We've moved

The Aesthetica Blog has moved:

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Future of Arts Engagement: A Sense of Perspective: Tate Liverpool

Review by Kenn Taylor

A Sense of Perspective deals with the in between and the undefined, in a groundbreaking exhibition developed and curated by young people in Liverpool, Helsinki, Paris and London. Curated by members of Young Tate, the organisation’s engagement programme for 16 – 25 year olds, the exhibition is part of a wider partnership, Youth Art Interchange Phase II, with major European galleries (Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Centre Pompidou).

Programmes such as Young Tate are increasingly common in institutions up and down the UK, with participants frequently adding contextual ‘add ons’ and interpretation to core exhibitions. Here, Tate Liverpool takes things a step further with an exhibition in its ground floor gallery curated entirely by Young Tate. Everything from the theme to the layout and the public events has been programmed by them, albeit guided by Tate staff and the criteria for the project’s European funding - European citizenship, identity and cultural democracy.

Through a series of workshops and debates the young curators at each of the four participating galleries came up with a unifying theme, A Sense of Perspective, with each group then free to interpret this in their own way. Young Tate decided on three sub-themes; Between Generations, Between Cultures and Between Spaces and to use the Tate collection to explore the complex and shifting nature of contemporary identity.

Choosing the works that inspired the most discussion amongst their ideas are often distinct from the artists’ own stated intentions. They have selected both British and International artists and included several new acquisitions. Photography, video art, contemporary sculpture and mixed media works dominate, reflecting perhaps the most relevant fine art mediums for this age group, or simply the most relevant mediums for their ‘in between’ theme.

The exhibition is well laid out, with pieces working successfully next to each other despite the variety of artists and mediums. Highlights include Mother Tongue (2002) a video work by Zineb Sedira. In it, Sedira speaks in French to her mother, who answers in Arabic, and to her daughter, who answers in English, reflecting starkly the inevitable evolution of culture between generations, exacerbated by globalisation and the fast pace of technology.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jones’ constructed reality images of teenage girls seemingly stuck in suburban middle-class mediocrity, Sitting Room (Francis Place) III (1997) and The Dining Room (Francis Place) I (1997) quietly notate the angsty experiences of millions of the young and artistic, while apparently provoking considerable discussion within the group, raising issues of gender, class, age and entrapment. Chosen as companions to Jones’ images, Wolfgang Tillmans’ images of contemporary ambiguous sexuality, The Cock (kiss) (2002) and Lutz and Alex sitting in the trees (1992) depict a young, confident, unabashed and raw subject.

Less well known is Martin Boyle’s Gate (We don’t meet here. We are always together first)(2004) fabricated from the type of cheap mesh and steel tube that guides the paths of millions of young people around schools and youth clubs. The artist’s own view is of the object as a direct physical link, an aide-mémoire to youth and of a time of increasing freedom which is yet to be constrained by adult barriers. Young Tate’s interpretation is deeper, seeing the structure as a symbolic gateway between different generations and cultures.

Olafur Eliasson’s Yellow versus Purple (2003) features interchanging circles of yellow and blue light, slowly merging to form a purple sphere. This was interpreted by Young Tate as symbolising the pointlessness of attempting to view the world in binary extremes; left versus right, good versus evil, black versus white, when so much is indeed, two sides of the same coin. The work is both beautifully simple and visually striking.

Although a catalogue provides more detail on the project, there is a lack of contextual information in the exhibition itself about how it was realised. Tate may have wanted their selections to speak for themselves, but as the curatorial process was just as much a part of the reasoning behind this exhibition, this seems to be a slight oversight. The participants of Young Tate have been given a golden opportunity, to curate a show at one of the country’s largest galleries, and in short, they have delivered. Not all of the works here are outstanding, but crucially they work in context of both the theme and the gallery space itself. There are some obvious choices, but there have also been some obscure works chosen that really resonate, the sign of a good curator.

