WOW. Some fantastic artwork here – had to share it with you!
Well seeing as my photography post last week was quite popular I thought I might make it a weekly series. I had to come back up into London this weekend to work (booo) but on the walk between Islington Arts Factory where I was volunteering with Artbox, and my desk at work, I took advantage of the shadows and silhouettes created by the clear, sharp sunny day.
Interesting details are endlessly available. I’ve always been fascinated by the way the light falls on objects or surfaces, or how things have been blown or kicked into certain positions. I look for situations where people and things have created their own composition, usually unknowingly or unnoticed. I wouldn’t want to set something up.
Life is the artist, I just put a frame around it.
All photos were taken with a Nikon D60 Digital SLR with 18-55mm VR lens.
I believe your reaction to the Gillian Wearing exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery may well correlate with your individual Empathy Quotient. This figure is measured by a scale which has at the 0 end a total lack of empathy (and thus sociopathy). An average woman would score 47. I (big softie that I am) scored 63. This is probably why I found myself close to tears at almost every exhibit in the show; and those which didn’t gut-wrench me into despair, scared me to almost the same point.
If art is meant to provoke (and I certainly think it should) then this truly is Art. Through film and photography, Wearing creates a no-holds barred showcase of the human condition and slaps you in the face with it. The whole conceptual theme running throughout Wearing’s work is the question of private vs public. What do we keep private and why? What happens when we take that private part of people and make it public? How and why do we put on a constructed facade, a ‘mask’, for other people? Her work forces you to confront these questions and to analyse your own reactions. I felt immediately ashamed when I recoiled from the man discussing his sexuality in 10 – 16 (’97). Although I know these people agreed to be filmed, it felt like intruding.
Is this what Wearing is trying to point out to us, though? That social stigmas are so ingrained in us that we now think them ‘natural’. It is ‘natural’ to want to turn away when you see someone being abused such as in Sacha and Mum (’96), or when faced with the deep sadness of reality in films such as Prelude – Lynn & Sister (’00). In the same way that we would turn off the news to avoid feeling depressed, our culture is one of denial and repression. We are encouraged to bury our heads in the sand. ‘Life’s too short, why dwell on it?’ is the familiar cry.
Wearing’s work focuses on our self-enforced repression and drags it to the surface. In pieces such as 2 into 1 (’97) we watch a mother and her two (awful) sons lip-synch each others opinions of themselves. 2 minutes of this and you will either realise how lovely your own children are or, like me, be very glad you don’t have any at all. But of course this is the mirror emotion to the sadness and despair provoked by the pieces. The relief. The overwhelming gratitude that when you leave the exhibition, this is not your life.
On the other hand, in a way, it is. We all have secrets. We all have feelings we are ashamed of. The contrast between our real selves and our facades is explored explicitly in Wearing’s famous social experiment, Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (’92-3). As a relatively unknown artist, on the streets of Brixton in the 90’s, she asked passers by to write whatever they wanted on a piece of card and have their photograph taken with it. The results are surprising. As you would expect, there are quite a few references to the recession and subsequent lack of jobs. But amongst these you have clashes of image and words. Policemen stating ‘Help’ and a very together-looking young woman claiming ‘My grip on life is rather loose’. We all make judgements based on facade, but we project that facade too, so that people see what we want them see. We have to have control.
The most disturbing part of the exhibition for me was the portrait room. I consider myself a pretty hardy young woman; I’ve watched The Exorcist a number of times, and laugh in the face of the multitude of modern teen-horrors. But this was something else altogether. In the honest spirit of the show, I will admit that I sat in front of these photographs and felt genuine fear in the pit of my stomach. ‘Self Portrait as…’ (’04-06) consists of a series of large photographs of Wearing’s family; grandmother, father, brother, as well as famous figures such as Andy Warhol. At first seemingly innocuous, a closer look reveals a familiar pair of eyes. Wearing has constructed lifelike masks of people and put herself behind them, carefully cutting out the area around the eyes so that you begin to back away as you realise that there are 13 different faces looking at you, but only one person. I was reminded of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the psychological difficulty of dealing with someone hiding behind another person’s face has us cowering behind the nearest cushion.
