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Friday, 21 January 2011

London Art Fair 2011 - The Round-Up

Review by Bethany Rex

Presenting over 100 galleries and featuring some exceptional contemporary work from leading figures and emerging talent, this year’s London Art Fair is exceptional. The opening night provided a refreshingly buoyant atmosphere, which was steadily helped along by a crowd of people who were clearly more than ready to shed the incessant recession talk that has hung around arts organisations like a bad omen throughout 2010.

Compared with last year’s 2010 “recession busting” fair, there was a reassuring number of red stickers proving that galleries and artists have strengthened their position in the market. The FAS Contemporary stand was buzzing all night and despite the high-ticked pieces on display there was an amusing piece of theatre created by a seating area made from old crates that could have easily been moonlighting as an installation piece. Until the artist sat down on it.

At Advanced Graphics London, there was an accessible collection of prints by the likes of Neil Canning and Clyde Hopkins. Produced entirely by hand and in collaboration with the artists, the prints are an easy buy-in for those of us whose Amex is still in the post. Carrying on the trend for contemporary and innovative printmaking, Glasgow Print Studio’s stand was a hive of activity, presenting a beautiful new screen print, Oriental Poppies, by Elizabeth Blackadder and a charming image by Moyna Flannigan Mr Lucky.

At bo.lee gallery Ione Rucquoi’s portraits were interestingly juxtaposed next to the anthropomorphic sculptures of Beth Carter. Purdy Hicks’ collection of Tom Hunter images was evocative, particularly in Anchor and Hope (2009) for which there was, a very British, queue to take a closer look. Sims Reed Gallery impressed with a stunning Grayson Perry tapestry and numerous David Hockey etchings.

Photo50 presented a 5th year of the contemporary photography showcase, featuring 50 words and containing a broad range of approaches to contemporary photography with established artists such as Helen Chadwick alongside emerging practitioners. Particularly notable was Lisa Barnard’s series 32 Smiths Square, which documents the abandoned former Conservative Party Headquarters with a sequence of pictures of Margaret Thatcher. Not sure I’d want that on my wall though. On the gallery side, Foley Gallery did what it does best, showcasing a variety of images that inject a much needed sense of humour.

Art Projects, returning for its 7th edition with 31 UK, European and American galleries presenting curated displays was the location for my favourite project of the night. Presented by SUMARRIA LUNN, the provocative work of Glaswegian art collective “littlewhitehead” was pointedly humorous and witty - if not a little dark for some. Emphasised by a smart, and decidedly cute, move to install the work outside of the tradition Fair strand- you are forced to confront the pieces as they become part of the narrative of the occasion.

Commissioned for the London Art Fair, The Struggle, represents the first of a new body of work and invites the viewer into a darker world. The artists have burned 100 copies of Hitler’s ideological text Mein Kampf to dust, mixed and ash with resin and cast it in a mould taken from an antique copy of the Bible. The broader cultural meaning to be found in this piece is evident, however, what stood out to me was the human aspect of the work. Against a background of endless Damian Hirst prints, these brutally honest installations might sit uncomfortably in penthouse apartment but are more than at home here.

There was plenty of name clocking to be done this year. Tracey Emin, David Hockney and one of our favourites David Spiller at Beaux Arts London prove that the art world doesn’t stop for anyone. London Art Fair showed no signs of Blue Monday, showcasing a fantastic (if not slightly overwhelming) array of establishing and emerging contemporary art. Whether you’re looking for the next big thing, browsing, or attending with a view to invest there is plenty to write home about this year.

London Art Fair continues until 23 January at the Business Design Centre, Islington. A series of tours, talks and discussions are taking place alongside the fair this year. All tours and talks are free to attend with your ticket and can be reserved in advance at www.londonartfair.co.uk/talks.

See our review of Abstract Critical@Poussin Gallery in the February/March issue of Aesthetica. Out 1 February 2011.

Image courtesy littlewhitehead and SUMARRIA LUNN.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Filmmaker Series - Part 3 Q&A with Shaun Hughes

We continue our Q&A with the Aesthetica Short Film Competition winners with some insights from filmmaker Shaun Hughes. Shaun’s film, Mother, is an intense and devestating film set in 1970s Scotland. In a remote farmhouse a woman takes her own life, leaving her husband and 12-year-old daughter alone and isolated. As the seasons pass the father’s grief becomes more intense. His daughter tries to relieve his suffering and on the one-year anniversary of the death, and in the wake of their loss, we witness how fully the daughter has fallen into her mother’s role.

To see this film or learn more about the filmmakers read the current issue of Aesthetica Magazine, available online or from a number of stockists worldwide.

