November 30, 2015
Camden Image Gallery is a hire space gallery with 4 rooms over 2 floors situated in Camden Town, in central London. Camden Image Gallery has four rooms all with light walnut laminate flooring and clean white walls, perfect for displaying artwork; one large and one small room on the ground floor, and one large and one small room in the basement. The large room on the ground floor is fitted with adjustable LED spotlights, great for sculpture and installations. All 4 rooms have a fully adjustable hanging system with a variety of different lengths of rods to suit any artwork.
On the 5th of December until the 11th of December of 2015, Camden Image Gallery will celebrate its second year of success with a very interesting exhibition based on Mixed Media. On the 5th of December there will be a live performance by Periscope View at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from 12-7pm daily.
Let’s meet Elena Chimonas the gallery owner of this interesting hire space gallery.
1. Camden Image Gallery is situated in the heart of Camden Town, Camden Road. Is there a reason why you chose the gallery to be situated in an area like Camden Town? Do you think the area plays a role when artists choose a gallery to showcase their artwork?
Definitely. The location is definitely important. Camden Town used to be a very creative, artistic area, it still is, but it is more focused on music now. So I wanted to help bring back the artistic vibe in the area. A lot of people thanked me for it. I believe that it is important to welcome everybody, no matter on what stage his or her career is. So for me, it doesn’t matter if an artist is studying, or [has been] in the industry for the last 50 or 60 years. If they are passionate in what they do, then I don’t think age or experience matters at all, as long as they are passionate. In terms of artists choosing a space, for me it is very important to have a space next to a station for mobility and accessibility reasons. A space that is welcoming and friendly. I am very lucky to have found this place. It was perfect for what I was looking for.
2. What brought you here? What is your background?
My background is photography. I finished my degree and took full time and part time jobs and entered this space you see here into a gallery. I was very lucky to find this space. It took me a lot of time and work to turn this place into Camden Image Gallery. Initially, I found it in very poor condition, the staircases were not safe to walk down, there were no plugs in the space so I had to strip everything down and rebuild it from the beginning. The walls and the ceilings came down, the floors were renovated and we retouched the two floors. I was very lucky when I found out that there was a large space downstairs that didn’t exist when I took the property. The gallery originally had just two spaces – one upstairs and one downstairs – but then we realised that there was another trapdoor, which led to two separate hidden rooms downstairs as well. One of them was made by clay and concrete and it took us almost 4 months to renovate. We made the two rooms into one. It is actually my favourite room. It is a very long elongated room and works wonderfully for projections on the wall, great for sculptures in the middle of the room. I also have the same hanging system so artists can exhibit there as well. As it is a hire space gallery, the artist can choose either to hire the ground floor or the gallery as a whole, which includes the basement. In terms of Camden Image Gallery, as I said, it is a hire space gallery so people can hire the gallery for as many days as they wish. The gallery is open every single day, including bank holidays and weekends, especially during exhibition dates. I wanted to open a space that has this consistency otherwise it is very complicated to keep up with which galleries are open on which days – some of them are closed on Mondays, some of them on Sundays. I wanted Camden Image Gallery to be open 7 days a week, so people would know that they could always walk in.
3. Are there a lot of hire space galleries in London?
There are lots of hire space galleries and then there are other galleries that represent artists. Those galleries are the galleries that artists sign a contract for a specific time and then the gallery will sell their work through websites perhaps. Then you have hire space galleries, such as myself, where we welcome all artists. Camden Image Gallery for example, charges one fee for set-up, installation help, flyer designs, promotion, invigilating, take down. It all comes together. I wanted to open up a space that welcomes all genres of art. So I have photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion design, and painting – everything that comes under the arts. It is my job to support it. We also have poetry evenings and performance evenings so it is nice to have a space that welcomes anybody.
4. How hard is it for a gallery manager to choose the artists that will display?
It is a hire space gallery. So if the work is of a good standard and it is suitable for the space I accept them.
5. Do you have any restrictions to being exhibited in the gallery?
Generally no. But, I wouldn’t allow anything pornographic in the gallery. That is a genre that I wouldn’t allow. No matter how fantastic or talented an artist is – that is something I wouldn’t want in the space. But everything else is welcome. I have open shutters every day, so I wouldn’t want any children passing by and seeing something like that so I don’t want to accept that kind of genre. The quality has to be good.
