Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dark Monarch

Dark Monarch, at Tate St Ives, takes its title from the 1962 book by Sven Berlin. Subtitled 'Magic and Modernity in British Art' it explores the influence of folklore, mysticism, mythology and the occult in British art. The works include aspects of Modernism, Surrealism, Neo-Romanticism and contemporary art practice.
Damien Hirst's The Child's Dream (2008) uses the universal Unicorn of myths and fairy tales to challenge perceptions of beauty and the grotesque. The case can also be viewed as a coffin, especially here where it stands beside the stained glass window of the Heron Mall.

Eva Rothschild's Disappear (2004) comprises incense sticks that are burnt, probably on a weekly basis. There is mounting evidence, on the floor below the work, of the changing nature of the work.
She also has two other superb pieces in the exhibition; Stairway (2005) and Highlife (2004). Highlife is a trio of 'head' forms of black and red leather interwoven strips which turn into 'tears' that trial down to form a small pool on the floor beneath. Stairway is a series of triangular frames suspended from the ceiling and walls so that they interlock at their points. Painted black, with red inners, they are held in place (quite literally) by small black hands.
Simon Periton Il Cornuto appears on the stairwell (left) and as a 5 colour screen print (below) the latest of the Limited Edition Prints to be sold by Tate St Ives.
Combining natural forms from traditional fairy tales with images of industrial decay these pieces are at once enchanting and eerie. This is especially true of the stairwell where the work seems to be invading the building and creeping insidiously down the walls.
Best known for his contemporary paper cuts Periton also has one of his latest works on glass in Gallery 4, hung above the doorway through which visitors enter it is easily missed, which is a shame.
Sven Berlin's Owl in Flight (1988) blurs the boundaries between nature, landscape, man and magic. Referencing the ancient standing stones of the area this haunting sculpture evokes the haunting calls and silent flight of the owl and the mythology associated with the bird.
Peter Lanyon Construction for 'Lost Mine' (1959). Glass is an interesting medium for this piece, Mining is thought of as a though, strong, process. In reality the state if the Cornish miming industry in the 50's was very fragile, foreign competition, lack of investment and ever more difficult access to poorer quality ore seams made this an industry that could collapse at any time.
John Latham Great Uncle Estate (1960).I had previously come across his work in the online archive and at the Flat Time House website. There is a sinister side to the work shown here, defaced and partially burnt books are never easy viewing. Latham considered books to be repositories of knowledge but this knowledge could be 'faulty' and much of his work from the 1960's questioned the truth and value of books as carriers of ideas and information.
Adam Chodzko has installed a number of Secretors around the building. These glass vessels, filled with a mysterious red liquid he calls 'manifestation juice', are easily missed and this somehow adds to their air of disquiet. Placed where wall and ceiling meet they give a sense that the life-blood of the building is oozing from minute fissures in its fabric.
Gillian Carnegie's Black Square (2008) is a study of dark woodlands and the tales of loss and enchantment emanating from such places. The glossy black surface of the oil paint is a wonderful carrier of texture that calls out to be touched and investigated more fully. A truly moving piece that rewards time taken to study it in detail.
Bryan Wynter's Path Through the Wood (1950) is a good contrast to Carnegie's work. This subtle monoprint draws the viewer ever further into the woods, enticement and entrapment, Hansel and Gretel spring to mind as do a number of other ancient folk tales.
Paul Nash's Mansions of the Dead (1932) has a particular resonance for me with the shelving recalling archives waiting to be filled with the artifacts/memories of the departed.
John Russell's vast, back-lit Untitled (2009) is a stunning example of what I would refer to as 'second-life' art. Surreal yet enchanting it overwhelms the final gallery space becoming omnipresent drawing the viewer into its central portal as if a moth drawn to a flame. Quite outstanding. The image also shows three Adam Chodzko Secretors at ceiling level in the top left hand corner of the picture.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

John Keys

Having seen John Keys collaborative piece at the Exchange Gallery, Penzance, I looked up his website and found some excellent pictures of his work for Tidal 28. The picture, above, shows part of the ramp wall lit at night - quite different to the daylight impression.
Tidal Cliff (right) and Tidal Sandbar (below) are two of his drawings that chart the tideline from a specific point. It is vertical sections from these drawings that have been enlarged to make the panels for Tidal 28. Described on the website as 'Acetates' each drawing has several layers, to form a composite whole.
The drawings are accompanied by a set of photographs of the beach/sandbar/cliffs around which the sea swirled in its twice daily tidal dance.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Double Vision

