Thursday, 29 September 2011

Review of EJ Major: Shoulder to Shoulder at Matt Roberts Arts


EJ Major: Shoulder to Shoulder
Matt Roberts Arts
2 – 24 September 2011

EJ Major, an artist and lecturer at Middlesex University, who graduated with an MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths in 2009, this year beat nearly 1000 international photographers to win the new Salon Photo Prize, organised by Matt Roberts Arts, and judged, amongst others, by Simon Baker (Curator of Photography at Tate) and Stefanie Braun (Curator at the Photographers’ Gallery). Alongside the financial reward of £1000, she also won the opportunity for a solo show, held at Matt Roberts Arts, in the trendy East London arts hub of Vyner Street, this month.

Major’s photographic works, which include both digital and analogue technologies, are rooted in questions of identity and performance: how we both construct ourselves and are simultaneously constructed by the people, things, and events around us. Her works bear reference to historical and contemporary events, intertwining the two, and constructing a new narrative. The result is layered, remaining both a document to the past, but also opening up a conceptual space where questions of personal motive and relevance become pertinent, should the viewer wish to venture down this route. Major usually incorporates text as well as image, and claims to be “interested in how these two forms of representation enforce and displace meaning.”

This solo show consists of two main bodies of work: the eponymous Shoulder to Shoulder (2009-2011), shown here for the first time, filling the walls of the main gallery space, and Marie Claire RIP (2004-2007), already widely toured, which hangs in the back room. This earlier work, which consists of 12 portraits, hung in two rows of six, is based on a set of police mug shots of an anonymous female heroin addict, taken over a 14 year period, which appeared in an article in Marie Claire magazine in 2002. The article revealed that the woman was found dead not long after the final picture was taken, and the images therefore formed part of an anti heroin campaign. Major saw the original photos in a magazine at a friend’s house, and, weeks later, still haunted by the images in her head, asked her friend for the magazine, scanned them in to her computer, and began working on them. This series constitutes a restaging, with Major herself taking on the triple role of model, photographer, and retoucher – an experience she describes with hindsight as “very intense and quite isolating”[1]. The piece grew out of a desire to memorialise the unnamed woman, to give her a name, and also, through the addition of small textual annotations (“did not cry”, “do not care”, “hid in fear”, “i did it”, etc.) at the foot of each image, to initiate a narrative, reminding the viewer that no person’s life can be condensed to a set of just 12 images. By playing the role herself, Major challenges the authenticity of the photographic portrait and the role of acting in the creation of any individual identity. She is also keen to point out that there is, in her work, no direct reference to heroin, since, for her, that’s not really what it’s about: the story is certainly one of the individual’s personal demise, but also that of every (wo-)man’s.

Shoulder to Shoulder likewise tells the story of both the individual and society at large. Really, it falls into two parts, linked intrinsically through their historical reference. Three large colour pieces comprise Seriously Damaged By Attack, based on the attack on Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, on 10 March 1914, by militant suffragette Mary Richardson. Armed with an axe, fixed inside her jacket sleeve and held in place by a chain of safety pins, Canadian born Richardson entered London’s National Gallery unnoticed, and, after hours of hesitation, quite literally let rip, slashing the only surviving female nude by the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age a total of seven times. Although the attack had been being planned for some time, it is said to have been triggered by the arrest, the previous day, of fellow suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Richardson, who was sentenced to the maximum term of six months’ imprisonment for the destruction of an artwork, later explained: “Values were stressed from a financial point of view and not the human. I felt I must make my protest from the financial point of view, therefore, as well as letting it be seen as a symbolic act. I had to draw the parallel between the public’s indifference to Mrs. Pankhurst’s slow destruction and the destruction of some financially valuable object.” She further added, in a statement to the Women’s Social and Political Union: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.”

In Major’s rendering of events, we see first Venus Vanitas – part re-enactment, part photographic composite – a modern reworking of the painting itself, with Major as both Venus and Cupid, and the reflection in the mirror posed by her mother – a stark comment on the demands of ideal beauty in contemporary society as youthful, botoxed, and wrinkle-free. The second photograph shows Major in the role of Richardson, standing before the genuine Velázquez, axe in hand. The final of the three images is of the aftermath: a slashed black and white news image of the damaged masterpiece standing below a framed portrait of Richardson, all set against satin drapes, in the colours of the Suffragette flag (purple, white and green), with a mysterious and disturbing figure in the foreground. Mummified in white satin, with only her hands protruding above her head, she is squeezing a cable release bulb. This is the most recent work Major has made, and she confesses to not yet fully knowing what it means: “The longer I live with the works once made, the clearer they become. The desire to make work, for me at least, comes of some enquiry fizzing away in my mind. It is only when I cannot answer or even articulate the question that I resort to making work. As the work gets made, the fizzing (usually) begins to abate or at least move elsewhere, and I begin to come to some understanding of what I’ve been fizzing about.”[2] My own response on seeing this image was to interpret the bulb as a detonator, resonant perhaps of modern day militancy (aka terrorism?) and those prepared to give their lives for a cause in which they truly believe. Major’s desire that viewers should seek their own readings and relevancies is therefore clearly effective.

The rest of Shoulder to Shoulder is made up of a series of black and white photos – four small landscape shots, taken from archives (some manipulated, some not), and three larger contact sheets – all relating to the theme of suffrage and protest, something in which Major has become increasingly interested over the past few years. As she explains on her website[3]: “The Suffragette movement provides a historical context for the performance and investigation of protest today, a fixed vantage point from which to explore the myriad issues at play in contemporary society.” The women in prison uniforms clearly evoke the fate of Richardson and her cohorts, and the placard calling for “deeds not words” echoes their radical approach, but through their deliberate coalescence of these early 20th century protests with those of more recent years, concerning such issues as climate change and welfare cuts, the photographs’ complex narratives place today’s protesters – Major’s audience, and Major herself, who appears in most of the shots, and attended the climate change march, as pictured, in a full length Suffragette prison uniform, borrowed from National Theatre Costume Hire company – in amongst their ancestors, both lending weight to the contemporary issues, but also revitalising old battles, and perhaps hinting that the struggle for gender equality is not yet won.

