MA Show

After weeks of intensive making, it is time to turn the studio into an exhibition space.

Netting needle, sisal string

Netting needle, sisal string

The space felt big, empty, a little daunting but also full of promise.  It soon filled up with material and gradually with work.  One piece of work suggests another, one form leads to another.  Now the space feels too small.

 Much of my work is malleable.  Many pieces can take several forms, each one offering something different.  The possibilities are numerous, almost endless.

The opportunity to work with the height of the studio has been exciting.  Even though the string and the rope stretch upwards towards the ceiling, the work is not overpowering. It is open, allowing work beyond to be seen.  Layering, allowing the chance for conversations.
Much of the work hangs and sometimes slumps, giving in to gravity more Robert Morris than Louise Bourgeois.

Weaves, assorted fibres

Weaves, assorted fibres

The net has grown and grown and could grow still, in many directions.  Already it is no longer simply a rectangle but has grown sideways too.  It includes different types of string, some soft and gently to work with, others rough and recalcitrant.  Even the knots respond to nature of the fibres.

4.jpg

The final cut could have felt brutal, but the show is only a pause in the making process.  It is a time to reflect and to enjoy, knowing that everything will find its way to another studio and perhap into a different work and another show.

Presentation: Suspending Work

Making work occasionally involves repetitive actions requiring little more than muscle memory.  This allows the mind to wander and thoughts to shuffle around. Today’s shuffling thoughts have revolved around presentation of work and in particular to suspending work.  This method of presentation was much used by both Louise Bourgeois and Alexander Calder.

Calder’s mobiles rely on careful weighting to ensure the perfect equilibrium of thmany e elements.  The hanging  mechanisms tend towards the decorative and are integral to the whole.  The often intricate composition of his hanging pieces attest to Calder’s background training as a mechanical engineer. 

Image source: Creator:Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY / © Artres

Image source: Creator:Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY / © Artres

The origins of Louise Bourgeois’ hanging pieces is quite different.  Bourgeois herself refers to her father’s collection of fine furniture as the origin of her suspended works.

He hung a selection of armchairs in the attic. You would look up and see these armchairs hanging in very good order.  The floor was bare. It was very impressive. This is the origin of a lot of hanging pieces

(Label, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2019)

 

In 1996 Bourgeois wrote in her diary

           I am hanging on to my mother

            You are hanging on the ceiling

            She is hanging on

            (quoted Pincus-Witten : 2014)

Bourgeois’ habit of hanging work from a single point brings to mind a spider’s dragline silk.  There is something uncomfortable about interacting with a sculpture held aloft and perhaps viewers are unconsciously reminded of suicides and murders by hanging.

Untitled  aluminium 204

Untitled aluminium 204

Displaying work by hanging enables the viewer to experience the pieces in the round. Commenting on Louise Bourgeois’ suspended works, Pincus-Witten writes of the ‘guileless unapologetic simplicity of their presentation’. The simple presentation does not come between the viewer and the works, nor does it signal importance or separateness in the way that plinths or frames do.

Pincus-Witten R (2014) Louise Bourgeois Suspension Skira : Milan

Unconscious Landscape. Works from the Ursula Hauser Collection

Unconscious Landscape is an exhibition currently on show across the five galleries at Hauser & Wirth Somerset drawn from the collection assembled by Ursula Hauser over the past four decades.

A sense of the uncanny runs throughout the show.  Louise Bourgeois’s work in particular elicits a response of discomfort, perhaps even anxiety.  Two of her iconic spider sculptures are on display.

Spider V , (bronze) Louise Bourgeois 1999  Spider , (steel) Louise Bourgeois 1996

Spider V, (bronze) Louise Bourgeois 1999 Spider, (steel) Louise Bourgeois 1996

Bourgeois’s Cell forms are equally challenging.  It is difficult, if not impossible, for the viewer to remain unmoved by the emotional charge of these works, of which there are three in the exhibition.  I found the sense of isolation and pathos emanating from the figure in Cell XXII (Portrait) particularly poignant.

Cell XXII (Portrait) , (steel, fabric, wood and glass) Louise Bourgeois, 2000

Cell XXII (Portrait), (steel, fabric, wood and glass) Louise Bourgeois, 2000

As I was leaving the gallery I overheard the comment ‘There is a bit of a spider theme running through’, a throw away remark perhaps, but one that encapsulates much about this show.  What do spiders do?  They produce silk, many different types of silk in order to fulfil different functions.  Spiders use the silk to build a drag line (a safety line enabling them to retreat from predators or hang in space) and spin webs.  Webs are many and varied too.  Some are constructed to catch prey but webs are also used to form retreats (protective shelters for themselves) and to construct egg sacks as nests or cocoons for their offspring.

The artists featured in the exhibition are all women and notions of domesticity, caring, shelter, familial relationships, together with a strong steak of feminism, run through much of the work.  Seeing work by several artists brought together in one show brings connections and themes to the fore.  Many of these I recognise in my own work as I do the materials and the methods of construction which are so much part of the message.

Trouxa  (stitching, moorings, different fabrics and laces) 2004

Trouxa (stitching, moorings, different fabrics and laces) 2004

Unconscious Landscape. Works from the Ursula Hauser Collection continues at Hauser and Wirth Somerset until 8 September 2019


If you know the Beginning, the End is no Trouble

The exhibition is the first UK solo show of Liz Johnson Artur which showcases photographs taken over the past 30 years recording the black diaspora, the artist’s neighbours in London.

Unusually, the photographs do not line the walls but rather are displayed in the space on sculptural bamboo structures.  The construction is both crude and elegant and requires the viewer to be more actively engaged in the looking than if processing past wall hung framed images.   The photographs are arranged thematically and the exhibition suggests an affectionate recording of people living their lives, of day to day events captured with warmth and without artifice.

Blog 1.jpg

The manner of the presentation, the photographs stapled onto large corrugated cardboard panels, suggests lives lived in groups and communities.  The viewer is invited within to discover a cacophony of captured moments.  The photographs vary in size and are printed in black and white and in colour on a variety of papers, fabrics, acetate underlining the diversity of the subjects. 

