“Sometimes lo-fi stuff is more immediate": Corinna Spencer interview below.

Joana Vasconcelos, Valkyrie Crown (2012)

Posted: November 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | No Comments »

Is it fair to say that a monarchist in Britain has an easier life? Certainly, they have a less paranoid one. They have got behind the head of church and state and can accept all that is bidden.

It is, strangely, as easy for a contemporary artist. Your collectors are rich. The Queen is rich. And neither should have any problem with you celebrating Her Majesty.

The occasional blogger calling suchwork into question is not even a fly in the ointment. As Warhol said, just measure the length of the text. Don’t worry about the content.

QEII has been captured in many portraits, but she would surely be most hard pushed to see herself in the centrepiece of a current show at Haunch of Venison.

Because this Valkyrie Crown, this metonym for the state, is really something monstrous and anarchic. A wealth of colour fabrics have been knitted, stuffed, stitched and patched.

The Valkyrie series glorifies a Norse goddess who dishes out fates on the battlefield. And so the most shadowy conspiracy theories about earthly power have an origin in myth. This reassures.

But hard to say whether this Portuguese artist would ascribe similar powers to our monarch; just note her tentacles trail the height and breadth of the two storey gallery.

In a short time here (it is stressful to be this end of the Great Chain of Being) I noticed visitors make their way into the heart of the piece and ‘wear’ the outsize crown.

Two staged positions were possible: loyal subject or omnipotent queen. The sprawling work leaves little room for citizens, republicans and other condemned beings. You have to watch your step.

But on the way out, I check on the status another piece in the show: a flowerhead of steam irons. The gallery assistant confirms it is out of order that day. Not even royal decree could get it working.

Valkyrie Crown can be seen at Haunch of Venison, New Bond Street, until 17 November 2012. See gallery website for more details.


Richard Serra, The Matter of Time (1994-2005)

Posted: September 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, contemporary sculpture, installation art | No Comments »

Photo: Elliot Levitt

To some degree this is art for the feet. Serra’s eight sculptures invite you to walk them in sequence. In fact they demand it. How else will you get to see them?

Thus it takes half an hour to simply cover the ground of this semi-permanent show in the Arcelor-Mittal Gallery here at the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

It is a large space and the sculptures make it even larger. You trace a path through spirals which appear larger inside than out. You encounter barriers dividing the room.

All the while, at some atavistic level, you experience fear that one of these forged steel slabs will lean too far in and crush you. Or you experience this as thrill.

Rusty steel may not be the most eye-catching of materials. But it is hard to imagine more of a spectacle in any gallery than this biggest-ever group of Serra works.

Those who believe artists must work hard at feats beyond the range of “my three year old,” should be well pleased with this piece of monumental maze-making.

It weighs about 1,000 tons. Individual pieces have been engineered to the nearest tenth of a millimetre. Their journey from a German forge to the Basque region was epic.

It is fitting that this gravity-deying consignment came by boat. Serra recounts how as a boy he was taken to witness the launch of a tanker ship in Brooklyn.

After it slipped down the launch, the watching crowd held its breath as this vessel first sank and then rose to a state of sea-worthy floatation.

“All the raw material that I needed is contained in that memory,” the artist has said. It is a great story and indeed floating ships and flying planes should fascinate sculptors.

Visitors to The Matter of Time have two ways of approach this work. They can lose themselves on ground level or take an aerial view from a balcony on level one.

If anything, the balcony makes Serra’s gallery look even more precarious. To enjoy this takes a measure of faith. And so the material gives rise to the immaterial.

Perhaps that is the real effect of time on matter: some manner of transcendence, as the 25-year exhibition slowly turns amber with rust and we ourselves go grey.

These works can be seen at the Guggenheim, Bilbao. Check gallery website for more details.


Matthew Stone, Propaganda (2012)

Posted: September 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, fashion, installation art, sculpture, Uncategorized | No Comments »

This piece floats on a perilous sea of style mags; they buoy up a marble-effect plinth. Matthew Stone is not cool, he is stone cold.

But these publications have more gravity than usual. Their covers are stuck to blocks of wood, giving each more permanence than a sheaf of glossy pages.

A muted printing technique fades and dates the titles (i-D and Dazed), so what they gain in cultural validation they lose in terms of timeliness.

This is always a trade off. One surely cannot be both hip and profound. The typography and styling which threaten to swallow this plinth have been frozen mid trend.

And yet those headlines  (“Love changes everything” and “Everything is possible”) may be deep. But they mean next to nothing when packaged up as content.

Fashion magazines are detached affairs, the last place to go in search of wisdom. But new trainers change everything; everything is possible to those with cash. Too true.

Stone is said to be a favourite of the titles presented here. So his reification of the hands that feed is brave and yet, oblique; it is hard to say where he stands.

Some of the magazines are sawn in two up and fixed with hinges. This is surely an act of love as much as destruction. It is as if everything hinges on fashion here, it seems, even art.

Matthew Stone: Everything is Possible can be seen at La Scatola until October 5 2012. See gallery website for more details.


