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Monthly Archives: October 2012

I recently went to see Christ Ofili’s exhibition at Victoria Miro with an East London Fawcett art tour. I had fun writing a review for the CAN Journal.

I am about to do something which will either seem quite clever or very foolish: I’m going to compare Chris Ofili to Pablo Picasso.

If you look closely enough the parallels are there.  Take for instance, Chris Ofili‘s 90s obsession with embellishing his paintings with elephant dung, and compare it with Picasso’s own comment that the pigeon  droppings which decorated the paintings stored in the atelier of an apartment on Rue de la Boetie created “an interesting unpremeditated effect.”

But animal shit is really the least of their connections.

 

The comparison struck me at Ofili’s current show at Victoria Miro, to take and to give which brings together “a substantial suite of paintings and works on paper” inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and produced as part of a collaboration with the National Gallery and the Royal Opera House. Here I thought of Picasso’s collaboration with the Ballet Russes on Parade and Le Train Bleu which led to incredible cubist costumes and sets, his marriage to dancer, Olga Khoklova, and a series of of Picasso’s own etchings and illustrations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Comparisons should strive to be generative rather than merely indicative. In this case it generates a picture of where Ofili is at in his career and what significance this might hold from an art historical perspective. Ofili’s 2010 Tate Britain show proved that the YBA and former Turner Prize winner had spent a good long time maturing in the heat of Trinidad and had emerged from night-time jungle walks a painter with a future as well as a past, the works on show at Victoria Miro show Ofili confidently settling into this future.

to take and to give is a beautiful show, both energetic and lyrical, exploratory and decisive. The real opera d’art is off stage and out of focus in a now past exhibition at the National Gallery, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, and yet like many of Picasso’s studies, Ofili’s experiments and working studies are independently captivating.

Inspired by Ovid’s story of Diana & Actaeon and dancers from the Royal Opera House, Ofili’s collaboration has sparked frenzied work and an exciting new corpus for fans to devour. While the Hound‘s heads, with their puppet like photo-collaging, and the viciously surreal Nymphs, all communicate the wildness of a cannibalisitc myth, the cut paper portraits of Diana and Actaeon suggest all the elegance of the ballet’s performance of this.

There is an absolute sense of Ofili’s confidence in his line, a line which follows the speed and strength of movement and transforms it into the telling of myth. Study for Ovid-Desire, luxuriously patterned and framed, negotiates the feeling and submission to desire in the direction of line alone. There is a style to these drawings which now feels fully developed and completely Ofili’s own.

When the studies work up to colour they take on the grandness of the ballet. The smaller works in watercolour, charcoal and pastel are patchworks of the incredible colour palette Ofili developed in Trinidad, and they bring the strength of a single artist’s mythos to bear on an all-pervasive story. It is to take and to give of course, the giant acrylic on canvas, which is the centrepiece of the show; a mountain of writhing coloured female flesh and an offering to the gods.

to take and to give will be at Victoria Miro until the 10 November

My love for Ofili goes back a long way to bad quality images on Google printed out for sketchbook studies. If you’re interested in hearing me wax lyrical about Ofili some more here’s an old post from an old blog about his Tate Britain show.

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Halfcut-Shelf-Life-725x1024Participation, as I may have suggested before, makes me nervous. Whether it’s art or theatre, the idea of having to be more than a silent, thoughtful viewer in the audience is enough to make me squirm with nervous tension.  This probably explains the beginning of my ‘Shelf-Life’ experience; blushing a deep red beneath a hard hat as I tried and rather spectacularly failed to blow up a balloon several times.

“Look after her, will you.” suggested one of the actors to my friend before we were sent off down an ambient red tunnel only to emerge from a giant fabric vagina into the giant hands of a doctor. Somehow surreal moments like this succeeded in curing me of my nervous giggles.

There was no need for me to feel like it was such a test, the silliness of Half Cut’s approach to philosophising on life endeared everyone to get involved; that and the skill of the actors in coaxing their participants into character whether they were nervously at the fringes of a wedding dance floor or remaining tight-lipped in group therapy. This was the ultimate beauty of Half Cut Company’s Shelf Life.

There was no particular mystery to the part I was required to play. This was a run-through of life and much of it was familiar; I felt especially comfortable being passed cheap wine in a polystyrene cup at a student party. That part, along with the cynicism of a recruitment company crushing my dreams of academia, felt quite close.

