Friday, July 30, 2010


Ratatosk, by architects Helen & Hard, is part of Architects Build Small Spaces at the V&A. Set in the John Madejeski Gardens, this installation of split Ash, woven willow and shredded bark comes with an invitation to explore.
Please touch is very much the message, with the audience invited to enter the structure and experience the variety of tactile surfaces and the scents of the wood. The inner surfaces have been digitally sculpted and smoothed to enhance their natural beauty. From the interior the negative spaces between the trunks are brought into sharp relief.
For me there was a sense of sanctuary within the structure and I wondered if this was due to the intimacy of the space or being surrounded by natural materials. The materials and the nature of their placing led me to consider the similarities with ancient wooden henges, also made from split tree trunks, did they too offer their users a feeling of sanctuary?

Antony Gormley - Test Sites

Antony Gormley's Breathing Room III fills the entire basement area of the White Cube in Mason's Yard. A three dimensional labyrinth of cuboid frames that gently glow in the dark gives an eerie, otherworldly, sensation of being part of science fiction movie. Being able to engage with the work by walking through it and viewing it from different angles only enhances the sense of ambiguity. It comes as a major shock when the windowless room is suddenly, without warning, flooded with strong light and the gentle blue glow is replaced with the solidity of white metal bars. The illusion is destroyed instantly but somehow the magic is not lost - day and night, positive and negative, solid metalwork and illusionary light, each highlights the qualities of the other.

UCA Graduation

The UCA Farnham and Epsom Graduations take place at Guildford Cathedral. This year those of us graduating were honoured to shake the hand of our new Chancellor, Zandra Rhodes. Zandra was resplendent in fuchsia pink robes of her own design. A tiny lady with a huge personality, she certainly stood out from the crowd.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ernesto Neto

The Edges of the World, a series of installations by Ernesto Neto is showing at the Hayward Gallery until 5th September. The major piece in this exhibition is the immersive installation in gallery 6. Prior to reaching this, one encounters Just take me out of the ground (left) a series of steps/sculptures that invite the visitor to rise up into the canopy and enjoy a different view of the installations skin.
Not content with challenging the visual senses with the fluctuating shades of green in the translucent membrane walls Neto asks the audience to engage their sense of smell. As they pass through Flavour flower womb domus a series of aroma pockets, resembling wet sand-slips, (right) are filled with pungent materials including lavender and chamomile.
All three roof terraces have installations, my favourite of which is Walking to the future which contrasts a tropical palm with a temperate hawthorn symbolising two different culture as well as different climatic regions. Again audience participation is invited; the trees are surrounded by a wall in a continuous double loop which the audience is encouraged to walk along as if it were a path in an urban park. Unfortunately in the day I visited the weather was decidedly not tropical.

The New Decor

The New Decor at the Hayward Gallery is part of Festival Brazil which runs until 5th September. The exhibition brings together the work of 36 artists from 22 countries. They all take interior design as a starting point for their installations/sculptures.
Amongst my favourites is Lee Bul's Sternbau No.3, (left), a chandelier inspired by the unrealised work of architect Bruno Taut.
I was also very taken with Nicole Wermers' Untitled Bench, a large perspex case enclosing large stones/small boulders of golden quartzite, purple slate and granite. Each stone is a thing of beauty that could be admired in a vitrine in its own right but here they question whether their purpose is decorative or practical - are they merely ballast that happens to look good or is their weight a happy sideline to their visual appeal?

The real highlight for me was Mona Hatoum's Interior Landscape - a truly inhospitable bed with its framework of barbed wire supports a pillow with a straggle of stray hairs. On closer inspection the hairs mark out the outline of a map of Palestine, a theme repeated with the bent coat hanger on the wall hooks. Maps also feature in the bag on the hooks and the tray on the bedside table.
These maps are complemented/reinforced by the World Map rug positioned outside the room setting of Interior Landscape.

