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Curated in the light of a series of vintage NASA photographs from the lunar landings, the group show PLURAL, looked at divergent examples of human aspiration within the work of 5 contemporary artists. Amongst the dystopic visions, coded psychology and human curiosity, was artist, Suki Chan’s, video installation, Sleep Talk, Sleep Walk. Suki Chan’s London is a city of interims and increments. It is the movement between places: captured in the soft glow of bus windows catching traffic in the dark, or though tube tunnels in dim evening light, and funnelling up escalators to the exit or the platform, an indeterminate location. It is a world transmitted by the inconspicuous eye of security cameras, remaining constantly under surveillance. Yet there are no events recorded, just the seemingly uneventful moments in-between. Even locations, inanimate concrete and steel; are in a similar state of flux – abandoned buildings and construction sites suggest that the vision we are presented with is still incomplete.

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If it is aspirational, it is because it captures the moment in which we are moving on our way to something else, beyond. The installation begins with movement: transportation in wormings of light, the horizon seeping into new colours with the passing of time. In this city, someone suggests, “it is quite easy to spark off each other and pass ideas around”. But as this vision progresses it seems to repeat a pattern of loneliness rather than one of community and collaboration. Empty office spaces and unpeopled views across the city confirm that this comment was little more than a still-distant utopia.

Your installations create fully immersive environments, what is the intention with these?

The installations are immersive because one significant intention of my work is to transport the viewer to an elsewhere, one step removed from reality. However, the work is not about escape, the work and its concerns are from and related to reality. Although I might have changed the pacing of the images by using time-lapse techniques to accentuate movements that you would not be able to see in reality, what we see in the films is ‘real’ – in that it actually happened – physical light really did pass through the optical lens and the recording is consistent with what you see in the work.

The camera lens ‘sees’ the world in a very different way to our eyes and then there is the editing, which of course, is not the way we see the world at all: more like our memory of the world, where the final cut has forgotten all that was removed. I often find the experience of seeing a film in a cinema so absorbing, as though particular parts have imprinted themselves into my memory as strongly as an actual lived experience. The imagery and ideas stay with me well beyond the cinema experience. It’s like oscillating away from reality momentarily, only to return to it and see it in a new light.

These environments seem to present viewers with microcosms, why is this?

The sense of microcosm and macrocosm is because I want to find a rational explanation for everything, in this case a city. There is a sense of zooming into the micro and zooming out to see the macro to understand how it functions: who plays a role, who designs it, who controls what, what are the forces at play, the tensions, the rules and regulations, how this affects the users of the space physically and psychologically, what and where the boundaries are, how one part relates to another part and what weaves in-between. In this way, the work is both socially and environmentally engaged.

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You have talked a little bit already about the technology you are using to capture and create your environments, how does progress in technology expand the possibilities of your work?

Indirectly, perhaps. As the equipment becomes more compact, lighter and cheaper, it has allowed me to work in ways that might have been difficult for female artists say 30 years ago, working on their own or with a small team. Some shoots would not have been possible with very large, heavy and intrusive equipment, for example the shots on the night buses in Sleep Walk Sleep Talk were only achievable because the equipment was discreet.

In the installation Sleep Walk Sleep Talk, you present a kind of portrait of the city but it seems to be strangely empty of people. The architecture of London, developments (including the Shard being built), transport and surveillance; all seem to be a focal point. What vision of the city were you interested in portraying? 

When I was making SWST, I was really interested in the ideas of the Metabolists from Tokyo in the 1960’s, who pictured the modern city not in terms of its architectural forms, functions or inhabitants but as a complex environment where different rhythms can be observed. The rate at which things moved: the transport system and the even faster still, communication system; yet the buildings remain static whilst their shadows revolve. I was interested in this critique of modernism and it’s favouring of acceleration, and our place within it: how we inhabit the urban environment and how it inhabits us, as well as the forces at play in the physical environment which have a profound effect on our behaviour and our emotions.

During that period, as I walked around the city at night, I often had the feeling that my every footstep had already been anticipated. Of course, this is partly true as urban spaces are often conceived in great detail by urban designers: discreet details in the fabric of the space welcome or discourage certain groups or activities. But I never feel this when I am in the countryside and this has made me very interested in notions of freedom in a city.