6. What do you mean by “quality?”
I mean standard – Anything that has effort in it. Something unusual. Artists like Robin Lee; for me he is a great example of quality. He focuses on the expression of the eye. We had an exhibition a few weeks ago and I am very privileged to have worked with him. He is a great person and a great artist. I understand that it is a contested term and curators don’t tend to agree on what quality means, but in Camden Image Gallery, I stick with “standard”.
7. This leads me to my next question – were there any times when you had to differentiate between your personal likes and what the audience prefers?
Obviously, not everybody will like absolutely everything. If the artist is passionate then it all goes back to the main motto I have as a gallery owner to support artists. I opened up a space because I am passionate about the arts. There were not enough hire spaces to support artists. For example, performance art is not allowed in many galleries – but why not? If a dancer is good enough then why not give them the opportunity to showcase their work? If that is the way they express their art. I want to help. That is the main idea. I don’t differentiate. I just support. Because of that, I don’t target a specific audience; anyone can come into the gallery space. It is absolutely fine for one gallery to welcome just photography, I don’t criticise that. However, Camden Image Gallery has a different approach: to help everybody.
8. What was the hardest thing you came across as a gallery manager?
The hardest thing I came across is the lack of sleep (laughter). Generally, I am a positive person, there is nothing specific that made my life hard during these three years that I started this business.
9. What do you think is the role of art in society? Is there a role?
Of course there is a role. It is the only thing that can keep individuals creative – to keep creative minds buzzing. There are 10% of artists in the world – poets, musicians, and painters. They are the ones that keep the world more interesting. It is lovely that there are arts in the world. What would the world be without images? Imagine walking down the street without images. How boring that would be? It is fantastic to have creative things that people could view.
10. How do you think gallery owners contribute to this role?
By putting up exhibitions and by organising events. Not just that, our job is to draw [in] and engage people to contribute to exhibitions that they wouldn’t normally be subjected to.
11. Generally, the word “art industry” is contested – especially artists cannot accept that sort of label. Since you are an artist yourself, and a gallery owner, do you think art is an industry? Is it easy for you to be both? There is that general idea that the industry “exploits” the artists and it is rarely the opposite. What do you think about that?
It is very difficult to be both indeed. I am a gallery manager 7 days a week and I am a photographer occasionally. So it is difficult to be both. I have always wanted to open up a gallery that is open for everyone. A gallery that will give the voice to every artist regardless of background and experience. Camden Image Gallery is here to help and support artists, as the nature of the gallery promotes all types of genres. Unfortunately, not every artist has the ability to work as full-time artists to be able to support themselves. It is still a very hard industry to get into. That is why it is great that there are many galleries open. They make artists cater to their needs. There are curators and gallery managers that can help set out an artist. Unfortunately not many artists make their living out of art – that is why gallery managers are here to help.
12. Are there any current or future shows that you believe the public should not miss?
The Saturday of the 5th of December from 6 until 8pm will have the opening of an exhibition that celebrates these two fantastic years of Camden Image Gallery. It will be a great celebration and I believe it should not be missed. Periscope View will also be performing a live performance at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from the 6th until the 11th of December, from 12pm until 7pm, daily. Also, for the first time ever, the Camden Image Gallery is organising a charity exhibition – this will be from the 7th until the 13th of January. The gallery will raise money for Solace Women’s Aid.
Whenever the New York grind gets me down , I head straight to the Neue Galerie for German and Austrian Art on 87th and 5th for a heaping dose of old European romance and, of course, great art. Admittedly, I am often lured by the smell of apple strudel and hot chocolate mit schlag at the adjacent Café Sabarsky, but I am never disappointed by the museum’s permanent collection and their masterfully curated temporary exhibits. The Neue is currently featuring an exhibit called “Berlin Metropolis: 1918-1933” which opened on October 1st and will run until January 4th. This collection features paintings, photographs, films and other works by the great artists of Germany’s Weimar Republic. This period in between the first and second world wars was a brief, but prolific and innovative time for art and German culture in general.
The exhibition is chronologically divided into five themes that correspond to different aspects of Weimar Berlin: The Birth of the New Republic; A New Utopia; The “Neue Frau” or New Woman; The Crisis of Modernity; and Into the Abyss. This layout successfully illustrates the progression in Weimar society from the vibrant and hedonistic early days to the horrors of the Third Reich.
Upon walking into the “Birth of the New Republic” section, I was greeted by a pig headed mannequin dressed in a military costume suspended from the ceiling: “Prussian Archangel” by John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter. This whimsical yet austere figure sets the tone of the room, which features the great works of the Berlin Dada movement by Heartfield, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Hannah Hoch (the only woman in the group), and many other Dadaists.
