Monthly Archives: February 2012

I first discovered Song Dong when I stumbled upon the painting of calligraphy on the paths of Beijing’s parks with water. The practice seemed to me like poetic performance art, but is only a means of practicing calligraphy without wasting paper. Song Dong had seen the poetry and the art in the practice as well. In 1995 Dong kept a diary with water and stone, and took photographs as a record.

Such ephemeral poetry seems at odds with the sprawling mantra of Dong’s mother, ‘Waste Not’. Yet, walking my semi-circle around The Curve I found an equal poetry here: “I think in the future everything is nothing. But here you see that memory is real.”

‘Waste Not’ is an installation or piece of ‘life art’, as Dong prefers to call it, made up of 10,000 objects hoarded by his mother during the Cultural Revolution. It is about the bonds of family members and the power of objects to tell stories.

The Barbican’s Curve is a curious space, a tunneling periphery of that huge Brutalist creation, devoted to the work of contemporary artists. Song Dong has transformed The Curve into the largest domestic store cupboard ever seen. Scraps of foam and plastic are arranged totemically in the narrowest places, soft toys lie sleeping on their sides atop cardboard boxes, plastic bottles sheltered beneath the skeleton of a family home.  And yet here, every paint brush, tube of toothpaste, spoon and chopstick; has its appropriate space, a halo of absence to pay it reverence.

It feels like a market place; the wooden chairs facing in to enclose a hoard of broken plant pots, bird cages and magpie’s metal, reminds me of Beijing’s Panjiayuan antiques market. I see the artist himself carefully picking his way between neatly folded clothes to point out some item that might be of particular interest.  That’s his best offer.

But to reduce the place to a collection of objects, defined by their usefulness or objective value, is exactly the opposite of what ‘Waste Not’ intends.  The weight of the objects gathered here is a sentimental pressure on our hearts and our memories, an emotional claustrophobia:

“My mother gave me the pieces of soap as a gift on my wedding day but I said: ‘Oh I wash my clothes in a washing machine now I don’t need soap’. But when I started the project I realised she’d kept the soap pieces anyway. So it wasn’t just soap, it was my mother’s love.”

Soap equates to a mother’s love, folded clothes to the legacy of a lost husband and father. ‘Waste Not’ is a memorial which brings family together.  It evokes presence not absence. Beautiful and obsessive, it has the power of appeal for all of us.

Share your objects with stories here and they might be used by the artist Song Dong in a new work of art.


Gazira Babeli- Anna Magnani/take 2, 2007, Courtesy of the Artist, ROLLO Contemporary Art and Fabio Paris Gallery

I first met Philippa Found, Director of the ROLLO Gallery and curator of the Body in Women’s Art Now exhibition series, when I was still a student, at the private view of Part 1: Embodied in the New Hall Art Collection. Three years and three exhibitions later I have come to Cleveland Street to see the final part in its home, the ROLLO gallery.

This exhibition includes digital work; videos, both montages and documentaries, along with performance art works by avatars and Twitter transcripts, by the artists Gazira Babeli, Helen Carmel Benigson, Anne-Marie Schleiner and Miri Segal.

I admire Found because her approach is academic, and curation, particularly in commercial galleries, does not need to be academic. Inspired by Tracey Warr’s book on The Artist’s Body Found’s intention was to curate three shows which would represent the next three chapters of the book, exploring the body in women’s art from the year 2000 onwards.

Helen Carmel Benigson- Tweeting Even Though No-one Is Listening, 2011, Courtesy of the Artist and ROLLO Contemporary Art

Three years ago Found had only a sketch of a plan for the genesis of the series; part 2 and 3 were provisionally ‘Transgressive Bodies’ and ‘The Body Remade’ but have grown to become ‘Flux’ and ‘Recreation’.

I want to know if the realisation has matched Found’s initial vision? In many ways it seems to have exceeded expectations; ‘Recreation’ looks towards the future, it is examining the “new” in its exposure of an emerging interest in the relationship between art and digital technologies. Found believes the shows have come ‘full cycle’; while Part 1 still bore the traces of work from the 60s and 70s, and Part 2 the bad girls of the 90s, Part 3 looks definitively and affirmatively towards the future.

