Category Archives: curating

Ambrosine Allen @ DOLPH Projects


One (the?) aim of art writing is to interpret with words. But the imagery of so much art is so strong, that verbal language can only play an ernest second fiddle, happy just to be at the gig.

(Works of literature isolate themselves on shelves and in libraries. Aware they fail to represent the visible world, they content themselves with creating numerous new worlds unto themselves.)

But twas not ever thus. In the beginning there was indeed the word. Religious art was famously for the illiterate. And centuries later the illustrative arts were pressed into the service of science.

You can see how uneasy the relationship between knowledge and image remains. Wikipedia, the world’s favourite source of germane facts, will limit itself to marginal and no-cost imagery.

Allen’s show harks back to a time before the deluge. Less was once more. A miniature black and white illustration, along with columns of academic text, would give the imagination plenty to go on.

The authority of bygone encyclopaedias was such that even the most casual reader could learn to see the world through a prism of classification, sober order and, yet, no small degree of wonder.

Nothing like this can be imposed on the world wide web. Pixels are hazy compared with the rigours of print. Digital photography, in its ubiquity, lacks the intensity and intention of the diagram.

And some of the mystery too. Allen’s show collects antique imagery which ranges around a much larger planet when the ends of the world were visited in books rather than google Earth.

But as can be seen from the careless photograph at the head of this piece, the repositories of info are now bursting at the seams. The history of knowledge has exploded on us.

Ambrosine Allen: The Art of the Small can be seen at DOLPH, London, until 19 March 2016. See web for opening times and directions.

Ruth Angel Edwards, Trace Programme (2016)


Skate parks are paradoxical places: social enterprises often supported by local councils which still manage to attract, engage and win over even the most disaffected kids on two to four wheels.

Contemporary art can be this way. Projects with an ‘edge’ can still attract funding. You might even say that funders like a soupçon of youthful dissent along with their community minded fare.

Now artist and curator Ruth Angel Edwards is bringing together more than 20 fellow artists for a show at Flo skatepark, Nottingham. Whoever might fund Flo, this rad weekend will be lottery funded.

Can we say with any certainty that skateboarding is harmless? No, because it’s an activity in the vanguard of the debate about public and private space. If skating is banned, that’s private space.

It is hoped that some of the artists in Trace Programme already recognise the political challenge posed by skaters and will come to Nottingham ready to celebrate their anarchic energy.

But here’s another activity which struggles to find a legal place in the world: dance parties. Raves are even less popular than skating and are frowned upon from the East Midlands to the East Coast. 

In 2015, creative think tank Communitas staged a rave in a domestic setting in NYC with a respectable dinner party as its legal front, with repetitive eats as an alibi for repetitive beats.

For another strand of this subcultural weekend, artist Frank J. Miles, is recreating his New York event at Nottingham’s artist-led studios Backlit. You bring the booze. Mixmag will bring the soundtrack.

Rave dinner parties bring enough baggage to qualify as compelling pieces of art. They bring in social practice, performance art, dance culture, drug culture, and even (techno) shamanism.

Art historical reference points include Judy Chicago’s all-female Dinner Party and, just perhaps, The Last Supper by Leonardo. Neither turned into a rave, but both had an agenda just as strong.

Trace Programme runs from 19 – 21 February 2016, with a launch party this evening. Exhibtion can then be seen at Flo Skatepark, with rave/dinner at Backlit. 

Jeremy Deller, The Uses of Literacy (1997)

You may not think much of this picture and I should point out quickly it is not by the artist Jeremy Deller. It is by an anonymous young person and fan of therein mentioned band.

But the onetime inclusion of this work and many like it, in a show given over in its entirety to art by fans of the Manic Street Preachers, is a really wonderful thing.

The Uses of Literacy (1997) demonstrated the ways in which a rock group has served as an “alternative educational resource” for those who consumed their music and press appearances.

It is hard to take lyrics as seriously as the syllabus for A level English, but perhaps we should. Which of us has not been led from an album sleeve into a bookshop?

But this was, to be fair, a more common phenomenon in the 80s, when NME journalists regularly dropped references to Kafka, Camus, Dostoyevsky, et al.