In what ways are you interested in how technology and developments have changed this city, and our relationship to it? 

I think it’s very difficult to live in this city and not feel that everything changes very fast. The urban environment is always changing and our relationship with it is transient. I think technology has helped shaped the city and accelerated the speed in which the changes take place. I remember feeling surprised at the rate in which New London Bridge House (where some of the scenes in Sleep Walk Sleep Talk were filmed) was demolished and the process in which it disappeared – one level at a time, seemingly without creating any debris. When a huge building disappears in a matter of weeks, this changes your relationship with the city in quite fundamental ways. The city also exerts a kind of boldness, through technology we can build very tall buildings and it has become a global competition to see who can build the tallest. It seems so much about how much we can overcome nature.

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There is a dichotomy in your work, between the urban and the rural, what’s your particular interest in this opposition?

There are many dichotomies explored in my work and this is a strategy I use to explore how we come to see and understand the world, to see how many things have no inherent or unchanging value by themselves, and to recognize that meaning is often derived from its juxtapositions. For example: light and dark, movement and stasis, permanence and impermanence; it’s difficult to understand one without the other. Both states are important and do not always present themselves in the manner in which we expect.  In my most recent film, Still point, we feel a sense of stillness when the camera is moving and when the camera is static, we feel so much movement. We tend to think of things in a dualistic manner but what are the nuances in between? Where does one start and the other end?

My interest in the urban and the rural perhaps started with movement. Firstly, my own migration when I was a child to Oxford, UK. And also later on in life, becoming aware of other people’s migrations and that as we become more ‘connected’ what happens in the urban environment affects the rural and vice versa.

The city and the countryside initiate very different fantasies. I am simultaneously attracted to and repelled by both the urban and the rural, and I find myself often being in one place and longing for another. These feelings have influenced the way I explore belonging and the nature of our habitation of the world in my work.

The group exhibition you are in, PLURAL, is focused on human aspiration. How do you feel yourself and your work relating to this? 

I think aspiration, as well as imagination, are very important to the development of our personal and group identity – to aspire to, and imagine what is currently not the case. It is a very powerful driving force. We aspire to something more or something else, so we leave the place we may be familiar with in search for something better in an unfamiliar and possibly alienating place. Many of the security guards who I interviewed for Sleep Walk Sleep Talk, who happen to be Ghanaian, have very high aspirations and that is why they have moved here. Even if it looks like they are doing a job with few prospects, inside their heads there are so many plans and aspirations. All aspirations are important, whether it is to travel to the moon as a nation or to obtain a college certificate in English. We sometimes forget that, particularly with the recent backlash against immigrants. We may fall short of our aspirations, but without it, human beings would be in a static place. Michelangelo is quoted as having said, “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Throughout my practice, I think I’ve always aspired to do things that challenge me and as soon as I feel comfortable, whether with a medium or particular modes of production, I usually move on.

 

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The latest an interview could possibly be? Call it guilt or inspiration, here it is: my interview with artists Alex Lewis and Edward Wallace who curated their own show together at Copenhagen Place.

 

Alex Lewis: “I make static objects and paintings, whereas Ed’s work has always been very dynamic.”

Ed. Wallace: “Yes Alex is static, he wears static t-shirts and I wear dynamic ones.”

Alex Lewis: “We collide when we go together.”

It is in reaction to this comment during my interview with Edward Wallace and Alex Lewis that Wallace finally snaps: “God this feels like Blind Date”.  I am sitting opposite the pair and trying my best to find a conversational balance, generously switching between the two as I address each question.

My attempt to achieve interview-equilibrium is mimetic of Lewis & Wallace’s partnership for the exhibition Static Dynamic at Copenhagen Place, where a single collaborative work, a paint control system, linked their practices together. Running bright orange acrylic paint from the ceiling into the exhibition space it also threatened to disrupt their individual works. Sometimes the pair seem to be in perfect accord, but pitch a question in a certain way and instead of neutralising the awkwardness, a violent reaction occurs.

