London and Presentation
by Beauchamp Art
Day Trip to London and Thoughts on Displaying Work for BA6
On Wednesday the 5th of March, between units BA5 and 6 of my second year, I made a trip do London to have a look at a range of exhibitions and events that were happening, seeing a range of art and other materials in a short space of time. I thought this would be useful for BA6 as this up-coming unit focuses on display and audience, which I have not considered as thoroughly in previous units, and can often be a weak point within my work, and I usually resort to a basic online display, without exploring the full potential of the objective or digital platforms. However, whilst undergoing the discussions and workshops with Mark Arial Waller, a number of my peers, and my tutor, it is logical for me to now examine how my work is seen rather than just the making and contextualising of a series of pieces.
Having received my feedback for BA5, one of the areas for consideration was the format I wish to use to present my work. It is fine making an interesting piece that critically engages with well-research contextualisation, but if it remains unseen, than it is rendered redundant, becoming nothing but a self-indulgent exercise in generating a range of materials.
This up-coming unit requires at least one, but preferably two exhibitions or displays of our work outside of the studio. I have already begun contemplating the display of my work through projects I signed up for in the previous unit, including the Mark Waller workshops – which will culminate in a display in the teaching space on the top floor of the St Georges building in NUA. In addition to the Firstsite project in Colchester, for which I have been working on a site-specific proposal for a video-installation-interactive-drawing-performance piece. As well as a number of independent projects, including an exhibition of students’ works from across the BA course, that Elizabeth Aubury and I are organising for the week commencing 24th of March concluding on the 28th. Hosted in the upstairs space of at the Fabric Warehouse, I shall be functioning in more of a curatorial role than previous projects, helping select the individuals and pieces that we shall feature, organising the space and scheduling important dates.
Therefore, a visit to a selection of London galleries and exhibitions was a useful experience for observing methods of curating works. Moreover, as I knew very little about what events were happening where, and having a complete lack of knowledge of how to navigate around London effectively and the Underground system, negotiating destinations, prioritising time and transport between events with me peer who I was traveling with was a useful exercise in organisation and time management.
In total, I visited nine venues, including:
Matt’s Gallery, The Whitechapel Gallery, Raven’s Row, The Royal College of Surgeons, The Pace Gallery, The White Cube, Gallery 8 (in passing), the Hayward at the Southbank Centre and the Barbican.
Matt’s Gallery (which is currently hosting Benedict Drew: Heads May Roll) featured an interesting selection of rather well installed sculptural and sound pieces that filled the space without cluttering the environment or any one work over-powering another. A number of the piece incorporated speakers and sound, such as one instillation […] that featured two towers of speaks either side of a platform one could walk through from the first to the third exhibition room. All of which seemed to be playing sound (being functional objects rather than appropriated materials) and was surrounded by some sort of foil paper that encompassed the entirety of the room, giving it a strange retro-sci-fi aesthetic of a pre-digital era; accompanied by paralleling the electronic soundscape.
Admittedly, because of the volume of this piece, it deep seeped into some of the other spaces, through not intrusively so. As in the first exhibiting space, featuring a work […] involving a video installed on a screen embedded in the wall display peculiar visual that resembled 3D fractals, accompanied by a wall of wireless headphones that could be worn by the audience.
Moreover, as there was a large group of students in, we had to wait a short while in the entrance, a sort of art buffering zone, with a bench and table covered in art magazines, and headphones displaying a series of sound works […]. I thought this was a rather effective way of displaying sound, as without a visual accompaniment it can often be difficult to sustain an audience’s attention. As there was a range of reading materials, then they could be listened to passively, like having the radio on in the background, though still providing a platform for the work. The pieces themselves were fairly interesting, and also reminiscent of John Cage’s vocal music, using poly-rhythmic vocal harmonies and similar such techniques that sit between experimental music and sound art, an inevitability for progressive sonic exploration. Although, admittedly, there is a tendency to instinctively read sound art from a historically Western music-bias background, and trying to find some familiar elements in abstract sound; rhythm, harmony, melody, and so forth; or even trying to identify familiar extra-musical noises, atmospheric sounds, voices, or other such anthropological tones.
In the third, largest room of the exhibition there were a number of sculptural pieces, notably two raised platforms […] with various paraphernalia an sound equipment protruding from the surface, like a bizarre landscape, with the inclusion of various video elements, such as the motorcycle helmet with green goo slowly being pored over it [Headroom].
