Category Archives: 04.2 Exhibitions

Art on the High Line

I have heard the High Line described as the Central Park of the new generation. It is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.

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Converting each section of the High Line from an out-of-use railroad trestle to a public landscape entailed more than two years of construction per section in a multi-step process. The movement to save the High Line was catalyzed by iconic photographs of the self-seeded landscape that grew up when the trains stopped running that were captured by Joel Sternfeld in 2000, nine years before the park would open to the public. Joel’s photos showed the innate beauty of the High Line and inspired the local community to dream about what was possible. The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. The species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and colour variation, with a focus on native species.

Definitely worth a visit if you are in town. We happened upon it when there was a range of site-specific work on display from a range of international artists. Very interesting to see how the different works resonated with the mix of urban and natural landscape.

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Our summer holiday, due to various random things needed to be taken early, so HB and I jetted off across the Atlantic for my first visit to New York City. I surprised myself by how much I liked it, granted we were lucky to see it in warm (but not hot), beautifully sunny spring weather, but it has such a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere. And very tasty food.

Serendipity found us arriving in the midst of the NYCXDesign festival; we managed to get to a few events – hot off the heals of Collect 2015 at the Saachi Gallery, this was a good chance to compare it with a US design show. We visited Collective Design 2015, with a lot of exhibitors fresh from the Milan Fair. Very much a high-end design show, this had a mixture of furniture, interior design objects and a lot of ceramics. There was a few interesting textile-based products, but much less “art objects” than at Collect. Highlight for me was a small sculpture from a Norwegian designer, using patina on copper discs.

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A few other interesting works here:

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We also managed to run across a very small but exquisite exhibition of Japanese boxes, in a small gallery in a trendy part of town (after we had some very trendy gourmet pizza from one of New York’s coal-fired pizza ovens). This was all products for sale, but was curated beautifully. A great example of how I find simplicity and elegant lines enhance the look of an object.

My favourite was a well-done mix of strong geometric and organic lines. Slightly too pricey to bring home, but I would have these in my house!

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Collect 2015

Great day out at Collect on at the Saachi Gallery – well worth a visit, both me and HB were very impressed by the range of objects and quality of craftsmanship on display. Plus my trusty art card got me 50% off entry, cheaper than being a student!!

A few project thoughts coming out:

  • Where would my work fit into an exhibition like this? There were a few conceptual art pieces in the show, but they were certainly a smaller proportion.
  • Such a great use of materials, and I was pleased to see some in line with my thinking of using materials of place within a work – found materials, clay, soils, sands.
  • Love the pieces also where serendipity plays a part – using gravity as part of the making process, random mark making
  • Textiles bit mixed – some were not that well done, but very much liked the Shibori artist in particular

My highlights:

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Antony Gormley: Another Place

As you cross over the dunes and first glimpse the beach, you pause

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wondering what caught the attention of the man standing so attentively on the shore. It is then you notice that it is an iron man, silently watching out over the sea. There is something deep-rooted which tugs at you as you watch these observers, some standing on the sand, others further out to sea. You wonder what they are looking for, what they might be thinking. You then realise you are standing staring at the horizon in the exact way the iron man is.

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These ironmen have a very different feel to those that were scattered briefly across the London skyline in 2007. Event Horizon, 31 iron men cast from Gormley’s own body and placed across city rooftops, coincided with his major exhibition Blind Light at the Hayward that summer. I was working at Somerset House at the time, and every morning I would see the statues peering out over the city looking at me. They were watchers. Out of place moments of silence in the incessant rush of the city; a figure where it did not belong.

But the men at Crosby Beach belong here.

They all look out in the same direction, feeling the salt winds rushing across the Irish sea and the daily rise and fall of the tide. Installed in 2005 and originally only meant as a temporary exhibition, the 100 ironmen of Crosby are becoming of-place. They have begun to gather local knowledge – the flow of the tidal waters across the sands, the ravages of the weather, the changing seasons. A constant slow evolution echoing our own nature.

Gormley said of the work: “…time is tested by tide, architecture by the elements, and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance. In this work human life is tested against planetary time. This sculpture exposes to light and time the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body, no hero, no ideal, just the industrially-reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.

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Crosby Beach itself is rapidly changing by nature; the flat stretch of sands see tides race in at a ferocious pace. You will never get the same view of the ironmen twice. The few people there when I visited each interacted with the ironmen differently. Some pausing to contemplate, others taking an obligatory selfie then walking on. This is perhaps the greatest benefit of public art: each of us can communicate with the work from within our own nature; it is not about comprehension of someone else’s ideology.

Gormley himself described the work as “a response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration, sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in another place“. To me it spoke of the place man has within nature, as part of nature, our constantly evolving cycle through existence. Sometimes we must stand alone at the horizon to understand ourselves.

I look up from my notes and can almost feel myself holding my breath as the waves begin take the ironmen ahead of me under the surface.

The tide is coming in, it is time for me to move.

