Southbank Centre’s Jubilee Gardens.
This fascinating choreography is a duet accompanied by the music of Samson and Dalila by Camille Saint Saens, featuring the voice of everlasting opera star Maria Callas. The opera from which the music comes from is fundamental, because the protagonists of this piece are none but French dancer and choreographer Philippe Priasso, accompanied by a mechanical digger. Yes, a digger.
Maybe one wouldn’t think of such a machine performing contemporary dance - however experimental the ballet might be – but this challenge towards traditional and more harmonic forms of representation results into a surprisingly graceful and sometimes witty performance.
The man is creating a relationship with the machine, constantly moving between friendship and love: concepts such as protection (on the diggers side) and childish playfulness (on the Priasso’s side) emerge from this 360° sensual double act. Yet at times, something like rebelliousness and domination accompany the actors’ feelings, although we cannot be sure of who starts off. Of course, the digger is not just a machine as it appears to have a human origin/derivation: its spade is more like a huge hand than a bulk of iron whose intent is to dig wholes. The rise of humanity and of consciousness inside this contraption is similar to that of a robot: there is some struggle for the man to maintain his power despite of his physical weakness, but in the end the positions are decided and the digger bows its head / hand.
In a short story by sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov called “Robby”, a family robot decides it wants to become human at any cost. Other than being an issue regarding so-called “robot psychology”, this is just a desire of belonging that we can often encounter between humans as well: surprisingly, despite its oversized metal clumsiness, this robot-like machine turns out to be more similar to a spoilt child in need of attention.

The Affirmation - Sophie Risner

The Affirmation

Chelsea Space (Chelsea College of Art and Design)
16 John Islip Street

07.11.07 - 15.12.07
Curated by Andrew Hunt

Artists Involved:
Paul and Steven Claydon
Kajsa Dahlberg
Chris Evans
Robert Garnett
Babak Ghazi
Mark McGowen
Goshka Macuga
Elizabeth Price
Mandla Reuter
Jamie Shovlin
Matthew Thompson
Tris Vonna-Michell

Don't be fooled into thinking that this exhibition is in any way as obvious as its title - 'The Affirmation,' a show based on the same-titled 1981 novel by Christopher Priest is an incredibly enterprising collective exhibition. As you may witness from the large list of artists above 'The Affirmation' symbolizes an exuberance hard to comprehend within the realms of such a small gallery space such as the one offered at Chelsea.

The Christopher Priests novel looks into the mind set of Peter Sinclair a man 'tormented by bereavement and failure.' Sinclair, a man on the edge, decides to move into the countryside and a life of isolation after a failed marriage and losing his job in the city. Whilst hidden away Sinclair embarks on an autobiography. Sinclair soon finds himself writing the autobiography of another man 'affirming' a parallel identity in an imagined world, a persona whose sinister attractions draws him further in.' A tale it seems of tragedy that ends in ultimate madness.

Andrew Hunt, Co-Editor of 'Untitled' magazine and curator of this show requested that each of the thirteen artists invited respond through their work to themes of identity - in a push to mirror the personal exploration taken by Sinclair in Priests original novel. In doing this Hunt begs the artist to distort their approach to art history in 'a way that goes beyond mere ironic appropriation, and extends out towards a new and unfamiliar view of the world.' It is at this point that you can't fail but notice how ambitious this show actually is. Not only is the theme already quite complicated but to fit this negotiation into the small box of Chelsea Space is a very brave move indeed.

Like the book it details, Hunts complex curatorial concept is thoroughly multi-layered, not just with meaning, but with demands on the artists. Each work in 'The Affirmation' is a brand new piece created especially for the show. For this Hunt invited the artists to work directly with the Special Collection at Chelsea College of Art and Design Library boasting that every artist has managed 'to find their own connections within the library's archive.' I don't doubt this but what I do doubt is the general thematic indulgence in this show which unfortunately gets lost as one wanders around the space. It is highly plausible that this show could merely be a collective piece that asked the artists to work directly with the Special Collection at Chelsea Library, to then add the extra layer of the text by Priest doesn't just overly confuse the show but could also damage its credo.

Maybe the Priest novel was a starting point for the show? An inverted moment into the psychosis, referencing the role of madness and how as a society we 'affirm' concepts of identity - moreover how and what we do to sustain our own identity. This would tally with the highly charged historical element of the show and the use of the Special Collection. The contextual element seems to be a powerful curatorial theme in a lot of Hunts prior shows. Hunt seems to be exploring the role of a literary thematic to expand upon new possibilities for an aesthetic experience. The entire construct of the show is so brilliantly multi-layered and complicated that it somehow manages to actually 'work.' Hunt proves to be a genius in his physical multi-layering of the work, directing a mix-hang that forces us to come upon an artist several times as the majority of artists involved contributed more than one piece - again an adventurous insight into Hunts ambitious filling of the gallery space. The mix-media element helps to make the show increasingly visual as well as aesthetically beautiful. Each piece is worth its salt, as the artists have obviously taken time to produce something powerful and interesting (according to the publication provided, the show 'The Affirmation' has been a thought in Hunts mind ever since 2006).

This consideration and careful manipulation keeps the show very tightly curated and annoyingly hitch-less. I can't help but remember that as I appreciated each and every piece on their own merit I did observe how they all looked so 'right' together, this is a good systematic of a well conceived 'group' show. Saying this though as I did traverse the space and spend time getting to know each and every individual piece I couldn't help but only find slight tangible connections between piece and idea (theme). The broad nature of the theme means that it is ever easy to produce work that has a multitude of readings. This idea doesn't necessarily contribute to the first intention of the show and may in fact hinder its interpretation.

It's hard to look in detail at ever piece within such a large show (in such a small space). Goshka Macugas audio selection in the centre of the main space stands out as being some interesting extracts from the Special Collection but thought provoking moments of sound experimentation. Similarly Chris Evans 'The Affirmation, Letter and books, Dimensions variable 2004 / 2007' is a great introduction into the general 'gist' of the show. Other pieces such as Mark McGowens video 'Artist to set himself on fire' is slightly amusing but essentially lost thematically, especially when McGowen espouses the work as a protest on the war in Iraq.

