Thursday 29 July 2010

The surreal house

This exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery brought together many well known Surrealist works and some surprises. It contains a large number of artworks, films, photographs, architectural drawings, plans, sculptures and installations. Jane Alison, the curator, says in the catalogue that in planning the exhibition she thought of the gallery as a kind of house and wanted to take the visitor on an experiential journey through it. The viewer enters through a door next to Marcel Duchamp’s Fresh window in which the panes are made of polished leather so they reflect the gaze. The window is a key metaphor in the exhibition as the threshold between outside and inside, reality and dream, the rational and the irrational.

Some of the pieces that impressed me most were Rebecca Horn’s Concert for anarchy, an upside down piano that regularly spews out its keys in a cacophony of sound cleverly referencing confinement and escape. Donald Rodney’s tiny house made from his skin In the house of my father effectively revealed the fragility of home. Maurizio Cattelan’s Charlie don’t surf of a small figure of a boy pinned to the table by pencils through his hands was a chilling contemporary example of the wax figures found in early museums. While Edward Kienholz The wait initially seemed to be an installation of an old woman in her cosy parlour until you realised that she was just a construct of memories, bones and dust.

It was interesting to see some of Magritte’s paintings, especially Time transfixed which was much smaller than I had realised. There was a good selection of Francesca Woodman’s ethereal photographs. Edward Hopper’s House by the railroad was the model for the house in Psycho and the Addams Family so it was interesting to see the original here.

I found the films being shown very interesting probably because I had not seen them before. Jan Svankmajer’s Down to the cellar follows the labyrinthine journey of a young girl to collect potatoes from the cellar, while his Jabberwocky turns a dolls’ tea party into a cannibal feast. I had not considered Buster Keaton’s work as surrealistic but in Steamboat Bill Jr he uses the window as an active participant in the drama and in The scarecrow an uncanny motherless home is revealed. Maya Deren’s Meshes of the afternoon follows her dreamlike path through a house in which dream and reality gradually and fatefully come together.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Richard Slee: From utility to futility

This exhibition at the V&A explores the decline of DIY among men and shows objects linked to home crafts that have been denied their functional purpose. The exhibits included brooms and brushes with ceramic bristles, hammers with ceramic heads, saws with ceramic handles and trowels with foam surfaces. This picture shows some of the items for sale in the shop. The tools were all normal size and only parts of them were non functional so you had to look twice to realise that they were decorative but useless.

Ernesto Neto: The edges of the world

Ernesto Neto has taken over the upper floor of the Hayward to produce a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers made of stretchy fabric. He wants to engender the feeling of ‘getting inside your body’ and the whole experience felt very organic, as if it were growing and moving. Some areas are padded, others are layered with interconnecting tubes, and some are double skinned with lavender or camomile between the layers to provide a visual and olfactory experience. Steps at various points allow the viewer to climb up through one layer to see into the area above. The installation also continues out on to the open air spaces of the gallery and in one a small swimming pool and changing rooms have been installed so that people can swim round the pool like goldfish. The whole experience was very relaxing and magical.

The new décor

This exhibition at the Hayward included 36 artists who take interior design as a point of departure. They transform or subvert the appearance and display of everyday furniture to subvert the domestic environment. They disrupt the idea of the home as a place of comfort and security. The chandelier in the image is the work of Lee Bul.

I have been interested in Doris Salcedo’s work for some time so it was good to see some of her work here. She forcibly joins separate items of furniture and fills the negative spaces with cement, rendering them useless and emphasising absence and oppression. Laid on their sides here they resembled coffins. It was also interesting to see Mona Hatoum’s ‘Interior landscape’ which also references loss and absence by cleverly repeating the map of Palestine in a wire coat hanger, a paper bag, a tray and embroidered in hair on the pillow of a bed with barbed wire springs.

