Project 353 & Collaboration

ImageThroughout 2013 my Artist Facilitating and Tutoring work with the Leighton Project Students at Elfrida Rathbone, delivered as part of my work with Action Space, involved the students taking part in a partnership project with the London Transport Museum. This was Project 353 to celebrate 150 years of the London Underground.
For the project the students completed 3 exhibitions. Two of these were in Kentish Town. One was in the summer at Queens Crescent Surgery and another exhibition titled ‘Future Transport’ was in December at Elfrida Rathbone as part of the charity’s 30 years celebrations. The third exhibition was online and included a collaborative piece between students and a sound artist. This can be viewed here.

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It was a successful partnership and some of the work by students will be shown at the Project 353 exhibition ‘Carriage ImageThrough Time’ at the London Transport Museum from 31st January to 6th April 2014.
Images of the students work are shown on this page and images of the project and exhibition can be viewed here.

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It was an interesting and exciting collaboration to be involved with. I enjoyed the visit to the London Transport Depot in Acton and the Transport Museum in Covent Garden and seeing the students make artwork in response to their visit. Delivering the project has raised my awareness of my creative role as an artist facilitator. The project was a collaboration between the London Transport Museum, Action Space, myself, the students, the venues that they showed their work in and also the people that viewed the work. The project spec and some funding came from the London Transport Museum in liaison with Action Space. My role was to put the directives into practice, to encourage students to make work creatively in response to the theme of 150 years of London Transport within the deadlines set, to negotiate spaces for the exhibition of their work, to co-ordinate publicity of the shows and curate the shows.

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As an artist facilitator I frequently question and reflect on the blurred boundaries between myself as the artist and creative director and the participants’ creativity. It is a shared creative process between myself and the students: The students make the work in response to the themes and with the materials I can provide. I have conversations with the students, give practical demonstrations and show images and films to help them find inspiration for their work. To keep the project interesting and creative I also came up with the theme for the final term of ‘Future Transport’ to encourage students to imaginatively think of what transport could be like in 150 years time and to make work in response to their ideas. Although I did not physically make the work I did contribute artistic direction and curation – which is very much becoming an extension of my art practice.

Instead of manipulating materials to create a show I am encouraging people to create work, an event or a show? There are layers of creation – the work that the students make, the exhibitions that are put on, the sharing of practices between organisations and individuals and the ideas generated from this. I appreciate that I am not working in isolation in this creation. None of these events would have happened without the mutual cooperation between all parties involved. It is the collaborative process between individuals and agencies that is exciting and allows an output for the coming together of creative ideas. Without this collaboration and mutual support none of these events would have happened. Artists do not work in isolation and successful collaboration can produce interesting and unexpected results.

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BUSY. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability

I havent seen the exhibition Busy. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability but I am quoting the transcript from the press release for it below. It is a theme that seems so relevant and one that I hope to return to to digest and reflect on further – when I have time!

“The exhibition BUSY. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability at the 21er Haus explores the relationship between work and creativity, discussing tendencies towards permanent efficiency and resulting disease patterns.

Nowadays, life itself is very often determined by the ability to cope with an increasing flood of exigencies. There seems to be an overwhelming need to be flexible, mobile, creative, innovative, autonomous, self-reliant, and proactive. While labour conditions on the whole have taken a turn to the positive—there have never been as many opportunities and possibilities as today—new liberties also have led to self-expenditure in various spheres of life, often resulting in exhaustion, depression, and burnout.

Efficiency and profitability versus pleasure gain and self-development
Life has become faster, and our private and professional lives are thoroughly organized. Time has become a precious, rare and increasingly valuable commodity. Within a system that is governed by efficiency and profitability, standstill is unimaginable or impossible. An optimal use of time and precise time management are the basic instruments for professional success or for a successful life. People define themselves through work, since it helps them in finding self-fulfilment and positioning themselves within the society. Of course work can strengthen people’s individuality, contribute to their personal development, and be enriching as well as enjoyable. In recent years, there has been a strong focus on creative work, as it holds the promise of pleasure gain and individual growth, while being based on flexibility and self-control. The traditional image of labour has given way to a creative image, producing not only a general sense of well-being, but also a host of problems; primarily concerning those who are unable to distinguish between work and leisure time, those who are expected to totally identify with their work. In times of great uncertainty, the opposites of anxiety and security challenge us personally. These tendencies are also reflected in contemporary art, where they are recorded, discussed, and processed visually. This increasingly happens from a personal perspective, since more often than not artists are in the focus of a debate taking on a widening social dimension.

Artists as role models for autonomous one-person corporations
Before the Industrial Revolution and due to alternative life and work styles, there was a tendency towards regarding artists as revolutionary counterparts of entrepreneurs. However, in times defined by flexibility, mobility, creativity, innovation, autonomy, individuality, and self-reliance, the artist has become a kind of ideal. While art used to be the utopian counter-concept of efficiency-oriented and heteronomous labour, we are now witnessing art turning into a model of mobile and autonomous one-person corporations. Artists are seen as role models of a transformed work situation defined by unlimited creativity, smart self-marketing, self-motivated productivity, passionate commitment, and innovative work and life styles. Hence artists are in the focus of an ubiquitous social debate. The exhibition sums up relevant issues which go beyond the sphere of art, and participating artists have made their own roles the content of their works. They observe and analyse the theme of labour in general, addressing aspects ranging from pleasure to overstrain, seeing boredom as a way out, or experimenting with various forms of denial.

Curator
Bettina Steinbrügge

The exhibition is accompanied by interventions and performances conceived by students enrolled in the Master’s Programme in Critical Studies at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in cooperation with their teachers Diedrich Diederichsen and Constanze Ruhm.

Exhibition catalogue – bibliographic data
Title: BUSY. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability
Editors: Agnes Husslein-Arco, Bettina Steinbrügge
Publisher: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne
Brochure, 20×24 cm, 272 pages
English and German
ISBN 978-3-86335-249-3


I fell in love with Kurt Schwitters

I am very moved and inspired by my visit to see the exhibition at the Tate Britain ‘Schwitters in Britain’. I had seen a couple of pieces of Schwitters work in collections of the years but I hadn’t really engaged with them and had given more attention to his contemporaries that Schwitters had, in my eyes, sat in their shadows. The exhibition at the Tate has changed that and I am grateful for them bringing his work to my attention.kurt_schwitters_ohne_titel_530

On display are a lot of Schwitters collages and assemblages made from found materials and occasional use of paint.  Some of the collages are made up of scraps of travel ticket, sweet wrappers, images and words from the press and other found containers. The larger assemblages are made with found pieces of wood, rubber circles, card and even one with an asbestos mat with signs of heat use on.

From the exhibition I learnt that Schwitters, like many other intellectual and artists, was exiled from Germany in the 1930’s. He left, escaping the Nazi regime and initially moved to Norway but was pushed further West to Britain with the Nazi invasion of Norway. On his arrival to Britain he was required to spend 16 months on the Isle of Man in a detainee camp before he could freely settle here. He died in 1948 just as he was given citizenship.

Despite his uprooting Schwitters continued to make art and was very prolific throughout his exile, even at the detainee camp where it is reported he made over 200 works. He very much used what materials were available to him and included them in his art – his ‘Merz bild’ – the scraps of tickets and everyday materials were as important in his art as the paint. The sense that access to materials was difficult in this period is reflected in his art but Schwitters was not hindered by this and made some excellent artwork with very little means. There is a wonderful piece in the show of the roof tops of the Isle of Man painted on a bit of lino that Schwitters pulled off the floor.

Schwitters_stoneSchwitters draws our attention to the overlooked and makes what would be thrown away worthy of hanging onto a wall. He subverts the hierarchical order through re-presenting and collaging materials together in a harmonious visual order and personal scale.

Schwitters was a very gifted painter he painted portraits and landscapes alongside making his collages and assemblages. This may have been through a commercial need to make an income but shows his adaptability and his love of art and painting. His style of painting with thick brush marks seems to mirror his assemblages as colour and forms balance together.

I left the exhibition feeling inspired that art can and should be made from whatever materials we have access to and in any circumstances. Schwitters preserved in difficult circumstances and as a result produced some inspired and informative pieces. It is the making of it that is more important and the art will then speak for itself.

Perception & The Hyper Real

How we perceive the world is very personal and subjective. It is influenced by so many factors such as our culture, upbringing, our senses, our environment, how we see ourselves in the world, our moods and relationships. Although we share experiences and there are a lot of interconnections between people our individual experiences remain unique to ourselves and therefore our perception is unique, although very closely shared.

One of the biggest and current influences on our perception is the Internet and digital imaging.  We increasingly use the Internet to create a persona. I use it as a space to promote my art and through this promote myself as an artist and open up conversations with similar practitioners through the net. It is a useful tool but I do question its reality.

