With surrealism and sound, fauna and flesh, there is much to tempt you indoors this June. Here’s some monthly highlights for contemporary art written for Culture24.
Cage Mix: Sculpture and Sound, BALTIC, Gateshead
Eight artists who work with the ideas and writings of John Cage are brought together by design rather than chance. Their schemes for musical notation and scoring are here overlapped and juxtaposed as in the avant garde composer’s early work Fontana Mix.
Spencer Tunick – Everyday People, The Lowry Gallery, Manchester
Photographer Spencer Tunick responds to the paintings of LS Lowry with mass nudity on location in Salford and Manchester. May be seen as a comment on the passing of industrialisation or at least a curious thing you don’t see every day.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester
We relate to the animal world in so many ways that here nine different artists make use of video, painting, performance, photography and sculpture to explore the issues. Mark Wallinger, Richard Billingham and Corey Arnold are among the humans.
Venice @ Golden Thread Gallery, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast
Four names represented Eire and Northern Ireland at Venice last year and this is a chance to both shows: from the North, Sarah MacWilliam, and from the South, Sarah Browne, Gareth Kennedy and a Browne/Kennedy hybrid called Kennedy Browne.
Francis Alÿs – A Story of Deception, Tate Modern, London
Here is another famous Belgian for inclusion in the much-loved parlour game, albeit one who lives in Mexico. Even this transposition seems like one of Alys’s poetic stunts, most of which should be documented in this major, comprehensive show.
Surreal Friends: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna, Pallant House, Chichester
Pallant House brings another less explored chapter of art history to light with a show of surrealism from rarely shown female artists. Carrington, Varo and Horna were respectively an English painter, a Spanish painter and a Hungarian photographer.
Exhibition: Susan Stockwell – Flood, York St. Mary’s, York, June 18 – October 31 2010
The cutting edge of technology in 1020, the year York St. Mary’s is thought to date from, was the astrolabe. So it may come as a shock to find the medieval church soon filled with obsolete computer components.
The wires and machine parts spill down into the nave in a pillar of sparkling colour a myth from some Bible of the future. The work is called Flood, but as yet no ark is in sight.
The rising tide, according to artist Susan Stockwell, is consumerism. “The computers have been dissected, their innards exposed, revealing the underbelly of the machines we take for granted, an autopsy of our consumer society,” she has said.
She also claims a “toxic exquisiteness” for her overflowing waste kit. Four tonnes of power supplies have been sourced from a local recycling centre to which they will be returned after the 19-week exhibition.
The installation is the fifth site specific installation at York St. Mary’s since the building opened as a contemporary art space in 2004. It has been commissioned by York Museums Trust with funding from the Arts Council.
Susan Stockwell has previously created installations with computer power supplies and mother boards, as well as industrial toilet tissue and tea bag paper.
Astrolabes do not come into it. Broken and disused charts of the heavens have, apparently, never posed an ecological threat.
Here’s a selection of half a dozen of the most exciting contemporary art shows from around Britain this month. Written for Culture24.
Agnes Martin, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
Martin’s minimal paintings, characterised by airy colours and hand-drawn grids, map out a fragile, yet peaceful, interior world. It makes sense that the Canadian-born artist took to painting in the desert and 10 works here are from her years in New Mexico.
The City and The Stars, Stills, Edinburgh
This show takes its name from a 1948 Arthur C Clarke novel and also explores the belief systems of a dying planet. Emma Kay, Craig Mulholland and Rut Blees Luxemburg are photographers who deal with memory, everyday life and the city.
Tatton Park Biennial 2010 – Framing Identity, Tatton Park, Knutsford
An old Toyota which smells like a Rolls Royce, a kitchen overrun with feathers and a machine built to fossilise a pineapple are among the surprises to be found in this Cheshire stately home. With more than 20 artists in their art biennial, there is a lot to see.
Otto Zitko and Louise Bourgeois – Me, Myself and I, Arnolfini, Bristol
Drawings on both a monumental and a personal scale takes their place side by side at Arnolfini. Austrian artist Zitko will draw directly onto the gallery walls in a bid to cover all three floors, while Bourgeois delivers intimate, abstract reflections on love.
Theo Jansen, Spacex, Exeter
If your Dutch is any good, you’ll know that Strandbeests translate as beach animals. But that still may not prepare you for the sight of Jansen’s 14-metre long skeletal monster, which is due to explore Exeter in June and July using wind-power alone.
Lily van der Stokker – No Big Deal Thing, Tate St Ives, St Ives
Another artist from the Netherlands takes up residence at Tate St Ives. Expect more drawing on the wall, this time with pastel colours and decorative motifs, as van der Stokker explores heartwarming themes in a style she calls “nonshouting feminism”.