Two more pieces also stood out, one was a hole cut into one of the walls leading to a window to the outside that was covered by an orange film […] allowing for a distorted look into the non-art world. The other was a creature […] covered in what looked like silly string sat hunched over a snare drum, with one arm being lifted mechanically and dropped onto the drum, playing it intermittently.
There was also some sort of lecture happening, though we did not linger there long as it was in progress, and did not seem especially useful. Overall, Matt’s Gallery provided a wonderfully odd and interesting selection of installation works, with sound effectively integrated into their forms. It is also worth noting that on the gallery’s website that a GIF has been embedded displaying part of one of the video works: a twitching, distorted hand. The show also somewhat resembled what I think how a child might see contemporary art, in a good way.
The Whitechapel Gallery:
The Whitechapel Gallery (now featuring a Hannah Höch retrospective) was the first gallery of the day to feature the works of Stephen Willats (as Raven’s Row also featured a large selection of his works) as part of Concerning Our Present Ways of Living, a number of relational diagrams and images involving working class communities. A number of pieces where displayed in vertical free-standing glass cases, and the others relatively plainly on the surrounding walls, dealing with some interesting issues surrounding class and ethics. This set the tone for the majority of the work on show, which mostly seem somewhat thematically socially and/or politically engaged.
The Heather and Ivan Morrison piece was rather interesting, as it involved 3 TVs on pedestals displayed between two rooms, so that not all the screens could be seen simultaneously, so the viewer had to walk around the space to see the work in its entirety. They featured a strange dialogue between two (or possibly more) people over a small table covered in sugary items, doughnuts and the like, whilst the figures discussed the sugar, and acted out some form of multiple-view point
There was a room dedicated to art projects relating to the East coast, including a number of Simon Poulter’s faux-poster works […] relating to Hull, some other things involving Norfolk and Lincolnshire, though some of piece connections to the theme were more obvious than others. Such as Grayson’s Perry’s untitled […] photographs of him dressed like an old-world farm hand in rural Lincolnshire, in conjunction with an out-of-place item of furniture, that had been saturated with a basic sepia tone to make the photographs look aged. This piece seemed rather amusing and successful in its simplicity – having mostly known Perry’s ceramics, seeing his costumed works was an interesting change (as his fabulously elaborate drag costumes frequently go undocumented), and from a distance blended in with some of the genuinely historical images, like the seascape paintings that neighboured it.
There was also Oliver Laric’s Lincoln 3D scans, digitally modelled images of objects from the Usher Gallery in The Collection in Lincoln; which had then been turned into wallpaper prints – much like Warhol’s Cow wallpaper – though these seemed awkwardly displayed compared to the rest of the room. One fantastically exhibited selection of works were the net art works by Rachel Baker and Heath Bunting, including Routerless. This was set up with four rather dated look desktop computers facing one-another, divided into 4 sections, which a keyboard, mouse, and screen, so that the audience returned to the role of the user and interfaced with the machine in order to experience the work. The pieces consisted of a series of interconnected sties displayed in basic script, with a series of links laid before the viewer for them to navigate. The aforementioned example had a number links set out in the shape of the British Isle, like a concrete poem of plastic hyperlinks. It was interesting to see such a range of different styles of work within one room connected only by the theme of the East Coast – they seem almost random without this clarification (much as how alphabetising is abstracting to thematic topological structures).
There as also another film piece, set up in an auditorium like environment, with rows of seats and a projector, displaying Elizabeth Price’s At the House of Mr X. (2007), which explores the sculptures and objects within an unknown figure’s house. However, the piece was rather dry, and to appreciative if fully would have required more time than was available, so I appreciated the seats then moved on.
As we initially by-passed the Hannah Höch exhibit, we came to this at the end of our exploration of the gallery. Her works on show were an illustrious selection of collages, coming from the post-Dada, Surrealist era, featuring a great number of rather effective works. However, though all very interesting, collage does not appeal to me that greatly, and though they were very well displayed in a traditional, rather formal wall-hanging manner, few manage to stick in my mind that were not feature otherwise in promotional materials – though some of the architectural examples were rather interesting, such as New York, and Fortgeschritten.
The very well established Whitechapel featured a good range of works. It was good to bump into the other NUA students who were down in London at the same time to give highlights and recommendations at the start of the day (though we had our schedule for the day already organised), the engaging content of Willats’ work and the nostalgia of the Hull-related works was pleasing. The multiple-TV display by the Morrisons was also rather effective.
