Archives for category: art

Anthony McCall’s light sculptures make me want to play. Digitally projected lines in a dark, smoke-filled room make intangible walls of smoky white light. Once my eyes were used to the darkness I spent some time walking through these misty barriers and playing with shadows against a soundscape of trickling water and muted traffic sounds. The water sound feels close, and the traffic far away. I pictured the water like a little brook nearby. It was very relaxing. In one room a man was standing quietly, looking at the light work. I wanted to play around in it but felt like I would be disturbing him. I felt like he was missing out by not walking through the work. The Hepworth’s website talks about the viewers becoming ‘active participants’ which I usually read as art-world speak for ‘go and get stuck in’.

Two video works are also on display. Landscape for Fire, 1972, has a ritualistic, mystical air to it. Three or four people dressed in white walk around a grassy field, setting alight little circular tins set up in a grid. The orange of the flames stand out against the dark grass, the grey sky, and the white clothes made blue by the dawn light. The wind whistles and the matches flare. It was planned but not rehearsed, which is perhaps why it feels organic and very real. Crossing the Elbe, 2015, is different. It’s set in an industrial landscape, all shipyards and high rise buildings. McCall installed three 5-mile searchlights on top of buildings in Hamburg to point in different directions across the city. The video is short shots of the lights bisecting the sky in different parts of the city, with the noise of the city in the background. I was expecting this to feel more hurried, like how a city feels more stressful than a field, but it was as relaxing as Landscape for Fire. Maybe even more so – Landscape for Fire has a sense of urgency to it, like something is compelling those people to light those fires, like they have to do it before daybreak. There is less action, more stillness in Crossing the Elbe. Combined, these two works refuse the dichotomy of urban/busy and natural/peaceful.

McCall’s technical preparatory drawings show the calm logic underpinning the light sculptures. I appreciate artists who can translate cold, hard science into something tangible and emotional. It’s a delight to insert yourself physically into McCall’s light sculptures that look like three dimensional graphs. McCall’s use of light as a medium left me uplifted and lighthearted.

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TW/CN: physical violence, state violence, rape, animal abuse.

One of my New Years resolutions is to marry my Russian degree to my quest to see all art ever. This has been largely inspired by a great book I got for Christmas (Cosmic Shift: Contemporary Russian Art Writing). I like it because it makes me look intelligent on the tube.

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The Blue Noses Group – 25 Short Performances about Globalisation, 2007

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism at Saatchi shows contemporary Russian protest art as humorous (in which case the artists will be monitored by the state) or hardcore (the artists will be subjected to multiple psychiatric assessments or will be arrested and imprisoned in labour camps). The Blue Noses Group’s Laurel-and-Hardyesque 25 Performances About Globalisation (2007) addresses issues like Americanisation by putting fireworks down their trousers and farting across television screens. I chuckled away. Natalia Nudina’s rabbit fur bust of Lenin, called Lenin’s Winter Attire (2017), is endearing and funny.

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Natalia Yudina – Lenin’s Winter Attire, 2017

Pussy Riot – the most recognisable protest art to come out of post-Soviet Russia – rightly fill a whole gallery. Various video documentations of their protest songs play simultaneously, filling the space with an unmelodious, indiscernible punk sound. Protest banners on Nadya Tolikonnikova’s hunger strike to protest prison conditions – inmates working 22 hour days and being raped and beaten by guards – line the walls. I consider the protest group to be serious activists and artists, whereas the gallery interpretation referred to Pussy Riot as ‘fearless young women’. This feels gendered and patronising. No other artist in the exhibition was praised for their fearlessness – it’s as if it’s especially surprising that women are fighting for shit because they’re women and the weaker sex. My BA gender tutor (hello Connor Doak) pointed out that people see Pussy Riot as silly girls who didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, but that asking for mother Mary to get rid of Putin and the lyrics ‘Putin has pissed himself’ show them to be artist activists who are not stupid and are not playing. Elsewhere the interpretation referred to art ‘romanticising the image of Nadya Tolikonnikova as a heroine fighting against the oppression of the state’. The word ‘romanticising’ suggests a degree of exaggeration and fabrication that had not been applied to the activist roles of any of the male artists. Fuck this.

