Blog : Posts tagged with 'art' : Page 1

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Collodion

In which we go to London for the photography


Back in the mists of time, I used to think it would be a nice idea to move to London. There’s always something going on, of course. Always plenty to do, and always plenty to keep me entertained.

When I lived in a remoter part of the country, with not much to fill my spare time, this seemed like a Good Plan. Now that we live in a reasonably-civilised city, though, we have far too much to do as it is. And I just know that, if we did live in London, it would go one of two ways. Either we would spend all our time feeling sad about the events that we just didn’t get chance to make it to, or we’d retreat into a bubble and never do much at all. When we do visit, we can easily manage to fill a day and have plenty of things left over that we could have done.

Yesterday, for example: we almost managed to avoid the day’s main event and tourist attraction, the Pride March.* We did have to scoot around a few barriers, though, and avoid a few crowds of pre-march spectators, because the main reason we wanted to go to London was for the current exhibition at the Photographers Gallery: The Family And The Land, a retrospective on the American photographer Sally Mann. Mann became well-known** for a series of photos she took of her children, growing up, twenty-five years ago. From there, as the exhibition title suggests, she moved on to the past of her homeland, taking landscapes of American Civil War locations, before, more recently, producing a series on death and decay, literally: decaying bodies, outdoors, at a forensics research lab. Much of her work has been produced using 19th-century techniques: the wet-plate process, which requires its own portable darkroom. The photographer dips a glass plate firstly in a solution of nitrocellulose, then in one of the usual photographic silver salt solutions; then it is exposed, quickly, before it dries.

When we look at a photograph, we respond to subconscious cues as much as we do to our conscious view of the image. That’s why photos taken with tilt-shift lenses, or fiddled to look like they have been, look like photos of tiny models. Moreover, wet-plate photographs have a very particular look to them: a sharpness of grain but a softness from the antique lens; a time-exposure blur and a particular tonal range. So, if you know a little photography and you look at a Sally Mann photograph, it looks like something that has jumped out of the past. A valley whose river is time-blurred to mercury smoothness looks like something produced by a 19th-century war reporter; and a decaying corpse could have died decade after decade ago.

After visiting the Photographers Gallery, we wandered across London to the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, to see the Free Range graduation art show, collecting new art graduates from all over the country. It is an utterly massive show, its displays changing weekly, and each display enormous in itself. We were amused to see places we recognised in a handful of the works: line-drawings of buildings in Bristol, and photos of UFOs over Inverkeithing.*** Being a graduation show, it did seem slightly discordant and mixed-together; possibly even patchy in parts. I found myself wondering, at one point, what art students do when their ideas don’t match their budget, and if any of them ever felt constrained by the limits of their budget and their courses’ deadlines. I wondered what the photography graduates would have done with a wet-plate camera, and whether modern photography is the better for being less of a craft.

By the time we left Free Range, we were, I have to say, almost entirely arted out. We did manage to fit in another couple of smaller shows; but the amount of art we’d seen had filled our heads up to the brim. We filled the rest of our evening by ambling around on London buses; again, avoiding the crowds. London might be a nice place to visit; but if we lived there, we’d end up always finding too much to do. Best to keep it at a distance: we can always pop over for a day, when we want to be inspired

* although we did spot one butch lesbian in bondage gear and rubber hotpants having her photo taken by a passing tourist.

** indeed, infamous.

*** The UFOs over Inverkeithing were by an Edinburgh College of Art graduate called Andrew Jay Harvey; and we think the Bristol buildings were by Emily Ejderos.

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The art of walking

In which we look around other people’s houses and other people’s art


As I said last week, I’ve been planning to write something about this year’s Southbank Bristol Arts Trail. Because, well, it’s a local event, a local grassroots event, and the sort of thing that more people should know about.