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Basketry identity | Cowey Sale to Sudbury Lock

A lovely day in the spring sushine down in Walton-on-Thames to visit the Basketmakers’ Association exhibition Basketry Identity at the Riverhouse gallery.

The Basketmakers Association are hosting this exhibition of members work. The pieces on display are a response to the maker’s idea about their ‘Basketry Identity’. The exhibition will show the wide range of materials and techniques used in the creation of both functional and artistic basketry. There will be an installation and various sculptural forms. The whole will reflect the great skill and diversity of basketmaking today.

The exhibits were indeed a range of the great diversity of basketmaking, from “traditional” willow, hazel, cane baskets to things which looked like baskets made from other materials, to basketry techniques applied to create pure contemporary artworks. Very much recommended if you are in the area. Some highlights in the slideshow!

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My photos (and my attention) were drawn to the more contemporary works and particularly those using paper. What I noticed from the other works, is how much reference to place there is in the work of the basketmakers both explicitly and implicitly. Makers mentioned where the fibre was grown (and occasionally who by), where the basketry technique came from or how experiences of a place inspired a particular work.

After the exhibition, since it was so lovely out I took myself onto the Thames Path which runs behind the gallery. I walked the section up from the Walton Bridge at Cowey Sale all the way up to Sudbury Lock. My new psychogeographic thinking hat got be wondering some interesting thoughts on the way – most noticeably how many different identities a place can have. Each of us creates our own place, even as we stand out on the same road looking at the same river.

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This picture shows what I mean – I’ve never been to Walton-on-Thames before, and was slightly surprised to find that barely 30mins from my flat is picture perfect riverside England. I know nothing about the area, so all I could do is overlay my own narratives which started to surface as you try to interpret the place you find yourself in. Here, the Thames is a completely different river to the waters which run through my suburb 24miles downstream. This riverside speaks quietly of old England – of straw hats, cricket and tea on the lawn. You can imagine the long winding journey through green rolling hillsides that the waters have taken, from the elderly ash tree under which old Father Thames sits smoking a pipe. The walk so much reminds me of my childhood. I see ghosts of myself sat on a river bank somewhere in Northumberland, dad knee deep in the water with a brightly coloured fly, barely seen, whipping in and out of the shadows. This was my place – and I could see its echo imprinted on the sight of a totally different town in a totally different geography, with people and stories I have never met. Returning home, a new story emerges: here the Tideway is a different creature altogether, one made of salt, steam and blood. The lower Thames’ dark and murky brackish waters have greased the wheels of industry since the days the Romans first settled on Ludgate Hill. I am still looking for my place here.

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‘Ritual’ exhibition by World Wide Women

An exhibition on ‘Ritual’ from the creative collective of female photographers, World Wide Women, was held just before Christmas.  I was gutted to have missed it since coming back to my proposal topic on the same theme. However, as luck would have it, the exhibition is now showing at Grace, Belgravia, so I had a chance to pop in and take a look.

The exhibition theme: “Ritual: an homage to that which is lost but not forgotten, a prayer to that which is desired but not realised. Ritual promises to answer endless questions and offers escape from an unfulfilled reality. It is an act of veneration for the bird that has flown away, and for the hope of its return. The photographs, videos, and works on paper in this exhibition tell the story of a woman longing for that, which has gone, and craving that which has not yet arrived. A ritual requires physical imitation, but does not arise out of it. The infusion of pure emotion and true belief is what elevates the act to ritual. The action, in-and-of itself pure mimicry, is simply a part of the ritual as a whole. It is the combination of the conviction in the unknown and the intangible that makes it so. Ritual is arranged in a spectrum of colour and emotion, representing the different stages of a ritual: memory, sacrifice, reverence, and longing. The experience of viewing the show takes the observer through this journey, giving access to the wholly personal act of ritual as experienced by each of the artists: one in which the active body is not alone, but joined by an unnamed force.”

It was a fascinating collection of photographs looking at different aspects of ritual, and some more of the female experience. Considering I have been reading up on the rise of feminist performance art in the 1970’s, there are a lot of similarities even now. I wonder how others look at these pictures? What do different people see in them?

You are always going to like some works and not others, but I thought there were a few special ones felt very poignant and well done. If I had a few spare grand under the sofa I might have taken some home. I think it is the sense of spirit you get from them; distant, quiet, and in some cases a bit psychedelic. Others dark and intense. My favourites are below (photos taken from artists’ websites). Firstly, photographer Michaela Meadow:

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And a couple I really liked from Anouska Beckwith…
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A couple others which caught my attention: Edie Sunday, who “prefers the in-between state of dreaming and waking life”

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and Aëla Labbé, ritual dance.

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I think that it will be inescapable to look at some aspects of the female experience while looking at ritual. Even if I’m not seeking to make a feminist statement, it will be important to understand the context of where my work fits – the goddess movement, the sacred feminine – and not withstanding the fact that I am working in a craft practice very much associated with women. You never know, after all my claims to the contrary, I may even want to make a statement though my art in the end.

