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

John Maeda is the Fortune Cookie, Riflemaker

Despite better intentions, this blog post is all about me. And you can see none other than myself in this Polaroid taken by artist, academic, and sometime futurologist John Maeda.

I met John earlier today in a sandpit where he is spending four days in performance as a sort of live interactive fortune cookie. That is his advice to me, scrawled beneath the picture.

My consultation lasted ten minutes and ran contrary to expectations. I had meant to ask about the future of art and the future of journalism, but within 30 seconds I was blethering.

I also had a theory that oracular wisdom belonged to literature, just as beauty might have belonged to art and perhaps emotion was in the realm of music. So was this piece to be a literary crossover?

In fact, it had more in common with music. It had emotional affect. And those emotions were fear plus a sense that, as Maeda wrote in the sand before me, things were slipping out of control.

And then at one point he wrote the word “dancer” and by way of explanation said that I showed an awareness of my own body of which I had up to that point been quite unaware. Hmm.

But it was hard not to believe the Rhode Island School of Design professor, as he drew me out and summed me up in a format which was like therapy with Don Draper from TV show Madmen.

There were reservations. Despite what Andy Warhol said, I’m not a fan of convergence between art and business, and major brands have indeed come to Maeda for his blue-chip advice.

Then there was also confusion when the artist handed me this Polaroid. I had requested a more anonymous photo of a drawing in the sand, so I got more than I paid for with this signed portrait.

For whatever reason, I was not about to argue. And the 10-minute appointments, free so long as you buy an artwork, already contain generous amounts of Maeda’s energy and insights.

Since this is such a first person account of the experience, I should mention that my ex also had her fortune told earlier in the day and was happy for me to blog about that also.

As you can see from this photo of them both, he calls her an integrity chameleon. As far as I am concerned, where she is concerned, he has really nailed it there. In that at least, I can be objective.

This four day only live exhibition (16-19 November) at Riflemaker, London, is already fully booked. But if you like the sound of John Maeda’s work, you can follow him on Twitter, get some free downloads here, or watch him give a very engaging 17 minute talk.


Review: Goldsmiths Design 2010 at Free Range

Free Range is at the Old Truman Brewery, East London

Exhibition: Goldsmiths Design 2010 – Curious, 10th Annual Free Range Art and Design Show, Old Truman Brewery, London. Free Range runs until July 26 2010

Necessity is not always the mother of invention. For the students in Goldsmiths Design 2010 it would appear to be the last thing on their minds.

How else could you explain a machine which pulls a party popper when you least expect it? Anticipation and surprise are replaced by tedium and shock

Simon Cordery has also bought electric birthday cake candles to his final year show. You snuff the flames at the flick of a wrist. It is anti-climax by design.

Such devices are just one response to what must have been a very open brief from tutors at the South London university. Rather than waste their time designing chairs and signage, Goldsmiths students are encouraged to explore the margins of their field.

Another mischievous solution to a problem you never knew existed was Swipe Aid. Robert Allen’s smart card system helps you give money to beggars without the potential awkwardness of a face to face interaction.

Meanwhile, goose bumps may seem like an atavistic hangover, a physiological design flaw even. And yet Avril O’Neil gives us ready access to the syndrome by attaching a feather to the end of an extended drill bit.

Some work was as ambitious as it was impractical. Livia Rossi has developed tri-valve party balloons to be inflated by three people at once. The goal is for a shared perception of time.

Time also concerns Sara Abu-Hejleh. A pair of handlebars with fans attached is designed to provoke youthful memories of a breezy cycle ride. Her other attempts to rejuvenate the elderly included a near-static swing seat.

Of course there was some hard evidence that Goldsmiths design students can be as useful as any others. Rachel Cockburn has sparked professional interest with a sustainable eating website which helps users find local produce locally.

But while most projects do not seem to have immediate real world applications, they do capture the imagination, originally, efficiently and effectively. If that was the brief, they’ve cracked it.

Written for Culture24.