Other pieces that interested me were the doors, beds and clock by Elmgreen & Dragset. The wounded three legged chair by Diango Hernandez was also fascinating; the fourth leg of the chair circles on a turntable and momentarily completes the chair, triggering a light burst, then it moves on again. Roman Signer’s floating table, kept aloft by a stream of air, was also quite uncanny and appeared to be alive.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Art concepts in historical contexts symposium

This symposium in Brighton was organised by the unravelled group and followed a morning at Preston Manor being shown their exhibition. The first speaker was Frances Lord, an independent curator, who had worked with Catherine Bertola on her exhibition at Nottingham Castle, she talked about her recent work. Lyndall Phelps spoke about her residency at the Natural History Museum store at Tring, where she studied specimens that had been stored in stately homes for safety during the war. Catherine Bertola talked about her work and inspiration. The image above is of Catherine Bertola’s ‘If she is not out as soon as I’ exhibited at Preston Manor – the title is taken from a lace tell.

Unravelling the manor house

This exhibition at Preston Manor by 12 artists in the unravelled group was an intervention inspired by the house and its artefacts. We were shown round the house by some members of the group who explained the inspiration behind the interventions, which were found in different rooms throughout the house.

The artists variously based their work on the owners of the house, the servants and the objects. The pieces I found most interesting were the two installations by Laura Splan, the pillow by Catherine Bertola, the screen by Emma Molony, the blood prints by Kira O’Reilly and the video and notes by Ingrid Plum.

In one of her pieces, Laura Splan had machine embroidered wording from the manor’s visitors’ guide on to two layered pieces of cosmetic facial peel. They were ‘framed’ by embroidery hoops and left on a stool as if just laid aside by the lady of the house. Her other intervention was a glove made in the same way left in a bedroom (Trousseau, shown here). Catherine Bertola’s ‘lace pillow’ was a pillow on a bed with pins sticking out of it as if they had been used to construct bobbin lace providing a play on words and contrasting the idea of the soft comforting pillow and the hard pins. Ingrid Plum’s installation in the same bedroom played out the narrative of the owner’s relationships, by combining a video of shadowy figures, sounds from the present day manor house and handwritten copperplate notes of unexpressed feelings.

Emma Molony’s work was in another bedroom and showed animations of the daily tasks of the servants superimposed on a screen (shown here). The animations were cleverly made and very delicate and also included humorous twists. The jointed models she had made were also shown and were for sale which made the piece more interesting. Kira O’Reilly’s blood prints in lace were in one of the bathrooms; they were attractive and appealed to me because of the lace but I wasn’t sure why the lace had been used.

This domestic setting served to show off the quirkiness of the exhibits in a way that would not have been possible in a white cube setting. It was also interesting to hear the artists talk about their work and inspiration.

The concise dictionary of dress

This exhibition at Blythe House, the museum store for the V&A, was an intervention by between fashion curator, Judith Clark, and psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips. They chose 11 words that were linked to psychoanalysis and dress, Phillips then wrote definitions for them and Clark produced the installations linking them to dress.

The whole experience was staged, you had to be escorted through the store in a group of seven people, each exhibit was revealed to you in turn and you were then given the definition of the word being depicted. This theatricality enhanced the experience and made it feel as if you were discovering the installations for yourself. The 11 words were: armoured, brash, comfortable, conformist, creased, diaphanous, essential, fashionable, loose, measured, plain, pretentious, provocative, revealing, sharp, tight, and the link between them and the exhibits was not always obvious, although they provided food for thought. However, in a discussion in the evening between the artists and Lisa Appignanesi at the London College of Fashion they revealed that Phillips’ words were prompts for Clark rather than absolute definitions of the exhibits. Likewise, they seemed to be prompts for the viewers and Robert Frost was quoted ‘look after the sound and the sense will look after itself’.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Defining an exhibition

This conversation between fashion curator, Judith Clark, psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips, and Rebecca Arnold of the Courtauld Institute discussed The concise dictionary of dress. This intervention at the V&A’s reserve collection at Blythe House is a collaboration between Clark and Phillips. The idea came from thinking what would happen if museum labels were substituted. They chose 11 words that were linked to psychoanalysis and dress, Phillips then wrote definitions for them and Clark produced the installations linking them to dress. The project aimed to establish relationships between words and the language of dress. The words and clothing are mutually illuminating although they use different languages. Although it is interesting to consider whether the information given in the definitions usurps or aids the experience of looking at the interventions. An interesting point made was that histories are stored in our bodies and in the museum store and are not classified until they are exhibited.