Not knowing what it is that we are facing is a fear which taps into every scary film set in the dark of night, or the surprisingly common fear of clowns. The irony is that we do this every day, with almost every person, but we accept the facade. Its easier. We are conditioned not see the masks. In pieces like Confess All On Video. Don’t Worry, You Will Be In Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian (94), Wearing literalises this situation by placing people in masks and asking them to describe their ‘private confessions’. The concept is tantalising and you can see why people took up the offer. For us as the viewer, it creates a disturbing scenario in which we helplessly watch someone bare their soul without being able to offer comfort, but for the participant it is no different to catholic confession, or even the popular therapy session. The need to share our private secrets is inherent in us as humans, and Wearing explores this need by making us do just that.
The exhibition is on until 5th June. If you are interested in the human condition and the power of art as social catalyst then I would highly recommend you see it. Although I suggest taking a cushion, either to hide behind, or to cry into. I wish I had.
Having recently been astounded at how long my blog posts take to write and put together, I thought I would give you a little something in the interim period between full posts. What with a full-time job and 3hr per day commute, two volunteering positions, lots of interests, friends, family and the boyf, I struggle to find time for more than one a week!
Yesterday, however, I took advantage of a free afternoon and the astoundingly gorgeous weather to take a trip to London town with my camera in tow. I squeezed my way through the Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery and rubbed shoulders with the cool cats at the preview of the new Damien Hirst show at White Cube (reviews to follow).
On my walks to and from these venues I was snapping away at anything which caught my eye. Details have always interested me. The little things which people don’t usually notice. A detail can sometimes be a clue to it’s surroundings, or can sometimes seem alien as it is taken out of context. These were my favourites from the day – I hope you like.
All photos were taken with a Nikon D60 Digital SLR with 18-55mm VR lens.
After the very outward-looking Deller exhibition which dealt primarily with culture and society, I immediately climbed the stairs of the Hayward gallery and stepped straight out of the real world and into the eccentric brain of David Shrigley. It felt completely fitting that the show was in the top space, as if a visual representation of being inside his mind. Deliberate? I hope so.
The first thing I noticed as I came into the room was the eclectic nature of the pieces. Deller’s work had also seemed a multifarious assortment, but only in terms of material and style; the message and topic was generally consistent. Like Deller, Shrigley’s objects also cover a range of techniques and approaches; some intervention, photographs, sculpture, video etc. But the message is convoluted. I accepted after a while that I was not going to ‘get it’, if indeed there was anything to get. That’s not to say i didn’t like it. The contrast between Deller’s clear moral and political messages and the stream of consciousness-feel of Shrigley was like being electro-shocked from the frontal lobe to the neural networks (to continue the brain analogy).
It’s clear that Shrigley has a dry sense of humour. Again, much like Deller, his work makes you laugh – but not in the same way. Deller’s humour was witty and sometimes withering. With Shrigley’s work, I laughed outwardly at the silliness, nervously at the creepiness, and sometimes hysterically at the madness. It’s fun in a disturbing kind of way. It reminds me vaguely of Beavis and Butthead. Not just in the graphic style, which has a similar spiky-featured look, but the general uneasiness of the vibe it emanates. Unsettling. As if the works will smile at you, then turn around and bite.
His wall of sketches seems to be a kind of visual description of a manic episode. Your eyes jump from one drawing to another, trying to find a common link ,a story, but none appears. Maybe I’m just not imaginative enough to spot the connections. Or maybe there is no defined link and it is indeed just the rambling bizarre thoughts of Mr Shrigley himself. I like that I don’t know.
