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Monthly Archives: May 2012

 

For my latest article with roves and roams I visited performance artist, Robert Luzar, in the last days of his exhibition at the Kingsgate Workshop. Robert was a challenge to interview because he is sunk in the theory of his PhD, but I enjoy a challenge and I think the article is testament to the understanding that came from our meeting.

 

The full interview can be read below.

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On the 2nd June the artist Robert Luzar will perform Pinching Until Skin Deep outside Reading Town Hall in a live-art event organised by roves and roams. Reading Luzar’s artist statement and his own writing about his work it is possible to feel overwhelmed by the dense conceptual art speak. The intangibility of performance art and the complex and considered thinking-through which Luzar experiences through performing, make his work more difficult to grasp from a distance than any of the other artists I have interviewed.

It is fortuitous that I decide to interview Luzar on the second to last day of his exhibition with Martin Lewis at the Kingsgate Workshop, Insisting Over Skin, Drawing After Surface.  I get the chance to perform his works for myself, initiating the unique thought processes by leaning forward to match a knot of wood with its pencilled second half on the gallery floor (Sitting, Leaning, and Aligning Two Knots From a Post To A Ground, 2012) or gently whispering ‘who’ to the wall (Say Who(ooo), 2012).

Luzar began as a painter but gradually moved off the canvas and onto the floor, “I was looking at the body, its postures, and how it became somehow sculptural. This is when I found myself close to a form of drawing with the body, what I call performance-drawing.” Sometimes Luzar draws with his own body, and at other moments he tricks us into making a re-drawing.  It is only through engaging in a physical act that the viewer is able to make sense of the work: “There is a question behind what I do but not necessarily a concept. When I start I have an idea, but I wouldn’t define it as a vision or a fully formed concept. I use performance to create my works, I walk into a space and I try to pay attention to the things that I am doing.”

The work A View Over a Single Spot Until a Period Comes Apart, a projection and etching in plywood, arose from Luzar slowly shifting his head around in the Kingsgate space. It is only in recognising this original action that the piece seems to become more than just a shadow on plywood. The instructions which Luzar leaves his audience enable us to tune into his thinking and engage in a sympathetic exploration and investigation of our own.

Is the audience’s reaction important? “Not always,” confesses Luzar, “you lose the audience when you are in your own space during a performance. Your fascination with the work can lead to a kind of delirium. There is always vulnerability and exposure in this kind of work, but you can’t see its effect when you are working because you are totally absorbed in the act.”

The nature of performance art means that any artist has to struggle with the instinctive desire for record and legacy. The word ‘gramee’ has become a kind of pseudonym for Luzar, he doesn’t completely understand the magnetic pull of the word and perhaps he ever will. It seems to me that it is a subconscious choice, which doesn’t need investigation in itself, it productively leads to a reflection on his practice: “‘Gramee’ doesn’t just mean trace, it has connotations of weight, of subtraction and erasure too.”

The oxymoron at the heart of gramee’s etymology expresses the essential tension in Luzar’s work. As an example he tells me about a previous work, Placing a Pause By Kneeling & Staring at Two Holes: “By kneeling on memory foam the viewer brings makes a single point from two pinholes on the wall. The work happens in the leaning, the dots come together and you have made a mark in the memory foam. But both things are temporary, it all disappears. The whole process has made you go cross-eyed, and perhaps somebody else has witnessed you leaning. But it comes close to barely any mark.“ What’s left is a story, a means of articulating a question through action, the realisation of an idea which may or may not lead to something else.  “Sometimes the work does leave me anonymous,” Luzar concedes, “but I’m not interested in being a persona.”

For Pinching Until Skin Deep, this year’s drought and hose-pipe ban has led Luzar away from his key work, Weathered, to the realisation of a new performance which he believes will do something more critical.  Like Weathered this performance will be an exhaustive process and an exploration of what happens to the body during a task under the strain of endurance.  This 5 hour performance in which Luzar will grapple and wrestle with body-sized pieces of white paper will reflect upon contamination, but we can’t understand much more than this yet. The work will happen in the performance, and Luzar will see where it leads.

 

I was a little early for a meeting in Hoxton Square and decided to make up the time inside the White Cube. Liza Lou’s solo show, which finishes on Saturday, was a beautiful retreat from the baking streets.

