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This review of the Residence Gallery’s exhibition, Finish Fetish, was originally written for the March edition of the Hackney Citizen.

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During the 1960s and 70s, the Minimalist movement saw a group of Californian artists begin working with synthetic and machine-made materials such as plastic, glass, light and resin to create high-sheen artworks associated with the phrase, ‘Finish Fetish’. From Larry Bell, to John McCracken: the Finish Fetish was something of a love affair with the perfect polish of new surfaces.

Now that 3D Printers are just the latest technological development in our economy of constantly evolving synthetic substitutes, that fascination with new materials is perhaps even more relevant some 50 years on. It isn’t surprising then, amidst accelerating innovations in manufacture and sustainable material, that the Finish Fetish lives: moving from the States to East London, Ben Gooding, Clive Hanz Hancock and Patrick Morrissey are all part of the Residence Gallery’s new exhibition.

But these contemporary finish fetishists aren’t so much concerned with the perfect plastic luxury which these machines can produce, but with what, with an obsessive perseverance, the human hand can reproduce. In an inverted emulation of that industrial and automated process, surfaces are painstakingly hand-crafted to mimic the work of machines.

Gooding etches the undulating flow of his surfaces with individual rhythms of line. He does this by hand and over long periods of time. Yet they look as though they have been brushed by the controlled arm of a machine with one single sweep: this specious casualness is truly seductive. Meanwhile Morrissey’s complex numerical systems, his sequential developments and interest in geometry, also give his aluminium prints the appearance of machinated, programmed patterns: but they follow his own logic.

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Finish Fetish’s attention to superficial detail is immediately evident in the fetishistic alliteration of the title, and even the Gallery’s Director, Ingrid Z, has been finish-fetishized: when I go to visit, her woollen hat is decorated with metal studs which catch the spotlights, and her leggings are a monochromatic zig-zag print, an echo of Patrick Morrissey’s aluminium works.

The Residence is a compact gallery, so it is a virtue that most of the works are individually compelling: in a small exhibition a single work has the power to keep you. In Gooding’s lacquer on perspex it is my own silhouette which captures me in its shifting, meticulous pattern. In the copper, it is a burnished parallel flash of light which moves me. Whether you are a curious toddler or a sophisticated surface-connoisseur, it is one of those simple effects of light and shadow which makes you softly want to coo.

The triumph of the exhibition is in the intimation of a personal fetish, and its successful communication as a shared passion between artist and viewer. The works are not the curiosities of niche fanaticists, offered to the viewer to gawp at without comprehension; it is easy to feel the lure of these materials.

This is where Clive Hanz Hancock’s works failed for me: there was nothing sexy about his geometric abstractions. The bright colours deviated too far from the monochromes and other deep metal shades, and looked instead like the fat tips of crayolas displayed in little cylindrical windows. Perhaps I am letting my own minimalist, black & white fetish, get the better of me here.

The good news is that the exhibition will be replenished with other temptations for March’s First Thursday and the second half of the show. This also means that if you want to buy a work the Residence will happily pluck it from the wall there and then and let you walk away with it: you need not be separated from the new object of your desire.

Finish Fetish will be on at the Residence Gallery until 24 March. For more information: www.residence-gallery.com

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Vladimir: Nothing you can do about it.

Estragon: No use struggling.

Vladimir: One is what one is.

Estragon: No use wriggling.

Vladimir: The essential doesn’t change.

Estragon: Nothing to be done.

 Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

LastLandscape Joe Duggan

“I wanted to tell a story, a great story, and I wanted to do it with large pictures because I thought that would look spectacular.” Joe Duggan

Life is Not Enough is a picture book specially conceived and designed by Irish artist, Joe Duggan.  Printed in a limited edition of 500, each copy is numbered and signed by the artist.

Recalling the Grimm Brothers’ in its darkly suggestive telling, and taking its narrative frame from the Stations of the Cross: Life is not Enough draws upon the great canons of Western storytelling to portray the journey of a wandering soul searching for meaning in his life, whilst he grapples with love, marriage and misadventure.

Originally conceived during an artist residency in Newfoundland, Canada, the story is told in prose which is as spare and unforgiving as the landscape which inspired it. In capturing both the brutality and the romanticism of a place at the end of the world, Duggan succeeds in telling a story which is universal and particular: the story of a man, and the story of man as artist. Its stripped-back storytelling is a return to basic archetypes in which we may or not find that the narrative strikes a personal chord.

