Category Archives: Exhibitions

Another visit to Messums at Tisbury

I took the opportunity recently to match a Christmas lunch with another visit to Messums Gallery, with the specific aim of seeing the Bruce Munro exhibit. It is always fun to visit modern art exhibitions with people who are not used to seeing this sort of thing, and we had an excellent time.

I had originally hoped to see Bruce Munro’s work at Alice Springs when I was there a couple of years ago, but there was not enough time, and I was delighted when I found out that he was showing at Messums. It turns out that Wiltshire is one of his home areas and often features in his work. Some of the exhibition was only on show after dark, but there was enough to keep us interested inside the buildings.

The main event was the installation in the large barn area. Munro had collected literally thousands of redundant CDs from all over the world, and placed them on a massive grid. This then had a light show with sound which was played over, producing an ever-changing view which referenced everything from the sea to a field of poppies. We could have sat in there for hours just watching how the light changed on the CDs and the resulting reflections on the walls.

Another Munro series, on a much smaller scale, was also on show in the barn. I must admit to having been a bit miffed  (LOL) to see that he had taken my experiments with colour in different locations and produced a series of works using circles, which rang a lot of personal bells. When I was doing my own work in this area I had not come across Munro’s pieces and so I can say with a clear conscience that mine was not plagiaristic.

 

While we were there, we also took in Dante Marioni’s fabulous glasswork. This man is a genius, and the pieces were absolutely stunning, both as objects and the detail in each one. A small selection of the work is shown below, and I love it for its intricacy, bold simplicity and wonderful colours. I would dearly like to own one of them, but they are sadly well outside my price range.

Both of these exhibitions include concepts to do with light reflections and mixing translucency with opacitywithin a work, which I want to explore further.

A day at the Tate Modern

A few weeks ago, I made a trip to London to see some exhibitions at the Tate Modern. There was so much to see that we spent the whole day there, and took in both the Nam June Paik and the Dora Maar exhibits, and also a number of individual works which were on show in the Tanks.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Nam June Paik and went in with an open mind. He was South Korean and had an eclectic range of interests, from how technology and art can work together, to Zen Buddhism to music and sculpture and there were a huge number of pieces in the exhibit. The most striking thing about it all was its exuberant creativity. It appeared that he could make art out of pretty much anything, although he had a soft spot for cathode ray TVs, and literally dozens of them were used, both to show images and as objects in their own right.

The work was highly conceptual and I wonder how much of it the general public understood. Certainly, even with a bit of art theory under my belt, there was a lot that probably went straight over my head. It was inspirational and we left feeling that anything goes, as long as you understand why you are doing it.

On to the Dora Maar, which was much easier to understand. The exhibit went through her early surrealist photography, which I very much enjoyed, and then looked at her work while she was pals with Picasso. This part clearly showed his influence, and sometimes it was hard to discern whether a work had been made by Picasso or Maar. When the 2WW broke out, she altered direction and began to make very abstract landscape paintings, which were rather beautiful, and thereafter her focus was more on abstract mark making. She was clearly a very talented woman.

We saw a number of individual works on the theme of Impermanence in The Tanks, but the one that appealed to me most was Ian Breakwell’s film The Other Side. Occupying a whole tank on its own, a huge screen showed ballroom dancers moving backwards and forwards on a balcony overlooking the sea, as the sun gradually set. It was accompanied by Schubert’s Nocturne in E Flat Major. The mood was contemplative and dreamy and very mesmerising. Abrupty, after 15 minutes, the screen went dead and there was the sound of breaking glass, and the roar of the waves and seagull cries could be heard. Again, the screen went dark and the dance began again. Breakwell made the work as a response to the endless impermanence and then restarting of life, and it was a wonderful piece of conceptual work. Well worth visiting if one is going to the Tate anyway.

 

 

A visit to Messums Gallery

Yesterday, Kate 513940 and I visited the Messums Gallery in Tisbury. I have been aware for a while that this gallery was showing some interesting work, particularly to do with light and installations, and have been meaning to go for some time, but it was the lure of their current show IMAGE that finally inspired us to make the effort. And it was totally worth it. The space is huge, and divided into two main areas – the barn and the gallery, and the work is laid out beautifully. The light in the gallery is excellent, while that of the barn is darker and more evocative.

