“I think there’s a duty to entertain": Dominic from Luton interview below.

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.

Bedwyr Williams, Stevenson Screen (2012)

Posted: June 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, literature, sculpture | No Comments »

Whether you call it a weatherbox or, more correctly a Stevenson Screen, this object provokes even more curiosity than usual. It doesn’t belong in a gallery. It doesn’t often exude a blue light.

The light comes from a speaker wired up in there to make this sculpture appear sentient twice over. It glows and it also, growls, grunts, and gurgles.

Impossible movie buffs will recognise the soundtrack from the transformation scene in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931). Art buffs may know Douglas Gordon also used this.

But here it has been repurporsed to look at the relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson and his father Thomas Stevenson, inventor of the apparatus.

The screen offers limited exposure to the elements in the same way, as creator Williams explains, that all parents everywhere might try to bring up their child. It appears nurturing.

Yet Thomas and Robert may have had alter egos. Hyde goes on the rampage and tramples a child. Of what might the father of the father of that monster have been capable?

Hyde sounds as if he could break out of the cage. That would be the next act. But the polite gallery goer will look on from his or her own cage content to live as a Dr Jekyll.

But RLS did break out. Williams is fascinated by Stevenson Jnr’s reappearance in the South Seas “dressed in a Sarong”. That must be the result of some violent change or other.

Though for now we find him still boxed in a gallery, on the cusp of escaping his father: a great writer produced by a great engineer, in the persona of a surely great chemist.

Stevenson Screen can be seen in Bedwyr Williams: My Bad at Ikon, Birmingham,until July 8 2012. See gallery website for more details and/or Culture24 to see what the artist had to say about this piece.

Kaffe Matthews, ‘You might come out of the water every time singing’ (2012)

Posted: May 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, environmentalism, installation art, music, sound art | No Comments »

(c) Kaffe Matthews. Courtesy the Bluecoat, Liverpool

“Okay, we’re 30m underwater on a ley line and we’re heading for some squid,” or words to that effect. Such is my greeting from artist Kaffe Matthews.

My response is helpless excitement. I lie on my back on the shark platform and look up at the murky green light. You can well imagine the hammerheads are up there.

Oscillators pump out a generative soundscape. Tremors pass through me from the matted platform. And it feels as if we are really travelling at speed.

Matthews is a diver as well as a composer. And she has really swum with hammerheads so has really earned a right to the data which drives this piece.

The raw materials for this music are the topographies of the ocean floor and the depths, speeds, and directions of six tagged shark specimens.

And here is where it gets cosmic: hammerheads navigate using electromagnetic fields. So as this piece follows them, it recreates on dry land the invisible forces which bind oceans in place.

As a result it is hard to get off the mat again, hard to break free from its magnetic pull. It is thrilling, yet as free from danger as Matthews’ dives must have been fraught. whatever she says.

Up until now, one might have figured that Damien Hirst was responsible for the world’s most badass shark art. But his pickled tiger now has a serious contender.

And surely everyone will come out of the water here singing the praises of this art, not to mention the joy of sharing minutes of your life with some prehistoric fish.

This piece can be seen in the exhibition Galápagos at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, until July 1. See gallery website for more details and read my interview with Matthews on Culture24.

Damien Hirst, Lapdancer (2006)

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

If needing just one word to sum up Damien Hirst at Tate Modern, you might resort to some made up slang invented for a work of dystopian fiction.

The violence of his killed and pickled animals is horrorshow, as is the vitrine pictured. Real horrorshow, the ultimate accolade for gang member Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Lapdancer packages up a world of medical pain in four glass shelves of surgical tools. There are saws and knives you want to hope you never encounter outside the gallery.

But as the title makes clear, there is an erotic attraction with the apparatus of death. Or perhaps it is the death drive which in turn draws men to lap dancing clubs.

Whatever the lure, one cannot but reflect that our own final days may feature some of these tools. En steely masse, they reflect the power in a pair of surgeon’s hands.