“I wanted to show the everyday struggle and demystify the artist’s life by presenting the thinking, not just the making.”

Accompanied by a series of beautiful photographs, Life is not Enough presents a humorously bleak, yet visually poetic, vision of human existence.  Each photograph has its own theatrical set and depicts a scene enacted by Duggan and his friends: offering a surreal mini-epic which explores life’s predictability as well its will to randomness.

With every element controlled and directed by the artist himself, the book suggests an existence governed by an unconscious overlord; a force which neither judges nor designs, but just is.

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” Murphy, Samuel Beckett.

At its core Life is not Enough explores fundamental ideas about god, religion and society. Through a series of dramatic ploys it also works deeper: touching upon complex ideas about art, aesthetics, psychology, reality and the essential absurdity of life. The book represents more than just the act of story-telling, it is also a performance: a theatrical spectacle which takes its cue from Beckett’s absurd.

Since its inception in Newfoundland, Duggan has spent almost four years completing the work. Known for his large scale photographs and installations this is Duggan’s first published book.

Beautifully bound in blue cloth as a hardback, Life is not Enough is designed by Joe Duggan in collaboration with Lisa Novac. Intended to play with the conventions of the book itself, its oversized, even awkward, format teases our expectations.

To purchase the book please visit Joe Duggan’s website: http://www.joeduggan.co.uk/index.html

This text is part of a commission from the artist, please get in touch if you’re interested in commissioning any writing from me.

formation.peles+empire-posterThe collaborative duo, Peles Empire, have a new show of digital print and sculptural work at Cell Project Space until 17th March.

Artists Katahrina Stoever and Barbara Wolff make up the collaborative duo which is Peles Empire. They have nothing to do with famous footballers and everything to do with an incredible Romanian castle.

The Peles castle, a palace set amongst the Carpathian Mountains in Sinaia, Romania, is an architectural mash-up of European styles including Orientalism, Art Deco, Rococo and Renaissance. Together the artists work to reproduce the rooms of the castle, inspired by the bonkers ambitions of the original architect and King Carol . Using original photographic documentation of the castle’s interior and artefacts Peles Empire reproduce the palace in newly visceral 2D renderings and 3D relics.

Until 17th March one of these new renderings of the armory room is being exhibited at Cell Project Space in FORMATION. In a pleasingly physical material counter-point, photocopy collages look down upon porcelain and black-grog sculptures. These sculptures – sometimes bubbling with their own compulsion to natural formations, and at other times more carefully crafted – combine the materials of architectural construction and of the purely decorative.

“Two screens of thickly montaged black and white photocopies divide the gallery into three equally sized adjoining chambers, enabling the spaces to be entirely enveloped by a distorted view of the armory room; traces of the castle contents nestle within a field of reprographic noise. In this instance the imagery only touches the edge of its original subject matter giving an impression of parts left to signify a whole.

The most striking thing about FORMATION is the working through of a process for sculpting and suggesting an absent space. It’s almost a little dizzying to give yourself over to the effect of pasty, granular collage and luxuriously solid sculptures: despite its DIY and ready made aesthetic and the hand-made pixellation of printed ink, the castle does begin to slip into our reach.

Some suggestions are more concrete than others: at the back of the space spearheads are mounted on the white wall, a real tangible gesture towards the armory. At other times decoration and ornamentation are visually distorted, almost liquid, embellishments.  This is an incredibly pleasing show, if like me, your easily seduced by the material.

This month the WW Gallery has been divided by two artists with two very different agendas, but equally wicked senses of humour. Siobhan Barr’s Hello Friend is an exposé of the dark and downright hilarious corners of the internet. While Jay Rechsteiner’s Jay Gun, The Most Dangerous Man on the Planet is a game which parodies boyish gun-obsessions, where home-made rifles can be pulled from the walls and tested, and a BB Gun offers target practice. Siobhan Barr 4 Jotta asked me to do an interview with Siobhan because of their particular interest in artists responding to evolving technologies. Here’s the Interview in full:

Siobhan Barr’s ‘Hello Friend’ at the WW Gallery is a sharp, and wickedly funny survey of the obscure, murky corners of the internet. The social paranoias of humanity, as collected and regurgitated by Google, are merely a prelude to gangs of mothers with their own catalogue of Mumsnet acronyms, and forums for homemade sex toys. Barr’s interest in technology and the internet have turned her into an undercover investigator – a tech geek and a chardonnay sipping mother are just some of her multiple personae – but above all she is an astute observer of society’s relationship to evolving technologies. If at times she is swept into the all-consuming obsession which constant data streams and live life feeds encourage, she also remains a subversively comic commentator. Her extraction of language from the internet, from the fans and fetishists who thought it up, leaves it bizarre, poetic, puzzlingly: a brilliant joke.

