Tag Archives: Exhibitions

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)

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)

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

 

Assignment 1 ready to exhibit

I’ve been pretty quiet on here lately, but activity is still continuing. With the Thames Valley Group putting on an exhibition at the Lightbox in Woking for a fortnight, from next Tuesday, I submitted an idea for a revised version of my A1 work Remember When…? and it was accepted back in the autumn. Cue a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ hiatus while I got over the feeling that my work was rubbish. In the meantime, I was still playing around with cutouts and introduced the idea of a light table following the workshop with Paul Kenny. (He is using backlighting for his newer work, very successfully). Eventually I decided that my offering for the exhibition should be a series of my A1 altered images framed on a light table. My lovely local framers, St Johns in Devizes made me a hanging frame for the table, and a non-standard mountboard to accommodate eight images. I have spent the last few days trying out different images in it, with and without transparent coloured PVC backing, and eventually decided that for this series, I would show them directly on the white light table. They are now all packed up and ready to go to Woking tomorrow for hanging. I will post a proper image of them in the gallery, but here is a quick taster of what it will look like.

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Fig. 1 Framed version of ‘Remember When’ (2019)

For those who did not see the original assignment, these are my deceased father-in-law’s photographs, which I have altered by cutting out parts, in order to give them a new life and meaning. I have to say that they have come out far better than I could have imagined and my husband is very keen to find a place we can hang the frame at home after the exhibition. Given that this was the original purpose of the exercise, I am feeling quietly satisfied.

Also, I was pleased to be featured both on the flyer for the exhibition, shown below, and on the OCA Instagram feed. Fame, at last!

PS I could be spending a lot of money on light tables for future work, as I really enjoy making these images.

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Fig. 1 Woodward, H. (2019) Framed version of ‘Remember When’. [Cut photographs framed on a light table] In possession of : the author.

 

Thomas Ruff – Tripe

I was in London with my son yesterday, and feeling uninspired by what was on at most of our regular exhibition haunts, we decided to head over to the Natural History Museum for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year show. On route through the South Ken underpass, we noticed that the new V&A photography galleries are open and immediately changed the plan to visit those. To our great surprise, the first thing we saw when we entered the gallery was a new series by Thomas Ruff, called Tripe. A very uninspiring title to a Brit, for whom the word tripe conjures up WW2 austerity and hideous floppy white offal at the more adventurous butchery establishments in France and Spain. Yeuch! But I digress.

Linnaeus Tripe turns out to have been one of the first Victorian surveyors to travel to India and Myanmar with a quality camera in the 1850s, and his intentions were artistic as well as functional. Ruff came across his work when asked to do a project for the new gallery and decided to use the paper negatives as the basis of some new work. He was intrigued by the quality of the paper negatives after 160 years, with all the effects that time and atmospheric conditions have wrought on them, so took phone pictures of some and returned to Dusseldorf to work with them. I should point out at this stage that Tripe had embellished the negatives with painted clouds and other interventions and so the originals are hybrids between photography and painting.

Ruff then used Photoshop technology to turn the images into positives and alter them to give an impression of how the originals looked. He also blew up the images so that one can see the texture of the paper as part of the new work. The results are large images which rest somewhere between photography and brush arts, and they have a peculiar ethereal quality which is at odds with their size. One of them is shown below.

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Ruff’s work always blows me away because it looks at the photograph in a totally different way from most artists. His focus is on their material nature and how this can be altered  and resized to bring attention to this side of the object. While Ruff was fascinated by the unusual paper negatives, his reinterpretation of them both brings out the detail in the originals and puts his own mark on them too.

There is no accompanying catalogue in book form, but I purchased a broadsheet ezine on the work for the princely sum of £5, which will be added to my shelf of artist’s books. And, without going into any detail, the rest of the images on show were an interesting mix of old and new. Well worth a visit, and it looks like they will be changing what is on quite regularly.

 

A2 – some background research

Yesterday, I was in London and popped in to The Photographers’ Gallery to check out the exhibition All I Know Is On The Internet, the title of which has been taken from one of President Trump’s excuses for not knowing about something. I had hoped it might be helpful for my assignment and was not disappointed. The introductory blurb states that the aim of the exhibition is to

consider the digital conditions under which photography is produced and the bodies and machines which help automate the processing of visual content online.