The question of when and how the collaboration between Wallace and Lewis began is a source of contention. Lewis begins a story about a studio visit which struck a chord of affinity, but Wallace jumps in and Lewis stands corrected: “I was watching what Alex was doing when making his work- at the time he was masking paint quite badly and making mistakes that I had made before I was taught how to mask properly. Then he started slickening up his whole process, but returning to those mistakes as I had done.”

Whether it’s a dipstick or a masking technique, the debate only seems to compound the strength of their affinity. The most minute of errors and successes observed in each other’s studios could easily have been sparks and triggers for new directions or experimentations,  Alex explains: “I’ve always taken an interest in what Ed was doing, and I always went to him for professional advice when I was younger. That single dialogue seems to inform what we do.”

The difference between their two practices is perhaps clearest when I ask them about the influence of cartoons which are present even when stripped of character and form and reduced to a colour or an energy. For Wallace the fascination is with the mechanics of animation and the construction of layers; his self-painting works have come to echo the process of animation in their laborious set up and quick conclusion.

For Lewis the interest is “inverse”; the sparseness of a frame appeals to the possibility for free-association in the viewer and is a part of the openness of his own source material. This antithesis is evident in the duo’s personalities too. While Wallace zooms in on everything like the Warner Brothers’ eclipse with a ‘That’s all Folks’ style flourish leaving me breathlessly unable to keep up, Lewis pans out of the scene offering a wider frame for context and reflection.

By playing with synthetic and natural elements in Static Dynamic Lewis & Wallace deliberately experimented with levels of awkwardness.  There is a violence inherent in the vibrant colours and graphic patterns of their works which made the show crackle with an aesthetic volatility.

Lewis’s patterns are borrowed from culturally disparate sources and forced together. The Simpsons and Mondrian buzz on the surface of a canvas at an ambiguous pitch, their only unifying factor: the hand of the artist. While Wallace uses litres of industrial paints with an attitude that’s clear: “I choose quite acidic colours, colours which have a heavy electric reaction. I’ve got away from buying specific oil paints with names like Green Duck’s Arse and got more into spray paints called things like Number 24.”

Alex explains that in choosing the gallery they “wanted something where we could engage with the space architecturally.”  By “dissecting” the space this engagement was consciously reactionary. Ed explains that “every single angle is off” and yet rather than trying to fix this disjointedness they continued to dissect the space, seeing “it as advantageous in presenting something which looked quite awkward and where we thought we could do some unusual and tricky things.”

The anticipation and tension of their collaborative self-painting work forced the synthetic awkwardness of the acid colour palette against the natural awkwardness of the space. The success of this joint work reverberated throughout the exhibition, its volatility feeding and fuelling the other works with a single energy. Wallace wondered if they had laid the ‘awkwardness’ on a little too heavily, but it was this brightness that caught the viewer’s eye. Their playful antagonism is fresh and rare within the slick formula of contemporary curation.

Sometimes artists can be painfully serious about their work, but Aaron Angell is not one of these artists. He was light, flippant and funny but somehow this attitude only seemed to give me a stronger curiosity about his work.

I chose to interview Angell based on the way in which is three artistic processes seemed to fit together, and because he works with ceramics, which seems like a rare medium nowadays. You can read the full interview on roves and roams.

When Aaron Angell tells me that he only likes working for solo shows, as in shows all about him, I know that it isn’t arrogance talking. I know this not just because he says so, but because it is clear that the three elements of his practice (ceramics, acrylics and wall drawings) talk to each other with the casual easiness of a complete oeuvre.

For Angell, although “chemical reactions” can be forced during the curation of group exhibitions, it is the “alchemical” reactions which occur between his works which he takes the most pleasure from: “It’s the perverse logic of curation, the alchemical bond between pieces which makes some pieces stronger for being next to one thing, or stronger for being obscured.” The decisions involved in curation may seem arbitrary to Angell but he can’t deny the tricksy way in which it seems to fit everything together.

