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

The The Thing Is (For 3)/Harry Hammond/Luna Park/August must-sees/Top 10 art attractions for kids

Here’s a round up of work for Culture24 in the last week or so. Feel free to peruse:

Diane Arbus/Chicks on Speed/Arabicity/July must-sees

Here’s another round up of stories written in the past week for Culture24:

Whitstable Biennale/Persistence of Vision/Wolfgang Tillmans

Here’s another round up of my week’s output for Culture24. Happy reading…

Art must-sees for the month: June

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.

Review: Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown – The Life and Times of Milton Keynes Gallery

Image courtesy Milton Keynes Gallery

Exhibition: Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown: Life and Times of Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes, until June 27 2010

900 Midsummer Boulevard does not sound like an address for a provincial English gallery. But then again, Milton Keynes is not just any other provincial English town.

Conceived as a utopia, it is often perceived as the very opposite. The twists and turns of a more organic settlement have all been ironed out by a super-rational grid system.

Town planners have considered the needs of their citizens and their citizens’ cars in almost every respect. Here is the office. Here is the shopping mall. And there is the cultural quarter, in which sits a purpose built white cube gallery.

Milton Keynes Gallery is now ten years old and the current show is a trip down memory lane, which is most certainly not the name of a nearby street.

Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown, Turner Prize-winning artist and Director of Cabinet Gallery, London, have sifted through the archives to present an impersonal portrait of “a classic British institution”, as the voiceover on one of their films has it.

These films, compiled of found materials, consist largely of still photographs with occasional flourishes of animation. The scripts are plundered from gallery literature, cut up and repasted together, then voiced by a computer.

“The machine is a programme and it makes all the decisions,” it intones, as the text veers between sense and nonsense. Despite the layers of mediation, the bleak voice that emerges has all the gravity of TS Eliot’s modernist classic The Wasteland.

Elsewhere the curatorial team have put another layer between them and the work by commissioning cartoonist Lee Healey to illustrate the history of the gallery according to a set of their prompts. The results are darkly funny.

Green screen technology is used to project a rotating model of the gallery onto a slideshow of photographs from the archives. Artworks and architectural plans convey a wealth of associations accumulated in ten short years.

The pink model shimmers at the edges with a holographic quality, as if a mirage. But the full workings of this trick are exposed as we can also see the green plinth, camera, spotlights and projector which makes the entire institution float in mid air before us.

So two galleries spin side by side, one real, and one a projected image. In the making of this show Leckey and McGeown have been careful to let you see both.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: A Horse Walks Into A Bar at Castlefield Gallery

Exhibition: A Horse Walks Into A Bar, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, June 18 – August 8 2010

That a non-domestic animal in a pub should occasion hilarity tells us something about our relationship with nature. The proverbial horse in a bar is an old joke.

Perhaps the nine artists in this group show at Castlefield Gallery can persuade us that we should take animals more seriously, or at least supply an original punchline.

Using video, painting, photography, sculpture and performance, the show promises to work away at the boundaries between the human and non-human living worlds.

The role of animals is here considered in many spheres, such as regal portraits, mass produced imagery, the entertainment industry and myth.

Contributors include Turner-prize winning artist Mark Wallinger, who once dressed as a bear to roam the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin for one of art’s better gags.

Meanwhile two photographers on show include Corey Arnold, who worked in Alaska as a fisherman, and Richard Billingham, whose unflattering family snaps caused controversy at the Barbican in 1994.

The response from art collective UHC is also no laughing matter. They have invited 100 members of the public to get unique tattoos of the 100 most endangered species in the UK.

Other artists to feature in this intriguing bestiary include Andrew Bracey, Lorraine Burrell, Maddi Nicholson, Dan Staincliffe and Chiz Turnross. So surely one can tell us, why the long face?

Written for Culture24.

Preview: The City and The Stars, Stills

Exhibition: The City and The Stars, Stills, Edinburgh, until July 18 2010

Art tends to get categorised by medium rather than subject matter. Sci-fi may exist in literature, but fantasy art remains a pejorative term.

