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

Ryan Gander, Dad’s Halo Effect (2014)

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Let’s get a comparison out of the way. Art is like an infinite game of chess. An artwork will reorient all the pieces round it, and inevitably change the game.

But chess fans visiting Beswick in East Manchester may be frustrated by the inscrutable configuration of pieces in Ryan Gander’s third major artwork for the public.

It’s a checkmate, apparently. But with no board, no black or white, the three silver sculptures just gaze back at you and the scenes of local regeneration. An aerial view could help.

You might say art in the public realm should always be like this: a baffling win move played by a giant talent (or sometimes a giant ego), and something to bring a shine to its location.

The sawn off verticality of each figurine also draws your attention to the skies above and they seem to channel the elements. A glowering horizon rendered them ominous this week.

But it’s clear that when the sun shines, Dad’s Halo Effect (as the piece is called) will be dazzling. Gander has said he nicked the idea from his father, which is only partly true.

It was Gander Sr, who worked for General Motors, told his son about the aesthetic appeal of the steering mechanism in a Bedford Truck, which the artwork now echoes.

Beswick is a former industrial zone. You could say this piece reaches into the past, grabs some of the mechanical entrails, and repurposes them with a bit of spit and polish, plus a tall tale.

Unlike the pieces in a real chess game you are encouraged to get hands on with this community focal point. There’s a VI Form college nearby, so there could be no touchmove rule.

Though perhaps this post should have begun with the French phrase, J’adoube, as if a chess player was about to warn an opponent that s/he’s about to make contact with a piece.

This makes no pretence to tidy up the board. The work is conceptually neat. But writing about a piece or three of art is usually the only way you can pick it up and handle it, whatever the size.

Dad’s Halo Effect can be seen at Beswick Community Hub, a joint regeneration development between Manchester City Council and Manchester City Football Club. See below for more football art.


Carlos Cruz-Diez, Dazzle Ship (2014)

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In the event of a submarine attack, the safest place to be in Liverpool right now is on board the Dazzle Ship by Carlos Cruz-Diez. It presents a ‘moving’ target even when moored up.

Clashing colours and disruptive patterns were hit upon during World War One as a way of confusing German U-Boats who, after all, were visually handicapped by periscopes.

Dazzle paint was the invention of Norman Wilkinson who could therefore add the job title camoufleur to his CV along with marine painter, poster artist and illustrator.

The Navy bought into his theories in a big way and this dock in Liverpool, called Canning Graving, was during 1917-18 busy with Dazzle designs and painting crews.

Another artist employed with this war effort was Edward Wadsworth, a Vorticist, who was to make a number of Dazzle woodcuts and stick with maritime themes.

Venezuelan artist Cruz-Diez has found a new use for Dazzle camo: the appointment of a literal flagship for the Liverpool Biennial. It will delight as much as it will confuse.

But the full name of the piece is another obsfucation: Dazzle Ship: Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship.

Incidentally, the Edmund Gardner is a pilot ship built in 1953. Its peacetime role has been to provide a base for those who safely guide ships in and out of Liverpool.

But did I say ‘peacetime’? That’s an easy mistake to make. After all, dazzle is everywhere these days. It is the human cost of ongoing conflict we now strive to camouflage.

Cruz-Diez may be making a formal statement with his Induction Chromatique. But Dazzle Ship harks back to the moment abstraction and pure form got pressed into service by the real world.

Dazzle Ship can be seen at the Liverpool Biennial, until 26 October, and beyond until the end of 2015.


Interview: Tamsin Dillon

Jeremy Deller's cross-track posters for Art on the Underground

What might it be about a subterranean art commission which makes the imagination soar? Michael Landy, Jeremy Deller and Eva Rothschild are among the well-known contemporary artists to have taken their talents underground in recent times. It’s a gallery space you probably know, and chances are you have travelled on it.

Art on the Underground is the long running public art project which brings the best art available to the platforms, stations and trains of the world’s oldest subway. And Director Tamsin Dillon reckons this tough brief is also an inspiring one for artists.

“They’re interested in pushing themselves,” she tells me via phone. “And pushing their practice in a way that’s beyond what they might experience making work in a gallery situation.”

Dillon explains that more than three million people use the tube every day, and admits that not all of those have an interest in contemporary art. However, artists do have an interest in them.

“Many of the artists we’ve been working with have been very excited by the idea that the work that they’re presenting is going to be seen by a huge and diverse audience,” she says.

Another challenge is the mass transit system running through the 270 “spaces” on the network. “There are huge constraints and obviously the operation of the railway has to take priority.