Although Angell claims that he is not a ceramicist, and would never define himself as one, I think the process has affected him in deeper ways than he might imagine, all of his talk of “alchemy” strikes a chord with the “crazy glazes which can suddenly atrophy in the kiln” transforming black to yellow.  Even with his methodical acrylic paintings, which are, “totally in contrast to ceramics” and “not sexy at all”, Angell uses a processes of flicking thousands of layers of paint with a toothbrush onto a surface which means that the outcome is always unexpected. There is an element of experimentation in everything.

When I ask Angell whether there is any intentional humour in his work he is very dismissive, he isn’t interested in the kind of ‘artist’s joke’ which only requires the smug acknowledgement of an ‘in-joke’; “If you look at medieval woodcuts, they are so shonky, they aren’t supposed to be funny but they are- everyone in them looks so daft and silly- if I’m trying to channel any kind of humour it’s that accidental humour.”

I couldn’t have found a better metaphor for the root of the laughter stirred by Angell’s work if I tried.  Load up the CV page on Angell’s website and a folksy little jig will begin playing, accidentally do this in public and you won’t be able to restrain a little giggle. It is a bit silly. The spirit of daftness works its way into everything Angell does, whether it’s the “piece of piss” sculptural process of ceramics he plays with or the inspiration he takes from 80s war games; amused by the nerdy guys in games workshops, he admits that his ceramics “get increasingly like old models I used to make”.

The really interesting thing about the harmony and ‘alchemy’ of Angell’s work is that his three processes have such crazily diverse roots.  Angell is influenced by a whole phantasmagoria of cultural curiosities. While the wall drawings are inspired by dilapidated religious paintings from the 11th and 12th century, Angell also cites West German pottery, folk music, British Psychadelia of the 60s and 70s, Albion and the idea of a sentient British landscape, as influences. He’s joyfully indiscriminate, but no single strand is necessarily identifiable in the final creation. They are all thrown into the kiln in a melee of personal kooks and obsessions.

Angell has only been working with ceramics for a year so the process is developing very quickly, but I can tell that he is enjoying the opportunity for experimentation:  “Ceramics look cool.  You can have anything you want and turn it into stone over-night. I really felt that it was a fundamentally nice sculptural process.”  Without any facilities at the Slade, Angell snuck back into his secondary school for a little training from the ceramics technician and has been playing with the medium ever since.  Making around 15-20 pieces during every period in the studio, Angell admits that aspects often transfer between ceramics when they are still wet; the process is always expressive.

Behind all of the flippancy of his experimentation in the ceramics studio, Angell is passionately polemical about the process: “I’m very opinionated about what ceramics should be. I think ceramics should be treated democratically as a sculptural material rather than as a craft. I think it’s such a basic ancient technique, like drawing or something like that, that it shouldn’t be restricted to the artisan.”

Next year he hopes to set up a studio in South London where other artists will also be able to benefit from the facilities, “Basically there is no provision for artists in London working with ceramics any more, there’s a few people with small private kilns who will let you use their space, but it’s awkward to work in somebody else’s space. Or you’re working back in that craft world, among people making teapots.  It’s going to be a resource for artists.”

With the casual beauty of his acrylics recalling pre-historic works of art and his dystopian glazed ceramics, Angell seems to transform the reverent gallery space into a quasi-religious shrine to a surreal mix of untraceable influences. There is no better maxim for an artist to live by than pleasure, and Angell knows how to inject all his work with a healthy dose of fun:  “I realised that if I was making what I wanted, and definitely knew it was what I wanted to be doing at that moment, then that didn’t need an explanation.”

Aaron Angell will be included in 20/12 London Art Now at National Trust property Lodge Park, Sherborne Park Estate (26 September  – 7 October  2012 and also has a forthcoming solo show at Rob Tufnell

Apologies for the long, protracted absence. I escaped to Spain and enjoyed cold river swimming, hot sun and the beautiful Moorish Andalusia.

Before I went away I interviewed sculptor Dexter Dymoke about his current show at Nettie Horn, the delicately named, A Rain of Stars. The humorous and often subversive collision of materials and found objects in Dymoke’s sculptures particularly captured me. Dymoke was very definitely a materialist and it was clear that he had been drawn to sculpture because of his primitive love of things and objects.