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Fig. 1 Messums Gallery view, Tisbury, Wiltshire. (2019)

The IMAGE exhibition, their second, focused on ‘ individuality and uniqueness in the photographic medium. As a reaction to what could be described as an over saturation of the digital in contemporary society, a move toward originality and authenticity being increasingly prized elements of the way we make and consume art is prevalent.’ It could not have been more perfect a subject for me! The photographer artists on show were Julia Cockburn Alma Haser, Liz Nielsen, Tif Hunter and Tom Butler, and for contrast  Pentti Sammallahti. Alongside, but in the large barn was a series and an installation by Martina Mati. All the works by the first five were unique, as in single objects which had been manipulated in some way which was not exactly replicable. I am already familiar with the work of Cockburn and Haser, which I love, but I was intrigued by Tom Butler’s series of altered Victorian calling cards. They were small (no bigger than 3×4″ish) and each one had been altered using gouache paint, either as blocks of colour to hide much of the print, or as complex abstract shapes which were laid over them. They were quite exquisite.

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Fig. 2 Tom Butler’s altered calling cards. (2019)

There were five or six Cockburns, at least one of which I had seen previously at The Photographers’ Gallery. However, it was interesting to see how her work is progressing as she has begun to include looser responses to the found images she uses, among the heavily embroidered work. This article is helpful on her motivations, and I might well put her forthcoming book Stickybeaks on my Christmas list.

Aside from these the highlights of the visit were the Martina Amati installation, which consisted of two underwater films, one on the wall and the other on the ceiling, in the darkened barn, a huge space which was itself part of the work. The effect was both beautiful and quite mesmerising and spoke eloquently of the peculiarly mindful nature of free diving. I loved it, which was great as the stills were rather dark for the wall they occupied and did not give the same sense of immersion and wonder that the installation produced. I am not usually a particular fan of moving image, but these may have to make me change my mind. They were backed up by a film documentary on free diving which looked fascinating, and I must try to find it on the Web.

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Fig. 3 Martina Amati’s underwater film installation. (2019)

The other work that really caught my attention was a six panel linocut print in the café by Diane Fogwell, which was exquisite – incredibly layered and with a strong Oriental vibe, although it was clearly a British scene. The detail was amazing.

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Fig. 4 Diane Fogwell’s linocut print ‘Portent’ in the Messums’s cafe. (2019)

Take aways

  •  I will definitely be back. Specifically, they regularly put on shows involving light installations, which I realise always draw me, and which I need to explore further as a concept in my own work. Assignment 1 seems a long time ago.
  •  it is ok to include variations on a theme for a series. I had been worrying that my A5 might be a bit samy, but it should be fine to produce more work along the same lines as I am already doing.
  • there is a Bruce Munro exhibition coming up in December, which I want to attend. He had a large show on in Alice Springs, when I was there a couple of years ago, but we didn’t have time to see it, whcih i regretted at the time. This will be a new opportunity to see his work.

Finally, Kate and I returned to her house and spent a happy hour making Citrasolv art from old National Geographics. It is always fascinating to see how they develop, and I particularly enjoy the random nature of the results. A couple are shown below.

 

Figures

Fig.1 Woodward, H. (2019) Messums Gallery view, Tisbury, Wiltshire. [Photograph] In the possession of: the author.

Fig. 2 Woodward, H. (2019) Tom Butler’s altered calling cards. [Photograph] In the possession of: the author.

Fig. 3 Woodward, H. (2019) Martina Amati’s underwater film installation. [Photograph] In the possession of: the author.

Fig. 4 Woodward, H. (2019) Diane Fogwell’s linocut print ‘Portent’ in the Messums’s cafe.[Photograph] In the possession of: the author.

Figs 5-6 Woodward, H. (2019) Citrasolv prints 1 &2. [Photograph] In the possession of: the author.

Exhibitions: Olafur Eliasson and Nan Goldin

Both the Eliasson and the Goldin exhibitions are currently on at the Tate Modern, so it was easy to combine them in a single visit, although they could not have been more different in approach and aesthetic. First the Eliasson one, In Real Life.

Reviews of the exhibition have been a bit ‘Meh’, despite it being one of the most successful shows the Tate Modern has ever put on. It is huge and spreads out over the whole site and I am quite certain we missed some of the works en route. Eliasson is a bit like Wolfgang Tillmans in that his interests spread across a wide variety of subjects, from the very basics of what we eat and how to provide light for children in developing countries to get to school, right through to the most metaphysical concepts, and like Tillmans there was a great variety of media and activities, not all of which we engaged in.

Personally, I was quite blown away by much of the installation work, but for very specific reasons. I did not go to see it because of where I am in my own studies, but it fitted perfectly in to where I am at present, in particular his use of gaps and mirrors and the ideas he was exploring in some of the works around what is reality and where does it become the simulacrum. Some example will be explained below.

