Research: London Galleries Visit: July
by Beauchamp Art
In July, part way through the Summer break, I made another trip to London to go around galleries, looking across a range of work styles and themes; though trying to select venues that could be relevant for my own work, and for the most part, attending smaller galleries (The White Cube being the primary objection) because for the time being I am more likely to take part in small-scale exhibitions, so they would be more useful in terms of the practicalities of display in limited space, with limited resources. This second point is especially relevant, if I am to make any (video) installation work, as equipment that cannot be booked out can incur massive expense.
Although I collected a number of leaflets, and took mental notes, I did not write anything down at the time of visiting the galleries, as I felt that would detract from seeing the exhibitions as a traditional member of the audience, as well as a aspiring art student. Similarly, I did not take any photographs, as they would not do the works justice, and the galleries typically have images of works online, however, I had gone to see how works were being displayed, not just a flat photographic representation of curatorial efforts, arranging three-dimensional art works as two dimension images.
This antagonism to photographic exhibits partly comes out of visiting Frieze on two occasions, and seeing a disproportional number of people taking pictures of sculptural objects, negating flat works, and totally overlooking A/V projects. Thus the reporting of art through visual media is, somewhat ironically, unsatisfactory, and I find a written account a more equal means of representing a exhibit. However, for reference purposes I have used some images from the galleries and artist’s websites.
This discussion will focus on the contents of the venues listed below, but will also serve as a platform to discuss elements particularly relevant to my own developing practice (which will not be resolved in the course of a three-year degree, rather it shall be founded; so these research days and reflections on the connections and inflections of interactions with art and artifices is unquestionably invaluable).
- AP Fitzpatrick; Fine Art Materials
- CGP London; Cafe Gallery – Sites of Collective Memory
- White Cube (Bermondsey) – Gilbert & George; Scapegoating
- Bermondsey Project – Art Stabs Power
- Gasworks – Dependency
- Pilar Corrias – Phantom Limbs
- GRAD (Gallery for Russian Arts & Design) – Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain
- Richard Saltoun Gallery – The Visual Revolution
I began by not attending a gallery, but rather an arts supplies shop, which was being visited due to specific enquiry, but it also was geographically a sensible starting point, as well as filling my nostrils with the smells of freshly main paints, turpentine, and canvas; a fairly traditional welcoming to a day of art exploration, which effectively started the day off on a good footing. It also served to remind me of my total abstinence from painting for the last year, and my desire to return to its materiality as a means of artistic production. However, as of yet I have little need to paint, merely an aimless desire to do so; which is abated by digital sketching on Photoshop with a graphics tablet. Image production minus the mess, minus the object, and thematically more relevant to the rest of my practice.
However, if you take Dan Hay’s argument he delivered at his lecture at the university last year, the physicality of paint is a perfectly valid material for addressing contemporary technological matters, and to ignore the potential of paint to be an effective contemporary media is to exorcise the knowledge of its historical presence in art and as a means of visual representation and expression. Moreover, as I have amassed a fair quantity of traditional art supplies (paints, canvas, et al), then it would be foolish not to make use of them. Additionally, one of my aims of coming to study art was to further my practical skills, although this has come to be more digital techniques, and writing practice (undergoing academic research, through surveys, tests, and studies has not been integrated into the teaching practice of the course, as the institution focuses more on ‘developing a practice’, and boasts a business acumen, yet may not always be seen to be fulfilling these goals as it priorities an individual approach to creativity, over creating a sustainable way of working, which may also neglect the desire for expression due to a perceived priorities of concept over/before substance, thinking before, or after, rather than during making. So going to an art shop and looking at the various tools on offer may serve as a effective counterbalance to the university environment.