Holistically this exhibition works beyond it's overly complex remit. Each of the work manages to do or say something and as an exhibition it is worth visiting twice or spending a long afternoon there. The surprise of this is based mainly on the size of the show in ratio with the quantity and quality of the work, though not the main reason this is definitely a contributing fact behind the loss of Hunts core theme here. An over indulgence of artists in a tightly curated small space doesn't help Hunts main idea. Aesthetically the show looks great and works well, but this could easily happen outside of the clutter of the theme. Equally the intentions embedded within that theme only hinder the clutter of the show to make this a very individualistic reading far away from Hunts uniting intention.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Unplugged (Remix), David Batchelor, Wilkinson Gallery
11 October-18 November 2007
Soledad Garcia
In Unplugged (Remix), the London based artist David Batchelor gives track for his new exhibition on his well-known exploration of the use and understanding of colour. This time, the usual illuminations through neon lights or ‘billboard effects’ have been replaced by the natural gloss and saturate colours of plastic objects. Ordinary commodities, such as strainers, dusters, combs, brushes, balls and small children’s toys, among others things, are elements that Batchelor gathered from different but common Pound Shops. Once again, he attempts to work with the urban environment, a scattered and transformable place where some unvalued and insignificant objects could be potentially changed to a high status.
Parapillars, the installation placed on the ground floor of the gallery, suggests the first transcendence for these accumulative utensils that are attached to a vertical matt metal structure. All the relevance resides in the common thread of colour; some of these objects are selected under a precise distinction of range and values, while others through chromatic improvisation or by types, creating an environment of decorative trees with attractive shapes. The aim is achieved. Everyday kitsch becomes objects of fascinating contemplation. Thus Batchelor's strategic assemblages could proceed to a new state in the viewer, one that, annulling their original use, promotes the desire to consume these industrial objects as art products. And finally, the inevitable impossibility, where this state takes place is a fictional illusion, only possible in the context of an exhibition venue.
In comparison to Batchelor's previous artworks like Brick Lane Remix (2003), where installations of second hand light-boxes and shelving units celebrate the electric coloring of a technological era, Unplugged (Remix) rescues modest elements whose technological value has disappeared. On the first floor of the gallery, electric cables were wound into a ball, while plastic and souvenir sunglasses were tied together building the skeleton structure of balls forms. The opportunity for the spectator to play with these objects is forbidden, drawing attention to what has been placed on the walls of the gallery: Batchelor's drawings of his Parapillars and illuminated installations, a practical metaphor which further distances these untouchable objects.
The seduction of the gaze is recognized by Batchelor through the use of the language of capitalist industry, employing layout methods that allow a formal distribution of space and make objects visually attractive and enlightening unnoticed objects. This type of manipulation considers the effort for the artist “to make these materials look better than they do in their raw state” , while the spectator consuming this ephemeral theatre and assuming their disillusion, returns to their consumable state (home). Nevertheless collectors enjoying this artificial scenario, accessing to these objects, break completely the barrier of consumption. Inevitability, art from the masses to the few.
Review on
Shibboleth, Doris Salcedo
Tate Modern, 9 October- 6 April 2008 by Soledad Garcia

Placed in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, Doris Salcedo’s exhibition is one of several shows that are included in the current Latin-American art programme. One of the distinguishing features of this exhibition is the intervention of a Colombian artist inside the venue, which overturns and replaces the classical and well-known retrospective of the Latin-American artist. This shift of perspective, from the legitimization of Latin-American artists through their historical artwork in the museum context to the opportunity of an artist to work with the legitimization of a modern museum, apparently opens a democratic interaction between centre and periphery; postcolonial concepts that are involved in Shibboleth, Salcedo’s large and sinuous crack that fractures the floor of the Turbine Hall.
Starting from the entrance of the Hall, a tiny and insignificant crack begins to separate the concrete floor. With a non-rigid and jagged shape, this broken path contrasts with the orthogonal order of the Hall, intensified by being on the middle of the building where the crack becomes a wide gap following a zigzag course. This allows us to see the inside reliefs: the traces of the museum foundations. At the end, the crack doesn't finish in the opposite wall, on the contrary, it continues along the other side of the wall. Indeed, the crack acts as a weak antagonist of this strong and impressive modern building. The Tate Modern becomes a symbol of hierarchies and classifications, due to the understanding of history. Reinforcing this idea through the title Shibboleth, the crack disrupts the criterion of identifying groups, which confronts this discomforting “Modern Shibboleth”.
Spectators crossing the unlineal crack, implicitly subvert what has been defined and fixed in eurocentric and colonial discourses, from differences based on race and territory to the fantasy expressions of otherness. Using only a simple gesture of form in the floor, Salcedo attempts to reveal imposing narrations that remains marginalized from the heritage of the Modern project. The confrontation of her artwork in this illustrious institution, commits the predictable risk of staying in the absolute silence of history, due to the recognized process of the Tate, i.e. their root foundation in the main Enlightenment heritage: this suggests a lineal reconstruction of the nation (art, history, identity) as well as the current assessment of the museum under the recognition of this still singular dominion. The Museum attempts to open its doors to pluralism and welcomes equality, while its nature on the contrary, attracts organizing contexts, knowledge and power relationships. At least this aspect is corroborative since Salcedo is curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, curator of the Tate Modern.
The answer to these issues, as Salcedo knows, hasn’t been found, but at least her initiative explores and raises questions that confront our self-deception.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Dominic Rich-
Seduction; Sex and Art from Antiquity to Now. Barbican Art Gallery, London, 2007-08

In the proposal for his new exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery Martin Kemp asks ‘Where does art stop and pornography begin?’.(1) In an exhibition that purports to explore ‘the representation of sex in art through the ages” exploring the dichotomy of cultural codes of ethics, it would be expected that there was an even presentation of pornography through the ages. Questioning the morality and purpose of representing sex, the exhibition provides a chronological overview of over 300 works. Included are ‘Roman sculptures, Indian manuscripts, Japanese prints, Chinese watercolours, Renaissance and Baroque paintings and 19th century photography with modern and contemporary art’. Here the word ‘with’ suggests a divide between post nineteenth century art and that prior. The divide relates to Kemp’s question of the dual function of erotic art; as art and as pornography, titillation or arousal. It indirectly implies that arts function as an arouser is no longer pertinent.

It is not so much through what is exhibited but through what is left out that we can begin to answer Kemp’s introductory question. To elaborate, it is no secret that Greek and Roman culture’s use of sex was a lot more diverse and freely celebrated; depictions of sexual acts had religious reverence but were also used as decoration. As Catholicism created a millennium of prudes in Europe it is not surprising that there was a suppression of sex in life and art from the Renaissance to beyond the advent of photography.(2) During this long period explicit representations of sex were confined to the secret rooms of the British Museum, or such places as J M W Turners private sketch book. Photography and print expanded the circulation and quantity of representations of sex exponentially. Photography separated titillation from artistic thought allowing it to exist independently. Print created mass production of these images. Sex was turned into a global and highly lucrative industry: the ‘porn industry’. So why in this exhibition are contemporary representations of sex only represented by contemporary art and not also with the ‘porn industry’?

Sex and titillation are still prevalent in contemporary art, but are used to convey an ideology or often a critique of the ‘porn industry’. Contemporary art is never simply about pornography.(3) For instance, being heavily influenced by psychoanalysis, the Surrealists saw sex as a method of improving one’s psyche. Robert Mapplethorpe’s ‘sado-masochistic’ photographs have a political charge questioning the notion of consent.(4) Nan Golding photographs intimate accounts of lovers with their children, reinvigorating the romantic ideals of love and sex. This seems reactionary to the way pornography has de-humanised perceptions of sex. Unlike the ‘porn industry’, contemporary art’s explicit imagery always has a cause or excuse.