The idea, if you’ve not come across it before, is: local artists either open up their homes, or exhibit in local community spaces, studios, workshops and so on. The rest of the local community spend the weekend rambling around the area, getting slightly lost, hunting down these little artistic spaces and finding out what’s inside. I’m not entirely sure I’d want to open my house up, because if we did, we wouldn’t get any chance to go and investigate anyone else’s place. That’s half the fun of it. That, and poking around strange, unexpected corners of the neighbourhood. I’d never thought that the back of North Street can be so rural: but turning the corner of Sydney St mid-afternoon, we surprised a startled-looking fox, who had been trying to quietly plot a route into a henhouse.

There are so many places on the trail – 54 venues, most of which we managed to reach over the course of the weekend – that it is tricky just to summarise all of the ones we saw. But I’ll try: there was stained glass at the Southville Glass Studio, photography at the Spanish bar just by it; a First Crush Wall on Ashton Gate Terrace; pottery and photography in a B&B on Green Bank Road;* various artists and furniture at the ambulance station on Raleigh Road;** seascapes painted by someone called Shirley Gosling who has an impressively-decorated house; a set of prints by a group of designers, and a DJ in their kitchen; Terry Williams, who I’ve already mentioned; bedroom music in Rachael Dadd’s house on Birch Road; decorated china on Hamilton Road; interesting bird prints on Leighton Road; tiles and various other things further along the street; some pretty handmade jewellery on Beauley Road; an intriguing and bloody installation piece above the reclamation yard on Park Road;*** some excellent screen prints on Howard Road; too much to mention at the Southville Centre; a variety of art and sculpture in a flat on Stackpool Road; typographical artwork on Greville Road; free happiness to take home on Mount Pleasant Terrace; pottery and photography in a garage further along the street; are you still reading?; close-up abstract photography in a flat on North Street; a variety of things including photography, live pottery and well-known printmaker Lucie Sheridan at the old pickle factory that’s now a bed factory on Braunton Road; drawings on South Street; illustration on Agate Street; a delightful little sculpture garden tucked away on North Street; live printmaking of seascapes on Chessel Street; landscape paintings all the way down on Thanet Road; stuffed toys on Aubrey Road; an illustrator whose work I’m sure I recognised on the opposite side of the street; an empty house with “NO ART THIS YEAR, MAYBE NEXT YEAR” in the window on Balfour Road; and a variety of art and things on Truro Road. And breathe. If you read all the way through that, well done. Personally, I recommend spacing it out over a weekend.

At some point I will go back over all that and fill it out with links. It demonstrates, though, what a variety of creativity and artwork there is in a relatively small part of this city, not to mention what a variety of homes people have.**** And, too, it makes me think: “why aren’t we doing more of that?” I’m sure we could, if we were willing to stay in and show other people our home, instead of going out and looking at everyone else’s.

* Confusing geography moment: I discovered Bristol has a Greenbank Road and a Green Bank Road, nowhere near each other.

** Including some nature photography, an artist who had published a book about his leukaemia, and some rather homoerotic studies of men in showers. None of whose names I can remember: this is why I should write my blog posts straight away.

*** Not just in the attic space above the reclamation yard, either; it continued down the stairs and out into the street.

**** I was particularly impressed with one artist who had a copy of McDermott & Clinker’s classic History Of The Great Western Railway on their bookshelves.

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You can tell you’re British when…

In which we clear up odds and ends


… you start talking about the weather.

Some springtime might be nice. Instead, it’s been getting colder and damper and colder and damper. We’d turned the heating off to save a bit of gas; and were very reluctant to turn it back on, especially given the capricious nature of British Gas’s billing system.* It had to be done, though, otherwise the house probably would have started to sag into a mineshaft, or something along those lines. At least today things seem a bit brighter.

A web search that came in yesterday – terry williams artist bristol birch road – reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about another recent event we attended, the Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, tramping the streets of Bedminster and Southville – in the damp, of course – visiting artists’ houses and viewing their art. As we did last year, in fact; and, like last year, we went to look at Terry Williams’ art in his home on Birch Road. His paintings aren’t the sort of artwork we’d want to buy for our own walls, but he’s clearly an accomplished artist; my favourite painting by him was a large canvas titled “Birnbeck Pier By Night”. Largely black, the spidery lines of the semi-disused pier-bridge** were marked out more by texture than by colour. I will write more about the arts trail, as soon as I go through the list of venues and can recall which one in my head matches up with which description.