I succeeded in drawing some meaning from his ‘Eggs’ piece as well as ‘New Friends’, both of which seemed to explore ideas about being different and fitting in. A line of irregular, oversized eggs were placed above one of the spaces, each emblazoned with the name ‘egg’. To me, it spoke of difference and similarity, acceptance and humanity (and animality). Apologies, a bit of alliteration overkill there. This message, about essentially being the same but with slight differences, was continued in the animated ‘New friends’ whereby a square character is cheered and held aloft by a large group of circular characters, but, thinking he is accepted, is then rounded off on a plane to become just like the rest. An animated morality tale of intolerance.
Now I wouldn’t say I took anything in particular away with me from this exhibition (besides a generally bemused demeanor) but it was certainly a surreal experience. Finished up by the ultra-dry ‘I’m Dead’ dog and the ‘headless drummer’ animation, to which the gallery guide was gleefully tapping away on his thighs, I couldn’t help thinking that David Shrigley seems to me the art world equivalent of a cross between Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers. A man with an intellectual, manic sense of humour suffused with dark, inter-woven threads of meaning. His portfolio is so diverse I feel that this barely scratches the surface, but I think that the urge to scratch deeper has only just begun.
Check out some further info links –
From Political Art 2012…to Political Art circa 1993. With Jeremy Deller we are going further back. Back to the times in which the mini-Vacuum Cleaner was just growing up and discovering the mischievous artistic potential of the world around him. Back to the days of Ecstasy and Acid House and, even further, to the Miner’s strike and The Who. But although much of Deller’s work may seem focused on popular culture, it also seeks to challenge historical narrative and displace traditional attitudes.
As a visitor to the Deller retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, I had almost no idea of what to expect. I entered gingerly into the room emblazoned with the poster “Bless This Acid House”, giggling already. Well-placed on the opening door, it set the tone for the entire show; witty, clever and bold.
Stepping into the first room was a slightly surreal experience. As a child of the nineties (well kind of – I missed all the ‘sorted for e’s and whizz’ good bits, although I did once find my way to a small rave in some woods. Ahem. I digress) I found it easy to relate to the objects and imagery in the reconstruction of Deller’s first exhibition, including the ever so slightly condescending Tate text about how Deller lived with his parents into his late-20s, producing work with his bedroom as his studio. Aha! There may be hope for me yet! His lucky break (every famous person has one) came through meeting that oracle of modern art, Andy Warhol; the androgynous 60’s Midas with whom a few hours spent would imbue you with a body pumped by liquid creativity.
There are echoes of Warhol here. The spoof exhibition posters, promoting a Keith Moon retrospective (can we have that please?), the music videos and bright twists on slogans; a lot of Deller’s work is heavily influenced by Pop Art. But then, you can see so many influences in his work it almost deems it impossible to pinpoint any key figures. I was struck by the extensive range of materials, formats, viewpoints, and concepts he explores and even spotted what looked like a tinge of land art à la Andy Goldsworthy, in Barbeque Summer. In contrast, Valerie’s Snack Bar, where you could go for a free cup of tea, placed you within the art object itself. You were the viewed, as well as the viewer. It felt a bit like stepping inside Deller’s mind; into a memory. Or into ‘an OAP youth club’, as Deller put it.
It is common for an artist to find a single style and to veer only marginally from that style throughout their whole career. Deller swings violently from performance art to interventionist to painting to photography to documentary and on. His work is infinitely entertaining. It is also very funny. I admit that I laughed out loud as a short film explained his project to develop a hand signal language for the middle classes to rival that of the gang culture, amongst others. Thumb, forefinger and middle finger touching and pointed upwards translates as ‘Antiques Roadshow’, or just ‘money’. It was a bit like seeing a visual representation of articles written by David Mitchell or Charlie Brooker. Hilariously witty, but with a message. In this case, a clear, common sense message about acceptability and unacceptability and our ridiculous societal structure that dictates which is which. Banners in the style of biblical quotation contain Bowie and Nirvana lyrics, credited with ‘David c1 v2’ , and a large wall painting charts the links between brass bands and acid house. Acceptable and unacceptable. Transposed and juxtaposed.