As such it is a combination of very disparate ideas and formats, not all of which gel together. There were several video exhibits which I could not get close to as a group of school students was mesmerised by them, so this review will concentrate on some of the other work. I am not going to look at everything, but will pick out some of the most relevant exhibits for what I am thinking about, which is how our individual use of the internet mediates what it offers us to look at.

First up was a Heath Robinson machine to flick through Instagram images randomly in order to trick the algorithms into offering a more diverse content. It is part of the #stopthealgorithm campaign, a reaction against the big business tech companies directing our viewing content through their system algorithms. The #stopthealgorithm website is a mine of potential ideas and I will be delving into it in more detail later on.

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I also very much enjoyed the concept of the Captcha wall, where the artist had made a screenshot every time a Captcha screen came up on his computer for five years. Captcha was started to try to differentiate humans from bots and is a feature of many sites’ joining instructions page.

IMG_0097v2In a similar vein, but with a different context was the Batallions of Simcards exhibit, combining hundreds of used simcards taken from the phones which had been used to make fake accounts to be used by bots, (if I recall correctly – I didn’t take a note of the details of this one).

IMG_0099v2Then there was a series of circles which showed the faces of the engineers who maintain the cameras on the Google Street View cars. As we know, Google tries to automatically disguise the faces it comes across on its tours around the globe, but it is not always successful and these are some of the results.

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Finally, there was a series of individual images which captured those times when rapid scanning of documents for internet archives was not rapid enough, and the hand of the person doing the scanning appears in the image. Visually, this was a strong series, with interesting colours and a great variety of types of document scans.

IMG_0112v2 As ever, the Gallery puts on a special section of the bookshop relating to their current exhibition subjects and I spent a considerable time looking through some of the books for sale on the digital world. I finally settled for Omar Kholeif’s (2018) Goodbye, World: Looking at Art in the Digital Age, although was also strongly tempted by Melanie Bonajo’s Matrix Botanica: Non Human Persons, in which she addresses why we take and share so many images of animals doing strange and funny things.

Footnote

I always find an unexpected gem in the exhibition space downstairs, where individual artist’s prints are for sale. This time, I was struck by Alma Haser’s 3D collage Calatheas, shown below. I’ve been following her work on Instagram for several years, but had not realised she had moved into 3D work. It was very much in her style, but had the feel of a jigsaw puzzle, and I was intrigued by the different layers peeping through the surfaces.

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SW OCA study day – curating

Yesterday, I attended an excellent meeting of the OCA South West group. The theme of the day was exhibition curation and it was led by OCA tutor Michele Whiting. As usual, the programme for the day was tutor led work in the morning and student’ work in progress in the afternoon.

Michele began by giving us a brief history of artist curation from the late 1980s, starting with Damien Hirst’s led The Freeze, a group exhibit put together by Goldsmiths students, which was the first time that work had been taken outside the gallery setting and curated by the artists themselves. Prior to this, they were dependent on catching the eye of  one of the rather exclusive gallerists, but the BritArt group pioneered the use of other spaces and opened up exhibiting to a much wider range of artists.

She described the role of the artist curator (a particular term describing artists who exhibit their own work) as ‘translating and moderating the artwork from the place of production to the space of public display.’ Interesting use of the words place and space, for consideration later. This type of exhibition

  • brings objects artefacts and artwork together through a knowing, non-verbal dialogue
  • brings material knowledge to the expression of display
  • creates a narrative through collation, i.e. making new meanings through curation
  • can consider what and exhibition can be

We moved on to some theoretical discussion about exhibitions being dialogic spaces, encouraging a conversation within and about the space. It can question, point towards, elucidate and illuminate. Artist curation can be a medium in itself. An artist curator is telling a story, or at the least, providing pointers for the viewer to make up their own story. We also touched on practical considerations, such as thinking about how to encourage visitors back more than once, legacy aspects (important for funding applications) …..

