Tuesday 28 January 2014

Interview with Tomás Saraceno

Interview with Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno’s work encompasses utopian architectural proposals exploring his ideas for a sustainable metropolis in the sky. His balloon-like biospheres are inspired by structures found in nature such as clouds, soap bubbles and spider webs. His interdisciplinary interests have led him to collaborate with an array of architects and scientists. We spoke to him at the Bargehouse in London.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Photo Spread: The Look of Love

The Look of Love

‘Love is the driving force behind most everything I do,’ admits Emli Bendixen. Her series, Modern Families, set out to explore the differences between the ‘modern’ and more ‘traditional’ family unit, discovering, however, that while the structures may differ in terms of genders, children, number of partners and so on, ultimately the same values – love, respect and sharing – seem to be in place. Before taking the pictures, she spent a few hours with each couple, drinking coffee and chatting about their homes and everyday lives. The domestic settings meant that the girls were more at ease. Bendixen encouraged them to ‘do what they normally do’ and the result is a series of intimate pictures showing couples at home and capturing love in its everyday domestic form.

Holly Falconer’s two images capture the essence of love through a kiss. The photograph of Tamara and Ann-Katrin originates from a fashion shoot for DIVA in 2010. Whilst the fashion may have dated, the simple expression of human emotion remains internationally valid to this day. The atmospheric black and white photograph of Anna and Sophie was taken at Duckie Goes to the Gateways earlier this year. ‘There was something poignant about capturing two of my friends kissing in a space that was once a rare safe zone for London lesbians, where they could be themselves,’ says Falconer.
Bex Wade’s two photographs were taken a year apart. Similarly, both convey a shared moment of love in a space of pride and celebration – the NYC Dyke March – which Wade describes as a little like Christmas for lesbians; a cherished and safe space for couples to outwardly and proudly express their love in a society which can still be sometimes unforgiving.’ The physical closeness, the smiles, the eye contact, the ease with which two people appear to merge into one being – all of these are features of love writ large. The camera captures a single moment in one couple’s life, but here it speaks of duration and universality, of love as a uniting force.

To see the rest of this photo spread, please buy the February 2014 Love issue of DIVA magazine, available from http://divadirect.co.uk/magazine/diva-magazine-february-2014.html

Thursday 23 January 2014

Video Review of Republic of the Moon at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf (The Arts Catalyst)

Republic of the Moon
Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf
10 January – 2 February 2014

To mark the start of its 20th year, the Arts Catalyst, an organisation that puts a cultural spin on science and technology, has taken over the Bargehouse, declared it an Earth-based embassy for the Republic of the Moon, and filled it with artists and their fantastical works.

The moon has always been a popular subject for dreamers and imaginers, and what are artists if not this?

It is now more than four decades since humans first walked on the moon, but with China’s landing of Jade Rabbit in December and Google’s sponsored competition to spur private companies into landing similar vehicles by the end of 2015, talk of making our satellite the base for further research and space exploration is being renewed.

To read the rest of this review and to see the video review, please go to: http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/republic-of-the-moon-the-arts-catalyst-bargehouse-london

Monday 20 January 2014

Review of Akram Zaatari: On Photography People and Modern Times at Thomas Dane Gallery

Akram Zaatari: On Photography People and Modern Times
Thomas Dane Gallery
27 November 2013 - 1 February 2014

With the advent of the selfie and, before that, amateur photography, the studio portrait has become more and more a thing of the past. Once, however, it was an essential part of the visual vernacular. For nearly 50 years, from 1953, Hashem al-Madani ran a photographic studio, Studio Sheherazade, in Saïda, South Lebanon. Working from seven a.m. until midnight, seven days a week, and charging just seven cents per photograph, Madani finally earned enough money to send his sons to study in the USA. Simultaneously, he became Saïda’s leading photographer, amassing an archive of some 500,000 images, and, by his own estimate, photographing 90% of the city’s population.

His studio was a place where people could escape from everyday life – and, latterly, the horrors of civil war – and enjoy the freedom to dress up and become someone else, or, simply, to relax and become themselves. Madani was not just a portrait photographer, but also an artist, and the images he made preserve their subjects’ individuality; they document an era, a city and its people.

To read the rest of this review, please go to: http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2014/01/akram-zaatari/ 

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Video Review of Siobhan Davies Dance: Table of Contents, a live installation at the ICA

Siobhan Davies Dance: Table of Contents, a live installation
8 – 19 January 2014

Siobhan Davies is an award-winning British dancer and choreographer with a particular interest in the concept of how one might archive dance and other performance art. To welcome in the new year, she has collaborated with the ICA and five dance artists to produce an innovative and boundary breaking part-improvised performance – or, as the gallery is billing it, a live installation – which will run for seven hours a day, from 8 – 19 January.

Walking into the studio is like walking into the middle of a dance rehearsal. One or two or three performers at a time are dancing, often speaking aloud, discussing what they are doing, where they are going, what they are sensing. Some address the audience directly, employing props to offer an impromptu anatomy lesson or, in the words and acts of Finnish collaborator Helka Kaski, to give the heart “its public debut”.

