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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Heavy Air – Joanna Scislowicz

Imagine a pair of bird’s wings, humanely detached from their original owner. Packed, shipped, delivered and now laying prostrate on the table in front of you. What comes into your mind? What is the first thing you associate with this charged but ultimately harmless item? Death or life; nature or artifice? Perhaps all of the above?

The brainchild of creative partners Nina Farrell and Asa Medhurst, ‘The Assignment‘ is a project which explores individual artistic expression through thematic collaboration. This, the first project, is based around wings. Nina works regularly with objects; her artworks blur the boundaries between still life, photography and scientific experimentation. She wondered what other artists, with their variety of stylistic and intellectual idiosyncrasies, would make of the same object. Would there be a shared response or would each artist interpret the object in a unique process? These questions were finally answered last Friday, after a year of intense planning and culminating in a delicious paroxysm of paint, taxidermy and technology. Utilising her superior design and PR skills from her background in marketing, Nina, with artist and web-designer partner Asa, set out to create a platform on which this concept could embody their vision of a collaborative showcase.

Nina Farrell – co-curator of The Wing Assignment

Maria Strutz – Baba Yaga Hut

Jewel Goodby – The Angels Fell

The project initially consisted a small selection of invited artists drawn together carefully by Asa and Nina; friends, acquaintances and artists whose work they connected with. This was always a changeling being though and as word spread the pair were soon on the other side of the fence – no longer the invitees but the recipients of an inundation of requests to be involved. Tellingly, the final show displayed a choice selection of works from over 60 artist submissions. The Wing Assignment had undoubtedly begun to fly all by itself.

The exhibition took place at Red Bull Studios, appropriately enough, where we were probably plied with enough metaphorical wings to have flown back in time, superman-style, to watch the assignment concept first spring into being. The draw of the physical wings, on the other hand, kept us firmly in the building. Squeezing through the vast, admiring throng I made a fairly vain attempt to take some photographs, and taking my place back at the prints table in my role as helper for the evening, I was peppered with requests to congratulate the curators and to buy not only the tantalising prints and catalogues but the original works too.

The Wing Assignment opening night @ Red Bull Studios

Signed, limited edition Indigo prints for sale

Of the originals, a favourite was hard to pick. More than a few times I was forced to undertake healthy debate with another guest about which piece was the most striking. Interestingly, the visitor opinions seemed as diverse as the pieces and rarely did anyone agree. Andre Weé’s shattering graphics seemed particularly popular, with an oft-appearing line of loitering visitors waiting to examine his prints. A fellow helper (my sister in fact) managed to swiftly nab herself a signed Weé print – treasured lovingly all the way home and subsequently held aloft via social media like a spoil of war. Pleased, I think.

André Wee – Broken Wings. Image courtesy of The Wing Assignment.com

Model wearing – SIDEWAYS AND DUCK by Shaun McGrath

My personal favourite was Lift off and Lift off 2, by Sophie-Elizabeth Thompson (Soforbis). The shape, texture and placement signify everything that wings would mean to me; purity, clarity, simplicity and a quiet, inherent beauty. But what wings might mean to me is certainly not what they might mean to someone else, as was made explicit by this exhibition. Part of the inspiration for this project came from Asa and Nina’s desire to work to their own brief rather than that of a client. Letting your creative instinct answer a question, rather than your logic or your knowledge of what someone else is expecting can be an immensely rewarding and inspiring experience. The Wing Assignment is living breathing proof of this fact in the most astounding way. Bring on 2013 and The Assignment #2.

Sophie-Elizabeth Thompson (Soforbis) – Lift off and Lift off 2. Image courtesy of The Wing Assignment.com

UGE – Archaeoptery

Mark Rose – Feather Frequency 6,15,18 13,9,3,11,5,25

Katie Brookes

Paul Reeve – endangered

Model wearing – SIDEWAYS AND DUCK by Shaun McGrath

Gillian Swan – Future Uncertain

For further information and to keep up with the project visit the website or follow on Twitter

Signed, numbered limited edition prints are available to buy online at The Wing Assignment website

All images my own unless otherwise stated

I’ll be extremely surprised if you’ve managed to get to this point in the year and not be aware of the Ai Wei Wei and Herzog & de Meuron 2012 Serpentine Pavilion offering. Aside from the fact that Ai Wei Wei is currently UK flavour of the month, following his turbine hall sunflower installation at Tate Modern and his infamous battles with the Chinese government, the pavilion is rapidly becoming a regular must-see of the summer. Introduced only 12 years ago, it already seems like a historical tradition.