Found’s work with the ROLLO-represented artist Helen Carmel Benigson, rapper alias Princess Belsize Dollar and spunky multimedia artist skyping performances from LA, has led her towards the theme of Part 3. Benigson was included in Part 2, but now her printed scroll of Tweets ‘Tweeting Even Though No-One is Listening’ and her video ‘Why U Shouldn’t Date a Soldier’, layering clips from You-Porn with chat rooms of internet gambling forums and bright cut-outs of sushi, in Part 3, are a window onto Found’s moment of curatorial revelation. Benigson is fiercely working with new media and this led Found to the realisation that other artists must be doing the same.

Miri Segal- BRB, 2007, Courtesy of the Artist, ROLLO Contemporary Art and Dvir Gallery

The body has been the unifying theme in all three of Found’s exhibition chapters; a breeding ground of tension and challenge in which the oppressive confines of the art historical can be transgressed or subverted, destroyed and remade. Reflecting on ‘Part 1: Embodied’ and the visceral works of Sigalit Landau or Jessica Lagunas, the idea of ‘Recreation’s’ potentially ‘disembodied’ bodies is pertinent. How corporeal can these digital bodies be?

They might seem to be ephemeral, touching only our retinas and certainly not tactile in the way that Nathalie Djurberg’s Claymation or Cecily Brown’s painting is (Part 2: Flux). And how elusive does an artist like Gazira Babeli seem when her only public profile is her Avatar- shown here running through all the possible expressions available to her on Second Life?   

But Babeli refers to her work as ‘sculpture’ and ‘performance art’, describing digital in terms of more traditional media.  We may view digital works as being the most ‘ephemeral’ of all art forms and yet there is a digital archive for Second Life, Locus, which means that Babeli’s performance art works executed in front of unsuspecting Avatars are recorded for posterity. They will not ‘deteriorate’ in the way a painting might.

The works on show are the beginning of a conceptual exploration of the ‘new tools’ of digital media. Both Miri Segal’s 30 minute video of Second Life ‘BRB’ and Anne-Marie Schleiner’s ‘Operation Urban Terrain (OUT)’ which takes the military training video MOOT as its point of interest, are kinds of documentary which embody a digital world in order to explore its physical limits.

In ‘BRB’ after a long, intense and graphic sex scene between two avatars the question ‘Are you touching yourself in real life?’ is asked. Segal’s video becomes an ironic look at the boundaries between fantasy and reality on Second Life, where ultimately the digital is only a cipher. The scene lacks intimacy when it can be ‘enacted at the click of a button’, and the discomfort we feel is less about its explicit content and more about the queasy surreal nature of seeking sex through avatars on the internet.

Anne-Marie Schleiner- Operation Urban Terrain (O.U.T.), 2004- 2006, Courtesy of the Artist and ROLLO Contemporary Art

Throughout the series there has been a preoccupation with the viewer, and in particular the male viewer’s gaze. “The naked female body has the problem of being sexualised, in the reductionist eyes of the male” and this has been a fear even with powerfully political work such as Landau’s.

In Part 3 the female bodies seem to follow the design of the male ideal; Benigson can reduce the size of her waist while her chest enlarges; Schleiner dresses up a la Lara Croft to play Moot out on the street, until they seem no more realistic than “mannequins”, or blow-up dolls. Found believes their work represents an “exposure” of this problematic body which is such a pervasive image in our contemporary psychology. ‘ReCreation’ looks to the future in recognising that women artist’s still must fight for the female body, but that the body at the centre of the struggle has changed, it has been ReCreated.

ReCreation might lack the “celebrity names” of Tracey Emin and Cecily Brown which made Part 1 and 2 a draw, but Found suspects that this concluding part will generate the largest response: “I think journalists recognise that this is cutting edge, something new.”  One day we will look back at the phenomenon of digital and internet art and The Body in Women’s Art Now: ReCreation will be somewhere at the beginning of it all.

The Body in Women’s Art Now, Part 3:Recreation will be at the ROLLO Gallery, London until the 2nd March 2012

This is a copy of an interview originally published on The Flaneur (

The WW Gallery’s fourth Patio Project is Australian artist, Kirsty Tinkler’s Face Off: ‘a mute dialogue between two buildings’ which explores society’s relationship, and reflection in, architecture. On the day that Kirsty finishes her install I head out in the cold after work to Hackney to interview her.

Kirsty’s work challenges directly the old argument that ‘art doesn’t have a function’. She’s interested in chimneys which we no longer use, fake fireplaces, coving and pilasters and porticoes, which are merely ‘façade and ornamentation’. As an Australian, confronted by unfamiliar architecture, she recognises London ‘deceiving’ and ‘excluding’ its residents and visitors. Appearing older and more opulent than its reality, London’s architecture represents ‘politics’ and ‘power’.

Face Off, (c) Kirsty Tinkler, 2012

I am glad that she brings up the word ‘psychogeography’ first. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine, and like a religion, I don’t feel comfortable forcing it upon anyone. ‘Feminism’ for example, I immediately retract; she objects to her work being described as ‘masculine’, but she is not a feminist.

But Kirsty freely admits to the psychogeographic nature of her practice. She is a voracious stroller of city streets, scavenging with her eyes for architectural ornamentation and collecting these details for salvage. The ‘psychology of architecture’ is fundamental to her work, particularly as an Australian living in London. Impressions are molded, carved, chipped, and chiseled into her visual memory, stored away for later. The latex on the front of Face off is an impression, a direct molding of the window it faces, its visual traces on the memory reshaped in Kirsty’s studio.

In Face Off we see ‘facades melting’; the grand Victorian bay window of WW is presented with a reflection in which its face is slipping off.  Its latex mask revealing wood, concrete and rope beneath. The ‘rawness’ of the leftover materials, the honesty of construction.

Face Off, (c) Kirsty Tinkler, 2012

I ask Kirsty if she would ever work on a scale such as Anish Kapoor’s. She almost recoils, ‘grand gestures are out of favour’ she says. She can see Kapoor’s Olympic creation from her studio window and all she can think of is the waste of public money.

Kirtsy believes in recycling, her sculptures have always been temporary and she often re-uses material between projects. Face Off is already beckoning to be reclaimed, and reshaped into the next thing, just as any building welcomes renovation, new owners, and new purpose. Like a billboard advertising itself, like a folly built merely for its aesthetic decoration; the project is the realisation of her current preoccupations, and facing a window, confronts what might perhaps be her next obsession.

The sense of being within, but also distinctly without, is Face Off’s most affective impression. From the pavement it looks as though we are inside the window. But Face Off is a screen which fails to enclose us, and leaves us with the realisation that we are outside still, facing an interior we do not have access to. A gallery which is now closed, while it relocates, has only the patio left to offer its artists and visitors. WW keeps us out in the cold.

Face Off, (c) Kirsty Tinkler, 2012

But there is something important about this small patio space where Tinkler’s Face Off is forced to strain its neck looking up at the windows. WW just looks like another house on a residential street, Kirsty’s Face Off is just another addition to the neighborhood; likely to attract as much attention from residents passing by, as it will from pilgrim psycogeographers. The Hackney pub where we meet for our interview, The Three Sisters, has been Kirsty’s respite from the biting cold while she installs and waits for late interviewers, and is also the location of the Private View. Kirsty’s sculpture has a real sense of locality, and of inclusivity, that has succeeded in demolishing the ‘politics’ of faceless architecture.

2nd-26th February, open 24 hours.

WW Patio Project, 30 Queensdown Road, Hackney, E5 8NN

This is a copy of an interview originally written for The Flaneur (

This week, after almost a year of work, Daniel Kelly’s play The Pirates of Carthage will finally make it out of the studio and onto the radio waves before moving to the stage at The Nellie Dean in Soho next week.

I go to meet Daniel Kelly in his Bow Road studio in the East of London. Newly moved in, with a couple of artist friends, the space is still sparse although it has got a newly built mezzanine. Kelly is tall, he’s wearing a fuzzy Russian hat, and a slightly paint bespattered tartan jacket with a silky scarf. He looks appropriately arty, but then it’s also a ploy to keep warm. With jasmine tea, and a heater between us, we begin to chat about The Pirates of Carthage.

