Category Archives: 04.2 Exhibitions

States of Mind @ Wellcome Collection

“Tracing the edges of consciousness” is how the current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is badged. It is the first time I have visited and was immediately incredibly impressed by the building, the great cafe, and all of the very informative displays open to the public. The States of Mind show looks at different aspects of consciousness and how we, as scientists, philosophers, artists and poets, have asked so many unanswerable questions over the centuries.

“Science still struggles to describe how the subjective experience of consciousness arises out of the objective tissue of a human brain…however, it is within this space that the range of individual experience exists”

The show itself was interesting and thought provoking, at times uncomfortable. A few key things jumped out in relevance to my work. The first was the discussion of science and the soul – the classical mind/body argument. As I have discussed before on this blog, the mind/body dualism essentially requires the separation of the physical world and the separate internal world of private experience. I realised that this is the barrier I am seeking to remove with my MA installation – a way to create a space which exists simultaneously in the physical world and the world of my own private experiences, allowing the outside observer a glimpsed encounter with my own concept of self.

The second exhibit which stood out for me was that on language and memory as tools for conscious selfhood. Language and memory are tools which facilitate the relationship between our internal and external worlds. “Language allows us to communicate with each other – and to share our subjective experiences. We can also talk to ourselves , and identify ourselves.”. The series of work Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly examined the emergence of self and was in my view the most poignant in the show.

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London Art Fair 2016

Last week we dropped into the London Art fair in Islington, partly to take a look, and partly to examine finishing and hanging ideas with our final show in mind.  The fair was a fine art focussed fair, with paintings and prints the mainstay of what was on offer. I wasn’t impressed by most of it – all a bit, well, safe. Very decorative, ‘ordinary’ paintings and not that much which really stood out.

I also noticed how my work really doesn’t figure in very many places in this forum – a) conceptual art was far and few between, and b) fibre artworks could be counted on one hand. The type of galleries who display at a show like Collect will be much more relevant.

The few things which really did catch my attention

Chun Kwang Young

Stand out, very unique and very impressive. Also very relevant to my work, so unsurprising that it stood out!

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He folds Korean newspapers into small prisms, forming sculptures which act as a compilation of our verbal recording of history, opinion, and discovery. Figuratively, the sculptures emerge like topographical maps, describing a rocky terrain that is nearly unnavigable. “Metaphorically, this work is a culmination of the floating lexicon of our time; the ongoing conversation of man compiled in a three dimensional format, echoing the voices that pass each day through our print media. Each figure is a time capsule of pieced data and voice. Although the sculptures themselves are mute, each has a strong story to tell. As Young describes his work:

“Every piece of information is the end product of a struggle for hegemony, as well as an accumulation of human experience. One hypothesis ceaselessly conflicts with another, and finally becomes a new knowledge. While these kinds of processes are sometimes made in a peaceful way through debates and publications, they sometimes happen in the shape of physical conflicts like wars led by the governing class.”

His work is a symbolic expression of how words form into actions and become words again- a speech becomes a call to action, which becomes a war, which is then recounted through story. Everything seamless weaves into itself, a cyclical timeline we hardly noticed as we are so permanently bound to it”

Frances Bloomfield

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Influenced by dreamscapes and “the improbable scenarios that we construct”. I like her use of text and old books, and the idea of constructing 3D pictures of these constructed dreamscapes.

Oliver Marsden 

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Such elegant, beautiful work.

Kazuhito Takadoi

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The lone basketmaker in the show, sculptures on paper from natural materials. I don’t think there is much concept behind his work, just that of experimentation with the materials. I am however convinced that the pieces I saw on display were exactly the same as those I saw at Collect 2015 last spring…I wonder if they are hard to sell?

 

 

 

 

 

Cartography down Cork Street

We had a gallery day last week, where we popped into the final days of the Ai Weiwei Exhibition at the RA. I had been to see it already but it is good to have time to revisit with a fresh eye. I still have mixed feelings about my project progress – although I am trying to have some time off thinking about it – I cannot shake the worry that I have no idea what to do next.

I always considered Ai Weiwei as a political artist, which of course he is, but within here is a lot of context about his place and the understanding of identity and place within modern China. He also has some works explicitly using topographic information – a comment on the change of identity of the Chinese people.

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After coming out of the RA we took a wander up what is left of Cork Street, the once gallery filled road now almost half demolished and in scaffolding.  We came across two rather interesting shows. Firstly Daniel Chadwick showing at Damiani Fine Art. Although probably better known for his mobile and kinetic works (reminiscent of Calder’s!), the Cork Street show was a collection of Chadwick’s art as an evocation of nature, using inspiration from the undulating countryside of his native Gloucestershire. His works, as with the Ai WeiWei works above, are very similar to topographical reliefs.

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A little further down the street we stopped by the Alan Cristea Gallery who were showing With Space in Mind, a collection of prints by a range of leading sculptors. These sculptors have a unique approach to printmaking, one which is physical and tactile – about process and material, object as well as image. This is exactly what I hope for my own work to be about in whatever form I decide upon.

