n. pl. cor·po·ra (-pr-)
1. A large collection of writings of a specific kind or on a specific subject.
2. A collection of writings or recorded remarks used for linguistic analysis.
3. The main part of a bodily structure or organ.
//Reviews of art. Art and language. Art and the body.
A Scouser and a Desi. A Hindu Punjabi. Chila Kumari Burman,
who grew up helping her dad with his ice cream van on Freshfields Beach, went
on to become one of the first British South Asian women to study at the Slade.
Her work – which she describes as challenging the notion of the Asian woman
caught between two cultures, instead
envisioning herself as beyond two
cultures – is now held by the likes of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate
and Richard Branson.
Among her influences, Burman lists Bollywood, Dada and
Surrealism, Hindu philosophy, Indian comics, popular culture and her mum. She
works a lot with prints, layering and relayering, printing and reprinting. Texture
is unimportant; the focus is on colour. The initial image becomes a blur. Burman
likes to work with “girlie junk” – bindis, make-up, hair accessories, flowers,
buttons and beads – as well as pictures of Bollywood stars and Hindu goddesses.
Words are superimposed from sources as diverse as an erotic fridge magnet set
and the New Internationalist.
Sexuality and forms of female sexual desire are intrinsic to
Burman’s work, all of which might be seen as a series of self-portraits, even
the larger-than-life ice cream cones sculptures. Everywhere there is plenty of
glitter and sparkle – and there couldn’t really be a better reflection of the
artist’s effervescent personality. One grinning black and white photograph of a
young Burman is scribbled over with the thought bubble: “Gonna be an artist,
y’know?” Well, girl, you certainly made it!
Gideon Rubin (born Tel Aviv, 1973) is a painter. Or is
he? Certainly he uses paint, but his source materials are photographs – both
from family albums and old magazines and newspapers (all found at flea markets,
featuring anonymous strangers) – and his recent finished pieces, painted
directly on to these images, often leave as much – if not more – of the
original underneath to show through. Even upon close study, it is not always
easy to tell whether the pattern on the shirt is painted or photographed and
whether the colour of the hair ribbon is as it was or changed. Rubin
deliberately obscures and obfuscates, blurring the boundaries between painting
and photography and questioning the very nature of truth, so often
unwaiveringly placed in the eye of the camera.
recent years, Californian artist David Best’s temples have become synonymous
with the annual Burning Man event in the
Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA, where he first built one in 2000. Their burning
on the final night of the week-long event offers a more peaceful and
contemplative finale after the previous night’s burning man extravaganza. Over
the years, Best’s temples have grown in size and attracted increasing numbers
of visitors – many of whom bring personal artefacts, letters, photographs and items
of clothing to pin to the interior or place at the altar, seeking, in the
ultimate fire, a sense of release, often from violent and turbulent events,
such as rape or suicide.
March sees Best’s first grand-scale international temple being constructed –
and ceremonially burned – in Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland, a place where
bonfires have a significant past of their own dating from the Troubles. Studio
International met Best (born 1945) in London shortly before construction began.
“I can remember hearing Britten’s
War Requiem on a record quite soon after it had its premier in
1960-whatever-it-was and I was pretty stunned by it, by its strangeness and its
grandeur and its pathos,” says Maggi Hambling (born 1945), speaking of the
piece of music which has inspired a whole exhibition, currently on show at the
Cultural Institute, King’s College, London. “It was like first hearing Oscar
Wilde and that voice coming from another place. It was the same sort of
feeling.” Certainly, after sitting through three loops of the extract selected
for Room 2 of this exhibition – an installation called ‘War Requiem II’, since
the original ‘War Requiem’ is now part of the permanent collection of Aldeburgh
Music (on view at Snape Maltings, Suffolk, from 27 March – 3 May) – I
understand what she means. Accompanied by Hambling’s thickly painted,
tumultuous works, hung in a line around the bare wooden walls, interspersed
with mirrors, which bring you into the present, making you somehow complicit in
the atrocity, the effect is overwhelming and brought tears to my eyes. The
burning and resplendent oranges and yellows echo the male voice singing about
“moving, moving into the sun”, capturing both hope and fear. And if you look
closely at the smaller paintings, allow yourself to be absorbed, you can start
to make out molten faces – “victims”, Hambling labels them – all painted from
imagination, yet strikingly real. Once you have seen them, you cannot return to
enjoying the glory of the swirling colours, innocent of their reference. The
sight of them becomes traumatic, the weight of death and loss unbearable.
