“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Preview: Urbis Has Left The Building

A visitor enjoys a show about the Haçienda. Photo courtesy Urbis

Exhibition: Urbis Has Left The Building: Six Years of the Best Exhibitions In Pop Culture, Urbis, Manchester, until February 27 2010

“Best of” compilations are usually the preserve of the music industry. So if any museum has the shows to get away with the same trick, it would have to be Urbis.

Manchester’s poppiest gallery space is celebrating its short history with a final show, Urbis Has Left The Building: Six Years Of The Best Exhibitions In Pop Culture.

Since 2004 the city centre museum has staged shows on everything from graffiti and record design to manga and video games. But from 2011 the venue will be given over to an even more popular pastime as the National Museum of Football moves down the road from Preston.

Urbis Chief Executive Vaughan Allen said he was proud to have quickly established a global reputation with the museum. “No other . . . has provided popular culture with a serious platform in the way that we have, with a genuine passion that made us unique, consistently giving credibility and backing to subjects that most galleries and museums would overlook,” he commented.

Many Urbis shows have been celebrations of local talent, including graphic designer Peter Saville, fashion designer Matthew Williamson and record label Factory.

Other shows have looked as far afield as China and the US civil rights movement for inspiration; Black Panther: Emory Douglas and the Art of Revolution was rated one of the best of the decade by Museums Journal.

This will be your last chance to visit Urbis. And where else could you go to view a pair of limited edition Haçienda nightclub trainers?


Preview: Back Buffer – New Arena Paintings

Scene rendered with ioq3aPaint. Picture: julianoliver.com

Exhibition: Back Buffer: New Arena Paintings, The Hannah Maclure Centre,  Dundee, February 13 – April 30 2010

It is hard to imagine Jackson Pollock on a computer. But artist and inventor Julian Oliver has developed what you might call virtual action painting.

Instead of attacking a canvas, Oliver uses software which gamers have long been using to attack aliens.

ioquake3 is a gaming engine used worldwide in first person shooter titles. It is free to use and open source, in other words open to modification.

So Oliver has developed ioq3aPaint. His players are armed with brushes rather than guns. Their aim is to establish painterly supremacy in a mathematical universe.

A 3D environment evolves in response to your control pad. Every twitch and lunge is rendered as a graphic splurge. Visitors to the show at The Hannah Maclure Centre will be able to play the game in a temporary arcade.

36 million paintings will be generated in the course of the exhibition, 250 of which will be made available as prints.

The abstract expressionists tried many ways of introducing chance and spontaneity into their work, but they never tried this.

Clearly none of them had Oliver’s techie skills. His teaching subjects include object-oriented programming, virtual architecture, UNIX/Linux, interface design, augmented reality and open source development practices.

Written for Culture24.


Preview: Ian Breakwell – The Elusive State of Happiness

Ian Breakwell, Photo Text Sequence, (1972). © the artist's estate.

Exhibition: Ian Breakwell – The Elusive State of Happiness, QUAD Gallery, Derby, February 13 – April 18 2010

Ian Breakwell led a well-recorded life. Between the 1960s and his death in 2005 he captured many of its details in a largely unpublished visual diary.

Some is typed, some handwritten. There are drawings, photos and collages. It is a masterwork which slowly evolves over the decades. Every page is a finished piece.

Most artists would have found time for little else, but Breakwell was prolific. The organisers of his first major retrospective will have had a lot of work to choose from.

“He was an incredible, diverse artist,” says Curator Louise Clements, “We are excited with the show and to be able to offer audiences a full exploration of his life’s work, from diaries, audioworks, moving image, expanded-cinema to text, drawings and photo-collage.”

Large-scale works on show include the 32-part Estate, the 27-part Walserings, plus the artist’s last important work, BC/AD, dealing with his fatal battle with cancer.

Breakwell was born in Derby and studied at Derby College of Art. He spent much of his working life in London and his work is now to be found in the Tate, the V&A and New York’s MoMA.

International renown came from an ability to tease out the extraordinary from the ordinary. If that is not a good reason for keeping a diary, what is?

Written for Culture24.


Review: João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva – On the Movement of the Fried Egg and Other Astronomical Bodies

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Colombo's Column, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Galeria GraçaBrandão, Lisbon.

Exhibition: João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva – On the Movement of the Fried Egg and Other Astronomical Bodies, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until March 21 2010

After representing Portugal in Venice at the 2009 Biennale, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva have pitched up in Birmingham for their first UK solo show.

In near total darkness at Ikon the walls flicker with their grainy 16mm films. The whirr of projectors only deepens the silence.

Nothing distracts from your consideration of the loops of footage. So when an egg yolk slides into a pan, it carries the weight of an astronomical body, as promised by the show’s title.

Given the apparent age of the film, you feel anything could happen. The movies look to have come from the vault of some museum or research institute.