By the time the Manics broke through in the 90s, intellectual pop music was as defunct as the Soviet Union. And it has never really made a comeback.

Yet fandom, as expressed by a show like The Uses of Literacy, can be expression of more than idolatrous desire. Here it was also once a commitment to bettering oneself.

And besides, idolatry never did that much harm. One can quite easily see the history of art as a catalogue of fandom: Jesus-worship, Mary-worship, nude model-worship, etc.

Deller himself is clearly a big music fan. His oft mentioned lack of artistic training means that in some ways he makes work as a fan, rather than an artist.

This gives his new show at the Hayward an impulsive simplicity, like that in the picture above. “I am a simple man, making simple art for simple people,” he said in a recent BBC documentary.

If simple art can sometimes be naive art, as this picture shows, then it is also an innocent form of engagement with the world. Bad technique is even a sign of good intentions.

And only an innocent would tow the remains of a Baghdad car bomb across the United States, as Deller has done for his project It Is What It Is. Who else would have got away with it?

For that reason I’ll happily go on record as a Jeremy Deller fan. I defy anyone who’s ever had a record collection to see his new show at the Hayward and not be converted.

Jeremy Deller: Joy in People is at Hayward Gallery until May 13. See gallery website for more details.

Bob and Roberta Smith interview

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Life Of The Mind (2010). Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery. © Bob and Roberta Smith

Written for Culture24.

Bob and Roberta Smith have called their forthcoming show The Life of the Mind, and the last notable person who offered to demonstrate that burnt down a hotel.

The title is a quote from the 1991 movie Barton Fink with the arsonist played by John Goodman. He is very annoyed to have become the subject of a writer’s work.

“I think artists are extraordinary people but they’re people just like anybody else,” Bob and Roberta Smith say. “There’s this idea that because you’ve got access and you’ve got power that you can interpret how the world works and what’s going on in somebody’s head, and so that image of John Goodman setting light to the hotel, he’s saying I don’t want to be patronised any more.”

Now 26 artists who seem to be in a similar position have been gathered for the show at The New Art Gallery Walsall. Curators and contributors Bob and Roberta have looked for pieces which resist a white, male hegemonic viewpoint.

In some ways this is Roberta’s show, I suggest, and Bob agrees: “It is a sort of proto feminist statement, but I am a bloke,” he naturally confirms, speaking via phone from an intercity train. The pseudonymous duo are brother and sister, and to me it sounds like Bob is doing most of the talking.

“I think that thing of being hemmed in is common to all people, so although I’ve got a lot of women artists in it and it’s meant to be saying something that is feminist, it’s also saying something about mental health as well and both things are a bit overlapped and a bit merged.”

So alongside work by Louise Bourgeois, Annette Messager and Lucia Nogueira, you will be able to glimpse the interior worlds of outsider musician Daniel Johnston and post-impressionist visionary Vincent Van Gogh. (“I do tend to think he was an incredibly talented artist who was dogged by mental health rather than somehow a great genius because of his mental health,” say Bob and Roberta.)

The touchstone for all works included in the show is a bronze bust by Sir Jacob Epstein, whose archives can be found at Walsall. A defiant look on her face resonates with the sad story of her life. This is Epstein’s daughter, Esther, who committed suicide.

“I wouldn’t hold him personally responsible for Esther’s suicide,” say Bob and Roberta. “It was part of a culture of parenthood in the upper classes which still continues. They send their kids off to get them out from under their feet.” But the artists do add that both children may also have been at the “wrong end” of their father’s pre-occupation with art and studio time.

The Smiths became seriously interested in the controversial sculptor during a residency at the Gallery. “Basically all of my work prior to working on this archive has been one version or another of painting the first thing that came into my head,” laughs Bob. “But actually working on this project I suddenly realised the value of a bit of research and having a different source for one’s ideas.”

In fact a liking for Epstein goes back to formative encounters with The Rock Drill at Tate: “I always wondered how this person could have made this amazing sort of robotic figure and also made these kind of more figurative straightforward kind of busts. It perplexed me even as a little child.”

