Category Archives: 04.2 Exhibitions

Richard Long: Time and Space

My research paper is coming along nicely and I have at its core the work of walking artist Richard Long. I went on an expedition last Friday – a 6 hour return train trip and walk of 15.42km no less – to see the Time and Space exhibition currently showing at the Arnolfini in Bristol.

It was a fascinating collection of Long’s work in a gallery which first showed him in 1972, and which gathered together a range of works which link to Long’s childhood home in Bristol and showed the connection he has with the place. I have seem some of Long’s physical gallery installations before, but never seen any of text works shown alongside them. You cannot help but stop and think when you see the words imprinted in large font across the white wall, almost haiku like in its contemplativeness.

Standout pieces: Muddy Water Falls 2015, the latest in a series which Long applies mud directly to the gallery walls. This piece has been made with mud from the banks of the river Avon. The work is a record of a physical action of the dynamic gestures which are dictated by the nature of the materials being used – the splashing, fluid quality of the mud. This ‘mud wall’ is surrounded by a series of quiet textual records of landscape, many of them also referencing an experience Long had along the banks of the River Avon.

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I also very much associated with another text work in this room, the “Red Walk” from 1986.

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The rest of the exhibition had more of Long’s photographic works and two installations including  Bristol 1967/2015, a series of concentric circles (“a cross between a tape measure and a perimeter fence”) which were taken to different places and photographed. The exhibition guide sums this up as “a reference to that simple but profound experience a person travelling through a landscape may have in realising that the centre of the world is wherever they happen to be at the time.”

From 1967:RIchard Long

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and 2015:Arnolfini-richard-long

Interestingly, my own photo of this exhibit was terrible, so I found a new one – this one sourced from an Independent review here. I was surprised how scathing this review was of the show, nearly all of which I disagree with. I have been musing on this, and know that Long has a bit of a marmite effect – people either get and love his work, or they really, really don’t. I wonder if it simply appeals to a certain mind-set of person. The quieter, introverts among us that have no shame in enjoying something so esoteric and untouchable. For example, the reviewers reaction to the text works was somewhat different to mine:

Long’s text works…are short descriptive narratives, often quite baldly factual, telling us when and where he went and how long it took him…Very often these texts works strike the onlooker as mind-numbingly banal. Of course, we are very pleased that he went, but how exactly should we be responding to such bald records on a wall? Mildly unenthusiastically.

I found completely the opposite – as you look at the text, you know it is real. You know it describes an actual walk, a physical movement in the world that you cannot help but imagine as you follow the journey in words. I see them more as a poetic record which offers a different way to look at the world, seeking for something deeper than just the footsteps on the land.

After the gallery, I wandered off on foot to find the outdoor piece commissioned by the Arnolfini for the show up on the Downs just north of the city. On the way I walked the long way round to take in the magnificent views of the Avon Gorge from the Brunel-built Clifton Suspension Bridge. Wow. You could see instantly how a young artistically minded Long could not have helped but be inspired by this place. The tidal range of the Avon is massive and I was lucky to hit it at low tide, when you could see vast edges of mud exposed alongside the river channel. Looking at this, you can see exactly what Long is embedding into his muddy wall work – physically and emotionally.

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After that revelation (which will be going into the essay!) the Boyhood line, was unfortunately almost a let down. The Line is a collection of stones in a line across the Downs where Long played as a young boy. The line itself was nice enough to see in person, but better was seeing how the land beneath has stared to react to the stones.  The stones were laid along a desire line, “one of the many tracks which criss-cross the Downs, created by commuters, dog-walkers, runners, traders, farmers, and ancient Britons; those that remain visible, and those that have faded away”. And that  sums up so nicely what it is I like most about Long’s work.

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Barbara Hepworth @ Tate Britain

It is refreshing to visit an exhibition when you don’t know much about the artist, and however famous Barbara Hepworth was – I had to admit general ignorance on any specifics of her work. What I found however was a fascinating insight into sculpture and the artist’s path to abstraction.