Blog 2.jpg

At the back of the gallery a screened off corner forms The Women’s Room.  Here the viewer is invited to sit on a bench cushioned with a tubular knitted rug and to listen to oral histories and also to leaf through a large cloth book of Artur’s photographs.   On one of the walls, sculptured hair pieces by Virginie Pinto Moreira adorn another bamboo structure.

Blog 3.jpg

On leaving the gallery, the visitor is close to Camberwell and to Peckham, home to many members of the communities memorialised in If you know the Beginning, the End is no Trouble.

If you know the Beginning, the End is no Trouble continues at the South London Gallery until 1 September 2019.

 

Return Visit

My first thought on entering the Duveen Galleries this time was that the pungent smell of machinery, a heady scent of oil, metal and dirt, has faded but the exhibition still thrills.  The presentation of the machinery raised above working height is imposing and gives the machines a presence which mitigates any thought of neglect and redundancy.

The cast plinths used throughout the Duveen galleries are a homogeneous element linking the various exhibits.  However, a number of these plinths have been artificially distressed and sport gaping holes.  I found this distracting on my first visit.  On this second visit, this artifice seems just as incongruous to me.  The holes are distracting and I feel that they bring into question the authenticity of the exhibits and sit uncomfortably in the context of lost function and history.

blog 1.jpg

What was the intention?  The plinths themselves, clearly part of a well designed curatiorial plan consolidate the overall look of the exhibition without diverting attention from the machines and objects.  The edges of the concrete plinths are slightly battered, the surfaces scuffed and stained in places.  This is not the show for pristine white plinths.  The raw edges of the holes give a glimpse not only of the gallery floor but also of the production process.  Bent stakes of the metal armature can be seen, together with the polystyrene filing and the layers of poured concrete.  Despite not being cleanly cut and clinical, the holes appear contrived and draw the eye without adding to the reading of the exhibition.

blog 2.jpg

 

 

 

The Asset Strippers

The stoical magnificence of the machinery populating the Duveen Galleries underlines the desolation of a lost era.

Blog4.jpg

The pervasive smell of oil, dust and neglect envelops visitors as they gaze at the statuesque machines elevated on plinths of steel and concrete or on ubiquitous workshop drawers.  Their levers out of reach, the redundant tools to Jacob Epstein’s statuesque Rock Drill.

A giant rubber tyre laid to rest in an agricultural galvanised steel trough is caught between slumber and escape.

blog2.jpg

The auction lot numbers and customer reference labels attest to the provenance of these items.  They have been rescued from oblivion for a short time by Mike Nelson for visitors recall and mourn a time of thriving industry in Britain.

The orderly curation of the galleries emphasises the heft and presence of the machinery and by association the obsolescence and absence of the redundant workers left behind by progress.

The inclusion of agricultural machinery widens the field of reference to encompass a disappearing way of life.  The textile industry in which Nelson’s family worked is also represented.  There is a poignant sparkle of sequins hanging by a dusty thread on an impressive braid manufacturing machine.Here and there vibrant touches of colour catch the eye from across the vast spaces.  These call to mind Phyllida Barlow’s use of colour in Cul de Sac showing at the Royal Academy.

blog3.jpg

Mike Nelson’s choice of title signposts his intentions.  The inescapable feeling of loss cannot entirely mask the proud magnificence of the machines.

The Asset Strippers is both exhilarating and mournful.  This visit to the Duveen Galleries has encouraged me to re-evaluate the context of my current work.  While I use handwork skills and obsolete tools, my message is less a lament for times gone by and rather a celebration of materiality and the retrievable nature of skills in an endeavour to mesh and connect with our environment.

Fault Lines

This group show at the Freedlands Foundation brought together four sculptors:  Alice Channer, Angela de la Cruz, Holly Hendry and Jonathan Baldock.

 Angela de la Cruz’s precarious perched damaged elements that hint at the delicacy of human life.  These are spare and elegant structures whose scale and components comfortably reference the human body.  The tired stool and damaged chair stand in uneasy and precarious coexistence.  Across the room, the smooth metal trough, crumpled and forced to fit into the filing cabinet stoically faces the viewer.

de la Cruz,  Three legged Chair on Stool  (2002) and  Crate (Navy)  (2018)

de la Cruz, Three legged Chair on Stool (2002) and Crate (Navy) (2018)

Jonathan Baldock’s ceramic tower also hints at the fragility of life suggesting that the veneer containing our inner most feelings is in danger of rupturing.   The wall hung pair of ceramic masks barely contains their hidden thoughts.

Baldock,  Grinning until my face hurts  (2018)

Baldock, Grinning until my face hurts (2018)

The smooth surface of Holly Hendry’s jigsaw sculpture contrasts with the cracks between the assembled shapes and differing materiality of the various elements.  The surface of each pieces is always smooth and the changes in depth leads the viewer to reconsider the structures depicted.  The addition of the occasional found object adds a light touch of humour.

Hendry  Mr Urstoff  (2018)

Hendry Mr Urstoff (2018)

Alice Channer showed two works in the exhibition.  Her floor piece Bonez began its transformation as a garment.  Through the lost wax casting technique, a stretch material maxi dress has become two elegant bronze floor pieces.  The top surface carries the imprint of the weave, pleats and hems, leaving the viewer in no doubt about the origins of the work.  Meanwhile the underside is smooth and reflective.  The armholes call to mind the eye of a needle.  The disembodied object brings to mind questions of sustainability and longevity which provide a conceptual link to Channer’s wall hung piece Soft Sediment Deformation, Full Body.  Images of eroding sandstone is manipulated and digitally printed onto fabric.  Pleating imposes another distortion and bring the fabric into the realm of sculpture.  The title brings together both the source of the imagery and the body, alluding transformation, ageing and decay.

Channer Bones (2018) and  Soft Sediment Deformation, Full Body (Frown Lines)  (2018)

Channer Bones (2018) and Soft Sediment Deformation, Full Body (Frown Lines) (2018)

All the pieces sat comfortably within the overall theme, each artist suggesting disjunction and deficiency through their work.  The small but perfectly formed exhibition was a delight to visit, the works setting up interesting dialogues and I came away with many questions and some answers.