Unravelling the Manor House

Unravelling the Manor House is a series of interventions in Preston House, Brighton. Twelve contemporary artists unravel, interpret and expose the hidden histories of the building and its occupants. Some of the stories are imaginary and some relate directly to people or occurrences in the house.
James Hunting has produced a pair of hangings that reference the roles of the footmen in the house. 'James and John' came as a pair, chosen for their uniformity of height and looks (usually good). On duty they would take on the names used by the family for footmen over the generations adding to their anonymity. Hunts' footmen however share a secret, a tattoo that is only complete when the pair are together as one.
Laura Splan has a series of site-specific pieces around the house. 'Trousseau' is constructed from the remnants of cosmetic face peel that retain the impression of the skin. The sculptural pieces are embellished with ruffles and buttons alluding to the garment like qualities of the 'fabric'.

Catherine Bertola has installed 'If she is not out as soon as I' in Ellen Thomas-Standford's bedroom. The title of the piece is taken from an old lace tell and the work also references the making of pillow lace. Bertola's use of pins to create a lace pattern on a bed pillow is unsettling. This usually soft and comforting object now questions the relationship between those at the higher end of the social scale who could afford to wear hand made lace and those at the lower end who toiled long hard hours to make the lace for pitifully low wages.
Kira O'Reilly has used lace in a quite different way to Bertola. The bathroom is the site chosen by O'Reilly for her discrete prints made with her own blood. The use of lace to make these prints references the curtaining off of our private ablutions and the nature of the most intimate 'feminine staining'.
Matt Smith's 'Bulldog' series relates directly to the collection of ceramic figures with which they are displayed. The once potent white Chinese porcelain 'Dogs of Fo', caged in an English dresser, are stripped of their traditional meaning and power and are reduced to mere 'talking points'. On the surface Smiths' Bulldogs are the essence of Britishness but look beneath the surface and the deceptions are revealed. Made using American moulds and coloured with Honda car spray paint they are not quite as British as they appear.
This is another exhibition without labels and here it is quite easy to miss some of the installed works, they just blend in so well with the somewhat quirky collections on display that it can be hard to tell what 'belongs' and what doesn't. For me this adds to the intensity of the experience, I hope it worked as well for other visitors.

The Concise Dictionary of Dress

The Concise Dictionary of Dress by Judith Clark and Adam Phillips was an installation at the V&A's store at Blythe House. Details of the project and essays relating to it can be found on the Artangel website. A truly magical mystery tour behind locked doors revealed 11 installations and their accompanying definitions - no dates, no makers, no artists, no materials, no accession numbers - just one mans definitions of a series of chosen words and the artworks that had been chosen to accompany them. There was something very special about this exhibition and it wasn't just the privilege of a peek behind the scenes at this treasure house of precious objects. The audience is forced to think about what they are seeing and what it means, without the usual back-up information. This is highly stimulating and more than a little risky on the part of the curators.
Armoured - One of Adam Phillips' definitions for Armoured is; 'Hardened for the elements; soft-centred'. This seems highly appropriate for the cast resin lady in period costume who looks out over the London rooftops.
Conformist - For Judith Clark nothing says V&A more aptly than the designs of William Morris. This installation features an exquisitely hand embroidered Morris wallpaper design on a calico dress toille that is merely pinned together, highlighting its impermanence and transitory nature. Above all this piece questions our desire to conform and blend in with the norm.
Pretentious is a series of dresses hung opposite a wall of wax that has been carved to represent their relief. Without the usual labels the only the connoisseur knows which dresses are by famous designers and so it is down to the audience to judge for themselves the quality and desirability of the garments. The wax 'impressions' give the opportunity to study subtle detailing without the usual distraction of colour - the drape, line, tucks and pleats all become clearer in this most unconventional medium.
Plain - the piece exhibited is 'Balenciaga: A Retrospective', inspired by a Balenciaga dress in the collection. Created entirely from museum storage materials, such as Tyvek and bubble wrap, this piece questions what happens to the pieces in a collection that are not on display and hence why we collect in the first place. No small question in such a setting.