“The point is,” Hambling continues,
“war seems always to have been and it doesn’t seem to stop. And we all sit
there and watch the news on television and it just goes past us: people being
killed, houses being burnt and all the rest of it. I still have this belief
that oil paint can do something that photography can’t.”
Next door, in Room 1: War, another
oil painting captures an intimate image and renders it eternal – two skulls
cuddling make clear how, when you really love, you love forever, way beyond
“til death do us part”. This all-encompassing aspect of love is further brought
to the fore in Room 4: You are the Sea, where, to accompany a large canvas from
Hambling’s recent Wall of Water series, a sound installation emanates from a
deep well, with the crashing of waves, the roar of the ocean, and the words of
a poem she wrote, describing how one dissolves into love, is washed over by it
and swept away. You – my lover – are the sea.
The rich and tightly curated exhibition
also includes a short video of a bronze called ‘War Coffin’, now held by the
Tate and deemed too fragile to be lent out. Reminiscent of a rocking horse, the
hanging head-shaped pendulums strike one another as the piece tilts and swings,
their clanging echoing the tolling of the death bells in Britten’s requiem,
just audible through the wall. The ghostly movement, apparently without human
intervention, could perhaps be the work of a hand beyond the grave?
And then there is Aftermath. This
is represented by an extensive collection of strange bronze shapes, placed on
plinths, the length of the hallway and in a final, eerily lit, side room. These
disturbing effigies, painted in luminous colours, stand to attention like
soldiers – or fallen soldiers’ graves in a cemetery. They are cast from found
pieces of dead wood, whose gnarled shapes spoke to Hambling and conjured up
associations. They speak, she says, of “a time after war or after death”. There
are animal heads, fleshy slabs of meat, a baby elephant, a drowning polar bear.
They represent things Hambling feels strongly about (such as the melting of the
polar caps), but, she insists, “the titles are only suggestions really. That’s
why I’ve used small, not capital letters. People can see whatever they want to
in them.” Freud would probably have had a field day. They are the building
blocks for dreams – or nightmares – they are, in Hambling’s words, “those
mysterious things that remain.” After experiencing the works in this
exhibition, there are many things, which remain. Its powerful impact, like the
wave of an ocean, has left a resounding aftermath in both my heart and soul.
Despite having turned 80 last summer
and boasting a successful 50-year career, Sheila Hicks (born Nebraska, 1934)
still considers herself an “outsider” artist. In fact, as she talks about this
status, it is clear that it is something she wears like a badge of honour and
is keen to hold on to for the freedom it gives her.
Hicks studied in Yale under Josef
Albers and then won a Fulbright Scholarship (1957-8) to travel in South
America. During her travels, both here and later in life, Hicks observed people
working with fibres – wool, yarn, thread, and so on – as both a pastime and a
way of life. She observed the vibrancy of different cultures and ways of life,
of different terrains and cityscapes. She observed people making things. All of these influences can be found in her work
For her first solo exhibition in a UK public art
institution, Hicks has filled Dan Graham’s Waterloo Sunset Pavilion in the
Hayward Gallery Project Space with huge pigmented bales – in an attempt, she
says, to create something as exciting as London zoo. Accompanying this is a
selection of her more museum-friendly works, including some of her intimate minimes (small studies) and fibre-based drawings.
In a conversation very much led by
Hicks, and accompanied by the Hayward’s chief curator Stephanie Rosenthal, she
explains more about where her inspiration came from, the importance of
photography to her when she was travelling alone, and the difference between
carrots and radishes.