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

Simon Lewandowski, 100 Things With Handles (2008)

Posted: August 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »


When confronted with a work of contemporary art, it is common to look for a handle. But it is not always easy to get to grips with an abstract sculpture or an assemblage.

You could go to the press release. After all, that’s what a reviewer will do. But then every so often a piece comes along which nullifies the various texts surrounding it.

Such is the case with Lewandowski’s work. It has 100 handles, and so offers 100 points of theoretical contact. They give his assorted items of bric-a-brac an unruly personality.

None of the handles seem to fit. Many clasp objects with no clear function, many are superfluous, and they are all incongruous in some way. Too big, too small, too weird.

For example, he’s screwed a plastic briefcase handle onto a copy of history’s most enduring piece of art criticism: The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari.

It gives the seminal book a workmanlike appearance. Rather than a dusty tome, it is here an industrious tool. But at the same time, this is absurd. It looks like satire.

There’s also a handle on a colourful globe. This looks like it once belonged to a plastic bucket, as if you might take planet Earth with you to the beach. That’s pretty escapist.

Elsewhere there’s a handle on a giant letter K, which reads to these eyes like a reference to Kafka, who also encourages yet defies the grasp of critics and onlookers.

So the handles hold you, rather than the other way round. They draw you in and sustain your interest as you look around the many curious items in this corner at APT Gallery.

This is a complex installation. You could write a crit about each of the 100 items. They might fill a book, onto which you might propose the artist graft a further handle.

It would be a handle on 100 written handles on 100 actual handles. There is something already quite all-consuming about this series which seems like it could go on forever.

100 Things with Handles could be seen at APT Gallery, Deptford, London as part of group show Morphisisation (7th -17th August 2014). Lewandowski’s website can be found here.

Photostory: Ryan Gander at Manchester Art Gallery

Posted: July 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: conceptual art, sculpture | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

Ryan Gander is an artist who embodies the dictum by Jasper Johns, which goes: ”Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”. His work is multi-faceted.

Consider this homemade calendar for example. Populated by jottings from Gander’s notebooks, it comes with an evocative and seeming arbitrary title: And what if no one believes the truth?

Gander D

More jottings, this time from a theoretical art world dinner party. The artist seemed to expect us to pick up and examine his power seating plan. The invigilators were not so keen.

Gander F

More discarded art could be found nearby. Though you could easily miss this ‘quarter centi-dollar’. Glueing coins to the floor was a prank much loved by Gander’s father.

But as with all works here, the object is layered with conceptual difference. We are invited to believe this is a coin from the future, 2032, when today’s quarters will be worth $25.

Gander H

As someone who’s worked on a few public sector ad campaigns before, I was very taken and taken in by Gander’s 30″ spot for a fictitious government department of the imagination.

It was put together by Kirke and Hodgson with Gander playing the role of client. Certainly it must have been the strangest brief this small agency has had the pleasure to work on.

Gander I

One of the frustrations of this show was a lack of unifying aesthetic. It leaves a disparate impression in the mind’s eye and, if anything, gazes back at you (through conceptual shades).

Really! Below you can see Magnus Opus. It consists of two animatronic eyes with which you can interact. Noisy, googly, broadly humorous, they look, but are no lookers.

Gander B

More cartoonery was to be found on an adjacent wall. Tintin fans will recognise these emotive dazed stars from any of the hero’s tales. Gander isolates them and puts in quote marks.

But in fact, this piece is incredibly complex, comparing reactions to Tintin’s abandoned final tale, from the point of view of creator, central character and the civilian identity of Hergé.

Gander C

Gander is to be applauded for not wanting to make the same work twice, but he rarely hits the same note twice. There are a few chords in this show, but is there a coherent tune?

How do you compare a knowing slice of cartoon history with the innocent response to his wife’s desire for a designer lamp. Gander made the light below from junk.

Gander L

So even this has a backstory. There’s not a piece here in Manchester which I didn’t like in one way or another; as a show not sure. But coherent tunes are probably old hat anyway.