This is in no way a fault of art tutors themselves, but rather the formats of education they have to work towards, and the overly self-conscious practices of art students, whom, myself included, sometimes try too hard to do something rather than just doing it. As Grayson Perry noted in a recent interview, as “Perry says the problem with many art students is that they are too anxious to create stuff they simply like. ‘You have to know the impact of everything you’re making, because that is the nature of contemporary art. It is very self-conscious: it knows, or should be seen to know.’” [Hattensone, 2014] The conceptual equivalent of being the “man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”, as Oscar Wilde keenly observed.
Needless to say, after some reflection (and given I know someone who is working for this company as a canvas stretcher and maker) I intend on making some more physical work, with a likelihood that this will involve painting (though the first ‘manual’ idea I have had mostly involves wood-work, but is nevertheless, more hands on).
The first exhibition I attended was Sites of Collective Memory at the CGP Cafe Gallery, in Southwark Park. This featured four main areas of works, along with a small continual display in the foyer, and a small participatory event in the garden area. The exhibit featured the works of Shona Illingworth, Delaine & Damien James Labas, Jordan Baseman, and Roz Mortimer. Lesser know artists, who’s work I was unaware of prior to the exhibition. However, the overall theme of the works seemed interesting, and prior examination of the website seemed intriguing. After looking at the works, I also had a brief discussion with the individual on the front desk about how they go about putting on shows, as well as their funding (as visitors were asked to fill out a small feedback form on their demographic, how they found out about the gallery, and so forth; as part of their agreement with the Arts Council to establish funding for future events, and maintaining the building).
The works all seemed like a fairly interesting selection of videos (with a few photographs by the entrance) involving a variety of different display methods. Le Bas’ work featured a video in a micro-domestic setting, with a comfortable arm chair, a few other ‘props’ and a television, with a set of headphones, positioned in the corner of the room. Assumedly the headphones were designed to prevent sound from bleeding into the rest of the exhibition, but they did undermine the display slightly, which was otherwise perfectly reasonable.
However, it was Baseman’s Little Boy piece that stood out the most for me. Although I did not watch the video through in its entirety (despite only being 5:46 long), I have since re-watch the piece. Which was displayed, fairly plainly, as a projection onto the wall of a darkened room with a single bench before the image. The video’s use of the materiality of the traditional film medium, emphasising the artefacts of the material, in a dark, and doom-inspiring atmosphere, aided by the whirring soundscape, with violent interjections of sound and the opening narration, which was further contextualised by the accompanying text, indicating the piece’s connection to the Hiroshima bombing, which was also indicated by the title, Little Boy, the name of the first militaries nuclear bomb used on the Japanese (primarily) civilian populous, in one of the grandest displays of state-issued terrorism in the history of war, which was then repeated for Nagasaki.
This piece formed part of the basis of the thought that led to a recent short discussion I wrote regarding war, the thoughts of was revitalised by watching Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, a manga series adapted into film, based loosely on the authors’ experience of the Hiroshima attack. This subjected matter remains a source of interest not only because of its technological implications (themes surrounding the instantaneity of nuclear weapons seem especially relevant when discussing the mass interchange of communications internationally, creating a sense of near-ubiquitous totality of electronic connection; that remains in a constant state of explosion) but as the sense of decay that comes with Little Boy’s focus on the imperfections of the film media, and the destruction of history and the instability of archived information stored in any media, or even mimetically in the social consciousness. This piece struck a chord, as even without the surrounding information, it seemed immediately relevant; like a vision of an apocalyptic archive in decay.
Riding the bomb like Major Kong (in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) down in its doom-ladened decent, the bomb-like nitrous oxide canisters that gluttonously shower Gilbert & George’s Scapegoating exhibition at the White Cube gallery, along with the artists themselves alongside religious image in violent black, white and red stained-glass prints.
All of the works were truly massive, aggressively bizarre, and quite amusing. Like terrible Photoshop edits done brilliantly on a grand scale, with two elderly men periodically dancing in fragments surrounded by varying levels of visual chaos.