Are such shows, then, perhaps the future of museum education; young people taken on, by proxy, as apprentices? It may offer a solution to the spiralling cost of art education, though if always thrown in at the deep end, will participants ever be able to explore wider ideas beyond the practical delivery of an exhibition? The cards featuring the personal responses of the Young Tate members are perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show, veering as they do between talking from the heart and typical Artspeak. The key test of such programmes will be if the members of Young Tate will be able to learn such terminologies so they can forget them. If they can retain the originality they show in how they have created this show within Tate’s systems and not be entirely absorbed and overwhelmed by the current dominant trends and ideas of cultural institutions, instead taking what they have learned and staking there own path.

This exhibition works on its own as an interesting thematic interpretation of the Tate collection, but it’s true value lies in the unique perspective it gives on the future of arts engagement within contemporary art and culture.

A Sense of Perspective continues until 5 June. For more information visit the Tate Liverpool website.

Image: The Dining Room (Francis Place) I
Sarah Jones
The Dining Room (Francis Place) I, 1997
© Sarah Jones, courtesy Maureen Palely, London
The Sitting Room (Francis Place) III
Sarah Jones
The Sitting Room (Francis Place) III 1997
© Sarah Jones, Courtesy Maureen Paley London

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Perspectives On A Charged Political Present: Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky, Nottingham Contemporary

Interview by Bethany Rex

Nottingham Contemporary is one of the largest and most ambitious contemporary art spaces in the UK. Designed by Caruso St John architects, the exterior of the building takes its inspiration from the surrounding 19th century buildings of Nottingham, and in particular, from the impressive façades of the Lace Market. This spring, Nottingham Contemporary presents two major exhibitions, by Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky. Both give perspectives on a charged political present - from Chinese and Egyptian viewpoints. We interviewed Jim Waters, Head of Exhibitions at the Centre.

First of all, Nottingham Contemporary only opened in 2009 and yet I feel as though it’s always been there. With regard to what you’ve achieved in this time – what’s been the highlight for you?
I think the highlight has been the response from the public to the exhibitions, we feel we have quickly become an important part of the cultural fabric of the city. It was really pleasing to exceed our first year visitor target by over 45%.

One of my favourite things about the gallery is the vibrant atmosphere of the exhibition space. Whilst the work on display is contemporary and current, there’s a refreshing demographic coming through the doors. How does this fit into the overall ethos of Nottingham Contemporary? Are you particularly seeking to engage with new audiences?
I think it also helps having the large windows onto the street, this really helps encourage people through the door, it breaks down the usual barriers. One of our central aims is to bring contemporary international art to a new audience, so it is important that our audience is so varied, and includes a large family audience too – we do work hard to provide things for families to do in the spaces.

Moving on to the Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky show how was the idea for this exhibition born? What was the catalyst?
We have been planning the exhibition for more than a year now, and felt that this would be a great pairing of artists, given the issues they both address in their work. For the first time the artists will share one of the gallery spaces – Construction Site by Huang Yong Ping and Al Aqsa Park have a really interesting relationship which will create a very powerful presence in Gallery 3.

With the current political uprisings in the Middle East and the ongoing political unrest in China, particularly considering Ai WeiWei’s recent detention, were there any particular concerns that you noticed amongst the artists?
The timing of the exhibition in relation to Wael Shawky’s work and the recent popular uprisings in the Middle East has been particularly pertinent. Telematch Sadat by Shawky re-enacts the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, the event which brought Mubarak to power, who has of course now been ousted from power himself. For Shawky living in Alexandria it has been a first hand experience of the revolution, taking part in demonstrations and protests - we are very grateful that despite this he has still been able to work with us on the exhibition, his work seems more timely and urgent than ever. Although there is no direct relationship between the situation of Ai Wei Wei and Huang Yong Ping’s work, one of the pieces in the show has been the subject of political censorship – involving China, France and the USA authorities – the story plays out in the fuselage of Bat Project IV.