This morning I have been photographing some of my drawings and paintings for my portfolio, some of which I have uploaded below. I use a reasonable standard digital SLR to do this. I enjoy the process of observing the transformation of the work from a tangible drawing on paper or painting on canvas into a digital image. The work changes. It becomes digitally enhanced. The way the camera captures the light and colour of the work and transforms it into pixels has a hyper real quality. I am seduced by it because it is without much effort that my work becomes digitally enhanced and becomes new work.

I think we are learning to respond to the hyper real, digitally enhanced image. It is attractive, slick and seems flawless. The hand made is removed and it becomes another jpg on the Internet.

Viewing multitudes of jpgs enhances the wow factor of going to a gallery or studio and seeing artwork for real. The contrast between the two experiences is considerable. Most artwork that is hand crafted is more impressive off the net.  It’s hard to gauge a true sense of scale, colour, depth and surface on a flat screen.  The hyper real is slick and part of life but for me can never replace the solid and personal.

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A Bigger Picture

David Hockney at the RA

“We see with memory. My memory is different from yours, so if we are both standing in the same place we’re not quite seeing the same thing. Different individuals have different memories; therefore other elements are playing a part. Whether you have been in a place before will affect you, and how well you know it. There is no objective vision ever – ever.’ (Hockney 2009 in interview with Martin Gayford, RA)

Red Detachment

Red Detachment

Red Detachment

With some initial hesitancy I feel the need to reflect on my latest painting ‘Red Detachment’. I don’t necessarily want to talk for the work  – it is important that it holds its own autonomy and I doubt that words will be sufficient to summarise my thoughts and feelings generated by this work. But this work has surprised me on many levels. It is as if it is has come from deep inside me and holds so many meanings with layers of personal and political histories.

I recently rediscovered a few postcards sent to me by my father from his time in China in the early 1970’s. The cards he sent to me were of the Chinese State National Ballet – in particular images from the dance ‘The Red Detachment of Women’. I suspect that he was taken to this ballet as part of the business hospitality that he received when there.

The cards always intrigued me – beautiful images of dancers in bright colours, some holding weapons and wearing uniforms leaping across the stage, some in unison, others dancing solos. Even at an early age I was aware of how different and perhaps exotic these images seemed in comparison to Western contemporary ballet.

On rediscovering these images I became motivated to do some further research in to these dances and have uncovered a number of interesting articles about these dances and their significance in recent Chinese history.

The ‘Red Detachment of Women’ was choreographed and performed at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China. It was a state supported art form and was very much written and performed within strict parameters to support government propaganda. My understanding of the story is that it is about a peasant girl that escapes from the evil landowner, with the help of a communist agent and then joins the red army to seek revenge on the landowner. Mao Zedong evidently loved it. The score was devised using a number of traditional Chinese folk songs and some of the dance postures were taken from Chinese Martial arts – when not holding guns many dancers have clenched fists in opposition to more western forms of ballet in which the hands are open and softer. There is plenty more reading that I am uncovering on this and if anyone has a film of these ballets do let me know – I ‘d love to watch them.

This piece of work has uncovered a whole new line of enquiry for me – how dance and art are used and sponsored by governments to support their own power objectives – the influence of patronage. It is a beautiful image to work with but what lies behind the beauty is complex – there is confinement and control within what initially appears to be a free powerful movement across the space.

Painting

I have had the privilege recently to see the current exhibitions of Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Wilhelm Sasnal at the Whitechapel. Two contemporary masters of paint; their ability to use it to create an illusion of an image while being honest about its materiality I find overwhelmingly seductive.

My enthusiasm and emotional reaction to these works has prompted me to dig deeper as to what it is that makes a good painting and why I continued to be enticed and beguiled by this art form. How is it that some works have such presence that they make me want to stop still and look and can even create an emotional reaction. It is almost as if they vibrate at a different pace to the everyday.

These artists have the practiced skill of being able to place paint on the surface in such a manner that it creates an illusion of an image, event or feeling that moves beyond the flat surface. A gesture that communicates so much and moves beyond what is the present. In Sasnal’s ‘Robert Smithson’ the use of black white and grey tone and brush stroke creates such a seductive image that steps beyond the materiality of its existence. The black paint of where the boot merges into the dark background baffles me. The full shape of the boot is not illustrated, it is not visible, but we know it is there. Similarly in another work  (which I will locate the title of) the leg of the figure is only made visible through the highlights, the leg is also part of the background but we know its shape through as much as what is not there as well as what is painted. ‘Kackper’ is another of Sasnal’s work that I truly think is beautiful. His subtle ability to create the illusion of light streaming through the canvas is mesmorising.