There would have been a time when the idea of art without pleasure was simply incomprehensible. But pleasure in its purest form is often alien to contemporary artists. Liza Lou’s bead paintings are not afraid to revel and wallow or to indulge in a girlish lust for beads. I am something of a magpie myself and swoon at the glittering beaded surfaces.

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The strength of the show though is in its rejection of pure glitter for abstraction, minimalism and conceptualism. Painters such as Agnes Martin and Georges Seurat are referenced in the gradations of beads, the rough squares of colours or meditative and blended stripes. It is incredible how much like a painting a surface of laboriously applied beads can appear. 

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However the best works are those which play with texture; overlapping cascades of weighty beads, or veils and drapes which heavily hang over the frame of an empty canvas. The beads also offer a structure which allow Liza Lou to explore the idea of painting in 3D and to create works which are tantalisingly sculptural.

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Adeline De Monseignat

Last night the winner of the Catlin Art Prize was announced, Julia Vogl won the judges vote and Adeline De Monseignat’s hairy eyeballs were the favourites of the public. You can read my interview with the curator about the prize here.

The word ‘curator’ originally comes from the Latin meaning ‘overseer, manager, guardian’; it doesn’t seem clear to me how we derived our contemporary version of the title from the Latin. With a focus on creativity and intellectualism, curation is also a buzz-word my MS Word dictionary does not yet recognise. The cultural kudos of the profession now puts curators directly in the spotlight with the artists, while they were once no more than geeky archivists and book-swots hiding away in dark wood-panelled rooms. Yet Justin Hammond, curator of the Catlin Art Prize, convinces me that the contemporary curator can still be true to the more humble Latin job description.

Hammond describes curating as “putting your head above the parapet; you are making a statement about what you think is good and hoping that people agree with you.” Hammond’s sense of being in the firing line is indicative of his relationship to this year’s group of Catlin finalists, as curator-‘guardian’. The prize was originally set up 6 years ago in order to support newly graduated artists making the jump between the debut of their degree shows and the dizzying sea of the art world. Hammond found that he was really passionate about supporting the work of exciting new graduates and he has entirely devoted himself to this cause. Now he finds himself dedicated to a “never-ending cycle of degree shows, studio visits, and meetings with artists until the Catlin exhibition produces a finalist and the process begins all over again.”

Hammond doesn’t seem weary at the thought. His energy and passion comes from “the pleasure of working with such intelligent artists who are continually giving me an insight into their thought process.” Hammond can see that his “tastes are changing” and that he is learning from the artists he meets, he explains that before his studio visit with Tom Howse he just couldn’t quite fathom his work.  Now his naïve paintings are eerily lit in the dim light of the LondonNewcastle space and Hammond has to concede “I just really like them.”

As he takes me around this year’s exhibition he shares the stories he has collected: of the performance and residency behind Greta Alfaro’s Invención triptych of meringue church-interiors; or of Adeline de Monseignat’s found vintage furs, once belonging to a woman named Loleta, and now uneasily breathing from within the HEB; and hesitantly, under instructions not to give away too much, of Soheila Sokhanvari’s cryptic ‘TPAJAX’ which requires Googling before the taxidermied horse and jesmonite underbelly can be decoded. As curator, Hammond forms the connecting links between this group of artists.

There are two main spaces in the London Newcastle Project Space, the “domestic space” where Hammond explains that dim, informal lighting and Julia Vogl’s interactive corner ‘Let’s Hang Out’ are all incentives for visitors to pause and do just as Vogl’s coloured patches of carpet suggest, ‘hang-out’. Hammond believes that Vogl’s participatory art works made her “fundamental” to his vision for the exhibition, while Tom Howse’s cat paintings and Max Dovey’s solemn VHS tapes commemorating the end of analogue TV are all part of the homely furnishings.

In the back room we are presented with “more of a statement, and a challenge.” The scale of the works shifts; Gabriella Boyd’s epic orange-bleached canvases, Jonny Brigg’s large-scale family narratives and Alfaro’s reverent prints confidently fill the desert stretches of wall-space.

