Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Interview with Cornelia Parker at the Whitworth

Cornelia Parker: interview
The Whitworth, Manchester
14 February – 31 May 2015

Known for her explosive works that cross the line between science and art, Parker spoke to us at the opening of her exhibition at The Whitworth, Manchester about why she wouldn’t necessarily call herself an artist and where her inspiration comes from.

Cornelia Parker’s works derive from a variety of starting points: a garden shed, The Little Mermaid, Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss, a sleeping Tilda Swinton, the chancellor’s red budget box and cracks in a pavement, to name but a few.
To mark the reopening of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery on 14 February, she has created a new work, which she describes as “a Blakean pyrotechnic display and meteorite shower”. Scientist Kostya Novoselov, who won the Nobel prize for the discovery of graphene, extracted graphite from the drawings of artists held in the Whitworth collection, including William Blake, and made it into graphene. Parker then used this to make the work of art, and a sensor activated by Novoselov’s breath will set off the “firework display”.
The newly refurbished gallery is also playing host to her largest exhibition to date, showcasing such iconic works as Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) and The Distance (a kiss with string attached) (2003). Known for her explosive works, crossing the line between science and art, Parker spoke to us about why she wouldn’t necessarily call herself an artist and where her inspiration comes from.

Chevalier d'Eon: Gender Transgressor

Chevalier d'Eon: Gender Transgressor

‘It must indeed be acknowledged that she is the most extraordinary person of the age ... we have seen no one who has united so many military, political, and literary talents.’ [The Annual Register]

Extraordinary as a soldier and diplomat, an author and spy, and as an expert sword fighter too, the Chevalier d’Eon – Charles Geneviève Louise Auguste André Timothée d’Eon de Beaumont (1728-1810) – was a noted figure in international politics and high society. But what made the Chevalier a truly colourful and celebrated character of 18th century Britain was the fact that no one was quite sure whether or not s/he was a man or a woman. Born in France, s/he came to England in 1762, ostensibly as Louis XV’s interim Ambassador, but in reality also spying for the French King. S/he lived in London until 1777 as a man, and from 1786 (aged 49) to 1810 as a woman. Rumours had in fact begun as early as 1771 and bets of more than £200,000 were regularly placed as to the Chevalier’s ‘true’ sex. Throughout, the Chevalier remained tight-lipped and would neither speak out on the matter, not allow a physician’s examination. Ultimately, s/he agreed to the French King’s demands (on whom s/he was dependent for an income) that s/he should dress ‘gender-appropriately’ – i.e. in female clothing. The Chevalier continued successfully to fence wearing a dress – adorned with the Croix de St Louis, a decoration awarded only to men, and won by d’Eon in his/her time as a Captain in the French Dragoons.

Upon his/her death, d’Eon was found to be physically typically male. S/he was buried in the churchyard of Old St Pancras Church, which adjoins the St Pancras Hospital grounds, where Camden & Islington LGBT History Month’s annual art exhibition, Loudest Whispers, is currently taking place. This year’s exhibition includes a specially commissioned work by trans* artist Simon Croft, responding to the life and legend of the Chevalier. Croft has carefully crafted a chess board – The D’Eon Gambit (named after the sacrifice of a piece or pieces in order to gain advantage in the game overall – particularly relevant to the Chevalier’s life, one might say) – where each playing piece represents a different aspect of the Chevalier’s life: D’Eon is both the King and Queen symbolising his/her dual gender presentation and close relationship with the French King; the Knight is represented by the Croix de St Louis; the Rook by a sword hilt; the Bishop by St Pelagius, symbolising D'Eon's strong religious beliefs and the many references in his/her autobiography to such gender transgressing religious figures as precedents for his/her own situation; and the Pawns are represented by the Burdett-Coutts memorial in St. Pancras Old Church churchyard, where the Chevalier’s name can be seen second from the top on one of the sides. Despite using 3D printing techniques, Croft’s playing pieces have remained, almost contradictorily, relatively 2D. They look both fragile and delicate hanging above a shattered board. Croft often works with this distinction between 2D and 3D, between concrete identity and variable viewpoints. A 3D object, squashed flat and restricted to one angle, may then, when hung, as these pieces are, cast literal shadows of doubt over their superficial appearance.