This exhibition will see Huang Yong Ping’s piece Bat Project IV (2004-5) – the actual fuselage of a US EP-3 spy plane hung with bats- shown for the first time in Europe. What should audiences expect of the project?
As with Huang’s other works the scale of the piece is big, the spy plane cockpit came from a Californian plane graveyard – and was cut into pieces before being reassembled in the galleries. The structure forms a mini museum inside the gallery, tracing the story of the mid-air collision in 2001 between a US spy plane and Chinese fighter jet and Huang Yong Ping’s subsequent attempts to create a major artwork around the diplomatic wranglings. Banned from display twice, the work was finally realised as part of his major retrospective at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis – which also toured to China.

Could you talk us through some of the key pieces in the show?
Cabaret Crusades by Shawky is a beautiful but troubling film which re-enacts the events of the first Crusade (1096 -1099) from the writings of Arab historians, using 200 year old Italian marionettes to tell the story. It is a powerful and provocative piece. The gallery shared between both artists will also be a striking part of the show, two monumental works together in one space. Huang’s Marche de Punya is also a key work in the show, filling one of the larger gallery spaces an elephant lies prostrate in front of a Chinese market stall selling Buddhist offerings – a comment on market forces in China and the true values of religious belief.

What’s coming up this year at Nottingham Contemporary?
It will be a busy year, with the Jean Genet group show following this exhibition, exploring both the early and later political writings of the hugely influential French writer Jean Genet. The artists include Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Alberto Giacometti, Lili Reynaud Dewar, Latifah Echakhch, Otolith Group, Mona Hatoum amongst others, touching on Genet’s early plays and relationships with the Black Panthers and Palestine. Later in the year we will be working with German artist Klaus Weber on a solo show and related group show which he has curated from collections including the Tate, Ashomolean and the Science Museum. New works will include a giant pair of windscreen wipers on our largest window and a character running in perpetual motion from the roof.

Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky opens tomorrow (15 April) and continues until 26 June. For further information please visit the Nottingham Contemporary website. While you're there, why not pick up Issue 40 of Aesthetica?

Image: Huang Yong Ping, Marché de Punya, 2007. Photo courtesy of the artist and Galleria Massimo de Carlo, Milano

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Concepts of Memory and Time: Gary Simmons, Simon Lee Gallery, London

Review by Sarah Richter a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

Haven’t we all wondered if antiques, places and objects from the past contain stories, memories of what has occurred and been seen. American artist Gary Simmons examines these same issues, confronting them in a most unconventional way. His second solo show, Shine, currently on exhibit at the Simon Lee Gallery draws its inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable 1980 horror film The Shining. The over sized images take their cue from memorable motifs and moments from the film, such as tricycle in Big Wheel Spiral and the infamous quote, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” in The Diamond and Full Page. In addition to drawing inspiration from this American film classic, Simmons takes inspiration from the structure of the Bryce Hospital in Alabama. This hospital served as an institution for African Americans who were considered insane and unfit for a place in contemporary society in the early 20th century. These large-scale works dominate the walls and gallery space of Simon Lee creating an inescapable impact.

The body of work makes references to the idea of haunted spaces, filled with memories and stories that aren’t immediately visible to the viewer, but that exist within the figures Simmons has chosen to represent. He has moved away from using paint and canvas, and instead uses black paper with white chalk and pastels. By employing this more uncontrollable medium, Simmons has the ability to smear his work in such a way that suggests a sense of movement and heightens the feeling that the structures and spaces are alive, attempting to tell their stories.

Full Page is composed of twenty panels that band together to make one large, cohesive image. Reading from left to right, the text reads “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Over and over again, the same sentence is repeated, rewritten and thus the idea is reiterated to the viewer over and over again. The idea of repetition reminds the viewer of schoolboy punishments. As the words rise off the page and come to life, the viewer too comes to understand that all work and no play DOES make Jack a dull boy. The writing is sketchy and rushed, which in the minds of a movie watching populous, evokes feelings of someone’s inner voice manifesting their presence in a visible way. As you read the lines of text over and over again, the phrase ingrains itself in the memory and thus, Simmons piece has made an impression and the viewer has associated their own personal memory with this piece and its content.