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Pussy Riot

I enjoyed the presentation of Pyotr Pavlensky’s work. He’s the one who nailed his scrotum to the cobbles of Red Square. His work is violent. For Carcass, he wrapped his naked self in barbed wire to protest the Russian legal system. He set fire to the doors of the FSB (the successor to the KGB) in a piece called Threat. He has been subject to psychoanalysis six times, and always judged sane. There is a taste of Guerrilla warfare in his practice. At Saatchi, documentation of his work is displayed in black cordoned off spaces, and a reconstruction of his art-philosophical debates with his prosecuting investigator, which led to the investigator changing sides. It’s dark, it’s tense, it feels like a prison cell might.

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Pyotr Pavlensky – Carcass, 2013

Arsen Savadov’s Donbass – Chocolate series is interesting in its contrast of masculinity and femininity. These photographs show Donbass miners, some naked, some wearing ballet tutus, all covered in filth and staring into the camera, holding the viewer’s gaze. The photos are stark and textured – the tulle of the tutus, the smears of dirt over the men, the glisten of wet floors and wet skin.

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Arsen Savadov – Donbass – Chocolate, 1997

The weird bestial eroticism of Oleg Kulik left a bad taste in my mouth. Pavlensky’s work is shocking, the arrests of so many of these post-Soviet artists is shocking, but I can deal with that. Turns out I can’t deal with Kulik literally putting his head inside a cow’s vagina, or resting his dick on the back of a kitten. Russia isn’t known for its animal rights record, but deal with your crisis of masculinity in a way that doesn’t involve animal abuse.

Kulik was intended to be the opening room, but I accidentally went through the exhibition backwards (the gallery guide was £1 and fuck that) so unfortunately the show ended sourly for me. Otherwise, I think this exhibition clearly demonstrates the often violent oppression under which these artists practise. The seeming violence of these artist activists makes sense to me. There is little to be done by quiet protest in post-Soviet Russia.

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Monochrome after Van Gogh Sunflowers: 1-12

Sherrie Levine’s show is about art and appropriation. There are bronze casts of works by unknown artists (or at least artists unnamed in this exhibition). There are photographs of reproductions of photographs by Russell Lee. Who made these works? Who do they belong to? Are these authentic artworks?

Complex questions, and Levine’s response leaves me cold. I’m not convinced that reproducing the work of others and saying ‘look, this is appropriation, see how I appropriate’ is enough to make the appropriation ok or worthwhile, and I don’t see what it adds to the debate about appropriation, especially when appropriating stuff that is so often appropriated anyway. Punch up, not down.

Gamelan Figures

Also, I found it boring. I love me some conceptual art, all that shit that makes some people despise contemporary art. But Levine’s Monochromes after Van Gogh Sunflowers: 1-12 is, to me, an oversized Dulux colour chart of Van Gogh’s drabbest colours.

Detail from After Russell Lee: 1-60

Her photo series After Russell Lee: 1-60 interests me a little more. Russell Lee’s photographs of rural American life – generally beaut – are seen by some as exploitative, so maybe there’s a suggestion of ‘how bad is it to reproduce these images when the original artist isn’t exactly clean as a whistle’. It is also conceptually interesting and politically charged for a female artist to work with appropriation of works by famous male artists. But realistically, they’re the same potentially exploitative images. It made me think about rural life in America. It didn’t really make me think about art. Somehow this show didn’t do it for me. If you don’t get to see it today before it closes you’ll survive.

CN/TW: discussion of domestic violence, Nigella Lawson/Charles Saatchi.

Sophie Neville

As an architecture gallery, Anise Gallery’s show puts buildings at the centre of its response to the ‘Nasty Women’ movement of art and activism, focusing, among other things, on the domestic as an architectural space. Many of the works displayed contemplate violence and the domestic. Theresa Bradbury’s Untitled is a photograph of a naked young woman, smiling coyly at the camera, wallpaper patterns cut into her paper flesh. Wallpaper surfaces again in Rachel Ara’s Cameo series, based on photographs of Nigella Lawson being strangled by Saatchi. Women’s bodies and the home, as pretty and comforting as they may seem, are places of violence.

Theresa Bradbury Untitled

A radical embroidery piece by Sophie Neville in this show reads ‘A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RIOT’ in cross stitch on an embroidery ring. There’s also an installation of translucent cylinders, based on the shape of an embroidery ring, enclosing Martha Rosler’s seminal video piece Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. The supposed primness of embroidery and the notion of the woman’s place being in the home is powerfully disrupted by the sound of Rosler demonstrating the use of various kitchen tools, cutting, grating and sawing.  On the way to this show I listened to a podcast on the politics of textiles in art, and recently I’ve been enjoying Hannah Hill’s radical embroidery on Instagram. I now want to know everything about the politics of needlework (all book suggestions appreciated). Neville’s piece at Anise Gallery is feminine and powerful, it made me laugh and filled me with energy.