Major’s use of series of stills is a longstanding feature of her work and stems from when she was working with films, as, for example, in Try To Do Things We Can All Understand (2003-2008), freezing frames in an attempt to see whether she could apply Barthes’ notion of the punctum (that which is purely personal and dependent on each individual viewer, in contrast to the symbolic meaning of an image, or its studium) to the moving image. My impression, on viewing these works, however, is that she achieves a strong and powerful blurring of the two: as later generations of feminists went on to note, the personal is political. Our identity is formed of both our collective and individual past and present. We can escape from neither. The lives of others impact inescapably on our own.

[1] An interview with artist E J Major by Jessica Furseth for Amelia’s Magazine, 28/07/11
[2] Personal correspondence with the artist, 16/09/11

Originally published at:

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Abstraction and Atonality, Museum Kampa, Prague


Abstraction and Atonality
Wassily Kandinsky, František Kupka, and Arnold Schönberg
Museum Kampa, Prague
12 May–31 July 2011 (extended to 31 August 2011)

František Kupka (1871–1957) is generally recognised to be the best-known Czech artist from the 20th century, and Museum Kampa in Prague is proud to house one of the largest private collections of his work. It is not surprising, therefore, that their recent exhibition – successful enough to be extended by a month – focused largely on his story, with Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) as peripheral figures. This did not, however, detract from the show, for which the driving concept was an examination of the relationship between abstraction and atonality, or patterns of music and visual composition.

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Copyright © 1893–2011 The Studio Trust. The titles Studio International and The Studio are the property of The Studio Trust and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved

Rudolf Steiner and Contemporary Art and Thinking without limits: Inspired by Rudolf Steiner, DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague


Rudolf Steiner and Contemporary Art
Thinking without limits: Inspired by Rudolf Steiner
DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague
16 June–12 September 2011

“Think about a 20th century without Rudolf Steiner – it would be a catastrophe.” So says Tony Cragg (born 1949), one of the artists whose work is included in Rudolf Steiner and Contemporary Art, an exhibition celebrating the influence of one of the most eminent and controversial thinkers of the last century. Steiner’s (1861–1925) repertoire is expansive: perhaps best known as the founder of Anthroposophy (a philosophical discipline, with links to Theosophy, attempting a synthesis between science and spirituality), he was also a literary critic, artist and architect (designing 17 buildings, most famously the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland), and social reformer, making his mark in fields as disparate as education, medicine, and agriculture.

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Copyright © 1893–2011 The Studio Trust. The titles Studio International and The Studio are the property of The Studio Trust and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved

Review of Ron Arad's Curtain Call at the Roundhouse

25 August 2011

Ron Arad’s Curtain Call

Roundhouse, London
9 – 29 August 2011
Sponsored by Bloomberg – pay what you can admission

The Roundhouse, which was initially built in 1846 as a steam train repair shed and became known in the sixties as a happening music venue, is currently celebrating its fifth birthday since reopening, in its current incarnation as a theatre and creative hub for young people, in 2006, following major redevelopment. To celebrate in style, Israeli-born architect, artist, and designer, Ron Arad, whose studio is conveniently located just opposite the Chalk Farm venue, was asked to come up with an installation piece for the month of August. Luckily Arad, who is usually holidaying in the Mediterranean at this time of year, is fan enough of the Roundhouse that he was happy to cancel his vacation for its – and the visiting public’s – benefit.

“The minute [I was] asked, I knew it had to be something big and round in the middle. The idea of having the curtain with a 360˚ projection and allowing people to walk through a moving image came just like that,” says Arad, snapping his fingers. The actual implementation, however, was more of a challenge. Consisting of 5600 eight metre tall silicon rods, hung from a ring with an 18 metre diameter, the translucent curtain, static with electricity, is in perpetual motion as visitors pass through to enter and exit the round.

“After the idea for the curtain came, I thought we could do a spectacular thing ourselves on it. But then I thought, it’s such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I would invite other artists to do something too. […] Most of them are friends and non-one said, ‘No no, I can’t I’m sorry.’ Everyone got excited about it.”

As a visitor to the finished installation, it is easy to see why. Going through the curtain is like venturing backstage, and yet you simultaneously find yourself centre stage and a part of the action. Free to come and go and move around ad lib throughout the two hour loop of twelve films, the audience mills around, stands, sits, and even lies on the ground; children run and jump, fascinated by the way the curtain makes their hair stand on end. Sitting there, I become dizzy. What exactly is it that is moving? Me? The curtain and images? Just the images? The ceiling and projection system above? The surround sound is overwhelming, and I feel as if I am being swallowed into a vortex. Yet, at the same time, I am all too aware where I am. There is something almost Brechtian about the way the images are broken as people come and go, casting their shadow on to the curtain and across the floor, and, simultaneously, themselves becoming a screen for the projection. Likewise, the occasional pause between films – sometimes filled with advertising for the sponsors, Bloomberg, other times just silent and dark with only the small spotlights from the ceiling aglow, lighting up the scaffolding – remind us of where we are, and, moreover, of the fact that the Roundhouse is indeed primarily a theatre, not a gallery.

The twelve video works all vary dramatically from one another. “When I invited people, in the back of my mind I imagined what they might do there. What they actually did was different every time. That’s the best thing,” says Arad, who, whilst I am there, himself pops his head – in its signature hat – through the curtain to check on how things are running.