On the record book which I carried through my Shelf Life, along with my helium balloon, the disclaimer noted that part of the information I gave must be true. I could have given myself an entirely new persona, but it was difficult not to bring some real experience to the performance. Where did I want to live? Where did I want to go on holiday? Who did I want to be? All of these questions appealed to my instinctive desires as well as my imagination.

Shelf Life was not just about the individual, it was a collective promenade through the 5 levels of life and it was impossible not to respond to the collective. One participant in his 60s, Peter, seemed to come into his own as we reached the upper echelons of shelf life: “Shut the window” he demanded as we shuffled into our retirement home. As we were all herded out onto a balcony to release our shells (the helium balloons) into the cold autumn night, there was an affectionate chorus of “Shut the window!”. That was how we all ended our lives.

It interested to me to think about how our ages dictated or transformed each of our experiences. The programme suggested that the performance tackled the ‘meaninglessness’ of life, but it was its fleeting nature which struck me. One minute I was lauding it over all the single ladies at a wedding party, enjoying a cheeky kiss before being shipped off on a coach to middle-age. Then, at the next moment, I was sharing my anxieties in an Over-40s therapy session and wondering when everyone else in my group had the time to get married and have seven children. How had life passed me by so quickly? Why wasn’t I married?

I guess life can be like that.

Absurd and philosophical, Half Cut’s Shelf Life was ridiculously enjoyable. I recommend that you catch it while you still can.

Shelf Life will be at Theatre Delicatessan, Marylebone Gardens until the 10th Nov 2012. For more information visit theatredelicatessen.co.uk

Finally the word is spreading through the press and across the world about the results of East London Fawcett’s Frieze Art Audit.

 

 

All eyes were on London during Frieze Art Fair 2012 as it showcased the best the art world has to offer, to members of the public and art collectors alike. As part of its Great East London Art Audit campaign, East London Fawcett Group (ELF) took the opportunity to audit the galleries exhibiting at this year’s Frieze as part of their wider investigation into gender inequality in the art world.

In April 2012 ELF launched the Great East London Art Audit in order to generate up to date statistics that reflect the representation of women in the arts. The campaign invites members of the public to consider the gender ratio within galleries, museums, art prizes, public projects and publications by counting the number of male and female artists being featured. Ahead of publishing the results of this year-long project, ELF conducted a special project focusing on Frieze Art Fair 2012.

The ELF audit team analysed the list of artists represented by each of the international galleries exhibiting in the commercial section of this year’s Frieze and collated the following results from the data gathered*:

27.5% of the artists represented at Frieze Art Fair 2012 are women (excluding collaborations and taken from a cumulative total of the amount of women represented by each gallery)

1.5% of the galleries represent less than one third male artists, 67% of the galleries represent less than one third female artists

3.7% of the galleries at Frieze 2012 represent the same number of male and female artists

8.9 % of the galleries represent an equal number of male and female artists or more female artists than male

6% of the galleries represent only one or no female artists

As well as auditing the galleries exhibiting at the art fair, ELF took a look at the commercial galleries across London and discovered that 23.3% of solo exhibitions hosted by these galleries during Frieze 2012 were by female artists. In 2008, Laura McLean-Ferris, Art Review’s current editor-at-large, conducted her own survey of the solo shows being presented by London’s commercial galleries during the art fair and discovered that 11.6% of these shows were by women.** Whilst these comparative statistics imply that the situation for women practicing as artists is improving, the figures from 2012 remain hugely disproportionate.

Laura McLean-Ferris commented, “It’s good to see that things are changing slowly. I do believe that things will improve over time.” She also pointed out that much of the inequality is historic, “the roots of the trouble are in another generation. It’s important that in this time, for the groups of artists that are emerging now, that we don’t allow those patterns to repeat, and don’t, by some strange default position, look to male artists to point the way forward.”

In October 2011 ELF hosted a panel discussion in order to identify problem areas for women in the arts and to think about how to tackle them in a positive fashion. The event, which brought together leading figures in the arts, revealed that often people think that equality has already been achieved in the arts due to the fact that improvements have indeed been made and that inspirational figures such as Tracey Emin, who have defied the statistics, exist in the public arena – but the truth is that women are still severely under-represented in the art world. In order to raise awareness of the inequality that persists, ELF launched the Great East London Art Audit.