Susan Collis exhibition

This exhibition entitled ‘Since I fell for you’ at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, showed some of Susan Collis’ older work and a new commission. In her earlier work she subverted the objects found in galleries during the setting up of exhibitions, such as overalls and ladders, by carefully embroidering ‘paint splashes’ on the overalls and inlaying mother of pearl ‘stains’ on the ladder. She is now collecting items from skips and refurbishment projects in is an effort to move away from items that have a relationship to domestic scale. The first room of this exhibition held her new commission, which seemed to be an unready and unprepared wall with rawlplugs, screws, staples and paint stains on it, however, careful inspection revealed they were carefully made of precious metals, gems and coral. The pretence that the gallery is not yet ready for visitors is also heightened by the installation of a bucket collecting dripping water in one of the galleries. In the catalogue she says she is now trying to introduce oppositions into her work such as dirty and clean, tidy and messy, and well crafted and un-made. She obviously likes dualities of meaning which is why she uses precious materials but in such a way that they appear quite ordinary.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Constructed space

Constructed space is the title of the most recent exhibition in which my work has been displayed; it runs from 12 April to 15 May. The venue is the Sunbury Embroidery Gallery which was purpose built to house the Sunbury Millennium Embroidery. Constructed space shows the work of four recent MA students from UCA Farnham.

Gail Baxter’s recent work on archives has led her to produce cubes of dipped thread and paper representing the gaps and absences found in archives. Ros Perton is a ceramicist whose stacked bowls employ a subtle range of glazes. Tracy Nicholls produces fine trellis panels of glass. Carol Quarini’s net curtains include messages in tambour lace that suggest the curtains have a voice and a mind of their own. What links the work of these four artists is their references to lace and the delicate shadows the work produces.

Walls are talking: wallpaper, art and culture

This exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester uses wallpaper as a medium through which to criticise and subvert domestic culture. A byword for the neutral and overlooked, wallpaper in this exhibition gets the chance to redress the balance and show that it can shock, subvert and cause unease.

Much of the exhibition deals with historic wallpapers and how taste has changed, but I was more interested in the conceptual designs. It was interesting to see Robert Gober’s work, which previously I had only seen in books. His Male and female genital wallpaper and Hanging man/sleeping man were both shown but perhaps because I had seen images of them before they seemed familiar rather than shocking.

I found Abigail Lane’s Bloody wallpaper copied from images taken at a crime scene shocking because they were based in reality. At first glance you do not realise the images are copies of real blood stains but once you do they engender a feeling of unease.

Catherine Bertola’s Beyond the looking glass was very effective. The wallpaper seemed to be peeling from the walls and into the room and seen through an opening in the gallery wall made it appear even more three dimensional and life like.

I thought Conception by Francesca Granato in collaboration with Helen Knowles was a clever piece of patterning using stylised outline drawings of the male and female genitalia. It was more subtle and clever than Robert Gober’s more obvious drawings.

Erwan Venn’s animation entitled Destroy wallpaper shown in the image above was very entertaining. It started with an image of a wallpaper pattern made up of several components, which then seemed to slip down the wall and crash to the skirting board. The process was accompanied by the tinkling sound of crashing glass.

The exhibition showed that wallpaper can be more than a simple background wall covering. As it says in the catalogue ‘wallpaper obliterates the past. It covers up the cracks, the dirt, the evidence. It wipes the slate clean and enables new beginnings.’

Monday 29 March 2010

Curtain show

Curtain show was exhibited at Eastside projects an artist run space in Birmingham. Ines Schaber had produced a scenario much like that in which I display my own curtains. Her Diabolic tenant 2007 is inspired by the design collaboration between Lilly Reich and Mies van der Rohe and comprises a curtain and a blind that speak to each other through an audiospeaker. They discuss their relative positions and politics, revealing their different functions and the role of design in society. The blinds were male and the silk curtains female.

Grace Ndiritu’s Still life 2007 is a large area hung with curtains which are also depicted on four DVD monitors in small scenes with arms and legs protruding from them and then disappearing as if they were moving and alive. Albrecht Schafer had recreated, in stiff paper shapes stapled together, the façade of the former Centrum department store in Berlin originally produced in aluminium based on a 1950s original by Egon Eiermann. Hannah James had produced a series of wide paper blinds printed with three dimensional triangular shapes.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Gaea Todd

This exhibition at the Marsden Woo Gallery in London was guest curated by Tessa Peters and Janice West. I have been a keen follower of them since they curated the Uncanny Room in 2002 and was delighted to discover that they are guest curating a series of exhibitions at the Marsden Woo Project Space.