Between the main display areas of the gallery were sections of writing from G&G printed large scale in plain text, which informed the working practices and mantra of the artists, as well as serving as further content for the social commentary present in the work. They had a list of art commandments that were particularly appealing, both for their tongue-in-cheek articulation, but also the positive optimism of much of what they were saying, especially “Thou shalt not know exactly what thou dost, but thou shalt do it.”, which should be at the forefront of every creative experiment whom wished to avoid being caught up in one on pretence.
Alongside these works was Rachel Kneebone’s sculptures, just as grand and overwhelming. I had another brief discussion with the gallery attendant about how the pillar of porcelain doll limbs melting and melding into one another, and the problem of transporting and displaying such a piece. The delicacy of the material and the composition of the interlocking parts meant the staff had faced some difficulty in assembling the piece, which had never been seen fully together before this display; and so keeping the audience from touching and potentially damaging and dirtying the pristine whiteness of the magnificent grotesque was of paramount concern.
The Art Stabs Power exhibition at the Bermondsey Project featured a number of works created in response to the financial crisis in Portugal. It featured the works of fifteen artists, curated by Inês Valle
The exhibition space was part of an disused warehouse, and alongside the gallery were studios, in a fairly typical set up for a small gallery (though in terms of the size of the exhibition space, it was fairly sized, bigger than some of more established venues) and the overall feel was fairly familiar, like that of The Stew or Outpost in Norwich, with their accompanying studios, though bigger, and the exhibitions featured international artists, rather than the semi-local crowd typical of the Fine City. Nevertheless, the some of the works had an approachable feel, with the anxiety of financial insecurity and civilian distress evident throughout the majority of the works: installations, sculptural objects, and a few videos.
One film piece involved an upright, portrait television leant against a wall, displaying the lower half of someone’s face and neck, speaking though a Electrolarynx device; a fairly straight-forward piece, but very memorable, and turned the screen into a static object (as it is when it is switched off) impacted with an image, rather than simple screen attempting to hide its frame. Along side montages of riot scenes taken from YouTube, Euro notes folded into a paper plane, and a piece by the entrance which seemed to involve the floor being covered in a lot of crisps (the politicisation of foodstuffs, especially the potato, is not an uncommon symbology, and would have felt just as in place at a exhibit of Irish Famine-era works). The accompanying reading materials were especially thorough, fittingly so for political art work. However, most of the artist’s statements seem not to mention their works particularly, or precisely.
Dependency installation view at Gasworks, June 2014. Photo: Matthew Booth
Similarly to one of the works at the Bermondsey Project, the Dependency exhibition display of Melanie Giliagan’s work made interesting use of multiple televisions as part of its display, featuring images that went between the screens in sections, gaining a grounded sense of site specificity, whilst remaining open to the potential multiplicity and translatability of the instillation by the video stands being wheel-mounted. However, the content of the videos did not explicitly connect, though the piece sustained its unity between the multiple screens through triplicate use of the stands and the interconnectivity of sections of the video. Nevertheless, there was a section of animated footage that, though potentially interesting, did not exemplify thoroughly considered animation most effectively.
Moyra Davey’s Purse Strings was well executed, and featured the magnified etchings from American bank notes of street scenes, which, amongst other things, was a satisfying examination of the micro banality of everyday transitions through the the straight-forward use of visual amplification as a means of giving attention to that which is frequently overlooked, as Bachelard noted, “attention itself is an enlarging glass” [Bachelard, 1958: 158]. Moreover, this piece could be seen to exemplify Lanham concept of the “attention economy,” [Lanham, 2006: xii] as it focus’ the viewer’s gaze onto the physicality of their financial exchanges.
All of the works fit cohesively within the limits of the space, and Patricia Boyd’s large steel frame jutting out of the wall, effectively cutting off one section of the gallery, whilst remaining an object to be looked at, and looked through served to effectively punctuate the latter half other the exhibition.
The set up of Gasworks, seemed similar to that of the Stew in Norwich, with a fairly conservative exhibition space, accompanied by a number of studios above the main gallery area; however, there connection to international residency scenes may be worth investigation at a later date.