The director of ELF’s Art Campaign, Gemma Rolls-Bentley says, “we decided that to convince people that there is still inequality in the arts, we need to use a combo of hard stats and personal experience. Those two things together can build a successful campaign.”

The campaign celebrates and takes inspiration from the women who have achieved success, as well as the galleries and museums that support them; the audit is complimented by a varied programme of events including gallery tours, artist-led workshops, curator talks and group discussion.

The ongoing work of the volunteer-run campaign aims to provide a body of relevant statistics that will inspire a dialogue around the specific challenges faced by women in the arts and in the hope of encouraging people to make positive change.

 

For more information about the Great East London Art Audit please visit: www.elf-audit.com

*. These results reflect a survey of 3441 artists across 135 galleries

**. ‘Totally Wack: What Happened to the Feminist Surge’, Laura Mclean-Ferris, Art Review, September 2008

 

Read the Huffington Post’s feature, Art Info’s comments and how the report made it stateside.

 

I took a little of my own advice this month and escaped to Palermo, Sicily where the October weather was still hot and the sea dragged me out into its depths. Everybody needs a holiday and this one happened to come at the perfect moment – I had been nursing a three day headache as I juggled deadlines from all my different jobs.

 

Taking a sunny and sandy holiday was just one little suggestion in article on How to survive life as a freelancer for the We Are Can journal.

The etymology of the word ‘freelance’ comes from a coinage by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe in 1820 for ‘medieval mercenary warrior’. As odd as its dissemination into the English language may seem something of the term’s original meaning still rings true; working freelance requires bravery and courage when you don’t know where your next pay cheque will be coming from.

This article is less about real advice on how to find work and earn money as a freelancer, and more about surviving the psychological pitfalls of balancing many ‘irregular’ jobs.

1. Be a forgiving boss

Some bosses are just plain miserly and mean, they sit opposite you scowling and grunting and making you feel guilty about leaving at 6pm on the dot. This should be one of the reasons you decided to become a freelancer; so you could have more freedom as your own boss, rather than being chained to a desk with a disagreeable one.

Just as there will be times when you feel as though you are juggling EVERYTHING there will also be (occasionally threatening) lulls. When the lull comes along don’t feel guilty about giving yourself a mini-break (I don’t necessarily mean one that involves sun and sand, but occasionally this too). Equally it is also OK to surrender to the impossibility of working to five deadlines all at once. You may be a freelance warrior, but you are not super-human.

While a little bit of self-discipline is the freelancer’s key attribute, chastising yourself is no way to get motivated. Open up a bottle of wine, sit back and relax.

2. Don’t become a freelance hermit

While working from home may sound like a dream to all office-bound labourers, the reality can feel a little more like a house-sitting sentence.  When you’re at home there are a million and one dull distractions which can easily edge their way into your working day; household chores, daytime TV, even small tasks like picking up the post seem to suck at my time and efficiency.

It’s good for your sanity to leave the house every once in a while. If your restlessness is getting the better of you then it is worth considering renting desks in shared office spaces. Sometimes making a ‘commute’ to work is the perfect morning-kick to action. Even if you are heading to a desk where only your rules apply at least you have escaped the magnetic pull of the duvet.

The savviest of freelancers know that desk space can be rented for the price of an Americano.  Don’t feel ashamed, head out to a café and the sea of laptops will all confirm that you are not alone in your wifi-abuse and dirty caffeine habit.  Of course the temptation for cakes, lunches and fancy lattes will all increase the risk of rising expenses and overheads, but the most disciplined of freelancers can manage to maintain enviable rents of around £10 per week.

3. Mixing Money with Pleasure

Those ‘lulls’ I mentioned mean that freelancers need to be clever with their money. It’s not just about keeping irregular hours, freelance work is also about irregular pay packets.  This means that every so often, just like regular nine to fivers, you might feel compelled to work for the lure of the money alone.

But freelancing should be about working to your passions and values. Make sure that you mix jobs for money with jobs for pleasure in a nice equal measure.  Those high-paid mind-numbing contracts are probably not as valuable to you as those exciting, but potentially lower paid jobs that your heart tells you, you really want.

4. Always put a positive spin on things

Essentially I am freelancer because I am one of those fresh-faced graduates from the so-called ‘Lost Generation’ who can’t find a full time job. But that stark fact is more than a little depressing.

It is necessary to remind myself sometimes of all the perks of the job(s): the many exciting projects I have been able to work on; the fast pace of work which continually presents me with fresh challenges; the flexibility to devote time to the things I am really passionate about; along with the occasional self-appointed lie-in and holi-day.