Recently I have been reading ‘Painting is not a Representational practice’  by Barbara Bolt in ‘Unframed: Practices & Politics of Women’s Contemporary Painting ed. Rosemary Betterton (2004 IB Tauris) in which Barbara Bolt analysis her paintings ‘Reading Fiction’ and ‘Reading Theory’: “…at some indefinable moment, the painting takes on its own life, a life that almost seems to have nothing to do with my own conscious attempts to ‘control’ it. The ‘work’ takes on its own momentum, its own rhythm and intensity…. The painting takes on a life of its own. It breathes, vibrates, pulsates, shimmers and generally runs away with me. The painting no longer represents, nor does it merely illustrate reading. It performs it. The painting transcends itself and becomes a dissembling presence…” (p42)

Bolt raises the question “If a painting comes to perform rather than merely represent some other thing, what is happening?” (p43). Without citing her whole article on this, which is very worth reading, I think she raises some interesting theories on what a painting does. What it performs is beyond that of paint on a surface. A ‘good’ painting, i.e. one that has the power to stop me in my tracks, is one that successfully excels beyond that of its materiality and communicates on a very different level to that of its material substance; it transmits a resonance or vibration beyond its objectness.

I am excited that painting continues to inspire me and will no doubt continue with this investigation into its perfomativity and resonance, although I wonder if language and cognition will ever truly be able to sum up our fascination with the painted image.

The Museum of Everything

Stefan Häfner - Atelier Goldstein, Germany Stefan Häfner

Stefan Häfner

I arrived at Selfridges today with some trepidation. I find department stores, especially on a Saturday afternoon, overwhelming. Their labyrinth like qualities with bright lights, shiny things, synthetic smells and people jostling in all directions is my idea of a surreal hell. Everything seems distorted and unreal. I was relieved to find that the entrance to the Selfridges Hotel where the work of Judith Scott was on show and the discussion around ‘The Art of the Studio’ was up a separate staircase from the street.

Judith ScottWhen I entered the gallery I was pleasantly surprised by the space. It was like an industrial warehouse with exposed concrete walls and rough flooring. It seemed far removed from the commercial bustle of Oxford Street.

Judith Scott

Judith Scott

 

 

The lighting and the surrounds showed off Scotts work fantastically. These labouriously wrapped sculptures suspended in the space seemed to tightly hold so many stories and emotions. There was tranquillity in the curation of the work that balanced out the seeming endless passion entwined in the making process of the sculptures. I felt honoured to have encountered Scott’s work.

Following the interesting and international contributions to the discussion on ‘The Art of the Studio’ I got the courage up to battle the crowds and enter the show in the ‘Museum of Everything’ show in the basement of Selfridges.

I thought the labyrinth qualities of the show suited the department store yet was a welcome contradiction to the objects being sold in the store. On viewing the show I became completely overwhelmed with emotion as I encountered the work of Harald Stoffers. I could feel the tears welling as I stared at the density of his lines of words weaving and wondering across the pages before me. It held such passion and frustration.

Harald Stoffers

Harald Stoffers

“A thought, a word, a sentence, Stoffers daily art practice speaks on his behalf in letters written to a fictionalisation of his mother” was written next to these works. I could not ‘read’ these letters, they are in German, and I am not sure if I spoke German I could read them, or if they are ‘readable’. But the art of Stoffers is a language that communicates beyond the written word. It is visual, emotional and says so much more than the words written. The fact that these are letters to a mother is loaded in itself. It is almost as they represent the so many words that we would like to say to our mothers but are unable to utter. They say so much.

Harald Stoffers

Sleep Furiously

Sleep Furiously, a film by Gideon Koppel. A beautiful, poetic meditation on the rituals of a small rural community in Trefeurig, mid Wales. Koppel clearly has a personal and close relationship with this community as the intimacy in this film is one of its strengths. Koppel manages to draw us into view this small community by allowing us to just observe, to see, some of the intimate passings of everyday life and the passing of time.

Koppel has carefully chosen and beautifully shot the moments he wishes to share with the viewer. The hands of a woman baking, a boy plaiting, a line of sheep in the distance traversing a landscape, a calf being born, piglets and sheep being shorn all tied together by the mobile library van.Sleep Furiously

The film leaves you with some beautiful Morandi-esque still images with a haunting sound track from Aphex Twin. An understated masterpiece and an elegy to a disappearing world.