“There’s the difficulty of how you as an artist might engage with a station building that’s got a very specific design to it. But also it’s filled with advertising, it’s got lots of signage, it’s got lots of things that are going to distract from an artwork – so it’s also how they will deal with that.”

Perhaps no less of an impediment to the creation of new ideas is the extensive art and design heritage of the London Undergrdound. Typographer Edward Johnston and map designer Harry Beck are hard acts to follow.

“It has definitely, over almost a century, built up a reputation for excellent world class design in terms of its architecture, the design of the tube map, obviously, and its font, so it’s all of its graphic output.”

The tube has also long worked with artists on posters promoting tube use and the exploration of London. And yet the remit of Art on the Underground is more than promoting Oyster card top ups.

“We want the programme there to enhance the journeys of the people,” says Dillon. “But instead of being decoration, it’s important for the programme to reflect London and reflect how important London is for contemporary art.”

Even the front of the tube map, a seemingly straightforward canvas, is not without its challenges and rewards. It’s “really a travel tool – they are a very integral part of what people use to navigate the system and the network,” says Dillon

“Now this series has become something which people expect to see both within the organisation and outside of it.”

But having established the map covers, wrapped whole trains, clad stations, posted cross-track posters and introduced film to its repertoire, Art on the Underground has a well-earned track record.

“We’re working on a really new strand of the programme that’s entirely devoted to artists’ film, Canary Wharf Screen, which will be starting in February next year,” reveals Dillon.

This station was previously host to a 15x8m durational CGI film by John Gerrard. Not many galleries have a space to project work as monumental as that.

But with the diversity of art already in place around the network, and the excitement of a new series of projects on the Central Line, Dillon is hard pushed to choose a favourite station.

She does single out White City as “just a beautiful plain brick and glass modernist architecture”. What artist wouldn’t get inspired by a setting like that? Empty white cubes – who needs ’em?

Written for Culture24.


Isabella Niven, Most Days You Will See A Pigeon (2010)

The pigeon is an unlikely emblem of civic pride. They are not lions or liver birds. They confer no distinction. Even towns have them. Even some villages.

But Milton Keynes is no ordinary place. Unlike most of the UK it is built on a grid system and the boulevards have numbers which reach into the hundreds. The car is king. Public life takes place in malls.

So it comes as less of a surprise that a current art project in MK is using the humble pigeon to draw attention to the apparent normality of the oft derided new town.

Residents have been invited to perch ceramic pigeons in a meaningful place and take a photograph. Here is Elizabeth Sabey’s contribution. The bird is on the prow of a second hand canoe she patched up over several months, all the while getting her own life back on track.

It’s just an amateur photograph and short piece of text. By way of a plinth it had an exhibition stand in a shopping centre, and a more recently a corner in a one room gallery in Brighton. Grand, it ain’t.

Moving, however, it is. It is clear hopes and dreams can take wing in Milton Keynes just as well as any other urban centre. Brightonians would do well to visit, and think twice next time they clap eyes on a pigeon.

This project is a collaborative twinning of Milton Keynes and Brighton and can be seen at Two For The Show (Part I) at A&E Gallery, Brighton. See gallery website for opening times, and visit www.haveyouseenthispigeon.co.uk to view a few of the birds in situ.


Heather & Ivan Morison, Luna Park (2010)

You would think it was put there for the children. The dinosaur stands at a picnic spot, 30ft high, robust enough to throw stones at, as some of the kids are doing. So close to a beach and a circus, a hoverport and an amusement arcade, it looks here like one more piece of spectacle.

The locals are surprised by it, but perhaps not that surprised. Luna Park is based on the roadside attractions which crop up on highways in the US. We have that much context for this monster at least.

In which case we might still raise an eyebrow at the origins of this piece. It was fabricated in Serbia by workers from a now-closed car factory. They used techniques used in making the ill-fated Yugo.

This results in something looming, dark, scary and hollow, which could be seen as a warning against the ideology, as it were extinct, of the former Yugoslavia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

But when the children ask the name of this dinosaur, a nearby plaque explains it is an Ultrasauros, a species which never existed. It is a chimera based on two separate sets of bone.

So the work becomes a monument to scientific error and, if in any way a warning, then a warning based on false data. As popular entertainment, dinosaurs and socialism are still alive and well. Just take a look at this evidence gathered very near by…

Luna Park is at Southsea Common, Portsmouth, until 10 October. The accompanying film, An Unreachable Country. A Long Way To Go, can be seen at the Aspex Gallery in the city centre. See website for opening times and directions.


Interview: John Gerrard

John Gerrard, Oil Stick Work, (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas), 2008, Realtime 3. © the artist and Art on the Underground. Production: Werner Poetzelberger. Modelling: Daniel Fellsner. Programming: Helmut Bressler. Additional programming: Matthias Strohmaier. Model: Angelo Martinez

Canary Wharf underground station offers the best and the worst opportunity an artist could hope for.

“There are 45 million people who will travel through that station per annum, which is extraordinary. There’s no gallery in the world which could even boast a fraction of that kind of potential audience,” says John Gerrard.

“But of course, it’s not a receptive audience. It’s a hurrying, blind audience in a way.”

Gerrard is responsible for a vast projection on the far wall of atrium, which requires nothing if not patience. The computer generated simulation unfolds in real time, day by day, with a narrative scheduled to last for 30 years.

Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez/Richfield, Kansas) is set in a Kansas landscape dominated by a grain silo. Dawn breaks about noon British Summer Time and the scene fades to darkness at around 2am.

Between those times, a lone figure sets to work painting the building black. He paints one square metre each day with an artist’s crayon. By the time he completes his task, in 2038, US oil supplies are projected to run dry.

Art on the Underground will be showing the astonishing time based work for 12 months, and Gerrard hopes that in that time a “fraction” of the audience will notice the work’s progression.

The tempo of his art is a far cry from the pace of nearby life. The Jubilee Line station serves some of the world’s busiest banks. “I think the banking context is a very good foil for the work, for the slow build of the work,” says the Irish artist.

He also expresses amazement at the latest forms of (high frequency and algorithmic) trading. “It’s almost become quite anarchic what’s happening in those environments,” he says.

“You’ve got people basically spending billions to gain in microseconds on somebody else in terms of speculation.”

The central theme in Oil Stick Work, intensive farming, is clearly not unrelated. In the 1930s, oil-powered agriculture caused catastrophe when the prairies succumbed to the worst dust storms ever seen in America.

Today the same landscapes are dominated by ominous and anonymous buildings such as the grain silo above or the grow finish units used to farm and slaughter pigs. People are few and far between, but with one notable exception.

Angelo Martinez is the name of a New York builder who auditioned as a stand-in for a worker who told Gerrard to stop taking photos of one of the installations in Kansas. Now with virtually remodelled features, the artist says it “really is a portrait of him.”

The unreal localities which inspired Oil Stick Work are well suited to 3D simulations. “I’m slightly on my own with the medium which is curious,” notes the artist.

“There is an established arena of game art which is in existence, but this particular kind of static approach, which I think has a lot of potential, I don’t think there’s anybody working like this at the moment.”

That medium, according to Gerrard, “was effectively born in a military context,” and for his next work his is taking the form back to its roots.

“The new work I’m doing at the moment is actually remaking a historical scene which is from the Iran-Iraq war, the first Iraq war from the 1980s, and in it there is a soldier figure…who is enacting a kind of impossible performance.”

This will be the first time the artist has used military training technology to recreate a military training exercise. “I’ll see how that goes. I mean, it’s a bit of a risk,” he says.

But despite the outward calm of a piece like Oil Stick Work, organised aggression is already very much a theme.

“Those grow finish units on the American landscape are in and of themselves a type of horror story of gargantuan proportions,” he suggests. “I don’t think there are many games that would reach that level of…what is it? You know, the implicit violence in those scenes.”

From Kansas to Canary Wharf, what you cannot see is what can shock the most.

Written for Culture24.


Antony Gormley, Critical Mass (1995-2010)

Fifteen years after its inception, Antony Gormley has revived the piece Critical Mass for the roof of De La Warr Pavilion. Since then his life-size casts of the human form have conquered London, New York and even Crosby Beach near Liverpool. They are contemporary icons.

An inestimable number of people have seen these works first hand. So it must be said Gormley has created the most immediate, visible art of the age. The Angel of the North, his vast monumental sculpture outside Newcastle, surely puts that beyond doubt.

Now 60 of his trademark figures are scattered on a modernist rooftop by the sea in Bexhill. And their message is surely a vital one. These bodies, arranged in 12 different positions, none which look comfortable, are after all a sign of the times.

If they tell us anything then, it seems humankind is, whatever the pose, all the same. They are solid, gloomy replicas of each other and indeed of Gormley himself. They are featureless and archetypal, by implication any one of them could be any one of us.

But this vision of bland conformity to be resisted. “Tout autre est tout autre,” as Jacques Derrida once put it: every other is completely other. In the visitor notes, Gormley describes his work as a deconstruction of the body, so it seemed worth quoting the man who coined the term.

And the one person modelled again, and again, happens to be a fit, adult, caucasian male. The artist has missed a chance to create a new Vetruvian man (or woman). That really would be deconstructive.

Critical Mass is at De La Warr Pavilion until the end of August.