So the latest show at Stills, coinciding with the Edinburgh Science Festival, takes its title from a book. The City and The Stars is a novel by Arthur C Clarke, and is as sci-fi as you can get. So what of the photography it inspires?

Emma Kay from London looks to the past, even as she looks to the future. The World From Memory and The Future From Memory sound more like scientific inquiry than scientific fabulation.

Craig Mulholland offers works which animate machines, but this Glaswegian’s concern – the over-regulation of everyday life – is with us already.

German Rut Blees Luxemburg looks forward, with large scale pictures which reveal the possibilities of city life and the ways in which we are conditioned to read images.

Could you call any of this sci-photography? Possibly, but perhaps it is still easier to write about the world to come rather than show it. Little green men don’t photograph well.

Written for Culture24.

Art must-sees this month: May

Clara Ursitti, Ghost (2010). Courtesy Tatton Park Biennial. Photo: Thierry Bal

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”.

Interview: Spencer Tunick

Few living artists get as much exposure as Spencer Tunick. But then again this live installation specialist and photographer works exclusively with nudes, hundreds and sometimes thousands of them.

His latest project, shot over Bank Holiday weekend, is set in Salford and Manchester. Tunick is using the project as a response to the region’s best known painter of crowds, L.S. Lowry.

“I think if you were to take the frame off of a Lowry work and stretch it on a canvas that had no ornate frame on it and hung it at the Basel Art Fair or Frieze, it would be something that a young artist would make today,” he enthuses.

Thanks to the “scrappiness” and “gestural spontaneity” of Lowry’s paintings, he says, “The images themselves could have been made by a young 22-year-old artist coming out of Goldsmiths . . . It’s sort of the artsy crafty way of painting before it’s in style now.”

In fact Tunick first saw his cityscape setting through the eyes of Lowry, driving from the airport directly to the Lowry Galleries, who have invited the photographer to help them celebrate their 10th anniversary.

“I was just drawn to the fact that there are chimneys and smokestacks all throughout the landscape of his work, and now there are very few left in Manchester,” says the American artist.

Indeed one hoped-for location for his latest work featured one giant chimney, which was subsequently demolished a few weeks before the shoot.

“Heavy industry is gone from Manchester and in a way the new industry coming into Manchester, I guess, would be culture,” says Tunick.

Where once were factories, he continues, you now have a large student population, a vibrant gay and lesbian scene, new museums, and now nudes.

“So for me the masses of bodies represent the inward motion of culture, as Lowry’s masses of clothed bodies, of factory workers and pedestrians, represented industry, the former industry,” he explains.

Tunick has never used an entire project to reference another artist’s work in this way. “I wanted to be a bit more conceptual with the exhibition,” he says. Indeed where do you go after photographing 18,000 people in Mexico City as the artist did in 2007?

This time round 1,000 volunteers have taken part and eight locations, including Peel Park in Salford (pictured), were chosen in secret.

“We don’t announce the locations, because it’s not a naked run with 500 runners and 100,000 people watching. It’s quite a private piece – as private as you can get in a public space,” he says.

Tunick has also decided to freeze bodies in motion for this piece and it will be the first time he has displayed such work. Asked about the effects of this technique, he says: “It’s a cross between the negative connotations of George Orwell’s 1984 and the positive representation of a nude utopia.”

It seems Greater Manchester may be bidding for utopian status. This weekend’s shoots have been organised with full co-operation of the local authorities, whereas in New York the artist has been arrested five times for breaking public nudity laws.

“Well it’s very hard to hide 500 people so we have to get permission,” he explains. “Kate Farrell, the curator, has done an amazing job securing the locations from local government and co-operation from the police. So now the police will actually be helping us as opposed to being our adversary.”

Prior to choreographing a small army of naked Northerners, Tunick was unclear about the ability of the British to cope with the cold in the nude but assured me they would have heated buses.

“It’s definitely more of a fiery group in South America compared with Germany or Holland,” he says. “Often where the body is not as accepted in society there’s more excitement about the act of participating and you know sometimes it’s just really easy – the people are just really easy to work with – and sometimes they are so excited to be naked and be on the streets that it takes time to calm everyone down and start making some art.”

Review: Underwater at Towner

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.