Nimble, agile and seemingly weightless, the performers move hither and thither, following unprescribed paths, wearing everyday clothes, and blending and interacting with the audience in a manner similar to Turner Prize nominee Tino Sehgal. Andrea Buckley and Charlie Morrissey, working together, become symbiotic in their motion. First he lifts her, then she him, carrying him across the floor space, before placing him down on a handily positioned stool, recently vacated by an audience member, all the while chattering about what she is doing, what she remembers from their last dance together, and how she is glad to take a quick breather: “It’s really great when Charlie cooperates,” she laughs. “It doesn’t always happen!”

A kind of slow motion gymnast, Matthias Sperling creeps from one end of the room to the other without touching the ground. Using eight upturned plastic cups, he carries out a Twister-esque game of criss-crossing his limbs like a confused octopus. At the same time, across the room, Rachel Krische gestures wildly, face expressive as a mime artist, smiling encouragingly and asking audience members to help her out by repeating words heard on a headphone set or listening to the recording of a conversation with Siobhan Davies about the evolution of dance.

The soundtrack is created by the voices of the artists, their heavy breathing, the gentle padding of their feet, and the scraping of chairs and cups across the floor. Some audience members laugh or chat to one another, alternately bemused and amused. At points, however, they are transfixed, waiting to find out what will happen next. At intervals, everyone in the room is invited to gather around some large wooden tables, moved about between “sets”, where the artists about to take to the stage will mark out their dance space and set out their proposals.

In his piece, For Now, Sperling performs moves from what he calls the Siobhan Davies archive – elements from other dancers and choreographers, as well as from previous works of his own – all the time questioning their relevance for the performance at hand, as if selecting images from an archive to compose on a story board, the picture grows and flows. Reperformance brings the art back to life and, of course, offers an answer to the thesis or starting point brought to the table by Davies: how can an ephemeral and live art form be preserved for posterity? Well, through photography and reperformance, written description and film. The dance artists in this installation do their part, and this short film is Studio International’s contribution to the archive.

Friday 10 January 2014

Catalogue Essay for Heaven and Hell at Espacio Gallery

A heaven of hell, a hell of heaven
Catalogue Essay for Heaven and Hell
Espacio Gallery
9 January - 2 February 2014

In the curators’ introduction to this exhibition, the question is raised as to how the age old artistic theme of heaven and hell might find any resonance “in our secular culture, where there is no otherworldly accountability for our behaviour, where we expect our needs and even our wants to be met here and now [and] where the consumerist imperative leaves little room for postponement of desires.” Leaving the overarching question of how to the artists themselves, I shall consider here two component questions, namely What has taken the place of traditional religion in contemporary society, and how might this influence our understanding of heaven and hell? and Who, in the place of “God”, is the judge?

Stephen Hawking recently gibed that science has killed philosophy, but, as postmodern sociologist of science Steve Fuller points out, science, politics and religion were originally all related branches of one and the same search for and love of knowledge and wisdom – aka philosophy.[i] The scientific method was developed in the 17th century by philosophers who were dissatisfied with settling for plausibility over factuality. These days, however, the disciplines have diverged such that they are seen to be almost wholly incompatible with one another, and, in many cases, even to cause wars. Religion battles religion; religion battles politics; and religion battles science.

Freud argues that religion, and the belief in an afterlife, is nothing more than man’s attempt to alleviate his fear of death and nothingness. But, things are no longer so black and white, since human “progress” has rendered us able to intervene into this crossing between life and death, with modern medicine able not only to prolong life artificially, but also to bring people back from the dead. Science has, in this sense, superseded religion. Doctors are often thought of as gods, following the Galenic tradition whereby nature is seen to cause disease, and the doctor is the hero who steps in to bring about a cure. But they cannot cure everything. And, especially in the case of mental health, it is not they who effect the cure anyhow. They may well help, and guide patients in times when they cannot guide themselves, but no one but the patients can bring about their own recovery. In the heaven and hell of the mind, it is each person who creates, experiences, and judges, and furthermore only he who can rescue himself. Illnesses develop because people feel they cannot live up to contemporary ideals. In a consumerist world where we expect our wants and needs to be met immediately, where celebrity status and superficial ideals hold sway, there is a proliferation of dissatisfaction; a scourge of disillusionment; an epidemic of breakdowns, eating disorders, depression and addictions.

The more science “progresses”, and the more man can defer death and take on the role of the divine, the more hellish the potential of his own life becomes.
The individual, ultimately, is the judge of his own life and deeds. In a cycle of never-ending, seemingly pointless suffering, a Sisyphian struggle, contemporary life can become hell on earth. “Would not a medieval European peasant,” the curators’ musings continue, “if she were to look at our brimming supermarkets, our hospitals and clinics, our clean cities and well fed children... would she not think that she was already in heaven?” Well, I would counter, is heaven really when we have all that we want and continually get our own way? Instinctively, many might think that it is, but, throughout tradition, stories have warned of those with power and privilege misusing it in this life, falling foul of hubris, and then being punished in hell in the next. Perhaps not too much has changed? Those who get too much of what they want today fall foul of their own increasingly insatiable hungers and are left perpetually dissatisfied and in a form of living purgatory or hell.