As Kate Bush assured, ‘it’s an exhibition not a sex museum… the show is not about pornography’. This attitude adds to a censorship of the history of sex, undermining the role pornography played in classic civilisations. Photographic images produced purely for arousal are ignored by this exhibition after the start of the 20th century. With regards to Kemp’s question ‘Where does art stop and pornography begin?’ this photography or early pornography is the most important element of the exhibition. It shows explicit sexual images existing independently of artistic ideologies and mediums. Kemp highlights where pornography begins to separate from art. Unfortunately, in excluding the current ‘porn industry’ the ‘Now’ part of the title has been undermined

1 Martin Kemp is Co-Curator of ,‘Seduction; Sex and Art from Antiquity to Now’.
2 I mean the suppression of the representation of coitus rather than the use of nudity in painting.
3 Apart from when it is bought; this is another debate.
4 If his photography was really to be Sado-Masachstic then it would be illegal.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Projection of Otolith II, The Otolith Group - LISSON GALLERY

Reviewed by Catherine Borra

As a continuation of their first video Otolith I, Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun aka the Otolith Group, present their second work (Otolith II) at Lisson Gallery, as the UK premiere.
Like for Otolith I, this work follows three main lines at the same time: the narrator’s voice, belonging to a women that speaks to us from the future; the images, that are mainly shots of poor Indian suburbs; and finally the point of view of the public, that summarizes all of this information.
The narrator is questioning herself about our era, on how the almighty divinities of Capital and of Spectacle were introduced, and if they are still influent in her own age, talking of them as if they were an obscure force that may appear in her own time as well. As she debates on these issues, we see struggling scenes of everyday life in India’s biggest shanty towns alternated with images of shootings in studios for the local TVs (the frivolity of the divinity of spectacle, that tempts many but satisfies few).
During this screening, a multitude of reconnections might go on in the western viewer’s mind: in the first place, there is a bewilderment caused by the words spoken by the narrator and the images that are presented: it takes a while to contextualize sound and vision. Then, one has to position its expectations about scenes of a third world / less developed country: the viewer may feel on the same level of the narrator, as if those images of degrade belonged to his own past too.
But suddenly there is a time overlap: the viewer is given the images of a building by Le Corbusier at Chennay to elaborate inside of this context. This powerful building, with a futuristic design that could overtake most of the scenarios a European is used to see, is now decadent and abandoned. It’s a dead building that time, vegetation and other various abuses have set into the past. But this is not the past that was identified before, this can be seen as the Western world’s personal past: its future.
The artists talk about using science-fiction in their video, and indeed we can trace all the elements that we could find, say, in a social science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick – The Simulacra. Things are not as they seem, the science-fiction narrative is used in order to permit a side vision of reality: the fiction of the video is turned into a reflection on contemporary society, and the superimposition of different points of view lead us to reconsider our original statements about what belongs to the present and what belongs to the past.

24h Experiment Marathon – 14th and 15th October, Serpentine Pavillion - Reviewed by Catherine Borra

During Frieze Art Fair, Hans Ulrich Obrist invites the art public to another epic, called “24h Experiment Marathon”, as a prosecution of his last year’s “”24h Interview Marathon”.
This year’s project is curated together with artist Olafur Eliasson and takes place in the pavilion designed by the latter and architect Kjetil Thorsen. As the artist himself has stated, the structure is completed by a series of talks that have taken place since the pavillion’s opening in late September, of which the Marathon is part.
Finely structured in its program, the event started off with its lengthy mission of “creating reality” / educating the mass through a load-full of experiments, spanning between science, literature, art. Illustrious scholars from a variety of different fields were united under the directions of the curators, who imposed on them the chore of talking about the ambiguous subject of the “self” using the form of an experiment: this obliged the artists to rationalize their practice and focused the scientists on an unreasonable subject.
This experience, according to Eliasson, would help the public to produce its own reality. Indeed, at the beginning of the Marathon the artist invited the pubic to participate and to read this series of experiments as a sole happening that would give life to the architecture that hosted them.
The first voices to be herd were those of the scientists, coordinated by Dott. Israel Rosenfeld, who demonstrated a number of physical phenomena that are caused by subjectivity and by neurological / psychic adaptations.
After this solemn introduction to the matters of the self given by such a legitimate authority as science – which always makes a certain effect on such a desperately positivist society, there came a more “experimental” approach to the argument from a long list of artists including Marina Abramovic, Spartacus Chetwynd, Pedro Reyes, Tomas Saraceno, John Baldessari. Although the approaches were very different from one another, they all fitted perfectly in the context of the Marathon, producing a linear discourse that fulfilled the overall aim of presenting the subject.
The event is orchestrated in order to produce relationship with the building, and to build a view of its own regardless of the individualities of the lectures /artists. Thus, the Marathon is an active part of Eliasson’s art although maintaining its independence and relevance as a curatorial project.

Renata Lucas, 'Resident' - Sophie Risner

Renata Lucas - Resident
15 November 2007 - 13 January 2008

155 Vauxhall Street
SE11 5RH

On approaching Gasworks I took the opportunity to ring the bell situated to the left hand side of the door to the Gasworks complex. I was greeted by a rather tall and slim individual who asked what I wanted. My colleagues had assured me that there was a show on and so I enquired thus 'Hi, is there a show on?' To which the tall and slim man answered yes and that this was it stepping outside of the gallery and pointing to the left hand wall. Here we observed a rhythmic reconstruction of the fascia wall to the left of the gallery door. What seemed to be previously the loading bay for the gallery space (two large wall length opening doors) had been bricked up and reconfigured. Not only was the wall rebuilt to create a small enclave outside but even better this enclave championed a small radiator. Of course! Why would there be a radiator outside? We touched the radiator (as it was quite a cold night) and it was indeed on and working, pumping heat out into the night.

According to the press release that we obtained, Lucas a Brazilian born artist is interested in 'an analysis of the commissioned site, often observing the social information embedded within buildings and particularly their boundaries.' This could not have been more subtly dominant within the workings of this piece. In order to understand 'Resident' you have to articulate the surrounding area as becoming part of the work. Gasworks a large Victorian Warehouse is situated on a road dominated by large blocks of flats, and for geographical reference a mere stone throw from Oval cricket ground. The juxtaposition of industrialization and residential habitation is not uncommon on the streets of London, in fact it is often the norm'. Here, Lucas highlights this architectural moment by subverting the use of the average house-hold radiator. How can a radiator outside be useful to anyone other than those living rough? Is this Lucas commenting on the global issue of homelessness, or alternatively is Lucas simply turning the interior, exterior? Faced with these questions it is easy to stand there and admire the work as a clever defacement of a established art space. Equally this could be a subtle comment from Lucas that art should help in the production of solutions to our social problems.

By suggesting this role reversal of interior / exterior object hood we encounter a perplexed shift in our understanding of the gallery space and the use of it to discuss the constructs of contemporary art. We also have to start observing a piece of work such as this within the conditions of street furniture and public art - as the remit alters from the typical gallery institutionalization. This is why 'Resident' can be seen to be so successful in what it does. It maneuvers our presupposed ideas into a realm or even surroundings unconventionally disjointed from what we are experiencing. We wouldn't bat an eye at the placement of a traffic light or street sign inside the gallery space, in fact we'd except it and with already acquired knowledge understand it to be quite acceptable and tangible to place such items within the gallery space. Yet, why when inside objects are placed outside, such as this, do we find it difficult to validate? I could state the Lucas is harking back to early surrealist sculptural work here or even better 'Resident' could well be a inside-out comment on Duchamps urinal. To certify its existence within the hierarchy of art production, 'Resident' can be viewed as not just a radiator in the open but a complex interior/exterior ready-made. As Duchamp wanted us to re-evaluate the role of the every day within the gallery space Lucas is almost begging us to re-evaluate the role of the everyday within the everyday.