But even one of the biggest names in 20th century British sculpture was in his way resistant to hegemonies of the time. “He made a lot of stone carvings in situ,” Bob and Roberta tell me. “There’s one in St James’s [Park], Night and Day, and that almost caused a kind of riot because he thought he would break convention by carving it himself rather than getting assistants to do it for him.”

Talking of hegemonies, Bob and Roberta are currently included in a show of works from the Government Art Collection. If anything, the artists seem amused: “It’s a funny thing – the Government Art Collection was set up so that MPs could have something to put in their office and I think it’s good that the government collects art. They are trying to encourage politicians to think about it, in a way.”

It should come as no surprise that Whitehall has a life of the mind, but you do have to wonder what John Goodman’s character in Barton Fink would make of these shows. If you see him in Walsall with a can of petrol, do alert the authorities.

The Life of the Mind: Love, Sorrow and Obsession is at The New Art Gallery Walsall from January 21 until March 20 2011. See Gallery website for more details. Works from the Government Art Collection can be seen at Whitechapel Gallery until September 2012.

Report: No Soul For Sale at Tate Modern

No animals. No nudity. No feeding the customers. Apart from that almost anything goes at No Soul For Sale. 50 non-profit art organisations from around the world have been invited to set up a stall in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. By the time dusk falls, the scene is a wonderfully confused mess.

a photograph of an exhibtion

They have come from as far as Vietnam and Columbia and from as near as Liverpool and Leeds. T-shirts and bags are hawked. Bookmarks and stickers are given away. Serious-minded literature is scattered to the four winds. And then there is the art, lots of it.

a photograph of people in a  gallery

On the ground floor bridge the lights are night-club low and drinks are being served. Crowds mill around a bouncy castle and a luxury car. The chatter is loud and multilingual. The statement haircuts and fashion choices are coming into their own.

A photograph of a band on  stage

Music booms up from the stage at the foot of the entrance ramp. Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed plays a set of conceptual punk-rock numbers, then anti-folkster Jeffrey Lewis steps up to sing five songs about the history of Western Civilisation.

Upstairs you can wander through the other floors and view the permanent collection. But tonight the art is competing with the music, which is competing with the bar, which competes with just taking in the nocturnal views. It all certainly beats a normal Friday night out.

Written as part of Museums at Night coverage for Culture24.

House Festival 2010 offers city-wide gallery in Brighton and Hove

Cities without an established home for contemporary art might well look with interest at a solution found by artists in Brighton and Hove this May.

House Festival 2010 is a temporary gallery with nine rooms spread around the twin coastal resorts, in venues as diverse as a Regency townhouse, a day centre and a garden shed.

Organisers Judy Stevens and Chris Lord have drafted in a handful of the region’s best known curators to support the project, which was piloted last year.

“There are a lot of artists here with national or international reputations who never show in Brighton, because there’s no gallery,” said printmaker Stevens.

And yet the South Coast is not short of spaces for art. Eastbourne, Chichester and Bexhill-on-Sea all boast newly developed, restored or redeveloped spaces for art.

“This is really our response to that,” adds Stevens. “I think that is because they received a lot of regeneration money, whereas Brighton isn’t seen as needing it.”

Room one of this virtual gallery will be The Regency Townhouse in Hove. First time visitors to 13 Brunswick Square should be impressed by the Grade I Listed terrace.

Painstaking work is underway to recreate the fashionable look and feel of the 1820s, and this will be the context for a group exhibition on the theme of regeneration.

Refired ceramics, collage and found objects all figure in the show of 21 artists, chosen by a team which includes Nicola Coleby from Brighton and Hove Museums, Simon Martin from Pallant House in Chichester and Woodrow Kernohan from Brighton Photo Fringe.

Across town at Preston Manor, three more curators have commissioned 12 artists and designer-makers to respond to the furnishings and history of an Edwardian home.

60 moulded bulldogs explore issues of nationalism, a peacock feather dress hints at the barriers of class, and a pair of glass pipes question the utility of stately homes.