I was especially drawn to a wild and grotesque series of 11 lithographs by Max Beckmann from 1922 called “A Trip to Berlin”. With titles like “Striptease”, each lithograph is extremely provocative and energetic and transports the viewer to the hustle and bustle of Weimar Berlin.
I definitely learned a lot about Berlin Dada from the first room, but my favorite section of the exhibit by far was the pink tinted room dedicated to the “Neue Fraue,” or New Woman. Not only does this room pay homage to the sophisticated and liberated Berliner woman of the 1920’s, it also showcases the innovative genius of Hannah Hoch.
In addition to Hoch’s clever collages such as “The Bride” (1924) and “Journalists”(1925) below, the room also features gorgeous costumes sketches from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) production stills from The Prince von Pappenheim (1927), and other posters and images celebrating the glamour and talent of the “Neue Fraue”.
The exhibit ends on a rather grave note in the “Into the Abyss” room. It features the same Berlin Dadaists as the beginning of the exhibit- Grosz, Heartfield, and Schlichter, but deals with very different subject matter. John Heartfield’s sinister “Adolf and the Superman” (1932) is a far cry from the playful Dada collages from the beginning of the Weimar period.
“Berlin Metropolis” is definitely worth a visit, if not several. I will definitely be back to the Neue to learn more about this culturally explosive time period that unfortunately ended in such horrible tragedy. Should “Into the Abyss” kill your vibe, don’t forget to drown your sorrows in some pistachio and chocolate “Mozarttorte” and hot chocolate at Café Sabarsky. While you can’t take pictures of the art, you are certainly allowed to post your Viennese delights on Instagram (which for the record, taste even better than they look).
Facing the pain and fear of the bloodshed in the French capital, art is here to heal. After the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13th November, people all around the world show their solidarity with this city, with many stating “pray for Paris” on social media while others do not much like this religious note. Street artists show their love and support in a unique way –#sprayforparis. Street artist Goin started the hashtag #sprayforparis on Instagram with his artwork illustrating a muse resembling that in Eugène Delacroix‘s painting, Liberty Leading the People. Instead of holding a French national flag, Goin‘s muse is holding a paint roller dipped in the French tricolours, and the caption reads “The paint must flow, not the blood!” Many other street artists from different places echo this call with their talents, not only in Paris or France, but even as far as Melbourne, Australia.
One week after the incident, I went to the Place de la République where people come with flowers and candles in memorial of the victims of the attacks. Then, I saw an artist spraying on a wall in the square, presenting colourful forms and words in French meaning “yes to life…” while on the other side, large graffiti on a black background with white font states “Fluctuat nec mergitur”, which has recently caught much attention on media . It was painted by a team of Parisian graffiti artists called the Grim Team. The team also made a similar piece in another spot by the Canal St. Martin, on the other bank where people come and gather in silence in front of the restaurant and café that endured horrifying attacks.
But what is “Fluctuat nec mergitur”? It is the motto of Paris in Latin, translated as “tossed by the waves but does not sink”. This motto is present in the city coat of arms depicting a ship floating on a rough sea, which can be seen in a recent piece of street art by yearz1 too. Both the motto and the city arms had been used for centuries by the powerful river Seine’s boatsman corporation, which ruled the city’s trade and commerce, before they were made official in 1853 by the Baron Haussmann. The artists have revitalised this centuries-old motto in a cool way, reminding heartbroken Parisians of this tough and persevering spirit.
On a wall right opposite the attacked restaurant and café, Fred le Chevalier, a well-known Parisian street artist who also lives in that district has stuck a figure dressed in black and white, holding a candle in her hand and a heart-shaped teardrop falling from her eye. The figure is able to cover some of the bullet holes in that wall. Being much lighter compared to the heavy atmosphere just metres away, his art offers comforting compassion to this miserable corner of the city and the devastated people around it. Near to this spot, another street artist juxtaposed the legendary Parisian photo The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville with red paint on the couple symbolising gunshot wounds, alongside French words written in red meaning “not even hurt”. The message is simple but compelling, that the love represented by the kiss would not be hurt even by brutal terrorist shootings.
All of these beautifully painted walls in the streets may not have comparable monetary value with the so-called “high art” that is being sold for millions in auction houses, but they are simply invaluable. These artistic walls are there to show love and support and to spread mighty spirits and positive energy, particularly at this difficult time when people in the city are most in need. There should not be any walls, or wars, to divide humankind, either by religions, races or nationalities. The walls are to defend those previous values and virtues of human civilisation which are the best weapons to counteract terrorism. So, yes, leave paint, not pain, on these walls; let’s spray not only for Paris, but also for Beirut, for all the suffering people, and for a brighter world!