This theme is continued in his documentary-style works on the miner’s strike and the Iraq war, which take on a more sombre and serious tone. Deller explores the concept of history as a living thing for us to engage with and to delve into. His recreation of the Battle of Orgreave is inspired and poignant. The layout of the project takes us through the written history, factual timelines, contemporary clippings and culminates in a fascinating film documenting the event and his discussions with people who were there. His exploration of conflict and abuse of power continues through ‘It Is What it Is’, a powerful and moving record of Deller’s journey across America with a bombed out car from Baghdad.
The general impression is of a man who celebrates life with humour and insight. It is an impression of a thinker of the most important kind,. A social thinker. Someone who looks and sees and cares and comments on what is happening in the world around him. I see the same angry, independent, anti-authoritarian attitudes in his work, as I do in the youth of Britain creating protest art in 2012. The message is of life, experience and freedom vs humdrum, hierarchy and slavery. The message is the same now as it was back in 1993. So in the words of that 90’s anti-hero Renton – choose life.
Advertising is the pornography of capitalism, and consumerism is the sex
The Vacuum Cleaner
In terms of political history, this is an exciting time to be alive. Exciting in the exhilarating sense. Exhilarating in the…falling off a high rise sense. We may indeed be witnessing the end of the world as we know it, and I can’t say I’m sad to see it go. With mass uprisings across the planet, 5 years until irreversible climate catastrophes and global financial collapse, it’s all looking pretty depressing. No wonder our teenagers feel neglected, lost and anarchistic. Where’s the hope for their future?
I attended a talk on How Art is Used Effectively in Protest, at The Hub in Kings Cross last week. Organised by Housmans, the left-wing bookshop, the discussion touched on how our current global situation has led to a rise in political resistance art. Noel Douglas, a member of Occupy Design, explained why we are now in a unique position where there is little to look forward to or to hope for. People are, rightly, distrustful of those in power and their willingness to put the interests of the financial sector before the rights of the people of this country.
To being with, the rise of the ‘viral’ has changed how we communicate a message en mass. An example of this are the brilliant David Cameron posters, which were (ironically) photoshopped and sent across cyberspace to millions of homes and offices. Before long, that image had become a part of public consciousness. People remembered it, discussed it, shared it. The idea is to use the same advertising and propaganda tools which are used against us on a daily basis, but to reflect them back at the government and corporations.
During events such as the occupation of Tahrir Square last Spring, protesters utilised this concept to rally people, leading eventually to a revolution. By using advertising methods, and witty slogans, the message gets disseminated through the crowds. This is the kind of fighting we should be doing. Not with weapons or bombs. But with the power of the image; the power of communication and dialogue. Images can expose and condemn. They can mock, and they can embarrass.
Artists and collectives such as The Vacuum Cleaner and the Space Hijackers use a slightly different method. The Vacuum Cleaner places his work “in the space between art and activism” and uses this concept to explore the idea of protest in public installation art and art vandalism. His work is clever, thoughtful and anti-authoritarian. It’s a reaction to where we are as a society.
This isn’t an entirely new idea. People have been using art and public posters (and propaganda) to convey messages for hundreds of years. The difference now is that technology has advanced to the point at which posters, photos, banners etc. don’t have to be created by small group of people making clandestine visits to printing presses. A huge proportion of the population have their own printers, computers and software (or at least access to them) capable of putting together their imagery. The internet is the vehicle. The most powerful vehicle, in fact, that we have ever utilised. The message is not being filtered through a faction, it’s coming direct from the mouths of the people.
The idea of ‘public’ and ‘the public’ is inherent in this whole movement. It’s about sharing information with others, often across social networks, or through the placing of slogans and messages in prominent public advertising spaces usually reserved for the corporate giants. It literally is art for the masses. The point of the work is to make a difference, to make a change. One of The Vacuum Cleaner’s works – The Starbucks ‘Fuck Off’ Campaign – actually led to Starbucks having to change their logo. Talk about people power. That is literally one man with a marker pen taking on a mega-corporation and winning. I don’t know about you, but that certainly gives me hope.