For those of you who don’t know, each year an architect (or, as in the case of this year, an architect / artist collaboration) is chosen to design a summer pavilion in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery at Hyde Park. This is no mean feat. One quick Google search will impress upon you the scale and quality of these structures. We’re not talking a brightly coloured gazebo here, but a fully independent temporary building.

This year’s design broke the recent mould and decided to go down instead of up. Rather than create a shelter by building up and over the human body, the team decided to lower the floor, making the roof raised only around 2 feet from ground level and forcing the visitor to descend into and under it. Exploring the subject of memory, the structure is suspended by 12 pillars, 11 of which represent past pavilions and one embodying the current manifestation.

Once underneath, the space is lit by miner-style lighting with waterproof cork underfoot, reinforcing the underground sensation. That said, the cork is not raw but beautifully refined and shaped, creating a variety of planes and levels to negotiate getting from one side to the other. The design of the floor is again another hark back to late pavilion ghosts, with each floor plan stacked upon one another in chronological order, to create a landscape of jutting corners and sweeping contours.  The gradations retreat then ascend in a manner which reminded me of the final scene in Labryinth, where Jennifer Connelly chases David Bowie in vain as the floor shifts this way and that in a dreamlike scenario, leading to dead ends which suddenly rise up or converge in a cut away space. Placed seemingly randomly amongst these walls and steps are stools. Both made of cork and also shaped like corks, (as from a bottle) they provide a sweet little jolt of humour which snaps you back to the picnics and sunshine above.

The ceiling of this underground retreat doubles as a water feature on the topside. Seen from a higher sloped part of the grounds the flat circular pool creates a stunning reflection of the surrounding trees and life of the park. Linking again back to the organic concern intrinsic in the design, the visitor feels as if buried in the ground: embraced by nature, enshrined in cork , beneath a film of water.

Although delicious on a hot summers day, I can imagine the effect on a damp autumn afternoon; as attested by a friend, cork in damp weather does not equal a comfortable cranny. But this is not intended to be a winter pavilion, nor an all-year-round pavilion. The designers could not have foreseen the deluge of rain of which our summer frustratingly consisted. I, in fact, believe it to have held up rather well; the cork is shiningly intact and although the water has gained a new, rather aromatic element as the algae continuously divides, the current mass of orange complements the increasingly colourful leaves of the trees so delicately, you could almost believe it was deliberate.

At the Royal College of Art, I performed at student shows sawing women in half, dancing with a dummy woman that disintegrated. The staff called this “silly bugger activity”. I left with a first class degree and a silver medal.

If you thought true surrealism died with that epitome of eccentricity Salvador Dali then think again. Bruce Lacey is a serious contender as his modern day equivalent. Co-curated by Jeremy Deller and Prof. David Mellor, the exhibition at Camden Arts Centre takes us on a rollercoaster through Lacey’s life and work, elements which regularly intertwine.

Indicating all the while the influence Lacey has clearly had on Deller’s work, the show is streaked with humour and uses Lacey’s real life experiences and artefacts as the medium to build an enchanting portrait. Lacey’s own commentary serves to bring us that much closer to the artist himself. You feel at times as if you know him. You want to know him. The stark contrast between the dry academic text of colossal Tate exhibitions and the colloquial storytelling soliloquised here, is palpable. I can’t see Damien Hirst being up for this. But that’s why it is so absorbing. You don’t feel as if you’re just looking; you’re experiencing, interacting. Quite literally in the case of the machines. As with the Deller exhibition, walking around the show I felt a genuine connection with the person. Some artists are able to do that. Some cant. Some don’t want to. Humour plays a big part in developing this feeling, as does text. Writing, especially about yourself, can create the illusion with the reader of an emotional bond. You are sharing yourself with them. Something about the visual artefact is inherently more detached.