November 26, 2015
I attended the opening night of White Cube’s new exhibitions including ‘The Banners’ by Gilbert and George and ‘Tightrope Walk: Painted Images After Abstraction’ which was curated by Barry Schwabsky. There was a lively atmosphere and a general buzz around the artwork, with everyone seeming to like what they saw. The Gilbert and George pieces were very tongue and cheek, striking the right balance between humour and political content, dealing with issues around sex, the environment and education, amongst other issues, in their eye catching banners. I particularly enjoyed this section of the exhibition because it not only encouraged thought but it also encouraged some giggles with its controversial phrases, and to see so many people taking photos of themselves next to the art was really refreshing as it showed a direct interaction between the visitors and the exhibition. I feel the placement of the huge banners in such a vast space as White Cube provided an excellent visual display and the beautiful lighting of each piece allowed the visitors to see the most intricate details including the pencil marks that complimented the spray paint on each hand-made banner.
The ‘Tightrope Walk: Painted Images After Abstraction’ were also equally as stimulating with their mixture of bright colours, surrealist perceptions and varied subject matters. Each piece was eye catching in its own way and I thought that Barry Schwabsky did an excellent job with curating the exhibition. So if you want an array of colour and a visual feast then head down to the White Cube to see their latest exhibition which runs from the 25th November 2015 to 24th January 2016, and it is definitely one not to be missed!
November 22, 2015
Power, passion, and raw, unadulterated emotion veritably oozes from the work of the relatively obscure artist, Oli Fowler.
Oli, (otherwise known by his tag name: ‘Flabby G’) has done work for Jeremy Deller, Emily Evans, Fraser Muggaridge, and LOM Architecture and Design. His work can be found in the unobtrusive exhibitions hosted at The Crown pub in Angel and Shaw’s Bookseller in Blackfriars.
Oli specialises in screenprinting and design, having mastered the mediums of illustration, photo-montage, photography, and printing. His work is nostalgic, colourful, abstract, and dynamic. It aspires to evoke sex, sassiness, and seediness. His creative process is fuelled by experimentation as he strives to ‘fuck things up a little bit, to create a bit of fun.’
Oli’s vivacious, vibrant, and furiously futuristic compositions instantly captivated me. To my delight he agreed to an interview, inviting me to the studio and gallery Print Club London. As I ambled down the dusky alleyway towards Print Club London, I was greeted by haphazardly hung fairy lights, fluttering flags, and walls scattered with street art. I found myself invading a hidden haven of creativity.
The following interview with Oli was inspirational and invigorating. Our discussion orbited not only around Oli’s career, method, and meaning, but extended to words of wisdom and guidance. Oli revealed how he shook the shackles of the service industry at tremendous risk so that he could follow his passion for creating art.
- Could you explain your compositions and creative process to me?
Those shapes that you see in my art that are jagged and triangular, they come from me experimenting with sellotape. I like to mess it up a little, most of the time I’m completely unsure if it will turn out well, but if it doesn’t work I always save those prints and go back over them. It’s about saving money and being frugal, you don’t have to spend vast amounts of money to create art.
- What drives your art? Are you attempting to broadcast a particular message or meaning?
I’m not political so it’s got absolutely nothing to do with that. I like to do things that evoke memories. I’m currently working on a series depicting disco girls, influenced by the ’70s. I love the look of airbrushed album covers and the concept of really cool music. I’m trying to capture that coolness in my art. I’m trying to create work which I don’t want to say is nostalgic, but which recreates the sexiness of the ’70s. I want it to look cool and sassy.
- Why do you think you’re so fascinated with recapturing the ’70s?
Music inspires me. I’ve been listening to Jazz-fusion and Jazz funk disco since I was an eleven-year-old picking through my mums record collection. The more I listened the deeper I delved into it. That underground scene appealed to me. When you think of disco most people think of ABBA but it’s not like that, it’s the far out stuff that was underneath. I just think it’s got a good feeling of fun; there was so much innocence. People weren’t so serious back then, I love that.
- Bar the recreation of fun and innocence are there any other emotions you want your work to evoke?