Alex Bowen, This is How I Roll 24/7 (2012)

Posted: August 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, relational aesthetics | No Comments »

To give this work it’s full title: This is how I roll 24/7…Not Just On A Satrday Night in a Shit Basemnt (sic). And the shit basement in question was Brighton’s Grey Area.

It was indeed Saturday night when this work both previewed and closed. The artist was nowhere to be seen. We still cannot be sure how he rolls.

Yet Bowen did leave us with a few clues as to his style of comportment. Ropes bolted to the wall turned the space into a fight ring. In the centre were a crateload of beers. No nonsense.

With varying degrees of daring or innebration, visitors were lounging off the ropes. The DJ explained that the structure was inspired by a detail taken from George Orwell.

Down and Out in Paris and London reveals that ropes like this were once employed as beds or minimal hammocks for the hobo classes in the French capital.

Although the beers were gratis, the want of money hemmed us in on all sides. Grey Area, which in reality is a fantastic basement, is going through a phase of transition. It too might be on the ropes.

This is not the first time Bowen has cried off from a private view. He was notable by his absence from the launch of the most recent show at his nearby gallery, Mingles Calypso (sic).

On that occasion visitors turned up to find the space occupied by an unmanned bar. You get the feeling he is goading us with our thirst for alcohol rather than art.

But those arty drinks won’t pay for themselves, so if any philanthropists are reading this (and according to prevailing wisdom there are plenty of you out there), please step in the ring.

This work was at Grey Area, Brighton, on August 11. See gallery website for future events.


circa69, What was wood will be glass (2012)

Posted: August 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, film installation, installation art, music | No Comments »

This is not a simple work but it is easy to enjoy. It is easy to enjoy if your idea of fun is lying back in bed listening to breakbeats and watching a movie on the ceiling.

The footage shows scrambled data on a VDU, followed by a delapidated caravan in a clearing with a burning wheelchair alongside. Hard to make sense of, but visceral.

And when the bass drops, you feel yourself coming up as if on drugs. With speakers on the bed posts the vibrations shake the whole bed. I did this twice for another legal hit.

But circa69’s installation does funny things to your guts before you even follow the printed instructions to lie back on the squalid looking mattress.

A wall is covered in children’s drawings and somehow these are not sweet, but owing to their repetitive quality also somewhat creepy. They have run amok.

Then there is the wheelchair, present here as a sculpture too, destroyed by fire and sitting redundant amidst clods of earth. It is hard not to believe something terrible has happened here.

The brain struggles to construct a narrative around these elements: who occupied the chair?; did the children start the fire?; who lives in the caravan?

Half of the sense of danger here comes from the unknowability of these things. But thanks to the visual, aural and tactile impact, you really feel the backstory matters.

So you are left with radical doubt. It is tempting to say if David Lynch made art it would be art like this. But of course the film director does make art and it looks like this.

This work is part of the show Invisible Bridges at Phoenix, Brighton. Run ends Sunday 12 August. See gallery website for opening times and directions and check out more work by circa69 here.


Tom Dale, Banquet of Sound (2012)

Posted: July 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: classicism, contemporary art, installation art, outdoor sculpture | No Comments »

Democracy has, one assumes, been going downhill since the time of ancient Greece. And here are the ruins of the principle: twelve abandoned, jumbled and toppled lecterns.

In the midst of their cluster is a nod to the classical world that spawned public speaking. But the statue which has long sat in the gardens here is the most troublesome of gods, Bacchus.

This lover of wine and experimentation is the last man standing in the in the verbal jousting matches which have led to the pile up of these metonyms of free speech.

So Dale appears to suggest we may be intoxicated by the notion of democracy. We go to war for it. We dare not speak out against it. We brand our enemies with a disregard for it.

But just what does our democracy add up to? The artist makes the point that lecterns are not only for politicians, but also celebrities, captains of industry, perhaps even bingo callers.

Their proliferation (and it must have been fairly straightforward to knock up these hollow jesmonite replicas) can be seen as a media frenzy, or a point-of-view piss up.

But cracks are already beginning to appear on the installation. In one sense this can be seen as a groundclearing exercise for something which could follow on from democracy.

That’s not to say totalitarianism, but a preferable form of democracy. A world to come, rather than a future held in place by monolithic discourses such are represented here.

Happily enough in the gardens of Ham House, they cancel out one another. Despite the title of this piece it is the quietest work on display. The only voice it waits for is your own.

Banquet of Sound can be found in Garden of Reason at Ham House until September 23. See project website for more details. And read what Dale himself said about this work in an interview for Culture24.


Klaus Weber, Sandfountain (2012)

Posted: July 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, environmentalism, installation art, site specific art | No Comments »

If gardens are symbols of mankind’s dominion over the natural world, then fountains are the suggestion of a triumph over physics. That’s one in your face, gravity.

Having said that, there is nothing too agressive about the many spouts of water you can find in many a city square, many a palace or not-even-stately home.

Fountains are decorous pieces of defiance. Perhaps they are the ultimate bourgeois placeholder. They certainly seem so in this famous scene from one of Jacques Tati’s films.