Exhibition: Tatton Park Biennial 2010 – Framing Identity, Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, until September 26 2010.
Living in a stately home might just be the quintessential British fantasy, and Tatton Park in Cheshire is certainly the quintessential stately home.
“People come here with a plan,” says co-curator Jordan Kaplan. “I’ll go to the house, I’ll imagine myself living in the house. I’ll go to the garden, I’ll imagine myself owning the garden. I’ll go to the shop, I’ll have some tea.”
The 20 or so works in the Tatton Park Biennial 2010 might well upset a few of those plans. The best of them draw attention to the unreal quality of your visit.
Fellow curator Danielle Arnaud, who teams up with Kaplan to form Parabola, says some pieces are causing the management “a lot of consternation,” claiming this is not the main point, but rather “a happy accident”.
One of these turns an area of the gardens into a psychedelic ritual ground with alien markings in the grass, torturous-looking targets and frames festooned with ribbons.
Artists Plastique Fantastique plan to stage dionysiac performances here in which chosen victims can expect to temporarily lose their identity. Yet despite flights of fancy, these grand surroundings usually reinforce social hierarchies and roles.
More controversy is offered by Jamie Shovlin, who responds to the mild excitement guests would feel wandering in the gardens at night. A hermit was once employed to give them a gentle fright.
As his title suggests, Shovlin has gone for out-and-out schlock horror, using movie soundtracks and a flickering shed to suggest a scene of carnage at the park. At the time of visiting, his team were still burying the speakers, but Rough Cut/Cut Rough (Hiker Meat) promises much.
One-time local Jem Finer also subverts the gentility of the house with a piece inspired by teenage memories of visiting Tatton Park under the influence of narcotics. In fact, he inverts the status quo here with a spherical camera obscura, which lets you view the surrounding trees and occasional passing bird upside down.
Another shed is used to mount the stainless steel ball, where it sits like an observation tower. The piece is described by Finer as a “totally safe altered reality experience”.
Marcia Farquhar has also given the setting a dreamlike twist by installing a giant rocking horse near the house. From time to time she rides this wooden beast, or at least threatens to. She spends more time holding forth on all things equine. It is an incredibly fluent and captivating performance.
“I might even ride backwards like the backwards knight from Lewis Carroll,” she says at one point. “This park really reeks of Lewis Carroll.”
Indeed, there are many more surreal and nonsensical responses to the mansion and its 2,000-acre grounds. This may be a strange setting for art, but as art suggests, Tatton Park would have made an even stranger setting for living in.
Art is getting noisier. Galleries echo with moving image installations. The quieter ones provide you with audio-guides. Sound is now such a vital dimension of art, some artists are making art about that very phenomenon.
In a boxlike construction at Ikon in Birmingham, you can pull up a beanbag and enjoy some music. On a giant screen ahead a retro turntable plays a selection of vinyl LPs. It reconstructs the type of experience you might have at home, yet you are sat in a sculpture.
This is Soundtrack for an Exhibition (2000-) by conceptual artist Ron Terada. It features a selection of his favourite tunes from the last ten years and celebrates his first major show in Europe. Pavement, The Magnetic Fields and The Walkmen are among the bands included.
Curator Helen Legg explains the popularity of the work: “Ron likes making mix tapes and people like having mix tapes made for them . . . so people are working out whether there is a narrative to the work.” This particular mix tape has also been pressed up as a free record that gallery goers can take home with them.
The melancholy tunes can be heard throughout the exhibition, and it should be mentioned that this show is called “Who I Think I Am”. This personal selection of music seems a direct way of getting to know the artist, or is it?
“I think that Ron is very smart guy,” says Legg. “He’s very self aware, so the music is both the kind of music he would listen to – they are his favourite songs quite genuinely – but he is also very aware of impression they give of him, so that’s why the show is a self portrait and the music too.”
Either way, Terada has good taste, which makes this a contender for the best sounding show of the year. It makes you wonder why so much art is still looked at in silence.
“I think its just a cultural habit, which I guess comes from the history of exhibition making and the way museums and galleries have operated historically,” explains Legg. “But I think with moving images becoming more prevalent within galleries that’s starting to be challenged and fade away. I think curators are increasingly becoming aware of the uses of sound, and artists too.”
Not content with soundtracks, many creative arts shows are now developing audiovisual idents. A recent example can be found at Life in 2050 at Proud Central in London.
Most of the work in the future-focussed exhibition, which runs in support of the 9th Sci-Fi London Film Festival, is comprised of relatively quiet illustration, photography and design. So the ident, projected from the mouth of a sculptural robot onto the white wall, sets the atmospheric tone.