Ryan Gander: Make every show like it’s your last is at Manchester Art Gallery until September 14 2014. My review for the Arts Desk can be found here.

Photodiary: Franz West at The Hepworth Wakefield

Posted: June 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: installation art, sculpture | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

This was my first visit to The Hepworth and I was blown away by a) the David Chipperfield building and b) the setting by the River Calder. Here’s a view from one to the other.

24 window

We were here for the biggest every show at the gallery and the UK’s first major survey of work by Franz West. The Austrian artist walks a thin line between the abject and the appealing.

24 sculptures west

Curators and directors took the brave move to show West alongside the presiding genius of this part of the world. His raw plaster heads might be said to belch and heckle the nearby Hepworths.

24 west sculpture2

This was my favourite piece in the show. It’s just a chair, you might point out, and not a very solid one. But I love the spirit of making do and improvisation. It’s a chair built from hearsay.

24 west chair

This below also tickled me. For reasons best known to the artist, the bottle is wearing a silver mac. Jokes, of the sort which fellow Viennese Freud might have chewed over, abound in this show.

24 west table

This wall mounted installation was called Personale (1995/7), a cluster of works by other artists. That is, I believe, French Shower by Jason Rhoade, but navigation was an issue.

24 wall

Beyond the television set you see a handful of West’s much acclaimed ‘adaptives’. Visitors are encouraged to pick these up and explore their weight and dimensions. Radical, huh?

24 adaptives

This was just one ingenious element in a much bigger installation with a title translating as pork chops. Like I say, West really does go in for Mitteleuropean drôlerie.

24 west tape scultuyre]

And below you can see Parrhesia (2010) a group of talking heads enjoying some ancient Greek democracy. But “I am a sculptor, not a hewer of ideas,” said West.

24 west parrhesia

So despite his extensive self-directed reading, Wittgenstein and, yes, Freud were not chief materials for this iconoclastic sculptor. Plaster and scrap, on the other hand, were.

In other words he only changed the face of modern sculpture by rolling up his sleeves. As a hopeful hewer of words, the more I think about this show, the better it gets.

Franz West: Where is my Eight? can be seen at The Hepworth Wakefield until 14 September 2014. Read my review on The Arts Desk.

Photodiary: Whitstable Biennale 2014

Posted: June 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, sound art, video installation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

whitstabke biennale

Last Saturday I spent eight or so intense hours hot footing it around a coastal town in South East England in search of the many artworks which make up Whitstable Biennale.

mark aerial waller

The coach dropped us at the Horsebridge Arts Centre, in which could be seen a wry excavation of 35-year-old television drama ,Sapphire and Steel, in a diverting film by Mark Aerial Waller.

rachel ruepke

Not so far away, in a sea cadet hall, Rachel Reupke had dramatised the power dynamics in a set of complaint letters. It was a mysterious if not completely opaque bit of performance art.

john walter

In a psychedelic beach hut on a westerly beach, John Walter was entertaining guest after guest with G&T plus gypsy tarts. I had no idea if the sun was past the yard arm, but oh well.

laura wilson

On the South Quay I found this sculpture by local stevedores working on behalf of Laura Wilson. Her accompanying film was a poetic slice of everyday life in an industrial zone.


This may look like a scene from Abu Ghraib but in fact it’s a church hall and these hooded figures are art lovers taking in bit of cosmic sound art from The Arka Group. It was hot under there.

jeremy millar

In the nearby postal delivery office, Jeremy Millar had built a screening room from fire blankets. The film itself followed a day in the life of a troubled man alone in a stunning marsh landscape.

rosa ainley

A community centre called Umbrella Hall was the location for a piece of sound art by Rosa Ainley. It treated the rise and fall of a local Pfizer building and was described, not by me, as a Greek chorus.

das hund

Seven pm and the sun was still up. Das Hund played a gig in a boat shed. I guess any old singer can carry a tune, so Samuel Levack’s atonal delivery was all the more impressive.

fish and chips

Forgive the gastroporn but, not having eaten since breakfast, fish and chips on Whitstable beach was just the ticket. It’s a fantastic event and if you can go next weekend, do.