Towards the end of my interview with Dexter Dymoke, at his exhibition A Rain of Stars, he points out his latest piece, ‘Oeuvre’. ‘Ouevre’ is a new kind of work for Dymoke; he drew a picture, scanned it, and sent if off to be made by somebody else.  Considering Dymoke came to sculpture from “making” as a carpenter and joiner, this black silhouette of an abstract steel cat strikes us as a complete departure. “It’s great,” Dymoke smiles with the lightness of freedom, “I understand what Donald Judd was all about. I could just keep getting it made in a factory. I could get rid of my studio.”

I sense that Dymoke has too powerful a love of materials, of found objects and scavenged textures, for him to be entirely serious about giving up his studio. Whether it is the “rorschach-like table top” of Marinade or the “collection of art objects” atavistically arranged in Searcher’s Season, objects and materials are afforded a deeper, richer status in the hands of Dexter Dymoke. Just as Henry Moore could never give up his flints or his maquette studio, Dymoke’s years of collected materials represent a hoard of too great a value to be abandoned. “I don’t start from a political position or as a cultural commentator, I start from a material position. I work from the idea of trying to find energy and power within material objects and things.”

Although Dymoke believes that “sculpture has a kind of honesty about what it is,” he also admits that he deliberately tries to “take materials out of their functions to make them seem different to what they really are.” During the interview a wooden limb, Rollo, lies at our feet. It looks like a familiar organic form, stretching out like a piece of found driftwood, but this is a manufactured form created from layers of plywood. Crowned by a ring of red industrial hardware the sculpture gets stranger, “It is a sculpture becoming something else.” This “discordant note” is a playful respite, a humour which Dymoke employs partly for the sake of his own sanity when working alone in the studio, and partly for the benefit of his viewers.

Dymoke may make unnatural subversions with discordant materials, but he relies upon a natural balance and equilibrium in these compositional sculptures. The break of the fabric in Dymoke’s twist on minimalist neons, Flume, is balanced with a harmonious exactness; dragging the light downwards with the weightlessness of water in order to capture its audience in quiet reverence.

Up close Flume’s fabric waterfall looks surprisingly cheap and thin, but it is transformed with the luxury of its illuminated fall.  For Dymoke sculpture is empowered by an “energy which is more than a sum of the parts.” Basic materials are unexpectedly brought together by the artist and in this process of composition are “afforded some kind of status within the artwork.”  Dymoke has returned to this fabric four or five times in an attempt to exploit the quality of its fall, endowing it with an aesthetic power which reaches beyond its practical function.

“I’m trying to really push the envelope of what sculpture is actually doing. I want to get under the radar with a bit of emotion; people recognise this as sculpture but I hope that it also might linger in their minds and strike an emotional chord.” It is this desire to affect an emotional reaction which leads Dymoke to find a place for his found materials in his sculptures. They might have a personal resonance for him but they also have the energy to appeal to his audience on an individual level. Found objects have an “infinite register,” while “their origins are unknown and their path to the art work is unknown” it is possible for narratives and connections to be uncovered by each and every viewer.

When faced with an exhibition of heavy metals, (bronze, copper, aluminium and steel) and of woods, hardware, brackets and other scraps picked up off the street, the light poetry of A Rain of Stars might seem like too delicate and ethereal a title. “A piece of work can raise questions which remain unanswered,” says Dymoke, “I would like my own work to approach this kind of status.” In these sculptures the materials are composed and arranged in such a way that they suggest an openness, and with this lightness of being the work does not impress upon us one vision but invites us to make our own reflection.

A Rain of Stars will be at Nettie Horn until the 12th August

Dexter Dymoke is also one of six artists shortlisted for the WW Gallery SOLO Award and you can see his work at GROUP 2012 until 25 August.

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In line with my recent feminist feeling I interviewed Roxie and Natasha about the all woman show they curated for the Cob Gallery, Camden. They had a lot of interesting things to say about the current status of contemporary women artists and also about the relevance of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper as a feminist text today. Here’s a link to the article on roves and roams: http://www.rovesandroams.com/2012/07/roxie-warder-and-natasha-hoare/

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‘By moonlight- the moon shines in all night when there is a moon – I wouldn’t know it was the same paper.’ The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

It is the warm flush of the colour yellow which first arrests us in the all-woman group show The Yellow Wallpaper; the vinyl on the broad windows, a glimpse of Gabriella Boyd’s Between These Eight Walls (of yellow) on the floor below, and Suzannah Pettigrew’s rolled out sheets of yellow wallpaper decorating the reception.