Dominating the same wall are two images Chandelier Hallway (White) and Chandelier Hallway (Black). Both are images of chandeliers with one drawn in black on white paper and the other white on black paper respectively. Clearly identifiable as a chandelier, Simmons has smeared them in such a way that they seem to uncontrollable spinning, building up momentum and about to leap out of the safety of their frame. Simultaneously ominous and hypnotic, he has given something mundane a personality. This chandelier could exist on any plane, abandoned in a mysterious mansion or hidden in a corner of an antique store forgotten and discarded. By placing them in motion it seems that a temporal space is born, in which the object has removed itself from it’s surroundings to find new life and share the memories it posses.

Shine is a fascinating exploration of the memories possessed in an object, a place, person or thing. When confronted with these images the viewer allows them to permeate their psyche and thus one can recall their own memory. The images create allow the viewer to create a space by standing in front of the image itself and allowing it to affect them beyond an aesthetic appreciation. The movement inherent in each piece is undeniable and thus Simmons’ successfully conveys the feelings associated with the past coming alive, jumping out of the objects that contain history and bringing itself to the viewer. The work lends the viewer a sense of falling down the rabbit hole and viewing objects of daily life whirl by like the often unobtainable concepts of memories and time.

Gary Simmons Shine continues until 31 May. Fore more information visit the Simon Lee Gallery website.

Gary Simmons
Twins 2011
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, London

V&A: Exhibition Road Competition

Review by Nathan Breeze

If you're a regular visitor to the V&A you would have noticed a gradual and ambitious series of renovations and expansions over the last few years. It is all part of the museum’s FuturePlan; bringing the V&A into the 21st century and restoring modern design and innovation to its heart. For each of these transformations the V&A has launched a series of open competitions; inviting proposals from architectural firms from all over the world. A recent example was the competition to design the V&A’s new outpost on Dundee’s waterfront, won at the end of last year by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

Back in the London, the latest competition and the next stage of the FuturePlan is for a new gallery and public courtyard accessed from Exhibition Road through the Aston Webb screen. Both new spaces will be used to display the museums high profile programme of temporary exhibitions and events. This site has an eventful history; here 15 years ago Polish born architect Daniel Libeskind proposed a radical deconstructivist extension nicknamed The Spiral. Its provocative form caused outrage from South Kensington residents; a controversial planning decision was, however, avoided as the project couldn't attract sufficient funding. Perhaps with this in mind, the museum’s brief for the current competition sets strict parameters to ensure that the existing Grade 1 Listed facades are maintained; enclosing the new courtyard and cafe with the gallery space pushed below ground.

From over 100 practices that entered the international competition, seven were short listed and invited to present more detailed designs. Refreshingly a single model solely represents each design; there is no P.R or flowery conceptual spiel. By building a model there is no hiding behind one beautifully rendered view (these are available online). The whole scheme can be considered and scrutinised from every angle by the visitor. Alongside the models is a comments book. You can spot the architect or architecture student who like my fellow Part 1 visitor and I, queried the lack of North signs, the inconsistent orientation of the models as well as the lack of detail afforded by their scale. Generally I would ignore these comments and concentrate on the rich variety of imaginative designs and the exquisitely made physical models. Most people have simply written down their favourite, something the judges are encouraging every visitor to do. Personally I was split between the very different proposals of London based architects Jamie Forbert and Amanda Levete.

Forbert`s design shows a mature sensitivity. A carefully considered processional route links the terraced public courtyard down to the gallery. The descent, not shown in some of the other models, is beautifully composed whilst there is a suggestion of a clever use of natural light to the subterranean levels. On the other hand Amanda Levete’s faceted public landscape that folds down to the gallery below creates a series of dynamic spaces and presents the opportunity of a unique destination in its own right. Levete’s recent curation of the Move: Choreographing You exhibition at the Hayward Gallery demonstrated her ability to strike the fine balance between creating a rich and engaging space without drawing attention away from the art itself.