This time it is Polly Harknett, craft curator at Hove Museum, Matt Smith, independent curator and ceramicist, and Caitlin Heffernan, artist, who pull together the show, with Smith and Heffernan both contributing pieces.

Grand surroundings then give way to a smaller setting for a third room of House, as a garden shed at 46 Buller Road plays host to a mini cinema.

Highlight of the horticultural themed bill promises to be extracts from a 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland, the first movie adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s enduringly popular tale.

At the time Britain’s longest film, this version of Alice was almost lost for good. It survives thanks to an incomplete print found in Hove, now restored by the BFI.

Meanwhile, Brighton’s answer to the white cube spaces found in neighbouring South Coast towns has, for the duration of the Festival, been given a domestic makeover.

Dream Home at Phoenix Gallery constructs a warren of lived-in rooms within the gallery, and showcases sculpture, installations and photography from local talents such as Ben Thomson, Gary Barber and Kim L. Pace.

But lesser known, marginalised artists are on show at Wellington House, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Curation is by award-winning outsider artist Carlo Keshishian, with support from Pallant House Gallery.

The remaining locations for House include smaller, local, independent galleries Permanent, Grey Area and Blank, together with a residential address in the city centre.

Brighton and Hove may be lacking in the funds to create a purpose built art gallery, but as can be seen from this festival alone, the area has no shortage of alternatives. It is just a shame alternatives are needed.

Daniel Pryde-Jarman interview

Published on Culture 24

An interview with curator and gallery owner Daniel Pryde-Jarman from Brighton’s Grey Area

Daniel Pryde-Jarman is on his way to becoming a doctor of curatorial practice, a leading authority on the concept of heterotopia. “It basically it means other places, spaces of otherness,” he explains. “Heterotopia comes from Foucault’s concepts of otherness and psychologically different spaces.”

Jarman is no stranger to unusual venues. As an art student he put on exhibitions around Portsmouth in settings including a lift, a window and an emergency exit. “That was quite amusing,” he says.

“At every opening I had to prove to the Health and Safety Officer that the exhibition could be dismantled in case of fire very quickly and not get in the way.”

Now he demonstrates the value of otherness by running an independent and subterranean gallery in Brighton called Grey Area. The space was opened in March 2006 and, since then, has held more than 30 shows and numerous spoken word events, film screenings, artist talks and discussions.

Jarman looked at various shops and industrial units in the quest for his alternative venue, finally choosing a storage area he discovered by accident.

“It had really fallen into disarray,” he recalls. “It literally had a cooker in the main exhibiting space and all these soiled clothes with a kind of hermit’s nest in the corner in the back room, so it was pretty different to how it is now.”

Despite obvious improvements, the gallery is still intimate. “All the exhibitions we produce have to be tailored to the space and we don’t have a lot of it,” he says.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating to work on a show within those confines, but it’s also something that obviously we embrace.”

Nevertheless, the long-haired curator balks at the word challenge: “To say it’s a challenge almost gives it the wrong tone. It is difficult to work with artists and create something that works. It’s a difficult thing to do.”

In one recent highlight for the gallery, David Blandy transformed Grey Area into a kind of basement youth club. Jarman describes this relationship with the British pop artist as “symbiotic.”

“I guess there are certain similarities or certain threads between the artists we work with,” he says.

“A lo-fi kind of aesthetic, a certain kind of immediacy and a lack of facade or pomposity is something we try and explore.”

Not content with one “other” space, Jarman is keen to produce more off-site projects in future. He is currently assembling a line up of artists to perform a gig in a deconsecrated church. The December event will take place at the nearby Fabrica gallery, and include 2001 Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed.

Nor is it inconceivable that Grey Area could relocate. Like many Brightonians, Jarman appears to have a love-hate relationship with the city.

“There are a hell of a lot of artists and creative people in Brighton and not a lot of spaces for them to do things outside of pubs,” he accepts.

“I think that it’s really important to have an independent space which you can approach as an emerging artist or even as an internationally known one, where something can happen without the bureaucracy – a place for ideas rather than legislation.”

Where will that be then? No doubt heterotopia.