Phantoms Limbs featured a number of artists, including Cécile B. Evans; who I have worked with previous as part of the Black Swans and Missed Representations workshop at the Wysing Arts Centre earlier this year; and have seen her lecture twice. The Theme of the exhibition centred around consciousness is evolving as a result of digitally mediated existence.
The text that accompanied the exhibition was particularly interesting, as the arguments were closely related to those that I wished to address in my dissertation, mentioning the likes of Hito Steyerl, in a general discussion around the works. Naturally, some pieces stood out more than others; for example Antoine Catala’s moving sculpture provided particular enjoyment as the simplicity of the work conveyed its meaning effectively to the viewer, whilst maintaining a light, somewhat humorous aesthetic. The piece involved a smiling emoticon :attached to a motorised wheel mechanism, so the upper part of the anthropomorphised character stayed in place, whilst the lower half rotated as the sculpture moved forward, going from a happy 🙂 to sad face :(.
Furthermore, the use of projectors was quite interesting, as one video involved having the protector mounted portrait, rather than landscape, in order to project onto a screen mounted across the corner of the room. Another piece in the lower section of the gallery had the projector descending far into the space, so it closer to the floor; which was covered in cushions on which the audience could sit and recline, than the ceiling. Moreover, Evans’ finalised film, The Brightness was displayed on a television accompanied by 3D glasses, to create a stereoscopic video effect to accompany the doubled content of the film; the theme of phantom limbs running strongly through her work, in this piece and the 3D printed lost teeth, reflecting an apprehension for the sense of distancing created through interacting with synthetic object, virtual interfaces and so forth.
Furthermore, the works in this exhibition seemed an effective follow up from the Sites of Collective Memory exhibition, in terms of thematic content, and the general focus on the anxieties surround contemporary technology, where as the CGP was focused more on memory, and this on a sense of technological disconnect, which was also present in the Dependency exhibit at Gasworks.
GRAD’s Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain exhibit featured a number of objects, toys and commodities from Soviet-Era Russia, displayed in a less stringent format than museum setting, with the objects not protected by glass, only by the acceptable social-norms of the space; the toys were in reach but not for play; but for consideration. Moreover, the layout of the pieces fed into the thematic understanding of exhibition; with title of the show across two walls, with ‘Iron Curtain’ covered by flags. There was also a unity of colour within the space, with a number of toys featuring a predominances of Communist-crimson, of-set by the teal walls. Moreover, amongst the various objects were a number of music records that had been etched onto dis-used x-ray plates as a means of smuggling Western music across the border, which were dispelled on light boxes, confusing their role as medical tool, musical device, and aesthetic object, adjust to a corresponding record player. As with all of the objects on display, their context proved them to be multi-facet points of consideration.
The Sputnik-styled vacuum cleaner both a formerly practical object and a patriotic symbol of superiority over the West technological, in the form of a utilitarian object that had become a commercial appliance in the US; it’s space-race rival. Models of public transport inferring a utopian popularism, with the ramp at the rear of the exhibited showing the private car; bus; and workman’s truck in ascending order, inverting the social her achy implied by the differences in vehicles; the inequality of machinery and technological distribution reflecting a inequality in wider society, as is still prevalent now universally, but may be seen as especially relevant for a former Socialist state; the product of a people’s revolution that simply replaced one upper-class for another.
Both the Visual Revolution and Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain features works, items and objects involving the post-Soviet Political shift and events connecting to the Cold War; it seems fitting to observe these cultural items in such as time as this, with a rise again of political animosity between the European Nations and Russia, especially considering the growing turmoil in Eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine; Kiev and Crimea. They are presented as things of the past but their history remains ever present. Photographs and toys from time as experienced with the simultaneity of nostalgia and foreboding; that such a cultural apartheid was so prevalent so recently, and should fear and paranoia prosper they may return again. They fall somewhere between museum-like archive and fictionalised re-understanding, infused with the propaganda of the time and the politics of now; presented in objects transformed by anxiety into objects of otherness and wonder; the contrasting cultural presences of objects that have been translated geographically, socially, and across time, thereby colliding to form a schizoid means of understanding them, a temporal spectacle.