Raven’s Row (showing Stephen Willats’ Control, works from 1962-1969) greeted us with a smile and a free, thick, freshly wrapped booklet on the works of Stephen Willats. Compared to the Whitechapel, the display here was far more extensive, covering a greater range of his works, including drawings, moving sculptures, and interactive paraphernalia, though what was on show contrasted greatly, featuring more drawings and sculptures; moving machines with lights and turning compartments that sit and demonstrate their static mechanical prowess. His diagrams for impossible machines, flow charts, plans, schematics and various other devices were all rather appealing.
The interactivity for the audience in a number of his pieces, and generally be involved with the more design-orientated works, was also a rather positive experience. Such as being able to wear a plastic helmet (a realisation of Design for a helmet to be work in performance art with the dress ‘Variable Sheets’) with interchangeable colour lenses (akin to the masks worn by the Daft Punk musicians), sit in Willats’ chairs, and adjust the zips on a peculiar jacket (Multiple Clothing). Although a number of the older pieces house in the top floor of the old house-come-gallery were formally interactive pieces that have aged and been deemed too precious to handle. It is a shame that they cannot be used how they were originally intended, but I can understand the need for preservation. (Moreover, a peer of my experienced difficulty with having their work being able to be handled, as one small sculpture was broken, and another was misplaced for a duration of the exhibition, though it was returned, it caused no small amount of distress.)
Furthermore, at Raven’s Row, a number of Willats’ sculptures featured intermittent illumination and flashing lights, along side numerous moving parts that resemble phantasmagorical contraptions for impossible engines that have been opened up revealing their uncanny and colourful inner works – contrasting to the grey mechanisms of most real machines. Stephen Willats is to machines what Giovanni Battista Piranesi or M.C. Escher was to architecture, though far less nightmarish, and considerably more playful. His Control and Homeostat drawings were particularly intriguing examples of semi-fictions diagrams and illusions.
The Royal College of Surgeons: The Hunterian Museum:
As a break from the art gallery format, I visited the Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons to have a look around their collection, mostly examining their archive of preserved bodily materials, including the Evelyn Tables, four anatomical preparations, featuring the arteries, nerves and veins of the human body varnished onto wood, from the 1600s. There were strange items, and the first of many somewhat unsettling and revealing items on display – foetuses, homunculi, anatomical deviations and so forth. It was interesting to see the syphilitic bone structure, as it looked like a ‘badly rendered’ form – to think about the body in digital terms – as if a 3D model had glitched whilst it was being processed, similarly to the conjoined skulls, elephantine skeletons, and so forth. There were uncanny bodies that seemed far removed from their humanity by their display, between the scientific and the curiosity. Through volume, labelling and categorisation, body parts become mechanisms – the surgeon has a responsibility to dehumanise their patient before operating them, to remove the gilt of cutting through another’s flesh to aid their ills; it is a necessary distancing.
(When viewing such things as a non-specialist, one cannot help but feel removed. Even when examining art in a gallery I would still consider myself as under-qualified to make effective and impartial judgments on their contents and composition. When I set out to look around London to specifically see art in a formal environment, I was oblivious as to where to start, as oblivious as I would have been looking for any form of entertainment. I am used to experiencing information mediated through a computer, so navigating physically through such spaces and concepts is somewhat alien to me. Given that this term I am trying to be more involved in exhibitions, producing specific works, find ways of housing existing ideas and curating mine and other peoples practice within a objective environment is challenging, and a skill that I am attempting to better, to become more specialised an informed on such matters. By taking into consideration non-art space – ‘the real world’ – it can be easier to contemplate the exhibition and the conceptual realities, refracting the outer world in.)
The Pace Gallery:
As the David Roberts Art Foundation was closed, then on the walk to the White Cube, we went into the The Pace Gallery briefly and saw an exhibition of James Turrell. An effective description of his work would be; gradually transitioning colour field set in recess in the wall at the far end of a darkened gallery space. This work did little for me, the novelty of the works being set into the wall was brief, and probably the most interest element was the curving of the corners of the gallery wall in two sections of the gallery space on the ground floor. The front of the grand building built expectations for something grand, and there was a screensaver.
The White Cube:
The White Cube (currently hosting Liu Wei’s Density); one of the most discussed venues of art in this contemporary age was a pleasantly understated space. It did not feel like there was an unhealthy obsession with white walls and plain spaces gone into the design, as some of the literature behind it would suggest, it was rather a good, clean space that did not impose on the art, doing exactly what it set out to do most effectively. I understand that the point of the White Cube is to not impose, but its reputation seemed unnecessarily heavy. I was half expecting to be painted white upon entering the space, told to stand against the wall, and only move if absolutely needed, so as not to disturb the neutrality of the space. It was pleasantly surprising that the atmosphere felt far more relaxed, the invigilating staff were helpful, and answered our question about how they managed to get the large sculptures in the lower level into the space. Apparently they have a hidden entrance at the rear of the gallery that goes to a lift, which is plastered over whilst the shows are on. This was especially relevant given the size of Liu Wei’s sculptures. In the ground-floor level, there were a number of large metal and wooden sculptures; some hanging/attached to the walls, others set out within the space, impressively material works. The offsetting of materials was clearly calculated, and with such large-scale works, there is little room for accident.
The sculpture in the lower lever were large 3D shapes, that seemed to made from pressed books that had been carved into linear shapes, with only the occasional reminder that they were not concrete or plaster, but paper – a stray word or staple breaking the illusion of solidity. The use of this material also gave works a curious texture, not coarse or sharps, but soft, like densely woven wool to the touch, though undoubtedly very heavy objects.
As anyone who has taken one-too-many books out from the library will know, the weight of paper adds up quickly. Paper may be thought of as a light, flimsy material, but through multiplicity, it becomes gross, more concrete, and returns some of the features of its woody origin, rather than the plasticity of the individual page, a medium for thought; a near non-object. By converting the book into an unreadable format, it is pulped by proxy, burnt cold, frozen into a new form that degenerates the original literary content – it is not just loss or obscuring of information, but a denial of old forms for new, a forced integration (giant subtle book art).
The White Cube was good, solid space and a prime example of reductive, minimal display and effectively executed neutrality; which manages to seem understated.
On the way to the next exhibition, we passed Gallery 8 at Dalmeny Court, a small independent gallery that happened to have a piece of performance art happening in the window. A nude male sat with a book covering his genitals, with a hood over his head, and a torn page being clenched between his teeth, across his chest were tattoos in Arabic, and was surround by various seemingly-religious paraphernalia. To the corner of the window was a sign reading The Arab Within, and a woman was photographing the figure, clearly documenting the performance more professionally than the passers by who were snapping quick curious pictures of the naked man in a high-street window, managing to get noticed and hold a gaze for second longer than the framed windows of the dozen-or-so other commercial galleries on the strip.
Inside we are told that the artist, the performer, creates works inspired by the portrayal of masculinity and femininity in Islam, and if we wait for a short while we can speak with him. Going through the back of the gallery the burning incense, ornate frames, and a patterned rug thrown over a balustrade imply a stereotype of Arabia from a Western perspective. Though the use of nosmic elements within an exhibition is a refreshing change from the unalterable smell of freshly painted walls that occupies the vast majority of art events one tends to encounter, it did however, seem somewhat forced. In the lower level of the gallery, there were a number of photographs of the artist modelling in various staged photographs that seemed to be effeminising typically masculine Muslim imagery, and came across as rather self-indulgent. Though not explicitly bad, they seem to lack the subtly one may expect in any art exhibition, especially when concerning sensitive ethnic themes – feeling more like student work that something more mature (though not necessarily serious).
We left without speaking to the artist, it seemed there was little to ask them that did saturate through in their art. Due to the small, intimate nature of this exhibit, with the artist present, this contrasted greatly to the larger, professional galleries visited on that day, definitely resembling the student-run exhibits that have become so familiar.
The Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre:
The Hayward Gallery (housing a massive Martin Creed exhibition, What’s the Point of It?) was a grand affair, being greeted by a giant rotating neon sign reading ‘Mothers’ [Work No. 1092] swinging just overhead – cutting through sections of the gallery’s walkway concrete pillars. Accompanied by the sound of 39 metronomes [Work No. 112], and nearly stumbling over a sofa by the entrance doorway [Work No. 142], this show of Creed’s works open as it intended to sustain itself; as big, and somewhat garish. The mechanics of the neon sign were visible from one of the stairwells, looking down on the colossal thing – indeed THINGS; another neon piece featured in the show makes for a fitting synopsis, as there were many things. Things of all sorts, sculptures made from cardboard boxes […], a piano piece ascending and descending the chromatic scale […] being performed by one of the gallery staff intermittently, positioned not far from a speaker with recordings of blown raspberries […] that may have caused a rather childish dialogue between myself and the machine, in tern making noises at one another; and a laughing box by the toilets stimulating smiles.
Much of this show was rather joyous in its use of humour and child-like curious play, epitomised in the room half-filled with balloons [Work No. 200] that could be entered in, transforming into a giant, ‘grown-up’ ball pit. This allows members of the audience to play within a gallery environment separated from the rest of the exhibition; rife with hysterical delirium and static-enriched claustrophobic entertainment. Much of this exhibit felt like light-hearted experiments that had been given serious methodical degrees of contemplation. Though some of the works, like the wall of broccoli prints [Work No. 1000] that was impressive in its size, seem to gain their validity primarily through scale. A single print would have had a very different impact from the full wall, and the value of each becomes a defused necessity for the success of the piece. Without the repetition, the existential repeating of seemingly pointless acts, a number of these works would be un-functioning – whether that be a wall of prints, a ceiling-high toilet roll pyramid […] or the various stacks and piles of things, they have been transubstantiated from appropriated object to art piece through they amassing.
Although I found the exhibition interesting, entertaining, and rather impressive, it did give the impression wanting to show off all the stuff that Creed has made over the years together in one space. As THINGS go, this was a fair collection, and fitting for Creed’s multi-faceted practice, though the only clear hierarchy within the works seem to come through scale, which is not always the best way of acknowledging an artist’s best work (one may think of Dalí’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus, a tiny paint with a grand impact and reputation) – having seen last years degree show at my university, and having discussed the proposals for people’s works this year, it is clear that quite often when given the opportunity for making work that is bigger, in whatever sense, some artists may be inclined to make something beyond their limits without considering the impact or their motivation for doing so – making something big for the sake of it being big. However, for the most part, Creed clearly considers scale and knows when to stop – though the Broccoli prints were four (or so) short of filling the wall, which is somewhere between incredibly frustrating and hilarious, so typical of Creed.
There were some of the works on show that, although well-made and effectively produced and displayed did not seem to come across very well – notably a number of the video piece, for me, felt like some of the weaker work. The walking dog video [Work No. 670] though far from a bad piece, did not hold my attention as long as a brick wall that had been constructed on the terrace – a selection of various coloured bricks contrasting to the grey concrete and order of the rest of Southbank Centre (out on the other terrace was Ford Focus car [Work No. 1686] that appeared totally docile, though slightly bizarre given its position on the roof meaning it probably had to be craned into position – which I was warned not to get too close to, as like a caged beast it came to life with its doors flung open, radio exploding great shouts along with the raging alarm and flashing lights).
However, although the defecating film and vomiting video [Work No. 610] were unpleasant to watch, they were relatively inoffensive – however the piece by the entrance feature various people with motor difficulties/limps walking across a street did seem a bit exploitative. As Creed is notorious for being somewhat upsetting to the Art establishment and the wider public, having only one or two pieces that were off-putting out of such a wide selection of work was rather surprising. The permanently installed singing elevator [Work No. 409/592] were also a pleasing bonus to what was, in short, a rather good show of stuff and things.
Evidently, the United Visual Artist’s Momentum at The Barbican was somewhat unmemorable, the swinging orbs atmospheric sounds and smoke were grand and theatrical, with clear biblical connotations, but after a full day of exhibitions, art and travelling, taking time to consider this meditative installation would have undoubtedly ended in a premature decent into nocturnal slumber.
Overall, a productive and busy day of gallery viewing the gave an incite into a range of methods for displaying work, and reinvigorated my desire to make work that is bit more engaging in some way, to involve the audience more directly, rather than just positioning them as passive consumers.
(London always seems far more like Ulysses rather than the Odyssey, not so much an epic a compressed and gluttonous consumption of information. A rapidity that goes by unacknowledged, a commonplace business where every second contains a million moments of happenings and machinery turning, an unrelenting restlessness, an assault.
There is no time to linger, kinaesthesia is hyperbolised, going everywhere in an instant, whilst networked figures flood the streets with their faces obscured by mobile screens shielded from the bare sunlight by grey structure protruding upwards. Machines constantly whirring, grinding, reverberating – engine of a jet shake the underground and no one looks up. Overabundance is filtered to narrow path between the irrelevant figures whirring by; shades caught in their own tempestuous expeditions.)
(Titles of unknown pieces have been replaced by ‘[…]’)
(I have also read through number of reviews for some of the larger exhibitions, as there were articles on the Martin Creed, Lui Wei and Hannah Höch exhibitions in Art Monthly, Frieze and a number of online sources, though have not cited them here. I also referred to the official gallery information for references to the titles and some of the background to the artworks, though the majority of the information came through direct observation, notes and discussion.)
Photographs by Elizabeth Aubury