Visually, it is a code-generated animation, which appears to map the evolution and dissolution of an entire world. It is abstract, cerebral and, like the Terada piece, hypnotic. Meanwhile the ambient techno backing provides an unofficial soundtrack to your visit and indeed the entire film festival.
Creative Director Andrew Jones and his agency Future Deluxe set out to find music that could bear repeated listening. “Some of the first pieces we looked at were quite electronic and quite structured, with too much emphasis on the beat, but when we heard Quadrant 3 [by Harmonic 313], it matched the animations because you could keep listening to it again and again,” he explains.
Jones says that in the world of digital arts, it is now standard practice to develop an ident: “In terms of promotion and the online element it works very well, getting people talking about it, building up a bit of hype before the exhibition starts.”
Yet he admits there is a historical precedence for silence before the work of art. “There’s definitely some things that are carried forward from the past with art galleries. There is I think an element of ‘That’s how we do things in an art gallery, because that’s how we’ve always done it.’”
“I don’t know why,” he adds. “I don’t agree with it.” And as he demonstrates, shows with added music leave a powerful impression. Anyone might come round to Jones’ way of thinking.
Exhibition: Underwater, Towner, Eastbourne, until June 20 2010
In the landscapes paintings of Eric Ravilious, the South Downs look like green waves in a rough sea, at least they do so after a visit to Underwater at Towner.
The Eastbourne gallery has a reputation for landscape art and the local painter is one of many whose downland works feature in the permanent collection.
Ravilious doesn’t qualify for the new show, which takes the boundaries of the landscape genre and drags them into the depths. But it might have pleased him that his hometown can now stake a place on the UK map of contemporary art.
The big name at the current show is Bill Viola, whose 2005 video Becoming Light turns a non-specific body of water into an inky blue starry night.
Floating just below and occasionally above the surface are an entwined couple whose struggle to remain buoyant resembles an improvised dance. They come up for air and look ecstatic. They sink away from the camera out of sight and end life as a luminous bubble of oxygen, or perhaps carbon dioxide.
In a second video, by Dorothy Cross, the artist films herself afloat among a swarm of jellyfish. This is a nude, as much as a landscape, and a scene of painful exposure. But the creatures appear not to harm her. They merely investigate, along with our gaze.
Klaus Osterwald also takes us below the surface of a lake, with a five speaker audio installation. Donatus Subaqua reveals a mysterious world of noisy fish, bubbling gases and overheard human calls. Space, depth and topography are rendered in sound.
Another subaquatic landscape is provided by Seunghyn Woo, whose plaster and wire mesh sculptures look both organic and alien. Dripped with acrylic the colour of exotic milkshakes, they get even more interesting close up, like coral.
Perhaps the underwater realm is, after all, unknowable. Detailed photographs of the sea bed here, taken by Daniel Gustav Cramer, show it as dark, murky and utterly impenetrable. Eric Ravilious would surely have been fascinated.
Exhibition: Shuruq Harb – A Book of Signatures, Ikon, Birmingham, until May 16 2010
Mohammed is not a name like any other. Moreso than say, John, it is also a religious label. In secular or non-muslim societies it has the potential to stigmatise its bearer.
But in Shuruq Harb’s homeland, Palestine, more than 250,000 men are called Mohammed. That’s 13.5% of the population. A name could not be more ordinary.
Yet this precise and pristine installation shows there is no such thing as an ordinary Mohammed. 250 individuals have signed a page of Harb’s book and, even to a non-arabic viewer, the results look more diverse than the horizontally aligned signatures we are used to in the West.
The names are given weight by inclusion in a thick, leather-bound book which rests under glass like a priceless manuscript, a repository of secrets.
Yet one by one they appear as projections on an adjacent plinth. Each flourish and scrawl reveals an infinite number of dimensions to being a Mohammed.
Even in a land of circumscribed destinies, these marks reveal an undiminished drive to assert one’s own particular history and fate, despite the fact that signatures are a reminder for many Palestinians of territory and rights sometimes blindly signed away.
For just this reason, Harb reports that some refused to participate in her project, while others were simply amused. The book is also a record of 250 unique encounters between an emerging artist and the populace of a world troublespot.
She collected her names by one Mohammed introducing another to reveal a network based on chance and regional demographics, now enshrined in a work of art
Harb’s real achievement is to give a distinct impression of this cross section of her compatriots. It is a book of hints, suggestions and potentialities.
Museums at Night is a nationwide campaign running the weekend of May 14-16, organised by Culture24. Here are my picks of the best after-hours activities in the world of contemporary art:
Light Night at the Bluecoat, the Bluecoat, Liverpool, FridayMay 14
Local musicians with world influences bring rhythms of the night to Bluecoat. Sit in the garden at sundown, check out a craft fair by LOACA.ART or wander through the late-opening show, Global Studio, by Livepool artists with international links. Open 7pm-10pm. Admission free.