When did you begin to take inspiration from the internet in your work?

 My current show “Hello Friend” is the first body of work that I’ve presented which is intentionally and exclusively inspired by our relationship with the internet; previously my work focused on other elements of popular culture, and modern telecommunications. However I can pinpoint my fascination with technology and the accumulation of source material for my work to 2009. I saw a show at Cell Project Space called “Trying to Cope with Things That Aren’t Human”, and a related panel discussion: this had a profound effect on me, and triggered an interest in how people turn to the invented world as we struggle to relate to the natural world. I also experienced a fairly monumental shift in my lifestyle and environment that year: I had to cease working due to ill health, became increasingly reclusive and moved into a house without a TV aerial or standard phone line which forced an upgrade from a lousy dial-up connection to super speedy cable broadband. All these factors, unsurprisingly, led to a fairly instant addiction and dependence on the internet as face-to-face time became displaced by time online, and so my work gradually became increasingly concerned with these themes.

What series of works are on show at the Hello Friend! exhibition at WW Gallery?

There are 10 works and series of works included within the show, including an illuminated “studio audience” style sign flashing the words “MULTIPLE LOL”, inflatable Stepford Wives “Mumsnet” dolls holding Cath Kidston bunting spelling out popular acronyms used on their forum, a short video (my first actually), and a lot of text pieces, mostly in a digital format with an element of optional interactivity using a QR code and smartphone.

Although I consider the works to be varied in that they are selected snapshots of the projects I have been developing, most of the work falls into three categories, all of which can be associated with the show’s title “Hello Friend”: forums, sales (which, in a broader sense, also includes spamming) – and themes of loneliness. ‘Loneliness’ is a kind of umbrella category but it also specifically relates to “Autocomplete”, whereby I’ve put a 3 year log book to use and have displayed selected popular Google searches. In my opinion, autocomplete algorithms are the ultimate survey into what people anonymously ask their friend, “Google”, and some of the results are depressing, some hilarious, or very often, both.

One of your interests is in the impact modern technology has had on our evolving language. You use a lot of language from the internet in your work, what is it that’s so appealing about this?

I have always said that I predominantly work with text because I perceive it to be a confident and no-frills approach, as well as being more accessible to people who may feel alienated by contemporary art. But like any text artist, I’m also interested in linguistics, and the role language plays in our relation to the world we live in. Therefore it goes without saying that I am fascinated by our evolving language, and the trends that set these changes in motion.

In 2010 I made “T9 is shiv” which, as the title suggests, was based upon “textonyms” – words produced by the same combination of key taps using the now out-dated numerical keypad of mobile phones, resulting in nonsensical imperatives. Shortly after this I started integrating language and acronyms predominantly used in internet chat speak into my work, and particularly enjoyed placing them within more high-brow and traditional contexts, such as a sacred illuminated manuscript. By doing this, I suppose I was trying to emulate how I feel when I see these bizarre acronyms such as “lol” or “pmsl” crop up at the end of friends’ text messages, or during an internet chat session; it still feels jarring and alien to me, and I suppose if I’m being honest I am a bit snobby about them. I both like and loathe the fact I feel so uncool and am forever having to decipher their meanings. It’s like a puzzle and I recreate that puzzlement when I present them to my audience.

I’m pleased the word “lolz” got added to the Oxford English Dictionary recently, and not just because I’m a Scrabble fan and “z” is worth 10 points. I’d previously found my definition in an online forum, which became my illuminated sign:

“lolz…seriously, u don’t know what it is? are you ninety???? it’s multiple lol!!!!”

Some of your works become strangely poetic, what are the most bizarre or funny snippets you’ve found and put to use?

On my quest to find non-sexualised inflatable dolls (come see the show if you don’t believe they exist!) I spent an afternoon in Soho. A gregarious bookshop keeper led me downstairs, past a peep show, into a non-bookshop, and showed me every type of doll he sold. My eyes lit up when I glanced at the packaging for “Fatty Patty the Jumbo Love Doll”, not because of the imagery or a penchant for seedy inflatables, but because of the description. It was just a string of crude “Yo Mama’s so fat” jokes, spliced together with little punctuation. When home again I found it online, lifted the text, changed the format into a poem on archival paper, and that’s the “Fatty Patty” on exhibition now.

Where do the words from the pin-board ads come from?

The words from the pin-board ads are taken from Asian B2B trading sites such Alibaba.com, which I have personal experience with. They are actual descriptions, presumably produced by some whacky non-human translation software; I’ve merely selected them for their comedic and cryptic (and now you mention it, poetic) values. Each ad features a description and a QR code which links to a website I built with a “Buy It Now” button relevant to each ad, no imagery. If you so wished to take a punt, (items start from as little as £3), I’ll send you the mystery item. I thought it would be a fun piece to interact with, in a Secret Santa sort of way. It also mirrors the buying experience with these sites, as although there are many successful and trustworthy sellers, inevitably due to a lack of regulation on photographs and descriptions used in listings, personal experience has demonstrated to me that it’s a bit of a gamble and you’re never 100% sure that you’ll get the advertised item you paid for. So a bit like the QR codes, they mirror the act of opening unsolicited junk email.

Siobhan Barr’s Hello Friend and Jay Rechsteiner’s Jay Gun, The Most Dangerous Man on the Planet will be on at the WW Gallery until 2nd March.

IMG_0340The savviest of freelancers know that desk-space can be rented for the price of an Americano. Forget ‘hot desking’ and ‘virtual office spaces’; as sexy as such working arrangements may sound, they only prove how easy it is to convince people to buy into linguistic glamorisation.

As a freelancer (working this way more by necessity than choice) I frequently find myself doing a weekly coffee crawl in the name of productivity. Calculate the rate of coffee consumption to your hourly/day rate and you have an equation for figuring out how many coffees you can buy before retreating back to your bedroom where refreshments are on tap.

Although I recognize that I have a peculiarly strong compulsion to wander, an itchy tendency to be unable to stay in one place; I’m clearly not alone in my predilection for working from cafés and I believe this communal habit reveals much more than just the extent of our shared caffeine addictions.

My mother suggests that I have other motivations for choosing a rotating selection of cafés as office space. She reassures my grandmother that the café-office is a great place to meet men. While my mother’s priorities hardly put the professional spin on my nomadic part-time lifestyle I’ll be plugging on my CV, she may be onto something.

I’ve had two coffee-shop approaches: a note slipped onto my table suggesting lunch, and a guy sliding into my diner-style-booth to chat me up. It’s not just that cafés are a hot-bed for totty and desperate singles; my success rate is far more revelatory of the employment situation for those of my generation.

If a café is a good place to pick up a like-minded guy of a similar age it’s because a large proportion of the unemployed, semi-employed and self-employed graduate army of my generation are spending their afternoons working there. It’s a kind of a club, where fortunately the standards are generously low: if you can pay for a coffee, you’re in.

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Overheard conversations in coffee shops are a melting pot of stimulating projects and ventures: start-ups, independent magazines, co-ops and collaborations. In East London alone you can choose to go to the independent cafés to find the creatives, or to one of Shoreditch’s open working spaces for the tech geeks and web developers.

That’s the new reality for graduates of the recession. It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to find full time and long term contracts. In the coffee shops of today you don’t find angst-ridden bohemian artists putting their feet up whilst they wait for inspiration, what you do find is a whole crowd of feverish graduates attached to their laptops as they work on their DIY careers.

Above the caffeinated buzz of this generation there hovers a sense of desperation. It’s a cut-throat economy and in the competition for a plug socket we all recognise that more is at stake: some of these latte-fuelled dreams will succeed and others will not.

writing notes

A lot of writing has been going on recently. Some of which is recorded here, but most is still a wonderful work in progress; short stories, experimental pieces, submissions, commissions…I’ve been so wordy lately. Above is a picture of some of my working notes which I have posted on my wall so that I can keep track of them all; mostly because my notebook is falling apart, but partly because this is much closer to how my brain functions.

But most of all, I wanted to share this incredible passage from Virginia Woolf’s diary about keeping a journal. I would always happily defer to Virginia Woolf and here she so perfectly captures the experience of re-reading your own personal writing.

“I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy.”

Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated April 20th, 1919, as printed in A Writer’s Diary.