The Aesthetica Short Film Competition 2011 is now open for entries and you can find out more here.

How did you begin filmmaking?
I studied painting and went on to do a Masters degree in fine art; through this I was able to focus on expressing ideas through images. My first experiments were more in the realm of video art, striving to express an idea or emotion and my work generally dealt with memory and psychological processes. Through the Fine Art Masters course I started working in narrative film. I believe film is a collaborative medium and continued to work with my friend and collaborator Tim Courtney outside of an educational environment. We formed our small production company Factotum Films, which today consists of me, Tim and Caroline Smith (Co-producer on my short ‘Mother’) as well as our regular collaborators David Falconer and Richard Browne. Much of the film’s success can be attributed to their hard work and commitment to the project.

Who and what are your influences?
I’m interested in modern directors taking genre filmmaking and bringing something new to it, be it a modern take or just an unconventional story. Some films that come to mind are: Paul Thomas Andersons incredibly assured There Will Be Blood, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition and Duncan Jones’ Moon. I have a wide range of interest in film - commercial, arthouse and world cinema and I’m a huge fan of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker is a favourite) as well as the more obvious references such as Martin Scorsese and Jean Luc Godard.

What do you try to achieve through your filmmaking?
I aim to make thought provoking films with an arthouse aesthetic, European in style and execution. Much of my work leans towards the darker side of human experience. There’s intrigue in the shadows and grey areas and I aim to communicate stories and ideas through images and sound in the most interesting way possible.

Can you tell me about the balance between cinematography and narrative, which takes precedence?
Each is highly important in that you need both to be of a high standard to make a successful film. If either one of these elements is weak the film will suffer. For me cinematography dictates the look and feel of the film and provides the images that you use to tell the story, or drive the narrative. The two are interlinked at the most basic level.

Talk me through the process of making a film – working practice, shooting, collaborations, funding?
It starts with the seed of an idea. I find it good not to become too confined within the one idea. For this reason I always have a number of projects at varying stages of production, and I often work on them simultaneously. I think it was Bunuel who said that creativity is a muscle and must be exercised. I subscribe to this. I’ll often write and rewrite a few drafts until I am relatively happy with the idea. I’ll then send the script to friends and collaborators. Everyone has an opinion, get as many as possible.

Collaboration is key and a good producer will be a godsend. Before shooting everything has to be planned and organised within an inch of its life. I often do my own storyboards and write an incredible amount of notes on my script. While shooting I would say a director should focus mainly on performances and drawing the best from the actors, as the cinematographer should be well versed in the desired look of the film. I always edit my own films as I want to be fully in control of the final product. Once I have a rough draft I’ll take notes from my producers and feedback from anyone with eyes. I’ll then set about refining the film before taking more feedback. This process is repeated many times and editing can take months to get things just right.

My films so far have been self funded. ‘Mother’ was made for around £500. However my cinematographer had a lot of his own equipment.

What was the most challenging aspect of making your film?
The most difficult aspect was getting the balance right in telling a potentially controversial story in a controlled, sensitive manner. It would be easy to really get it wrong but hopefully I have managed to tell the story with a degree of subtlety and accessibility, whilst retaining the darkness of the idea.

How would you define cinema culture today? How easy is it to make a film versus the process involved with screening and distribution?
Almost anyone can make a film; the quality of which will vary greatly, but it is very difficult to get distribution in today’s climate. Especially short films. One of the few routes to take is to aim for success in festivals after which it seems shorts often disappear. There are various forms of web-based distribution from Vimeo channels and YouTube, to sites devoted specifically to short films. I believe filmmakers today can’t afford to ignore the Internet as a distribution tool.

How do you feel short films fit into today’s cinema culture?
Short films are important in today’s cinema culture in the same way as short stories are in literature. It’s rare that a filmmaker will start with a feature. There has to be stepping-stones. Shorts can be used in a number of ways. Some filmmakers will use them for ideas, sketches and exercises, and others will use them to tell fully formed stories. Shorts are very versatile.

How do you make yourself stand out from other filmmakers? What’s your plan for marketing your films?
I try to make original films and develop my craft and practice in a way that reflects my influences and sensibilities while retaining a voice of my own. I try to exhibit my work at every opportunity and submit to short film festivals. I have had an art exhibition of production stills, polaroids and storyboards from the making of Mother while I was in post production on the film. This helped to generate interest in the project.

I have set up a Vimeo channel for the production company that I co-founded called Factotum Films and a Facebook Page.

What are your future plans?
I have recently started a 2 year master’s course in Film Directing in Edinburgh, where I plan to make my next two short films. I am also developing my first feature film.

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