“I like art to mean something, even if it only means something to me": Jasmine Surreal interview below.

Roberts, Selmes & Bartlett, Work Programme 71 (2014)

Posted: November 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, performance art | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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For those who don’t already know, Aston Villa FC are an underperforming English football team from the West Midlands. It might not be common knowledge in the wider art world.

Three artists staged a gallery event last Saturday: Bartlett, Selmes and Roberts. We’ll drop the first names, in the spirit of football. Because all support ‘the Villa’.

And all three wore the team’s claret and blue shirts and in doing so took on a radical (or alarming) non-art look. They didn’t even look like performance artists. It was perhaps anti-anti art.

The terrace vibe was helped along by an atmospheric loop of crowd noise: grown men professing their loyalty to this historic club and its players through the medium of chant.

Meanwhile, the ‘art’ was a collection of doctored pages ripped from matchday programmes and merchandise catalogues. A 90-minute projection showed AVFC demolish Birmingham City 5-1.

All of the above was fiendishly parochial. Players who had been gods in their time, were reduced to the status of an in joke. Was this about the idiocy of football or the selective ignorance of art?

There were also beers. There always are at openings. But these were an assortment of different brews, with each one themed around a first team star. This blogger opted for a Darren Bent lager.

Another attraction was the Lambert Out campaign, by which Bartlett attempted to drum out the club’s under fire manager by handing samizdat posters to bemused gallery folk.

If you like football, the whole thing was a total hoot. But what many overlook, and which you could have learned at this show, is that the most interesting things happen off the pitch.

What to make of the current prime minister David Cameron and heir to the throne Prince William? Both claim to be lifelong Villa fans, to Bartlett’s horror. It’s a surreal carnival.

Art’s perspective on football may be as narrow as football’s perspective on art, but both worlds could surely learn from one another. You will, for example, find art at football grounds.

Portman Road is the stadium for my team de choix; on a plinth outside is a statue of former manager Bobby Robson. It is made by Ipswich fan and sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn.

Home fans arrange to meet by this artwork. They pose for photos here, and roundly approve of this tribute to a local legend. One presumes they even admire the likeness. No soul searching here.

Just be warned. Football art cuts both ways. This blogger once got a text from a friend who saw fans from another club urinating on the likeness of our hero; Robson died of cancer five years ago.

That’s a pretty direct critique, which this blogger could only dream of emulating. Art people might still piss all over your latest show, only with the ambivalent gift of metaphor.

Work Programme 71 took place on Saturday November 15 2014 at Community Arts Centre, Brighton. See gallery Facebook page for future events.


Sophie Dickson, Shooting Range (pt 2) (2014)

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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At a point of maximal chaos, the objects in this sculpture hang together and you feel you could take your finger off the pause button and return this scene to order.

The tableau is composed of ‘junk’, but white paint gives it a wintry appearance, akin to a seasonal shop window, and perhaps one dressed by an anarchist.

Look closer and you will see a cash till, caught mid air, cash drawer gaping, empty. As a nation of shopkeepers, this is an attack on all we hold dear.

But look it’s okay. The whole thing is kept within a theatrical frame. Despite a lack of glass or limits, there is a notional vitrine, nodding to blue chip art-mongers like Hirst and Koons.

Perhaps following in the footsteps of the former organiser of Freeze, Dickson has taken on a vast space in Circus Street, and for a solo show no less.

Hence she demonstrates a youthful talent for wrangling planning applications and funding bids. She has overcome a mountain of paperwork along with a mountain of junk.

Most of the found objects used here are obsolete, a landline phone, a cassette player. They are perhaps fossilised. But fossils don’t get airborne like this.

I want to say it is rare for explosions to turn rooms like this upside down here in Brighton. Yet in 1984, the whole country was rocked by a bomb in the Brighton Grand Hotel.

But this was six years before Dickson was even born. So one can only guess at whatever ash-covered interiors might have inspired this work. Strangely beautiful, there are plenty of them.

Junk is Beautiful can be found in Circus Street, Brighton, until November 21. See Facebook page for opening times.


Sanja Iveković, The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries) (2012)

Posted: October 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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The fifty donkeys were cute and the labels were amusing. But it was the third element in this piece which packed a real punch. A photo of a real donkey behind barbed wire in a town square.

It was a scene was staged by Nazi authorities in 1933 as a warning not to be stubborn and buy from Jewish shopkeepers. Or you too might end up in a concentration camp.

This shot was printed in a German newspaper in 1933, but for the purposes of this show it’s been blown up and displayed as forensic evidence on a lightbox.

Suddenly the donkey becomes the most noble of beasts. And the talent of these stuffed revolutionaries, the best examples of humanity, from Benjamin to Biko, becomes intransigence.

In the catalogue to artes mundi 6, essayist Natasa Ilic reveals that Bertold Brecht worked with a small wooden donkey on his desk to remind him of a critical section of his audience.