Hammond curates the Catlin Art Prize by forming “cores” of artists who he believes will work well together. The shortlist is decided with the exhibition space already in mind, curated for the architecture, and Hammond strives for a coherent exhibition which will not put the artists in direct competition. The fact that this year’s shortlist are about to set up a crit group can only be testament to Hammond’s successful curatorial alchemy.

After six years Hammond admits that he feels the pressure of putting on something fresh, and he continually changes his venue in an attempt never to get too comfortable. This year’s show is anything but comfortable; “I didn’t notice it at first, but the exhibition feels more slick than a graduate show, it is more accomplished.” This is partly down to Hammond’s “natural attraction to work with a focus on skilled craftsmanship”; Ali Kazim’s Self Portraits and the heart sculpted from his own hair are delicate and subtle, “as delicate as Kazim himself,” Hammond laughs, but they are certainly not timid or unsure.

Considering this is a group of graduates, there is nothing anxious or tentative about any of the work. Adeline De Monseignat’s hairy breathing eye balls are disturbingly convincing, her HEB beach might only occupy an alcove of the gallery but an entire sci-fi world can be viewed from this corner. ‘Bananas’ and ‘Girl Cruising’ openly celebrate with courage and joy, the certainty of Gabriella Boyd’s skill. They live-up to my secondary school art teacher’s maxim that the bigger, the better, the more confident; the canvases grow with the artist. The Catlin Art Prize might not feel like a graduate show, but that is exactly what it is, and that is justification enough for Justin Hammond to keep searching.

 

From Wednesday of this week the WW Gallery’s celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, ‘Diamond Geezer’ will be open for everyone to revel in! Image

In commemoration of the Jubilee year, the WW Gallery are pleased to present ‘Diamond Geezer’, a group show of works responding to the imagery and iconography of the Queen throughout her reign.

The exhibition explores the ‘guilty pleasures’ of Jubilee celebrations: street parties, memorabilia, and all the joys of revelling in the high-camp of that very British of institutions, the monarchy. The works in the exhibition are kinds of souvenirs; pieces of jewellery, posters and prints, busts and portraits, which appear to be cashing-in on Jubilee-fever, and yet do so with more than a hint of playful cheek.

While the work is sometimes provocative with a familiar post-punk irony, the exhibition’s true interest lies in the paradox of our national ambivalence. Exploring how one can be politically opposed to the idea of the monarchy and yet nostalgically enamoured with everything the spectre of Royalty conjures up in our popular consciousness, ‘Diamond Geezer’ celebrates our freedom to laud and loathe our sovereign as we so choose.

“In principle I am opposed to the idea of monarchy, and believe that for however long this family endures as both a real and symbolic model of inherited hereditary wealth, equality can never be fully achieved. Yet, at the same time I find myself dazzled and nostalgically involved with the spectre of royalty, the shameless girly attractions of glittering unattainable baubles, delicately embroidered yesteryear dresses, twinkling diamond tiaras, the Gosford-Downton-Abbey-Parkville of vast country houses with masters, mistresses and maids. The whole gaudy lah-di-dah monarchical miasma which exists in the realms of both the imaginary and the drag and beauty queening of high camp. As Susan Sontag notes ‘People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “camp” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling’. Alex Michon, ‘Lèse majeste’, Garageland No.11 (winter/spring 2011)

Over the weekend I went to Oslo. It sleeted while I was asleep so that I could wake up to unexpected sunshine. Apart from ferries across the Oslofjord to deserted islands, the other joy of the trip was the city’s fabulous architecture. Nothing more stunning perhaps, than the Opera House on the waterfront. I can’t help it, all those white surfaces catching the blue sky, it had me enchanted. Here are some photographs.Image

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On Thursday night the new Patio Project, Evy Jokhova’s String-scape, opens at the WW Gallery. If you want to come along you can find more info here. I think I will be popping along to the opening of Tainted Love at Transition Gallery on that evening too!

With String-scape, Evy Jokhova weaves a representation of the urban landscape, drawing on the rich architectural legacy of the East End and traces of the city’s past.

From the heavy bombing during the Blitz, to the modern regeneration of the 50s and 60s and the recent Olympic redevelopments, the weight of this history achieves lightness through a series of performances drawing in space with coloured string.

Lying somewhere between a 3D model, a virtual mapping, and an architectural drawing, the work touches upon the disparity between the beauty of a plan and its day-to-day realisation.