 

In what curators, Natasha Hoare and Roxie Warder, describe as ‘this first immersive space’, a yellow wallpapered reading room where elegant editions of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 novella can be perused, we are likely to find as many subtly distinct shades of yellow as the exhibition will offer diverse interpretations of this seminal feminist book .

 

Roxie and Natasha tell me that Pettigrew’s design is based on Perkins Gilman’s descriptions of the different shades of the yellow wallpaper, but even the interpretation of a technicality like colour is subjective. Pettigrew’s graphically modern design is entirely different to the florid, gilded pattern of Boyd’s oil painting, proving the ‘freedom a short story offers’ the imagination of an artist.

 

“We had wanted to do an all-woman show for a while but we also felt we needed a conceptual hook to bring an exhibition together,” explain Roxie and Natasha. In conversation with the artist Gabriella Boyd in front of one of her paintings, the haunting pervasiveness of The Yellow Wallpaper in the minds of both curator and artist became apparent.

 

While the wallpaper represents the repression of creativity for the narrator in Perkins Gilman’s novella, locked away by her husband and forbidden to write so as not to aggravate her hysteria,  Roxie and Natasha feel that the 6 female artists in the exhibition have succeeded in “rewriting the repression in the story and unleashing their own creativity.”

 

“There is still such a big gap between the representation of male and female artists” says Roxie, remembering the temptation to include the work of certain men when they were first approaching artists. All female shows are still significant in giving women a room of their own to create and exhibit work which can be directly feminist . “You wouldn’t find a man trying not to be masculine, but women often feel they have to avoid being pigeonholed as too feminine,” explains Natasha who was shocked to find that some of the press felt that the exhibition was just too niche when “half of the population are women!”

 

The exhibition has the polemical feel of a feminist discussion group. In fact Roxie and Natasha had originally thought to gather the artists together for a reading group but opted for a dinner instead so as not to limit alternative interpretations. Each of the artists have performed their own readings of the text nevertheless, expressing this in the unique language of their artistic practice; the reading group plays out its debate in the gallery space.

 

For Roxie and Natasha, The Yellow Wallpaper is a “story that stays with you. We believe it does still resonate today, the issues it addresses are still not fully solved.” They cite the high rate of prescriptions for women in Europe of anti-depressants and Prozac as one localised example of the inequality which is faced by women the world over. While the exhibition has changed Natasha’s reading of the text, they also hope that the book will reach new audiences, stirring debate and critical discussion.

 

The women included in the show have all produced new work in response to the novel The Yellow Wallpaper, and yet they have all picked up on very different atmospheres in the text.  The sparse pathological psychosis of Eve Ackroyd’s paintings; the obsessive repetitions of Becky Allen’s etchings;  the Hitchcockian distortion of Flora Robertson’s fractured fantasy; Boyd’s nostalgic paintings in light, fresh colours which hold back sinister suggestions; and Adeline De Monseignat’s interpretation of the text as a story of post natal depression: these psychoses each have their own personalities.

 

With its suffocating patriarchal oppression and a focus on a once-fashionable fascination with an overtly sexist ‘hysteria’, I had my doubts about whether The Yellow Wallpaper would be relevant to contemporary feminism.  Yet, confronted by the atmospheric shifts in the exhibition it becomes clear that each of these women is responding with what remains real and pertinent to them.

 

Roxie and Natasha point out that Eve Ackroyd’s motherhood has a deep impact on her paintings, and that Flora Robertson’s work with immigrants underpins her interest in psychological fragmentation.  When I hear that Adeline De Monseignat’s Mother In Child is the same weight and size as she was when she was born, I sense a personal entanglement which perhaps even the artist would struggle to articulate.  When feminism proves that there is still more work for the feminists to do, that’s when it’s working at its best.

 

The Yellow Wallpaper will be at the Cob Gallery, Camden until the 21st of July

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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

 

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.