This is not the only extant artistic representation of the Chevalier, since there were many contemporaneous portraits and engravings of him/her fencing in full dress. One notable portrait by Thomas Stewart (1792), previously mistakenly held to be a portrait of an unknown woman, before being cleaned and revealing the unmistakable five o’clock shadow, is on display in the National Portrait Gallery. D’Eon also left behind an autobiography, which remained unpublished until 2001. Written in French, and very much for a contemporary public, d’Eon self-refers with a mixture of masculine and feminine terms. Much of the content can be independently verified, but it is clear that some stories were invented or altered to suit the self-presentation s/he sought at different times. In the book, D’Eon presents the life of a female-to-male transvestite (claiming to have been born a girl and raised a boy), whereas the truth seems instead to be that s/he was born and raised a boy, later choosing to live as a woman (thus, a male-to-female transgendered life). What is apparent is that d’Eon’s life blurred gender binaries and we can only guess at his/her true sense of gender identity and what that might have meant at the time.

Loudest Whispers 2015
The Art Exhibition of Camden & Islington LGBT History Month
2 February – 23 April 2015
St. Pancras Hospital Conference Centre
4 St. Pancras Way
London NW1 0PE

Special Event
Chevalier d'Eon: Gender Transgressor
Friday 27 February

Talks by and discussion between installation artist and transman Simon Croft and LGBT sociologist Natacha Kennedy.
The evening will be hosted by art critic and writer Anna McNay and includes a new installation based on d'Eon by Simon Croft on display in the gallery.

Light refreshments provided
For further information: pbherbert@gmail.com


Simon Croft
The D’Eon Gambit

The Assault, or Fencing Match, which took place at Carlton House on the 9th of April 1787, between Mademoiselle La Chevalière D'Eon de Beaumont and Monsieur de Saint George.
Engraving by Victor Marie Picot, based on the original painting by Charles Jean Robineau 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Review of Eva Stenram: Positions at the Siobhan Davies School of Dance

Eva Stenram: Positions
Siobhan Davies School of Dance
16 January – 22 March 2015

Just as languages are made up of signs, carefully arranged according to rules of syntax, so dances are made up of positions, choreographed to present a certain imagery. In her various series of photographic works, currently on show at the Siobhan Davies School of Dance in Southwark, Eva Stenram collates these different postures – actually digitally isolated from 1950s and 60s pin-ups, not dance-related at all – into a dictionary of gesture and posture, full of possibility of meaning.

All around the building – in reception, in the meeting room, in the stairwell, in the toilet – she has hung works from her on-going series, Parts (2013-14). Stockinged limbs, some with fishnets, most with stilettos, on leather sofas and carpets with thick pile, the feet arch as a moment of intimacy or rapture is interrupted. Carelessly discarded, these legs appear sinister – the images could perhaps be crime scene shots. This uncanny element resonates still more with the chosen real world surroundings when, upstairs, outside the practice rooms, a row of empty shoes stand in line, beneath a photograph of a castaway limb.

To read the rest of this review, please go to: http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2015/02/positions-2/

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Portfolio: Jane Moore

Portfolio: Jane Moore

Every 1st January, Jane Moore makes a New Year’s Resolution. “They normally consist of giving up chocolate or starting a new sport and I stick to them until about March,” she laughs. “In January 2014, I decided to make a resolution that I would be dedicated to and that was to keep a Sketch A Day journal.” And a sketch a day she did, A5 size in a Moleskine sketchbook, even when feeling ill or having impending work deadlines.

With a degree in Fashion Promotion and Illustration and some distinguished clients to her name (think i-D magazine, RSA Films, Barclaycard and the Royal Academy of Arts, to name but a few), the fashion influence is apparent in Moore’s drawings, including, for example, 26/08/14: Piers Atkinson Cherry Headband. “I used to work with Piers in the fashion team of Disorder magazine before he became a superstar milliner,” says Moore. “I am a great admirer of his work and I knew the red cherries would look fantastic against the graphite.”

There are many other sources of inspiration, however, taken from everyday surroundings, current jobs, current affairs, public figures, family, a life drawing class, books and theatre. Androgyny and gender identity also feature heavily.

Moore recently held a successful exhibition of her sketches at Shapes, Hackney Wick. She also took part in the Winter Pride Visual Arts Awards last November and her works were among those stolen during the ceremony at Tobacco Dock. “It was really upsetting,” she admits, “as I put my heart and soul into the drawings and they were seven of my best, including my self-portrait. Hopefully the thieves will do the right thing and return them. I don’t want to prosecute, I would just like my artworks back as they mean so much to me. However, I haven’t let it affect my work. I took it as a bizarre compliment and continued on with the project!” In fact, Moore has become so involved that she has now decided to continue throughout 2015 as well. Watch this space!

To see the full portfolio and enjoy the images, please see the March 2015 print issue of DIVA magazine

Monday, 16 February 2015

Interview with Lynda Benglis at the Hepworth Wakefield

Lynda Benglis
The Hepworth Wakefield
6 February – 1 July 2015

Lynda Benglis is perhaps best-known for the fame and notoriety she achieved when, in 1974, she placed a full-colour advertisement in ArtForum magazine, consisting of a nude photograph of herself with a large latex dildo. A reaction to the phallocentrism of the contemporary art world, it certainly caused a stir.