Hardworking donkeys are the salt of the earth. Which may be why, in the US political system, donkeys are democratic. It takes a tough hide, rather than a sharp mind, to make revolution.

The burden of so many of these cuddly toys, or the figures whose name they share, is to have had endured persecution, torture and in many cases execution.

As Manca Bajec points out on culture magazine B-turn, to see this piece is to realise that donkeys are unlikely heroes. Move aside Winnie, Eeyore’s in town.

Once again Ilic highlights something interesting. At least one philosopher has linked the spirit of revolution in the early 21st century to depression, withdrawal and exhaustion.

In the absence of any horizon of positive change, we must all learn from the donkey how to endure. Our only comfort, in the austerity age, might be a soft toy and a memory.

Just by way of an interesting aside: the German authorities may have overlooked the story of Balaam and the ass when they staged their 1930s photo op.

Balaam was of course a prophet on his way to curse the Israelites when the Angel of the Lord came down to turn him back and indeed destroy him.

His equine steed, a donkey as you will know, was granted sight of the Angel. And cut a long story short, Balaam ended up blessing the Jewish homeland. Spooky or what?

Iveković is one of nine shortlisted artists in artes mundi 6. The exhibition runs in various venues in Cardiff until 22 February 2015.


Dinh Q Lê, The Farmers and the Helicopters (2006)

Posted: October 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, film art, war art | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

War is a game for boys of all ages. So if that’s your violent gender you might especially enjoy this montage of vintage film in which helicopter gunships rain deafening misery on the Vietnamese.

Dinh Q Lê’s film begins gently with innocuous footage of dragonflies and some peasant wisdom about determining the weather from their flight patterns. So far, so bucolic.

But then come the invasion force, in footage we have seen all too often, along with the reports from the ground, from the Vietnamese from whom we have heard all too rarely.

As said by one of the farmers in the film, young at the time, you could watch these helicopters for hours. To some degree he found their ominous presence a pleasant spectacle. Strange indeed.

Or is it? JG Ballard can be relied upon to explain a paradox like this. His landmark book The Atrocity Exhibition, which first appeared toward the end of the Vietnam war, is full of helicopters

“The Vietnam war,” he writes, “has offered a focus for a wide range of polymorphic sexual impulses”. In other words, the first televised war arrived in our living rooms bearing an erotic charge.

It was, he adds, “also a means by which the United States has re-established a positive psychosexual relationship with the rest of the world.” That has a ring of mad truth, doesn’t it?

Certainly anything that defies gravity carries, if a male partner is involved, some sexual promise. And asymmetric warfare can in this way be seen as a sado-masochistic hook up between whole nations.

Sadly, at its climax, this film offers a terrible thrill as, midway through, we undergo a fusillade of bombs, rockets and bullets on all three channels. It’s a troubling, visceral pleasure.

You would think that Vietnam had seen enough of these mechanical dragonflies to last a lifetime. But in a coda to this film, we discover that the rural helicopter fan is now an amateur engineer.

His grown up passion is for building the very vehicles which waged war on his people is something an analyst could probably explain. They pale, of course, compared with industrial US models.

And we never see them fly. They may as well be sculpture. The may as well be pieces of kinetic art about making or keeping peace, no matter how anti-climatic that grown-up impulse might be.

This film can be found in The Sensory War 1914-2014 at Manchester Art Galery until 22 Februrary 2015. The Ballard quote can be found in Chapter 11: Love and Napalm: Export USA.


Wang Yuyang, Breathing Books (2014)

Posted: October 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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“I like the traditional Chinese philosophy,” says Wang Yuyang, “Because it talks about the relationship between 1 and 0, on and off, black and white, something and nothing…”

You have to imagine that the thirtysomething artist would also like the branch of post-structuralist theory known, confusingly, as deconstruction.

If deconstruction itself has been sparked into life by any one opposition, that might well have to be the porous distinction between speech and writing. The former present, the latter absent.

Wang Yuyang shakes up this distinction by animating the a selection of Chinese books from the neo-gothic university-linked library in Manchester, John Rylands.

The books have been flawlessly recreated in silicon rubber and thank to a regular pulse of air, they now appear to whisper or breath. They are more ‘here’ than ever.

But as anyone who has ever loved a book can testifty, your personal copy can take on a charge after you’ve worked your way through it page by static page. It lives for you.

As such, Wang Yuyang has revealed a truth about the written word. And in another move you might call deconstructive, he has privileged East over West in his choice of volumes.

Theoretical babble aside, only the most casual passerby will not be stopped in their tracks by this installation. See how ghostly those old books are. Even the chairs breathe.

They might remind you that the entire building is a memorial, built for Mr Rylands after his passing by wife Enriqueta. The historical context here is a 19th century death.