Freedlands Foundation

Tribute to Mono-Ha

Tribute to Mono -Ha at the Cardi Gallery includes seminal works by ten artists, many of the works showing in the United Kingdom for the first time.  In addition the exhibition includes archival photographs and videos capturing key moments in the history of the group.

 Mono-Ha appeared in response to the unrelenting industrial development of Japan and in particular of Tokyo in the mid 1960s.   The label was given to the loose group of artists at a later date by art critics.  Though Mono Ha is translated as the School of Things, there is no direct equivalent for the word Mono.  It can equally mean thing, matter, material and object.   The initial focus of the group was to move away from things as used in minimalist art.  The artists responded by ‘not making’ in their search for the essential.   The message of the Mono Ha artists was not simply in the works themselves, but in the artists’ desire to root their work in materiality and push back against the supremacy of idea over matter, the artist pointing the viewer to the thought that the material holds the message.  Abandoning traditional art materials, the artists focused on easily available materials, both natural and industrial and presented these without undue elaboration.

Susumu Koshimizu

Susumu Koshimizu

Much of the innovation came from the manner in which they combined and juxtaposed the elements in their work.  Lee Ufan, founding member of Mono-Ha and philosopher, refers to this as encounters.  The unexpected relationships between materials, between objects and space, between the body and the elements question modernisation and industrialisation at the expense of nature.

Lee Ufan

Lee Ufan

Paradoxically, the simplicity of the works produced by Mono-Ha artists belonging makes the meaning of the pieces more difficult to decipher.  Some like Phase - Mother Earth (1968) came about almost by chance, the development of the work coming from Nobuo Sekine’s desire to work with the materials rather than imposing a plan on them.

‘one can only expose what is there’ (cited Groom, 2001:6)

This work by Nobuo Sekine references his seminal piece Phase – Mother Earth of 1968 in which a large hole (3m deep with a diameter of 2m) was dug.  The excavated earth was into a pillar mirroring the hole.  The work developed almost by accident, without much conceptual planning.

Nobuo Sekine

Nobuo Sekine

This exhibition has encouraged me to reconsider the materials I use in my own work.   I frequently use found objects and am naturally attracted to materials such as metal and wood.  The yarns I include in my work are usually linen, wool and cotton which I feel best communicate my exploration of our place in the world through skills and objects.  I have been challenged to collect objects that I find unattractive rather than the ones I am instinctively drawn to.  This has led me to question what and how I chose to work with.  Tribute to Mono-Ha has rekindled my interest in aesthetically pleasing materials.  The task now is to delve deeper into the why.

Groom, S. (2001) Mono-ha – School of Things.  Cambridge: Kettle’s Yard. 

https://cardigallery.com/exhibitions/

Cul-de-Sac: Phyllida Barlow at the RA

Cul-de-sac is an exhibition of colourful contrasts.  Humour is everywhere. The work is both monumental and elegant.  A bundle of tall slim timbers stand proud in an alcove designed to hold the marble statue of a citizen of note as they welcome visitors walking up the stairs.  Their tops wrapped in indeterminate material they are not overawed by their patrician surroundings.

In the first room, the sculptures rise up to meet the light streaming into the galleries.  Elegant fabric forms gather in the corner, their insubstantial though colourful shapes contrasting with their heavy cylindrical concrete bases. 

PB1.jpg

Everywhere the sculptures play with balance and angles.  The unexpected planes suggest they may be on the edge of collapse and delicate uncertainty.   Large smooth blocks are held high close to the ceilings on soaring stilts, their joints roughly wrapped in plastered scrim.  The height and proportions create tension and precariousness. The fine stilts holding large blocks perilously aloft seem to defy gravity.  What is heavy, what is weightless? 

PB3.jpg

As the title suggests, visitors are forced to retrace their steps to leave the gallery.  They must leave by the only entrance.  The return journey offers different views.  Dense concrete slabs both on the ground and shaped as lintels held high above our heads slope at unlikely angles to lead the eye across the space.  The angles are different offering new perspectives and making different connections.  The visitors are rewarded with different relationships and new interplays. The gaggle of angled narrow poles effortlessly holding up the multi layered metal structure suggest they are frozen in the midst of a dance offering a strong contrast to the stolid column of solid grey across the room.

PB2.jpg

Even if they are no longer salvaged directly from skips, materials are still modest and non-precious.  This does nothing to diminish the refinement of works.  The feel of the exhibition is of work by an artist at ease with her practice and with nothing to prove and rather enjoying working with scale and irreverent materials.

Where am I now?

This essay reviews the work undertaken and developed during the past few months of my Fine Art MA course.  Research into the relevant critical theory will be referenced and alongside this the practice and writings of relevant artists will be examined and discussed in order to support the work.  Paradoxically, exhibiting in the James Hockey gallery and the Lewisham Arthouse has crystallised my interest in making and showing work in a less formal manner than previously and this has also clarified my interest in less conventional or traditional spaces.   Alongside this realisation, an interest in the element of not-knowing and in the fostering of an element of potentiality in the work is beginning to emerge. 

Scale

The scale of the work has changed.  Both the finished pieces and the materials have increased in size.  The fine wool, the linen and the flax yarns have been replaced by bailing twine and sisal rope.  An iron cattle collar has replaced the small wooden screwdriver handle that fits comfortably in the palm.  The change of scale is not in any way a search for monumentality but rather to draw out the references to people, to accentuate the allusion to what it is to be human.  According to Henry Moore ‘There is a right physical size for every idea’ (quoted in George 2014:91).  The search, through the use of these different materials which require more physical effort and the involvement of the whole body, is for a language to explore our relations as people to the world around us, to the place in which we negotiate our everyday lives.

Protagoras, the Greek Philosopher, stated that ‘Man, not the universe, is the measure of all things’.  The change of scale has allowed the work to allude more obviously to the body.  The introduction of clothes rails in the work reinforces the allusion.   The structure of the rails allows the elements of the work to hang within a well defined edge.  The use of more than one rail enhances the opportunity of dialogue between the work and the space in which it exists.  It should nonetheless be remembered that contrast in scale and the presence of small details and finer materials have the power to draw the viewer in.

