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

Preview: Simon Whitehead – Afield & Louphole

Pings, Simon Whitehead, 2008. Photo courtesy the artist

Exhibition: Afield & Louphole by Simon Whitehead, Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys, February 6 – April 7 2010.

With a background in both geography and dance, Simon Whitehead has an unusual CV. But it does mean he is well placed to stage physical encounters with landscape.

Whitehead has been using ‘pedestrian practices’ to investigate the meaning of various locations for over a decade. These include dance, improvised movement and, one imagines, walking.

Video is used to document his geo-choreographic explorations and much of the artist’s work is collaborative. Sound art and artefacts also feature in the new show, entitled Afield.

When not responding to landscapes, Whitehead is responding to wolves. During a 2005 residency in Canada he became fascinated by their fearsome call.

“The wolf howls called up a physical sensation I had not experienced before, an excitement probably rendered by the folk tales of this legendary outlaw as well as some primal response to the proximity of another predator,” he has said.

“We never saw the wolves, they are rarely seen by humans, which made their evanescence even more compelling.”

Having returned to Wales, his artistic base, Whitehead began to consider the fate of local wolves, which were hunted to extinction in the 16th century. Now he has devised a long-overdue tribute, a participatory event called Louphole.

So visitors to Newtown should not be surprised by freak sightings or hearings of wolves. And on March 4 the Newtown Silver Band will play a wolf-inspired composition by sound artist Barnaby Oliver.

Louphole will culminate in the first ever public howl to be held in Wales and possibly the UK. It must be a far cry from geography lectures and dance lessons.

Written for Culture24.


Preview: Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture

Zineb Sedira, Une Génération de Femmes, 1997. Courtesy: The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester

Walls Are Talking – Wallpaper, Art and Culture at The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, February 6 – May 3 2010

Wallpaper is often used as a pejorative term for art or music that asks for little from its audience. But not so the examples in a new show at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Walls Are Talking demonstrates the potential of paper and paste to speak about more than just interior design. Just a few of the issues tackled include warfare, racism, gender and sexuality.

All of which isn’t surprising given the type of ‘designers’ whose work appears here. Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Michael Craig-Martin and Angus Fairhurst have all used wallpaper to make bold artistic statements.

In fact curators Christine Woods and Gill Saunders have gathered works by more than 30 international artists who share an interest in the unlikely medium.

But many of the designs could still decorate a living room. Zineb Sedira does so even as she comments on gender inequalities in Islamic society, in works from a series called Une Génération des Femmes.

Thomas Demand, meanwhile, has covered an entire gallery in a wallpaper called Ivy. It features photography of intricate cut out paper, which promises to work on both an aesthetic and conceptual level.

With several thousand examples in its main collection, the Whitworth is the perfect backdrop for a show on wallpaper. If it goes on display in an art gallery, it is safe to assume it really is art.

Written for Culture24.


Review: The Empire Strikes Back – Indian Art Today

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 2 (2007). Fibreglass sculptures, Dimensions variable. The Saatchi Gallery, London, ©Jitish Kallat (2010)

The very first gallery pays homage to Ghandi. 4,479 fibreglass bones spell out a text which pleads for non-violence so it seems perverse to name this show The Empire Strikes Back.

But violent reactions wait round every corner of the Saatchi Gallery’s 11 main spaces. On this evidence, Indian art causes shudders, sharp intakes of breath and widening of the eyes.

The worst of the horror comes from Huma Bhabha, who has created a praying figure wrapped in a bin bag. Ancient clay hands extrude, as does an antediluvian tail. It looks like a rodent or execution victim.

The most gasp-inducing work is by Jaishri Abichandani, titled Allah O Akbar (which translates as “God is great”.) It’s written in glittering red and green whips, conveying both the rigors of Islam and the dubious glories of martyrdom.

Then there is the awe-inspiring presence of Eruda by Jitish Kallat. This dark sculpture of a Mumbai street child stands more than 4m high. He carries books for sale, heroic in a Disneyesque way. But touch him and the black-lead finish will stain you.

The shock factor is what you might expect from this gallery and at worst it can seem one dimensional.

Arabian Delight by Huma Mulji is a taxidermy camel in a suitcase. It’s undeniably funny but, as a comment on the Islamification of Pakistan, it is fairly closed off to interpretation.

But at best, such high impact work can astound and violently re-orientate you. A piece called The Enlightening Army of the Empire might suggest a choleric phalanx of men in red tunics with muskets.

Instead, Tushar Joag presents us with a skeletal, spectral band of robotic figures, who wield car lights, spotlights, neon strips and lightbulbs.

It strikes you that the British must often seem strange to India. Indeed, it is strange and enlightened that this exhibition should take place at all.

Three floors of Indian art have been made available for free, together with a picture by picture guide – one of the best you are likely to come across.

So come and let the works do violence to you. They should be resisted passively, if at all.

Written for Culture24.