Friday, 7 September 2018

Review of Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
16 June – 4 November 2018

Everyone knows something of the tragic story of Frida Kahlo (1907-54) – the polio, contracted when she was six, which left her right leg thinner than her left and caused her to limp; the accident, when she was 18, the after-effects of which reverberated throughout the rest of her short life, forcing her to undergo multiple operations and spend much time bed bound; her tempestuous relationship and on-off marriage with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957); her affairs with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, as well as with various female friends; her now iconic monobrow and her unconventional and folkloric style of dress – and there is a flourishing yet morbid fascination with her tale. Children around the world wear flowery Frida-style hairpieces; teenage girls have Daft Punk Frida T-shirts; even grown men can be spotted with Frida socks. There are also numerous self-help-style inspirational books in which Kahlo stars as role-model-cum-heroine. 

Thankfully, her artworks are recognisable, too – at least, her self-portraits are known through multiple reproductions, even if often distorted and graphicalised into a contemporary branded derivation. Sadly, encounters with the works themselves are rarer, and, having read reviews of this much-hyped and long-awaited blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, they were not something I was especially banking on encountering. The focus is, instead, on Kahlo’s biography and, principally, the treasure trove of artefacts and paraphernalia uncovered, when, in 2004, the seal was broken on the bathroom in her lifelong home Casa Azul (the Blue House, in Coyoacán, south of Mexico City – now the Museo Frida Kahlo), which, for 50 years following her death, had been kept locked, as dictated shortly before his death by Rivera. Nevertheless, true art fans needn’t despair or indeed avoid the exhibition altogether, for there are enough paintings to render the battle with the crowds worthwhile, even if you may ultimately leave with somewhat mixed feelings.

Read the full review here

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Interview with Tamsyn Challenger

Interview with Tamsyn Challenger 

Tamsyn Challenger is an artist whose practice responds to violations of human and women’s rights around the world. Her collective gender-political portrait, 400 Women (2010), was made following a visit to Mexico in 2006, where she met with the mothers and families of women who had been brutally raped and murdered or who had disappeared, in the town of Ciudad Juarez. Her current curatorial venture, Free the Pussy!, at Edinburgh’s Summerhall, comprises works made in response to – and representing the core issues relating to – the arrest in 2012 of Pussy Riot, following their pop-up protest performance, Punk Prayer, at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which attacked the Orthodox church’s support for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Featuring works by the likes of Judy Chicago, Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann, the exhibition also includes Challenger’s own work, Ducking Stool (2012).

Studio International spoke to Challenger about the origins of the exhibition, the roles of the artist-curator and the female artist in contemporary society, and the need for women to reclaim and own powerful words, such as “pussy” and “cunt”.

Read the full interview here

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Interview with Thierry Oussou

Interview with Thierry Oussou

Thierry Oussou (b1988, Benin) refers to his artistic practice – encompassing paintings, videos, drawings, installations and performances – as “social archaeology”, exploring the relationship between contemporary art and ethnographic objects. It raises questions of authenticity and visibility in relation to heritage and archaeology, especially that of his country of birth, Benin. “I have a desire to document the vanishing before it is completely gone,” Oussou says. “Forgetting and not being aware of your own history can be used as a tool of manipulation by politicians. Thus, I also feel there is a need to save some things just for the sake of knowing.” Having recently taken part in the Berlin Biennale, showing a project concerned with the debate around the repatriation of African artefacts, he also has a solo exhibition at Tiwani Contemporary in London. 

Read the interview here

Monday, 16 July 2018

Review of Patrick Heron at Tate St Ives

Patrick Heron 
Tate St Ives
19 May – 30 September 2018
Turner Contemporary, Margate
19 October 2018 – 6 January 2019

It has been a momentous 12 months for Tate St Ives – reopening in October 2017 following a four-year building project, led by Jamie Fobert Architects, to add nearly 600sq metres of gallery space, doubling the existing area – and, in recognition of this, achieving the accolade, worth £100,000, of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018. The new four-storey extension, with its tall, sky-lit exhibition space, is currently host to the first major exhibition in two decades of works by the local – and hugely significant postwar British abstract artist – Patrick Heron (1920-99), who always wanted his paintings to be seen at different times of day, in different light, just as they can be here.

