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Monthly Archives: June 2012

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The latest exhibition at the WW Gallery has succeeded in returning me to feminism in its wild and wicked exploration of ‘Strange Hungers’, particularly those which are most taboo. I interviewed Sadie about where the inspiration for her work comes from, and whether she considers herself a feminist artist. I wouldn’t usually ask any artist what their favourite piece of work was, but it felt acceptable with works like ‘Little Darlings’ and ‘Mother Love’ suggesting such disdainful affection.

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Sadie Hennessy’s ‘Strange Hungers’ is not the kind of quiet exhibition that needs to be teased apart or coaxed into the confession of its secrets. The show is a Freudian wonderland of sex and sexual suggestion which brazenly reveals all and joyfully pushes us towards the uncomfortably intimate. A series of censored prints are arranged on a high shelf as we enter the gallery as if they are x-rated magazines tucked away in a newsagents, a rocking horse has been reimagined as a sex toy, and even the most seemingly romantic and nostalgic of pieces, A Celebration of Old Roses (i-iv), have vaginas budding at the centre of their roses in a witty act of de-flowering. Sadie admits to being drawn to objects which are ‘a bit disturbing in some way’; her hybrid collages and assemblages make combinations which are unsettlingly surreal, and yet all of this wicked creativity is performed with an outrageous sense of fun and humour.

Can you explain your practice as an artist?

I use collage, print and assemblage to express my ideas. I like to reflect the things I encounter in my everyday life, my source material comes from the mundanity of everyday life, but ultimately I twist or subvert this. I aim to elicit a jolt of recognition with my work, but also a little gasp of surprise or distaste. I also like to use humour, usually from the blacker end of the comic spectrum.

Where does the inspiration for your work come from? 

God who knows? Just an over-active imagination and a febrile mind.  I am compelled to make work pretty much all of the time (or at least to be thinking about it .) Everything I do seems to ignite ideas in my head.

The exhibition text quotes you writing of ‘the (unanswered) mating call, or at least the rallying cry, of the aging woman as she grows old disgracefully.’ What made you want to explore lusts and desires, particularly those of older women?

As I’ve got older I’ve been made aware of how quickly ones ‘allure’, formerly taken for granted, evaporates.  I was warned of this, as I suppose many women are, but didn’t really understand it. I remember my mother talking of becoming ‘invisible’ after the age of 45 and I didn’t believe her – but it turns out, worse luck- that ‘mother is always right!’

Would you consider yourself a feminist artist? 

For me it would go without saying that I am a feminist and so therefore a feminist artist.  I can’t imagine that many women of my generation, having come of age in the 80’s, would see themselves otherwise.  I do think the goalposts have shifted for feminists, and the sexual arena is certainly one place where feminism seems to have muddied the waters of heterosexual desire/attraction making the whole rigmarole even more complex than it ever was.

What British cultural values are you seeking to examine or attack with this body of work? 

I’m not sure I would ever attack British cultural values.  I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to live in this country at this point in history.  My work tends to celebrate a notional ‘Englishness’ but I take a rather tongue-in-cheek stance in relation to this.  I suppose I might be gently teasing a certain British prudery, the Mary Whitehouse brigade as they used to be known, and my ‘Place Mats’ might be sending up a certain twee suburban-ness, but on the whole I think if anything I’m celebrating Britishness in my work

Where does your interest in pornography in the show come from?

I am very interested in the absurdity of things that aren’t trying to be absurd.  That is where my interest in pornography stems from – for someone not especially interested in pornography, the whole pornographic world seems so perfunctory and silly (see ‘Genital-Free Porno’).  I love puncturing the bubble of importance that surrounds certain things; rituals, objects, people, in order to deflate the innate pomposity of them.

Do you have any favourites from the exhibition? 

That’s a funny question, like asking me which of my children I like best!  However, I have to say that I am particularly fond of ‘Big Night Out’ (Zimmer frame piece) because when I had finished it, it actually made me laugh out loud – and that can’t be bad can it?

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 I woke up yesterday morning to this article on Abstract Critical about the current Henry Moore exhibition at the Britannia Street Gagosian. A scathing and cynical review of what the writer described as an exhibition of ‘turds on a plaza.’  I decided that, despite the review, I had to go see it.

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 I grew up not far from Perry Green and so I am familiar with Moore’s super-natural forms rising out of green fields and grazing sheep. My curiosity for the exhibition came from a desire to see them transplanted into a white cube setting. 

I have an uneasy relationship with Henry Moore and so I don’t blame John Holland for his disparaging review; there are times when I feel disgust at the largeness of Moore’s public sculptures created by a team of assistants, or I see him held up for comparison with Picasso and feel only despair. None of these things are critical or relevant in the case of Gagosian’s Large Late Forms. This is the art world’s version of a magic trick and its effect negates any intellectual reaction with an intense and surreal sensation of awe.

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Moore’s sculptures (or should we call them monuments? They feel much bigger than sculptures) have a powerful relationship to negative space; their form originates in the odd, weathered holes of found flints, the loops and hoops and handles which make one piece of rock a natural sculpture while others are not.