Lacey has spent his life sharing and interacting. As a performance artist, a definition which came to him accidentally as he tried to choose between performing or art, his visual artefacts are rarely just that. As a student of the Royal Academy his paintings were brooding and muted. Technically capable but lacking in the vivacity he clearly embodies. A nearby film playing in the exhibition explains how he took up knife throwing and cabaret style performance whilst at the RA. Now that’s more like it.

Royal Academy paintings

You wonder if his childhood could really have had such a dramatic effect as it seems. He describes with gusto his memories as a child of play-acting, magic shows and amateur family cabaret then recreates it both with his own children and adult themed in his later work. His uncle, a pilot, inspired him to enter the army as an electrics engineer, a short career which allowed him to later recreate large-scale adult versions of the robot figures he played with as a child. The wooden robot is displayed poignantly, alongside a toy Indian, again a recurring theme in his work and in his 80s rituals. Are these links real or fabricated? As with this type of biographical art it is hard to know what is technically true and what may have been added to create a narrative. There are no rules here, no disclaimer stating ‘no actors were used’. This is art. And art can be whatever it wants to be. It ultimately forces you to stop trying to define it and to just go with it. Experience the experience.

Rosa Bosom. courtesy Camden Arts Centre – Taken from catherinemason.co.uk

Taken from Time Out online

Engaging with his machines is certainly an experience. I was very lucky to visit the exhibition at a time when the machines were turned on and it would have been a great loss had they not been. Juxtaposed with the machines, some of which seemed to watch you with their grinning, painted and unseeing eyes, is an array of memorabilia. Again, unlike many background exhibition documentation, this selection is absorbing. Without even reading it, in fact even by just casting a glance across the face of the case, with it’s explicit imagery and technicolor palette, you grow to know more of the man. By this point you are expecting more monty python-esque antics and even as you start to examine the machines you are looking for the joke. Sometimes there is one. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be. Like me, you might now be slightly perplexed. Until you read his commentary and realise there isn’t meant to be a joke, at least not implicitly. In his own words he describes them as the “equivalent of witches sticking pins in statues of people”. Ah, here is the legendary dark side of the comedian.

School Days – ’63 – Taken from whosjack.org

The machines are a fascinating combination of science, art, humour and politics. The Politician ’64 instructs you to press a button and place your hand into a great gaping, toothy mouth from whence you soon feel hot air being blown onto your skin and you get the joke. But pieces such as Clock Face, ’62 unsettle our equilibrium and tap into our latent fear of the machine. The irony is not lost on me. We worship the machine. Technology has almost developed into a new religion in modern times. But essentially we fear it’s capabilities, as we probably should. The terror of Arnie and the T300 still linger in the memories of our consciousness. What if they got too clever? Came alive? With their logical detachment and emotional void? Scary stuff. But perhaps that’s the point? This was, after all, around the time of major technological advancement, our first visit to the moon, a subject which Lacey and his wife Jill Bruce parodied in their 1969 performance The British Landing on the Moon.

Clock Face ’62 – Taken from cyberneticzoo.com

Since his introduction to art as a recovering TB patient, Lacey has considered his work as his psychotherapy, his method of coping with and expressing his feelings about life and humanity. He says of his machines “I hated Pop Art as it was the very opposite of what I was concerned with – the state of the world around me: war, famine, spare-part surgery. It was satisfying to make these things using consumer objects and technology – to criticise the very society that had made them.”  Though his machines sometimes seem to criticise life, his performances are funny and engaging, his thesis at the RA cleverly detailing the merits of humour in all aspects of life. His later 80’s rituals are a complete celebration of nature, moving away from the modernisation which so frustrated him and inspiring him to return to paint, resulting in some beautiful mural-style hangings.

Jupiter in Turmoil ’87 – Taken from artslant.com

It is often difficult to separate Lacey’s life and work, indeed perhaps we are not meant to. Although he notes the start of his technical art production as1946, you sense that he was instinctively cultivating his performance art from a young age. It is as if Lacey himself is the artwork, the pieces created by him secondary works, which serve to build up a portrait of a whole; a man who never lived the straight line, and is all the more fascinating for it.