Such highly-charged images and objects a not simply curious for their differences to that of the same time in the West and the contrast to how Euro portrayed Russia during the Communist era, but also their similarity becomes an uncanniness. People taking photos, engaging in life, playing with toys and household commodities form a disturbing familiarity for the viewer with an understanding of the portrait painted of this ‘other’ nation during a time of war, and how the deeply held suspicions of the time about idealogical contamination are represented through the images, whilst are unavoidably paralleled inspire of the cultural difference. The makes of clothes, cars, and toys are different, the level of state sanctioning shown to be more explicit in Russia’s produce, but equally government regulation and affiliating with private production companies at the time and now make this dissimilarity seem negligible. They only seem alien because of their familiarity.
In The Visual Revolution, the Richard Saltoun Gallery played host to a range of avant-garde photographic works of Russian Artists; particularly that of Alexander Rodchenko and the VKhUTEMAS Workshops.
Some of the more overtly ‘Russian’ images, that of sculptures and architectural drawings express a more direct cultural contrast, but domestic scenes loose their uncanny presence and become normal, though still embodying the avant-garde spirit of the photographers. With especially strong structural considerations underpinning the aesthetics of many of the images. Such a sense of new spirit in the photos of the VKhUTEMAS Workshop images, who’s images proceed in the wake of rationalist principles served as an effective current for furthering novel ideas by eliminating the commercial obligations of the photographers, conversely to those of the West; particularly within the Pop-Art and Expressionist movements in the USA at the same time.
As artists were expected to contribute to the creative good of the State to showcase its sensibilities and its concept of freedom under Communism, they were liberated from the expectation to make money. Whereas Pop-Art celebrated commercialism, and Abstract Expressionism was shown to embody the libertarianism of the Capitalist State. Both systems instigate the proclamation of ‘freedom under…’ That creative can only take place under limitations set by a state rather than self-asserted parameters for understanding; instilling an equal level of anti-egalitarian hierarchy; that would be argued by the other as greater for their people ‘under…’ and both presenting state-anarchy as counter-productive and anti-creative. Much as the Scapegoats of Gilbert & George’s works, the Muslim as dehumanised grotesques may be considered both victims of cultural oppression and racism whilst simultaneous being portrays as progenitors of forms of oppression counter to that of the Post-Imperial Western-Capitalist standards (though Russia may be equally targeted, as the December 2013 Volgograd bombings demonstrate). Similarly, in the Art Stabs Power exhibition, the political ‘other’ is shown to be a source of antagonism represented through a range of creative constructs.
After this final gallery visit, I went to the Virgin Lounge, a sort of free-café for people with Virgin money bank accounts, in which people can go along, have free tea, coffee and so forth; what may be considered as an embodiment of the epitome of consumerist banking. Moreover, they had a strange set up of chair and screens made to look like the in-flight seat on a Virgin Atlantic Flight, with a video screen mounted into a mock up of the inside wall of one of the planes, is playing a looping video of clouds passing by, so one could sit in the seat and simulate the objective experience of a flight.
- Bachelard, Gaston (1958) The Poetics of Space. First Edition Beacon Press.
Lanham, Richard A. (2006) The Economics of Attention. Hardback. University of Chicago Press Ltd. London.
- Hattenstone, Simon. (2014) Grayson Perry: ‘Just because you don’t have a dress on doesn’t stop you being a tranny’. The Guardian [Online] – http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/04/grayson-perry-dress-tranny-art-who-are-you-tv
– Accessed 4.10.14
- Wilde, Oscar (1892) Lady Windermere’s Fan. Britain.