Greenaway and Greenaway, in RH˚, work most closely with the location and its structure. Their kaleidoscopic show, in black, white, and red, uses the Roundhouse itself as its subject matter. Architectural drawings and graphics use the curtain to mirror what is inside and out, making the building part of the installation within its own walls.

Gabriel & Shira Klasmer, on the other hand, offer a more abstract collaboration (uniting their media of photography and painting), and present something akin to sound waves rippling around the curtain, rising and falling, overwriting themselves, criss-crossing, folding in upon themselves, and all the while producing pure mathematical beauty. Towards the end of the piece, discrete images follow one another in rapid succession, as if moments captured from the endless screed have been cut out and frozen into their own timeless memories.

This could not be more different from David Shrigley’s Walker animation, where a naked man in black boots paces heavily around the curtain, stopping only to belch, groan, grunt and sigh, creating his own soundtrack without recourse to music.

Mat Collishaw’s Sordid Earth transports us next to a tropical rainforest in the middle of a storm. This unsettling, apocalyptic extension of his well known earlier series Infectious Flowers is accompanied by the sound of waterfalls and the buzzing of insects which infest and destroy the otherwise beautiful blooms. White drops of water gush down the curtain, and, as it gets darker and increasingly sinister, thunder and lightning crash and flash as the storm arrives overhead.

Equally dramatic, Ori Gerscht’s Offering places us in the middle of a bullring. His documentary footage simultaneously watches the crowd as they impatiently await the start of the fight, and the matador as he is dressed in his room. The sound of clapping and trumpets adds to the build up of tension, and this is reflected on the matador’s increasingly serious face as he prays to assorted devotional artefacts, crosses himself, and smokes what one might readily believe to be his last cigarette. Crescendo is reached with the sound of a bull entering the ring in an angry scuffle, at which point our pictures disappear, and we transition straight into Christian Marclay’s Pianorama, an audiovisual composition with a keyboard stretched all around the curtain, played by many hands, and accompanied by a honky tonk soundtrack, courtesy of pianist Steve Beresford.

Next follows the surreal sequence, Waking Dream, by SDNA, a digital artwork studio based in London. Images of commuters and a background rumble of trains and clickety clack of footsteps places us recognisably in the rush hour, but, as our journey continues, things become ever more distorted, as figures become suddenly limp and zombie-like, flopping and hanging lifelessly, before jolting awake and beginning to spin and leap across the curtain, dancing in and out of silver birches, as the soundtrack switches to that of a haunted forest.

Babis Alexiadis’ animations, taken from the Roundhouse’s acclaimed 2011 production The Fat Girl Gets a Haircut and Other Stories, illustrating the experiences of 11 teenagers, is mesmeric, melancholic, and heart rending all at once. The soft vocal and piano soundtrack, and images of birds, wings, leaves, and flowers, converge as a girl emerges from a daffodil bud, flies through the sky, and cries pink tears. These tears turn to rain drops across the curtains, which, in turn, form a sea so deep it drowns her prince. The epitome of the bittersweet age of adolescence.

Back to reality, and Hussein Chalayan’s Kaikoku is the striking documentation of his AW2011 Collection, in collaboration with Swarovski. It makes beautiful use of silhouettes, light, and shadow.

The remaining films are all quite short. The RCA offers four contributions, the most noteworthy of which, IM METERIAL by Seongyong Lee, incorporates dance, colour and shape, as a figure in a nude leotard rolls and contorts to drum beats and music ,wrapped in a flowing blue cloth. Joe Hardy’s animated greyhound race, Range, is so fast one might almost blink and miss it – presumably deliberate to capture the speed of such an event.

Finally, Javier Mariscal’s four medleys bring us to a lively denouement with a South American soundtrack and drawings of faces mutating seamlessly one to another, like a cartoon strip that’s being filmed to make an animation, with minute changes from one image to the next – an eye closing or opening, a mouth corner raising to a smile, a hat lifting… Another of his interludes is yellow and sunny, animated characters on holiday at a beach resort, laughing, and enjoying themselves: an invigorating and feel good climax to this two hour rollercoaster ride around the globe. Indeed, who needs to go away on holiday when it can all be experienced here, for whatever admission price you choose to pay, in North London? Curtain Call provides an unforgettable experience, and even if you can only pop in briefly, I highly recommend you join in the birthday celebrations of this worthy establishment. Happy birthday to the Roundhouse!

Originally published at:

Jake or Dinos Chapman, White Cube Mason's Yard and Hoxton Square, London


Jake or Dinos Chapman
White Cube Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square
15 July–17 September 2011

Although the works on display have all been produced within the past year, allegedly in secrecy from one another, really this show, which fills both White Cube galleries, might be read as something of a retrospective for Jake (born 1966) and Dinos (born 1962) Chapman, since it includes variations on many of their best known leitmotifs – Nazism, vandalised Goya prints, deformed children, Disneyesque characters, and tribal statues.

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Copyright © 1893–2011 The Studio Trust. The titles Studio International and The Studio are the property of The Studio Trust and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century, Royal Academy of Arts, London


Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th century
Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Munkácsi
The Sackler Wing of Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts, London
30 June–2 October 2011

“Photography is a universal language, a direct means of communication without need of translation,” says Cornell Capa explaining the entry into photojournalism of his brother Robert after being sent into exile in Berlin in 1931, scarcely able to speak any German. Perhaps this is why the development of 20th century photography can be largely attributed to five Hungarian Jews, all of whom were forced to leave their native country to live and work abroad. Their stories – as well as that of the burgeoning genre (or genres) of photography – are presented in the Royal Academy’s exhibition, Eyewitness, which brings together some 200 photographs from between 1918–1989, taken by over 40 Hungarian photographers, but focusing on the works of the five most seminal: Brassaï (1899–1984), Robert Capa (1913–1954), André Kertész (1894–1985), László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), and Martin Munkácsi (1896–1963).