For the workshop section we broke into groups and were asked to put together an idea for exhibiting and promoting the disparate objects that each of us had brought. The work my group had to marry together was a sculpture, a children’s book, some handmade paper and my assignment 1 work using lightboxes and old family photos.  (see below)

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At first we were flummoxed, but then Michele suggested we think about accessibility, and we were off. Before too long, we had designed and thought of promotional ideas for a small travelling exhibition with a draft name of Please Do Touch.  The references are obvious with the sculpture and paper, but my lightbox work would be changed to individual acetate backed photos that visitors could change themselves to see the patterns, while we thought we could emboss the illustrations in Dorothy’s book, add a Braille text below, and have it being read aloud on a loop as well. The concept was a table-top collection of objects that people with sight issues, learning disabilities, dementia homes etc. could hold, smell and feel. We would then offer a workshop alongside for the participants to have a go at making something themselves. The exhibition would tour locations where our target audience met or lived and we thought perhaps it might open at the Exeter Sight Village. We were chuffed to have Michele come up, after all the groups had presented, to suggest that the idea had legs and that we should seriously think about doing it for real.

We also thought about venues, practical stuff like licenses, promotion (Anna G reported that an art centre had recently told her that 80% of footfall for exhibitions come from targeted advertising, and only 20% from flyers), size of exhibition and any particular events that we wanted to run alongside. Michele said that many exhibitions struggle because the communication to the public is poor, rather than the subject or venue.

She finished by saying that how we construct a show is part of its nature, and that the venue is as important as the work. When collaborating, a clearly understood group vision is vital. When thinking about putting a show together, start with the nature of the work, and then move on to the type of exhibition, space, promotions etc. Clarity of thought is essential.  Also, allow enough time (2 years is not too long). There are many issues to sort out and it really needs to be run as a project management exercise if it is to work well. Finally , we talked about catalogues, whether they were necessary, who should write them (it doesn’t have to be the exhibitors themselves) and a reminder that they are a part of the exhibition, so creative thinking is helpful.

It was very different from many of the study events I have attended, and refreshingly academic in tone, and I came away thinking I had really learned something new.

The rest of the day was occupied with showing students’ work and talking about how the assessment process works. There was some wonderful work there, two pieces of which are shown below. I can’t recall the name of the lady who had produced the textile work, but the second is Liz Nunn’s fascinating 3D photographs, which she intends to make into a star book.

 

 

Spellbound, Oxford

On Thursday I visited the Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford at the invitation of Kate Aston. I hadn’t actually been to the Ashmolean before, despite its relatively close proximity to where I live, and it is so easy to get to that I have resolved to keep an eye out for other future exhibitions which might be of interest. The museum itself is a surprise – very modern behind the traditional façade and much bigger inside than it appears externally.

The exhibition itself was very eclectic, with everything from book engravings to multimedia installations and the title reflects the subjects of the three main rooms. The first was given over to the place of magic in the lives of people until relatively recently. I am not a believer in religion myself and it was very easy to see the parallels between religious and magical beliefs. Both depended on staying on the right side of forces which could not be understood, and for Mediaeval people life was ‘a delicate balancing act between environmental pressures and the use of magical interventions to control destiny‘. The pieces on show varied enormously from complex armillary spheres (reminding me of Lyra’s alethiometer in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, which was unsurprising given that the book takes place in an alternate version of Oxford) to crystal balls, witch flasks (supposedly containing the spirits of witches) and complex manuscripts explaining the system of beliefs which underlaid much of the ritual of Mediaeval life. So much of it could be paralleled with religious rules and artefacts, and it all made me reconsider once again how we humans are pre-programmed with a spiritual side that has always quested for meaning to our lives. The belief systems by which we do it may differ around the world but the fundamental need is universal.

The second section looked at the rituals which people routinely undertook to make them feel safer in a dangerous world. I particularly liked Katherine Dowson’s installation of light beaming of a crystal heart alongside unidentifiable sounds. The work considered the role of the hearth and wall of the home in providing a centre of safety away from the outside world. There’s a short video explaining her work below.

There were poignant collections  (hordes) of mixed items which had been found up chimneys and behind walls, but little explanation of why people would make these little secret shrines, and I even wondered whether they were intentional or not. We cannot help but try to interpret their meaning. In particular, single shoes appeared again and again and we really don’t know their significance. The catalogue suggests that perhaps items of clothing tied the home and the person together metaphysically, but there is no solid evidence for this belief. One wonders what other secret treasures are held within the walls of old buildings (even my own house, built in the early 1800s),  whether they will one day be found and how future generations might interpret the ‘time capsules’ which we hide today. Alongside clothing and personal items there were also a variety of revolting toads, animal hearts, etc. pierced with nails, and various door markings which were probably protective symbols.