Cornelia Parker Brontean Abstracts as part of Never Endings at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. Jenine McGaughran

This collection of works, amassed from Parker’s residency at the Brontë family home in 2006 seeks to uncover the underlying truths through close historical research and analysis of their personal living space and belongings.

Objects integral to their daily lives are magnified in order to discover something that remains unknown. Close-ups of pin-cushions, Charlotte’s quill, Emily’s comb all seek to imply an greater degree of intimacy and thus a greater ‘knowing’ of their owners. As much as it may seem that we are getting closer to understanding the lives of the sisters through intimate investigations of their personal belongings the paradoxical twist is that these prying’s serve in bringing the viewer no closer to a truth, but instead draws them into a narrative of the artists construction.

This notion of investigation is played out further, firstly with a video and later in a sound recording. The video shows an interview with 90 year old Phyllis who claims to be a direct descendant of Branwell Brontë. Phyllis, accompanied by another man similar of age discuss family stories that give rise to the belief that she is related to the Brontë’s. Further to this is evidence of their genealogic investigations, including a photograph of the believed illegitimate child of Branwell Brontë, which is held up in parallel with Phyllis’s face in profile to reveal slight resemblances. However, this is all extremely tenuous. Next is a sound recording accompanied by a map detailing the layout of the Brontë’s home. Two psychics can he heard discussing the movements made by its inhabitants, played out as a narrative from room to room both tell of events that are actually recorded in history, including references to a howling dog. Later it is revealed, by a third voice, perhaps that of Parker, that on the eve of Emily’s death her dog howled continuously until her passing. These facts seem to suggest a level of authenticity in their claims, which later plays an important role when they discuss the possibility of Branwell having fathered a child, substantiating the assertions made by Phyllis.

Brontëan Abstract functions under the guise of a forensic investigation of the Brontë’s in an attempt to know or understand them more. However, it could equally be claimed that this is not its real function. Parker is instead constructing narratives and possible fictions in the creation of a story that is potentially never-ending.

Eva Rothschild at South London Gallery. Jenine McGaughran

Spindle-like structures punctuate the air of the South London Gallery. Left to meander a path through the labyrinth of sculptures, drawn to neither one nor another, but instead encouraged to drift.

The sculptures or drawings in space, serve to offer a stark contrast with their environment, alluding to a chaos that seems far away. Perpetually juxtaposing, they are at once inviting and prohibiting, hard yet soft, smooth but textured.

The compulsion to touch engendered by the tactile quality of these works is at once intriguing and conflicting. While the hand desires to reach out and touch the architectural forms the menacing serpents warn of the dangers involved in such an intimate encounter.

Notions of entanglement occur throughout; fabric wrapped around sculptures, papers interlocking in the creation of patterns and images, snakes weaved around spindles.
Their size too offers a strange contradiction, while they are large; they are by no means imposing, not quite flimsy but fragile and delicate enough to be knocked over.
There is a comfort in the coherence of the works but a suggestion of entrapment and suffocation caused by the asphyxiating serpents bound tightly around the fragile structures.

The constant figuring of serpents seems to reference temptation, while the use of leather composed to look like whips alludes to something erotic or even sinister.

While most of the works physicality is evident others confuse and disorientate. A large black irregular lump offers fragmented reflections from its mirrored surface, producing a ruptured reflection of the self. This is alluded to elsewhere in the exhibition with a corner sculpture composed of a smooth black reflective surface, interrupted by a matrix of lines that jut out into the viewers’ space. While the mirror seeks to tempt and entrap the spectator, drawing them closer into a simultaneous inspection of the work and self, they are kept firmly at length by the protruding architectural lines that penetrate the surrounding space.

On reflection Eva Rothschild’s subtle puns created with her use of imagery and medium is complex and considered. While her sculptures can allude to the work of artists such as Eva Hesse and thus draw comparisons with Minimalism, it is perhaps more important to uncover what Rothschild is implying through such considered appropriations of imagery and medium.

Mother and Child, Divided. Turner Prize Retrospective. Jenine McGaughran

Of all the works to arouse controversy in the history of the Turner Prize and indeed British art of the 1990’s Damian Hirst’s Mother and Child, Divided wins hands down. The work, which inspired controversy when included as part of Saatchi’s Sensation and in 95 as part of Hirst’s Turner Prize exhibition is back at Tate Britain once again to remind us what all the fuss was about.

Having never physically encountered this work before I felt it my duty to go in search of what lies behind the furore that encapsulates a generation and has come to constitutes something of an art-world urban myth. Indeed the majority of press that surrounds this recent retrospective all talk of Mother and Child, Divided as something of a long lost treasure restored in to its rightful position or as the jewel in the crown of the Turner Prize so far. However, the reviews also seem to be tainted with the sensation that enwrapped the critics and new art savvy audiences of the mid-1990’s.

On entering the exhibition, I was of course conscious that I would soon have my first encounter with this work. Although interested by the others works on display (10-years worth), I was anxious to get to this piece and hopefully closer to understanding the notoriety that surrounds it.

When finally I reached the room I was surprised by the lack of shock that took place. Of course I had to wait my turn to see the piece, as it was being inspected by another group of people. I patiently waited my turn for an encounter I had long awaited. Finally it was my chance to be alone with the work; I got close and examined it. Rather than the disappointment I had half expected owing to the fact I didn’t believe the work could quite live up to the expectation that preceded it, I was more fascinated by the work than I had anticipated.

As I walked along the passage created by the cow encasing vitrines I was amazed by the animals’ tactile quality. Despite being preserved in formaldehyde for over a decade there remained a sense that it would still be soft to touch. Not just the animals’ fur but also its innards, I looked on like a fascinated student, longing to know each organs function and trying to locate the different cuts of meat. I was also struck by the sense of fragility the large animal exuded; visible amongst the vast internal organs were delicate bones, a vertebra so delicate it looked impossible of supporting such a beast. Also prevalent was the craftsmanship involved in presenting this creature in such a way, Hirst stated in his acceptance speech ‘It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw’, however the animal bears no marks of chainsaws, instead it portrays careful work undertaken in a respectful manner. Not many people can understand the sense in sacrificing an animals’ life in the name of art, however when it is done with this level of compassion it is perhaps worth questioning what governs our understanding of aesthetics and morals.

A Dramaturgical Turn: Samuel Beckett’s Company at the Bayerische Staatsschauspiel - Wiebke Gronemeyer

Munich, November 2007
Reviewed by Wiebke Gronemeyer

In 1981 Samuel Beckett composed an enigmatic prose text, Company, in which a man lying on his back alone in the dark is spoken to by an unrelenting voice he can neither verify nor name. At times speaking in the third person, the voice describes the figure's tormented constraint in the present; at other moments, using the second person, he narrates scenes from the man's childhood and adolescence – a past very much like Beckett’s own.

A theatrical adaptation of this in parts autobiographic yet universalised discussion about the absurdity of existence seems difficult. Yet this autumn Stefan Hunstein accepts this challenge at the Bavarian State Theatre in Munich. He is acting both as the main character and as director of the production, understanding himself as an artist installing a piece, rather then a director staging a play. The spoken text is accompanied by a multimedia installation including four TV screens around a black podium on which the character’s body (Hunstein’s double) is situated, several screenings on the walls surrounding the stage, as well as a sound installation.