As you enter the hallway for the exhibition, one of Eliasson’s trademark mirrored light sculptures commands attention. While the sculpture itself is interesting in its complexity, what really grabs the attention is the shadow version seen on the wall behind it. That shadow version has a clarity that is hidden by the complexities of metal, glass and mirrors in the real version.

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I loved the two contemplative works, Wave Machines (1995) and Beauty (1993), which invited the viewer to take time to become mesmerised by the movement within them, but felt that both would be better appreciated without the crowds of other visitors. Your Uncertain Shadow (2010) was a fascinating display of colour and movement created by the visitors themselves and providing much entertainment for all. Big Bang Fountain (2014) was another piece which required attention, although the strobe lighting very soon made one feel a migraine might be coming on. Din Blinde Passager (2010) went to the other extreme, by removing all visual information in a sea of thick coloured fog, through which the voices of other visitors could be heard and whose shapes occasionally loomed out of the gloom and then disappeared again. Your Planetary Window (2019) created a patchwork of varying images of the view outside the building as seen through a variety of angled mirrors, and felt very much in tune with the work I have been doing on gaps, mirrors and integrating patchwork ideas into visual work.

 

Finally, and for me the pièce de resistance, was How Do We Live Together? (2019). A semicircle of black steel was set into the space, and a mirrored ceiling completed the circle. Everyone who entered the room stared up at the mirrored version of reality rather than looking at the real version right in front of their eyes. Further added to this was the way everyone was taking photos of the mirrored version, and the whole piece became a comment on our relationship with the world. It was utter simplicity in its concept, but very effective in what it said.

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The Nan Goldin, her very famous early work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was a combined exhibition of images and a slide show accompanied by the music of the time period, and was a totally different experience from the Eliasson. I have seen various images from the series before, but not them all en bloc and their appeal is more clear when seen together. Each of them alone appears like the sort of snap that gets taken at many a drunken party, but together they spoke of a nihilistic lifestyle of drink drugs and sexual misadventures, peopled by famous faces from the 1970s and 1980s. I am not sure that Goldin’s work would have had the success it did had she not moved in the circles she did, but there was no doubt it was compelling. So much so, that the audience in the tiny screening theatre hardly changed at all while we were there – people were content to sit and let it all wash over them as an immersive experience, one which I felt was much more affective than the collection of individual prints alongside.

Looking at materiality in current London exhibitions

At the weekend, I was up in London to see my son’s preview show for the Edinburgh fringe and took the opportunity to visit a couple of exhibitions at the same time. The first was at the Photographers’ Gallery and was the New Talent 19 exhibit on the top floor. I was interested to see what sort of work appeals to the artistic gatekeepers this year. Eight photographers had been selected from an initial entry of over 1000, and the criteria for entry were very wide and inclusive. Basically, if you hadn’t had a significant solo exhibition already, you could enter, and it was free to do so. The work on show had a great deal of variety, but at least four of the photographers were working well outside the traditional boundaries of what one might call straight photography. Naturally, these were the ones that interested me.

Alberto Feijóo is interested in the whole photographic medium, from collector to producer, but is particularly fascinated by the biography of objects and 3D representations. By 3D, I mean constructed maquettes and handmade sculptures alongside complex collages (which are not that easy to deconstruct, mentally). His explanation and some images for his series Free Acid can be found in a pdf, here. I was most struck by the maquette, which produced a very different viewpoint of the work, and which is an idea I may come back to later.

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Chiara Avagliano produced a series called Val Paradiso and combined ‘photography, poetics, text and objects’ which referenced life in a magical valley in northern Italy which was similar to where she had lived as a child. The series looked at make-believe and children’s magical-realistic approach to the world and how memories are made which might not be truly real, but which encapsulate the experience of childhood. I thought it was great, and particularly the sculptures of the lake and building, as shown below. There was a resonance back to her childhood that one could clearly feel.

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Giovanna Petrocchi is another lens-based multimedia artist. A winner of the Lensculture Emerging Talent Award in 2017, her work combines collage, found images and 3D printed objects to look at virtual reality and ancient cross cultural cultures and symbols. It is difficult to explain coherently, and her website gives much better information, so it is best to look there. However, of the three series on show, this work Modular Artefacts, Mammoth Remains, and Private Collection, only the last is listed in her online catalogue of work.