Despite the fact that Amanda Levete Architects (pictured) won the competition, the real winner here is architecture and its increasingly rare engagement with popular culture and the people who will ultimately visit the future gallery. The V&A seem to be one of the few institutions of its kind that is investing in the culture of open design competitions. In an interview given before receiving his RIBA Gold Medal last month, British Architect David Chipperfield (who has completed most of his high profile work outside the U.K) bemoaned the lack of architectural competitions in this country pointing out that in the last year there had only been five open competitions in the UK compared to 200 in Germany and 1,600 in France. There are developed arguments both for and against a culture of competitions. Other than increasingly Architectures engagement with the public, they can provide an ideal springboard into work for a talented young practice but others argue they cater for visually seductive proposals that lack the enduring quality. What is certain is that a competition must be very carefully staged and structured to allow for the sufficient interrogation of the viability of the winning scheme whilst avoiding unnecessarily large losses for the unsuccessful applicants.

For more information please visit the website.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

It's Gonna Work Out Fine: Lisa Slominski, Tenderpixel, London

Review by Laura E. Barone, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

The space at Tenderpixel has been filled by artist/curator Lisa Slominski with emotion – more specifically, with emoticons. Slominski’s solo show, It’s gonna work out fine gives a promise of sincerity and depth to otherwise trite symbols from the instant messaging and texting sphere of what passes as contemporary forms of communication. Pookie is the largest piece, running from the top of the wall and continuing onto the floor, and is the focal point of the show. Made of 100 laser cut Perspex symbols, the installation draws from the keyboard for its forms, creating patterns made up of semi-colons, parenthesis, zeros, and bullet points. When there is no more space on the wall, the pattern continues onto the floor until it is complete, as if it has encountered an angled page break.

The Perspex, or acrylic glass, that makes up Pookie gives the piece a hard-edged, mechanical feel. This sense of solidity is drastically different from that of Henri Matisse’s nature and jazz-inspired coloured paper cut-outs that fill walls in a comparable way. Even when screen printed on paper with backgrounds of land and sea, and framed, as Pookie’s six counterparts are, there is still something regimented and motorized about the patterns. Slominski references Victorian period velvet wallpaper as a source of inspiration, and there is a definite allusion to these tactile, decorative patterns in this work. The key difference, however, is that Slominski’s work is clearly of the 21st century; referencing a detached computer age. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a sense of wonder and fantasy. The repetition of signs and symbols is almost prayer-like and meditative, but, again, undeniably rooted in present issues; a recognition of the ways in which humans have detached themselves from natural material and from face-to-face communication.

The sort of apprehension that the Pookie cause is deftly connected with the forms used, the emoticons. Flooding our everyday lives, these symbols of winking smiley faces or decisively frowning ones have become instant substitutes for genuine communication that involves talking, listening, and reading the wide range of human facial expressions that simply cannot be conveyed through the swipe of a few keys. While the kind of fantastical, retro patterning on the wall and on paper can almost evoke a sort of psychedelic experience, seeing the combination of colon and parenthesis to make the clichéd smiley face halts such thoughts of profundity.

The emoticons have a way of making viewers pause, maybe even making them feel cynical, as if they are going to be tricked, faked or slighted with something superficial. But I think that calculated distance is part of the point. We cannot fully engage with this work on an aesthetic or even emotional level because the emotions presented are computer-generated substitutes from a cyber world we are apprehensive about moving forward with. It’s as if we are not looking at the ‘real thing’ that Slominski wants to present viewers with because rather than shapes and color, emoticons and ready-made material cover the wall, expressing emotion in a way that is so familiar, it’s uncomfortable. It’s gonna work out fine is a fascinating exploration of the meditative and seductive attributes of decoration through material and installation. Presenting a stark narrative on the limitations of texting, e-mailing and our ability to experience genuine feeling through these means, Slominski disrupts commonplace representations of the physical, cyber and sacred space within which we all conduct our lives.

Lisa Slominski’s It’s gonna work out fine continues until 30 April at Tenderpixel. See www.tenderpixel.com for more information.