Rachel Ara Cameo series

For me the most powerful work was Rachel Ara’s Doom III (The Death of Ana Mendieta). I’ve discussed Ana Mendieta’s story before, pushed to her death from her 34th-floor apartment by her husband, and this work digitally reconstructs her murder scene. Ara depicts the space where Mendieta’s body would have lain as a dip in the ground, a nod a burial plot as well as to Mendieta’s work, used against her as proof that her death was suicide. It’s also an empty space and an empty scene, reflecting the silence that too regularly meets instances of violence against women, especially women of colour.

Section of Rachel Ara’s Doom III (The Death of Ana Mendieta) pls excuse the rubbish quality, couldn’t get rid of the reflection.

This show is open until 18th November 2017 and art sale proceeds (I think it’s 10%) goes to Rape Crisis South London.

Tal R’s ‘no comment’ comment on sex shops is a reasonably attractive exhibition with no substance. The works are interesting in themselves, but the artist’s decision to paint supposedly unbiased images of sex shops he has never visited across the globe is a dead end. If Tal R is making ‘non-judgemental’ images of sex shops with no comment whatsoever then all he is doing is drawing attention to the existence of sex shops, which everybody knows exist. Thank you for your input.

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‘Allenby’ by Tal R

Ignoring the imposed artificial a-political political element of the show, the works themselves are quite interesting. Tal R’s use of pigment and rabbit skin glue, made much of in the gallery interpretation, makes for richly coloured and glittering canvases. The vibrancy lends a Vegas air to some works, such as Valencia, where a glimmering Wizard of Oz curtain and a glowing chandelier invite the viewer through a doorway at the centre of the painting. The colours are uplifting, and the only monochrome work, Pussy cat, feels very bleak in comparison to the rest.

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‘Valencia’ by Tal R

Formally, the works are varied and engaging. Some, like Allenby and House 44 have a strong sense of perspective, while others like The Pleasure and Babylon are entirely flat, emphasising the plane of the canvas. Tal R renders architectural styles with skill; you can feel the different locations of the paintings. Bar Farao expresses bright, harsh sunlight; heat radiates out of the painting. Whether it’s the Eye of Horus atop the door or just the warmth of the colours, this work feels Mediterranean. There is a strong sense of location in these works.

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‘Bar Farao’ by Tal R

Overall, the formal aspects of the paintings are far superior to the content. These works are not made more interesting by being images of sex shops. This show offers nothing in regards to any current debates around sex, gender, or respectability politics, but uses the existence of the debate to lure people in. Tal R exploits the existence of politically charged spaces and the people within them to add an element of interest to his works. Perhaps next time he should paint pubs.

I’ve always been sceptical when people say they’ve cried in art galleries, their breath literally taken away by a piece of art. I always believed it was at best an exaggeration, at worst a pretension. 

‘Fire’ by Fahrelnissa Zeid


It happened to me yesterday. I walked into a room of Zeid’s glorious abstract paintings, riots of colour, peaceful and dynamic. I stood in front of Fire, 1964, and fought back tears. There is magic in this painting, the rich vibrancy of the blues, the light and depth, the texture of the scratched oil paint, the flash of red flame. It’s like a shower of sparks in a pine forest at dusk.

Next to Fire hangs Puncta Imperica (‘Sea Cave’), 1963. Rounded forms, like rocks worn away by the sea, fill the canvas in blue, orange, green, pink. Looking at this, I can smell the ocean.

Detail from ‘Untitled’ by Fahrelnissa Zeid


This show took my breath away. I will always sing the praises of a smaller space – a blockbuster of 12 rooms leaves me grumpy and exhausted. Five or six rooms is enough to show Zeid’s mastery of colour. Sitting in the middle of a room of her gargantuan abstract, mosaic-like canvases is an act of meditation. Her portraits are potent, her subjects wear clothes that could be made from her canvases.

‘Self-Portrait’ by Fahrelnissa Zeid


As a middle eastern woman, Zeid’s work has a different flavour and feel from most of the art available in museums and galleries. You can feel the difference radiating from the canvases. It is exciting. This is what happens when galleries move away from the white male dominance of art history. The viewer is no longer missing out, deprived of art made outside such a narrow perspective. We can see art history with the blinkers off. 