Last, but very much not least was my own favourite, Seungwon Jung’s Memories Full of Forgetting. Her minimalist images of landscapes, which were printed on fabric and then partially deconstructed and reworked were both absolutely beautiful and technically breathtaking. The empty spaces in her work are just as important as the printed areas, both as an expression of fading memories and as sculptural elements which add enormously to the visual effect. Simple patterns were carefully draped to include two flat areas and a panel of partially deconstructed fabric which had a gloriously sumptuous glitch effect. There was much to think about with regard to my own explorations of fading memories and empty spaces in images.

The other four entries were more traditional documentary style and of less interest to my current work, so I shall leave them for now. Overall, the move away from vanilla photography compared to a few years ago is marked, and many of these works were truly multi-media, combining sculpture, collage, sound and writing with photography to give a much deeper sensory experience.

After this, I went to St James to view the MA exhibition of a student from Falmouth University, Megan Ringrose. She had somehow managed to secure a pop-up exhibition space in Masons’ Yard, right next to the White Cube (which was showing some HUGE Jeff Wall images). Megan was there and was able to show me round herself, which was a bonus. Her background is in fashion photography and she told me that the MA had been pivotal in her personal work moving away from the studio and towards highly abstract pieces, based on Flusser’s idea on experimental photography, which were outlined by Lenot (2017).

Megan has taken brightly coloured pieces of paper and folded them in complex shapes, adding cyanotypes at each step of the process. When unfolded on completion, the images combine shadows and lighter areas in a complex geometric interplay which invites the viewer to contemplate. She is interested both in the concept of cameraless image and also duration, as the process is slow and paced, very unlike than her commercial work. It was fascinating to talk to her, as we not only had several acquaintances in common, but we also shared an obsession with materiality and had read many of the same theorists. I will definitely be looking out for her in future.

Overall, the day was very interesting, with lots of think about in relation to my own practice and I came away with my head brimming full of half formed ideas about my next assignment.

References

Feijóo, A. (2019) Free Acid: a work in progress. [online] At: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/26dd9f_e4e9b15cfd0848e59f0fe8983594eb9c.pdf (Accessed on 29 July 2019)

Lenot, M. (2017) “Flusser and Photographers, Photographers and Flusser.” Flusser Studies , 24. At:http://www.flusserstudies.net/sites/www.flusserstudies.net/files/media/attachments/marc-lenot-flusser-photographers-photographers-flusser.pdf (Accessed on 29 July 2019)

2019 Marlborough Open Studios

Over the last couple of weekends, Kate and I have done a tour of some of the studios in this year’s Marlborough Open Studios. I had found last year’s one very helpful and was just as blown away this year. The review of last year is here, and it was interesting for me to go back and reconsider my thoughts on that after a gap.

On the list for this year were Susie Bigglestone, Mark Somerville, Vincent Stokes and Richard Draper. We did see some others too, but these were the ones which resonated for me. Starting with Susie Bigglestone, we were greeted like long lost friends and again had a wonderful chat with her about processes and print materials. She has been experimenting with making cyanotypes on Izal toilet paper, which I thought was fantastic, and also various different chemical effects on lumen prints. An example of each is shown below. Also interesting was the discussion about the thinking behind her various flower series, which all came from her childhood memories of the Flower Fairies of Cicely Mary Barker. Her work can be seen here – https://www.susiebigglestone.co.uk/

Mark Somerville is a commercial photographer by trade, but enjoys making art photography as a sideline. In the past, he had focused on medium format Polaroid lifts but the film is no longer available and he decided to move onto to Photoshop manipulations. The work on show, Disruptions can be seen on his website at https://www.marksomerville.net/section780537_655471.html and I found it intriguing. He uses architectural geometry to make abstract pieces of work that range from the almost garish to blurrily pale and interesting. I came away with the intention of making some images of my own which echo some of his ideas, and a couple of the results are shown below. This led me down a path in which I need to spend some time looking at what constitutes appropriation of someone else’s work and where the line between appropriation and stealing someone else’s image lies. This will be the subject of another post.

Vincent Stokes was the final stop on our first day. He used to be an art teacher but has retired and is now able to spend much more time on his own work, which is a mix of painting and multimedia collage. (blurb from catalogue. He had some brilliant handmade books, which used the hardback from second-hand books, with concertina innards. He also paints over the text in old books and then uses them as the base for some of his work, and often one catches glimpses of the writing underneath what he is doing. The particular aspect of his work that appealed to me though was his methodology. For his latest series of work, he has taken an old painting, specifically Bicci di Lorenzo’s St Nicholas of Bari Banishing the Storm and has been making work based upon his thoughts about the painting. It’s an eclectic mix of solid colours, collage, found photographs and print work, and there was lots to consider there when thinking about how I am going to approach my next assignment. His website is : http://www.vincentstokesartworks.com/