This exhibition of Gaea Todd’s glass work dealt with boundaries and transgression. She takes her inspiration from Mary Douglas and Julia Kristeva, so I found it particularly interesting. The pieces all included the movement of fluids, such as blood, milk, urine or tears, either literally or symbolically. I thought the piece that worked best was the two occasional chairs in the small installation of ‘In vino veritas’ with glass appearing to pour through the seat and onto the floor as if the occupants had melted and seeped through the seat to form a pool of bodily fluids on the floor. I felt the movement of actual fluids on the mirror in the same piece worked less well because the glass had obviously been applied to the mirror and did not seem to emanate from it.

The same criticism could be made of ‘Study 4’. The idea of the walls weeping blood (or in this case molasses) was brilliant but the glass did not seem to come out of the walls merely to be attached to them. I thought ‘Reverberations’ was much more effective with the glass rods sprouting out of the walls themselves and dripping blood. The rope ladder made of hair was also uncanny and the delicate glass rods containing ‘milk’ forming the rungs was very clever. They offered the tantalising promise of escape but reason told you they would be ineffective and splinter as soon as they were touched like a broken spell.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Eva Hesse

This exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre showed some of Eva Hesse’s studiowrok so there were no finished pieces mainly experiments and test pieces. The pieces that interested me the most were her hangings. She made a series of them and displayed them as a piece called Contingent. They were made from cheesecloth dyed and immersed in latex to make them firmer. The test piece we saw was dyed yellow but some of the books available for study showed she also exhibited versions in natural colours. I also found the latex pieces incorporating tubes interesting and thought the bowl shapes made from paper were beautifully displayed on a large table with good lighting producing interesting shadows.

Chiharu Shiota

The Haunch of Venison is the venue for Chiharu Shiota’s first solo exhibition in the UK; I previously saw her work at the Hayward in the Walking in my Mind exhibition. The exhibition includes two site-specific works and earlier pieces all based on her ideas of homeland and identity.

The first room houses One place an installation of 400 reclaimed windows she found in demolition sites in Berlin. They are joined vertically to form two towering walls, spiralling in the shape of a shell with chairs at their centre. I was interested to read that the artist sees them as a metaphor for an opening and a barrier at the same time, in the same way I see my net curtains and that they represent claustrophobia.

The work in the second room also has resonance with my own work as it deals with consciousness, sleep and dreams. In During sleep, the artist has used black wool, as she did in the Hayward exhibition, to fill a room and enclose a bed in a tangle of threads representing the impenetrability of the dream state, leaving only a small tunnel through which the audience can walk through to the next room. The final room houses some smaller cubes entitled Trauma, containing children’s clothes, a brush and other items trapped or protected in a tangle of black threads. More of her work can be seen on her website

Henry Moore

This exhibition at Tate Britain focused on the work of Henry Moore from the 1920s to the 1960s. It was arranged into themes: mother and child; Modernism; wartime; post war; and elm. It was especially interesting to see some of his sketches and pages of drawing clearly showing how he developed his ideas from original drawing to finished sculpture. I had not realised that during his Modernist period he had been interested in the uncanny. During the 1930s he seemed to have been working on ideas related to imprisonment, claustrophobia and anxiety perhaps induced by the zeitgeist in these pre war times. Many of his sculptures from this period incorporate strings and wire that trap and separate areas in a lace-like manner. In the 1950s he also produced several helmet sculptures with veils that seem to trap the wearer. Apparently there are also programmes about him on the BBC archive website.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Surface Tensions II

This conference was held over two days. On Thursday evening on 11 February at the RCA, Lesley Millar and Sarah Gilligan spoke. Lesley talked about the haptic and how this is linked to craft while the optic is linked to art. Seeing is intellectual, while touching is experiential. She described how secrets are entrapped and layered in cloth and that every contact leaves a trace so that forensic analysis turns the silent into a revelatory witness. Sarah Gilligan talked about long sweeping coats being linked to masculinity in films and TV.

