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

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.


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.



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