 

Materials

… women sculptors … persevered, creating unique form from uncommon and found materials, often loosely based on or evocative of the body and its processes.  They followed the direction of the knot, let the rope lead, stretched fabric, pierced the surface that the wire slips through, closely observed the angle at which a form looped or curved back on itself.  They created works that are rooted in handwork:  process-based, non-narrative, profoundly tactile and fundamentally experimental.  (Coxon quoted in Wright (ed) 20017:33)

Several links to the recent development of the work can be found in this extract written by Ann Coxon in relation to women sculptors published in the book accompanying the textile exhibition shown at the Turner Contemporary in 2017.The materials and the working methods referred to by Coxon have a direct relevance to the making and construction of several of the most recent pieces of work.

Work in Progress,  2019 (sisal, electrical tape)

Work in Progress, 2019 (sisal, electrical tape)

The materials have not only changed in scale, but also in nature.  There has been a growing awareness of the questions which can be asked by the juxtaposition of different elements:  the yielding nature of the thread against the hardness of the marble, the disarray of the tangled skein set against the tension of the taut line, the weight of metal anchoring a suspended paper structure.  Does the meaning of the work, what Marcel Duchamp refers to as ‘the work of the work’, sit in the liminal space between the physical and the ephemeral?                        

The texture of the materials invites the viewer to experience the work as a whole body experience.  Merleau-Ponty asserts that we decipher our environment, the world we live in, our position in it, by using all our bodily senses.  In contrast to the philosophical view that consciousness is the locus of this knowledge, Merleau-Ponty posits that we encounter the world through our bodies.    Texture engages with memory.  Though we may not be allowed to touch something, the act of looking alone can trigger our sense of touch by engaging our stored textural recollection and thus allowing the viewer to become more fully involved with the work.

The tactility of the materials is part of the message.  The texture of the materials from the smoothness of bone or the roughness of rope to the coldness of metal are triggers for our senses beyond mere sight.  Through these sensations it is hoped to trigger a greater awareness of how we connect to the world around us and how we might lead more stable and grounded lives.

In his theory of hyper-reality, Jean Baudrillard asserts that it is no longer possible, in post modern culture, to separate reality from representation. The real, the artificial and the copy are now indistinguishable.  Only simulacrum remains.  Not only do we live our lives through the filter of social media, but the function of places has become blurred.  The work space can be an office, home, train, bus or even a coffee shop. How often do we photograph landmarks rather than look at them?  The experience of being in a place has become subservient to the making of, often digital, memories.  Earphones separate us from our environment and from the people around us.  While we naturally engage with both existent communities as well as digital communities, the purpose behind these works is to celebrate the connections we have with the place and spaces in which we live.  

As a reaction to the new reality, my work uses physical objects to explore what it is to be human and our connection with the world in which we find ourselves.   The use of materials such as bailing twine provides a clear link to agrarian communities and the land on which much of our livelihood still depends.  The juxtaposition of antithetical materials such as the plastic twine and animal bones seek to emphasise the role of the human in the husbandry of the land and our place in the world among animal and plants. 

 Most of the elements in the work are made of mundane matter and carry none of the value associated with precious materials.  The reference is not to monetary value but rather to the value of manual labour and of having the skills required to forge an embodied life.

The use of found and gathered objects in the work offer a visible link to history and of creating a concrete connection to craftsmen in a past we cannot know.  Well made tools were treasured and the marks of time they carry should be read as a badge of honour, a testament to the skills of previous owners, bringing to mind William Morris’s vision to create meaningful everyday possessions.  The survival of these tools and artefacts attest to the authority vested in the objects.  These are representations of skills we may be in danger of losing. 

The knot securing the animal skull is reminiscent of a noose.  The brutal allusion is intended to encourage the viewer to confront our mortality and to act as a reminder that all life is transient and is something to be appreciated and treasured. 

 

First, when I work, it’s only the abstract qualities I’m working with, which is the material, the form it’s going to take, the size, the scale, the positioning, where it comes from – the ceiling or the floor.  However I don’t value the totality of the image on these abstract or aesthetic points.  For me it’s the total image that has to do with me and life.   (Hesse, quoted in George 2014:91)

  

Curation and exploration of site

The intention is to develop the practice with a focus on curation and the way forward is likely to include making and showing work in places outside of or away from traditional gallery spaces.  The standard white box offers a passive environment in order to focus attention on the art works themselves.  The conversation between object, site and meaning is a multi-layered one.  The location adjacent to a sculpture inevitably brings with it its own memories and associations.  The viewer too will read the site according to his or her history.  An outdoor site is less controlled than an indoor one and is likely at the very least to be subject to variations in the weather.

To disseminate the work in non-standard situations is to invite the possibilities for more spontaneous and for less formal and more casual engagements with viewers in unexpected circumstances.  The dismantling of Land Line on the Surrey Heathland was paradoxically more interactive that setting up.  This may of course have been pure chance or, with several weeks between setting up and taking down, a function of the seasons and weather conditions.

The Apopoclectic show by MA students in the James Hockey gallery allowed works to breathe and inhabit their own space.  The generous gallery space encouraged the display of work in a manner which encouraged thinking about how the curation affected the message.  As we experience works relative to our bodies, the placement of elements high on the wall or low on the ground will require some effort of the part of the viewer.  Our field of vision will require us to stretch our gaze upwards and to lower our gaze, perhaps bending over slightly to look at elements placed on the ground.  The absence of a plinth removes a formal element and allows vernacular presentation, more suited to the message.

Apopoclectic Show , James Hockey Gallery, Farnham 2019 (Flax, marble, bone)

Apopoclectic Show, James Hockey Gallery, Farnham 2019 (Flax, marble, bone)

The act of weaving in the gallery while the show was open was a new departure.  The act of spending time with the work was reminiscent of Anthony Key’s explanation of his profound need to put something of himself into the work by spending time making it.  When showing work in a gallery space, plans will include continuing to make the work in the space for the duration of the show and also encourage visitor participation. 

At Lewisham Arthouse, the position of the rails in the space was in response to the large windows, a striking architectural feature of the room.   In addition, the placing of the rails in relation to each other enabled visitors to walk between and be within the work if they so wished.

 

Not-knowing and Chance

Bryony Fer has examined Eva Hesse’s working practice and argues that Hesse developed a method of working through a position of not knowing which was both productive and successful

Not quite knowing what something is seems a pretty good reason for repeating the gesture.  And part of its transformation from the stuff of the studio to possible work in itself was to make another glass case and then another.  To repeat was paradoxically, a way to make it her own and put her stamp on it.  Making several versions of a work was her normal way of working.

One of the many examples of this process begins with Sol LeWitt’s acquisition of a glass case, formerly a pastry display case, in which he kept six of Hesse’s Studioworks.  Hesse adopted this idea and went on to make several versions.  Not only did the cases themselves evolve as she made each one, but the contents and the manner in which she displayed the contents also changed.

S-111  , Eva Hesse, 1908 (Glass and metal case with 15 studioworks)

S-111 , Eva Hesse, 1908 (Glass and metal case with 15 studioworks)

The process of making, of arranging, of curating, of work evolving through various iterations is key here.  Experimenting with different configurations has been a feature of the development of the work in the run up to the exhibition at Lewisham Arthouse. 

Not only is it about the process of making, but also about the process of thinking alongside the making and ultimately of recognising what you are looking at.  The act of working through an idea with no fixed goal in sight keeps possibilities open.  The open ended process embraces chance and fortuity.  

I don’t like to be too prescriptive as the work needs a certain openness.  This openness is not just to do with a feeling of being incomplete, that things are left unsaid, but also that in the making there is something being found.  In this sense the introduction of a new material or a found object that jars the harmony or destabilises the rapport is important.  Included in this is a Romantic sense of grace, that something unforeseen can rescue the work  (Kiaer, quoted in Fortnum 2009)

To postpone the arrival to a completed piece brings the opportunity to examine the process and to arrive at a degree of clarity about the intention along the way. 

Rachel Jones writes: “Not Knowing constitutes … a condition of becoming, of the possibility of the not-yet and still-to-be’ (Jones, quoted in Fischer and Fortnum 2013:16)

Through the introduction of an additional material or an unlikely object, the dynamic of the arrangement will shift.  Jane Bennett posits that the body is composed of ‘a vital materiality’ that is able to think, to know and even to feel to a much greater degree than we can bring to consciousness.  Bennett proposes that all matter has limits and inherent possibilities and that our bodies together with the materials with which we are working are participants in producing the final form.  Material intelligence emerges from the interplay between our bodies and the media used in making work. Bennett describes assemblages as ‘ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts’ (Bennett 2010:23).   Jane Bennett posits that an assemblage is more than the sum of its parts.  The interaction between the various materials and elements produce something entirely new.  She also proposes that the competence of the materials are not equal, some will affect and be affected to a different degree.

‘you cannot make what you want to make, but what the material permits you to make … each material has its own life … we must not try to make materials speak our language, we must go with them to them to the point where others understand their language’ (Brancusi quoted in George 2014:21)

Each material has its own characteristics.  Many of the materials in the current assemblage are flexible and malleable.  They bring to mind Robert Morris’s industrial felt cut into strips.  The nature of the thick felt in combination with the slits allows for the potential that the work might take on a different shape every time it was re-installed.  The latter may include the use of rules and elements of chance thus incorporating an element of not-knowing and of possibilities as yet unknown through an element of game playing.

Robert Morris embraced the element of chance when working with cutting industrial felt into strips and allowing the work to take on different shapes each time it was rehung.

… there’s the information, that made the thing.  But, every time it’s set up, it’s different.  And I can’t quite … that split is no longer a problem because somehow the indeterminacy, the open-endedness, of the thing I find very satisfying (Morris quoted in Jensen 2014:18)

Untitled , Robert Morris, 1967–8, remade 2008  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/morris-untitled-t14224

Untitled, Robert Morris, 1967–8, remade 2008

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/morris-untitled-t14224

The potentiality of different configurations exists in Hermeneutics because of the nature of the malleable materials, the process of making and ultimately the resulting forms.

Hermeneutics  2019 Lewisham Arthouse (Mixed Media)

Hermeneutics 2019 Lewisham Arthouse (Mixed Media)

This is an exciting and promising venture which opens up unexpected possibilities.  Additional uncertainty accompanies the introduction of materials with little history.

Another way in which the work might be randomly reconfigured would be to invite visitors to move elements of a piece of work.  This could happen by leaving the choice to the  gallery visitor or for the move to be subject to the throw of a die or to predetermined rules to be chosen at random by the visitor.                       

By seeking out materials which have little or no appeal, rather than those which do, the element of not-knowing has been thrown wide open.  To collect material which has no intrinsic appeal is a new departure and one to be welcomed in so far as it offers new possibilities.  The element of not-knowing is likely to be more pronounced as time will have to be spent in growing to discover and exploit the characteristics of these new materials.

Hermeneutics , 2019 Lewisham Arthouse (Vacuum cleaner hose, rust dyed fabrics)

Hermeneutics, 2019 Lewisham Arthouse (Vacuum cleaner hose, rust dyed fabrics)

The vacuum cleaner pipe is light, flexible and hollow.  This offers many possibilities which goes some way to make up for its initial unprepossessing appearance.

 

Conclusion

This latest module has been a time for change and progression.  The scale of the work has increased.  This, together with a scaling up of materials used, has allowed for greater somatic involvement in the making process.   Placing of the work within the exhibiting space is to be given greater consideration whenever possible.  The materials themselves have become less homogeneous.  The engagement with tools continues but the addition of potentially uninviting or startling objects demands a greater degree of openness in order to integrate them successfully into the work.  This new departure is full of potential.  Plans will be made to consider curation and to find spaces beyond traditional galleries in which to make and show work.