Not that we should dwell on that. Rather more pertinent are the loving couples’ respective fortunes. His came from the cotton mills, hers from the sugar plantations.

One could argue that books, certainly written ideas, hastened the end of those particular positions. Down the road in Chetham’s Library Karl Marx would meet with Friedrich Engels.

So it only appears to be a supernatural manifestation or the effect of a cool hallucinogen. Those books you’ve read and believed every word: they’ll still be breathing long after you stop.

Breathing Books can be seen at The John Rylands Library as part of Harmonious Society, the UK’s largest ever exhibition of contemporary Chinese art.

Show runs for the duration of Asia Triennial Manchester which is on until 23 November 2014.


Peter Wächtler, Untitled (2013)

Posted: October 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, watercolour | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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The perversity on display here is not the a tergo position adopted by the blonde mistress or the rake so drunk he has fallen out of the large double bed.

No the perversity is that Wächtler uses a medium as gentle as watercolour to incriminate the bad behaviour of this fornicating sot and his willing accomplice.

Not that getting drunk and having sex is always reprehensible, it’s not. Not unless you do so in the presence of a subordinate, in this case a servant, with no choice but to watch.

These days, in the wake of the Starr Report, it’s hard not to watch. Only just the other week, we had to hear about one of our social betters in the political class, caught up in a sexting scandal.

And while his employer may be half naked and sprawled across the floor, the butler comes out of it little better. To say he’s overdressed for the occasion is putting it mildly.

But his poise, which says, Sir, You Called?, manifests an English class trope in which servile dignity might just give you the upper hand in such situations: an X-rated Jeeves and Wooster.

All the moral authority in this painting is on the butler’s side. The Lord has none of it, and neither does the German artist, who appears to laugh at all concerned.

In fact, he may be more concerned with that sinuous line which snakes down the picture from the raised behind of the mystery blonde through to her paramour’s flailing leg.

There is surely some overlap between the ‘one percent’ (those to blame for all the world’s ills) and those who have the wherewithal and the self-importance to employ a butler.

That could make Wächtler’s watercolours into a political statement in which the laughter cloaks despair. But just remember, that’s a room service trolley and not a barricade.

This painting, along with some equally compelling film and sculpture by the artist, can be seen in A Needle Walks into a Haystack The Old Blind School, Liverpool, until October 26 2014. 

It is part of Liverpool Biennial 2014. There’s a good discussion of the event’s politics with regard to Peter Wächtler on the The Double Negative.


Rachael Champion, Naturally Occurring  Brutalist Structure (2013)

Posted: September 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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An observation: spheres of Perspex and pea shingle have gravity in the same way that planets do. This piece by Rachael Champion has neither colour nor much visual stimuli, yet it has pull.

Taken in isolation, gravel, pebbledash, and industrial tiling are unlovely things. And no one could argue this sculpture has much conventional beauty. But, along with presence, it has something else.

Perhaps what it has is, despite the title, is a tangle with nature. In a tiled surround like this you might expect to find a tree, a shrub, even a piece of topiary. But here we have a man-made boulder.

Were you taking a cigarette break outside the glass atrium of your office block, you would not even know this was a sculpture. Even if you noticed it, my guess is it would non-plus most people.

You wouldn’t even think to vandalise it, let alone steal it. And for this reason if for no other, Champion has solved a couple of perennial issues with public art, if art it really be.

Mind you, the title also suggests we consider this a piece of architecture, a brutalist structure no less. And indeed this piece overwhelms in the same way as, say, the Brighton Centre.

That’s no mean feat for something about 4ft cubed. Champion’s piece threatened to dominate the recent show in which she was included, like a bull in a china shop, or a noisy piece of construction.

And there’s a kind of righteousness about the work of a builder. He or she (usually he) feels no need to justify what they do, not even when they wake you at 8am on a Saturday.

Every project completed, no matter how ugly or beautiful, has a clear use and a value agreed upon in advance. If artists like Champion want some of that, who can blame them?

Naturally Occurring  Brutalist Structure was in Trade at pop up gallery Castor Projects between 29/08 and 10/09. See more by the artist on her website.


Alan Magee, Return to glory (2014)

Posted: September 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, painting, sculpture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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Two disks grace the gallery. One sits on the floor. One hangs on the wall. Looking closer, their outer rims can be identified as hula hoops. But there will be no gyrating here today.

Both hoops have been measured up for a plasterboard inner, and worked over with filler to produce an artwork. So that carpentry and plastering skills more in evidence than chiselling or moulding.

So the productive status of Return to glory is ambiguous. Is it really a work, resulting in a useful end product? Or is it a piece of menial labour? Possibly, only the market decides.

Irish artist Magee is much concerned with these distinctions and points me in the direction of Hannah Arendt for a discussion of work, labour and action.