A few days later, we visited Richard Draper’s lovely home near Avebury for his exhibition. Since the last time I saw his work, he has completed an MA in Photography and the effect was marked. The previous series I had seen, Watershed, was a mostly documentary work on walking the Ridgeway, in black and white. This new series Palimpsest also considers the same subject but from a very different point of view. For a start, the work is in colour. And it focuses on the minutiae of nature that one sees when walking with intention rather than the views. Alongside the images, there was a meadow walk in his garden punctuated by images on sticks, and a huge paper piece outlining the vertical topography of the Ridgeway in words that had come to mind during his various walks was hung in the hall. I really liked it all, and it resonated strongly with my own frequent walks along a stretch of the same route. More information on his work can be found at http://www.richarddraper.co.uk/

Photo London 2019

I attended Photo London yesterday with my son William as companion. I have been a couple of times before, but this was the first occasion where I can say that I really enjoyed it. We came away buzzing with ideas and having spent a not insignificant amount on photobooks, but more of that later.

Overall impressions of this year. It was very much more diverse than I was expecting, to the point where, as far as women photographers go at least, I got no impression of under-representation. Photographers were on show from all over the world, with an interesting emphasis on Eastern European and Far Eastern work. I feel sure that people of colour would say they were under-represented, and they were, but they were not invisible. There were a lot of portrait photographers, which is a genre that I am not particularly interested in at present, but I would nominate xxx, xxx and xxx as ones I particularly liked, all of whom had a historical theme going on.

Non-standard printing techniques was a theme that I picked up, although that might be because of my own interest in them. I talked to the gallery rep for Albarran Cabrera, and to Valda Bailey, both of whom explained their techniques, which I will pass on, by request, rather than going into here. However, there were also some interesting daguerrotypes, 3D photo sculptures. lots of Polaroids, a lot that were printed on glass or Perspex, a few cyanotypes, some found photo works and a couple which, although beautiful, did not seem to have much connection to photography at all. But no oversewn or pricked images except for Jessa Fairbrother at The Photographers’ Gallery stand.

It is difficult to say what were the stand-out photographers for me, as the sheer number dulls the sense of wonder after a while (a phenomenon know in my family as ‘the museum flops’). However, these are a few of those that particularly caught my attention.

Phew. that was quite a list, and loads of techniques to try out. It was a wonderful visual feast but very tiring. I don’t know how the exhibitors manage it for four days.

So, what were the main points I took away?

  • I want to continue to try out different printing techniques. I’m enjoying experimenting with different surfaces and colours, and am hoping to do a tintype workshop over the summer.
  • My preference is still for very abstract images, which have a strong sense of materiality. Michael Koerner’s work was fabulous, with a strong background story to support what he was doing, and I am intrigued by Dora Kontha’s work, which I need to examine in more detail.
  • I seem to have a soft spot for the typology, whether it be houses or historical portraits.

Books bought:

  • Tom Blachford – Midnight Modern, series 1-4
  • Chloe Dewi Mathews – Caspian: The Elements (signed copy)
  • Philip Toledano – When I was Six (signed copy)

Some photographic explorations in London

On Tuesday I accompanied Kate to London with the aim of squeezing in as many exhibitions as we could cope with in one day. We achieved the Deutsche Börse shortlist at the Photographers Gallery, along with the Jessa Fairbrother show in the basement, and Andy Warhol’s Polaroids at the Bastion Gallery in Davies St. After that, we spend a good deal of time (and money) in the photography section of Waterstones in Piccadilly. The final stop was a very naughty visit to Shepherds Book binders.

I was rather more impressed by this year’s Deutsche Börse selection than in previous years, but don’t know whether this is because they were more interesting or because I understand more about their contextualisation and the aims of the individual photographers. As usual there were four bodies of work, all of which were much bigger than what was on show, and all with a documentary theme. In a single visit one can only scratch the surface of the work, which is selected as much for its breadth and depth as for its subject matter. The two on the top floor by Arwed Messmer and Susan Meiselas were quite similar in concept, with Messmer’s being about the German Red Army Faction in the 1960s and Meiselas’ being on Kurdistan, although her presentation covered a much larger theme. What interested me about both of them was that they used very little new photography. Messmer’s was all imagery made contemporaneously with the events it considers, specifically police and prison photographs. By taking some of these individual images and blowing them up, we were asked to consider them as individual images instead of one among various forensic series. I particularly liked the various broadsheet books detailing the archive from which he drew the material and the life sized images of gang members’ rooms with their detritus of dirty clothes and bomb making equipment were an effective way of giving the people concerned a voice. This was about the terrorists themselves, not their victims, and the banality of their (extremely messy) home lives was very much at odds with the chaos they caused.