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Copyright © 1893–2011 The Studio Trust. The titles Studio International and The Studio are the property of The Studio Trust and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved

Review of A Taste of India, walking tour by inmidtown


Review of A Taste of India, walking tour by inmidtown

To mark Indian Independence Day on 15 August, inmidtown offers an addition to its programme of free guided walks: a celebration of Indian culture and history in and around Holborn, entitled A Taste of India. What better way to remember important people past, than to take a tour, led by the vivacious and knowledgeable Aly Mir (son, it turns out, of Indira Gandhi’s nurse), and see some of the sites where the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah used to hang out?

Who’d have known, for example, that on the corner of High Holborn and Kingsway, where we now find a convenient Sainsbury’s, once stood the Holborn Restaurant? When Gandhi first came to London to study law at UCL in 1888, he determined to remain faithful to his Indian values and uphold his strict vegetarianism. A friend, however, was keen to persuade him to try meat and took him to dine here. Gandhi insisted upon asking whether the soup was meat-free, and his friend, acutely embarrassed, told him to leave! Nevertheless, he did return on another occasion and dined quite happily (with a vegetarian meal) before his graduation in 1891.

Just around the corner, 75 Kingsway used to be the site of Kingsway Hall, a popular meeting place until it was demolished in 1971. It was here that a significant meeting in the campaign for Indian independence, attended by both Nehru and Ali Jinnah, was held in 1946.

Ali Jinnah also came to study in London, and his college was LSE, the main building of which is situated further down Kingsway.  Other famous LSE alumni include K. R. Narayanan (the 10th President of India, from 1997-2002), Feroze Gandhi (Indira Gandhi’s husband), and Jyoti Basu (the Chief Minister of West Bengal from 1977-2000).

Further south on Aldwych lies India House, the location of the Indian High Commission. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, and inaugurated by King George V on 8 July 1930, this building has straddled periods of both British and Indian rule. Outside stands proud a bust of Nehru.

But what is the significance of the walk’s title (taken from the cook book by Madhur Jaffrey)? Clearly there has to be some reference to curry! Not only is Holborn home to the colonial style India Club, complete with formica and cigarette-stained wall paper, occupying the second floor of the Hotel Strand Continental, but it is also reputedly the location of the first Indian restaurant in town. Although there were restaurants in the 18th century which included curry on their menus, and the Hindustani Coffee House in Baker Street opened in 1809, none of these were true curry houses, and the first genuine article is thought to have been the Salut e Hind, somewhere in Holborn, around 1910. Sadly, it didn’t survive for long, and it is not listed in any directories, so no one knows exactly where it was, or whether this claim is true. Our guide, Aly, however, is keen to receive any further information, so who knows? Maybe by the 65th anniversary of Independence this time next year, he will be able to provide you with an update!

For more information go to or email Aly Mir at

Review of Kolkata Books, a short documentary about College Street market, by Rani Khanna

31 July 2011

Kolkata Books

Documentary film by Rani Khanna
Review by Anna McNay

Kolkata has been described as a city in love with the printed word, perhaps not something altogether surprising given that it is home to the world’s largest second-hand book market, located in College Street. This narrow stretch of road, which runs between Bowbazar and Mahatma Gandhi Road in the north of the city, is bisected by a tramline, and crowded on either side by makeshift bookstalls made of bamboo, corrugated tin sheets, and canvas. The neighbourhood, also the location of Kolkata’s most renowned academic institutions, as well as a coffee house, which has, for centuries, attracted the city’s intelligentsia for long hours of debate, is often referred to as Boi Para (“book neighbourhood” in Bengali). In 2007, it made it on to Time Magazine’s “Best of Asia” list, and a local reviewer, on, describes the district with loving nostalgia: “i don't know if there is any other place in the world which is filled with books and educations institutes like College street. there are books at every nook and corner. the aroma of old pages will fill your nostrils the moment you enter the area.”[sic][i] Even Mahatma Gandhi himself is said to have visited and bought a book from the market, declaring it “a fantastic place that should never disappear.”

But now the market is, indeed, at risk. Varna Parichay, a seven-storey, 780,000 sq ft mall, designed by Hafeez Contractor, is under construction on the very same street. It is an ambitious project, intended to incorporate an auction house, library, theatre, cinema, coffee house, and multi-storey car park. A statement from the construction firm describes the venture as providing “the most happening place in north Kolkata”, but not everyone is convinced. Sandip, a local teacher and stallholder, whose collection of little magazines encompasses some 60,000, puts it quite succinctly: “in Bengali language mall means ‘shit’.”

This is the debate picked up in the half hour documentary, Kolkata Books, made for Al Jazeera UK by Rani Khanna. Born in France to a French mother and an Indian father, Khanna studied at the University of the Arts, London, for a degree in film and video, and, since her graduation in 1995, has made a number of documentaries and experimental films. “Documentaries are for me a way […] of representing those who have no voice,” says Khanna, and that is precisely what this atmospheric short film does. Speaking to Arabinda, who runs his family’s bookshop, Sandip, the aforementioned teacher and collector, and Jayita, a student, Khanna transports her viewers into the very heart of the Boi Para and offers an insight into the ambivalence felt by locals about the arrival of this new mall.

For Arabinda, running a bookshop is not a job, but a calling: “I love books more than my wife!” His shop, Dasgupta & Co., was established by his great grandfather, and his own father worked there for over 60 years. Happily, it was recently declared the country’s first heritage bookshop. Today, Arabinda lives behind the shop with his 20 strong family, and begins each day with the traditional puja (prayer ceremony) to prepare the shop for his visiting students and book lovers. For him, it is not just about selling the books, but much more about creating a place for people to gather, learn, and nurture their love of books, not only for the words they contain, but also for their own objecthood. The place is stacked high with leather-bound volumes, old and new, both on the shelves and the floor, but ask him whether he has something in stock, and he can answer immediately.

