Monday, 27 July 2015

Amber Film & Photography Collective

Amber Film & Photography Collective

For Ever Amber: Stories From A Film & Photography Collective
Laing Art Gallery
27 June – 19 September 2015

Integrate life and work and friendship
Don’t tie yourself to institutions.
Live cheaply and you’ll remain free.
And, then, do whatever it is that gets you up in the morning.

This maxim, taken from an early manifesto, is as relevant today as it was back in 1968 when the Amber Film & Photography Collective first came together, following the vision of founder member Murray Martin (1943-2007). Originally from Stoke, Martin had studied Fine Art in Newcastle before deciding what he was really interested in was filmmaking. While studying this at Regent Street Polytechnic, he met, among others, Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and, in 1969, they decided to head back up north and start working as a collective. ‘Some people chose butterflies,’ wrote Martin looking back. ‘I sought to reconnect myself with the working class culture and community which had nurtured me.’ He saw documentary as the act of a collector, collecting people through whom his vision could be articulated.

‘They were looking for a place where they could really embed themselves, with a strong sense of community,’ explains Amber member Graeme Rigby of the move to the North East. ‘Part of the attraction to marginalised cultures was the sense that those awe-inspiring working class contexts were disappearing.’  In addition, because Martin had done some teaching at Newcastle Polytechnic, he had contacts there and felt he could sort out paid jobs for members to help finance the collective. Things were fairly tough at the start and Konttinen even did a stint as a go-go dancer. All money earned by members of the collective was pooled and they paid themselves a very low wage – about £8 a week. This is still the same today, although what a member gets out depends somewhat on how much time he or she puts in. By Konttinen’s recent calculations, the minimum wage has been around £3 per week for the last three years.

To read the rest of this essay, please go to:

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Review of Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots at Tate Liverpool

Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots
Tate Liverpool
30 June – 18 October 2015

In autumn 1950, on the evening that photographer Hans Namuth finished shooting his second short film of Jackson Pollock (1912-56) working in his Long Island studio, and after two years’ abstinence, the artist, best known for his drip paintings, picked up the bottle again. That same year, Pollock visited the exhibition Black or White Paintings by European and American Artists at the Kootz Gallery, New York, which included works by Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Joan Miró. He probably also saw the exhibition of black and white paintings by Franz Kline at the Charles Egan Gallery. What happened next might, therefore, not come as such a great surprise: in a period of great personal blackness, and in an artistic context where monochromatic studies were de rigueur, Pollock, too, turned to working solely in black. The following year, between May and September, he produced 28 such paintings, with 16 more in 1952 and a further – and final – 10 in 1953. Robert Goodnough may have favourably described Number 32 1950, the first black painting, as showing “open black rhythms … dance in disturbing degrees of intensity, ecstatically energising the powerful image in an almost hypnotic way”, but not everyone shared his good opinion.

Portfolio: Lisa Gornick

Portfolio: Lisa Gornick

“I get breathless thinking about pens – excited, desperate to have them nearby,” says filmmaker and actor Lisa Gornick, who is currently performing in a live drawing show as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. “My first language feels like drawing. I still have this instinctive way of just feeling my way through – making mistakes, being OK with them. Drawing is always there for me. It’s a place to free up my head. To let my emotion, my feeling come out. To surprise and sometimes delight myself. It helps to relax me and thrill me.”

Gornick studied history at Edinburgh University and was a member of a student theatre group, taking part in a fringe show each summer. After graduating, she became a stand up comic with the Gilded Balloon, so she says it feels like a return, working with them again for their 30th anniversary and reviving a performance about her Russian roots.

Her performance tells the story of Grandma Ray, a Jewish, East Ender in the 1920s. She lived as a straight, married woman but, as the story unfolds, her inner lesbian is revealed.

Drawing live is exciting,” says Gornick. “It’s always different. You sense the audience with you on the page. I’m also talking through the performance, which is a bit like juggling.”

Lisa Gornick’s two feature films Do I Love You? and Tick Tock Lullaby have won awards and are distributed worldwide. She is currently in post-production for her third feature, The Book of Gabrielle, a cross-platform production.

