Friday, April 30, 2010

Quilts 1700 - 2010

Quilts 1700 - 2010, at the V&A explores over 300 years of British quilting. A stunning array of both traditional and contemporary quilts has been sympathetically displayed to showcase not only the exquisite workmanship involved but also the, often political, messages engendered within the work. For me the highlight was Diana Harrison's Box quilts (see next posting)
Winter/Male (detail, left) and Summer/Female by Jo Budd are a response to the changing seasons in the Suffolk water meadows and surrounding landscape. The tall vertical forms of Winter/Male echo the more solid, blocky, elements of the landscape; trees, farmhouses and field boundaries. The darker, more earthy colours of this piece also speak of man's connection to the soil. By contrast Summer/Female is altogether softer in appearance, with curved forms and paler colours alluding to the gentler climate of summer days and rounded form of the female body. I may be a little cynical here but I am somehow not surprised that it is the Male version that has been purchased by the V&A.
I was disappointed by the size of the screen on which Nicola Nasmith's Between Counting was displayed. Having seen, and heard, this on a much larger screen I felt that this exceptional piece was rather lost in a corner. The work centers on her exploration of the connection between the industrial and the hand made - it is the industrially made needle that enables the highly skilled hand piecing and quilting to be carried out.

Be careful where you park your car!

I thought that the walls of crushed cars flanking the entrance to this Birmingham car park showed a great sense of humour on the part of both the operators and users.

Curtain Show

Curtain Show at Birmingham's Eastside Project showcases a wide ranging number of projects from Albrect Schafers recreation of an aluminium curtain wall facade from Berlin to Grace Ndiritu's Still Life, set in an area curtained off with West African fabrics from Holland, fabricated in China, and available in Birmingham's rag market.
Ines Schaber has been working on archive based projects since 2005. In a series of case studies, texts, and artistic works she investigates and tests notions of the archive, in which not the collecting and sorting of things, but the work and production done around archives is central.

For Curtain Show Schaber is exhibiting Diabolic Tenant (2007) created with Celine Condorelli and Alex Nikitas (sound by Tychonas Michailidis). The domesticated, curved, enclosure formed by the green silk curtain harbours a directional speaker that is in conversation with another speaker placed in front of the more formal, almost industrialised, vertical blinds. The two curtains' discussion embodies the different social and political spheres that they inhabit and offers insights into both their functional and social roles.
Blind: We have many things in common. We organise the relationship between inside and outside.

Silk: (dismissive) The old myth of inside and outside. Thereby I am a scheme for a space and you an attribute of it. In my case however, it is about structure - more than separating, it is about creating a new space.

Chiharu Shiota - During Sleep & Trauma

Chiharu Shiota's exhibition at Haunch of Venison moves on from One Place with another room filling installation - During Sleep and then on to a series of smaller pieces Trauma.
During Sleep speaks hauntingly of that which goes on around us in the night when we sleep, the tunnel through which the audience walks could so easily close off behind them, leaving them no choice but to keep moving forward.

The creeping cobwebs that engulf and trap the unwary are constantly searching for a new victim

The innocent white bed and its crumpled sheets offer little protection from the encroaching mass of obliterating black webs

As one looks closer the shadows of the webs become visible as if dreams, or nightmares, were becoming manifest and multiplying in the gloom.

The final area of the exhibition, Trauma, is a series of smaller 'boxed' thread works that enclose everyday objects, such as dresses and hair brushes, in black webs. If the webs were white they might be seen as protecting the objects but here, in black, they trap and imprison forming an impenetrable barrier to those who might seek to free the objects.

Chiharu Shiota - One Place

Chiharu Shiota's installation One Place at Haunch of Venison is constructed from 400 windows from East Berlin. The enclosed spaces formed by the installation hint at the situation that formerly existed in East Berlin. The inhabitants were enclosed and shut off from family and friends on the other side of the Wall, always looking out towards that which was beyond their reach.
Stacked in towering layers they remind me of pictures at an exhibition, but with their stories missing - what has been seen from these windows? Who has looked longingly out? Or, did they give someone a sense of security, a place where they belonged?
The glass in windows allows light to enter a room but at the same time forms a protective barrier against the elements; wind, rain and snow are prevented from entering. However this protective barrier can also become a threat to safety; shards and splinters of glass from a broken window can inflict serious harm on the unwary.
I found it interesting to note how much clearer the view through the installation was where the glass was missing from the windows. By contrast some of the panes showed the accumulated grime of years of neglect, obscuring the view and begging the question what was being hidden and who made the marks in the dirt?
For me the most disturbing element of the installation was this window with its obscured glass (left), there were others, but it was only this one that bothered me. It seemed a much more solid barrier - No Entry - Keep Out - Don't look in here. Interestingly viewed from the 'inside' of the installation it lost its sinister feeling, perhaps because the opaqueness of the glass blended into the whiteness of the gallery walls.
This was the first time that I had seen one of Shiota's window installations and I found it one of the most impressive pieces of art that I had ever seen.

Henry Moore

Henry Moore at Tate Britain 28th February to 8th August. The introduction to the exhibition refers to the diversity of sculpture on show as illustrating the extent of his experimentation in seeking a union of material, technique and form.
Whilst this is certainly true the introduction fails to make any mention of Moore's evocative drawings, which range from abstract sketches of form to his dark renderings of life underground in coal mines and wartime air raid shelters. Miners at Work on the Coal face, 1942 (above) certainly removes any notion of romance that might be associated with the working man at his labours. Dark, damp, hot and cramped - these are the realities of working underground that Moore so eloquently captures in his underground series.
Stringed Form, 1938, Bronze and string, was my favourite piece from the exhibition. The fluid curves of the outer form are in complete contrast to the taut, geometric, lines of the strings that seem to attempt to define and confine ambiguous spaces within the outer form.