This is ‘A play about Tunisia, Twitter and the power of the people’. But to describe it simply as a play is a little misleading, as Kelly explains; he is primarily a visual artist and this hasn’t been about leaving all that behind to become a writer. The Pirates of Carthage would be more accurately described as a multimedia artistic project; an interactive series of performances across media, based on a collage of tweets, quotations from Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbo, Tunisian hip-hop, and a video montage of internet surveillance.  On Thursday 12th January at 8pm a live interactive radio performance will be broadcast on Resonance FM (, on the 14th there will be a live streaming (, 4.30pm), and from the 16th there will be performances at the Nellie Dean in Soho.

Kelly sees his new project as having roots in his earlier practice of collaging in painting. The artistic development involved in The Pirates of Carthage, from painter to multimedia artist, was necessary in order to respond to Kelly’s inspiration; the powerful utilization of Twitter during the Tunisian uprising which led to the overthrow of the prime minister in January last year. Perhaps like many people, Kelly watched the Tunisian people revolting via Twitter in awe.  Feeling the need to respond he began by taking photographs from the newspapers and working them into paintings, but this seemed too simple. He had to use the tweets at the centre of the story, and it was essential that they were read aloud. Flaubert’s Salammbo, which is included as excerpts from an audio tape, adds historical resonance to our sense of the significance of the recent uprising.

The demands of the project have forced Kelly to become a playwright, a producer, to collaborate with aDirector and actors, with Tunisians and activists, and to become a brilliant self-publicist and galvanizer of willing friends. And what kind of a manager has he been? ‘I’m usually quite a relaxed person but I have found myself getting quite stressed at rehearsals. So now, I don’t have a coffee beforehand, I’m trying to be more calm.’

There is a lot of Kelly in the project. If you go to the Nellie Dean you’ll find in the introductory visuals, the eye of the artist staring back at you. By filming his screen as he used the internet and layering this into a video montage, Kelly sifts through the accessible data of the web; BBC News, newspapers, Youtube videos of Glee asking ‘Who Run the World’?, and soft porn, until we gradually see him focusing in on the Tunisian conflict; images of Sidi Bouzid, news stories, twitter feeds. Kelly says he had to ask himself who ‘was I to be making a political work about the Tunisian conflict?’ But the video demonstrates that we all have access to this public history, and that the internet and Kelly’s play are powerful ways of understanding it.

The whole journey and artistic process has been documented on Twitter. In fact when I check on my way home a new update reads ‘Just done an interview for @flaneurzine buzzzzzzzin’ with the obligatory #pcarthage.

Kelly’s play has been devised from the archives of the Tunisian conflict’s history on Twitter, and now Kelly’s play in turn has its own digital, trackable, archive. With a kind of essential circularity Kelly pays tribute to his work’s genesis by hashtagging  ‘ #sidibouzid and connecting himself back to the conception of the conflict. Of the original Tweeters; Kacem4, has created and managed the project’s blog, and a Guardian commentator will now be in the performance. This is a homage, above all, to the awe the uprising instilled in people.

If Kelly has an ambition, it is that his work can honour the original sense of collaboration and community, to prove Twitter to be as significant an artistic tool as it is political. He doesn’t believe that artists are particularly engaged with technology; they aren’t exploiting, as Kelly has, the potential of platforms such as Twitter.  ‘We didn’t use the internet when I was at school’ perhaps it is only now ‘that a new generation of technologically-engaged artists is emerging.’  With a glitter in his eye, it’s exciting to think that he might be one of the first.

At the end of the Resonance FM streaming, the audience can interact by tweeting, and Kelly hopes that many of these will come from Tunisia. With any luck #pcarthage will also be trending. He likes the idea that it will be the Twitter archive, and not the book he is producing, which will survive for posterity and represent the legacy of The Pirates of Carthage. The play proves that what we so frequently see as the ‘disposable’ ‘throwaway’ comments on Twitter are actually far more concrete and lasting; ‘perhaps in years to come the internet will seem more real than any of the physical relics of our time and historians will be looking at Twitter.’

Radio Performance- 12th January, 8.00pm (GMT) 104.4fm

Live Stream- 14th January, 4.30pm

Play- 16, 17, 23 and 24 January, 7.30pm. The Nellie Dean of Soho, tickets 5 pounds (80 Dean Street, W1D 3SU)

Artist Talk- 21 January, 7.00pm

ticket booking: