The exhibition was much larger than I expected, and covered many types of undercover images, starting with innocuous informal shots taken surreptitiously on trams and in the street. Celebrities depend on publicity, but the shots of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor relaxing on a yacht made me feel surprisingly uncomfortable.
Countering this, the long slide-show of a photographer’s friends and family felt warm and relaxed, an intimate collection where faces became familiar. But that was a brief respite, for soon we were at what felt like the nadir of the exhibition – death. Victims of urban crime were followed by victims of genocide, executions and lynchings.
After these imagees, conceptual photography and photographs about espionage seemed insubstantial and tiresome. We needed a long break before we could attempt the drawing class, but that’s for another post.
While I was busy at #spacearduino in London, there was much greater geekery going on, at the Maker Faire over in the California. In principle, I like the idea of adapting cars, whether with Lego panels or just general stuff, though I can’t imagine ever doing anything similar to my own car. I can imagine, however, trying to make some artbots, so I had a look round the web and found this collection from 2008. It turns out (though I shouldn’t be surprised) that there’s a lot of these things around.
I went to the exhibition ‘A Brave New World’ at the Air Space gallery today. Two artists involved in the gallery, plus a photographer, worked with two primary schools in the city, helping the pupils develop their ideas about imaginary worlds.
I’m not a fan of adult naïve or primitive art, but these genuinely naïve pieces were full of joyful experimentation. On arrival at the gallery, you’re given some notes about the exhibition and a deliberately crude home-made kaleidoscope with which to create your own mosaic viewpoints of the work on display.
There are drawings on the walls, clay maquettes on shelves and papier mache creations on the floor, dangling from the ceiling and filling the corners. There are photographs taken through the kaleidoscopes to create abstract patterns hinting at symmetry, photographs taken in the dark of people waving lights to create bright squiggles, and a slideshow of blurry abstract shots that are intense and saturated, as well as juxtapositions of objects out of context providing contrast of shape, colour and texture.
The complete lack of self-consciousness in much of the work was exhilarating and inspiring. It made me want to try creating my own light drawings and mosaic patterns and blurry abstract shots, and not worry whether or not the results would be ‘good’. What higher praise can there be?
I’ve been busy doing other things recently, but this piece of interactive work appealed to me, because it combines two interests of mine – Processing and PostSecret – and somehow creates something considerably bigger than either of them. I think it’s because the large number of mandalas lose their detail and become a roiling mass of mist, representing all those turbulent secrets and emotions.
It’s now several weeks since I went to the lecture in the Royal Scottish Academy by Alexander Stoddart, but it’s taken me this long to ponder, at the back of my head, some of what he said.
He was a polished speaker, interesting and amusing, but what struck me the most was his unapologetic stance. It’s rare to find someone so definite in their views yet able to argue cogently in support of them. This was no rant or bluster, and it certainly wasn’t an attempt to understand other points of view. As far as he’s concerned, neo-classical sculpture is the only way to go, and his hero Thorvaldesn, a Danish sculptor I’d never heard of, is the only person worth emulating. Normally that sort of absolutist stance would have me running for the door, but his eloquence and humour persuaded you to continue listening.
Part of the his technique was to explain how classical sculpture is made – the small clay model, the scaled-up version, the mould and the cast. One of his slides showed the inner metal framework ready to support the weight of the sculpture. I was just thinking to myself that it would make an interesting art work itself when he said, “Some of these modernists would tell you that this is art. Well, that is just bollocks.” So, that’s me told then.
The theme of the talk was Inspiration versus Creativity. I wasn’t really sure what the two terms meant when contrasted like that, but he was specific that inspiration is literally a muse. Yes, literally. He sees his muse clearly and she is a winged female who he has sculpted. He is so enraptured by his muse that he often finishes a day at work to find that he has no idea what he has been doing until he sees it in front of him. It’s the losing oneself in the work, compared to the self-conscious creativity of the modern curriculum, that Stoddart promotes. But he reserves his greatest contempt for the sculptors who haven’t the skill to create anything physical themselves, merely giving instructions to a gang of workers.
Of course, a lot of what he said was debateable, and some just plain inconsistent. He made a big thing about neo-classical sculpture being timeless and unchanging, above and beyond the human scale. But that’s nonsense. The patina of time, the erosion of weather, the stains left by birds – all contribute to change. The Romantics emphasised the very decay of ancient sculpture and architecture to indicate the emphemeral nature of mankind.
Still, it was stimulating talk, and it was good to see his new statue of Maxwell in George Street as we waited for the bus home afterwards.
I had a stimulating discussion with a friend the other day who’s an artist. She’s trying to decide what direction to take her work, and is torn between stylised representational work and work that has an intellectual depth. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but she’s recently been forced to move away from the purely representational, and while that used to satisfy her, she seems reluctant to return completely.
As an interested observer, I find it a fascinating dilemma. She’s a talented sculptor in clay, metal and paper, and is keen to resume painting, so she has all sorts of options, perhaps too many to make it an easy decision. It’s made more difficult still by the Fine Art course she’s currently on compared to the one she’d like to transfer to.
Some of her recent sculpture includes small human torsos in clay, with rectilinear pieces either moved slightly or removed altogether. The surfaces are marked with abstract patterns reminiscent of a time-worn patina or perhaps underlying muscles, so that the pieces are reminiscent of all sorts of ideas – ancient Greek sculpture, models for medical students, Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings, dolls, Eduardo Paolozzi’s sectioned heads or one of the traps in The Cube. Perhaps the slicings are a physical manifestation of inner turmoil, as though a reflexology chart or a phrenologist’s glazed head has been given a gruesome twist. She experimented with different forms of presentation – pieces in a sectioned box as though they comprise a self-assembly kit gathered by an obsessive collector, and held onto mounting sheets by plastic ties with bondage overtones.
She has sculpted many horses over the years, but her latest are either cast in bronze resin or made from twisted and torn copper sheets, the latter looking like a nightmare – a hollow re-animated corpse, driven by a force so strong that the lack of bone and muscle somehow isn’t an impediment.
I’ve made her work sound unpleasant, but it really isn’t. Some of it is full of energy, while other pieces are calm and steady. She’s going to redevelop her website to show her new work, and when she does, I’ll link to it, since my words can’t possibly describe it adequately.
I wrote the other day that a lot of people have been talking about It Felt Like a Kiss, but I was still surprised to hear Jonathon Ross describe it to the nation on his Radio 2 programme on Saturday. (I tried to provide a link to it on the BBC website, but it doesn’t appear to be among the Listen Again options.) Presumably he tweeted about it too. So this is what it feels like to be on the crest of the zeitgeist…
The main reason for going to the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh recently was to hear a lecture by the neo-classical sculptor Alexander Stoddart. I’m still digesting his talk, so instead I’ll write about what else we saw in the complex. First was the exhibition Raphael to Renoir, which has some beautifully simple drawings. I preferred the earlier work, as some of the later pieces have a knowing, arch quality to them, though I’ve no idea what it is which conveys that idea. I was fascinated by the contrast between initial sketches and the finished paintings, as the completed work wasn’t always an improvement.
We also looked at Robert Adam’s Landscape Fantasies. In developing fantasies, Adam was free to manipulate the landscape in ways that are not available to more realistic depictions. He created some beautiful ideals of castles and their surroundings, but his techniques are repetitive and manipulative. Small human figures are often hidden in the darkened foreground that contrasts with the light falling on the castle walls, which contrast also with the distant hills.
Finally, we saw The Three Graces, jointly purchased for the nation with the Victoria and Albert Museum and now residing, presumably temporarily, in Edinburgh. I’ve never seen marble look so like skin.
I finally overcame my reluctance and went to see the Ecce Homo Tesco exhibition at the airspace gallery yesterday, and, as usual, I am very glad that I did so. I was reluctant because everything about this exhibition is off-putting: the image and text used in the promotional material, the work in the gallery window and the exterior of the gallery itself. I don’t know how else the gallery could have promoted the exhibition, though, because this work is not visually pleasing. It is not designed to entice or pamper the casual viewer.
On one level, it is a single joke, which is a slim conceit for a whole exhibition. It is a future history, a display of archaeological finds from our future but displayed in a style that you might find in a museum today. The central hypothesis is that, as a species, we will evolve to have very long forearms, the result of carrying heavy shopping bags. Skeletons are on display with these adaptations, set in vaguely-suggested dioramas involving shopping trolleys or similar accoutrements.
These are backed up by supportive elements – a panel explaining the development of the adaptation, and an extremely grainy monochromatic film of a man in an ape mask clumsily using tools, as though he is a Neanderthal but the tools are from our time. There are conscious echoes of real archaeological discoveries, the development of theories of human evolution and the Piltdown man hoax, as well as swipes at museum displays, which I can’t help taking personally, even though I have nothing to do with the displays where I work and indeed would agree that many of them leave something to be desired.
Underlying the joke, however, is the serious proposition that Tesco, and presumably major supermarkets and chain store retailers in general, have an overly-powerful position in our society, to the extent that they distort the economics of production and consumption, the layout of roads and towns and our general ways of living. The fact that the cleared land behind the gallery has been waiting for many years for a new development by Tesco is merely further ammunition.
The exhibition was due to close tomorrow, but has been extended for a further week.
Sure enough, the next task involves a comb. As soon as someone in the group picks up the comb and applies it to a mannequin’s head, a dark figure bursts through the gloom weilding a loud buzzing chainsaw that he brandishes at us. We each have to make a dash for it past him, as he is between us and the exit. From then on, it’s chaotic. We pass through turnstiles that only let so many people through, so we’re split into smaller groups, each taking a different route through the maze. Another attack by a chainsaw weilder, then more filtering turnstiles, and suddenly I’m on my own, half walking, half running down a dark, twisting corridor. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I jump and turn round, to find a masked man behind me. I run. I have no clear memories of the remainder of the building, but there isn’t much more, and soon I’m outside, heart beating fast, breathing heavily and feeling slightly silly. One or two of the others in my groups are also outside, but we walk off in different directions, not acknowledging each other or what we’ve just experienced.
Around the corner, I pass Terry Christian. I don’t realise it at the time, but he’s probably on his way to see It Felt Like a Kiss, prior to his appearance on the Culture Show. Even more bizarrely, further down the road on the way to the train station (and remember, this is about 7.30 on a beautiful Sunday evening), I’m stopped by a long procession of hundreds of people in zombie make-up. Some have made only a token gesture, but a few have made a real effort and lurch appropriately. One person even vomits fake blood on the pavement in front of me. I think of all the blood I vomited for real last year and smile.
So what do I conclude about It Felt Like a Kiss? That, of course, is the hard part. I’ve been manipulated by the fast editing of the documentary, I’ve been herded by the carefully mapped out route and turnstiles. I’ve been subject to the same story-telling that the production complains of in America, and part of the effect is achieved through cheap schlock horror. So, yes, the reviewers who complain of this have legitimate grounds, but that, as far as I can see, is exactly the point of this production. One of the guests on the Culture Show said he felt it would have been more effective if he’d had a more passive role, but that misses the point too. We voluntarily enter the ghost train, we pay the theatre company to scare us, we allow the story-tellers to weave their fabrications, even if we don’t always realise how much of it is lies. Who is lying to us now?