Indeed, many are structured like formal experiments. One man tries to stack eggs. Another appears to eat glass. A rigid body is impossibly suspended between two chairs.

According to the Lisbon-based pair, these are pieces of “poetic philosophical fiction”. The set ups are designed to explore philosophical and mythical ideas, many of them esoteric.

So the fried egg questions the ancient belief in Atomism. The stacked eggs illustrate an anecdote about Christopher Columbus. Falling water in slow motion plays around with Plato’s Theory of Form. Yet all are treated to a reduction ad absurdum.

They even seem to question their own means of investigation. One voluble Brazilian uses a hole in the sole of his boot as a viewfinder or a telescope as if to cast doubt on all forms of epistemology.

In a later film, we find him chasing a brick which slides away from him through the dust. It is tempting to see this as a metaphor for all of the scientific researches in the show.

Along with film, Gusmão and Paivis write and compile texts for their own periodical, Efflúvio Magnético. Magnetic effluvia, in case you were wondering, is the cosmic force which impels the earth’s winds and waves, as mentioned in The Man That Laughs by Victor Hugo.

Most comic of all is a film in which five men gather in a clearing, smear themselves in dirt and take turns drinking from a giant pitcher which ends up inverted on one of their heads. Now, he too is ready to explore the darkness.

Written for Culture24.


Review: Clare Rojas – We They, We They

Clare Rojas, Noise Pop (2009). Courtesy the artist, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Franciso and Kavi Gupta, Chicago

Exhibition: Clare Rojas – We They, We They, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until March 21 2010

Stepping into the first UK museum show by Clare Rojas is like stumbling upon the private chapel of a slightly mad Pagan with plenty of time, paint and a tall step ladder.

Four walls in the first gallery are covered in a patchwork of colour, motif and dark imagery. The eye bounces around trying to make sense of it all.

There are men and women sitting, moody and alone. There is a couple waving flowers and dancing. A woman laughs. It could perhaps be the story of a relationship.

Except there are three women whose mouths and eyes vomit blood and bile. There are jewel-headed men who climb a carpet to an old woman’s mouth. One scene features a bigfoot type creature.

The painted panels in the two other galleries contain many more scenes of notable strangeness. Some recall Hieronymous Bosch as perhaps seen on a needlework sampler.

Visitors will wonder where it all comes from. Clare Rojas must surely hail from some remote Native American reservation or Eastern European rural backwater, or so you would think.

But the work appears to be born out of over exposure to contemporary culture, not the reverse. Rojas and co-creator Andrew Jeffrey Wright use Tipp-ex to attack the pages of a fashion glossy in two Pythonesque animations on view in the resource room.

Ikon has also laid on a listening post where Peggy Honeywell, her folk-singing alter ego, plays one of her three CDs of knowing Americana. A video shows her gigging at a frat party, suggesting music really does have charms to soothe the savage beast.

The music and the artwork come together in the Tower Room where Rojas’ bright, folksy imagery decorates the heads of seven antique banjos.

It is not an instrument you would associate with contemporary art. Nor might you expect to find a show supported by a kid’s book about a pigeon called Pidgy.

But Rojas, together with Honeywell, has created a fully-realised, alternative world, and you cannot ask an artist for much more than that.

Written for Culture24.


Preview: André Stitt – Substance

André Stitt, Nostalgia. Courtesy Golden Thread Gallery.

Exhibition: André Stitt – Substance, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, until March 6 2010

The 1970s and 1980s were André Stitt’s formative years. He lived in Belfast. Conflict and trauma may be his greatest artistic influences.

In a city where people took sides, Stitt chose a truly committed medium: performance art. His work is hard hitting, so much so that it comes with a warning. This show may not be suitable for all audiences, says Golden Thread Gallery.

A few of Stitt’s themes include alienation, oppression and coercion, so we should be pleased his work has the power to shock a Belfast audience. It is better for art to offer these experiences than everyday life.

For all that, Substance offers an objective view of his well-documented performance events. Stitt may refer to them as “akshuns” but they are never less than intelligent. A documentary as part of the exhibition reveals some of the thinking behind them.

He may be one of Northern Ireland’s most important contemporary art exports, but this will be an overdue chance for locals to see a major show by Stitt. Many of the pieces on display have never been seen before.

The artist now lives in Cardiff. This show is part retrospective, part catalogue, perhaps part homecoming.

Written for Culture24.


Preview: Richard Grayson at De La Warr Pavilion

Video Still from The Magpie Index. © Richard Grayson/Locus +.

Exhibition: Richard Grayson – An Exhibition, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, until March 14 2010

The show is simply called An Exhibition, but music and words feature as heavily as visual art in this five-year retrospective of works by Richard Grayson.

A Country & Western band, from Australia, play tunes that occasionally borrow from the score of Handel’s Messiah. Hay bales are provided to sit on.

Another gallery, decked out like a chapel, shows footage of a 26-piece choir who sing about the end of the world. Their lyrics are adapted from a cultish religious website.