Read the full review here

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Interview with RuimteVeldWerk

Interview with RuimteVeldWerk
Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City
Ruimteveldwerk is a collective comprising four architects – twin brothers Brecht and Sander van Duppen (b1987, Leuven), Pieter Brosens (b1976, Antwerp) and Pieter Cloeckaert (b1984, Leuven) – who seek to expand the boundaries of architecture and connect it to urban planning, sociology, history, art and activism. Their participatory, experimental projects involve vulnerable subgroups of society, such as refugees in Oslo, and, for the Bruges Triennial 2018, the elderly residents of the Saint Trudo almshouses. For this project, they have created an offline space in the heart of the courtyard where the residents and visitors alike can enjoy an oasis of peace in the centre of the city, raising questions about the sacred notion of silence – and human interaction – in today’s digital era. 

Read the full interview here

Friday, 6 July 2018

Interview with John Powers

Interview with John Powers
Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City

Inspired by the many almshouses of Bruges – the idea of medieval social housing and a sense of civic ownership that survives to this day – New York-based artist John Powers (b1970, Chicago) further drew on the city’s folkloric story of the beheading of Pieter Lanchals. A confidant of Emperor Maximilian I, Lanchals was decapitated by the people of Bruges and, as a form of punishment and remembrance, Maximilian obliged the city to keep 52 white swans on its canals in perpetuity. Powers’ site-specific work for this year’s triennial is named after the legend and echoes the elegant S-curve of a swan’s neck. 

Studio International spoke to Powers, who expanded on his inspirations, talked about his process of planning and constructing the 15-metre-tall steel tower, and explained how Lanchals fits into his wider practice.

Read the full interview here

Review of Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City

Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City
Various locations, Bruges
5 May – 16 September 2018

Having been resuscitated in 2015 for the first time since 1974, this second of the contemporary iterations of the Bruges Triennial, curated once again by Till-Holger Borchert, director of Musea Brugge and head curator of the Groeningemuseum and Arentshuis, and Michel Dewilde, curator of visual arts at the Cultural Centre, Bruges, with invaluable support from Els Wuyts, takes the title of Liquid City. There is a double meaning to this, in that Bruges, of course, is itself a liquid city, known as the Venice of the North for its picturesque canals, but questions are also raised, by the curators and the artists behind the 15 works of public art on display, about how a historic city such as Bruges might become metaphorically liquid, flexible and resilient in an age when nothing seems certain and established ways of thinking are increasingly coming under pressure. The concept itself derives from the Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017), who wrote of a “liquid modernity” and “the growing conviction that change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty”.

Read the full review here

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Review of Beyond Ophelia: A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet at Wightwick Manor & Gardens

Beyond Ophelia: A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet
Wightwick Manor & Gardens, Wolverhampton
1 March – 24 December 2018

She was described by William Rossetti as “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve,” and is best known as John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1852) – the girl who caught pneumonia by lying in a cold bath for hours while he painted – and her widower Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s posthumous Beata Beatrix (1863). Lizzie Siddal (1829-62), born Siddall, but persuaded by Rossetti to drop an L for reasons of style and association, was well aware of the conundrum of her situation, valued, as a woman, for her appearance and as a muse for the male artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, while striving to be loved for her character and her own naive artistic abilities. Her incomplete poem, The Lust of the Eyes, begins with the following perceptive lines summing up how it must have felt to be “used” in this way, rather than “nurtured” as a whole woman – and the wife she long waited to become: “I care not for my Lady’s soul / Though I worship before her smile; / I care not where be my Lady’s goal / When her beauty shall lose its wile.”

Read the full review here