The final room was all about the evil art of witchery and was fascinating in a different way. Up until this point, the general theme was of people trying to protect themselves as best they could in a dangerous spiritual world. This last room though was all about the other side of this belief system – blaming people when things went wrong. We learned that 4 out of five people accused of being witches were women, most being post menopausal dependants, which led me to consider the role of precarious role of the mother-in-law in the home in previous centuries; homes which were often very small, with little income and where people who could not pay their way were expendable. There was an underlying fear of older women’s authority in the home, and one can see that accusing another  of being a witch or bringing bad luck was a way of removing that influence. There were some truly astounding statistics, such as Matthew Hopkins’ trial and murder of 100 people between 1645-47 in his self-appointed role of Witchfinder General (great title). He toured England during this period charging towns sums of up to £23 to try and kill accused witches. £23 was a significant sum in those days, and this gig sounds like a nice little earner for him.

Surprisingly, the outcome of a trial was not a foregone conclusion,  and only about half finished with a guilty verdict. There were many complex ways of testing a witch’s veracity, such as weighing them against the Parish Bible (which clearly favoured the better fed, as if you weighed more than it, you were off the hook), and dunking people. This all sounds rather stupid from our point of view these days, but clearly the threat of being charged with witchcraft was a significant concern in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the early 1700s though, the practice of trying people for witchcraft had died out in England and many other Western countries gave up the practice during the following century. Almost unbelievably though, the laws against witchcraft in the UK were only repealed in 1951, and the belief in witchcraft remains underneath the surface to this day. And of course, some countries still believe in witchcraft and undertake undercover trials and executions to this day.

The exhibition concluded with some consideration of modern rituals and magical thinking. We still routinely make small rituals without really thinking about why we do it, such as not walking under ladders, or crossing our fingers. Alongside this, there has been a resurgence in interest in non-religious spirituality and magic, which seems to be gradually offering an alternative to organised religion as a belief system, at least in some parts of the world. I live near Avebury, seat of much pagan ritual, and often see ribbons and fetishes tied to trees locally, for example. I myself love reading fantasy novels and there’s been a subliminal thread of magical thinking in quite a lot of my previous OCA work, especially during Context & Narrative which needs pulling to see where it leads.

At the same time, our political landscape is full of references to witches, whether it be Teresa May and Maggie Thatcher or Donald Trump’s ‘witch hunts’. I feel that we are currently (right in the middle of the Kavenaugh Supreme Court hearings)at a point where the advance of women’s rights is being curtailed by people whose aims bear more than a limited resemblance to the original witch hunters –  to disgrace and limit the power and rights of older, independent, knowledgeable women, and to pillory them for speaking up against injustice, particularly in the United States but one can its effects in Western Europe as well.

I’m used to seeing the London exhibitions and this was much smaller, meaning that I left wishing there had been more to look at. There was so much that resonated for me with my own work and the current wider political landscape. My mind is now buzzing with research lines and ideas. Thank you, Kate, for suggesting it.

Helen Sear at Hestercombe

Last week, I drove down to Hestercombe to see Helen Sear’s exhibition Prospect Refuge Hazard 2. Hestercombe is in the middle of nowhere, down a long lane near Taunton, but once I had found it, I had a most enjoyable afternoon, pottering around the garden and second-hand bookshop as well as viewing the exhibit itself. The ‘big house’ is largely unfurnished and the upstairs galleries on the first floor were an excellent foil for Helen’s work, being large, airy and grandly faded. The work spread out over several rooms, and was a mixture of photographs and video pieces on the themes of human interaction with animals and the natural world, with particular reference to some work she has been doing with a forestry group.

The work itself was very disparate, with relatively little cross-over between one group of images and another. I have heard Sear speak about her work before and it is generally highly conceptual and takes a while to understand. Most of the images and video were related to trees in one way or another, but in very different ways. Below are a few of the images I saw and which interested me particularly.

The first three are different takes on woodland and I particularly liked that way that Sear has introduced unusual colours and objects into the images – by painting (I think) the gathered brush white (1), introducing green string into the wood (2) and piercing the photograph of a rape field with red sticks (3). These images were all fairly large (A1+ sized) and dominated the rooms they occupied. The fourth images shows a series of 12 back and white photographs of different hay bales in various fields. I very much enjoyed their simplicity and the typological theme. The last image is one of a set of small small pictures, and I am still trying to work out exactly what they show. Each of the images includes a circle in natural surroundings. It could be a mirror or a painting, I don’t know, but it reflected part of the landscape around it. Each image is completely different and equally difficult to interpret and I keep going back to the iPhone pictures I took to try and work out what she has done with them. To me, they were the highlight of a very mentally challenging exhibition.