Lisa Gornick's Live Drawing Show
Balcony Room at the Gilded Balloon
Edinburgh Fringe 2015
5-31 August 2015
Show time: 13:30-14:30

To see this portfolio in full and enjoy Lisa's drawings, please see the August 2015 print issue of DIVA magazine

Nicola Canavan: Raising the Skirt

Display: Raising the Skirt

The tradition of ‘raising the skirt’ has its roots as far back as in Ancient Greece. In global folklore, the revelation of a woman’s genitals – her cunt – has been thought to calm the forces of nature and drive away evil spirits. It is common, in Britain, to see sheela-na-gigs (stone carvings of females with exaggerated vulva) above church doorways for precisely these reasons.

For Nicola Canavan, an artist whose work is informed by research into sociological histories of women, abjection and otherness, reclaiming the cunt is a powerful tool. “Wikipedia describes the cunt as ‘as vulgar term for female genitalia’,” she explains. “But the word ‘cunt’ wasn’t always a derogatory term. It once meant ‘skin’, ‘woman’, ‘femininity’ or, more commonly, ‘the female genitals’. The word ‘cunt’ as a derogatory term was born from misogyny, oppression and the fear of female sexuality.

In 2014, having lived with years of shame about her own body – and vulva – put on her by sexual partners, Canavan initiated the Raising the Skirt project, funded by the Live Art Development Agency. “I wanted a place that people of all genders could go to learn about the cunt and be reminded that we are all different and that it is something to celebrate.”

She put out a call for workshop participants who wished to reclaim – or claim –their cunts, break down female body stereotypes and open up a dialogue around the act of raising the skirt. Activities included physical actions, getting participants to draw their cunts, and sharing of personal experiences. A live performance was also held – ‘We Unite in Her Honour’ – where participants raised their skirts and used their voices to unite their individual bodies into one collective body or ‘social cunt’. This summer saw a second series of workshops, this time based more on acts of body kindness and breaking down the fears that we all have about our bodies.

The Raising the Skirt website unsurprisingly has a large research aspect to it and Canavan is asking for contributions including photographs of vulvas and pubic hair, papers, articles, poetry and memoirs. She will be launching a funding campaign later this year and hopes to create a publication for release by the end of 2017. “My dream,” she says, “is to carry out the workshop in every country across the world.”

Despite being told by some that she is “sinning and going to hell,” Canavan believes that the overwhelmingly positive – and international – response to the project speaks for itself. “We know it is important,” she says. “I want to help women shed some of their fears so that they can face each day with full agency.”

Photographs by Dawn Felicia Knox

To see this feature in full, please see the August 2015 print issue of DIVA magazine

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Review of Bruges Triennial 2015

Bruges Triennial 2015
Contemporary art and architecture in the historical city of Bruges
20 May – 18 October 2015

Bruges is to Belgium something like Bath is to the UK: a city steeped in history, whose inhabitants are a little sceptical when it comes to contemporary art. Or this, at least, is the comparison offered by adopted Bruggian, director of Musea Brugge and head curator of the Groeningemuseum and Arentshuis, Till-Holger Borchert, who, along with Michel Dewilde, curator of visual arts at the Cultural Centre, Bruges, has been working hard to bring back to life the Bruges Triennial for the first time since 1974. Borchert, who is better known as a Van Eyck expert and aficionado of Flemish primitivism, confidently says he sees no difference between that kind of art and the über-contemporary public sculptures that have now sprung up across the city for the five-month duration of the triennial.

The triennial’s theme is global urbanisation and the birth of the “megacity” or megalopolis. Bruges itself was preserved and restored to its medieval form in the 19th century, and is thus far from fitting such a category. A relatively small city, with 117,000 inhabitants, 22,000 of whom live in the centre, Bruges welcomes around 5.3 million tourists every year. What would happen, the curators posit, if these visitors all decided to stay? Would Bruges not then be compelled to transform into a modern megacity?