Image: Pookie (2011) Courtesy the artist and Tenderpixel

The Interaction between Classical Music, Theatre and Film: Michel van der Aa, Barbican, London

Review by Nathan Breeze

Touring six major European culture halls, Liebestod was a cross-genre performance by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta exploring the interaction between Classical Music, Theatre and Film. The evening was opened by Wagner’s celebrated Tristan und Isolde Prelude, a piece of music composed about the secret yet impossible desire that Tristan has for the wife of his uncle. Continuing with the theme of unobtainable love, Lyric Suite by Alban Berg proved to be heavily influenced by his clandestine obsession with the married Hanna Fuchs-Robettin after letters were found along with an annotated score of the piece in 1977. Extracts of these letters as well as some written to her husband are performed by Dutch actor Jeroen Willems who plays an intoxicated Berg, darkly stalking around the musicians with a glass of red wine in his hand. There are six scores to the piece; three written by Berg and a further three added by Theo Verbey in 2005. The interaction between Berg and the Sinfonietta was at times captivating. The absence of a conductor meant that the performers, led by Candida Thompson, energetically exaggerated their movements creating a dynamic interaction, which, along with the instinctive feel of the music, said everything the actor did not. At times the two genres harmonised very well but I felt that the extracted text was often too long and confusing which led to a loss of momentum. Nevertheless, this type of cross-genre performance clearly has enormous potential.

The highlight of the evening was Up Close by Michel van der Aa. His genre-fusing pieces combine his skills as a composer, stage and film director and have landed him widespread critical acclaim. Up Close was written for the highly regarded Argentinean cellist Sol Gabetta who, together with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, occupied one side of the stage whilst a cinema screen sat to the other. As the performance started the two sides began to interact. On screen an old woman appeared on a similar yet empty stage before being transported to a haunting memory of an empty old house hidden in a forest. The powerful bursts of live cello by the almost-possessed Gabetta built the tension as the old woman, ensuring the windows are blacked out, used a mysterious communication device. There was a suggestion that that the old woman in the film was the alter ego of the cellist, this was strengthened when the two simultaneously moved an antique lamp across the similar empty stage. As the two genres and characters blended and overlapped, the audience’s eyes and ears were drawn from one side of the stage to the other. The fast and frantic piece concluded when Gabetta moved her chair to play in front of the screen. The stunningly poignant image of the cellist in front of the old woman lying on the floor epitomised the rich potential of cross-genre performance masterfully demonstrated by the growing skill of Van der Aa.

Liebestod was part of the Barbican's world class 2010-2011 Classical music programme.

Coming up at the Barbican, Polish-Hungarian pianist Piotr Anderszewski returns on 14 April 2011 for a performance with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann. The programme includes Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in F major, often referred to by its apt nickname Frühlingssonate or ‘Spring’ sonata; Szymanowski’s Myths, which was inspired by Greek mythology and composed in 1915 during a particularly productive period for the composer; and Schumann’s fiery Sonata No 2 in D Minor.

For more information please visit the Barbican website.

Monday, 11 April 2011

A Multitude of Soap Bubbles which Explode from Time to Time: Pino Pascali, Camden Arts Centre, London

Review by Paul Hardman

This exhibition, the first dedicated to Pino Pascali in the UK, focuses on works from 1967 and 1968, the last few completed by Pascali in the final two years before his tragic early death in a motorcycle accident at the age of 32. It is his first solo show in the UK, a fact which is surprising given his international significance as a key member of the Arte Povera movement, the radical trend in Italian art where everyday materials were used in resonant combinations and in which events in art and life appeared to converge.