* It will trundle along for a while before saying “ooh, you’re hugely in credit, we’d better cut your monthly payments.” Then, a few months later, it will change to “ooh, you’re hugely in debt, better treble your monthly payments.” You’d think they’d realise that gas usage is bound to drift up and down seasonally, and compensate for that; instead, the seasonal change in the payments seems to magnify rather than even out the changes in usage.

** It’s called a pier but I’d say it’s technically a bridge, because it goes out to an island.

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Art And Sex

In which art gets commercial and sells out


We jaunted off to London the other day, for the “Pop Life” exhibition at Tate Modern. I would link to details; but, well, it closed on Sunday, so you can’t go and see it now. The subtitle was “Art In A Material World” and the concept was to review artists who have embraced commerciality over the past 40 years or so, starting with Warhol and taking things on from there. It followed two strands that Warhol pioneered: on the one hand, the commercialisation of art; on the other, the objectification of the artist. From there it moves on through, on the one hand, Keith Haring, Emin & Lucas, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami; on the other, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Andrea Fraser.

Put like that, these sound like rather disparate threads; but they’re two sides of the celebrity artist. After all, when an artist’s name becomes bigger than their work, then their life is their biggest work of all. In the show, though, they did seem rather disparate, moving on from artist to artist between rooms with no firm connections between them. It took a few day’s reflection for me to tease together the themes. Arguably, of course, this is a Good Thing: an art show that doesn’t tell you what you’re supposed to be seeing but lets you work the themes out for yourself. You might, after all, always spot something the curators didn’t.

We were expecting the Big Famous Art Names like Warhol and Hirst, as advertised, and we were expecting their most reproduced and commercialised images. What we weren’t expecting was for the show to be so, well, pornographic. Particularly, the Jeff Koons room: essentially, floor-to-ceiling pornography in an almost-empty, behind-closed-doors space. Most of the visitors seemed to not even notice it was there: in a busy exhibition, it was the one room we had to ourselves. From Jeff Koons’ porn stills repackaged as art, the show moved on to Throbbing Gristle member Cosey Fanni Tutti, and the scandal that her pornography-as-art shows caused in the 1970s. That artwork was, as far as I could tell, far, far tamer than Koons’ hardcore sex: it shows just how much society has changed in 35 years or so. And neither Koons nor C-F-T were disturbing, in the way that Andrea Turner’s prostitution-as-video-art piece was disturbing: a bare room housing a barely-styled video, showing Turner having sex with the art collector she had sold the piece to. Shot by a single fixed camera, it was cold, clinical, unemotional, the business relationship removing any passion.

That work of art was, you could argue, a culmination. As far as an artist can go in their own self-objectification.* It was followed by a room devoted to Takashi Murakami, at the extreme end of art commercialisation, two separated strands starting out from Warhol. Interesting to see how far they had diverged; and was Warhol really a clear starting point, or just a place where two trends intersected? For some artists, art can be a business; for others, it can be life. It can be martyrdom. It left me thinking, secondly, that maybe money and devotion don’t have to be that far apart.

The first thing it leaves me thinking of, though, is the genitals of Mr and Mrs Koons, blown up to wall size whilst hard at work. And the thought: “I’m glad I didn’t invite The Mother.”

* Going back to Jeff Koons, the show’s notes deliberately stressed that Koons had been objectifying his own body, and not just his wife’s; not having the porn-star physique early in his career, he had to buff his muscles up a bit.

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Stencilled Out

In which we join the queue


It is, according to Venue magazine, possibly “the biggest cultural event of the decade”. With it only having a few weeks left to run, we finally made it along to the ever-busy Banksy retrospective at Bristol Museum.