But as we move into what has been called the anthropocene age, in which we prove we can do just what we damn well please with the planet, traditional fountains are redundant.

That is what makes Klaus Weber’s Sandfountain so timely. It’s a technological swansong which swaps a single water pump for some dozen sandblasting units.

The sand will erode the concrete and you can already see the disconcerting way it shifts and cascades. The sculpture mesmerises just as much as any abyss.

Weber jokes about the global need to save water and one thing seems fairly inevitable: there will be no shortage of sand in the world to come.

This is not the first time the German artist has perverted a piece of garden furniture. He once concocted a homeopathic solution of LSD (1:800) and put that into circulation.

That’s one you can try at home, because it was apparently all legal and above board. Whether or not you do, spare a thought for Weber’s recycled desert next time you turn on a tap.

Sandfountain can be seen at 5 Sugar House Lane, London, until 26 August 2012. It is part of Frieze Projects East.


Yoko Ono, HELMETS (2001/2012)

Posted: July 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, fluxus, installation art, relational aesthetics | No Comments »

Visitors to the Yoko Ono show in London may well come away with a piece of debt to the redoubtable artist. To be precise that would be a jigsaw piece of debt.

Early in her show at Serpentine hang some half a dozen WWII helmets filled with segments of a giant puzzle. You can guess the overall picture from a glance at any one of them.

Were these pieces fit together again, the pattern to emerge would be blue and fluffy bits of white. It’s an invitation to think of a line by Yoko’s husband, “above us only sky”.

Gallery notes indicate that the artist hopes her visitors will get together with their individual pieces and recreate this map of the heavens. That is really blue sky thinking.

But we won’t of course, not in this life. Our single pieces now serve only to remind us of how atomised and unknown to one another we remain.

The ironic twist is that military uniforms bring people together a lot more definitively than exercises in what you might call relational aesthetics.

Nevertheless, the broken blue pieces and the grim metal lids make for a poetic juxtaposition. The same quality of patience is perhaps required to do a puzzle and to negotiate a truce.

On the back of each piece are the artist’s inititals. You may now feel you own an orginal Yoko Ono artwork, but you don’t of course. This is very much an indefinite loan.

Yoko Ono: To the Light can be seen at Serpentine, London, until September 9 2012. See gallery website for more details. It is a good show IMO but that won’t stop you from enjoying this savaging in the Independent.


Jukhee Kwon: Being @ La Scatola

Posted: June 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: books, contemporary art, installation art | No Comments »

Treehuggers may well like this show in which paper from books is shredded line by line to form a copse of six or seven arboreal candidates for the sentient term Being.

The pages now flow down from book shelves just underneath the ceiling. And you have to get within hugging distance to appreciate the painstaking quality of the work.

Breathe against them gently and the lines of prose rustle like leaves. The delicacy of this site specific work bestows an aura of great preciousness on each piece.

But these trees also whisper towards the opposite of the show’s title: knowing. After all, these volumes were once encyclopaedia and have now been rendered illegible.

If this is a choice we all have to make between ontology and epistemology, it is clear that Jukhee Kwon chooses the former, almost attacking the latter.

At the far end of the show is a pocket book which has been scraped clean of its ink. The residue now forms a dusty, but useless, booklike sculpture in its own right.

And with the coming of ebooks and tablets, Kwon’s show feels like a nail in the coffin of the printed word. If you want to live, don’t read. If you want knowledge, stay online.

Do not pluck it from a tree. This might not only be an original sin but also, given the density of text which streams through this exhibition, a growing impossibility.

Being can be seen at La Scatola Gallery, until August 10 2012. See gallery website for more details.


Louis Brown, MAKERZINE (2012)

Posted: June 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, relational aesthetics | No Comments »

The Pure Good of Theory is one of the most oft quoted poem titles around. Wallace Stevens seems to have nailed it, but are there more spheres of pure good?

Visitors to Brighton University last week might think so. At a degree show, you could argue for the pure good of art education, which after all does entail plenty of theory.

But my eye was caught by the clear benefits of MAKERZINE by Louis Brown, a digital printing press on which you could churn out your own copy of the eponymous zine.

I’m sorry to report I picked up a pre-made copy, so cannot report on the experience of cueing up a new zine. But it was simple enough with the clearly chalked instructions.

Reclaimed scaffolding boards and hessian wrapped benches gave the workstation a sense of rough and ready utility. You could forget this was a piece of sculpture.

Louis Brown therefore succeeds in his aim to demystify the creative and fabricational process. This was a demonstration of the pure good of making.

The zine itself contains recipes, homebrew instructions, tips on recycling scaffolding boards to make furniture and interviews with T-shirt designers.

As manifestos go, it could not be more pragmatic, or more optimistic, or more realistic. Its spirit of ingenuity will serve us well when civilisation collapses, or may even avert that.

Artists are often thought of as impractical souls, dreamers, romantics, fools. But this piece is a great testimony to a more contemporary spirit of art, certainly a more purposeful one.

MAKERZINE could be found in the Brighton University Faculty of Arts Graduate Show 2012, in the Fine Art Sculpture BA(Hons) section.



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