Double Vision is the title of the current exhibition at the Exchange Gallery, Penzance. It is the result of nine collaborations that have been developed by NSA (Newlyn Society of Artists) members with other professional artists and non-artists alike. The artists have risen to the challenge to expand their current practice in a year long collaborative process with musicians, surfers, academics, Touchgloves kick boxing club and Cornwall Libraries' Art Collection.
John Keys and composer Graham Fitkin's have produced an audio visual installation that turns the ramp into an all encompassing passage of sound and light. Tidal 28 (above) is based on the tidal rhythms and sounds of a shifting sand bar. Audio samples from the sandbar and notation of aural data produced a 28 minute musical work that compliments the sequential drawings of the tideline made on 28 days. Both artists are concerned with notions of passing time and the significance of boundaries which are eloquently voiced in the work presented.
Bren Unwin and anthropologist Dr Helen Cornish used their collaboration to explore the role of arts practice within an academic framework. Their contribution to the exhibition is in the form of both video and print. Chiasm: Miners' Cage 2nd State (above) is a triptych of superbly textured etchings that took on a film reel-like quality hung next to the accompanying video projections. Cage/Metal evokes the blur of rock wall and track lighting that would have been seen from a speedily descending/ascending miners cage and would have been quite disorienting on a larger scale. Cage/Water was beautiful but would have been more powerful in an enclosed, darkened, space where the rushing, bubbling, water could have echoed and become all encompassing.
The Operators by Alessandra Ausenda and musician Ruth Wall was, for me, the highlight of the show. I was lucky enough to encounter this piece alone in a silent gallery, as the initial ethereal beauty of the dress slowly revealed itself to have a deeper, darker, content so the soundtrack started, quietly at first but building to an almost menacing climax. The work explores the exploitative working conditions within the fashion industry and violence that is often associated with it. On closer inspection the golden 'swags' around the hem turn out to be knives and the 'floral' decorations composed of hand-guns not petals. Almost hidden within the cage that supports the skirt are three industrial sewing machines referencing the cramped conditions often prevailing in the unregulated sweat-shops that supply the fashion industry. The entire soundtrack is composed from the sounds of sewing machines, from the soft rhythmic clicking of a single needle slowly piercing fabric through to the insistent menace of multiple machine motors running at full speed, it is an unexpectedly subtle piece.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

3 by 1 Symposium

This symposium was held in association with the 3 by 1 exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham.
Left: Lettering by David Howell

Sandra Alfoldy, of Nova Scotia University, spoke of the current DIY Crafters movement that is gathering momentum in North America. Led by young, predominantly female, craft makers for whom their craft is a livelihood rather than a lifestyle choice the movements work is becoming collectible. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this modern, more aggressive, dynamic of the craft arena to see if it can escape the hobby-craft tag and lift itself into the true economically viability that it seems to be seeking (rather than parity with 'art').
Right: Hand woven Jacket by Ethel Maraite

Alison Britton, potter and curator, spoke of the enormity of the task she faced in choosing the pieces to be displayed in 3 b1 from the vast collections of the Crafts Study Centre, The British Council Collection and the Crafts Council Collection. Usually such exhibitions have a very specific set of criteria for selection but Alison was invited to make a personal selection - objects that communicate with her. Ceramics, textiles, works on paper and wood from a wide variety of periods and makers were carefully selected for the way they would interact and enhance each others essential qualities. Alison explained some of the alternative sub-groupings that she considered including colour.
Mark Bills from the Watts Gallery gave a fascinating insight into the Gallery, which came second in the 2006 BBC series Restoration Village, and the work of G.F. Watts. Unfortunately the Gallery will remain closed until late 2010 whilst restoration work is in progress. Watts most famous work is 'Hope in Despair' (left) which has been seen as an 'evocation of the human condition; the ability of people, at their lowest point to sense and feel a strand, a single string of hope that keeps them going, when all around is failing'. When the gallery reopens I shall certainly visit the church which has the most amazing range of ornamentation including painting, sculpture and ceramics.
Mark also spoke about the memorial wall of ceramic plaques created by Watts and added to after his death by his wife Mary. Now known as Postman's Park it was photographs of these plaques that were used by Susan Hiller for her installation 'Monument' . Watts originally worked with the De Morgan pottery to make the plaques and the possibility of the DeMorgan centre becoming a part of the Watts Gallery is currently under discussion.
In his summary Glen Adamson, of the V&A, spoke of the techniques and materiality of the crafts. His summary that in the crafts it take so long to master the basic techniques that the development of a creative language is a biographical commitment to a lifetime of knowledge was especially meaningful to those of us who work in especially slow crafts such as lacemaking. He commented that the slowness of craft allows the nuances and diversity of lifelong learning to be shown in a single squiggle such as those of Michael Cardew in his slipware bowls (left).

Monday, December 7, 2009

British Library Training Day

The Art & Design Postgraduate Training Day at the British Library featured specially tailored talks, workshops and networking opportunities. The delegate information pack included an excellent visual guide to Library's Electronic Resources and advanced use of the Integrated Catalogue.
The Introduction and Overview of Library Collections were followed by the opportunity to take part in two workshops led by Curators. My first choice was Book Arts/Artists' Books led by Stephen Bury, Head of European & American Collections. This proved to be a fascinating experience - not least being taken into the main Library (past my favourite seat/artwork) and through a maze of inner rooms to where we were to be shown some of the collections highlights. Stephen had chosen a wide selection; books by artists, books about artists, catalogues of artists exhibition and artist made books. One of the great delights for me was the tiny 'Auras - Homage to Marcel Duchamp / Levitations - Homage to Yves Klein' by Susan Hiller (2008). A dual aspect book of images appropriated from the Internet this is one of her 'archival' projects that was previously unknown to me - I'd love to buy a copy but suspect they are few and far between.
An interesting point that came up in discussion was how the Library handles limited edition books. The Library appears to take the view that if the edition is small enough then it is not really a book in the public realm and therefore there is no legal obligation to provide them with a copy. If they are given a single edition artists book it would be placed in Manuscripts rather than with the books.
My second workshop was Sound by Artists, led by Stephen Cleary of the Sound Archive. This was a wide ranging workshop covering music, film and performance soundtracks, sound installations and the spoken word as performance, oral history and artist interviews. The archive also includes wildlife and soundscape recordings. The holding is vast with over 40,000 items, 23,000 of which are available to the general public. For me the most immediate useful area will be the 1,000 hours of recordings made at the ICA between 1981 and 1994. Speakers include Quentin Crisp, Alexi Sayle, John Berger and Fay Weldon.