Arabinda remains open-minded about the arrival of the mall. Although the rents are way too high for local sellers like him to move there permanently, the developers are offering to permit the locals to go in and sell their books for a couple of hours each Sunday. This will allow Arabinda and his friends to extend their stock. At the same time, however, he fears something important will be lost, a certain nostalgia: it will become purely about buying and selling, nothing more. It will be for rich businessmen, not book lovers: “[There is] no love to each other. [They are] only after the money.” He bewails how students today are only using books for material purposes, to pass exams and earn more money. This is a sentiment Sandip shares: “The education system has become very career-oriented.” His students prefer English to Bengali, and traditional literature, as celebrated in his beloved little magazines, is being forgotten.

But Jayita, an eloquent and intelligent young student, offers a more positive outlook: “Book mall is more of a hang-out place. Mall culture is sprouting up these days to a great extent. It’s in vogue in this present generation. […] It provides a complete package.” Many people are, she says, losing their roots, going abroad, abandoning Kolkata for better infrastructure and jobs, but she is happy there in the Boi Para – she will never leave, she promises. I suppose, as with the success or failure of the mall, and its effect on the street stalls, this is something only time will tell.

Georg Baselitz: Between Eagles and Pioneers, White Cube, Mason's Yard, London


Georg Baselitz: Between Eagles and Pioneers
White Cube, Mason's Yard, London
20 May—9 Jul 2011

In 1963, the conservative German newspaper, Die Welt, was one amongst several to vehemently object to the “scandalous” works of a little known, young artist being displayed in a new gallery, Werner & Katz, on the bourgeois Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. One work in particular, Die große Nacht im Eimer (1962-63), was castigated for portraying “zersetzte menschliche Leiber [...] In sexueller Ekstase befindlich” (“decomposed human bodies in sexual ecstasy”). As a result, this and another painting, were seized by the public prosecutor, and the artist, Georg Baselitz (born Hans-Georg Kern, 1938), was made to stand trial for public indecency.

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Copyright © 1893–2011 The Studio Trust. The titles Studio International and The Studio are the property of The Studio Trust and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved

Review of Meera Syal in conversation with Bidisha at the Southbank Centre

Meera Syal in conversation with Bidisha

Southbank Centre
28 June 2011

Meera Syal’s repertoire is vast. An actress, comedian, writer and singer, who has won awards across the board, it’s no wonder she was invited to appear at the Southbank Centre as part of the National Treasures series. But, asks Bidisha, her partner in conversation for the evening, how does she feel about being thus described? “Well, that’s the end of my career, isn’t it?! I’m being pensioned off!”

In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Syal’s career is alive and well. She is currently working on her third novel, and, following her successful run in Shirley Valentine last summer, she is also due to return to the theatre in October, taking on the title role in Frank Marcus’ 1964 comedy The Killing of Sister George. “I still hope for Lizzie Bennett though,” says Syal wistfully. Despite being such a household name, 80% of her radio work – a medium where you’d expect to be able to play any role – is still in an Indian role. “I think it’s a lack of imagination. It’s not racism, it’s laziness. You’ve got to be self-determining, really, because this isn’t a business that does you any favours. You’ve got to go out and get them.”

And, despite her modest claim that “I never forget how lucky I am,” Syal has certainly done just this. Brought up in Essington, a tiny mining village in the Black Country, she was used to ‘wearing masks’ from a young age. At home she spoke Punjabi and ate with her fingers, but as soon as she ventured outside, she became a “wench”, taking on the local accent (the twang of which remains apparent to this day). “We were really exotic!” she says of her family, the only Asians in a very tight knit community. “But you can’t have creativity without some sort of dissonance.”

Did her parents support her wish to become an actress? “Well, we did have the doctor conversation quite early on,” laughs Syal. But it was fairly apparent that this was not going to happen, as she failed maths every year up to O-Levels, when her desperate parents hired the local ice cream van driver, a maths graduate, to give her extra tuition. “I still get cold sweat when I hear ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’, because I associate it with algebra!” But yes, her parents were supportive, and she went on to study English and Drama in Manchester, graduating with a double first. Nevertheless, in her final year there, convinced she’d never get work as an actress, Syal wrote and appeared in her ‘swansong’, One of Us. After being performed at university, however, it went on to the Edinburgh Festival, and won her not only the National Student Drama Award, but also a nine month contract at the Royal Court, with an Equity card.

This led to a good few years’ solid theatre work, but still no television parts. “I watched TV but saw no-one like me. There were the odd Indians in news clips, being washed away by monsoons, or, you know, the odd English person blacked up…” So Syal decided to write. Her script for Bhaji on the Beach (1993) looks back at childhood memories of day trips to the beach “with 75 Indians crammed into a Datsun,” a familiar cliché, based around the family, and a winning formula for much of her work to come, including Goodness Gracious Me (1996-2001) and The Kumars at Number 42 (2001-2006), which ran for an impressive seven series. “Everyone’s got an embarrassing family, fundamentally. The best comedy is universal. If you can make people laugh, they’re immediately in your world – they get you.”

The rest, really, is history. It wasn’t an easy path, with Syal having to work hard to prove that Asians could be comic, and could appeal to a Middle England audience, but she got there in the end. “After Goodness Gracious Me, I was followed down the street by a group of white kids calling out ‘Kiss my chuddies!... By the way, what are chuddies?!’, to which I took great pleasure in explaining they’re underpants! But now the word is in the dictionary and can even be used in scrabble!” This fame is a long way from the life of the “little brown girl from Wolverhampton” who still has a copy of the first ever autograph she wrote. As well as signing the bus ticket of the woman who approached her, Syal wrote a duplicate for herself to remember the occasion, thinking it highly unlikely to happen again. She couldn’t have been more wrong though. As the evening of lively conversation draws to an end, the 100 strong audience, eyes wet from laughter, moves outside into the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer to form a queue, everyone waiting, copies of books in hand, for Syal to sign.