I said “ever-busy”: half an hour before opening time, the queue already snaked back and forth along University Road. It took us, in total, about 100 minutes of standing and queuing before we reached the doors of the museum, including the half an hour before the doors opened. A man and a TV camera walked up and down the line, asking people if they thought that Banksy’s mysterious non-identity was important. I wondered if it might be the man himself asking; more likely to have been an interchangable local-news presenter, though. He didn’t really resemble the photos of Banksy that have already been published in the press.

Coincidentally, the other day, Bristol City Council accidentally admitted that the mystery around Banksy’s identity is key to his financial success:

“[D]isclosure [of the name of Banksy’s limited company] may lead to the identity of the artist being at risk, which is crucial to his commercial interests”

Because – we assume – if you know that he’s a nice middle-class boy who went to Bristol Cathedral School, it does take something away from his “urban guerilla” image. But I’m not convinced that this matters too much. The important aspect of his “mysterious anonymity” is that it lets the viewer identify with him, whilst enjoying the glamour of the folklorique “cunning outlaw” figure. His work, too, is empty enough that you can subsititute your own feelings whenever you like.

You certainly get value for money at the Bristol show. Yes, I know it’s free; but I’ve been to free shows before and come away feeling short-changed. At Bristol, you first enter a room packed with work, before going on to two more Bansky-filled rooms. After that, there’s a whole museum to explore, with at least a couple of Bansky works or alterations in every room. It turns the building into a sort of game, a trick puzzle, which doesn’t really do the collections justice.* The items on show seemed to have been chosen to appeal to teenage boys, too: a dildo in the geology section, a bong amongst the porcelain. Hanging Banksy’s paintings – coyly attributed to “Local Artist” – alongside the museum’s permanent collection also doesn’t do his painting skills any favours: you notice the crudeness of his brushwork much more when you have better work to compare it to.**

It’s ironic that it was the Daily Mail who first printed Banksy’s alleged real name, because, from his work, he strikes me as the sort of person who claims to be radical and shocking, whilst at heart being inherently conservative, supporting rather than challenging existing prejudice. Take, for example, a classical landscape painting with burnt-out car added in the foreground.*** Its title? Landscape near Hartcliffe. A title to make the locals snigger – at any rate, the well-off locals who can look at the painting, laugh to themselves, and feel pleased that they are rich enough to live in a nice part of the city. Similarly, his paintings and statues of riot police behaving unexpectedly do their best to reinforce the stereotype of police being brutal, inhuman and mechanistic. Treating them with humanity and respect would, to be honest, be a far more radical and challenging standpoint.**** Most of the “great ideas” in his works aren’t that shocking or subversive at all; the sort of ideas that a GCSE art student might consider shocking and subversive, possibly. A painting of the House Of Commons Chamber, the chamber and press gallery both full of chimps, for example, is hardly a very deep and complex idea.*****

There is, I have to admit, one very very good thing about the whole exhibition. Two, really. It got people to look at some art, and it got people into the building. Most of the locals who were there, I’m sure, would never normally dream of going into their city’s museum, despite the quality of its collections. Making them aware it’s there has to be a good thing; making everyone want to travel round every room of the place is definitely a good thing, because it’s far too easy, with any museum, just to visit the one or two rooms you want to and ignore the rest. It’s a shame that this led to people treating the place like an Easter egg hunt, though; and a shame that the art they came to see wasn’t better art when they got there.

* I saw some people who were slightly confused by the rare Pokemon cards in the Oriental Dragons display, thinking they must have been a Banksy addition. No, they’re a proper museum exhibit

** Of course, his paintings are still rather better than I could manage myself

*** I suspect – with no evidence other than a good close look – that the majority of the scene is a printed reproduction, with just the car overpainted.

**** It’s also easy to nitpick at the many small, obvious mistakes. For example, that famous photograph of I K Brunel, exhausted and close to death, in front of the launching chains of his last great steamship, with a Banksy-added sign for “rail replacement bus services”. For one thing, if you want to make a comment about the railways, why not alter a more railway-related picture? For another, Brunel’s own railway locomotives were notoriously weak and unreliable, so much so that they were unable to maintain any sort of train service. I’m sure Banksy didn’t actually know that when making his picture.