Artist’s Residency Open Studio Twilight Visit, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth, Friday May 14
As dusk falls on Aberystwyth Arts Centre, they celebrate the end of two residencies. Rabab Ghazoul uses text, film and altered-objects to create site specific installations exploring social hierarchies. Peter Williams is a printmaker concerned with relations between the individual and the home. Open 5pm – 9pm. Admission free.
India Noir: LATE, National Portrait Gallery, London, Friday
Visit a completely different timezone at the NPG with a celebration of contemporary Indian culture. Viram Jasani from the Asian Music Network will be programming the regional tunes. A panel will discuss Indian Crime Fiction. And from the artworld, The Singh Twins will talk you through mixing Eastern tradition and Western innovation. Open 6pm-10pm. Admission free.
Artists’ Talks at the Estorick Collection, Estorick, London, Thursday May 13
With a few more hours in the day, this might be a good opportunity to visit one of the world’s best collections of early 20th century Italian art. Check out works by Boccioni, Balla and Carrà and hear from artists featuring in intriguing temporary show Another Country: London Painters in Dialogue with Italian Art. Open until 10pm (artists talks between 7.30pm and 8.30pm). Admission free.
Kenji Yoshida: A Celebration of Life, October Gallery, London, Friday May 14
Yoshida is that rarest of beings, an ex-kamikaze pilot. Find out how the peace-loving painter survived the war and take a look at the deeply felt etchings, calligraphic works and paintings which resulted. Plenty to celebrate at October Gallery. Open until 5.30pm-9pm. Admission free.
10th birthday of Tate Modern, Tate Modern, London, Friday-Sunday May 14-16
After pulling in crowds for 10 years, Tate Modern has more than one excuse to open late. Maurizio Cattelan is among the curators of a free festival in the Turbine Hall which brings together projects from 50 independent art spaces and collectives. With performance, music and film, it could prove as anarchic as any 10-year-old’s party. Open 10am-midnight Friday and Saturday (until 6pm Sunday). Admission free.
Dream Home, Phoenix, Brighton, Friday-Sunday May 14-16
This Open House is less a gallery in someone’s home, more a fabricated home inside an artist-led gallery. Rest assured you can still poke around. Eleven residents include Kim L Pace, Gary Barber, Caitlin Heffernan, Rona Innes and sculptor Ben Thompson. Open 7pm-9pm. Admission free. Full story on Culture24.
Exhibition: Andrew Stonyer – Audio Kinetic Solar Sculpture, Fermynwoods, Northamptonshire, until September 26 2010
It has been a few decades since music fans frequently used terms like “cosmic” and “far out”, but such language seems about right for a new work at Fermynwoods.
Andrew Stonyer’s sculpture hangs between a small group of Elder trees and responds with movement and sound to the daily cycles of our nearest star.
The artist describes his sculpture as “a search for patterns of actual and implied kinetic imagery, hidden within the seemingly regular”. In other words, this latest work should investigate whether or not the sun moves to a beat.
Audio-kinetic solar sculptures are nothing new apparently. Stonyer has looked to pre-classical Greece for inspiration, where there is evidence for the common enjoyment of sun-powered, sound-producing sculptures.
Another historical precedent is the notion of an Aeolian or wind-powered harp which came into fashion with romanticism. Once again it was nature calling the tune.
But not all of Stonyer’s work is quite so ethereal. A 2000 installation in the Newcastle Metro offered a kinetic response to the vibrations of passing trains. Cosmic? Maybe not, but a heavy trip all the same.
Exhibition: A Certain Distance, Endless Light – A Project by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and William McKeown, MIMA, Middlesbrough, until July 4 2010
Energy is the theme of the North-East’s 10th AV Festival and the inclusion of Felix-Gonzalez-Torres looks like a no-brainer.
Some of the Cuban-born artist’s best known works feature lightbulbs on string and six of these pieces have made it into the show at MIMA.
But it was always left to curators to decide how to display his lightstring, so putting together this exhibition was not without a challenge or two.
Also on display is a trademark paper stack piece. Visitors can choose between two ambiguous propositions and take the artwork home with them, sheet by sheet.
Another piece which could follow you home is a mysterious billboard image of birds flying across a cloudy sky. A few of these have been installed around Middlesbrough.
The real lightbulb moment here was to bring William McKeown on board. The Irish painter’s breezy minimalism should set off the pared down work of Gonzalez-Torres.
One gallery has been hung with 70 monochrome watercolours to represent daisies. Another has been filled with a room-like construction built to house a single picture and a drawing. A delicate touch in a delicately balanced show.