Mother and Child 1934

Hepworth was celebrated for her ability to synthesise organic form, light and colour from the landscape to produce compositions of extraordinary elegance and clarity. Her early works were more figurative, explicitly exploring the human form, and some of her works (particularly later in her career) relate to ancient stones and shapes within the landscape. This exploration of our relationship to the natural world, drove her to examine ways to open up sculptural form in order to involve the viewer. She wanted her work not only to be looked at by to be experienced.

“I cannot write anything about landscape without writing about the human figure and the human spirit inhabiting the landscape, for me, the whole art sculpture is a fusion of these two element – the balance of sensation and the evocation of man in his universe.”
Studio International 171’ – June 1966, p. 280.

Tides I 1946 by Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

Hepworth was interested in expressing the physical experience of being in the landscape – for example, the push and pull of the wind, the changing shapes and contours as you walk or the varieties of textures and patterning on rocks and vegetation. She preferred her work to be shown outdoors and said that sculptures need natural light and air “‘to breathe and grow”. Hepworth said there is an inside and an outside to every form. Many of her sculptures explore this tension, carving through the material or hollowing out the forms to explore the inside and outside of the form.

Piercing through forms became dominant. Could I climb through and in what direction? Could I rest, lie or stand within the forms? Could I, at one and the same time, be the outside as well as the form within…?”
Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial autobiography, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1970, p. 283.

Pelagos 1946 by Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

And a longer fascinating extract from Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952

“This thought has recurred again and again ever since – and has developed my greatest interests; the reason why people both move differently and stand differently in direct response to changed surroundings; the unconscious grouping of people when they are working together, producing a spatial movement which approximates to the structure of spirals in shells or rhythms in crystal structure; the meaning of the spaces between forms, or the shape of the displacement of forms in space, which in themselves have a most precise significance. All these responses spring from a factual and tactile approach to the object – whether it be the feeling of landscape which one feels beneath one’s feet or the sensitivity of the hand in carving, or in surgery, or music, and they have an organic and perceptual purpose.”

CSM 2015 Degree Show one

The long run of graduate summer shows begin….this was the smaller of the two CSM shows, but still interesting to visit. I gathered a few points of thought for our own show and some interesting artists whose work impressed me.

My main takeaway was on hanging methods – not to be dictated by tradition or the limitations of the frame. Even some of the more traditionally hung art work had canvases which were draped over the stretchers or nailed to the outside of the frame. The second thought was on notecards/business cards – where someone I liked had left one, I took one away and looked them up afterwards – so much easier than having to hope google can come up with something. Curious how many of the cards I took home didn’t have active websites or anything uploaded. Moral? Be Prepared! Be ready once the show comes around!

Stand-out work for me was that of Tess Williams, who was exploring painting. The first photo below was her main piece in the show, the rest are from her website.

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836d6e_fe3aa61c1e9840beb88ca6d52ce23a8e.jpg_srb_p_923_644_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb 836d6e_cc8ea918de234f95aa2b2f2e074e6d06.jpg_srb_p_955_644_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb 836d6e_214c5d25f3d54d1fb68c88efc6c3cb7a.jpg_srb_p_916_644_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb  I found some extracts from an interview she gave which described the process behind her work.

At the moment my work exists within the boundaries of traditional / deconstructed painting, installation and large-scale collage; exploring where one discipline ends and the next begins.

I am first and foremost concerned with the sensual immediacy of paint and its interaction with the porous materials that I chose to apply it to. My work explores the unprimed materiality of these textiles and how they can be enhanced, altered or adapted by paint. I never prime my materials in order to leave as much amount of absorption as possible. Meaning that the material and the paint become one, rather than the paint just lying on top of a surface, as with many primed paintings. The materiality of the work as a whole is important to me, allowing its evocative power to resonate.

I am also engaging with how folds, creases and movement within the materials can act as a form of mark making, creating shadows, lines and shapes, whilst adding new tones to the colours of the paint. I also explore the way folds introduce both inside and outside, in front and behind, what this evokes, compared with the emphasis on surface alone of traditional painting.

This spoke to me of the sort of feeling I want to capture in my own fabric drawings, not specifically about the use of paint – but the integration of materials, colour and process into one textural surface. I also like to use unprimed canvas to paint on, but never really thought deeply of why. I need to understand fully the material narrative my work offers as part of the overall message it is portraying.

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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NYCXDesign

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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