Bibliography

Coxon, A. (2017) Making Something from Something: Towards a Re-definition of Women’s Textile Art in Wright, K. (Ed) Entangled: Threads and Making.  Margate: Turner Contemporary

Fischer, E. and Fortnum, R. (2013) On not knowing what Artists think.  London: Black Dog Publishing

Fer, B. (2009) Eva Hesse Studioworks.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press

George, H. (2014) The Elements of Sculpture London and New York: Phaidon

Martin, S. (2017) A Way of Waiting Peacefully: Some Works in Entangled in Wright, K. (Ed) Entangled: Threads and Making.  Margate: Turner Contemporary

Sennett, R (2008) The Craftsman London: Penguin

Sudjic, D. (2009) The Language of Things London:Penguin

 

Papers

Fortnum, R (2009) On Not Knowing How Artists Think; Symposium Introduction available online at http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/2324/1/onn_fortnum.pdf [accessed 12.1.2019]

Jensen, J. Ib F. H. The Aesthetics of Chance available online http://www.pissinginthewind.no/Bilder/TXT/Aestetics%20of%20chance.pdf [accessed 15.1.2019]

 https://bodyoftheory.com/2013/05/29/harman-on-heidegger-buildings-as-tool-beings/  available online [accessed 22.1.2019]

 

Events

In conversation: Anthony Key (artist) and Katie Hill (Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London) 24 November 2018.

 

Celia Pym : an Artist's Talk

Celia Pym came to UCA Farnham and gave an entertaining and informative illustrated talk about her practice.  

She explained how the gift of a much worn and repaired jumper which had belonged to an uncle brought her to consider damage and repair.  Damage reveals the actions of the body, particularly oft repeated actions while the repairs are small acts of attention and care.

Roly’s Sweater , original sweater knit and mended by Elizabeth Cobb with additional repair in blue wool, 67 x 81cm, 2007 [image from http://celiapym.com/]

Roly’s Sweater, original sweater knit and mended by Elizabeth Cobb with additional repair in blue wool, 67 x 81cm, 2007 [image from http://celiapym.com/]

Pym uses contrasting colours to effect her repairs. Using darning stitches, rather than knitted patches, which make no effort to blend into the original fabric of the garment, she favours ‘meaty repairs’.

Pym follows her instincts in making, questioning as she goes ‘is this working?’.  Her practice is very much process le.  There is a parallel need to be brave on occasion, however much time and effort has already been invested in the work.  Pym described the moment she used a pair of scissors to flail open a pair of knitted legs and socks in which she had already invested many hours of work and the resulting liberating realisation that this was a productive act, possibilities.  The lesson here is to stop, look and take action, even radical action, if the work needs it. 

 Where holes happen was selected for the final of the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize 2017 and exhibited at the V&A.  Pym spoke movingly of the time spent in conversation, talking through an object, with a retired GP before the orange sweater was selected for the work.   

Where holes happen

Where holes happen

Handwork brings the object and the artist physically close and allows memories or connections to emerge.  The garments show evidence of the life of the wearer.  This is very much how I feel about working with the second-hand tools which make their way into my work.  It is the human associations which are valued.

Caroline Broadhead: a Retrospective

The retrospective gathers together works spanning 40 years.

Lethaby Gallery View

Lethaby Gallery View


Caroline Broadhead trained as a jeweller though her practice since has encompassed many disciplines including sculpture, textiles, jewellery, installation,performance, photography.

Broadhead says of her work ‘...(it is) mainly driven by ideas but making and materials are an integral part of the process. You can’t make things without considering the craft of it’ (ND marsdenwoo.com) The ideas often span several works but at every turn the viewer is aware of the making and construction of each object. Broadhead’s practice is driven by ideas made concrete in a range of materials and scale. The scale is playful and the form may be distorted, items of clothing are stretched and elements elegantly multiplied in a manner which suggests small repeated gestures.

Wraparound Shirt  1983

Wraparound Shirt 1983

Many of the pieces in the show are designed to be worn on the body and at the same time offer much more. A nylon filament artefact in a display case suggests a bracelet - on the body it becomes a sleeve. Broadhead is concerned with edges of things and people. The Wobbly Dress questions how a body might fit into the dress and simultaneously the dress interrogates the space beyond it.

Wobbly Dress  !990

Wobbly Dress !990

Several pieces on display incorporate judicious use of shadows adding an element of theatre to the curation.

Shadow Dress  1995

Shadow Dress 1995

The edge of the chair is partially lined with white foam (draught excluder possibly?). When viewed from a distance, the broken white line appears to encase the whole chair. Its companion piece, on the other hand, has been sanded bare and has been completely de-surfaced. The flailing, though no trace of violence remains, suggests vulnerability.


Broadhead’s practice of carrying an idea through into several iterations is something I would like to pursue in my own work. This offers the opportunity to more fully explore an idea by investigating the possibilities offered by the developing work.

Surreal Science: Loudon Collection with Salvatore Arancio

 

The exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery stands up to its title.  The objects are bizarre and beautiful, the viewer is attracted and confused.  What is real, what is imagined, what is the message?  Delicate mushrooms fashioned from velvet, frightening papier maché flowers, larger than life  but perfect botanical models, animated by a coloured light show and the skull of a tuna fish, every bone marked and named jostle for space in the dark space. Is their role to entertain or to inform?

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 21.17.28.png

The objects belong to George Loudon, collector extraordinaire.  Of this collection he says:

“The material I collect has lost its original purpose.  It has disappeared from view in museums and universities and been consigned to storage. But by losing its original purpose it has become open to new meanings and especially new visual interpretations.”

Made to inform and to teach mostly in the 19th century, in the days when preserving tissue was difficult, these objects have lost their purpose.  This adds to the uncertainty surrounding them. The viewer cannot but marvel at the skills of their creators and yet be repulsed at the same moment.  Freud’s unheimlich has come to town, horror is its shadow.

The artist Salvatore Arancio has curated the show and included some of his work among Loudon’s collection, adding to the feeling of dislocation.

Is it art?  It is enough that it makes you think and wonder.

IMG_1781.JPG

Whitechapel Gallery 25 August 2018 – 6 January 2019

A Tree in the Wood

Giuseppe Penone’s solo show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, A Tree in the Wood, is his biggest to date in the country.