All works are copyright Bruce Lacey

Joran Rapa Manche – White Flag

If you ever feel the need to assess your belief in your own artistic talent just take a trip to your nearest MA art show.  The work at Camberwell College MA show 2012 is astounding in its accomplishment and creativity. My own attempts at artistic production, though still valid in their own sphere of inception, pale humbly in comparison. To those who claim nonsensically that art today is of a lesser standard than years gone by, I challenge you to explore the rooms of the illustration section and still stand your ground.

An immense maze of rooms, the MA show presents work from all courses; Book Arts, Designer Maker, Conservation, Digital Arts/Online, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, and Printmaking, of which I sadly had time to view only a single section – that of Illustration. Approaching to see the entrance brimming over, I entered the crowded room filled with students, teachers, families and friends, and was immediately introduced to Huanxi Jiang’s darkly surreal storytelling. The series of works, including ‘Where Are You’, use intricate pencil marks and spatial exploration to tell a magical tale of otherworldly events. A stark contrast with others in the show such as Mel Winning, whose mix of digital and traditional media results in unsettling figurative portraits situated somewhere between dream and reality.

Huanxi Jiang

Huanxi Jiang – Where Are You

Mel Winning

The undertones of these works, which emanate a sense of foreboding, are not unusual in this show. As I traverse the corridors and rooms of the building, working my way through a maze of bold graphics and enticing narrative, I am struck by two things. The first is that a great amount of the work is inherently ‘dark’ in its symbolism, its imagery and undertone seemingly encapsulating a dreamlike or nightmarish state. I wonder if the module gave a related topic as a suggested theme? Or whether the emotion of a whole generation of disillusioned twenty-somethings collectively majors on the sinister? Possibly both. It ties in with the second thing which struck me as I wandered, taking in lonely clouds and illuminated furniture; that a large proportion of the students in the rooms I encountered were from eastern and oriental backgrounds and those that weren’t often incorporated a similar eastern illustrative style. I pondered on why this might be. Traditional Chinese folk art and calligraphy could often qualify for the criteria of the modern illustration sector and have, in recent decades, entwined with digital media to propagate styles such as modern Manga and Anime. My own experience of these genres are that they can often be quietly shocking. Reminiscent of Grimm fairytales, traditional stories are presented in animation form initially invoking childlike sensation; fairies, bright colours and fantasy settings, but soon introduce malevolent characters, understated violence and frightening imagery. The combination of sweet childish dreams and nightmarish situation is exhibited quite regularly in the pieces at this show. Sofia Lobato’s works, particularly, struck me for their initial saccharine appeal, which on closer inspection morphed into sinister connotations.

Yinan Zhang

I find this type of work inherently absorbing. Not only is the technical aspect detailed, imaginative and beautifully presented, but the subject is provocative. Reaching out to the child in each of us it often challenges the idea that children are naive, less able and intelligent than adults. Children feature in pieces such as Shadow & Other Stories by Dong-In Kim, or Boy in the Box by Fei Wang, as brave characters facing the unknown and terrifying. Children in manga cartoons often also take this role, dealing with the worst creations of our imagination and standing tall against them.

Fei Wang – Boy in the Box

Dong In Kim – Shadow & Other Stories

Dong In Kim – Shadow & Other Stories

Contrasting this ominous emotional thread are works by artists such as Olivia Whitworth, whose roots in architecture and design imbue her pieces with careful craftsmanship. Exploring the theory and symbolism of modern life, she combines a tongue-in-cheek style with serious questions, inviting the viewer into her illustrative world. Alix Bigois Jeambrun creates patterns and textiles for home interiors. Her storytelling, using collage and bright colours often feels like still animation, drawing your eye instinctively through the dialogue.

Olivia Whitworth

Alix Bigois Jeambrun

I could have spent hours more searching through the art-warren, discovering the many other artists on display at the show. Whether young or mature, male or female, domestic or international, the work created by these students proves without doubt that London art schools are indeed awash with stupendous talent.

Sofia Lobato

Polly Alizarin Harvey

Joran Rapa Manche – White Flag

Ruchi Shah

Runlin Chen

Kyle Henderson