I recently discovered the coinage of a new phenomenon in an article in the Evening Standard, the ‘Slashie’. Described as ‘the entrepreneurial’ and  ‘savvy Londoners holding down more than one job’, the Slashie is a rather glamorous and flattering (dare I say it, even ‘trendy’) version of the humble freelancer.

Instead of apologising for the long-winded answer it feels necessary to give when somebody asks just exactly what it is I do, I can now whip out an ego-boosting slash/slash job title: Writer/Press Officer/Digital Marketer/Copy Writer/Editor.  In reality it might make me sound like a bit of dick, but in my head, damn it sounds good.

Drawing on my recent experiences at the Tate Tanks and with Tino Sehgal’s These Associations, my most recent advice article for We Are Can was all about how to participate in Live Art. Mostly riffing on moments of awkwardness, I feel like I only just scratched the surface.

The article is partly the product of my own attempts to think through my experiences of live art over the past few months. It all began with Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege a few months ago and this post, and now you can read my very loose ‘advice’ here too.

This summer the vast Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern and the newly converted Tanks have played host to live and participatory art.

When something makes it to the Tate Modern, it is clear that it has already been institutionalised, accredited and approved.  So if you are still baffled by the momentary and ephemeral nature of performance, participatory or live art, it’s probably time to get with the arts council funded programme.

Live art can be painfully awkward and a little baffling at times, especially when we are used to the quiet reverence of standing before a painting in a brilliant white gallery. Here are some tips I happen to have learnt from experience.

1. Make an effort

It took three visits to Tino Sehgal’s These Associations before anybody spoke to me. I didn’t quite do things right, I was a little nervous and a little hesitant at first. I wanted the performers to approach me but I’m sure that my nervousness shone like an aura of warning.

The work doesn’t quite function without these intimate associations. The participants are immediately obvious as ‘participants’; they are all wearing trainers so that they can sensibly run the stretch of the Turbine Hall, they gesticulate wildly (they have been taught how to communicate) and of course they are usually performing their automaton-style actions in unison.

The whole thing is curious, and at times unnerving (particularly when they all chant ‘Electric’ and the lights flicker on and off throughout the hall), but if the audience haven’t activated the work by speaking with one of the participants it drifts remote from us as an ‘experience’.

2. Be confident

I turned up to the Tanks in week 7 to find Haegue Yang’s Dress Vehicles limply rattling about the industrial cave pushed by some nervous invigilators, it was just embarrassing. Had they danced in those performance sculptures with confidence, the whole work would have come alive.

Creating a participatory art work is a little like lesson planning for a teacher, you have to be aware that no matter how exciting it all seems to you there is always the possibility that it will go down like a damp squib with your audience and have to be re-thought. So be kind to the absent artist, this is not the time to be shy or awkward, make sure you get involved.

3. Remember to forget, forget to remember

What an artist is often looking for in setting up a participatory art work is to challenge the socially instinctual reactions of the audience. If the artist can play his/her audience and catch them unawares, then the results are all the more revelatory. It’s as important to forget that you are being manipulated and let the work take control, as it is to occasionally remember to be on your guard and question the expectations and models of behaviour laid out by the artist.

Tania Bruguera’s Tank takeover ‘Immigrant Movement International’ was the perfect example of the artist playing a little at being God.

I arrived and proceeded to queue for 45 minutes for an unknown and unexplained ‘experience’. My submissive acceptance was gradually challenged as I and those in the queue around me, became more and more agitated. Tate invigilators were selecting people from the queue and allowing them to go straight into the room, skipping the lie detector test, and skipping us.  If anybody refused this preferential treatment they were granted the privilege of selecting another member of the queue to take their place.

My reaction was to take a book out of my bag and obediently wait my turn. When I was eventually granted entry the room was empty except for a workman cutting the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ into steel. I immediately knew that the work had been entirely about my experience of the queue and how I had responded.

4. Be Individual

Tracey Moberly’s Tweet Me Up was the most exciting Tanks takeover; by featuring London subcultures, Moberly got the work, photographs, and protests of many individuals up on the walls of the Tate Modern. On one wall the live tweets of artists, participants and the audience were also projected.

There was a pulsing current of excitement and an entirely new crowd gathering in the underbelly of the Tate to witness their work being institutionalised. Moberly had remembered that participatory art is about people just as much as it is about psychologies.