Her oeuvre, however, is much wider than merely overt feminist gestures, as visitors to this enthralling 50-work survey show at the Hepworth Wakefield – the first to take place in a UK institution – will discover.

Describing her 3D sculptural pieces as paintings which have escaped from the frame of the canvas, Benglis was heralded in the 60s as the “heir to Pollock”, when she began creating her so-called Fallen Paintings, pouring liquid plastic on to the floor and against the walls.  She is a lover of a wide range of materials – bronze, polyurethane, glitter, paper and film, to name but a few – and she has studios across the globe in New York, New Mexico, Greece and India.

Throughout her career, the 73-year-old artist has made a concerted effort to push against any definition and to resist categorisation. “I think artists create their own rules,” she says. “Or break them.”

Monday, 9 February 2015

Foreword to Good Figures at The Mall Galleries

Good Figures

curated by Candida Stevens
The Mall Galleries, London
9-14 February 2015 
The Downland Jerwood Gridshell, West Sussex
25 April - 3 May 2015

Women in the history of art have repeatedly escaped the canon. Although this sad state of affairs has been challenged over the last (nearly) half a century, kickstarted by Linda Nochlin’s seminal 1971 article ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’[1], there is still an on-going struggle to bring women artists, past and present, on to an equal footing with their male contemporaries, in terms of recognition, exposure, and even just pay. Prestel’s 50 Artists You Should Know (2006) includes just one female artist (Frida Kahlo).
In July 2014, Tracey Emin’s My Bed (1998) sold for £2.5million at Christie’s in London. Two months earlier, a Joan Mitchell abstract painting sold for $11.9million at Christie’s in New York, becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold by a female artist. Nevertheless, the Artprice Contemporary Art Market Report 2014 showed that on a list of the 100 top sales that year by artists born after 1945, only four were women, with the most successful among them (Cindy Sherman) achieving just 5.6% at auction of what the top male artist (Jean-Michel Basquiat) made over the same time span.

It was not until 1936 that London’s Royal Academy of Arts, first established in 1768, accepted its first woman (Dame Laura Knight); the RA Schools only appointed their first female professors (Tracey Emin and Fiona Rae) in 2011. Throughout history, women have been denied an art education and, if they were allowed to paint at all, it was only to depict subjects and with media that were deemed suitable, namely landscapes and watercolours. With women not permitted to enter the life drawing room (except, of course, as the model), restricted instead to working from casts and copying existing drawings, early depictions of women by women rarely showed the full figure. Knight was one of the first women artists to defy this with Self Portrait with Nude (1913), a clear challenge to the establishment.

In 1973, Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the ‘male gaze’[2], presenting ‘woman as image’ (or ‘spectacle’) and man as ‘bearer of the look’[3]. But what about when it is a woman who is creating the image – nude or otherwise – of the woman? How does this change things? In the late 1960s, when feminist artists began to use their own bodies as the subject – and often also the medium – this act of embodying the female subject publicly was critical as a means to politicise the personal and take ‘woman’ away from her position solely as an object of art.[4] [5] Nevertheless, this flurry of self-representation suffered allegations of narcissism and a later generation of feminist artists, influenced by poststructuralism, psychoanalysis and subaltern theory, distanced themselves from aspects of the early women’s art movement and began to refer to their bodies only through their absence or some other indirect means. As Amelia Jones says: ‘Any presentation or representation of the female body was seen as necessarily participating in the phallocentric dynamic of fetishism.’[6]

Yet women artists continue to use their bodies – or representations of the female form – to this day. Good Figures presents the work of 30 such artists, ranging in age from 22-82. Their media span painting, photography, drawing, ceramics, film and sculpture, but they come together here to celebrate their commonalities. Each artist was invited to show her work and to answer the question: Why the female form? What is it that compels some women artists to continue to work reflexively and reflectively in this way?

[1] Linda Nochlin, ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ ARTnews, January 1971: 22-39, 67-71
[2] Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’ Screen 1975, 16 (3): 6-18  
[3] Mulvey (1975) p62
[4] Amelia Jones, Body Art. Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Press, 1998) p46
[5] Tracey Warr (ed.), The Artist’s Body (London: Phaidon, 2000) p30
[6] Jones (1998) p24


Eileen Cooper
Free Thinking
oil on canvas

Rachel Deacon
Before the Winged Dance
oil on linen

Liane Lang
Ars Equus