Browsing Tag: Nottingham Contemporary

    film, film art

    Želimir Žilnik, Black Film (1971)

    February 15, 2016

    Crni film - photo 2

    Some say, “From each according to their means to each according to their needs”. Some say, “Do as you would be done by”. But very few live up to either of those incontrovertible principles.

    And though I have witnessed several decent people buy sandwiches for homeless individuals in Brighton where I live, I have never heard of anyone going so far to help as Želimir Žilnik.

    In 1971 the Yugoslav filmmaker found a group of rough sleepers and invited them home to the one-bedroom flat he already shared with his wife and young child. This he also filmed.

    In a sense they were an artistic project. But film becomes a means to an end here. That end becomes the rehousing of half a dozen fellow human beings who have fallen on hard times.

    Their arrival comes as an apparent surprise to his wife. Together they move the couple’s double mattress into the child’s room as the tramps collapse into recumbent forms in the front room.

    In the second part of this pragmatic experiment, Žilnik hits the streets again in search of public support for his new flatmates, or at least some good advice about what he should do with them.

    The lasting impression is one of irresolution. These six characters in search of an author seem to have been left to once again fend for themselves. None of them remember their housetraining.

    Black Film is a valuable social document. For starters, it asks the What If? question that must be asked every time you cross the road to evade the needs of a vagrant in abject poverty.

    It also alerts you to the fact that even socialists can fail the most needful in society. Even socialist states can fail to provide a safety net for those whose needs are greatest.

    In the UK, homelessness is the most visible of the troubles of the world. It has got worse in recent years. It’s a major problem, but since I’m not a Black Wave filmmaker, it’s not a personal problem.

    Because really, Žilnik stages the unthinkable: an act of Christian charity or, more likely, Marxist direct action, which remains for most of us as impossible as it is imperative.

    Black Film can be seen in Monuments Should Not Be Trusted at Nottingham Contemporary until 04 March 2016.

    abstract painting

    Interview: Glenn Ligon

    May 17, 2015
    Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X #1 (small version #2), 2003, © Glenn Ligon
    Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X #1 (small version #2), 2003, © Glenn Ligon

    As if to demonstrate the centre cannot hold, debates around canonical art have shaken down to the East Midlands from a point of origin in New York’s Bronx. Nottingham Contemporary hosts a curatorial project by US artist Glenn Ligon. Thanks to a creative hang, the regional gallery has set up dialogues between some of the masters of international art along with a range of forgotten voices.

    Ligon agrees to meet me in the gallery café. He is a patient interviewee who sees the funny side of every other line he utters. He uses the verbal tic ‘you know’ with greater frequency than anyone I have ever met.

    And with a chunky metal ring and equally bold cardigan buttons, he cuts a dandyish figure who might have got lost on his way to the capital. All the same, he soon tells me he is pleased to be here.

    “I think Nottingham’s an interesting city,” says the artist. “It has this strong regional museum with adventurous programming. It’s not dumbed down programming for some imagined audience that needs to see certain things. So that was the draw.” Ligon also appreciates the local quota of 60,000 students and was pleased to see a youthful crowd at the opening of his show on April 3rd.

    That exhibition continues to prove popular, thanks to a mix of big names from the world of abstract expressionism, a strong showing by African American artists, and edgy works that explore sexuality and gender along with race.

    Sometimes, as in the nude wrestling on show in Steve McQueen’s film Bear, these works look at all three themes. Of his first encounter with Bear (1993), Ligon says: “I thought it was the most amazing thing ever. I thought it was incredible.”

    His comment is a reminder that Encounters and Collisions is a show about the artist’s influences. Yet it is also a show about the universal appeal of art. With some of his choices, such as Kline, Pollock or Beuys and Boetti, Ligon couldn’t have gone far wrong.

    But the dead white males have been dusted down and put into a vital dialogue with, say, the macabre animations of Kara Walker, or the knowing voyeurism of a group of Zoe Leonard photos.

    Asked if he sees his many influences as reference points or rivals, the artist responds with one of his amused observations: “I think there’s a bit of both. I think you always want to kill the fathers, or the mothers, so there’s part of that.

    “But for me it’s looking at an inquiry that was made by a certain artist and seeing where one can go with that, you know, seeing how it intersects with the things one is interested in”.

    The show will travel to Tate Liverpool and an association with the UK’s biggest art museum franchise has proved handy for securing loans. But a show of this sort remains a feat of organisation.

    “I’m not a curator, so a lot of heavy lifting around these things, I didn’t have to do,” says Ligon. Nevertheless, the exhibition grew out of a list of names which he supplied. The artist was also able to contact several of his peers directly and several of his letters appear in the gallery handout.