Finally we come to the question of who, in the place of God, arbitrates as to what is good and bad? If each person is his or her own judge, how, coming back to the case at hand, are viewers meant to evaluate the art in this exhibition? How are works as diverse as video pieces (Nicca Iovinella and Suokwon Yoon), paper sculpture (Sher Christopher) and mixed media installation and collage (Edu Luna, Consuelo Celluzzi, Christopher Ward and Carlos Molina) to be considered alongside works from the more traditional schools of painting (Jamie Chapman, Robert Fitzmaurice, Annie Zamero and Trinidad Ball), sculpture (Lucretia Allan, Beth Gadd and Elspeth Penfold) and drawing (Julia Tester)? Grayson Perry touched upon this question in his recent series of Reith Lectures for BBC Radio 4.[ii] He proposed a number of contemporary art world judges: the collector, the curator and the critic to name but a few. As Elspeth Penfold notes, however, relating to her collaborative installation piece, Cocoons, when it was previously installed in an exhibition at the Bussey Building, Peckham, it caused varyingly both discomfort and pleasure. This reinforces precisely the point already made. If there is no overall judge, or no established doctrine any more, who is to say what is right and wrong, good and bad? Each person is his or her own judge; each viewer must have his or her own individual response.

And this freedom is not necessarily a feature of heaven. If there is no correct way of doing things, and no good or bad taste, how can we ever be released from the hell of uncertainty? The very fact that in looking at these works we do not know immediately if they are worthy or not, and cannot immediately recognise motifs of heaven or symbols of hell, but, instead, are forced to think and engage in some conceptual dialogue and judge for ourselves, is a chaste reminder of just how much we do now live inside our own heads. And as John Milton presciently reminded us: “The mind is a universe and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”[iii]

[i]Hawking vs. Philosophy: Has science killed philosophy?” An IAI debate between Steve Fuller, Lewis Wolpert and Jonathan Derbyshire. http://iai.tv/video/hawking-vs-philosophy [accessed 24 November 2013]
[ii] Grayson Perry, Playing to the Gallery: 2013, Reith Lecture #1, “Democracy has Bad Taste,” 15 October 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00729d9/episodes/player [accessed 24 November 2013]
[iii] John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)


Annie Zamero
The Ally II
Oil and acrylic on canvas

Elspeth Penfold and Ignacio Canete Sanchez
Two Cocoons
Mixed media

Nicca Iovinella
Injures - double lecture

Consuelo Celluzzi
Clara & Vera
Mixed media

Trinidad Ball
Not in Safe hands
Oil on Canvas

Monday 6 January 2014

Review of Uproar! The First 50 Years of the London Group 1913-1963 at Ben Uri Museum and Gallery

Uproar! The First 50 Years of the London Group 1913-1963
Ben Uri Museum and Gallery
31 October 2013 – 2 March 2014

When Mark Gertler exhibited The Creation of Eve (1914) at the London Group’s third show in 1915, he was as shocked by the reaction of the public as they apparently were by his painting. The press accused him of “calculated and unpleasant sensationalism”[i], “deliberate eccentricity”[ii] and “impertinence, with a seasoning of blasphemy”[iii]. Looking at the work today, it is hard to imagine how it might have engendered such a frenzied and uproarious response, but such was the mood prevailing in the early decades of the last century. The London Group itself was set up in opposition to the art establishment, from the start being billed as the alternative not only to the Royal Academy but to the reigning anti-establishment exhibiting society, the New English Art Club (NEAC). Jacob Epstein is credited with having coined the name at a meeting held on 15 November 1913, and it was considered an appropriately all-encompassing moniker, in contrast to such locally named groups as the Fitzroy Street Group and the Camden Town Group.

Review of Transformer: Aspects of Travesty at Richard Saltoun

Transformer: Aspects of Travesty
Richard Saltoun
13 December 2013 – 14 February 2014

Hot on the heels of the movie success of ‘Behind the Candelabra’, Richard Saltoun’s current exhibition transports its visitors back to the era of 1970s glam-rock, to a time when fashion and art were taking ever increasing steps into the exploration of self identity through the blurring of lines of gender binaries, transgressing the norms of masculine and feminine, and bringing aspects of transvestism into mainstream culture. In 1974, the ground-breaking show ‘Transformer: Aspects of Travesty’ was curated by Jean-Christophe Ammann at the Kunstmuseum Lucerne, Switzerland. Although it received no publicity in the UK, it caused quite a stir across Europe, where it went on to tour through Austria and Germany. Now, to mark its 40th anniversary, young Goldsmiths alumna, independent writer and curator, Giulia Casalini, has reunited all 12 original artists to restage a slightly abridged but well worthy homage to this influential exhibition.