Interview with Ellen Bell

July 2011
Ellen Bell is an artist who works with images and text, carefully selecting, cutting out, pinning and pasting words from dictionaries, novels and plays in a most painstakingly precise manner. She is represented by Four Square Fine Arts, and her recent exhibition, held offsite at the Gallery, Redchurch Street, was entitled Camera Obscura and Other Stories (24 – 29 May 2011). Anna McNay met her for a chat.
You talk in your artist statement of the limitations of language as a method of expressing deep and difficult feelings, and yet your work consists primarily of language and words, and, as you also say in your statement, is more akin to writing than drawing. Why, if you feel language is limited, do you work with words, rather than turning to colour or form or some other more visual form of artistic expression?
Because I’m trying to push those limits. Because I’m trying to find a way of making it work, but also maybe reflecting the fact that it is limited. When I use a word repeatedly, I’m making the word work harder. By saying it over and over again, it loses its initial meaning, it becomes something else, it becomes a sound. It’s almost as if the words are the end product of what we’re feeling. It begins as an energy, a feeling, which is enormous, and the word pares it down to something that is quite limiting.
My second degree was in illustration, so I do draw as well, and I love drawing. But I’ve always been looking for different ways of expressing myself, and language is really significant. This way of working fits with how I am, balancing between writer and artist.
Which comes first: the image or the words?
I suppose it varies. Sometimes it’s the title; sometimes it’s an emotion I want to express; sometimes I find a photograph that really moves me. So I wouldn’t say that it was one thing. I think the theme is always the same though, it’s about intimacy; it’s about how people communicate.
You seem to have progressed from the single dictionary entries of your earlier works to using strings of words taken from romance novels – can you say a bit about this development? Was it a deliberate progression?
Yeah, it was much more about conversation. Working with play texts, in particular, conversation is really important, and I’ll often use some of the stage directions as well. It’s almost like fixing it in a particular time and space – much more than you would do with a dictionary piece.
Even more recent works, the Night Murmurs series, seem to be moving on still further, from the figurative to the abstract. You’ve also introduced colour: was that a challenge?
It was initially, because I’ve always wanted to maintain this kind of quietness, order, peace, and serenity, and the colours ask something else of you. I really feel that they work, but I think they will remain limited.
They’re text colours, really, aren’t they? Newspaper colours…
Yes, exactly. But they’re also quite symbolic, the red, the black, and the white: sexuality, death, life…
What artists have you been influenced or inspired by?
Well, Tracey Emin… I’ve struggled with her work. I think she’s much more of a blood on canvas person than I am, but I love her work. I was listening to her recently on radio 4, and I really like the way that she doesn’t make excuses for what she does. I think she had to pave the way. I know that people have come before her, but I think what she is doing is really difficult. She has really exposed herself, and she got hammered for it, and I just think she’s really brave.
Susan Hiller is also someone that I respond to, particularly because she doesn’t stay with one way of working, and I really like that. That lovely piece where she’s done the Jewish signs around Berlin – it’s stunning. But it’s a very intellectual way of working. I’m sure there’s emotion there, but it’s not so clear.
Do you consider your work particularly feminine, or do you see that as a bit naïve and limiting?
I do find that limiting. I suppose people assume it’s made by a woman because it’s so detailed. When I made clothes, it was always seen as a woman’s work, and that frustrated me because I didn’t want just to speak to women. I didn’t want to be limited. Language, I think, originally was a very male concept. And that’s one of the reasons why I started to use dictionaries in particular because they’ve always been published by men, so I was entering that world.
Do you ever end up really hating a piece when you’re making it?
I can do, when I feel uncertain about it. But that’s just inner judgment. It sounds a bit fey, but, in a way, the work becomes something other than me. So I’m comfortable with it when there’s a bit of space between us. You get into a meditative state above judgment and you let the work breathe, let it be, forget the judgment. I make very careful boxes and keep the pieces in them. I put the work away and don’t look at it, and stash it under the bed before the inner judgment comes out – usually mid afternoon! I only ever work on one piece at a time because the story needs to be told and I get really involved and need to see it through. Other ideas might get noted down in the sketchbook but I will never work on more than one piece at a time.
So your process of choosing the words, going through the books, cutting them out, and putting them into your box do you have to collect everything you want prior to starting on the actual work itself?
I try to, but I never know whether I’m going to find all that I need. If I did it midway, it might change the piece, but sometimes that has to happen. If there aren’t enough ‘I love you’s in a book, you’ve got to resolve it some other way…
So where you’ve got works that are primarily made up of one word, but you’ve got the odd interloper, do you know beforehand what those words are going to be?
No, that happens as I’m writing it… making it… And that can be affected by an audio book or a radio programme that I’m listening to. Sometimes serendipitous stuff happens. They [the interloping words] are really meant to knock you off a bit. So you get very comfortable thinking ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got this’, and then it sends you off on a tangent. It’s a little bit of darkness, or a little bit of discomfort in there.
So you haven’t found those words in advance?
No. I will go and seek them because something’s come in and I feel a need to respond to it. The word ‘love’, for example, you think it says all we need to say, yet putting another word in there with it changes it. It stretches it and gives it a different context. I suppose that’s basically what I’m trying to do: to question and challenge meaning as it has been defined and pinned down.
Is there anything you still want to try out? What’s next for you?
With my current residency with Relate [marriage counselling] I want to make a film. I’m conscious that there’s an absence of sound in my work, and that’s coming. It’s always about moving the practice and challenging myself. It’s hard to say what’s coming, but I tend not to go backwards.
Originally published in the July 2011 issue of Art Selector:

Interview with Cedar Lewisohn on the subject of Street Art and Graffiti

July 2011
Interview with Cedar Lewisohn on the subject of Street Art and Graffiti

Cedar Lewisohn is an artist, curator, writer and publisher known for his interest in Street Art and Graffiti. Amongst other things, he curated the exhibitions Street Art (2008) at Tate Modern, and Rude Britannia (2010) at Tate Britain. His publications include Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution (Tate Publishing, 2008), and his new book Abstract Graffiti (Merrell, 2011). Anna McNay met him for a chat in his studio.