Meiselas’s work also included very few new images. Most were either copies of original locally made photographs, and there was a short film showing that this still happens in very much the same way as it has done for 100 years. There were also a large number of individual stories from refugees who have made it to various European countries, which gave the3m the voice to explain why they had made the decision to leave their homes and journey abroad. For me, the impressive part of this archive was the sheer weight of research that Meiselas undertook to bring the stories of Kurdistani people to Westerners.

On the next floor down was Laia Abril’s ‘On Abortion’ which detailed the processes and individuals behind back street abortions over the last 100 years. I’ve been hearing about this work for a while, so it was good to see it in reality. Without being overtly political about it, Abril manages to convey the despair, death and injury sustained by women who were willing to take the risk to avoid having a baby, often in the face of extreme opposition from the religious establishment and the state. Stories were included from all over the world, alongside those of the people who performed the abortions, and relatives. And right in the centre of the room was an old-fashioned TV  playing a video of a white man putting the pro-life case. The whole thing was deeply affecting, and I bought the book on my way out, as much to support Abril’s work as for its content. Apparently she is going to look into the effects of rape for her next project.

Finally, Mark Ruwedel showed a series of very beautiful images of backland USA, and in particular areas where humans have been and gone and left their marks on the landscape. Unfortunately, after the Abril selection, it seemed somewhat lightweight and I did not spend a great deal of time on it. I did like his handmade photobooks though.

So, overall, this selection was interesting from the point of view of using the archive to tell stories that have been hidden before, and which bring to light some of the struggles that people in other parts of the world endure. My vote this year goes to Laia Abril, for an amazing and morbidly fascinating view into a subject which is mostly kept under wraps, both for the safety of those concerned and for the shame that society lays on all concerned, but which happens all the time in all parts of the world.

Jessa Fairbrother is showing quite a large selection of her work Constellations & Coordinates in the basement of the Photographers’ Gallery just now, and it is absolutely brilliant. I had seen some of the images online and in journals but was completely unprepared for how tiny they are and the exquisite delicacy of the embroidery. She uses images of her own naked body as the canvas for halos, lines and curves of tiny flowers in toning colours to the images themselves. There is also some fascinating use of cutouts in the mounting which add another element of surprise. The pieces remind one of Elizabethan miniature paintings, and there is a strong religious iconographic element to them as well. They speak of her mental state in a very emotional but subtle way, hinting at some lack of reality and are very feminine. I thought they were outstanding, and would dearly like to own one. Of course, they are completely outside my price range, especially as they are all one-off pieces with hours of work put in after the photographs were made. Perhaps, one day….

The Andy Warhol Polaroids were at the Bastion Gallery, which is one I haven’t visited before. It has a very minimalist décor which suited the 60 odd works on show. The images were displayed as framed photographs which gave them an individual gravitas which we don’t normally associate with Polaroid images. According to the BJP (2019), they were made as research for his silk screen images, and the article posits that they lack individualism and play to Warhol’s nihilistic view that ‘everyone looks and acts alike and we are getting more and more that way’. I am not sure that I agree with this assessment. To me, they divided into three groups of images – individual portraits of the rich and famous, flower images and a collection of what I would call party photos. The last of these could have been taken by anyone, except that the people featured were all very famous. The flower images were surprisingly good and showed Warhol’s understanding of form and colour to good effect. The individual portraits were a mixed bag. Some were excellent, while others seemed to lack  any connection between photographer and model. To me, the main takeaway from the exhibition was that Polaroids can be shown at galleries without seeming ephemeral, providing that the framing is good, and I loved the unintentional ink trails on the very large Polaroid, shown below.

 

After all this looking, we needed a cup of tea and some rumination time and so headed off to Waterstones in Picadilly. This has always had a good photography section but things have been moved around of late and it has grown enormously. I would compare it very favourably with the Photographers’ Gallery bookshop in terms of being able to find what you are looking for and the unexpected gems which lurk among the usual technique and travel stuff. After much deliberation and the putting aside of Richard Misrach’s Border Cantos, Alec Soth’s Gathering Leaves and Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography, I came away with two books that are relevant to my current course – The Many Lives of Erik Kessels and Amalia Ullman’s Excellences & Perfections. Both will bring some good background to my Digital Identity work.

