Saturday 22 December 2012

We Bury Our Own

This interesting exhibition by Christian Thompson at the Pitt Rivers Museum is concerned with the repatriation not of artefacts but of photographic images and not with their physical repatriation but with what he describes as their ‘spiritual repatriation’. Christian is an Aboriginal artist and Oxford student and in We Bury Our Own he presents eight photographic self-portraits and a video installation based on his response to the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

I was captivated by his methodology rather than the images he produces. In his artist’s statement he describes his process: ‘I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work.’

The photographs in the ethnographic archive have a direct and spiritual connection to the people depicted in them. Christian uses his art as a vehicle to deliver the spirit of the images back to the land through his self-portraits incorporating ideas about his transcultural identity. His work links to meditation and the votive. In some images he places crystals on his eyes to channel the spiritual world into the physical, and photographs himself in this way, in formal Oxford dress with the addition of flowers, butterflies, textiles or other artefacts. The resulting images appear strange and incongruous perhaps mirroring the very idea of ethnographic collections.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Past Masters: MA alumni exhibition

This exhibition in the Foyer Gallery, Farnham, shows the work of nine former MA students from the University for the Creative Arts. It includes the work of two jewellers, Tara J Murphy and Tom McDowell. Tara has continued her work with recycled objects, but has moved into using found objects from second hand sources to produce more figurative work. Tom transforms children’s drawings of animals into quirky wearable pieces. Ros Perton is a ceramicist who uses a variety of clays to question the traditional use of materials. Louise Renae Anderson is also interested in materials and describes her weaving process as a form of meditation. John Joyce’s interest in materials challenges the viewer’s notions of reality, with his sculpture of a bronze bird appearing to lift a paper carrier bag. The work of photographer, Richard Brayshaw, also aims to challenge the viewer by using psychological effects elicited by the physical environment, in particular by looking at transitions between safety and security. I found his images of steps leading into turbulent water very effective and disconcerting. The other photographer in the exhibition, Roger Buchanan, explores roadside verges.

Emma Rawson uses glass to explore the inner world of solid forms. I particularly liked her houses within houses (shown above) and the glimpses of materiality trapped within them that appeared to change as you moved round the work, referencing memories hidden within the home. Bruce Marks also uses glass to consider identity, in particular fragile states of mind, rendered as delicate glass balls lying on a bed of nails. It was interesting to see the work of these nine students, who completed their MAs over the last few years, and to see how their work has developed since their final MA shows.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Kimono designs and Japanese Lolita fashions

Having just been to Japan, I spent time in some of the department stores admiring the kimono and obi fabrics. I was also pleased to see so many women wearing the kimono on the streets and when visiting shrines and temples. I saw these three girls on the way to the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto wearing their beautiful traditional kimono. I also saw some examples of the ‘sweet’ style of clothing, the photo below was taken in the Takeshita dori area of Tokyo. This style of overgrown girlishness seems slightly sinister to me though and reminiscent of Grayson Perry in his alter ego Claire.

Visiting the V&A Japanese galleries last week revealed that there are even more styles of modern Japanese clothing. The exhibition there shows examples of the sweet, gothic and punk styles as well as the Japanese Lolita look. The latter differs from the others because it is based on traditional dress rather than on Western dress. Examples range from the demure kimono by Mamechiyo Modern to designs by Takuya Angel whose work is based on machismo and samurai armour.

The photo above shows a demure kimono by Mamechiyo Modern in the V&A exhibition. Her aim according to the accompanying label is to make the kimono an affordable everyday form of clothing. She incorporates non-Japanese elements into her designs such as the headdress, choker and lace embellishments. As a Western viewer I think the traditional kimono is beautiful as it is and I can’t see the need to add foreign elements to it but perhaps if you have grown up with the traditional types you want something a bit different.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Lost Prince: the life and death of Henry Stuart

This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London showed paintings, drawings, manuscripts, books, and armour reflecting the life and death of Prince Henry. He is mainly forgotten now, but at the time of his death, as an 18-year-old glamorous prince, there was a national outpouringof grief. He seems to have been an attractive character, interested in collecting art, as well as the usual male pursuits of the time such as hunting, riding and fighting and several of the portraits by Robert Peake the Elder show him in dynamic settings and poses such as hunting and on horseback. He was also interested in fine clothes and lace and the artists of the time, including the miniaturists Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, depict these textiles in fine detail. I was particularly impressed by the depiction of the fringe on the cover over the horse in Robert Peake’s portrait of the Prince on horseback. Henry came to England as a boy of nine in 1603 shortly after his father James I inherited the throne on the death of Elizabeth I. His untimely death left his younger brother Charles as heir to the throne. After viewing the exhibition you were left wondering whether the charismatic Henry might have avoided the Civil War that erupted during the reign of Charles I with such unfortunate results for the country and, of course, the king himself.