Pascali originally trained and then worked as a theatrical set designer, and the chest height furry mushroom, displayed among the first room full of objects in Camden Arts Centre, could easily be part of a fairy tale stage set, perhaps Alice in Wonderland as the caterpillar's seat. In fact, this exhibition does include giant caterpillars, not to mention a giant spider, alongside a giant bow and arrow. So on first impressions it seems that Pascali was inventing a fantasy world for his audience to wander in. But it is not so simple, as in the first room of the exhibition there is also a piece that appears to be two solid blocks of earth, protruding from high up on the wall. These do not play with scale, or attempt to turn the viewer into an impish child embarking on a fantastic adventure, but relate to notions of sculpture being pursued around the same time by artist such as Robert Morris, Donald Judd and Carl Andre. It is apparent that Pascali was able to travel in different directions at the same time, producing work that could seem paradoxical or self-contradictory.

In the west facing high windowed room of the gallery there is an arrangement of shallow metal troughs filled with water dividing the space in two, shaped like a meandering river with two tributaries at one end. But since the troughs touch, but do not connect, this is itself a divided river, static, existing only on a symbolic or poetic level. That Pascali was making such quiet contemplative pieces and simultaneously making overtly entertaining objects such as the giant blue spider (Vedova Blu, 1968) gives a suggestion of the contrary nature of this restless and prolific artist.

The exhibition includes the film SKMP2 by Luc Patella, and it is this film, showing the artist prepare an exhibition and doing performance pieces, that gives the best opening through which to begin to build a coherent idea of Pascali and his work. Pascali said that: “Art means finding a method for change: like the man who first invented a bowl to hold water. This is how civilisation is born... after the first time, making a bowl becomes academic.” Each of his works should be seen then, as an attempt to invent and to change, to be catalysts. This is essentially a methodology for eternal play. One sequence from SKMP2 features Pascali in a small gallery space, an archetypal white cube, re-arranging and interaction with a number of tractor tyres. These simple objects are put through an incredible array of inventive uses as the artist bounces them around the room, puts them into patterns, sits in one and acts as though floating on a river, puts two of them in line and straddles them as if riding an enormous cartoon motorcycle and so on, seemingly attempting to exhaust all possibilities.

Later in the film Pascali is shown enacting a performance on a sandy river bank. First he emerges from a sack, then with a wooden rake he ploughs the sand, then marks of an area with batons of wood. When the area is clearly defined he throws water from the river onto the sand – this sequence of acts could be the artist making his sculpture as a performance, but it also is the ritual like behaviour of a shaman or mystic. At the seed of the sequence Pascali inserts some batons of bread into the sand and tears bits off to eat – he returns to being a normal man just playing with the sand and having a picnic. This is Pascali in essence: able to seamlessly shift between the serious, the magical and the absurd.

There is a further aspect to the work on display here that reveals another component of this artist's thinking: the subtle layers of meaning that potentially can be created when one object or material becomes another. Pascali was a key member of the Arte Povera movement, a group of artists who were known for using humble found materials, rags, earth, wood, and so on. But of the group it was Pascali who used these materials in the most figurative way, using them to build recognisable things, rather than using them for their material properties or as abstraction. It is here that a semiotic play becomes more possible. Trappola (Trap) (1968) is a rope trap large enough to easily ensnare a grown adult, but on close inspection it becomes possible to discern that it is made from steel scouring brushes, this wire wool makes the trap all the more threatening on the one hand, due to the fearsome nature of this material, but on the other, making something that looks so prehistoric, or like a trap to be used by a Greek demigod, that is constructed from something that is found under the sink in the humblest kitchen creates an uncanny link between the domestic and the fantastical.

The charming and childlike surface aspect of Pascali's work belies the fact that there is much more here to discover and explore, it is not that last time it will be said that it is was a great loss for this artist to die so young. But it is clear form his prolific and diverse practice that this was a man brimming over with energy and life and even what he was able to produce in his short time, is enough to make ripples that can still be felt today.

Pino Pascali continues at Camden Arts Centre until 1 May. For more information please visit the Camden Arts Centre website.

Installation View, 2011
Copyright Camden Arts Centre. Photo Andy Keate

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Examining and Unravelling: Yellow Wallpaper, Bo.Lee, Bath

Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

Yellow Wallpaper, inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story of the same name, examines and unravels themes of spatial confinement, escape and the dissolution of identity that can occur in the struggle between the two.

