Friday, 25 February 2011

No competition!

British Art Show 7, Hayward Gallery, South Bank.  
British Art Now Part 2, Saatchi Gallery, Kings Road Chelsea.

Maybe we were wrong to try and fit the Hayward in at the end of a busy day of exhibition viewing, but on the other hand, maybe it was just a difficult show to follow.  In order to appreciate contemporary art, I either need to enjoy the aesthetics of the work or value the skill of the making, or I need to be guided through the makers ideas.  There was some interesting work in the show, but overall, I felt mystified.

Our visit to the Saatchi Gallery the next day was a wholly different experience. They seem to have a strong commitment to making the work accessible to the general viewer. Take for example, the guide.  Sure, you have to pay for it. But at £1.50 it is within most people's reach.  And once you have bought it, you have a black and white image of every piece in the show, with 150 words of description and explanation, often including quotes from the artist about their intention for the work.

So the viewer has the possibility to give the piece some good attention, make his/her own interpretation, and then see how it matches the artist or curator's comments.  Of course, it can also be used as a shortcut to forming one's own impression, but that is the risk, and who can say that it is not a valid way to view the work.

Of course, the Saatchi gallery also has the advantage of space, which cannot be underestimated.  Even in such a big show, nothing was crowded together. Each piece is a new experience and that helps the viewer make sense of the whole.

I suppose the bottom line is that if I have no way of coming to an understanding of the work, it makes me feel stupid.  Shows that give me the tools to appreciate the work, make me feel I'm entering into a partnership between artist, curator and viewer. British Art Now did that very successfully.

My highlights from the Saatchi show: Des Hughes, Endless Endless - ragged effigy; Ximena Garrido-Lecca, The Followers - wall of shrines; Caragh Thuring, General Scenes of Unloading - fragmentary painting on bare linen.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Flood alert!

I heard today that the proposal that Jane Lawson and I made to the Chorlton Arts Festival has been accepted.  It will be called Flood, and will involve an installation on the banks of Chorlton Brook, a flood map and a flood walk.  It will make a connection between the flood history of the area, the recent serious floods in the UK and worldwide, and the effects of climate change on the sea level.

We have been thinking about this piece for a couple of years, and are very excited about having the chance to put it together at last.  The Chorlton Arts Festival is a great local event, and is growing every year.  Last year I did some fundraising for them and as a result, CAF 2010 had their first artist in residence.  And this year will be my first time as an exhibitor.  The festival is in May, so we will be starting to plan over a cup of tea on Saturday.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Body Electric - Len Lye Retrospective at IKON

I'd never been to the IKON before, but it has won a place in my heart.  The building is a beautifully converted noegothic school in the heart of the new canal district in Birmingham.  The exhibition spaces are very well laid out, and the restaurant was so lovely and staff so friendly, that we went back for a meal in the evening.

Their current exhibition is the first UK retrospective of Len Lye's work, and includes film, paintings and kenetic sculpture.  Lye (1901-1980) was a New Zealander who travelled widely in the Pacific before settling in London in 1926, becoming friends with artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

The most surprising aspect of the exhibition is the film work.  Produced between 1929 and 1937, the films which are a riot of colour, pattern and movement, could easily be mistaken for contemporary work.  Given the technical limitations of the time, they are extraordinary.  Len Lye developed his own style of 'direct' film making, where he painted directly onto the celluloid, which combined with layering of images, created an exciting and sometimes frenetic montage.

Lye's first film, Tusalava, a 10 min black and white animation made in 1929, shows the influence of Pacific Island and Aboriginal imagery, weaving continuous patterns that show a kind of evolution of growth, division, development and death.

In the 30's, Len made a number of advertising films for the GPO, including 'Rainbow Dance' (1936) using a real actor alongside animation to show the sort of leisure activities which would be affordable if one saved using a PO Savings Account. Trade Tattoo creates a complex multi layered journey through the industrial and commercial work day, with a big band jazz sound track providing the fast paced rhythm, and ends by encouraging the viewer to remember to post letters before 2pm.  The advertising copy in the final scenes of the films adds yet another surreal quality.

Equally fascinating are his kenetic sculptures, made from the 50s onwards which bring sound and vision together as metal clashes, vibrates and rings out.  In Fountain, (1976) long stainless steel rods splay out from a central point in a base which periodically rotates clockwise and anticlockwise, causing the rods to swish and sway and crash into each other. Lit from above, the shadows add a further element to the piece. Universe (1963-66) involves a steel band, looped into an oval and fixed centrally in a low bench.  As an electromagnet is activated, the huge structure rolls back and forth, sometimes being squeezed upwards and hitting a ball suspended above it, with a resonant chime.

Each piece in the exhibit was a joy to behold, and the whole exhibition felt like a celebration of life.  The IKON deserve a big thanks for bringing Len Lye's work to greater attention.