I came away with several secondhand books, including Sear’s Inside the View, and on the whole I think I preferred the work included in the book to what was on show. Although still conceptual, it was more accessible and I love the layering effects she used in many of the images.

Exhibition – The Shape of Light

P1680332I wasn’t sure what to expect from this exhibition and hadn’t read up about it beforehand. I think I had anticipated something more along the lines of a light show, than the historic walk through abstract photography which was presented. The exhibition has not had great reviews, with people saying it is dry and way too big – sentiments that I would probably agree with. However, I did get quite a lot from it, and some of the work was wonderfully creative and off the wall.

Rather than going through the whole exhibition, I would like to pick out a few works that I really enjoyed. the work of certain photographers was wonderful. However, before all that, I must just refer to the wonderful light in the Turbine Hall. Every time I go there it is different, and always amazing. It reminds me of an empty swimming pool and I cannot resist photographing it each time I go.

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Holly Woodward, 2018

The premise of the exhibition was to place the history of abstract photography alongside some of the other arts which were experimenting in the same field at the same time., so the photographs were interspersed with paintings and sculpture. Oddly though, there were not nearly enough of the non-photographic works to make it seem dualistic – photography was definitely the main purpose and the other pieces seemed to be there as counterpoints only.

The highlights of the exhibition for me were:

  • German Lorca’s Mondrian Window (1960), placed alongside Mondrian’s Composition C (No. 111)

P1680319Why? – it is a photo of something very simple, and I have a collection of similar images myself, but had not thought of framing them as Mondrian inspired abstract works.

  • Kansuke Yamamoto’s The Thrilling Game Related to Photography (1956)

Why? – The piece is a number of large shards of glass, which were photographed from different angles. If you look at it straight on, it appears to be an interesting abstract image, but from the side you can see the glass sticking out into the room. There is an air of subtle violence about it which is very disconcerting among the other abstract work of the time – egg, bits of string and light. I want to look at this photographer’s work in more detail.

  • John Hilliard’s Black Depths and White Expanse (1974)

Why? – I love the apparent simplicity of the duo. It draws you in, and only when you are close up do you see that there is writing around the empty square on the left of each diptych. The two sets mirror each other without being identical and the layout of several different images on the same page is inspired. Makes me want to try to ‘x’tychs.

  • Barbara Kasten’s Photogenic Paintings (cyanotypes, in reality)

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Why? – so simple. A series cyanotypes of veils, but laden with meaning. A veil is used to cover something (someone) but here we see them as objects of interest in their own right.

  • Antony Cairns’ bonkers hacked Kindle screens

Why? – to be honest, I didn’t really look at the subject matter for these, which were images taken at night and then put onto Kindle screens, which he fixed and removed from their housing. What attracted me was the layout, with dozens of little images in glass cases, set out from the wall. I could have spent hours just photographing how they looked from different angles and how the lights from the nearby installation changed them.

  • Maya Rochat’s bizarre but fascinating installation A Rock Is A River (2018)

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This was the final work on show and was probably the most complex visually as well. The installation consisted of five initial images of rocks which she then manipulated physically by damaging them in a random way. Overlaid on them was a constantly changing video of the changes she made in real time, which covers the whole wall, part of the floor and the exit door. There is so much to look at that one hardly knows how to approach it, but I could have sat there for hours looking at the interplay of the video and the images. She was exploring the idea of the structures of the image and the photograph dissolving over time.

Overall, I found the exhibition grew more interesting as one passed through the rooms. The initial work was beautiful, but very static and based on easily identifiable shapes, but as one moved on, the work became more and more complex, and began to explore the physical image and what could be done with it in ways which I found increasingly attracting. I was also pleased to see a rather larger number of women photographers represented than usual. Either abstract photography is something that women have been interested in for a century, or the Tate is making an effort to include more female artists in their collection. I will go with the latter, bearing in mind Frances Morris’s specific mission to include more women’s work in the gallery, and it was refreshing to see.

PS I bought the catalogue, which I don’t normally do at exhibitions, so I must have liked it.