Philippa Lawrence’s Last Flight, a sizeable light bulb inside which several moths have found a final resting place, takes an inherent trait (the moths’ use of the moon as a navigational tool) and follows it to its prescribed conclusion. The moths’ instinctive use of the moon as a point of reference can only be implemented successfully due to the great distance between them and the celestial body, which makes the latter impossible to reach; the proximity of a light bulb is fatal. The fatality is all the more poignant due to its inescapable nature, for the moth will keep trying to angle itself to a source of light that it is doomed to collide against, ad infinitum. The potential serenity deriving from the inevitable is present but tempered in Last Flight, as the focus alarmingly moves from the moths’ misguided instincts to the fact that the light is actually physically impossible to escape from. A hole in the glass means that the last infinitesimal chance to break away is cancelled out, not because of an ingrained behaviour but because of spatial restriction.

Two works by Patrick Haines, Blackthorn House and A Caged Bird offer an intriguing approach to the question of identity as a function of the space inhabited and dwelled in. The works reveal the precariousness of this construct by challenging the established notions of freedom versus captivity, symbolically represented in the cage/home. Blackthorn House is, at least at first glance, simple and terrible: a three-dimensional outline of a house, constructed out of savage-looking spiked twigs. As a home it appears neither welcoming to visitors nor accommodating to its dwellers; the dread experienced at the possibility of having to enter such a house could only be surpassed by that felt at the thought of needing to escape it. And yet, there are birds that would choose just such a thorny place for their abode: from shrikes and butcherbirds, to firewood-gatherers (also known as thorn birds), to Oscar Wilde’s nightingale that selflessly – and pointlessly – impaled itself on a thorn for the sake of a clichéd love-affair that fails to materialise. Thus, Blackthorn House subverts the immediate equation of a cage with an absence of choice.

In a touching depiction of the potentially paralyzing oppression of freedom, A Caged Bird presents the viewer with a remarkable sight: a bird locked out of a cage, wistfully peering down at its empty nest through the bars. The incongruity of the image is a simple but effective way of posing the question left unuttered at the end of myriads of Hollywood movies, TV advertisements and sugary pop songs: escape to what? Defining one’s identity against something one is desperately trying to break away from is easy enough –but once you’ve managed to shake off your chains and ride into the sunset, then what? Freedom as an ideal to strive towards is a lot less scary and a great deal more romantic than freedom obtained. Still, there is no reductionism in the work: on the contrary, the image of an animal passing up freedom in favour of a caged life has deeper and more complex ramifications, embodying as it does the tension between an individual brand of freedom and the idea of freedom as constructed and imposed by societal expectations. The latter of which can, of course, be a prison in itself.

Rose Sanderson’s paintings repeatedly make use of reclaimed wallpaper as background, the different patterns of which accentuate the overall atmosphere created in each work. Paintings such as Anticipation, Holding On and Waiting, present a skilful composition in which painstakingly detailed birds perch precariously on heavy brushstrokes, against the ever present background of wallpaper. The dynamic layering of wallpaper, colour and detailed depiction seem to suggest that the birds just don’t belong in the confines of the frame, as if they just happened to perch there for a moment and will soon fly off again. In Tranquillity however, the wallpaper pattern is a lot more floral, so much so that at it could easily be mistaken for a tropical forest; the brushstrokes are less intense, the colour allowed to drip down to form a protective curtain. And behind it, with its back to the viewer in a stance no longer denoting tense anticipation but blissful abandon, a bird is perched, its plumage almost mixing in with the background –almost.

The exhibition also showcases works such as Patrick Haines’s heartrending Soul Object; Beth Carter’s Minotaur, a slouching, smaller-than-life creature, less mythical monster than weary prisoner; and selected works from Chris Anthony’s Victims and Avengers series.

Yellow Wallpaper continues at b-lee Gallery, Bath until 16 April. For further information visit www.bo-lee.co.uk

Rose Sanderson Fire Crest acrylic on book cover
Courtesy the artist and Bo.Lee, Bath

Blog Archive