***** I found it hard to decide how much of that painting’s shallowness was accidental. Was it deliberate that both the politicians and the journalists were turned into chimps, or was that just a piece of lazy and unresearched painting?

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And more on art

In which we look at some non-inflatables


Something else that got done in London the other weekend: we popped along to the Serpentine Gallery, to see the Jeff Koons show that’s on there at the moment. His first major show in Britain, apparently; his first major show in a 20-odd year career.

The Serpentine can seem quite a small gallery, at time, and we both soon realised that it wasn’t going to take us very long to get around the Koons exhibition. Before long, it felt like we’d seen all he had to say; before long, we were back at the front door.* The sculptures in the exhibition consisted of pristine replicas of inflatable toys, balanced precariously, or suspended from chains. According to the captions, all were made from cast aluminium, carefully finished to look exactly like the real thing. We had a hard time, in many cases, believing that they weren’t the real thing. Some were strangely interlaced with garden chairs or decorative ironwork; in those cases it was obvious it would be very hard to get real inflatables to behave like that. It was hard to think, though, that the other, uncorrupted inflatables shouldn’t be gently swaying in the breeze. We wanted to do some forbidden poking and prodding, to see if the sculptures genuinely were made of heavy aluminium.

I thought little again about it until the other day, when, in a quiet moment, I read Waldemar Januszczak‘s Sunday Times review of the show. In which he said:

Poking one of the show’s infla­table lobsters with my finger — which you, of course, are not allowed to do, and I was not supposed to, either — I found it solid, weighty and metallic, its convincing sense of weightlessness achieved with obsessive trompe l’oeil paintwork.

Hurrah! It wasn’t just us who wanted to prod the things: a respectable art critic wanted to do the same! Moreover, being a famous and well-respected art critic, he got away with it without being chucked out. I suspect that we wouldn’t quite have got away with it.

Januszczak, incidentally, found that the show put dark S&M thoughts in his head. It wasn’t something that immediately came to mind when we were there; but, the more I look back, the creepier the show felt. The juxtaposition of plastic, heavy chains, images of cartoons and trains spliced behind and in front of chopped-up pictures of bare skin, all has a disturbing weight behind it. The Koons show we saw was superficial on the surface, but there is always a risk of it coming back to haunt.

* after which we went on to spend rather longer in the gallery bookshop.

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Repetition

In which art is repeated, repetitively


In amongst the brief list of things we did last weekend, I realised there’s something of a gap, one thing I missed out on listing. It was, though, one of the most distinctive things of the weekend. An exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery: Fabiola, by Francis Alÿs.

Fabiola is, in essence, a fairly simple idea. Two rooms filled with closely-packed paintings, green walls with not much room for the green to show through. Each piece of art is made by hand, and each shows the same image: a woman in profile, usually facing left, veiled, usually in red. Most are paintings, some are works of cross-stitch or embroiders; one is a collage of seeds and beans.

It’s a simple idea, a collection that Alÿs has gathered over the past couple of decades and is still adding to. But, there’s something ever so unsettling about the whole thing. The same image, repeated over and over and over but never the same. The same image, tiling every wall. The same image, with so much effort put into its repetition. As I said, it’s unsettling. Like something from an M. R. James story, or possibly from a more-creepy Doctor Who episode. Of all the things we did last weekend, Fabiola is the one most likely to haunt my dreams many years from now.

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Weather Ever Changing

In which things get sweaty


I had hoped that a thunderstorm would clear the air, get rid of some of the humidity, cool things down a bit. Unfortunately, nothing changed. We had the thunderstorm, and half an hour later the ground was dry and the weather was still hot, muggy, and sticky to the touch. Oh well. Summer isn’t nice when it’s too hot to think.