Review: Richard Hamilton – Modern Moral Matters

Richard Hamilton, Swingeing London 67 (f) (1968-69). Screenprint on canvas, acrylic and collage. © 2010 Richard Hamilton

Exhibition: Richard Hamilton – Modern Moral Matters, Serpentine Gallery, London, until April 25 2010

More than 50 years since Pop Art began, it is a 1960s aphorism which best explains the varying effects in this show. Marshall McLuhan may have coined the phrase, but it is Richard Hamilton who really demonstrates the adage that “the medium is the message.”

In his Swingeing London series, he blows up and recreates a newspaper photo until it becomes an icon. Ten versions fill one of the Serpentine’s galleries and the repetition is Warholian, but no two are executed in the same way.

Across the series, Hamilton paints with oils, acrylic, watercolour and gouache. He draws with pencil and pastels. He screen-prints, etches, photo-engraves, die-stamps, embosses and prints using aquatint. He makes stencils and collage.

So in at least ten different ways we see a transfiguration of the arrest of Mick Jagger and Hamilton’s friend Robert Fraser into art. Press cuttings make up a nearby Swingeing London poster and evoke the labyrinthine narrative of the event.

Elsewhere he borrows the conventions of the triptych to sanctify three protagonists in the Northern Irish conflict.

Central to this piece is The Citizen, in which a long-haired hunger striker appears both Christ-like and counter-cultural. He too is a painter, as can be seen from the walls of his cell and his well-documented medium is excrement.

Hamilton also does installation. His chilling Treatment Room contains a hospital bed, sink with disinfectant, a reinforced glass window and an environmental control panel.

In lieu of a doctor, a TV shows a reel of interviews with Margaret Thatcher. This time the medium interrogates Thatcherism even as the former Tory leader seems to be treating the viewer.

Recent work by Hamilton, now in his late 80s, takes the form of digital printing onto canvas. These are the most direct works in a highly political show.

Each makes a simple point: Israel is crushing Palestine; in its coverage of the Gulf war, the media has blood on its hands; and Tony Blair fancied himself as a bit of a gunslinger.

But perhaps the real message is around the all-pervasiveness of virtual realities and advertising techniques in the visual realm. The canvas is all but invisible behind the full bleed image.

Written for Culture24.


Art must-sees this month: March

Jordan Baseman, Nasty Piece of Stuff 2009 (film still), Courtesy of the artist and Matt’s Gallery, London, Co-commissioned by ArtSway and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Here are my visual arts picks from around the UK for March. Written for Culture24.

Richard Hamilton – Modern Moral Matters, Serpentine Gallery, London

60 years after his first solo show, Richard Hamilton is still making loaded images. His show at Serpentine is a mixed media commentary on conflict in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and Vietnam. It’s not a retrospective so much as a political demo.

Jordan Baseman – The Most Powerful Weapon in this World, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

Taking candid interviews as his starting point, Jordan Baseman makes video art sound as compelling as it looks. Three pieces comprise this show by the American-born artist with themes ranging from gangsterism to gay rights via herb collecting.

Nicholas Hedges – Mine the Mountain, Surface Gallery, Nottingham

This show may serve as an introduction to the term ‘dark tourist’, as Nicholas Hedges visits sites of genocide and massacre. His search for a personal connections leads him to the Welsh mines, where he pays tribute to the fallen of the First World War.

Sonia Boyce: Like Love – Parts One & Two, the Bluecoat, Liverpool

Making work around the theme of care has meant working with those most in need of it for artist Sonia Boyce. A residency with young parents and a collaboration with adults who have learning disabilities both result in an inspirational show.

But what of Frances Stark, standing by itself, a naked name, bare as a ghost to whom one would like to lend a sheet?, CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Here’s a first chance for artlovers in Scotland to check out LA-based artist Frances Stark. White collages, which often take performance as a theme, also feature text by writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson and Mark E. Smith from the Fall. Be intrigued.

Imogen Stidworthy, Arnolfini, Bristol

These four recent works by Imogen Stidworthy have one thing in common, the human voice. Language is a social space in her multimedia show which listens to accent (scouse) speech therapy and a blackmarket slang known as backslang.


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: 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.