Finally, we passed on the intended trip to the Saatchi Gallery and went instead to Shepherds Bookbinders in Victoria. More money was spent on some lovely papers and craft supplies, and subsequently I have been experimenting with mocking up a woven codex book. I still need to get my head around what order to print the images I want to include, but a new book is brewing as an antidote to all the essay work I am doing just now.

 

Format Festival 2019

As part of my A2 tutorial, my tutor suggested that I should try to get to the Format Festival, particularly as two of the photographers whose work interests me are showing there, Kensuke Koike and Alexandra Lethbridge. So on Saturday, I hopped on the train and went to Derby for the day. The festival is relatively compact, with most venues being in walking distance of one another, but I was clearly not going to be able to visit them all, so I decided to concentrate on six locations, which I will go through in turn here. I saw a huge number of images, and so will concentrate mainly on the ones that drew my attention.

First up was The Quad, which had several rooms and corridors dedicated to exhibitions. It would take forever to describe them all so here are a few highlights.

Kensuke Koike – well, what can you say about his work? His speciality is cutting archival images to make new comments about this original and here, he has bigged up the idea. In an installation of about nine pieces, each image was cut and then mounted on a piece of similarly cut and hinged metal, in which is was clearly possible to see that it could be folded back flat. It was a triumph of the use of negative space, and the subject matter was images taken from Derby’s historic archive. I loved it.

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Steven Barritt’s Of Swallows and Ravens considered our notions of how the more esoteric science such as quantum mechanics and astronomy relate to our perceived reality. The work on show for this was very disparate and each piece merited some time to consider what point was being made. Interesting and thought provoking.

Lisa Ambrossio’s The Rage of Devotion was an eclectic mix of old family photos and peculiar mental performances over the period of time when she left home very young and had to start making her own way in the world. Clearly, it was not a very happy experience, but it was a startlingly fresh insight into the mind of someone battling with loneliness and mental health issues at a young age.

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Seunggu Kim’s Better Days was visually very appealing with it’s pink and green palette and its stories of Korean people en masse trying to relax on mini-breaks.

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Amani Willett’s The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer was a historical mystery and an attempt to understand her father’s need for solitude by following in the footsteps of Joseph Plummer, an 18th century hermit who became a legend in his own lifetime. It looked at themes of escape, peace and geography all at once, and really requires more time than I had to delve into.

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I then went to Derby Museum & Art Gallery to see the retrospective of Maurice Broomfield’s White Heat of British Industry, 1950s – 60s. This was a substantial exhibition by a photographer whom I was not familiar with. I would have liked to be able to spend more time there, as the images were fascinating – beautifully lit and composed prints of British industrial workers doing their jobs, and made at a time when the role of the manual worker was very much in the public conscience. There was something almost romantic about them, and more than a hint of Soviet photographic influence. Unfortunately, I was short of time and the subject and presentation were not relevant to my current work, so I had to move on.

St Westburgh’s Church – This somewhat bizarre and freezing venue was the location for the Kassel Dummy Photobook Award. I spent a long time there looking at different book formats. There were numerous examples of books with inserts, different page sizes and varying papers, (including rubber and fabric covers) as well as more traditional styles. The second prize winner, Watertanks in Mathare Slum by Filippo Romano was one that caught my eye. It was made up as a lined jotter with handwritten notes, although the original jotter has been printed on a much stronger plasticised paper which gives it an odd, texture – no longer the original but something else. I also enjoyed Sensor, by Holger Krischke, Thomas Haubner and students of University of Fine Arts Münster, which was a multisensory scrapbook with bits of sandpaper, bubblewrap etc. alongside the images. Plenty of food for thought here.

The Smallprint Company exhibit was in a lovely old-fashioned print studio and consisted of a mere thirteen small images spread about the walls alongside all the usual paraphernalia of a working studio. Unfortunately, there was a workshop going on and I felt a bit inhibited about really examining the work, which was a shame as it was fascinating. Five photographers produced collaged under the title of The Office for Revised Futures. I particularly liked Fernando Martin Godoy‘s landscapes with rectangles seamlessly inserted, and Hannah Hughes Flatland collages, which were tiny and mysterious. I would like to delve into her work in more detail in another post.

Pickford’s House – the two exhibitions here were The Blue Skies Project by Anton Kusters and Ruben Samama and Radical Visions: Camerawork Revisited. The first of these was a series of 1078 Polaroid images of the sky at each of the locations of Nazi concentration camps. The sheer number of images was mindblowing, and it was an object lesson in how one doesn’t need to address a subject head on to make one’s point. I took a quick look around the Cameraworks exhibit, which was obviously highly political, and not particularly relevant to my current studies, but it was interesting to see what was going on in my teenage years, news of which largely passed me by at the time.