Hi Cedar, thanks a lot for agreeing to talk to me. Obviously, you're well known for your work on Street Art and Graffiti, but you're also an artist yourself. What kind of art do you make? It's not Street Art, is it?
No, I'm doing mainly wood carvings, which I then turn into large-scale prints. It's basically a kind of drawing, with a little bit of abjection. Drawing and abjection, mixed together, which is quite quickly made, and which I turn into quite laboriously carved wood panels, which I then hand print.
So why the interest in Street Art? What came first? Did you start with that?
That's a good question! I guess the thing is that I was interested in Graffiti from when I was a kid, so 12, 13, 14 years old. I'm from near Bromley, and, you know, I just used to hang around with people and take photographs of what they were doing…
You never did it yourself?
I had a strong interest in the subject…
No comment?!
… is all I'm going to say! I think I was basically a very bad and unaccomplished Graffiti writer, and I was more interested in the general culture of it, you know, as kids are… So I had that interest from when I was a kid, and then, I was also interested in art at the same time, and I eventually ended up at art college studying sculpture, and I kind of forgot about the Graffiti for a while. When I graduated and started writing about art, this is about 2000, I really started to notice the reemergence of Graffiti. I was still interested in it, and I just started to notice it in galleries. Artists like Barry McGee and Eine, and there was a lot of stuff happening round the East End, so it reignited my interest.
I think the thing about Graffiti, you know, it's like being in the Masons… Once you're in the gang, you never really leave. I've spoken to a lot of people who've done Graffiti in the past – musicians, film makers – and even though they've stopped doing the actual practice of the Graffiti, they still say it affects the way they look at the world, and it affects their perspective on things. It never really leaves you. So, like I say, around about the time I graduated, I started to see this reemergence – it'd probably been happening for a while before I started to notice it – but I wrote a couple of articles, and, you know, just kind of had an eye open for it. Skip forward a few years, and I proposed my first book for Tate Publishing, which was called Street Art
That was 2008…?
Yeah, that was published in 2008, and that book really was primarily about two things: (i) putting Street Art and Graffiti in an art historical context, so saying this isn't an art movement that's evolved totally in isolation, and (ii) defining some distinction between the subject of Graffiti and Street Art as two not totally separate genres, well, separate genres, but related…
That was going to be my next question, actually… What is the difference? Can you sum it up?
It's not clear cut. I mean, I wrote a whole book on it! But, very generally speaking, what I tend to say is that Graffiti writing is just that. Graffiti writing has tagging pretty much at its core, and is essentially a text-based gesture or art form.
But it becomes so abstract that perhaps you lose the idea of there being a letter or text involved?
Yeah, absolutely, that can happen. Or people can give up on the text altogether and just do figurative stuff, but somehow the tagging is the core. Whereas with Street Art, text is not the core. Also, another thing with Graffiti is that text can be the subject. Text, essentially, is the subject. But with Street Art, text is very rarely the subject.
What do you mean, the subject?
Graffiti is essentially an art form about typography. It's a form of typography. That is the core of Graffiti. Things stem out from that, but essentially that is the heart of it, calligraphy and typography. Graffiti writers are typographers in themselves – a lot of them are obsessed with typography. It's affected typography around the world. The way we perceive typography. Because typography doesn't have to be, you know, Helvetica. It crosses over a little bit with calligraphy, and so it can be hand gestures, or more quirky gestures… Typography is this kind of invisible language that's all around us, that's subconsciously affecting us. Graffiti writers are very aware of that. And that is one of the core subjects of their work: the use of typography and calligraphy. The bending of typography, the curving of it, and the abstraction of it. Just doing things with type and font and text.
So you don't think it necessarily has to carry a message, as such, or have a purpose, or a point that it's trying to get over?
It depends what you mean by message… I mean, I would argue that there is a message in typography in its purest sense. Take, for example, the Times newspaper. Just its font carries a message. It has serifs on the letters, it looks old, it looks classical. There's a message in that type. But perhaps by message you mean something political, ethical, moral…?
Yeah, yeah, I do…
Well, then, no, absolutely not. The whole thing about Graffiti writing is that it's a totally open forum. The message could be 'kill whoever', or it could be 'save whoever'. There's no set or prescriptive political doctrine.
Is it a completely open forum though? You've said elsewhere that the audience is a further characteristic for distinguishing between Graffiti and Street Art – that Graffiti is an internal message for an internal audience, one Graffiti writer writing to another, whereas Street Art is generally available to the wider public…
Mmm, yeah, I'd pretty much go for that… I think Graffiti writers essentially are communicating amongst themselves. For the uninitiated their tags are just abstract scribbles which don't make any sense, but people within the scene can distinguish between them, and they know who the different taggers are. Any lay member of the public can look at some Street Art and maybe get something from it, if that's the idea of the work. But I think there's a lot of confusion about the difference between Graffiti and Street Art, and any Graffiti that isn't tagging, in the general popular sense, is somehow now called Street Art. That, in my opinion, is totally incorrect. The majority of stuff you see on the streets is usually Graffiti based. There is a lot of Street Art around, but there's way more Graffiti. Essentially people seem to think that Street Art is some kind of Graffiti that's not offensive, because somehow tagging is offensive…
Or Graffiti that's not illegal?
I don't know about that. Maybe. Graffiti doesn't necessarily have to be illegal. It can be. And neither does Street Art. They both can be legal or illegal. It depends. But essentially they're primarily illegal, yeah.
I was interested, actually, that, in your book, you put Street Art as a subgenre of Graffiti, and not the other way round. Perhaps you've just explained that by saying that Graffiti is more ubiquitous…