Whitstable Biennale 2014 runs until June 15.

The Martin Creed Band @ Brighton Festival

Posted: May 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »


Martin Creed has some good tunes. No, really. For the week following his gig in Brighton, there are still one or two which bounce around between the ears.

His lyrics are to the point. Highlight of the show was a rendition of the alphabet, from “a-a a a a-a-a-a” through to “z-z z z z-z-z-z”. Creed’s lively sense of fun is not news.

But to say the Martin Creed Band were contenders for all time favourite musical act would be somewhat pretentious. Even buying a CD from the merch stand would seem strange.

Conceptual music is generally bad news. “Ideas, sugar, are not sexy,” to quote a character in a story by Amy Hempel. This holds true in music, surely. Possibly in art blogs too.

Art itself, by contrast, is a vast playground of ideas. And no one knows this better than Creed. Whether stacking objects according to size or turning a light on and off, the idea is all.

This systematic artist is the least likely musician. But you could argue that a few rock myths find their way in, that happily enough Creed loses a bit of control.

His angular powerpop seems like a matter of taste rather than deliberation. And one thinks of some of Creed’s Scottish compatriots, that whole Glasgow heritage.

In fact, the Pastels (named after an art material) once released an example of system pop worthy of Kraftwerk, the  Ramones, or anyone else to whom you’d want to compare Creed.

So, it is not hard to locate him in the tradition of bands who shambled into the indie charts three decades ago and learned just enough of their instruments to get up on stage.

But Creed is making things difficult for himself with both harmonica licks and guitar solos. If he is not careful he could get misled by his growing technical skills.

Whereas art has good ideas, music has a wealth of magic and pomp. You cannot strap on an electric guitar without buying into these. Creed even plays a chord midair at one point.

Or did my eyes deceive me? Certainly the visual element was strong, with this unorthodox frontman opting for tartan trousers and a garish tank top. He must have known.

So in contrast to the glam posturings of David Lemalas or Nice Style, from the early 70s, here is an artist who apparently sets out to reject the trappings of rock and roll.

The stage, however, owns him. Swapping guitars from a rack of three or introducing his band, Creed becomes every frontman in the history of rock. It’s a curious thing.

The Martin Creed Band played Brighton Dome Studio Theatre on 06 May 2014.

Mark Wallinger, Heaven (1988)

Posted: April 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture | Tags: , , | No Comments »


This sunday calls for a religious artwork, a blasphemous one even. What you see is a bird cage, a fishing lure and two pairs of mean looking hooks.

It looks like a remake of Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?, a birdcage which in 1921 Marcel Duchamp filled with sugar cubes. But we live in vicious times.

Nothing appears to support the fish. Two fine strands of cat gut allow it to hover, as if on a cloud. Let’s call that an Easter miracle.

It really is a fish out of water. The base of the cage is lined with the candy coloured gravel you would usually find in an aquarium. That much is easy on the eye.

Heaven appears to be a cage with no exit and a dangerous incentive to break in. The hooks are man-size. Your way in might be through pain and coercion.

But Jesus liked fishermen. He asked Simon and Andrew to become fishers of men. An artist must be a fisher of collectors, curators, critics and the public at large.

So what can he or she do to grow an audience? Wallinger leaves one spellbound by a visual conundrum, a piece of heaven you can puzzle over.

His heaven is quite an empty place, mind you, the only occupant a trap for big game. And that’s damning in all senses of the word.

Jorge Luis Borges said: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”. If you also love art, you might just as well substitute library for gallery.

Be warned however, if an artist snags you by the tongue, they will reel you in. You will find yourself talking about them whether you like it or not.

This piece can be seen in Somewhat Abstract at Nottingham Contemporary until June 29 2014

Jakob Dahlgren, Peinture abstraite (2001 – present)

Posted: April 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: abstract painting, contemporary art, fashion, photography | Tags: , , , | No Comments »


Artists often go too far. Sometimes it can seem that any art worth its salt has to do just that, to show some form of excess, to do something inordinately repetitive, or of course skilled.

Jakob Dahlgren’s thirteen year-long durational project will have many scratching their heads, asking what is the point? But to provoke that very question seems to be the point.

The Swedish artist has worn a striped t-shirt every day since 2001. There’s not much more to it than that. Although, apparently, he invites people to ‘curate’ the wardrobe for him.

It might not sound too impressive. He has an archive of 1000s of numbered shirts. He has as many photos on an Instagram site. But the work’s very lack of gravity could indeed be his point.

Dahlgren calls the work Peinture Abstraite and that smattering of French is not putting on airs. It is rather puncturing the work of those who have been historically content to paint coloured stripes.

People are still painting stripes. In austerity Britain they are probably at it right now. And Dahlgren compares this no doubt serious endeavour with just so many sartorial decisions.

He wouldn’t name names, but the artist said he drew inspiration from a range of artists whose work he didn’t very much like. He doesn’t like them, but they engage him.

In turn, you might not like his t-shirt project. But if you are reading this, it is hoped that Peinture abstraite has engaged you in some way too. It fights fire with fire, decoration with decoration.

And the fact he has just gone too far with the t-shirt idea, sporting them at weddings and funerals alike, just makes me warm to this deceptively simple piece.

For the stripe painters out there, fear not. Dahlgren is not above picking up a brush, dusting off a worn t-shirt and painting what he sees. There’s no getting away from it.

Peinture Abstraite can be seen at Fabrica, Brighton, until 26 May 2014. Check out Dahlgren’s Instagram site for more images and see the artist’s website for more info on the project.

David Blandy, Adam Rutherford and Daniel Locke, Helix (2014)

Posted: March 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, digital art, graphic novels | No Comments »


The first human to live for 500 years has already been born. So suggests a digital graphic novel by artist David Blandy, illustrator Daniel Locke and writer Adam Rutherford.

Helix launches next month and promises users the chance to interact with spider goats, DJ Kool Herc, Crick and Watson and the Great God Pan. But let me expand on that.

Spider goats are one of the finest achievements of the burgeoning field synthetic biology. They can spin web from their udders and this, apparently, has commercial applications.

DJ Kool Herc, a predecessor of this natural history mash up, features here as the inventor of hip hop. Professional fan Blandy has dropped him into the convoluted story of DNA.

As you may know, Francis Crick and James Watson also feature in that tale. But before uncovering the structure of genetics they worked on the Manhattan Project, another twist.

(Blandy and Locke also quick to give props to Rosalind Franklin who, despite her contributions to her colleagues’ discovery, missed out on the Nobel Prize.)

Pan comes into it as a foreshadowing of the goat story. He makes for a great illustration, in homage to Goya, holding court with worshippers complete with evil horns.

Locke drew inspiration from 1950s text books and and has worked up the four chapters of history and narrative in a flat, approachable and lucid style.

And what with the A-bomb, the hip hop, and the barefooted wanderer, who here lives to be 500, the project enfolds much of Blandy’s previous work as thoroughly as a double helix.

The pair were speaking at Lighthouse in Brighton on Thursday evening, along with a rep or two from Storythings, the digital agency which has brought the project to life.

But the two visual artists are keen to see a print version of their saga and hinted that the story could grow and grow, getting progressively more cosmic as it goes.

Graphic novels get a hard time in mainstream culture. Neither fine art nor works of literature they are often viewed with suspicion by traditional artists and writers.

But I found that after tapping through Helix on an iPad, just once, it really sunk in. This is surely a medium, given our web-fried memories, whose time has come.

Helix is a commission by Lighthouse and launches on April 8 2014. For more info on David Blandy visit his site, and watch a few of his films. Daniel Locke, meanwhile, is awaiting the publication of another graphic novel, 311 Ditchling Road, from Nobrow Press.