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The unexpected highlight of this venue was a room full of toy theatres. I have been considering using the ideas of tunnel books and miniature theatres in some work for a while, and so this was fascinating. I came away buzzing with ideas about what I could do using current images as the base.

The Eagle Market – last stop of the day, and I was feeling a bit footsore and weary by now. The layout of the work did not help and I needed a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate cake to fortify myself beforehand. The exhibits were spread out over the large covered market in unused stall, and were very poorly signposted, so one had to walk up and down all the aisles to find everything. The Alexandra Lethbridge exhibit – The Path of an Honest Man was here. It is not my favourite Lethbridge series (that honour going to Other Ways of Knowing) but I was interested in how she used a variety of very different shapes, layers and subjects to consider the body language of lying. It was all monochrome and rather austere.

The other highlights for me were a very large piece Indecisive, by Dominic Chapman, which used Photoshop layers to very good effect (see image 1 below), a set of beautiful collages of Punjabi families overlaid with regional print patterns by Yasmin Nilupa(Image 2 below) and a series called An Englishman’s Search for the Irish Border by Tristan Poyser, which spawned a subsequent public participation project on how people viewed the border, by tearing images in half and writing a sentence to describe their feelings about Brexit.

Overall, a good day out, and I’m surprised I managed to get so much into a single day.

Review of ‘Time’ exhibition

This exhibition, organised and curated by OCA’s Thames Valley group has been in the pipeline for at least 18 months and it was wonderful to see the fruits of our labours at The Lightbox in Woking for a fortnight at the beginning of February 2019. When I say the fruits of our labours, most of it was really the labours of the exhibition sub-group of Catherine, Teresa, Dawn, Sue, Jonathan and Monica. The rest of us submitted work on the theme of ‘Time’ and only had to present it and our Artists’ Statements/hanging instructions at the appropriate point. We almost all made it to the hanging up day, and it was great to finally see our efforts up on the wall in a proper gallery.

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Set-up with Michael, Richard and Gerry

The Lightbox gallery is a plain room in a building which is a bit of a landmark in the town, and our exhibition coincided with a Gillian Wearing installation and Women in Photography: A History of British Trailblazers so we were hopeful that footfall would be good. Certainly, in terms of the visitor’s book, there were more comments than I had expected.

My own offering was a wall-hung lightbox of some of the work I made for Assignment 1, Remember When? I presented it as eight cut-out photographs from my father-in-law’s collection in a single large frame.

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In theory, the idea was that viewers could choose to switch on and off the lightbox, which would give different meaning to the images, but the Health & Safety elves decreed that it should either be switched On or Off, which was a shame. It was the first work on the right of the entry, and so had good visibility. It was certainly eye-catching, and although I still have many doubts about it myself, it seemed to get mostly positive attention, although I did overhear one person saying she didn’t understand it at the Artists’ Evening.

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Artists’ evening

I had no intention of selling the work and had not put a price on it. However, a couple of other students, Kate and Michael sold some of their work, which must have been very satisfying.

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Gerry, Kate and Keith’s work for the ‘Time’ exhibition.

Overall it was a very satisfying experience, and as I have been discussing with some fellow students and notwithstanding the historical sex bias, if women don’t submit work for exhibitions and competitions because of lack of confidence, we are never going to reach a point of parity with men in art collections. (Still cannot get over the fact that only 20 of the 2300 works held by the National Portrait Gallery are by women). So I have decided to start submitting work for local events this year, and will be submitting to the Bath Festival Fringe and the Open Exhibition at the Richard Jeffreys Museum this summer. The main aim will be to practise presenting work for submission, and if I am successful that will be an added bonus.

Finally, this event gave me the push to get some business cards made, and I am inordinately proud of them.  I have described myself as ‘Photographer and Paper Artist’ – something of a stretch, but I hopefully plan to become one in the future.
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Things I learned from this experience:

  • Work which requires a lightbox needs to have one that automatically switches on and off intermittently. It is much easier to present work in a standard format (which goes completely against the grain with me).
  • Get some packing materials well in advance. My artwork packing was perfunctory and was a problem on the takedown day as it was raining heavily.
  • Have a selection of work more or less ready for submissions at all times. I missed out on potentially having work at the OCA’s exhibition at the OXO Tower in London last autumn because all of the work I was happy with was already committed elsewhere.

References

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/press-and-media/press-releases/the-national-gallery-acquires-artemisia-gentileschi-self-portrait