Similar to Joyce, Beckett processes a stream of consciousness and exposes the loneliness of a character situated between sleeping and awakening, questioning wherefrom and whereto on the edge of an infinite nothingness. The third person voice is refined and subtle, almost fanatical in his delineations of the man's constricted physical situation and ongoing mental processes – what he calls "unformulable gropings of the mind. Unstillable."

"Confusion too is company," he says, "up to a point." Unlike the astringent perceptions of the third person voice, the narrated instants from the past offered in the second person are with powers of observation. As this perplexing yet intensely gripping narrative proceeds, Hunstein crawls out underneath the podium and carries on the monologue that now admits to a dialogue between mind and body. He takes over the role of the reader who could have devised the voice for company: "the fable of one fabling of one with you in the dark." As the story evolves into a drama that is clearly taking place inside the man's head, the struggle about the reader’s need and obligation to imagine is at once taken away by staged action yet replaced by the challenge to pay attention to the different layers of the exposed loneliness: the seemingly dead body on the podium, the living body wondering around the stage, their identical faces screened on the back wall and his voice coming from different angles in the room. The mind (Hunstein) talks to his body (Hunstein’s double), reassuring that the one he is speak-ing to is the one that is spoken to and yet the same person.

Hunstein performs a dramaturgical turn from the text delivering an insight into a person’s world by means of selfreflection to an installation, which stages these intimate, lonely issues to a viewer that thus assumes an outside perspective. As questionable as this turn generally is, witnessing the staged self-disruption and at the same time self-reassurement is confusing yet exciting and holds through. It drives the viewer into listening to the spoken word and results in an enthusiastic fascination for Beckett’s decomposition of thoughts. Hence, Hunstein facilitates realisation through his multilayered installation and poses the question what else then the individual thinking makes an individual person, hence the lonely act of thinking is one without company.

Zhang Huan: Ash - Wiebke Gronemeyer

on view at Haunch of Venison, London, 10. Oct. 2007 – 10. Nov. 2007.
Reviewed by Wiebke Gronemeyer

Zhang Huan is one of the most visible and well-known Chinese artists and has just received his first retrospective at the Asia Society in New York. This autumn, Haunch of Venison hosts his first solo exhibition in London, for which he presents his “ash works”, a series of haunting paintings and sculptures. Concurrently, the Royal Academy of Arts is displaying a colossal sculpture that the artist has conceived for their courtyard space, while Haunch of Venison shows the major installation Berlin Buddha (2007) at its venue in Berlin.

His days of Maoist indoctrination and his direct assumptions on this education by means of his early performances may be distant, but his memories of those times provide many of the themes – family, loss, propaganda and alienation – for his new body of work and are very relevant for a retrospective approach. As new material he uses incense ash, which he collects from a Shanghai temple. Here, his interest in Buddhism, which always figured indirectly in his earlier work, becomes more defined.
On entering the gallery space the direct notion of this spiritualism is induced by the strong smell of incense. However, the cultural connotation of a spiritual realm, which comes with this strong smell, calls for a further sensuous ratification, which the first series of ash busts, Ash Head Nr. 12 (2007), modelled on the artist’s own head, immediately denies. The dusty materiality of the crumbly fabric and greyscale colour of the piece excites another connotation relating to ash: deterioration and effacement. This irritating oscillation between these different cultural associations is implied in Zhang Xiao Mei (2007), a large-scale painting of ash on linen. It conveys neither mourning, nor does it incinerated surface embed the prayers and hopes of Chinese ritual incense burning.
In an act of extravagating cultural boundaries it is the entity of remembrance that Huan’s paintings, based on remediation of historical images, whether private or public, claim. Seeds (2007) depicts a group of rural Chinese in the course of their ‘re-education’, ploughing a field. This once heroic image of the Cultural Revolution is overshadowed by a dense materiality that, recalling the work of Anselm Kiefer, brings to bear an uncomfortable confrontation with both collective and individual subconscious.
The series of ash continues on the gallery’s third floor. The Smoking Buddha (2007) is almost 5 metres high; a giant that imposes with its material fragility yet transmits a transcendent stability. The smoke exuding from its features warns that at any moment it could collapse back upon itself and thus perform a last animated motion in a realm in which death is not an end but rather a mid-point in one’s path.

In any sense, ash carries one’s soul away, regardless of the cultural realm in which it is embodied and what kind of remembrance arouses. In a less aggressive but subtler form of provocation, Huan embraces different stages of his oeuvre in these new works.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Robert Dingle - Thea Djordjadze and Rosemary Trockel

Spruth Magers

08th Oct – 10th Nov 2007

Written by Robert Dingle

Entering into the darkness alone / A small light around a corner illuminates the surrounding architecture / There is warmth in the air / The hard surface of the floor silently turns into something much softer / No longer are my shoes able to make a sound / Across the space is a figure surrounded by an orb of luminous orange light / A conversation is being held in the distance / Its content, indecipherable / Sometimes it fades away entirely / At other points it comes close to intelligibility, but yet always remains unattainable / Someone was repeatedly asking me questions / A strong sense of disorientation prevails / The floor appears to shift / Other surfaces such as the walls and ceiling swap functions and properties / A single piece of burnt paper remains fixed directly ahead / My eyes were not working correctly, my movements slow / Turning to my right someone hands me a small kitten / Wrapped in a soft tortilla for protection (salad being used as a bed), the kitten needs to be transported / Its made clear this is not to be eaten / Its my responsibility alone. / The conversation became comprehensible at last / It was short / Still without an idea of who the person was at the other end of the telephone, the recipient was clear enough / She slammed the telephone down in front of me / Sobs, sniffs and high pitch whimpers punched their way through a chorus of uncontrollable weeps / My heart sank as my mind opened a thousand questions / A sense of expectation is felt on my behalf / What is it? / There is a book in my hand / It felt incredibly hot / We only have one copy / Nothing is to be answered or to be fixed / Someone accompanied me, a good friend / Looking down at my shoes they had totally vanished / Planets from the solar system had replaced each of my toes / This is completely inappropriate / My head began to thump / Something had begun to pester me / There was no activity just total silence / My eyes blinked / I was awake.

The image that was there had now been erased. Replaced by a white wall and a flat screen monitor showing the work of Thea Djordjadze and Rosemary Trockel. The work played continuously on a loop. I recognised certain sounds and words from the work. The wooden frames that the artists constructed outdoors crackled and hissed as they were ignited. High pitch whines emanated from the screens as Djordjadze and Trockel’s high frequency microphone captures every sound. Each work follows a similar acoustic pattern. Lasting around five minutes (ignition – collapse – extinguish), a chorus of sound builds slowly as it reaches an intense climax. Each work is followed with a period of silence.

The radiator on the wall opposite me was on full. There was the sound of movement, people walking on wooden floorboards. The conversations between the two invigilators in the reception/hallway echoed through the space, penetrating the back rooms. I heard the telephone ring.

My unconscious state seemed to unify the work and the working mechanisms of the gallery (its social interactions and functions), aspects usually at odds with one another. Through an apparent disengagement with the work i.e. falling asleep, the outcome was a unique synthesis based on an unknowledgeable participation with the work and gallery. If falling asleep in the space is an act of engagement in itself then is it possible to ever extricate ourselves from a work? Or are we always inherently active because we can see, think, respond and dream?

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Micol Assaël: Chizhevsky Lessons - Valentina Ravaglia

Micol Assaël, Chizhevsky Lessons

Kunsthalle Basel, 14 April– 16 June 2007

I had an electrifying encounter last summer (excuse the pun). I had heard about Micol Assaël, a young Italian artist who appeared out of nowhere to participate in two editions of the Venice’s Biennale (2003 and 2005), but never had a chance to experience any of her disquieting installations, using obsolete science lab equipments to apply even more obsolete scientific theories in works that take the form of resilience experiments conducted directly on the visiting public.

Taking the idea of aesthetic experience quite literally, her enveloping environments have a tactile quality that hits the beholder in an unexpected, almost violent way. Even if you are aware of the nature of Assaël’s work, even if a sign posted outside the installation room warns you about its real potential danger, you still don’t expect to feel so very uneasy, once you enter the seemingly empty space of the Basel Kunstalle’s largest room. For the Chizhevsky Lessons, Assaël has suspended a series of copper panels to the room’s vaulted ceiling, high enough for the visitors not to be able to touch them, but still close enough to feel them. Feel, as their function is to give air particles a negative charge, thanks to a customised power generator hanging nearby, turning the whole room into an electrostatic chamber. This physical phenomenon is well known to all of us: it happens when we rub our skin against certain kinds of fabric, when we brush our hair or when we get those small, annoying electric shocks when getting out of a car: in general, whenever we touch someone or something that carries an opposite charge. Only here this magnetism is inescapable, surrounds everything and everyone, and is clearly perceivable as something unnatural. “By no means touch the face of another visitor (especially the eyes)”, the sign outside the door said, but if my first reaction was a puzzled smile, here the tension is real – and it seriously made me feel nervous and uncomfortable. I had to walk out quickly and take a deep breath.

Alexander Chizhevsky was a Russian physicist who studied the interactions between electrostatic fields and the human psyche, testing ionised air on people as a way to find correlations “between solar activity and significant historical events such as wars and revolutions” (I have to quote the press release on this, as I am not very familiar with Chizhevsky’s theories, as probably the vast majority of the exhibition visitors). But the fascination of Micol Assaël with obscure scientific speculations is little more than an excuse to recreate a state of mind – that of danger, of fear, of anxiety, which an increasingly technological warfare industry has perfected as its major byproduct. It doesn’t matter if the technology comes from centuries, decades or minutes ago – fear is universal, and industry has especially progressed in response to military needs and consequent research funds, in the West as well as in the East.

Micol Assaël’s art is about willingly taking a risk, inviting us to explore the darker sides of our psyche, and of science and technology (and its history) as part of our everyday life. Her works are strong and haunting, complex but extremely simple in their emotional outcome. It is the poetics of sublime directly applied to the beholder’s nervous system. All this, with a minimal-oriented, rusty industrial retrò appeal, whereas the formal aspects are absolutely secondary in the weight of the work. The result might not be particularly original in its visual dimension, but it is remarkably thought-provoking in its physical and psychological implications. It is the type of work that can cause a kind of subtler shock-effect, going from your skin to your mind, and not vice versa.

Valentina Ravaglia

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Saskia Olde Wolbers - "Deadline" Maureen Paley, 6th October- 11th November 2007

Daniella Saul

A rotund glass rabbit, with ears longer than its body and bulging eyes appears upright on the screen. Its interior filled with a glutinous, yellow liquid moves thickly around its insides. Slowly, little white syrupy globules of liquid start to drop off the mutant creature’s ears. But they fall off upside down, towards the top of the screen.

The rabbit appears twice during Wolbers’ eighteen minute new video called “Deadline”. The work is a narrated piece, spoken by a young Gambian woman who recalls an assembly of overheard stories about local legends in a local fishing community in the Gambia. Interwoven with the various local legends are recollections of experiences she and her family have as they attempt to leave the Gambia and cross West Africa on a sixteen month long journey for the airport in Nigeria in their bush-taxi with the word “Deadline” on its side. As the narrative progresses, to the sound of African drums playing softly in the background, several visual motifs appear on the screen, each forming its own scene. We follow the bodies of two silver snakes coiling upwards towards the top of the screen in abstract space, then slabs of a convex oval stone commonly used in African Modernist architecture appear, rotating in space, shards of glass appearing to grow from inside the stones. This video displays all of the hallmarks of some of Wolber’s previous video works. Her sets are meticulously handmade and the visual motifs all situated in a weightless, futuristic space.

What is at work here is the subtle creation of a disjunction in time between the aural and the visual in order to make fantasy a part of our experience. The camera movements are slow while the narrative progresses at a searing pace, starting from the birth of the narrator’s father to the family’s journey across West Africa. Truth and legend merge fluidly together as the visual motifs exude an apt snake-charming like effect on the viewer.

The journey is a function of the cyclical structure of the piece. The word “deadline” carries symbolic and paradoxical meaning. It is the beginning and the end at the same time. It is present at the starting point of the journey on the side of the travelling vehicle and at the end of the narrator’s journey as she recounts seeing a stranger carrying a book at the airport in Nigeria with a picture of her father’s bush-taxi on the cover. “ Do we all have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems like migrating birds?” It seems that Wolbers’ piece isn’t our cue to try and untangle truth from untruth in the narrative, or beginning from end, but just to follow this journey and cling to the comforting idea that in our experience none of our journeys to an airport will ever seem that long again.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Robert Dingle - The implications of non-recoverable tax on importing art

The implications of non-recoverable tax when importing art
The Fine Art Society
10th Oct – 10th Nov 2007
Curated by Toby Clarke
Written by Robert Dingle

On entering the busy ground floor gallery at the Fine Art Society I was immediately greeted with a congenial smile and an offer of assuage from my thick onerous coat. This unexpected magnanimous proposition from an elegant lady dressed entirely in black was instantaneously followed with another. Would you like a drink sir? I felt I had been caught slightly off guard. This swift cordial introduction was something I was not accustomed to. I declined the offer, but instead decided to indulge myself in selecting a handful of miniaturise buffet snacks. I was not particularly hungry but through adhering to the assumed codes and conventions of such occasions, taking something from her seemed to make the situation easier.

It was the moment she asked me for my identification number and association card that I realised I should have listened to my intuition. The uneasy feeling I was experiencing in the pit of my stomach shouldn’t have been so quickly attributed to the small decrepit sausage roll that I had just consumed. Are you not a member of the London Art Dealers Association? she asked.

The penny dropped. What I thought to be the private view was, in fact, a seminar held at the Fine Art Society for the London Art Dealers Association. Jessica Dean was about to kick off the proceedings with a short, punchy, half an hour, PowerPoint presentation introducing the implications of non-recoverable tax when importing art; I felt I had to make a swift decision. My window of opportunity was closing fast.

I apologised for the misunderstanding and asked as amicably as possible whether it would be a problem to quietly go down to the lower gallery and view the show.

Creeping down the squeaky nineteenth century staircase, I emerged into what was reminiscent of the bow of a boat. A low ceiling carries the viewer through the space and drops as it mirrors several small steps, maintaining the same distance from the floor. At either end of the space is a set of stairs. Above me the seminar had begun.

Unremittingly the sound of business jargon, tax return figures and vat refunds filtered down via the staircases at either end. The architecture acted as a conduit for the activity above. The sounds began to merge and intertwine with the work. The sound of Shawcross’s video and the rumblings of Heywood’s vibrating tower block became indistinguishable from the symphony of rustles, coughs, sighs, bumps, whispers and movements above.

Having been there barely ten minutes a gallery invigilator walked around and systematically began switching off the work. Anything that made a sound was deactivated. The work became subordinate to the mechanisms of finance that were in operation above. I am still awaiting a bill through the post for the one small sausage roll and half a dozen salted peanuts.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now - Sophie Risner

Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now

Barbican Gallery

12 Oct , 07 - 27 Jan, 08

Sophie Risner

As with most Barbican shows there's a sense that this has too much to look at. 'Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now' is an exhibition in the vein typisch of any grandious show. Cut into several sub-sections the viewer is guided through a detailed historical narrative reflecting on the role of sex within art.

The sub-sections are
(Lower Level)
Sex and Cold Marble
Under Lock and Key
Divine Love and Carnal Pleasures
Between the Covers
The Voice of Sex

(Upper Level)
Artistic and Muse
Playing with Edge.

This is a curatorial decision that is very previlant in the world of Barbican exhibition making. The show hinges on all that was forbidden, lusted and representational of a divine intrigue in sexual desire, or at least this is what the show is claiming. The exhibition flyer claims that the show will 'broaden your mind and stimulate your senses.' I beg to differ. 'Seduced' as I will be referring to it manages to clarify that even a 21st century audience can still find even the most age old of sexual moments still as weird and wonderful as they were deemed back in the day of their creation. Here the show manages to not be some kind of inter layering of sensual experiences and stimulating moments but moreover a point and gawk moment of witnessing the finer points of what has turned us on in the past. This isn't a bad thing by a long shot. Seduced manages to compensate for lack of curatorial 'umph' by digging out a real treasure trove of remarkable fascinations and obscurities that help enlighten even the most radical sexually active punter.

True, in the V & A you wouldn't get a Andy Warhol playing above your head as you pick apart the sexual references in 'Secretum' (a early Renaissance work previously on exhibit at the British Museum with restricted access as to not 'offend the Victorian morality.') Saying this the very fact that 'Secretum' was once on exhibit at the British Museum begs the relevance of such works in this show. A re-hang is a re-hang at the end of the day and just because there is an influx of work within one showcase does not qualify the experience as particularly interesting. Here I have to mention the work of Robert Mapplethorpe who commands his own room on the upper level of the show. Mapplethorpe, a 1970s photographer finds his wonderful photographic skill in the exploration of male bondage, domination and submission. The black and white shots not only help us step into a world intersected with moments of pain and pleasure, but the very showing of this work at the Barbican is the crux of the controversy that this show may want to create. Banned in America, Mapplethorpes photos are bound in a coffee table box and exposed as separate entities decyphering the fairly new age ideal of male S & M practice. It's refreshing and enlighting to see these photos which greatly juxtapose the gilt paintings and watercolours downstairs.

To let the lower level of the Barbican become such an observatory for antiquited art explorations not only manages to dull down this apparent lively and explosive show but almost numbs the sensory experience that we were first promised. Apart from Mapplethorpes imposing photographs and K R Buxleys pastiche on Warhols 'Blow Job' it's hard to truely find anything that hints at the contemporary or any kind of contemporary investigation of sex in the art. This is only made worse by leaving us with a beautifully comforting slide film by Nan Golding. The final piece on the upper level of the show, it is the last piece we come across. Played against the backdrop of a Bjork soundtrack we witness Goldings standardised photo-reality imprint as she explores the relationship between 5 couples. Images of tender moments of reflection between the lovers are interspersed with love making and playful shots of just existing within each others moment, it manages to single handily make us breath a sigh of relief as we can all nod and say that through all this it's all just a matter of finding the 'right' partner. A message that frays the enter construct of an exploration that begs us to confuse the very privledge of sex and how we go about obtaining it.

Left navigating my way out of the Barbican I don't necessarily feel enlightened or impressed upon, moreover I feel like I've had a casual morning at the Natural History Museum or the Portrait Gallery. It's an odd juxtaposition to be in, almost like I'm completely unsatisfied, my thirst not quenched and my desire not full-filled. A feeling I accredit to the obvious facilitation of this show by a company who boast their 'purpose is to cross the boundaries of art and science, subtly, imaginatively, and distinctively.' Marina Wallace one of the main guest curators for the show who runs and works for Artakt not only completely compels all compelling narrative away from this show but manages to make the very construction of it as enterprisingly unenterprising. 'Seduced' I am not, the latest offering from the Barbican would be great as a perminant exhibition but as a explosion onto the art world of London...well you have to dig a little deeper.

Stairwell - The Hayward Gallery by Tom Trevatt

Hayward Stairwell

Tom Trevatt

Clusters of concomitant stairs dissect the upper and lower planes, rising and falling in folds. Twists of browngrey concrete. Cleaving floors; holding them apart and bringing them together in a diremptive and connective orientation. Navigation between spheres made possible by these brutalist coils scarred by years of hurried heels. The exhibition continues upstairs, the unceasing tramp of increasing audience figures. Figures of ‘appreciation’. Expansive yet simple modernist forms that scythe through white walled space, reminders of the external architecture. Brutalism in abundance on the South Bank, walled out by the requirements of the aesthetic project. What would it mean to strip back these walls? No longer would we find old render. Concrete, cold and unforgiving lingers in beautiful exigency. Concrete nothing but pure building, no adornment. But mendacious concrete. From distance this stairwell is wooden planks. Slats, greyed with the years, here a grain, a knot, there the mark of a saw. What mendacity, what lies this material plays. Concrete formed as blocks in wooden trenches take on the appearance of the wood. The modernist project, the stripping back to pure forms, the continuation of a certain enlightenment. How these constellations of buildings bear their late-modernist credentials with ease, yet the conceit runs deep. Examine the stairwell. At one point, halfway to the upper floor on the north side, between two flights of stairs there lies a knot in the wood/concrete, yet it is not grey like the rest of the stairwell. It is a rich cherry-wood golden brown. No more than an inch diameter this strange abhorrence offers nothing more than itself and its difference. How to understand this anomaly? It neither feels soft like wood or hard like stone, it is smooth but rippled. As though a knick has been had out of the wall and under lies the thing we though it was all along. As though the appearance was a double lie. A further inspection confirms the fact that the whole of the Hayward is not wood that looks like concrete that looks like wood. It is obviously real concrete. But were we to believe that we were standing on wooden slats, held together by hidden nails, then, surely our history not just the building would collapse.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Robert Dingle - Unfinished Symphony

Unfinished Symphony…
The Fine Art Society
10th Oct – 10th Nov 2007
Curated by Toby Clarke
Written by Robert Dingle

Is it ever possible to declare an artwork finished? In the physical sense this may be easier to assert than in the metaphysical. If the work continuously produces new meanings and associations in different contexts over time, can it ever be said that the work of the work draws a totality?