    It is no surprise to find that Ligon has a way with words, although he doesn’t always choose his own. His most famous works are his text paintings, which employ quotations from literature and stand-up comedy.

    The starting point for this show was a collection of his essays and interviews called Yourself in the World. And his facility for language has even survived a stint spent as a legal proof reader. “If that didn’t kill off an interest in language nothing would,” he jokes.

    One of his own works in the show, of which there are several, contains a quote from writer and activist James Baldwin. But the text is buried in a monolithic black painted work with coal dust.

    Abstract expressionism meets conceptualism, in a space shared with a portrait of Baldwin in oils, by the writer’s friend Beauford Delaney, plus a piece of black and white abstraction by Franz Kline. The show veers between abstraction and figuration throughout and, as Ligon says of this grouping: “I kind of forced those things together”.

    An artist like Delaney can now be more visible than at any time since the 1950s: “I think the interesting thing that has happened now is a lot more work is available to be seen, because of the internet, because museums have realised that artists they’ve overlooked are important and those works come out of the storeroom.”

    Ligon cites the reappearance of African American painter Benny Andrews at MoMA as an example. “It takes a younger generation of curators to come in and kind of revise the canon.”

    But, as the artist points out, this needs to filter through. He tells me only three African Americans have had solo shows at the New York gallery, and only “a dozen, maybe two dozen” women.

    Ligon claims the artworld only “feels” like an inclusive place, “because artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places, but it’s still part of our society and employs the same kind of mechanisms that keep people out of spaces in larger society separate to the art world”.

    But when asked about the contemporary art landscape today, the New Yorker sees a resurgence of interest in these older forms.

    “I think there has been a kind of a real interest in, particularly, abstract expressionism. But filtered through technology, filtered through the social ,” he says, before adding: “We have enough distance, I think, from that era to find abstraction vital again, but also do it in a different way, bring different things into it”.

    Although Ligon remains a fan of ‘Ab Ex’, he has reservations about the monolithic status of the form and its practitioners.

    “I love the Met in New York, but for years and years and years – probably decades – their selection of modern art never changed. The Pollock was always next to the de Kooning, which was round the corner from the Rothko.” As a Met fan, he still considers this a problem: “You never hear about the dialogues these artists were having with artists who were not the masters, or considered to be the masters”.

    So it’s no surprise that the show in Nottingham is a playful, fresh arena and also a crowded one. Ligon jokes about this: “My ideal show would be one where all the pieces are touching, because that’s how they feel in my head. There are impossible combinations of things.”

    He adds a rhetorical “You know?” to this observation. Visit this somewhat irreverent show and you can only agree.

    Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions can be seen at Nottingham Contemporary until 14 June 2015, then at Tate Liverpool between 20 June and 18 October 2015. Interview written for Culture24.

    contemporary art, sculpture

    Mark Wallinger, Heaven (1988)

    April 20, 2014

    wallinger

    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

    contemporary art, painting, Uncategorized

    Tala Madani, Reading Light (2013)

    January 28, 2014

    madani

    At the risk of over analysing a good joke, it’s worth considering this painting by Tala Madani. It’s as funny as anything in her scurrilous UK survey in Nottingham.

    The dude with the erect torch, well, in his mind he’s a sex god. He appears to think that red shaft is a part of his body. Or at least he’s happy for us to think so.

    But what most amuses me are the two eager boffins. They come to him with an unfolded map, as if they realise they’re lost, or a blueprint, as if big plans are afoot.

    There is nothing sexual about their enquiry at all, but they rely on a diffuse glow from a bigger man’s trousers. And don’t we all? Perhaps men are simply more prone to hero worship.

    His actual sex remains a mystery. The torch is also a searchlight. But we cannot see what it has found. (Even if Madani is not averse to painting a cock or two when the occasion calls for it.)

    Both the alpha type and the boffins are characters who crop up in other works here.  And as has been pointed out before, the Iranian artist tends to focus on masculinity.

    I wanted to link this to her cultural background. If it be difficult to paint like this in present day Iran, be assured that Madani has enjoyed the relative safety of LA since a young age.

    But see how this blogger has also bustled up close to the light with a mental map. Like the boffins in this piece, I want to orientate myself and to fix a position for the artist.

    Perhaps, and this is a long shot, the paunchy one is not a man at all. Perhaps she is a fleshy stand in for the female artist complete with fetish (torch) and disguise (beard).

    Yet the work remains as unknowable as the contents of those tented trousers. The phallus is at once presence and absence at the heart of a biting satire, a drama of gendered darkness and light.

    Tala Madani: Rear Projection can be seen at Nottingham Contemporary until 23rd March 2014.