Department of Repair

I dropped into a ‘leather working’ session at the Department of Repair going on in Camberwell Space at the moment. The Department of Repair “explores (re)making through fixing, repairing and mending. The project reframes the theme of ‘repair’, exploring its identities and its potential as an environmentally/socially engaged practice. The project aims to create space for broader interpretations of repairing, fixing and/or mending practice, exploring categories such as repair narratives, agents, materials, and methods/systems.”

Harry Owen was running the demo of working with leather, showing us a range of tools and a few quick techniques which showed some of the tricks of working with the material. Working with leather was interesting – we stitched some decorative stitches in a small sample. What I particularly liked was the use of double needles – and double running stitch – giving extra strength into the leather. We didn’t do any construction beyond this (due to time) but it was an interesting workshop.

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My thought now is returning to the experiment I did with ghost candles back at the start of last term. What richness can you get through stitching in different materials – I was using wood and paper. Maybe interesting to dig them back out?

Gallery trip with the Quilt Ladies

Nice day out with my fellow City and Guilds students to a couple of North London galleries. First up was the William Morris Gallery, which was showing an exhibition by Alke Schmidt: Tangled Yarns, exploring he politics and morality of the cotton trade.

Pretty challenging subject matter, but well presented and offers a slightly ambiguous perspective on the contradictions of the textile industry from the 18th century to the present day. Some photographic highlights:

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I rally liked the idea of using a textile backdrop as a canvas – this reminds me of the work I was doing during the spring as part of my portfolio preparation. Would be good to revisit these ideas.

After a lovely cuppa and a mince pie, we wandered over to the Whitechapel Gallery to see the Richard Tuttle exhibition. Very contrasting!! From the interesting, provocative work of Schmidt with a clear narrative and strong political message we were all pretty dumbfounded by the Tuttle display. I didn’t follow it – and found myself unable to comprehend or connect with any of the work. It was very much in what I would box as fine art made only for peers – I think you really needed to be part of the art establishment to have a clue what on earth it was all for. There was no craftsmanship on display, and I struggled to see the connection to textiles, language or weaving. What was I supposed to interpret from a piece of dyed fabric hung on the wall? I tried very hard to engage with the pieces but sadly to no avail.

What I did find interesting instead of the pieces themselves, were some of the poems and expressions around textiles which went with the exhibition. Although I found these did not relate in any way to the pieces on display, as a piece of poetry in and of themselves some were rather good. Some words below which I picked out that I particularly liked.

“Wood, the struggle. Cloth the grace
Picture the human condition and reprieve
Paint is drawing minus the reprieve
A tight weave holding excess
Argue for the little known fact
Architecture in fluid
Each element wasted
Any topology, a sculpture in a light source”

“Just as a series of single threads are woven to form a textile, words are interlaced to form sentences and meanin. Both textile and language can give clarity to out understanding of the world.”

Visit to Pitt Rivers Museum

We had a very interesting visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford yesterday. It is a museum of anthropology and world archaeology with the feel of rooting around at the back of a dark cupboard of curiosities. Some really interesting stuff though.

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I was looking for things which might spark some ideas around my new working title ‘mythology, magic and mathematics’. Although things were unsurprisingly lacking on the mathematics front, there were certainly not on the first two! I couldn’t pick which pictures to upload and which to leave out, so I’ve gone for a gallery of a lot the stuff I photographed.

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It was lovely to see so many objects made with what people had available to them – the shells, feathers, grasses etc, but still made into highly significant ceremonial objects. I liked some of the techniques used to make the strings of beads from the shells, and although I really don’t want to go anywhere near skulls (way too creepy) – there was something interesting in the covering of a ‘precious’ object in the woven shell/rope thing which appeals.

It is easy to pull out the dramatic macabre stuff, like the skulls or the famous shrunken heads, but it is more intriguing to examine the relatively everyday objects – even if they are not “everyday objects” now, they were back in their times. These were special, often sacred objects made by ordinary people to get through life – and yet are often intricately crafted objects.  These weren’t always made by artisans, certainly not made by ‘artists’.

Ordinary people were looking to unknown spirits/gods, communion with them in times of scarcity or rites of passage; how much has really changed?  Our rituals: birth, coming of age, marriage, death, re-birth; flowering, harvest, winter, spring are all still the same….are just the gods and words and objects different now – but the meaning behind what humans do is as it always has been?

Wandering Wednesday @ British Museum

A break from quilting this afternoon with a little trip out to wander around the British Museum. There were a couple of interesting special exhibitions on upstairs which both related to ritual, religion and superstition. First one was Witches and Wicked Bodies – exploring the relationship between witches, sorcery and the artistic imagination. It was rather gruesome portrayal how witches were seen as the harbingers of misfortune and horror, and also I thought, a quite blatant display of bias against women, particularly when you read the cards. Quite a lot of the images were like this:

This was my drawing sketched in the print room

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The second display was an almost exact opposite: Pilgrims, healers and wizards, a study on Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand. It was a really interesting display of Buddha images, amulets and paintings; there was also a lovely case of offerings – gifts given to increase karma, appease potent beings, ensure protection and enable a devotee to access a being’s power.

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