Returning to the source of distinctions like this, Arendt recalls Aristotle. The Greek would have given citizenship to shepherds and painters, but not peasants or sculptors.

In the ancient world they had contempt for the slave class, and Magee seems to play up to this, as a provocation, with his use of poor materials and trade skills.

If his two hoops are a really a return to glory, it is therefore because one adorns the wall and might be called a painting. Whether or not it would have pleased Aristotle is a moot point.

Unlike the wall-mounted piece, hula hoops are not usually a perfect circle. Where the hoop joins, you can usually find a stiffened flatter piece of tubing, the artist tells me.

So the work on the floor (therefore a scupture) rests on this straight edge. The work on the wall (a painting of sorts) has been filled out with plasterboard to make a perfect circle.

Arendt also notes that in ancient Greece, there was a feeling of arrogance among the painters. She recalls that even as late as the renaissance, sculptors were considered to be servile.

For this reason Magee’s piece is a bold act of resistance. It is both sculpture, painting and, in stepping back from one example of each, a radical piece of curating. Nothing menial about that.

This work was in Trade at pop up gallery Castor Projects between 29/08 and 10/09. See more by the artist on his website.


Simon Lewandowski, 100 Things With Handles (2008)

Posted: August 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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When confronted with a work of contemporary art, it is common to look for a handle. But it is not always easy to get to grips with an abstract sculpture or an assemblage.

You could go to the press release. After all, that’s what a reviewer will do. But then every so often a piece comes along which nullifies the various texts surrounding it.

Such is the case with Lewandowski’s work. It has 100 handles, and so offers 100 points of theoretical contact. They give his assorted items of bric-a-brac an unruly personality.

None of the handles seem to fit. Many clasp objects with no clear function, many are superfluous, and they are all incongruous in some way. Too big, too small, too weird.

For example, he’s screwed a plastic briefcase handle onto a copy of history’s most enduring piece of art criticism: The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari.

It gives the seminal book a workmanlike appearance. Rather than a dusty tome, it is here an industrious tool. But at the same time, this is absurd. It looks like satire.

There’s also a handle on a colourful globe. This looks like it once belonged to a plastic bucket, as if you might take planet Earth with you to the beach. That’s pretty escapist.

Elsewhere there’s a handle on a giant letter K, which reads to these eyes like a reference to Kafka, who also encourages yet defies the grasp of critics and onlookers.

So the handles hold you, rather than the other way round. They draw you in and sustain your interest as you look around the many curious items in this corner at APT Gallery.

This is a complex installation. You could write a crit about each of the 100 items. They might fill a book, onto which you might propose the artist graft a further handle.

It would be a handle on 100 written handles on 100 actual handles. There is something already quite all-consuming about this series which seems like it could go on forever.

100 Things with Handles could be seen at APT Gallery, Deptford, London as part of group show Morphisisation (7th -17th August 2014). Lewandowski’s website can be found here.


Photodiary: Whitstable Biennale 2014

Posted: June 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, sound art, video installation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Last Saturday I spent eight or so intense hours hot footing it around a coastal town in South East England in search of the many artworks which make up Whitstable Biennale.

mark aerial waller

The coach dropped us at the Horsebridge Arts Centre, in which could be seen a wry excavation of 35-year-old television drama ,Sapphire and Steel, in a diverting film by Mark Aerial Waller.

rachel ruepke

Not so far away, in a sea cadet hall, Rachel Reupke had dramatised the power dynamics in a set of complaint letters. It was a mysterious if not completely opaque bit of performance art.

john walter

In a psychedelic beach hut on a westerly beach, John Walter was entertaining guest after guest with G&T plus gypsy tarts. I had no idea if the sun was past the yard arm, but oh well.

laura wilson

On the South Quay I found this sculpture by local stevedores working on behalf of Laura Wilson. Her accompanying film was a poetic slice of everyday life in an industrial zone.

arka

This may look like a scene from Abu Ghraib but in fact it’s a church hall and these hooded figures are art lovers taking in bit of cosmic sound art from The Arka Group. It was hot under there.

jeremy millar

In the nearby postal delivery office, Jeremy Millar had built a screening room from fire blankets. The film itself followed a day in the life of a troubled man alone in a stunning marsh landscape.

rosa ainley

A community centre called Umbrella Hall was the location for a piece of sound art by Rosa Ainley. It treated the rise and fall of a local Pfizer building and was described, not by me, as a Greek chorus.

das hund

Seven pm and the sun was still up. Das Hund played a gig in a boat shed. I guess any old singer can carry a tune, so Samuel Levack’s atonal delivery was all the more impressive.

fish and chips

Forgive the gastroporn but, not having eaten since breakfast, fish and chips on Whitstable beach was just the ticket. It’s a fantastic event and if you can go next weekend, do.

Whitstable Biennale 2014 runs until June 15.



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