In the fields these holes become viewfinders, shifting with the rhythms of the Hertfordshire landscape. In the matt white and shiny grey of Gagosian there is no comparable feature on the landscape, they look entirely alien, beached, stranded in the strikingly unfamiliar.

The best works here are the biggest, they only grow larger in the gallery space. They are suddenly more impressive, restless even, like giants bent under low roofs. The exhibition is exciting if only for that giddyingly odd sensation of seeing Moore’s Large Late Forms in a contemporary gallery. Our instinct is always to touch these giants, as Moore intended, but everyone is cautious here. The quiet reverence, the gallery attendants dressed like bouncers in black, all make me wonder if it is still acceptable.

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I went to the White Cube determined to hate Damien Hirst’s paintings, ready for ridicule. And yet my first reaction, in that vast shiny space, was to like them.

There were parrots in pretty pleasing colours, and magpies which I happen to like a lot, sorrowful singular symbols that they are. I also like the colour blue, particularly in midnight shades, and this was the rich and dominant palette. In my time I have been known to dabble in a little sponge printing, and there were lots of quite appealing pink -sponged butterflies flitting all over Damien Hirst’s canvases. If I ignored the odd looking foetuses and shark jaws, I feel I could quite happily live with some of these on my walls.

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But any artist who can demand such hefty price-tags, one of the biggest names in contemporary art with a concurrent sell-out retrospective at the Tate Modern, is not merely trying to be pleasing. Hirst’s paintings are undeserving of such critical generosity.

Hirst’s paintings have all the grand delusions of his oeuvre, the familiar references to the impossibly big questions of life and death (foetuses can symbolise both life and death, do you get it?) without any of the technical skill to make them convincing.

The works make eager gestures towards traditional motifs in the art historical canon, the PR suggests they ‘could be seen as traditional still life’ and memento mori, but stumble in overreaching themselves. When Hirst picks up a citrus fruit I worry that he might be invoking Picasso and feel a little queasy. Hirst can’t paint perspectives, he can’t paint foetuses or shark jaws and what the press release describes as a purposeful shift between ‘clarity and impasto’ to brush strokes which are ‘hazy and faint, as if they are somehow more insubstantial,’ just comes across as a lack of skill.

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There is a part of me that thinks, as though Hirst were a wayward pupil of mine, that I shouldn’t discourage him from spending time alone in his studio in Devon, getting back to the basics of his craft. Isn’t the limited company and the factory-like workforce the thing that irks us most about the Hirst-industry?

But it’s not just that is it? It’s the ego. And I am happy to say that we live in a world where people are allowed to say mean things about rich men.

I may have got a little caught up in the critical vehemence and the climate of disdain which has currently made Damien Hirst the baddie of the art world, but why not? Read Jonathan Jones for the perfectly pitched review of hate.

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As to the rumour that the value of a Hirst could decrease after his retrospective? Well all economies are proportionately boom and bust. It’s fair to say that Hirst has been gifted a fairly genrous boom, and therefore not unfair to predict a sizable bust. But no recessionary period lasts forever, no matter how slow and grim it might seem, so don’t feel too sorry for Damien.

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For my roves and roams column this week I got back in touch with my love and curiosity for Latin American Art. There is humour and solemnity in almost everything Cuban curator, Orlando Hernández, had to say about the exhibition he curated with London’s Breese Little gallery. Read the interview to delve a little deeper into Cuba’s social history, and the bright eye-catching work of artists Elio Rodríguez and Douglas Pérez Castro: http://www.rovesandroams.com/2012/06/orlando-hernandez/

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‘After all, once we arrive at a certain point, concepts are as useful as a rotten banana skin. It is then that we should dispose of the skin, so we can savour the fruit, that is to say, the work of art, little by little, which ultimately is what really interests us.’ ‘The Cannibal/Carnival of Elio Rodríguez and Douglas Pérez Castro’ Orlando Hernández, 2012

It’s easy to force exoticism upon Latin American art, to talk about the tropical colours, or the hot sticky influences of Latin temperatures. However in the case of Breese Little’s Cannibal/Carnival, guest curated by Orlando Hernández, Cuban curator, critic and author, it’s not inappropriate to draw on the bright cultural contrasts.

By making himself lead character of his posters Elio Rodríguez is deliberately teasing us with the exotic; in ‘Gone with The Macho’ a voluptuous blonde played by ‘any tourist’ swoons in the arms of Elio the black hero, all to the suggested soundtrack of La Lupe. This is Gone With the Wind gone tropical. Douglas Pérez Castro’s carnival of influences and interests is similarly provocative in its estrangement of the familiar. In Competitive Market (2011) Cuban soldiers seem to throw up shadows of the Big Bad Wolf. Douglas’ paintings are colonized by foreign symbols and signifiers which come from his own, varied interests.

It is this spirit of colour and play and sharp critique, suggestively captured in the title, which makes the exhibition uniquely captivating in the London landscape. I spoke with Orlando Hernández in an attempt to get beneath the banana skin of the exhibition, to savour its fruit.

There seems to have been greater interest in Latin American art over the past few years, why do you think this is?