Penone says

the tree is a spectacular creation because each part of the tree is necessary to its life. It is the perfect sculpture

and yet visitors to the Underground Gallery are immediately confronted by a brutal intervention.  By making a steel cast of his hand and forearm and attaching this to the trunk of a young sapling, Penone has impeded the growth of the bole at that point.

Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto)  2004-2016, bronze   To retain 6, 8, 12 years of growth (It will continue to grow except at this point)

Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto) 2004-2016, bronze

To retain 6, 8, 12 years of growth (It will continue to grow except at this point)

Trees feature repeatedly in Penone’s practice. There is a poetic feel to many works, counterbalanced by an undercurrent of menace.  In To breathe the Shadow the cast of the artist’s hand, set against a wall of laurel leaves held in cages, is pierced by a bronze cast of foliage.

Respirare l’ombra (To breathe the shadow)  2008 metallic wire, laurel leaves, bronze and terracotta

Respirare l’ombra (To breathe the shadow) 2008 metallic wire, laurel leaves, bronze and terracotta

The materials he uses, which include stone, bronze, thorns, drawings, films, are not all immediately associated with the lightness of touch he achieves.  Associated with the Arte Povera movement early in his career, Penone has continued to explore the links between man and nature and to use durable materials rather than technology.  Penone is not completely resistant to new technologies but favours materials which have stood the test of time and will not become obsolete as culture moves forward. He is nonetheless aware of the changes that his chosen materials will undergo over time, such as the patination of bronze.  He also considers the universality of the materials he chooses.  He uses materials to illustrate the transience of human life and by inserting a trace of himself in the work also highlights the effect of human activity on nature.

The most spectacular work in the Underground Gallery must be Matrice, a 30 foot tree trunk meticulously hollowed out following the line of a single growth ring.  At one end, a bronze cast of the interior of the tree in the round reminds us of the tree’s past as a living being while alluding to the human body and more particularly to the vascular system, challenging the boundaries between man and nature.

Matrice (Matrix)  2015 Fir tree wood and bronze

Matrice (Matrix) 2015 Fir tree wood and bronze

There is so much to take away from this exhibition, the deceptive simplicity of the works, the considered use of materials and the use of scale and the overriding frisson of dread while I wallowed in the restrained beauty of the works.

Size does not necessarily equate with emotion. If you see a small flower alongside a large sculpture, you might dwell on the flower.

I was bowled over.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 26 May 2018–28 Apr 2019

Beyond Time - Chihura Shiota

Beyond Time is a site-specific work installed in the Chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) by the Japanese born artist Chihura Shiota.  Her large-scale works include The Key in the Hand, selected to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale in 2015.

It took 12 people 12 days to complete the installation at YSP.  Shiota more usually works in black or red but in this instance the chapel demanded white, the colour of mourning in Japan, signifying also purity and the eternity that follows death.  “I see [death] as a new beginning, not an end” (Shiota).

Beyond Time , 2018

Beyond Time, 2018

Beyond Time references the history of the chapel and the people who celebrated life events in it.  A steel sculpture echoing the outline of a piano represents the music and songs which no longer fill the space.  Captured in the delicate web of threads are photocopied pages of programmes, sheet music and bell ringing schedules taken from the YSP archives.   The overall effect of the work is ethereal and delicate though on closer scrutiny, the white string is coarse and the photocopies rough and ready.

Also on show on the walls upstairs are 4 drawings, oil pastels and threads in largely in muted tones of grey and enlivened with red.  The figurative works suggest delicate bodies enveloped by a pulsing life force. Because much of her work takes the form of temporary installations, Shiota is currently exploring  the lasting medium of bronze and is exhibiting Belonging, a sculpture of a woman’s and a man’s hand and forearm cradling a child’s.  The work emphasises that more connects us than divides us.

Belonging , 2017, bronze

Belonging, 2017, bronze

The film Wall, shown in a small alcove on the ground floor is mesmerising and disturbing.  Shiota is seen lying on the floor, entwined in tangled tubes reminiscent of intravenous drips.  A red liquid pulses through the tubes to the hypnotising sound of a heartbeat.  This moving piece is a reminder that Marina Abramović and Ana Mendieta were both teachers and inspirations at the start of Shiota’s career as a performance artist.

Wall , 2010 video still

Wall, 2010 video still

Tacita Dean at the Royal Academy - Landscape

Tacita Dean inaugurates the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries at the Royal Academy with a show exploring Dean’s notion of landscape.

The exhibition opens with the chalk drawings on blackboard and slate.  An entire wall is taken up with the monumental chalk drawing of snow and ice-covered mountains.  The scale is magnificent, the scratchy marks on the surface are very human.  The undeniable beauty of the work obscures the danger inherent in the far reaches of the world and in many natural phenomena.  The title of the drawing, Montafan Letter, refers to the description of a series of avalanches which occurred in the Alps in 1689.  The first avalanche buried a village, the second coincided with the funeral held for the dead, while the third miraculously uncovered the officiating priest.

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 14.59.16.png

The smaller, more intimate and minimal slate drawings of clouds are to my mind the most successful. The marks and the titles suggest clouds, but could as easily be thoughts or inner landscapes.  The short phrases, words seemingly left behind, suggest half thoughts or notions half remembered.  The balance between the slate and the chalk is all.  The representation of a shaft of light piercing the clouds is breath-taking.  Also known as a film maker, Dean’s handling of light should not surprise.  There is a sense throughout the exhibition of Dean’s awareness of the history of art.  The spirit of Constable, lover of clouds, is close. The arrangement of the slate paintings across three walls is intriguing, ignoring the eyeline, allowing each piece to be alone within the whole, the final small work set high up, like a balloon drifting away.

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 15.18.55.png

Dean has included a David Nash watercolour in the exhibition.  Like Nash, Dean is a collector of stones.  A beguiling collection of round stones of various tones and hues is presented on a large square plinth.  Here is the earth, set below the sky. The careful placement of these inherent engaging objects allows them to play off each other. The smaller ones would fit comfortably in the hand or pocket while the larger ones call to mind early cannon balls. Only the acrylic case saves them from being disturbed.