While so many of my examples so far seem to have been about behaving like socially and psychologically programmed sheep, the reality is that every participant experiences these works on a subtly different level.  During These Associations you might hear one of 200 personal stories and if all goes to plan this intimate revelation will feel more like a natural conversation than a forced confession.  That exchange will be utterly unique.

Participatory art is a little like those children’s books where you get to decide what happens next (I used to read the Goosebumps series); there is some kind of vague plot laid out for you but make a shift in your decision and things could spiral into an entirely new direction.  You can decide to be the hero who bravely opens the door to the haunted mansion or the coward who turns away at the last moment. Either way you can be as much of a master of the experience as the art work, so enjoy the power for once.

 

‘quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna                                                                                                            per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto                                                                                                                     quanto veduta non avea alcuna.

Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto;                                                                                                         chè della nova terra un turbo nacque,                                                                                                                                  e percosse del legno il primo canto. 

Tre volte il fè girar con tutte l’acque:                                                                                                                                alla quarta levar la poppa in suso                                                                                                                         e la prora ire in giù, com’altrui piacque,

infin che ‘l mar fu sopra noi richiuso.’ 

Dante’s Inferno, the Ulysses Canto

Bouvetøya at Space in Between is an exhibition about the most isolated place on earth, an island in the Antarctic of the same name, which possesses a human history that is at once precisely documented and romantically fabricated.

Artist, Freddy Dewe Mathews explains that Bouvetøya lies somewhere between the realms of fiction and reality; it has been both the imagined setting for Alien vs Predator, at one extreme, and the subject of detailed scientific explorations. Dewe Mathews has negotiated these two ideals, blending the decipherable lines between them by bringing together archive materials with his own sculptures and overlaying this with a sound piece narrating a potentially fictionalised expedition to the island.

The exhibition takes its backdrop from the luminous iced blue of the archive photographs along with the neat blue of log books from real expeditions. Although this physical paraphernalia represents the technical records of the island, they are also the stimuli for our own fantastical adventures when juxtaposed with Dewe Mathew’s geometric concrete castings or his wall-based work.

For the exhibition Dewe Mathews has had to carry out his own scientific research, looking into accounts of expeditions to the island and the online archives of the Norwegian Polar Institute which he admits has been “a very different learning process”. The archives represent what Dewe Mathews’ describes as the “quantifiable mass of stuff on a place” which helps to bring the drifting, distant landmass of Bouvetøya closer to us here in Space in Between, in Hackney. 

The exhibition feels like something of a personal quest made by the artist in his studio towards Bouvetøya. What the viewer is left with are the relics of an expedition which will either satisfy our faith or confirm our disbelief.

Dewe Mathews’ concrete cast sculptures are made from a process of mould-making which builds around negative form, “creating something by creating everything around it.” They are in reality a casting of the impossible, a physical relic of a place he never reached.

In working towards this exhibition Dewe Mathews has found a parallel between his process as an artist and the journey of an explorer, “that’s part of being an explorer; you grapple with a small amount of facts and from this you begin to dream and imagine what you might find there. The reality is always a lot further away, and that’s a bit like making work.”

The real appeal of the exhibition is in the universal romance of the remote, the isolated, and the virgin possibility glimmering within this which offers discovery. There is a quest to be pursued in the frosted-blue beauty of the photographs of Bouvetøya and its temptation seems to be at work in all of us in some way or another.

Bouvetøya appealed to Dewe Mathews as “an extraordinary place in what it could stand for” and he explains that the work is “deliberately open” so that each individual viewer can read their own yearnings and ambitions into the exhibition’s narrative.  In the lift just outside the gallery a white meteorological balloon takes the light, “its blankness leaves it ready to be interpreted.”

For me Bouvetøya was a reminder of Dante’s Ulysses in the Inferno because of its interest in the gap between illusion and experience. Dante’s Ulysses is a deluded hero who leads his crew to their death in pursuit of a mountain which, darkened by distance, appears higher than any seen on earth before.

When Dante eventually reaches this same mountain he finds that it is nothing more than a small promontory and that Ulysses’ noble heroism was merely a dream.  As Dewe Mathew’s says, “The feeling of a dream is very different to the feeling of reality.”

Bouvetøya is on at Space in Between until 27th October and is funded by Arts Council England.

This is a copy of an article published in October’s Hackney Citizen