On Friday at the V&A we heard from several speakers. First was Glenn Adamson who talked about how postmodernism was concerned with surfaces and how postmodern architecture was driven by surface. He explained that the surface is the sight of superficiality rather than having a complex meaning as Lesley had described the previous evening. Francis Summers is studying the work of Martin Arnold who has made new short films from old Andy Hardy musical films by replaying and extending some of the sequences. Some of those he showed us with Micky Rooney and Judy Garland were quite uncanny, pictorially and vocally. Stephen Knott is researching painting by numbers kits and thinks they widened access to art in the 1950s. They reflect the artists use of readymades.

Miriam Nighy talked about her anthropological study of weaving in Morocco. The women make the carpets and then the men distress them with bleach and sunlight because they get a better price for old ones. Miriam also described the rituals associated with removing the carpets from the loom. The liminal space as they transfer from being a piece of work to a carpet is dangerous so the evil eye can enter as the carpet is cut off the loom.

Alice Barnaby talked about light and surface in drawing rooms in the late 19th century. She explained how light and gas light affected drawing room surfaces and that the drawing room became a perceptual laboratory for experiments with ambient light. She talked about transparent paper blinds that were used at windows and as lampshades. Rudolph Ackermann and William Orm sold these transparent prints.

Charlotte Nicklas then talked about colours in 19th century fashion. Margaret Ponsonby discussed conservation of textiles in historic houses. Christine Guth described Japanese lacquer techniques. The number of layers involved signified opulence and meta consumption in a similar way to the layering of Japanese clothes. Old objects were more prized so some lacquer work was made to look old in the same way as the carpets in Morocco. There is also a social significance to worn articles in Japan and mended items remind the user of their own mortality.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Cultex: Global exchanges conference

Cultex, which opened in Oslo, has now moved to the Hub, Sleaford, and this conference was organised to coincide with the exhibition. The main theme of the day was how collaborations are organised and how the participants benefit from them. Yuka Kawai, Eva Schjolberg and Gabriella Goransson, who had all participated in the Cultex exhibition, explained how they had approached their collaboration and how they had interacted and learnt from their partners. Lesley Millar, the curator of the exhibition, spoke about how we are all formed by our heritage and how it is important to acknowledge our differences and form connections with other cultures. Tim Parry-Williams spoke about his time in Japan working with Junichi Arai and how much he had learnt from it. Jeremy Theophilus, Sally Lai and Yasmin Canvin talked about the problems of organising successful international collaborations.

Having seen the Cultex exhibition in Oslo, it was interesting to see it in a new venue. The first difference was the light, because at the Hub all the pieces were shown in white cube surroundings whereas in Oslo all the exhibition rooms had large windows opening out on to a snowy scene that reflected the light. Another difference was the space allowed for each work and Gabriella commented on this difference in scale in her talk. Also in Oslo several of the pieces had been exhibited in the grounds of the gallery, which gave them an extra dimension that was not possible at the Hub.

Eva Scholberg’s large folded piece that had been exhibited outside in Oslo attached to a tree was too difficult to transport so she had produced smaller pieces for the gallery at the Hub. These looked stunning bent to form a curved wall. Anniken Amundsen’s drawings and forms also benefitted from being shown together rather than in different rooms as they were in Oslo.

Sunday 31 January 2010


This exhibition at the V&A featured digital and interactive designs. It looks at three themes: code, which shows how computer codes are used as a design tool; interactivity, which included works that respond to the presence of the audience; and network, which charts the traces we leave. The pieces I liked best were in the interactive section. One of these was the uncanny Venetian mirror by Fabrica, a large screen surrounded by pieces of mirror that portrayed the type of mirror that would be found at the head of the stairs in a Gothic house. As you stood in front of it a ghostly copy of your image appeared in the central panel. Dandelion by Sennep (pictured here) was another of my favourites because it was so entertaining. The viewer could use a hairdryer, containing an infra red light, to ‘blow away’ the seeds from the dandelion head. The Tree by Simon Hejidens was a light silhouette of a tree which moved in concert with the wind outside the museum. Body paint by Mehmet Akten converted actions into colours on a screen; this worked very well as an interactive piece because the colours change as the viewers moved but it also encouraged the viewers to interact with each other to produce even more colours.