Then there is Roy Harper, the English singer-songwriter, who appears on video as a  talking head in The Magpie Index.

This new commission looks at the philosophies and attitudes that have ensured Harper remains outside the mainstream, where you’ll also find aussie C&W and apocalyptical cults.

Grayson is fascinated by the narratives and texts used to stake out these positions. The show includes several works on paper which take blogs, star charts and Internet-based prophecies as a starting point.

Indeed the web is the place where outsiders can remake the world using language and image. Various sites theorise about the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ. Grayson downloads the results and draws pictures from the jpegs.

He takes wayward voices seriously or at least plays with the possibility of doing so.

Written for Culture24.


Preview: Star City – The Future Under Communism

Photo: www.nottinghamcontemporary.org

Exhibition: Star City: The Future Under Communism, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, February 13 – April 18 2010

With horizons sealed off by climate change and economic meltdown, it may be time to look backwards in order to start looking forwards again.

Star City at Nottingham Contemporary presents visions of the future from behind the Iron Curtain. They may be outdated, but some are at least optimistic.

The show takes its name from a secret Cosmonaut training camp oustide Moscow. In the Communist era, space exploration was shorthand for progress.

A few Western artists have filmed at the location. Jane and Louise Wilson offer a rare glimpse of the now ruined centre. The Otolith Group provide footage under weightless conditions.

But the majority of works on display are by artists from the former Eastern Bloc, who either figured as the avant garde of the 60s and 70s or emerged on the international scene in the last decade.

Many will be surprised at the influence of science fiction on people and places with a reputation for grim realism.

Polish artist Pawel Althamer stages an expedition to the alien setting of modernist city Brazilia, while Deimantas Narkevicius has remade the ending of Sci-fi classic Solaris.

There are also space toys from Poland, space posters from the USSR and a life-size replica of a Sputnik. Even realism, it seems, once held some excitement.

Written for Culture24.


Art must-sees of the month: February

Party in progress at the New Art Gallery Walsall: Goldfish by Zhang Peng

After a freakishly cold January, it is time to take a reading of the artistic temperature up and down the land. Here’s our guide to what’s hot in February.

Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic, Tate Liverpool

Europe, North America, Africa and South America are connected by two important things, black culture and a busy ocean. So a generation of global black artists emerges from a modernist movement inspired by African art. This show has plenty to say.

André Stitt – Substance, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast

Life in Belfast during the 70s and 80s has left its mark on Stitt, whose performance work is so hard hitting he refers to his “akshuns” with a blunt misspelling. In a more objective time, Golden Thread Gallery now offers a career retrospective of sorts.

Party!, The New Art Gallery Walsall

It could be time to end your new year detox at the New Art Gallery. Ten year birthday celebrations are afoot and among the guests are Goya, Chagall and Gilbert & George. The show opens mid month and promises to explore the darker side of partying.

Modern Times: Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

Perhaps you can’t have too many surveys of modernism, so here is another with a personal touch. Film maker Lutz Becker demonstrates how the greatest ‘isms’ of twentieth century art can be seen as responses to political upheaval and dictatorship.

Michael Landy – Art Bin, the South London Gallery

It is the show with work by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, and many more, all of which will be destroyed after six weeks. The 600m³ polycarbonate and steel bin will surely be the most talked about skip of 2010.

Richard Grayson, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea

Richard Grayson has apparently spent much of the last five years on the internet. His work at the De La Warr Pavilion draws on blogs, apocalyptic predictions, star charts and theories about the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ. Art to believe in, or not.


Preview: Party! at the New Art Gallery Walsall

Anne Hardy, Untitled IV (Balloons) (2005). Diasec Mounted C-Type Print. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Exhibition: Party!, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, February 12 – April 18 2010

The birthday bash of a 10-year-old can easily get out of hand. It certainly looks that way with an exhibition called Party! at the New Art Gallery Walsall.

More than 50 artists feature in the show, which celebrates a decade since the lottery funded gallery first opened its doors. They represent an A to Z of contemporary art, from Jonathan Allen to Zhang Peng.

Martin Creed is installing 2,000 purple balloons in a single gallery space for a piece entitled Half The Air In A Given Space.

In Disco Mécanique by David Batchelor hundreds of pairs of plastic sunglasses have been turned into kaleidoscopic mirrorballs.

And 1,400 corks have been popped for an as yet unnamed piece by New Zealander Judy Darragh.

There will be a few specially chosen grown-ups in attendance, such as Marc Chagall, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Francisco Goya.

The Chagall painting, turning 60 this year, is called Blue Circus and also featured in The New Art Gallery’s inaugural exhibition.

Along with music, song, dance, food and drink, dress and decor, Party! will explore some of the darker side of human festivities.

Chinese artist Yang Mian brings along a kitsch bronze statue of Michael Jackson. The King of Pop stands more than two metres tall and his death has done little to dampen spirits.