Things I was going to blog about recently but haven’t: the rather silly “let’s bring the World Cup to Bristol” proposals, which seem like nothing more than a plan to blackmail the council planning department into letting Tesco build a new Ashton store, two minutes down the street from the Sainsbury’s that’s already there. Plus, the Easton Arts Trail, a rather enjoyable wander round which, already, was nearly a fortnight ago. Not to mention pictures of old trains from the weekend before that, and all the other things we’ve been getting up to lately apart from the strange foreign dirty movies. If it’s too hot to leave the sofa, it’s definitely too hot to blog

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The Neighbourhood

In which we visit some neighbourhood artists


As summer comes in, it seems as if every weekend there’s something artistic or creative to do. Last weekend it was the Bristol Comic Con (which we missed), and the Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, which we didn’t miss; or, at least, didn’t miss all of. The Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, in short, is a weekend event where creative people around Southville throw open their doors and turn their houses and/or gardens into galleries for everyone to visit. And it was the weather for it: we toiled around the hills of Southville, trail maps in hand, all the time seeing other people doing the same.

We didn’t see all of the venues, nothing like all of them; there were 51 listed on the map, scattered over a pretty wide area. Off the top of my head, they tend to blur into each other, especially nearly a week afterwards. We definitely saw: the Wonkey House on Mount Pleasant Terrace; people from Number 40 at, erm, 40 Mount Pleasant Terrace; textile designs* on Allington Road; paintings by Terry Williams on Birch Road; and lots of other wildly artistic open houses whose owners’ names passed me by. We finally ended up at a second house on Birch Road where we saw various bands and performers play. Rachael Dadd served us tea, and her band The Hand played, along with The Wraiths and The Fingerless Hoodlum. We relaxed in the sunshine, the warmth of the garden, and K caught a sunburn.

Like everything else, we walked home wanting to do more ourselves; wanting to create things; wanting to have things to show ourselves. There are so many local art events, I wonder how people have time to make art in-between them sometimes.** We walked home, and then straight away started planning to go out once more. Because, we’d been told: “those people over there are in a really good band, and they’re playing tonight – you should come along, you’ll love it.” That’s another story, though, for another blog post.

* some a bit like the “crochet bomb” which I keep telling you I’m making

** the next one I’m currently aware of is the Easton Arts Trail, coming up in about a month’s time

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Class Consciousness

In which people talk about art


Last week: the cinema, as I said. Yesterday, we happened to be around the Harbourside, so popped into the Arnolfini to see one of the current exhibitions, “Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie: Class Hegemony in Contemporary Art”. It’s a touring exhibition that has travelled around various European venues in the past three years or so, changing and unfolding each time as the artists involved respond to the discussions their exhibition provokes. In general, though, it questions the concept of working as an artist; the sort of people who work as artists, and the ways in which the art world will automatically perceive an artist and attempt to classify their work based solely on their background and origins.

As part of the exhibition, there was a talk by local artist and academic Wayne Lloyd, on the Bristol art scene. We were intrigued as to how he would describe the local art scene within the context of the exhibition; and were rather disappointed when his talk seemed entirely context-free. It was a description of a few local “artist-run spaces” which have occupied rooms in the city centre in recent years; a small part of the local art scene, but one that Lloyd clearly knew well. However, description was all we got; no sort of synthesis, no concept of how these spaces fitted into the art world or into the city itself. I would have hoped, at least, for an attempt at explaining why those specific artists did what they did.

I was left slightly puzzled as to how the talk was meant to fit with the rest of the exhibition, almost (but not quite) to the point of putting up my hand and asking a question at the end. I’m not entirely sure what the question would have been. “Given the exhibition’s title and subtitle, how do these spaces demonstrate that there is (or isn’t) a class hegemony in local art?” sounds more like an exam question. “How many people from Hartcliffe or Withywood visit these spaces?” sounds a bit flippant and glib. “Given the exhibition’s title and subtitle, how the hell was any of that relevant?” just makes me sound too ignorant, especially when everyone else in the audience other than me and K seemed to think the whole thing very meaningful. Maybe they were all part of the hegemony too.

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