The overload of sound, colour and images in this installation is disorienting.  You’re greeted with a screen of moving shapes, spilling out from the screen onto the walls. The digital blends into the sculptural, the soundscape permeates the whole space and images are huge on the walls.


This installation is bright and unsettling. It’s like being inside a primary-coloured body, or under a microscope. Enormous screen prints in vibrant colours of shapes that could be torsos or maggots or cells cover the walls of the largest space. To get through to other spaces you walk through coloured sheets of transparent plastic, like in an old school butcher’s shop. Through these barriers are more sounds and more screens, showing shapes that change colour and move around, hurting your eyes.


This is a show about the overload of sounds and images we are subject to. Drew talks about ‘the feeling of submersion in social and environmental despair’, which comes across particularly well in the tiny room of speakers and an eye-wateringly bright screen of two circles moving in relation to each other. I didn’t leave feeling unsettled. There was certainly a visual overload, and the words spoken in the installation  made me feel uneasy, but I liked it. I felt I had just seen Good Art, which is always rather uplifting.

 

 

This show of women artists with surrealist practices delighted me. I felt so much more at home here than in the Queer show at Tate.

There’s an enormous sense of reclamation. Women’s bodies are so often the object in art, a way of allowing the male artist to fully express themselves, or as a representation of monstrous form for the male artist to overcome to reach true abstraction (this is plucked from Carol Duncan’s ‘Civilising Rituals’ which is a fantastic educational experience and you should read it, especially the last chapter).

 Corpus, Penelope Slinger

In Dreamers Awake, the body is reclaimed as ours, but not without laying bare some of the pain of being an objectified woman. Mary Ann Caws is quoted on the wall:

There they are, the surrealist women, so shot and painted, so stressed and dismembered, punctured and severed: is it any wonder she has (we have) gone to pieces?

Below this is a masterful demonstration of pain. Penelope Slinger’s Corpus is a collage of an open female corpse, chest, heart and intestines hung on a leafless vine crawling up a derelict building. It’s dark and hauntingly sad, a carcass of a woman. Woman is bound by rope in both Maria Bartuszová’s Rebound Torso and Jo Ann Callis’ Untitled (Tied Up).

Rebound Torso, Maria Bartuszová, and Untitled (Tied Up), Jo Ann Callis

A room of collaborations between Tracy Emin and Louise Bourgeois is a treasure chest. I love it when you can understand a work without any written interpretation, and here is a room of works which reached inside me and spoke truth. It’s all mothers, pain, and women hanging themselves from dicks, so read into that what you will. It was like therapy, a little catharsis to open the show.

Leonora Corrington, Title Unknown

The other works are less raw but still dark and unsettling. Works by Alina Szapocznikow, Rachel Kneebone and Berlinde de Bruyckere show body parts in a mix of comedy and uncanny. I love the creepy, desolate, two-moon landscape of Loie Hollowell’s Body of Water (in Yellow). Sarah Lucas and Mona Hatoum are at their finest funny-at-first-and-then-you-start-to-think. There’s a whole host of Leonora Carrington, whose work I love but until this show I had never seen in real life. I like the immense detail of her work and its illustrative quality. I’m never sure if they’re dream-like or nightmarish.

 

Body of Water (in Yellow), Loie Hollowell

 

Identity underlies many of the works. Elizabeth Jaeger’s works Wrapper, Sleeve, and Cloak show ceramic women’s bodies as costumes draped over stands, waiting to be worn. Gillian Wearing’s portrait of Lily Cole wearing a cracked mask of her own face is unsettling, a beautiful but broken china doll staring at the viewer.

Walking round the gallery I felt an affinity with many of the works on show. I can understand so many of them. It’s empowering to be in a space full of women, and White Cube managed to avoid what so many people and institutions do (‘look at all these ladies doing art, haven’t they done well?’), but instead created a show where women artists demonstrate all their multiplicity and intellectual strength.

Lily Cole, Gillian Wearing

 

 

I was early to meet a friend for this little art trip, so I lurked in the bookshop. I picked up a copy of Matt Houlbrook’s ‘Queer London’. The blurb contained the following line:

He also describes how London shaped the politics of queer life; and how London was in turn shaped by the lives of queer men.

Queer men, everyone. Not queer people, or the queer community, you’ll notice. This level of erasure of queer women (hello) and non-binary folk did not instil me with great hopes for the exhibition. I was livid before I’d even got through the door.