I mean, just because, from my point of view, it seemed that if Graffiti was primarily based around the tagging and the text, and Street Art was wider than that, then why wasn't Graffiti the subgenre?
When we talk about Graffiti writing, we're essentially talking about the movement which evolved out of New York and America in the late 70s, which had tagging at its core. Street Art emerged as a genre at roughly the same time, maybe a bit later, and was basically the fine art side of it, a kind of fine art Graffiti. Graffiti was such a massive movement, especially with the subway painters. It was so ambitious, and it moved around the world with really huge-scale productions. I think the Street Art that you see now, and even the Street Art that you saw in the 80s in New York, with John Fekner, Basquiat, and Keith Haring, they were reacting more to the Graffiti writers, they were taking their inspiration from the methods of the Graffiti writers, they were learning from the Graffiti writers, and that affected their practice. That's why Street Art is a subgenre, in my opinion, of Graffiti.
Just to go back to the issue of meaning and politics, I know that political meaning is quite significant to you, and it was, for example, an important theme in the recent Orbitecture II show [curated by Cedar in Southend]. Do you think Street Art, rather than Graffiti, has a political meaning, or has to have? Or can it just be art for art's sake, producing something beautiful but not necessarily with meaning?
Well, there's a lot of stuff to unpack there. I am interested in politics, and I'm getting more interested in politics, but I don't claim to be an expert. Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher, didn't like art particularly, but he liked tagging-based Graffiti because he thought it was devoid of meaning, and, as such, he thought it was one of the only kinds of art forms that actually did have a political resonance. I tend to agree with some of that. Doing an abstract tag-based form, which isn't really understandable by the mass populus, and at its purest sense cannot really be brought into consumerism, is a stronger political statement than doing some kind of beautification of the city or some kind of overtly political, message-based gestures. But, obviously, tagging-based Graffiti is subsumed into the market in a million ways. It is used by corporate companies all the time as a form of branding. This is a parody of the pure gesture, but sometimes it becomes very hard to distinguish. I'm interested in the ideas of another French philosopher, Sylvère Lotringer, at the moment too. One of the things that he talks about is this idea of capitalism being an all-encompassing kind of vapour that is totally around us, and everything is included in it. I think if we're going to talk about politics we might as well just talk about capitalism, so, no matter how political an artist you think you are, you're still somehow involved in capitalism. That's the big problem, and I think it's a really interesting position to be in and to think about, particularly as an artist. What do you do if whatever you do is feeding capitalism, even if you are doing something that is totally opposed to it? Where does that leave you?
What do you think of Graffitists turned gallery artists, such as Ben Flynn [Eine, whose work was presented as a gift from David Cameron to Barack Obama in July 2010]? Does this progression legitimise the claim that Graffiti is art, and that Graffitists would be artists were they given access and means? Or is it just the result of everything becoming subsumed by capitalism, everything becoming a commodity?
The thing about Graffiti is that it's such a big universe, so the idea of being a total vandal, and being an artist, well, you can do both. Some Graffiti writers are not really interested in being an artist though – they're just interested in vandalism, they're interested in getting their tag out, and they don't really see it as art, they probably don't even like art! But, funnily enough, there is something strangely artistic about that, in a kind of auto-destructive, Gustav Metzger kind of way. Graffiti offers a creative outlet in which to create an identity. Actually, that's another distinction between Street Art and Graffiti: Graffiti artists usually aren't art school trained, whereas Street Artists often are, and often have a studio practice already. They know about materials, they know about art history. Someone like Ben, he had that stage in his "career", where he was purely doing hardcore vandalism, but actually he was always doing something slightly artistic as well. This is a guy who probably didn't go to art school, as far as I know, I think he was working in an insurance company or something like that, and he was just doing Graffiti at night. It allowed him a creative outlet, and now, ten, twenty years later, the guy's got a gallery career. He's progressed into that, and he's probably had a lot of fun along the way as well. I think it's a good thing that more artists are able to have careers these days, and that they're able to come from a Graffiti background and have a career. I think that's a really good thing.
What about someone like Daniel Halpin (aka Tox), who's just been convicted of vandalism? Ought he to be considered an artist? Or is he 'just' a Graffitist? Is he a criminal?
Well Tox is a perfect example of someone who is just a pure vandal…
You don't think there's anything artistic about what he does?
It depends how you define artistic. Like I just said, I think personally there is something artistic in pure vandalism. In the same way that we could talk about punk music or noise core – whatever noise core is, you know, like just 50 screaming guitars at full volume that broke the amps – and you could say 'Is that music? That's not Mozart!' It depends how you define music. Some people might find that kind of hardcore noise quite musical, in the same way that I find hardcore vandalism aesthetic and artistic. But do I consider Tox, what he did, artistic? No, I don't think so. But that does not mean I think he should be sent to jail. That is really not the answer. In the new book, I talk with a High Court judge who has sent a lot of people to jail for Graffiti. Even he admits it's not a solution.
Maybe I can make just one final point though. There is also, I think, a political element to people who just paint pretty pictures or abstract gestures on the street. I think the idea of making the world better, and making the world around you more beautiful, has something political about it. Essentially, no matter how futile the idea that capitalism is totally engulfing our every breath, at the end of the day you've still got to make art, and you've still got to do what you can to make the world a better place around you.

Originally published in the July 2011 issue of Art Selector: