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One of my favourite things about this idiosyncratic little Isle we call the UK is the quintessential seaside town. There are few other things which encapsulate so specifically the unique facets of the British psyche into one small microcosmic burst of sublime kitsch consumerism, freezing waters lapping on dirty beaches and cheap, melting ice cream cones (with a flake, of course). It’s fabulous. Tasteful is sometimes lovely; a middle-class cup of Earl Grey on a Victorian garden terrace in Cambridge can be all well and good, but really it has comparatively little soul. Stick me on Margate beach surrounded by gobby kids with parents no less refined, half-blinded by the reflections from the arcade frontages which prove that all which glitters is definitely not gold, and I’m in my element. I can’t help but assume you are all suspecting that I am a typical product of my upbringing in this respect. That I relish these, to some, distasteful scenes with glee because of their centrality to the 1980’s childhood of a working class Southerner. Correct. But it is not only this geographical circumstance of birth which causes me to grin as soon as my internal satnav senses I am within 10 miles of a sugared doughnut shack; British seasides truly are on their own merit singularly enjoyable.

Growing up in Dartford in the 80’s and 90’s, Margate was our closest beach and still a fairly thriving hive of domestic tourism at that point. We would plead with our parents to take us there, as yet uninterested in foreign climes or the lure of saccharine Disney marketing. The swingboats at Margate beach were the highlight of our summer. How tantalisingly simple life was then! As we got older, Dreamland, that disintegrating grandfather of theme parks, became the focus of our pubescent attentions. The lure of its death-defyingly ancient roller-coaster structures stoking the fire of our naive, thrill-seeking bellies. The what we considered subtle experimentation with the mating ritual, (which in hindsight consisted entirely of stalking a group of usually slightly older boys, acting as if we hadn’t noticed them and reaching the end of a whole day having never actually spoken to them) was played out around the grounds of Dreamland like groundhog day. We could get angsty conversational mileage from that kind of near-encounter for days.

Then one fateful day Dreamland surrendered to the inevitable and impending padlock of the health and safety regulators. A thousand teenagers loitered, bereft, with only the arcades for entertainment. But soon these began to wither away too, the effect of the 1960s emergence of cheap package holidays abroad becoming visible on the face of the town. Less families, less fun, less income; more unemployment, more pound shops, more crime. Seaside towns have always been particularly vulnerable to the effects of economic shift; their seasonal nature meaning winter is often as bleak as summer is bright. But there came upon British seafronts in that era a tidal wave of degradation, half-empty swingboats standing then as monuments to a lost age of contentedness.

Margate soon became known to those who hadn’t spent childhood days there as a bit of a dive, its slightly more well-to-do neighbour Ramsgate wringing the mileage out of its nouveau-riche marina facade and characterless wine bars, attempting to emulate the seafront harbours of its continental competitors. Margate stuck to its guns; sun, sea, sand and some truly great fish ‘n’ chips. As with so many other nearby towns it is now only just starting to see some semblance of a recovery. Interestingly, this regeneration is seemingly part of a pattern; a swathe of curious ‘cultural quarters’ beginning to emerge from the wind-battered frontages of these former summer holiday havens. Folkestone, Margate, Dungeness; all have been sprinkled with a relatively recent dusting of artistic and culturally important spectacle. Without further research I can only speculate as to why this might be, but educated guesswork would lead me to suggest the gradual migration of the middle classes from London might have had at least a partial impact. Commuter towns now reach even as far as the southern coast, much as a result of the bordering areas outside London observing a continuing rise in living costs. It’s obvious then (to some councils at least!) that you would try to appeal to the interests and expectations of London commuters; to put in the worthwhile effort and investment which might encourage them to stay in your culture-rich but comparatively affordable and close to home surroundings.

Down at Margate, the most visible and high-profile evidence of this artistic injection is the new Turner Contemporary, all classic Chipperfield wide and light exhibition spaces and orgasmic interspatial elements. But it may not hold this title for long; I hear on the grapevine a most exciting rumour. It seems grandfather time may rewind his clock for Margate and resurrect my childhood pleasure park, Dreamland, like an old but cocksure phoenix ready to swagger back into the consciousness of the town.

Of course the obvious artistic link to Margate is through someone who may well not agree with my sickly-sweet love for it; Mad Tracey from Margate, aka 90’s artworld darling and one of my personal favourites, Tracey Emin, her often biographical works shocking staunch upholders of the British taboo with graphic representations of the gritty side of life in the town during its decline. Or maybe she would? Without her difficult upbringing amidst the area’s grim social scene and degenerate male contingent would she ever have achieved such fame and fortune? Tracey Emin’s wistful recollections of the area in her artworks have greatly influenced how much I enjoy her work. Aside from respecting the brutal honesty of her cathartic subject-matters and refusal to bow to the mummified art establishment, I feel an affinity with her attachment to the town in which I spent countless fun-filled days circa 1989.

It seems almost bizarre to me that I will soon be showing 3 of my own photographs in one of the new art galleries in this town for which I hold such affection. Aside from the encouraging fact that these modern and exciting spaces now exist there at all, it’s interesting that artists from the South-East are coming to Margate to exhibit instead of heading into London and seems to me indicative of a gradual shift in collective focus onto non London-based art. It’s high time we began to look locally at the wealth of unrecognised and underdeveloped artistic talent on our doorstep, not solely in my hometown of Dartford and around Kent but further out and beyond. London art has been done to death, let the artistic era of the provinces commence!

A selection of my photographs will be shown, along with the work of some of my fellow Dartford Arts Network members (Kasia Kat Parker & David Houston), as part of an exhibition primarily featuring the paintings of Tunde Odelade at the Pie Factory Gallery in Margate. The exhibition runs from 8th May – 21st May and is free to visit. For directions and further information see their website and if you’re in the area on 10th May do come in and say hi – I’ll be there milling around from 10am – 6pm.

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(c) Cristina Boyton

Commuting in London is almost always a chore. A necessary means to get from a to b via the quickest possible route, the quality of conditions usually sacrificed to save those precious extra 15mins. Some days it’s bearable, some days it’s fun (usually post-alcohol consumption) but other days, like last Thursday in fact, conspire to unravel your generally good nature until you reach a twitchy, hysterical, borderline murderous state. 33 degrees outside, god knows what temperature down in the bowels of the London tube network. On a day like this a swift service is surely expected. Extra effort made to ensure things run smoothly; to reduce fainting, dehydration, sweat-transferred pandemic inception etc. No? No. Delays on every line. Well, every line I needed, anyway. An hour and a half later I emerged, blinking into the sun like an overawed mole, grateful for my escape into freedom like a rescued miner.

On arriving, shortly after this, at the Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green, I was awarded for my struggle a little slice of cool calm, a haven of friendly vegan relaxation amongst the heady chaos of the area. One much-needed Pinot in hand, I turned to look at what I had come here to see. Cristina Boyton’s photographs of the Circuit in Nepal are immediately striking, before the subject matter even comes into focus. The blue hits you first, contrasted sharply against grey and stone. Saturation vs monochrome; a visual language which runs throughout the set of images and seems to link with the concept explored in the subject matter. Rich vs plain, luxury vs poverty. The Circuit is a now-famous hiking route in Nepal, renowned for its stunning scenery and ticking every ‘perfect trail’ box. Obviously, as are our wonderful human tendencies, when we find something of stunning natural beauty we tend to either hunt it to extinction, westernise it to extinction, or in this case, are so desperate to each have a piece of it, that we end up exploiting and destroying it.

This is potentially the fate of the Circuit and it’s indigenous inhabitants, who carry on with their daily grind alongside kids kitted in Berghaus on their gap year, the latter blissfully unaware of the damage they may be doing just by being there. A rich, commercialised, western contingent trampling loudly through this quiet, agrarian landscape. Gaudy vs restrained. To this end I must admit I was slightly disappointed that the sizing of the photographs wasn’t actually reversed. The mountainous landscape images, though very pretty, were less compelling than the human studies, although those which captured the town in the foothills succeeded in exemplifying the dramatic sense of scale which must surely dominate these views in the flesh. The shot of the pensive young boy is undoubtedly the strongest image, a nod to the innocence of this area and the modest lifestyles taking place in the shadow of the mountains. A woman in the next image counts beans, engrossed in her work, the bright tones of her clothing picking up the blue of the majestic landscapes. Shots of villagers milling about the dusty streets instinctively drew my gaze deeper, closer, to see more clearly their expressions and perhaps decipher a dialogue through a meaningful look.

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(c) Cristina Boyton

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(c) Cristina Boyton

It’s no surprise then that Cristina’s forte is documentary photography of a social nature. With a background in media and photography, her projects focus upon relationships; people, places, routines and tradition. Her usual “style and preference is to spend time with people”, getting to know her subjects closely before and during prolonged shoots, often over months at a time, and so capturing certain aspects of their individual lives and personalities in specific detail. This particular set of photographs however, were necessarily immediate, with shots caught at sudden and opportune moments on a journey through the region. It adds a certain magic. The honesty of the images are what makes them so appealing; no studio, no set-up, just the reality of life in this spectacular, yet threatened landscape.

Within the surroundings of the small, endearing Gallery Cafe, with its large windows at the back overlooking jungle-like greenery, the smell of baking wafting from the kitchen and service with a very friendly smile, the exhibition was given an interesting twist, evoking certain sensations it may not have, had it been shown in a traditional white-walled gallery setting. One customer pointed out that the images made him feel ‘cool on a hot day’, the moist blue tones and high-altitude scenery projecting the sensation of a swift fresh breeze sighing its way through the cafe table legs. And indeed, the life of the place; the chatter, the laughter and the clink of bottles, somehow make you feel as if you really are there, as if you are sitting in this rustic little cafe not minutes away from the clamour of Roman Road, but high-up in the Annapurna Mountain range, gazing out over this endangered community for perhaps the last time.

The Circuit is showing until 31st August at The Gallery Café, 21 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green,E2 9PL www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk

All photographs are copyright Cristina Boyton / www.smallfontphotographer.com

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(c) Cristina Boyton

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(c) Cristina Boyton

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(c) Cristina Boyton

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(c) Cristina Boyton

Cornelia Parker - Unsettled 2012 - 2013 Wood found on the streets of Jerusalem, wire Dimensions variable

Cornelia Parker – Unsettled 2012 – 2013
Wood found on the streets of Jerusalem, wire
Dimensions variable

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas – Einstein

To many, she is the creator of the infamous ‘exploded shed’, a phrase which certainly elicited a knowing (and generally approving) head nod when explaining to friends where I spent my Saturday afternoon. But Cornelia Parker’s work is far more than a sculptural gimmick and her latest show at the Frith Street Gallery (not actually on Frith Street I can attest, after much traipsing around in hellish London heat), is testament to her insightful exploration of the physical and intellectual societal framework we inhabit.

Entering the gallery, I felt initially triumphant that I had not caved into my clawing instinct to give up and head home, after a difficult journey through central London in summer heat, riding a wave of nauseous hangover and unable to locate the gallery address. This feeling of success began to ebb away as I looked around and concluded instantly that the place must be mid-renovation; piles of wood, exposed concrete floors, until I noticed that the planks of wood were floating. Magic. Or so it seemed until I put on my glasses and saw the wires. My initial reaction, however, sums up in many ways the beauty of Parker’s works; the simple magic of her pieces stun me in the way pure maths might a rocket scientist. Concise, honest, her work is delicate in form even when robust in material. The utter beauty is in the restraint; not lifting the wood high from the floor (perhaps 2 inches) she causes your brain to become confused. Peripherally the planks are standing on the floor, but a direct glance reveals they are suspended. The wires of course show it as not being truly levitational, but their linearity actually only add to the illusion, visually driving the planks further toward the floor and contrasting the horizontal of the concrete over which they hang. It was only after a circuit of the gallery that I discovered the intended meaning behind the work (although I enjoyed it just as much without knowing); the wood was collected by Parker in Jerusalem, a traditional holy land often blighted by war and poverty, the material bringing back with it the stories it holds and the scenes it has witnessed. Broken wood also representing the life cycle, it speaks to me of mortality and family ties.

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Actually, quite a lot of Parker’s works strike a chord in me not unlike fear. By pointing to childhood games, particularly alongside the previous work, she pokes an inquisitive finger into that inherent terror most human beings hold in the depths of their belly, that of their own insignificance in the wider viewpoint when set against the vast backdrop of Time. Our fragile mortality. Her casts of pavement cracks remind me instinctively of Rachel Whiteread, but although the similarity in process links them, the point seems entirely different. While Whiteread casted ’empty’ space, provoking questions about spirituality, matter, physics, materiality, Parker’s work casts the space around, above and between. It produces a version of the real thing, a bit like an off-centre shadow. Her floor pieces are impressions of the streets below our feet, inspired by her love of childhood hopscotch; the brushed metal material making them seem both delicate and dense at the same time. Again, their minimal suspension from the floor has an arresting effect, with the shadows cleverly cast and mirroring the idea that the object itself is a metaphorical shadow.

Cornelia Parker -   Black Puddle (Rhoda Street) 2013 Black patinated bronze 109 x 118 x 6 cm

Cornelia Parker –
Black Puddle (Rhoda Street) 2013
Black patinated bronze
109 x 118 x 6 cm

Above and adjacent to the floor works are hung what appear at first to be abstract paintings. Peering closer I think myself to be initially wrong and conclude they are mixed-media collages. At the end, reading the guide text, I discover I was wrong again. They are in fact close-up photographs of the exterior of a prison wall. An investigation into cracks, they complement beautifully the linear language of the other pieces, and continue the theme of enlivening seemingly banal spaces. Taken shortly after a maintenance effort to fill widening holes, the images record the layman’s version of Parkers’ method; the filling of cracks for safety management is suddenly transformed and presented to the viewer as abstract expressionism.

Cornelia Parker - Prison Wall Abstract (A Man Escaped) 2012/13 12 x Digital pigment prints on Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308 gsm 76 x 60 cm 82 x 65.2 cm

Cornelia Parker – Prison Wall Abstract (A Man Escaped) 2012/13
12 x Digital pigment prints on Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308 gsm
76 x 60 cm
82 x 65.2 cm

Beautifully linked, visually understated, metaphorically loud and aesthetically sublime, I thought the show couldn’t get much better until I concluded with Bullet Drawing (Crosshairs) 2013, a set of geometrically- inspired pieces constructed with melted down bullets thinned and threaded through paper. With their offset mirror image again evoking the shadow, the works have a distinctly sexy aura and made me feel both exhilarated and utterly Zen looking at them, a very Kubrick moment occurring as I considered how their striking and magnetic simplicity seemed to relate both to our most basic primordial origins, with also a distinct nod towards the space age; purity, clarity, the future, the past. A captivating journey covering mathematics, geometry, architecture, structure, material and power; Cornelia Parker’s new work is a must-see.

Cornelia Parker – Frith Street Gallery. Until 27th July 2013.

Cornelia Parker - Black Path (Bunhill Fields) 2013 Black patinated bronze 340 x 250 x 9 cm

Cornelia Parker – Black Path (Bunhill Fields) 2013
Black patinated bronze
340 x 250 x 9 cm

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Cornelia Parker - Pavement Cracks (City of London) 2012-2013 Black patinated bronze 206 x 152 x 9 cm

Cornelia Parker – Pavement Cracks (City of London) 2012-2013
Black patinated bronze
206 x 152 x 9 cm

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ALL WORKS COURTESY THE ARTIST AND FRITH STREET GALLERY, LONDON
PHOTOGRAPHY: STEPHEN WHITE
Seascape c.1965 Oil and Magna on canvas Private collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

Seascape c.1965 Oil and Magna on canvas
Private collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Contradiction abounds in the art world. I’ve ranted about it before so I’ll try not to bore you again, but suffice it to say that as one person’s rubbish is another person’s gold, and one purporter of criminal damage is another local council’s Banksy, the art world is no different from the rest of the world in its embrace of hypocrisy. So why was I surprised to find the same bizarre situation arising again at the Tate Modern with Lichtenstein? I suppose surprised is the wrong word, bemused may be more appropriate. Bemused by the revering of Lichtenstein and his comic strip reproductions not because I consider them unworthy (though who am I to say), but because the art world deems then more so than their original incarnations.

I have always liked Lichtenstein, seeing his images in books was always a bright, colorful, smile-inducing experience. I copied one of his pieces for my GCSE art coursework. Actually, he was a favourite for that role, as I remember many of my classmates did too (spot the irony). His pieces were comparably easy to replicate accurately, next to say, a Turner and were bold and fun to create, with thick black outline and flat colour fill. Wandering around the huge Tate retrospective I initially enjoyed the sense of immersion in American pop culture, but it wasn’t just the repetitive aesthetics that began to make me restless as I swept past great sections, eager for a shift in momentum. The show was causing an uneasiness in me, a niggling feeling that once again the system has committed an injustice. The art system can’t do fair. Just like any other system, there are winners and losers, much of it down to luck and a lot of it down to connections. If everyone were a winner then everyone would be equal and, gasp!, what would the world possibly be like without inequality!?

Whaam! 1963 Tate © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Whaam! 1963 Tate
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Lichtenstein is revered in his status as iconic pop artist, yet made his name essentially transposing others’ designs. OK, he wasn’t a ‘straight copyist’, as Tate dutifully reminds us, but he did take quite a lot more than influence for his pieces, often only marginally altering their composition or form. So why are the original artists, those cartoon designers and others since, awarded no critical kudos for their works? Why are their designs only lauded in the hands of someone else? Someone who, granted, put them on a canvas via the medium of paint. Is that the nub of it? Gallery-friendly? Given the status of paint and a large canvas it becomes high art rather than lowly design. I would be utterly, wearisomely un-shocked were that the sole truth of it, but it is also largely down to fashion, Banksy being the current prime example of this. The first graffiti artist to be accepted by the art world, his pieces selling for millions while other, sometimes much better, street art is still being painted over by humourless local councils. Theoretically laughable, but it is the case. Like his contemporary, Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein was seen to be inviting a dialogue about the relationship between fine art and commercialism. Pieces such as Portable Radio, creating confusion between painting and object, are striking and reminiscent in general of the pop art movement. However while Warhol’s work was often explicitly tongue in cheek and provocative, baiting the crowds with its charismatic allure, Lichtenstein’s pieces seem dry in comparison, a less stimulating and shallower format through which to start debate.

Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But… 1964 Collection Simonyi © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But… 1964 Collection Simonyi © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Portable Radio, 1962. Image from tsun-zaku.tumblr.com

Portable Radio, 1962. Image from tsun-zaku.tumblr.com

His explorations into medium and style proved more attractive to my own sensibilities. Earlier ‘Brushstrokes’ pieces straddle the boundaries of graphics and abstraction, merging into a unique form which doesn’t quite fit into our standard categories. His landscapes series particularly, is intriguing, utilising his self-defined ‘depiction of the grand gesture’ style to produce works such as Seascape, 1965, which challenge the traditional importance of fluidity and blend of colouration in the portrayal of a landscape scene. Other experiments left me lukewarm. His re-imagining of well-known paintings felt decidedly GCSE and dealt me a little internal cringe, his mirror paintings and geometric pieces didn’t inspire and the late nudes, well, no. At the end of the show, however, my interest was re-ignited firstly by some more abstract pieces and then by a set of peaceful Chinese landscapes. In a bizarre result which defied my expectation, Lichtenstein’s concentrated abstraction somehow achieves a delicate balance when paired with eastern stylistic forms. Rather beautiful in fact and a satisfyingly poignant way to finish a show which minutes earlier I was hoping for the end of.

Sunrise 1965 Private collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Sunrise 1965 Private collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Brushstroke with Spatter 1966 The Art Institute of Chicago, Barbara Neff Smith and Solomon Byron Smith Purchase Fund © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Brushstroke with Spatter 1966 The Art Institute of Chicago, Barbara Neff Smith and Solomon Byron Smith Purchase Fund © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Blue Nude 1995 Private Collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Blue Nude 1995 Private Collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Landscape with Philosopher 1996 Oil and Magna on canvas Private collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Landscape with Philosopher 1996 Oil and Magna on canvas Private collection © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012. Image from Tate.

Ballardian - Gavin Brick

Ballardian

For Gavin Brick, photography is not a career choice. It’s not an optional hobby. It’s in his very soul, and it shows. The way he talks about it like a close friend, the way he suddenly spots a shot and, oblivious to the rest of the world, jumps up to capture it. Like the painter who knocks out beautiful watercolors in 15 mins, Gavin has an instinctive ability to take a photo, slightly modify it and show you a stunning finished version in 5 mins flat. Me? I’d have taken 300 photos, expecting to get perhaps 10 good ones at the end. Having been taught on film, Gavin works with the mindset of frugality – no waste. Each shot is the shot. Much of this must be down to self confidence; belief in your own ability to have got it right first-time, trust in your instinct. However, although his confidence has been dramatically boosted by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to his inaugural exhibition, he was initially dubious about exhibiting; “why would anyone want to see my photographs?”.

The reason why is all too clear. Focusing mainly on architectural photography Gavin captures not just buildings but moments. His works add personality to every structure he shoots, creating features from certain elements and pronouncing the conditions of the moment. Looking at them you can’t help but imagine yourself there, at that instant. But not just an everyday instant. Somehow the images are imbued with drama; whether it be calmly sinister as in Brutal Ardour, or emphatically hyperactive like Turbine. Either way you sense a story behind the lens. In The Blue Hour the station seems to me at half-light, a clandestine meeting perhaps, or a final look outwards before an escape into the underground.

The Blue Hour

The Blue Hour

Although having learnt film photography originally, Gavin has embraced the technological revolution with open arms. Assuming from the quality, tone and texture that the photographs exude, that his weapon of choice is an obscure and expert piece, I hastened to ask him what camera he uses. Expecting a long technical explanation, and wondering whether to grab a pen and note it down, he casually replied with just one word; IPad. Ok…, I countered, which software do you use? Standard Windows editing. Proof indeed that pricey equipment does not a true photographer make.

Gavin’s creative streak is not restricted to photography, or even the visual image. His other passion is experimental electronic music. These works, which explore the musical medium without relying on traditional structure, blur the border between music and sound art, creating a crossover point at which the visual can become present. The link between art and music has been explored by many artists, the most well-known to me being Kandinsky, whose colorful abstract works were often created whilst listening to music, in an attempt to visualise the sensory experience generated. Although Gavin doesn’t specifically incorporate visuals into his music I would hasten to say there is an inherent musicality to his photography. The dystopian “hyper-reality” of the images exploits the relationship between contrast and colour. It creates a sense of futuristic unreality, much like synthesizer music, tying in with the essence of ‘otherworldly’ness.

In short, Gavin’s photography is more than worth looking into. Printed on metallic paper to emphasise the ‘alien’ intonation, they looked utterly delicious hanging in Muxima in Bow. Having just had his first exhibition go so well I have no doubt there will soon be a follow up. As he told me himself: ‘I have 20 years worth of this stuff’; and we can’t wait to see it.

Blocks on Blocks

Blocks on Blocks

Turbine

Brutal Ardour

Zizkov

Russalka

Russalka

Barcelona

Barcelona

Decadence

Decadence

Gavin’s photography can be viewed at http://www.500px.com/giddygavin

Muxima are showing a retrospective of featured artists 2012- 2013, which includes a couple of new pieces by Gavin. It runs from today for three weeks. See the website for more details.

His music is released under the name LOGAN 5 and is available from http://www.logan5.bandcamp.com

 

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

Yves Klein – The Void ’58

At least half of the people I spoke to about the Invisible Art Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery turned their noses towards the sky before I had even finished voicing the title. Quite astounding, seeing as it’s the most natural progression the art world could have taken. For as long as we can remember, art has been about the aesthetic. The visual. The wall/canvas/fresco/marble etc. As early as 1917, with Duchamp’s Readymades, we started asking why. Why should we not progress, invent, explore, move outside of the boundaries history has placed on art?

Conceptual art theory is inherent in this exhibition at the Hayward gallery. The belief that an idea is just as valid as the physical, is embodied in almost every piece in the show. It begins with Yves Klein, a champion of Conceptual art. His works on Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility, and The Void ’58, are a challenge, a provocation, but also an exploration into previously uncharted territory. A brave venture into the white noise of a blank canvas. What is in there? The power of the void can be overwhelming, a fact exemplified by an infamous example, the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. A mass of visitors queued to stand and gaze at the space the painting had previously inhabited; the story behind its absence was thrilling enough to attract record numbers. Ironically, most of these visitors would likely have scoffed at  an empty plinth displayed as sculpture, but they were nonetheless uncontrollably enticed by the very same concept.

Empty space where the stolen Mona Lisa had hung

On arriving at the Hayward you are asked to enter the gallery at the usual exit point, and feel almost as if you are not in the Hayward at all as you walk the familiar course from back to front. Yoko Ono’s piece, Painting for Burial, 1961, consists of a short list of instructions on what to do with a canvas at dawn light. It is beautiful in its infinite potential. Each viewer’s imagination will take a unique turn at her suggestive poetry. Where is the place she speaks of? The physicality of the text is merely a reference to the idea, the main part of the piece, which is itself a non-physical thing; an abstract concept. Despite their physical manifestation ie. the text on paper, the work itself can be defined as ‘invisible’.

On the night of the full moon, place a canvas in the garden from 1:00 AM till dawn. When the canvas is dyed thoroughly in rose with the morning light, dismember or fold it and bury. The ways of burial:

1.) Bury it in the garden and place a marker with a number on it.

2.) Sell it to the rag man.

3.) Throw it in the garbage.

Yoko Ono – Painting for Burial 1961

Another example of this is Chris Burden’s White Light/White Heat ’75, in which he lay suspended on a plinth in a gallery above eye height for 22 days without food. Visitors could not see him there but reported a ‘sense’ in the room, a feeling of presence. Burden reported hearing a visitor say “He can hear us, and he doesn’t answer, but he can’t help listening…it’s like God”. Gianni Motti’s Magic Ink,’89 is a selection of works drawn onto paper in invisible ink. Knowing that the drawings were there drove me instinctively to imagine what they were and established me in the position of artist. Like Ono’s burial piece the make up of the work will change for each viewer, becoming essentially dependent on their imaginative participation. Motti’s drawings also provoke questions about the physical quality of imprints, as does Song Dong’s poignant Writing Diary With Water ’95-present. Dong began practicing calligraphy as a young boy with water on a stone, as a cheaper alternative to ink and paper. Years later he describes the process “Although it is just a stone, it actually has become thicker day by day, with my own thoughts added on it.”

Chris Burden – White Light / White Heat ’75

Gianni Motti – Magic Ink ’89

Song Dong – Writing Diary with Water ’95-present

Tom Friedman’s 1000 hours of staring, ’92-97, uses the process of staring as a medium for his work. Exploring why the transferring of emotion is often not considered to be a valid medium through which to create artworks, his Untitled (A Curse) ’92, a space above a plinth which has been cursed by a witch, is similarly thought-provoking and again explores our shifting perception of unseen forces. As human beings we both believe in and place primary importance on forces such as emotions. People instinctively consider love, intelligence, and empathy as having intrinsic worth. If in our daily lives we respect non-physical elements as significant, then why is this not the case in art? Consider the blind person visiting an art gallery. Their experience is through imagination, idea and verbally transmitted emotion through a third party. We don’t consider their experience to be worthless, so why do we think it of someone with sight who has the very same experience? We should be encouraging ideas, not devaluing them.

Tom Friedman – 1,000 hrs of Staring, ’92-97

Tom Friedman – Untitled (A Curse), ’92

After hurriedly shuffling out of the room in which Teresa Margolles’ cooling system installation, Aire / Air, ’03, circulated the vapour from water used to wash the bodies of murder victims, I noticed that observing other people going in and out of the room was fascinating in itself, provoking varied reactions of disgust, horror, intrigue, humour and distaste. The show concluded with an uplifting physical participation piece, Jeppe Hein’s Invisible Labryinth, ’05. Putting on the headset, which vibrated as you hit a ‘wall’ in the maze, I felt slightly self-conscious, but I was soon exchanging stifled giggles with approaching fellow explorers as we walked carefully around the room, occasionally stepping back and turning to find the correct path.

Teresa Margolles – Aire / Air ’03

Jeppe Hein – Invisible Maze ’05

The exhibition celebrated both our imagination and the strength in the power of suggestion. On a number of occasions I found myself questioning whether these things really were invisible; what if Warhol’s invisible sculpture was actually there? I managed to resist the urge to run my hand over that plinth and certainly wouldn’t have gone near the space which held the witch’s curse (just in case). In the end the show sent me on my way with a huge grin on my face, feeling like a child who had just stepped out of a (sometimes Grimm) fairytale.