It is quite difficult to know the true reason behind this situation. In some cases the Latin-American art (and Cuban art in particular) could be seen as a fresh art investment, and in terms of aesthetic values, as a new and original way to think and represent the same old human affairs as always. People say postmodernist ideology ignores the idea of originality but, as you know, it is a lie. Every artist wants to be original, unique, and to seduce all the audiences they possibly can with their work. Not simply to be famous or well recognized but to sell their works for a good price, of course. We can’t underestimate the economic side of the question, which is a strong motivation in driving any change regarding art.  Remember what happened with Chinese art some years ago. In the end, only the best art, and the best artists survive and go beyond the momentary attraction.  

Can you explain why you chose the artists, Douglas and Elio, for this particular exhibition?

Douglas and Elio are two artists interested in making intelligent and witty commentaries on the complex history of our society, our culture, and in discussing socio-political and racial issues. For me all this is very important. Art must say something to people, and not simply appear as beautiful or mysterious or shocking objects, which neither keep the viewer amused nor function as a part of the interior decoration.  I think the work of Douglas and Elio says a lot of things.

What drew you to the themes of cannibalism and carnivalism, and in what ways are they interrelated in Elio and Douglas’ work?

Both terms came from different cultural environments, but are not exactly from the ancient real practices of eating human flesh, or dancing in the streets with extravagant disguises!! They are mere conceptual issues. The term “cannibalism” was used metaphorically by the Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade in the 20s to make reference to the necessity of creating an authentic national culture by devouring everything around, not only the native or vernacular cultures (in their case the cultures from all the ethnic groups from the Brazilian Amazonian rain forest and the cultures from Africa brought to America for the slave trade) but also western culture, which had been imposed by the European colonizer. With regard to the term “carnivalism”, it was also used as a metaphor by the Russian theoretician Mijail Bajtin in the 40s to make reference to literary creation as a way of rejecting the norm, the establishment, so, this is a kind of popular discourse of liberation. The spirit of the carnival would be the best way to understand and reflect upon the multiplicity of reality.  I have used also these two terms metaphorically; cannibal and carnival (which attracted me first because they are phonetically very similar) as a way to make clear two of the principal characteristics of Elio and Douglas´s artistic methods. But as I explained in the little essay which accompanies this show, I recognize that the use of these two concepts is not enough, it is only a superficial approach and from here we all have to go deeper still.

Why do you think that carnivalism seems like an appropriate medium for tackling difficult social issues or problems in Cuba?

The spirit of humour, the jokes, the irony, and the festive spirit of the carnival have been used historically by Cubans as the best tools to keep us alive and smiling in spite of difficulties, oppressive situations, the scarcity, the authoritarian ideology, the repression, the censorship, etc.  But I agree that it also has been our worst tool. Actually, perhaps we are the only society in the world which does not have a citizen protest movement, or strikes, etc. It seems like we were living in the best world possible, without any reason to be annoyed or irritated, which is totally absurd and sad.

There seem to be Western art historical references in Elio and Douglas’ work, in what ways do you think some art is universal?

Both artists are very well informed about the history of western art, but they are also informed by and concerned with a great variety of local situations, and know how to use the “universal” to speak about the “local”, and vice versa. In my opinion, art must be local in order to reach the so called universal rank.  But it is only my personal opinion and I am not a philosopher. Even in abstract painting, you can identify when the work of one artist came from France, America, etc. It is inevitable that we belong to a concrete and particular place, to a particular culture; despite this we all belong to the human genre and to Mother Earth.

 

Cannibal/Carnival will be at Breese Little until the 21st July http://www.breeselittle.com/#/future-cannibalcarnival/4561535841

I’ve been working with the Psychological Art Circus this month for their upcoming performances of Illusions of Reference, Ob.12. While there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the performances I’ve had a couple of tantalising glimpses when rehearsals and marketing meetings overlap, and I’m convinced these will be very exciting events. 

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Illusions of Reference sees Psychological Art Circus combining spectacular surrealistic aerial storytelling with intimate live art installation. Featuring the astounding real-time animated digital sceneography of Jaime Valtierra & Prasanth Visweswaran, a Routemaster bus, and live performances from two of PAC’s original co-founding stars, Andrea Meneses Guerrero and Dagmara Bilon, Illusions of Reference promises to ignite the imaginations of all ages and exceed all possible expectations.

Taking inspiration from the enigma of the Delphic Oracle, Illusions of Reference is a highly original and stimulating performance from a company with an established reputation for presenting their “spell-binding mixture of superb theatre, special effects and how-do-they-do-that acrobatics” (The Londonist). With a revelatory and innovative mix of aerial, mime, sound and projections, these mid-summer shows will be a chance to catch the Psychological Art Circus further pushing the boundaries of circus, theatre and art.

 

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PAC was co-founded in London 2004 since when they have shown work in Colombia and across Europe in France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, and Romania.

 

“[I] could not fail to be impressed by the gradual unfolding of drama and tension, and the seemingly casual insertion of incredible circus skills into the performance

BBC/DNA Collective

 

Tickets: £8, £5 concessions

 

Online Ticket Sales: http://psychologicalartcircus.eventbrite.co.uk/