Photo diary: Marrakech Biennale 5

Posted: March 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: biennials, contemporary art | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I lucked out with this: a press trip to the fifth Marrakech Biennale. Having never before visited North Africa, culture shock kicked in before we had even checked in at the (palatial) hotel.

As you see from this piece of guerilla marketing, the event asks ‘Where are we now?’. On my first night I was advised by some more experienced local hands to have adventures and ‘get lost’ here.

mb5 poster

Asim Waqif’s sound sculpture, The Pavilion of Debris, jockeys for attention with a number of nesting storks. The locals revere these migratory birds and the city was once home to a stork hospital(!)

mb5 asm waqif 2

My understanding of nomadic war machines is limited, but I imagine they would look something like this super-charged crossbow. Max Boufathal reportedly has popular culture in his sights.

mb5 max boufathal

This is perhaps the most talked about exhibit on opening week, an F1 engine made locally using craft materials. 50 different craftsmen and women were apparently used to construct this sculptural beast.

mb5 erci van hove

Possibly one of the strangest gigs this musician has ever been booked for. Gabriel Lester walled up a gnawa band inside a performative sculpture. I’m still not quite sure why, but it was compelling.

mb5 gabriel lester

Here you see an offline, open source, 3D printer engaged in crafting the model of a star shaped clay dwelling. Operators, Urban Fab Lab, aim to one day work on life-size scale in rural Africa.

mb5 fabbers

This was Hicham Benohoud’s iconic signage on the Bank Al Maghrib. Whether or not the Biennale has flipped this city on it’s head, there were plenty of sights to flip out this foreign visitor.

mb5 hicham benohoud

My favourite work, a geometry lecture at twilight in the city sqaure. As you can just about see, Saâdane Afif is here discussing the circle with an audience of everyday Moroccans, who were rapt.

mb5 saadane afif

Of all the venues, this unfinished opera house was the most impressive. The Theatre Royal now houses a sound installation by freq_out, in which 12 composers work in 12 stirring frequencies.

mb5 freq-out

Finally, a proper showstopper by Alexander Ponomarev. Take one desert, one helicopter, one monumental installation of a ship and mix up with a set of letters in the sand to breathtaking effect.

mb5 ponomarev

And finally, a tortoise, attempting in vain to climb a step at the festival hub El Fenn. So long little guy! I get the feeling he’ll still be here in 2016; let’s hope this cosmopolitan Biennale is as well.

mb5 tortoise

Stanley Spencer, Filling Tea Urns, 1927

Posted: February 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: painting, war art | Tags: , , , | No Comments »


It may have been said, but a full century before the meme took off, Stanley Spencer painted works which embodied the suggestion we should ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

Here you see orderlies in a military hospital who, instead of getting depressed or suicidal about the horrors of war, are busy making tea.

But there is a worrying message in scenes like these, painted for the Sandham Memorial Chapel. Things do carry on regardless, and war comes to seem the norm.

Of course, war is the norm. We know that now. And since we keep our postmodern conflicts at arm’s length these days, we can drink tea all day long and not worry.

But Spencer celebrates the everyday pleasures of the battlefield and field hospital: having a shave, making jam sandwiches, getting resurrected. He called it “heaven in a hell of war”.

And if that makes him sound like a futurist, so be it. Were those car parts rather than tea urns, those excitable Italians might have also enjoyed this scene.

To his credit, Spencer prefers people to airplanes and guns. But he paints with mannered realism: great on observation, great on draftsmanship, and through it all a bit weird.

His monumental orderlies still look like rag dolls, stuffed into their clothes. There is no sense of sinew and bone, no wonder that war failed to horrify this curious artist.

The pictured scene is one of 14 predellas, 14 arches and an altarpiece from the chapel in Sandham which was purpose built for Spencer’s elaborate schema.

Restorers are currently getting the building ready to reopen for the centenary of WWI. It will no doubt become a focal point for self-conscious and sombre remembrance.

To look back at a four year tea party, rather than a prolonged massacre, may make it easier for us to deal with in 2014. But is it fair to those who served and fell? I think not.

Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War can be seen at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 15 June 2014.

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