So I went in thinking it’d be a bit shit and fall short of what the British Queer community deserve. Tate seems to be aware of how easy it is to mess up shows like this. The wall text set out a lot of boundaries and caveats – the show looks at the specific time period 1861 – 1967, the dates of the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy and the partial decriminalisation of sex between men respectively. These dates don’t refer to gay women and it was highlighted throughout the show that gay women were largely ignored by the law. This isn’t the Tate’s fault, obviously, but it irks me nonetheless. The text did contain this nice little phrase ‘this is a history punctuated by bonfires and dustbins’, which succinctly encapsulates the violence experienced by the queer community throughout history. But they’ve also claimed that there is ‘little surviving material’ for some aspects of queer life, which increased my apprehension about whose perspectives the show would platform.

Simeon Solomon’s ‘The Bride, the Bridegroom and Sad Love’ 1865

Like queer history, the show focuses mostly on gay men. Tate did well to try to show a diverse view of queer identities, including two lovers identifying as one person, and various relationships of three people or more. But it is largely a show about white cis gay men.
Diversity of experience aside, the multiplicity of feeling in queer life is shown well. Aubrey Beardsley’s uproarious, erotic and high lols drawings depicts men with massive cocks literally bigger than them. Homoeroticism, sex and humour are at the forefront of these images. Compare these to Simeon Solomon’s The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love, a devastating drawing showing the heartbreak of a homosexual entering into a heterosexual marriage, and leaving behind former lovers. There’s a richness of sexuality and emotion in the works on show.

Aubrey Beardsley ‘The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors’ 1896

Rooms 3 & 4 are nicely juxtaposed, showing two opposite sides of queerness living side by side. ‘Theatrical types’ in room 4 showcases the camp and the glam of queerness, our love of feathers and tiaras, how the theatrical arena has long been a safe space for queer people. This room, with its costumes and photographs of Vaudeville cross dressing stars, is the art historical equivalent of Pride and Drag Race.

Leaving behind the glitz and glamour, the next room, ‘Bloomsbury and Beyond’, is filled largely with images of domesticity, of afternoon tea and vases of flowers. Ethel Sands’ Tea with Sickert shows a warm domestic scene with the table laid for tea, and is hardly an explicit or erotic depiction of homosexuality. Here is the deeply mundane, sheer normality of queer life. In the words of comedian Susan Calman, it’s not all sex swings and dildos.

Ethel Sands’ ‘Tea with Sickert’ 1911-12

A blockbuster show of Queer Art in a major institution is quite something. Undoubtedly it demonstrates the relatively new openness that surrounds the LGBT+ community, and is something to be celebrated as a mark of ‘how far we’ve come’. It’s also easy to get wrong. Tate has managed OK, there are numerous portrayals of non gay-cis-white-male aspects of queerness, and Tate has addressed some shortfallings directly, such as pointing out Edward Wolfe’s racist exoticisation of his black male models, but failed entirely to reference any gay women of colour. Filling the last room with Hockney and Bacon underlined the prominence of white cis gay artists on the queer art scene. Perhaps this is why I found the show a bit dull. If the remit of the show extended past 1967 maybe Tate would not be able to hide behind history as a reason for omitting aspects of queer life.

 

I like the wetness of Maisie Cousins’ work. The sexuality is so obvious it screams at you. A wet finger enters the petals of a flower, with red flecks like menstrual blood. Viscous, clear liquid dripping off orchids. Turgid flower stems. Cousins doesn’t fuck about.

It’s also gross, with slugs crawling over boobs and ants over fruit, and a video of a millipede squirming around over roses. Bodily-fluid-esque slime mixes with snail slime. The natural grossness that exists in sex is addressed in Cousins’ photographs.

The erect stems of flowers drip with sex much more than the nudes do. A hypersexualised flower next to a natural bum is refreshing – you can see hair where hair normally grows.

The show is pretty and femme. The flowers are pink and white, the walls are bubblegum, and the floor is gold mirror – a little sexy disco grotto. I could see up my own skirt in the reflection from the floor and I spent some time trying to make my own bum mimic the massive bum print on the wall (I had the gallery to myself). I don’t know if that was what the gold mirror floor was there for but I enjoyed it.

Cousins’ work feels very cool. The show is like walking into an uber-femme zine. I am looking forward to seeing how her practice develops as trends change and I suspect she will be leading the charge.