“These prints explore the relationship between multiple dimensions, whether through directly referencing sculptures or the physical process in making the print. The artists clearly convey their outlook on the development of their art and their individual approach to printmaking. This does not contradict the sculptures for which they are renowned, rather complements them as it stresses the importance of process and material and emphasises that their artwork is not only physical, but that image also holds great importance. The process of printmaking is representative of their expansion of form and ideas that spur their sculptural works and thus pave a fundamental style throughout their pieces”

A couple of sculptors stood out for me: firstly Richard Serra

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Then, most significantly (but unsurprisingly), Richard Long. He uses carborundum paste directly applied to the plates by hand, replicating the process he uses in his mud drawings. The energy, rawness and viscerality of this print overtakes everything else in the whole gallery.

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All of these different works show just a glimpse of the range of angles which a discussion about place can take. Ranging from the human interacting with raw nature from Richard Long, to the political identities of place within Ai Weiwei. I think I need to re-position my own ideas within this context – perhaps revisiting my research essay as well. Hopefully this will give me some ideas on what is the key to me moving forward.

Alexander Calder @ Tate Modern

I had a great visit with LL to see the new Alexander Calder display at the Tate Modern. Calder was born in 1898 and trained as a mechanical engineer. He developed a sculptural style which fused mechanics, motion and modernity. Many of Calder’s early works were wire sculptures based around his interests in circus and balance. These developed into motorised sculptures explicitly including kinetics and movement and at the same time became increasingly abstract.

I admitted to LL at the time that I didn’t really connect with the pieces in the first half of the exhibition. The motorised sculptures, due to their age were shown static. What is a kinetic sculpture which has been stripped of its energy? I felt so much loss in the loss of movement, that the sculptures began to resemble just shadows of what they once were.  Calder himself “recognised that the ability to control movement was perhaps less fertile than the potential infinite possibilities that opened up with free movement” [Tate Modern exhib guide, 2015].

Calder’s later works began to rely upon natural kinetics rather than embedded motors, and this was for me the most spectacular part of his collection. The mobile pieces which most clearly embodied abstraction seem also to be those which are most inspired by natural forms. Delicate sinuous shapes which drift and twist in the breeze. Even your presence offered a subtle change in movement – the work and its shadow on the walls creating an intricate dance which never has the same form twice. My favourite piece, Red sticks (1942) I couldn’t source a video of online and I will not do it the injustice of showing a static, lifeless photograph of it. We sat in the gallery for ages (room 9 in case you are interested!) completely captivated by the motions of the works.

This work, Snow Flurry was one of my favourites. Although this video below doesn’t show how the sculpture and its shadow interact as one object, it gives a lovely overview of the beauty of the movement:

This next video is a press overview of the whole exhibition, this does show the works in their settings and how the space itself becomes part of the motion of the mobiles.

 

Overall the exhibition brought be back to consider the section of my research essay I looked at on place generated through movement. These works were more based upon space than place, but showed a fascinating process capturing movement so explicitly within an object and its surroundings. The mobiles keep your attention in a way that a stationary object doesn’t.

I wondered why this is…is this because humans only respond to deltas – to changes – rather than absolutes? We cannot feel the exact temperature outside, we can only tell if it is warmer or colder than we last felt. We cannot remember time if there are no changes within it to distinguish one moment from the next. What of this can be said to be true of our sense of self: do we feel a connection to our inner self only when there is something to explicitly connect it to?  Is this where the idea of a sense of place comes from?  If our lives are a series of interconnected spaces must we generate our own meanings (our own places) in order to be able to comprehend them in any way?

The annual outing to Ally Pally

The Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace is one of my indicators of Autumn having arrived in full swing. I didn’t go this time in mind to buy epic amounts of yarn and fabric as per usual, instead focussing on visiting a couple of specific exhibiting artists who were there. (I did come home with a stuffed moose, a few yards of fabric and a dress pattern mind you!)

I’ve been starting to get very worried about the impending assessment, which is now exactly 4 weeks away. I am not sure how to tell my story of the last year yet – there is so much which has happened, how on earth can you condense this into a 2″ x 3″ display space? Anyway, visiting the Knitting and Stitching Show was meant to be a distraction – it didn’t work. I did however see some interesting work from the artists I went to see.

First up, Helen Pailing, MADM alumnus, who creates objects out of found / waste materials, and has been doing some ‘stitching’ using glassblower’s waste. I liked her work and was fascinated to see how this has progressed from her earlier works and what she created as part of the MADM course itself.

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Next up was Stella Harding, who had a basketry display in one of the larger galleries. She had a lovely range of small works and some really large scale pieces. I really need to make something big – they are so impactful! Also note the use of the traditional spiral braid weaving – these ones made from painted/dyed rattan.

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While looking at Stella’s work, one thing I reflected about my own work, is however much I love the use of colour, I also like to keep the naturalness of a material – it’s purity and essence perhaps – in the work I make with it. The drawing made with only one ink, the basket made of only one material: showing only what is inherent in itself. Something from the roots of my philosophical nature I suppose?