Unfinished Symphony takes its name from a composition written by Schubert and the title gives a reasonable indication into the premise of the exhibition. Held at the Fine Art Society, off New Bond street, the exhibition includes seven contemporary artists each contributing models, plans, drawings, marquette’s, recordings and fragments.

The exhibition is composed within a single room in the basement of the building. A large sculptural fragment by Conrad Shawcross, Proposal for the superphysical, 2007, £16.000, dominates the floor space. Around the periphery hang copious drawings, proposals and photographs by Jake & Dinos Chapman, Keith Coventry, Tony Heywood, Gavin Turk, Oliver Marsden and Keith Tyson.

Tony Heywood’s 3…2…1, 2007, £36.999 Inc vat, quivers and shakes intermittently awaiting a certified time when the model will explode and destroy itself, revealing a new sculpture inside. The marquette was initially designed as a model for a life size 50s tower block although here it is presented as the work.

What does this exhibition tells us about the nature of contemporary art practice? This trope of artistic practice comes as nothing new. Last years Velázquez exhibition at the National Gallery featured several pictures that the painter had not completed. Concurrently the Da Vinci exhibition held at the V&A saw a great deal of attention directed towards his preparatory sketches.

There is a historical precedent set within the arts for incomplete or fragmentary work. In some cases these works are regarded as complete in their own terms and their incompleteness draws little away from the enjoyment of the viewer. Schubert’s unfinished symphony written in 1822 is one of the most notable examples of this. Intending to produce a traditional four-movement symphony (following the discovery of two movements found in the archive of the orchestra Schubert had sent them to) Schubert’s two movement composition remains one of his most cherished and highly acclaimed works.

If only the same could be said for the work in this exhibition. On paper the show seems promising. In practice the exhibition is regrettably dissatisfying. The exhibition displays relatively insignificant work (in terms of what these artists are capable of producing) and markets itself off the back of recognized and reputable artists. For example, the singular A2 drawing by Jake & Dinos Chapman seems non-representative of either their artistic practice or their addition within the exhibition (the same can be said for admissions by Keith Coventry and Gavin Turk).

The idea underpinning the exhibition impresses itself upon the choice of work. There is no indication that the work selected for the exhibition is particular for any other reason than its collective incompleteness. The subject matter of the work becomes subjugated for this reason and in this respect the exhibition seems to only function on one level.

The gallery’s interest seems apparent; work that had in some cases literally not made it off the drawing board (for various political, economic, pragmatic and personal reasons) becomes marketed as its unique selling point. The work declared by the artists seems to incongruously complete itself through the exhibition process. The exhibition, usually regarded as the end point in artistic production, forces the work to be viewed as wholly incomplete. This exhibition appears to demonstrate the gallery’s (and by extension, the artworlds) un-relinquishing propensity to incorporate and commodify any and all disparate elements of art production.

It seems that the cause attributed to the strike of each work would appear more accurate and enlightening if attempting to construct an image of the social, political and economic traits of contemporary society. In short, the cause appears more interesting than the effect.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Park Nights at Serpentine Gallery – Public Experiment: Sound - Valentina Ravaglia

Park Nights at Serpentine Gallery – Public Experiment: Sound,
7 September 2007

This year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, designed by Olafur Eliasson in cooperation with Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen, was not intended to be used as an auditorium. Even though the Serpentine Pavilions host a variety of events every summer, which regularly include film screenings and live music concerts, the acoustics of this year’s creation is all but imperfect, with its uneven polyedric timber surfaces reflecting soundwaves in a disperse, chaotic fashion and creating all sorts of disturbing reverberations and sound distortions. That is precisely the reason why it is, conversely, a very apt setting for sound experiments, the unpredictability of its acoustics making it all the more exciting for sound artists to play with - in all senses.

For the Pavilion’s Opening Night, Eliasson has gathered a few artists specifically interested in the relationship between sound and the space in which this is produced/reproduced, as well as perceived; once again, a demonstration of his ongoing interest in the physical qualities of a spatial environment and of the psychological reactions on the people who experience it. The atmosphere of the pavilion, in fact, stands halfway between the quiet contemplation and the unexpected dizziness given by the somehow daring exploration of its whirling structure. While the interior of the pavilion glimmers in warm brown-red colour tones, highlighted/contrasted by especially designed lamps, its spiral ramp invites the visitors to explore its external surface, ending on a surprising balcony that overlooks the interior space with a vertiginous bird’s eye view. Moreover, the perimeter of the pavilion is higlighted by a harmonious motif of ropes that encircles the ramp in its entire length, almost resembling the strings of a harp. Standing like a sort of gigantic musical instrument, the sinuous constuction seems to resonate with its light, modulated from subtle and warm to loud and bright white.

With such material, the artists invited to experiment with the potential of this resonating chamber on the opening night were presented with the fascinating challenge of making the audience feel inside a musical instrument rather than in a concert hall, and in this respect the potential of the pavilion has been explored in quite diverse ways by the artists, turning it from the extension of a violin’s boards to an electric intonarumori of monumental proportions.

The first sound artist to experiment with this space was “live convertor” Kaffe Matthews, one of the first electro-acoustic composers to make live improvisations with self-designed instruments using microphones and sensors to capture environmental sounds and movements, allowing her to manipulate this found material and reproduce it within the very space that generated it. Her rather long preformance was a truly collaborative event, as the audience was not just a passive receiver but the very creator of the aural event. Matthews made this clear by inviting her public to help her by moving around and “playing” with the space of the pavilion. And the public gradually responded, activating a chain of reactions that made her set an enthralling sinaesthetic epiphany, capable of revealing the spatial qualities of sound while enriching the aesthetic experience of the architectural space.

Violin designer Hans Johannsson and architect Andreas Eggertsen then presented their ongoing creation, a high-tech violin that applies the most advanced technologies in digital design and sound engineering to reproduce the unique sound qualities of glorious Stradivaris. With a minimal body, complemented by separate resonating chambers, this creation was indeed a fascinating surprise, even though the performance ended up taking the form of a sort of product demonstration, with the creators trying to convince the public about the amazing qualities of their prototype.

Much more engaging was the final set by the duo Haswell/Hecker, who have been working together in a number of live and studio collaborations that push the boundaries of electronic composition and the experience of live performances to their extremes. Their approach to music-making has lately become increasingly conceptual, each set thought out as an experiment in the use of specific devices. For this performance they chose to use the material of the pavilion as an instrument for a concrete noise tour de force, as in Haswell’s trademark style. Two fans were attached to what appeared to be spare timber boards from the pavilion’s covering, generating a loud vibration that the duo recorded and reprocessed in real time with laptops and synths. It was of course delightfully mean and potentially dangerous for the listeners’ hearing, but the result seemed to have little to do with the specific acoustic qualities of the pavilion, as the timber panels were used in a limited way, only to generate a single, well calculated type of sound. Haswell and Hecker thus imposed their purpose on the pavilion and made their own show, missing the chance to fully explore what its particular acoustic and structural features had to offer. The pavilion closes on the 5th of November – so there is still some time, in case they change their mind.

Valentina Ravaglia