They also reflect the apparatus of medical knowledge. By shipping a room full of surgical tools into a gallery, Hirst throws the authority of science into question .

Like the earlier work Pharmacy, Lapdancer allows for art historians to scrub up and begin to operate on the assumptions of modern science.

That’s not to say that if you break a leg, you should go to a gallery for treatment. But there is a creeping sense in which medicine serves its own ends with proliferating diagnoses.

But this piece also reminds us that medicine and art have long been close. The mastery of figuration could not have been achieved without dabblings in anatomy.

Hirst himself spent some formative years drawing in the anatomy department of Leeds Uni. And he is not the first artist to bring the operating theatre into the gallery.

One has to ask though, is Lapdancer clinical enough? Those serrated blades will give you chills. In front of this work itself, your critical faculties all desert you. Mine did. It was horrorshow.

Damien Hirst runs at Tate Modern until September 9. See gallery website for more details. And see this Brian Dillon review for a great analysis of the numb shock value present in his work.

Yoyoi Kusama, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963)

Posted: February 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, Pop Art | 1 Comment »

As if to save those analysts the bother, Yayoi Kusama has already labelled Aggregation as part of her Sex Obsession series. She describes the white growths as so many phalluses.

So you might see her boat as a metaphor for the conscious mind, floating above unconscious depths. Except here, the mind has been overrun by erotic symbolism.

Not only has the rower lost control, she has vanished, leaving behind a single shoe. Her sexualised world view appears to have swallowed her up.

At the risk of pathologising, this work could well dramatise one of the breakdowns which have kept Yayoi Kusama resident in a mental hospital since the late 1970s. Certainly, it is frightening.

Whatever the artist’s actual condition, one might employ a phrase once suggested by psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger. He called schizophrenia a “theatre of terror”*.

And this trauma scene is theatrical. The scene is wallpapered with images of the boat. So the boat itself contrasts with its diminished image and appears live and auric**.

The other protagonists worth mentioning are Donald Judd, who helped Kusama salvage the boat, and Andy Warhol, who three years later was to follow her lead and produce wallpaper.

Such decorative repetition might also draw medical attention. But you can be sure it has nothing to do with the boat, and everything to do with what might be in that dark water.

Aggregation can be seen in Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern until June 5 2012. See gallery website for more details. References: * cited in Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition; ** idea explored in Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Lygia Pape, Livro do Tempo (Book of Time), 1961-63

Posted: January 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: constructivism, installation art, modernist sculpture, Neo-Concretism | No Comments »

Lygia Pape, Livro do Tempo (Book of Time) 1961-63, Installation view, Magnetized Space, Serpentine Gallery, London, (7 December 2011 - 19 February 2012) © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones

This semaphore frieze will stop you in your tracks at the Serpentine. Lygia Pape calls her epic a (the) Book of Time. Well, it both is and it isn’t.

Yes, it has 365 elements which might be called pages. They are made from wood, which is related to paper. And they have a colourful grammar all of their own.

But this work may just be an echo of the real thing. It hints at an invisible 365 page book which could govern all of our days.

If time‘s tome is anything like Pape‘s we should be this happy. Bold colours, dynamic shapes, fresh possibilities are all in store. No two days are the same.

So Livro do Tempo is an antidote to the daily grind, a funhouse mirror to most folks’ experience of time. No Outlook calendar, you can enter or exit wherever you like.

And at the risk of some national stereotyping you might say the Brazilian artist here takes Russian constructivism on a carnivalesque parade.

But Pape loops her garland of abstraction around a whole year. So we should rather hope that the Ur-book of time, if it exists, feel the influence of this one.

And if as novelist Thomas Mann says, “only the exhaustive is truly interesting”, could this work at Serpentine be anything else?

Livro do Tempo (Book of Time) can be seen in Lygia Pape, Magnetized Space at Serpentine Gallery, London, until February 19. See gallery website for more details.

Also, read what blogger Chloé Nelkin had to say about the rest of the show.