Round Stone Collection

Round Stone Collection

The impressive collection of delicately fading clover leaves by contrast appear weighed down by the heavy display case. How big a role does chance play in Dean’s practice, in life?

Dean’s versatility shines through as she tackles landscape in its broadest sense.  In this exhibition, Dean’s focus has zoomed in and out, observing from afar and offering up small details.   As I explore the notion of what it is to connect with place, the idea of collections merits further exploration.  Why collect, what does a collection of found objects achieve in the studio or on display?

 

'The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind' at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Is the title the best thing about this exhibition?  The phrase was used by migrants as a toast in the 18th and 19th centuries - looking to a hope filled future in their adopted land and remembering the country they left behind.  The title promises much, the exhibition delivers rather less. 

Hauser & Wirth Somerset website announces that the show, curated by Adam Sutherland of Grizedale Arts ‘features over 100 international artists and creatives … and tells the story of humanity’s evolving connection to the land, our perception of, and reliance upon it.’  The exhibition explores how humanity has made use of the land and how our relationship with it has developed.  The show is installed both indoors and out, consisting of a bewildering range of elements, historical and contemporary, and includes everything from agricultural artefacts to drawings, paintings, prints, installations, assemblages and film.  Every media is covered.  Perhaps this is part of the problem.  There is too much to take in, too many ideas are alluded to but all too briefly with no clear narrative to help visitors navigate the rooms.  Perhaps visitors lucky enough to be present during the many practical presentations and the participatory projects running alongside the exhibition were able to engage with artists and participants and benefited from a necessary degree of insight.

View of the Workshop, Hauser & Wirth Somerset

View of the Workshop, Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Society’s current discrepant connection and confused attitude to the countryside and to food production is laid bare.  One wall text claims that ‘our interaction with the rural has evolved, but not really changed’.  It can be argued instead that a great proportion of the general population has grown more distant from and now lives in total ignorance of the realities of the countryside and has no awareness of the actuality of rural life.  Items as disparate as Marcus Coates’ Stoat Stilts, created for a performance in which the artist imitated animal behaviour in an attempt to get closer to nature and a long handled ragworth puller measuring at least one metre, by way of a 17th or 18th century Korean Dragon Jar need more to knit them into a coherent narrative than a series of interpretive wall drawings by Fernando Garcia-Dory.  The same can be said of the vitrine filled with a diversity of archival documents and objects, which include a farmer's smock, an engraving of Druids celebrating at Stonehenge and a Bernard Leach tankard.  The display, liberally sprinkled with bronze casts of British wild mammal droppings (Marcus Coates), is more baffling than illuminating.  It is difficult not to regret the absence of significant supporting literature.  A Grayson Perry map is hung above a doorway and is impossible to decipher.  A laminated A3 copy of the map left on the window sill does little to help remedy the situation.

Stoat Stilts , 2000, Marcus Coates

Stoat Stilts, 2000, Marcus Coates

The exhibition ends on more a positive, if somewhat romantic, note.  In complete contrast, the final room is filled with books and with information from a variety of organisations running rural themed projects in urban areas.  Though this is highly encouraging, these schemes bring to mind Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations. 

All residents of the local area are invited to offer handmade goods for sale in The Honesty Shop.  Buyers are asked simply to record the transaction in a ledger and to place the money in the honesty box.  This arrangement sustains links between Hauser & Wirth Somerset and the community within which it is developing.  Curator Adam Sutherland believes that making is part of an enhanced everyday life.  It is difficult to disagree with this point.

Giorgio Griffa at Camden Arts

A Continuous Becoming is the first London solo show of Italian artist Giorgio Griffa (b. 1936).  The exhibition, at Camden Arts Centre, includes works from the 1960s to the present.

An awareness of the light and of the colours on canvas and an overwhelming sense of serenity are the immediate impressions on entering the gallery.  The exhibition is immaculately hung.  The presentation is simple, the canvases are pinned directly to the walls.  The focus is directed to the works themselves.

The canvas is unprimed and unstretched with torn, rather than frayed, edges.  The top edge of each painting though is tautly stretched and the canvas hangs straight and flat against the wall. This is the first intimation of Griffa’s lightness of touch and illustrates his way of working with the physical quality of the materials in allowing them to do their thing.  There is an absence of hierarchy between the elements.  The artist does not command his materials, but rather works in tandem with them.  These are not overtly emotional or gestural paintings.  The confidence to allow the materials to simply be is meditative, even zen like. Despite the initial impression of simplicity, the works are evidently the result of a deep and thoughtful practice.  The marks are calligraphic, measured, never rushed.   Griffa states that the marks he uses are universal, these are marks that could be made by any hand.

IMG_7554.jpg

The marks of folds held on the cloth gives a subtle structure to the picture plane and is reminiscent of the modernist grid.  Splashes and drips of watery paint enhance the celebratory nature of Griffa’s practice.  

Echoing the written page, markmaking frequently begins in the top left hand corner of the work.  Griffa feels no compulsion to fill the entire surface.  The unadorned and untouched material reminds the viewer of the Arte Povera movement which developed in parallel to Griffa’s own practice.  In these paintings, the bare surface is not naked but rather filled with the promise of more work to come. 

IMG_7558.jpg


Griffa’s interest in physics and mathematics is reflected in his paintings, which often include numbers.  Griffa is in thrall to the Golden Section.  There is a parallel here to Griffa’s own practice.  The Golden Section is an irrational number whose final digit can never be reached.  It is a number which is never complete.   This strategy suggests a door left open to the next work.  The artist’s practice is a continuous line and can be likened to an arabesque rather than a linear progression.

  ‘The arabesque’, he says, ‘represents at once linear time and circular time, because it goes backwards while moving further forward.’  (Marks, 2018)

Working with the unpretentious confidence of someone who understands the power of uncomplicated, Griffa describes much through the rhythm of the spare mark marking.

‘I probably realised that a very simple language – and I also realised this through poetry, whether Pound or Eliot or Ginsberg – can encapsulate an immense complexity. It’s fundamental.’

It is an exhibition which cannot fail to raise the spirits.

 

 

https://www.apollo-magazine.com/painting-has-its-own-identity-an-interview-with-giorgio-griffa/