London Design Festival @ the V&A

The V&A have had a number of special displays on during this year’s London Design Festival and I spent a sunny day there on Friday checking them out. There were a few which really caught my attention.

First, The Tower of Babel, by Barnaby Barford (the visiting tutor from last year, who I still think gave me the most important insight I’ve had on this entire course). The Tower is made from 3000 unique china shops, showing a real London shop which was photographed by the artist. I didn’t notice when looking, but apparently at the base the shops are derelict, while at its pinnacle are the crème-de-la-crème of London’s exclusive boutiques and galleries.

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Next, and by far and away the stand out piece for me from the Design Festival this year, was
The Ogham Wall. Made by Grafton Architects and concrete experts Graphic Relief, this installation was created under the theme: ‘Liminal – Irish design at the threshold.’

Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects said that “we wanted to create something with an architectural presence that doesn’t establish a boundary.” The blurb from LDF reads as follows:

Inspired by the Irish Ogham alphabet, which dates from around the 4th century, The Ogham Wall interprets letters from this ancient language as an architectural construct of three-metre-high cast concrete ‘fins’. A central linear element brings order to the installation, with an arrangement of smaller perpendicular and angled fins projecting off it to create an abstract rendering of each letter. “The Ogham script looks very architectural – like the plan for a colonnade – and we were interested in exploring that idea and translating this series of letters into architectural elements,” say Grafton Architects. Each Ogham letter traditionally references the name of a species of tree and Grafton Architects have worked with Graphic Relief to cast magnified and abstracted tree -bark patterns into the fins. The result is a tactile surface that references the richly textured tapestries in the room, and is described by Grafton as “man-made geology that is beautiful to touch and to look at”.

This piece was stunning to look at, particularly in the setting of the dimly lighted, rather grand Tapestry Gallery at the V&A. It is a lovely display of material memory of the trees being imprinted directly into the concrete casting. Aside from the fact I like language inspired work anyway (and I do actually know how to carve/write Ogham!) this spoke so nicely of the point of materiality I’ve been working with lately.

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Finally, the last mention goes to the Curiosity Cloud, which was a interactive installation which celebrates moments in nature and how people interact with the natural world. A few hundred glass globe things hanging from the ceiling, each containing a single hand-fabricated insect which co,e to life as the visitors come near them. It was actually quite playful and delightful, which is a refreshing change from all of the ‘serious’ work you see around.

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James Turrell Lightscapes

After an eight hour round trip across the country with LL just to see James Turrell’s Lightscapes exhibition, I was pleased that every second in the car was well spent. This collection of Turrell’s pieces is currently being shown in Houghton Hall, Norfolk in the grand house built in 1720 for Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister (oh, didn’t you know that either?).

James Turrell is preoccupied with the medium of light, and how we perceive (and apprehend) light and space. His works is grounded in mathematics and perceptual psychology, and having now experienced his work first hand – can be described as bordering somewhere between psychedelic and transcendental.

He once said, that the goal of the art process was not to turn an experience into art, but to “set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience.” [1]. This is so unbelievably true with Turrell’s work, more so than any other artist or installation I have come across before.

The current owner of Houghton Hall is a bit of a Turrell fan, and (as you do) has two of Turrell’s pieces permanently on display in the rather beautiful spacious grounds around the house. The work in the photo above is Skyspace, an example of one of the enclosed viewing chambers which affect your perception of the sky. The open roof, is a deep, intense blue which looks like a solid sky painted on the ceiling – until you see a cloud or a bird fly by. You go back outside and suddenly the sky seems free again and immaterial – reality seems to be just a trick of the light.

It’s impossible to photograph Turrell’s work to do it any justice, and some of his pieces such as his ‘Tall Glass’ piece Shrim (2015), we just stared at captivated. While we were looking at Shrim, A couple of teenagers bounced into the room to look at the coloured plate on the wall then turned and went out again. LL and I continued to watch, and realised that the shapes and colours (so fuzzy and indistinct I thought I had taken my glasses off for a moment) were gradually cycling in and out, so slowly it was like staring to watch the moon climbing over the sky.

A few of my photos which (although not perfect) give you some idea:

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Enzu, Green (1968)

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Raethro, Red (1969)

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First Light (1989-90)

The last piece we saw was the second of the two permanent features in the estate: St. Elmo’s Breath, known as a Space Division Construction. This is housed in an old watertower and is a standout piece. You are guided into a completely darkened room (which I tell you is not fun for a claustrophobic who is scared of pitch black darkness). You experience what seems to be an endless, fuzzy darkness, until very gradually, a gentle muted colour field reveals itself from the walls of the room. After about 20 minutes the fuzz clears and your eyes finally allow you to see not only the panels on the walls in front of you, but the shapes of the other people around you. Quite something.

As a final cherry on the exhibition cake, we also spotted a Richard Long sculpture (one of a handful of permanent contemporary sculptures that are on the site). This piece, Full Moon Circle interacts with the surroundings in a fascinating way. Overall, a great day out.
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References:

  1. J. Turrell, Mapping Spaces, Peter Blum, New York, NY, 1987