Interview: Liliane Lijn

Posted: January 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, kinetic sculpture, land art, poetry, surrealism, the Beats | No Comments »

Black and white photo of the moon with word She written across it

Liliane Lijn is such a hands-on artist that, within two minutes of arriving at her North London studio, my own pair were enlisted to help lift a Poem Machine from the floor onto a well-worn work surface.

There was an issue with this kinetic, text-bearing sculpture. It creaked as it rotated, so Lijn and a more capable assistant than myself were examining the drum, sketching the mechanism and muttering things about radial bearings.

It is the last place you might expect an artist with a background in Surrealism and Beat poetry to be. The workshop smells like a hardware store. Tooling machinery lies dormant on all sides.

There was barely enough time to note the spools of wire on the shelves or identify the pieces of industrial machinery. Lijn’s latest technical challenge was too baffling.

“I find engineering interesting, yuh,” says the American émigré, with an accent that belies her teenage move to Europe.

“If you make something, you’ve got to get it to work. I’ve never been the kind of artist who says, ‘I’ve got this idea, now who’s around to get it to work for me?’.”

This even holds true of a scheme to project text onto the moon. Lijn and scientific advisor John Vallerga have considered lasers, kites and lately heliostats for a project called Moonmeme. For recent work Solar Hills, they have even developed spectroheliostats to beam colour distances of 5km around the earth, .

The physics goes over my head, but Lijn points out: “I’ve been working with prisms for years. So I’m used to thinking about colour, refraction, the spectrum, what that is and how to deal with it.”

Moments later she demonstrates a wound copper sculpture and this is a wonder. As it rotates, a point of light rides up and down the column, like watching a vertical oscilloscope.

“The spiral does something weird,” the artist points out, seeming as confused as me by the two-directional waves. But today the penny drops. “I’ve figured it out,” she says. “It’s the direction of rotation.”

“Everything has an explanation,” she concludes. As the interview progresses, more and more of her sculptures come to life as Lijn moves around the studio switching them on at the wall.

In addition to Poem Machines and the tube of copper wire, the less industrial end of her workshop is home to rotating cones which are hooped with neon and a column made of solvent barrels. This rumbles away in the background as she talks.

Holes are punched in the side of these drums to spell out five words which fans of William Burroughs may recognise from Naked Lunch: “Way out is way in”.

It should be noted that the impetus from this piece came from a meeting with the Beat author, who “intimated” Lijn might draw on his work for a kinetic piece. (It was years before the artist came to the task, so sadly we cannot know Burroughs’ response.)

Soon it becomes clear that Lijn is as happy to discuss poetry as engineering. “The only people who liked these [Poem Machines] in 1962 when I first exhibited them were artists and a few poets.

“Though not many,” she adds with a laugh, “because they didn’t like the idea you couldn’t read their poems.”

Lijn moved to Paris in the late 50s and, along with Burroughs, got to know Sinclair Beiles, Brion Gysin and Gregory Corso. And whether they did or not, she still likes “that idea of words floating into your head and not being linear”.

If this is what she took from the beats, a crash course in automatic drawing was what Lijn came to through a meeting with the few remaining surrealists who André Breton had not expelled from the group.

“I’d done drawing at school and I never liked very much doing drawing from reality. So I started – which is probably a fault – doing drawings from my head.”

Now she says: “Drawing is very much about controlling the instrument that you’re using. It is, of course, an eye to hand thing, but it could be an inner eye to hand thing.

“You do have to control your hand and it’s very difficult; you find you’re thinking one thing and your hand is doing something completely different.”

As the many finished sculptures suggest, Lijn has got to grips with many instruments in her time. And as the odd creaking Poem Drum suggests, she may still not have total control, but practically speaking, she’s there.

Written for Culture24. Moonmene by Liliane Lijn can be seen in Republic of the Moon at FACT, Liverpool, until Feburary 26 2012. Read more about the artist’s work on her website.

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