I’m currently working on a series called Sister Power. My figures are all looking to the camera and are really hot. I want a girl who sees that work to be struck by it, to feel powerful, to be made to feel good by looking at it. I’ve also got another disco piece coming, it features people jumping and playing. I want people not to take life so seriously, to just have a good time and enjoy the moment. My metal piece of the sailor and his girlfriend is about passion. It’s about love joining two people. His feeling for her is eating her, consuming her. I want my prints to show things like that.
- What does the future hold for your forthcoming projects?
I want to play around with more typography and do massive past[e] ups. My next screen prints are based on nail bar signs. If I get hold of a wall I’m going to build a picture and people will be able recognise it. I’m always walking around being influenced by the things I see. It’s going to take time and money, a lot of money, but I’ll get there.
- What would you like to communicate through this article?
I want to say for a long time I wasn’t doing any artwork. I was doodling in my twenties and the art was there but it was just doodles on receipt paper; I couldn’t see how it could happen. Now I’m thirty-five and I’m doing great artwork. It’s never too late, it doesn’t take too long, and you just need great dedication and passion for it. You’ve just got to keep on going for it.
- Do you ever find yourself disillusioned by your choice to become an artist?
You could call me ignorant because some people are very good at marketing themselves and are very proactive in making money, but I’m currently at a point where I don’t care about making money. It’s about the art. I would prefer to go out onto the streets and hand it out for free or put it up on the walls somewhere. I’d be happy to give my stuff away or just have it hanging somewhere so people can see it.
I was working in retail for ten years and I knew I had to get out of it, then I heard about Print Club London and moved to Dalston, joined up and used my screen prints to get into university. Eventually you earn money, it’s not a lot, you don’t earn corporate money but it’s about being happy. I have to do art, I’ve got to do it, even without money I just couldn’t stop. I’d always find a way.
November 19, 2015
Yes. It is just a word. Some say it’s a way of living. Ben Rivers certainly depicts on that. But I don’t know if it is a way of living. I mean, we tend to think it is. But is it really? I don’t know if there is such thing as liberty – complete or partial liberty. We are some sorts of victims – either of the lives we choose to follow – or the paths we seek to walk through.
My thoughts on this were triggered by Ben Rivers’ black and white 16mm film shown at Camden Arts Centre in London. It was produced in 2008, but 7 years later is still more relevant than ever. I don’t think it will go out of date anytime soon. It is a diachronic issue on which artists and generally people feel the urge to talk about. In the film, there is no linear narrative, which perhaps – I think- was the main aspect that intrigued me in writing about it. It can much reflect on our everyday lives. We as human beings we don’t have a narrative – neither artists.
Even if we wish our lives had a narrative, a beginning, middle or an ending story, it is never really the case. Life comes up in unexpected ways. We set off on our path as human beings and end up somewhere else, which was not really planned. Ben Rivers focuses on a ‘cinematic essay’. This is the genre he deploys in his work. It’s the same way with human beings. Our lives are cinematic essays. I never felt that such a genre would fit so perfectly in the human nature.
His attempt to visualise all aspects of a liberated life is outstanding. I don’t know if there is a sense of irony in it or a sense of contrast to what is going on in the world today; it might have both elements. He might be addressing his ideal view of how life should be. But it is not. The sad truth is that it is rarely the case in reality. Liberated life? Liberty? What kind of liberty? And what is liberty really? On which terms? How can you be really free if you have restrictive boundaries? And we all do have boundaries and restrictions. Even at the time when we were children. We were carefree but not entirely free. Our innocence made us think we were free – or perhaps our parents perceived it that way because we were not entitled to pay taxes or for our own survival. Others did that for us. It is mesmerising if you think about it.
To be completely free in a world filled with ignorance, poverty, class struggle, capitalism, genre class and social inequality is utopian. Perhaps, Rivers wanted to depict that utopia. Only nature is free. And even that today – with all the climate change and the destructions of men – is not really coming through. It is slowly diminishing.
So my observations are really straightforward. You can never enjoy liberty or freedom. I mean, even the Statue of Liberty (the embodiment of liberty, ironic isn’t?) did not enjoy freedom. It came as a gift from the French. So spot the irony. Liberty always comes with a price. The price of knowing your own surroundings, what is going on out in the real word. Art, film, photography, and theatre are here to address these issues. Fiction deploys reality in some ways. There is a fine line between truth, documentary and fiction and that is – reality. But I keep thinking, the world needs magic for each person to choose its own liberty – whatever that is.
November 18, 2015
My last article discussed the difficulties and problems of outsiders photographing a place that isn’t their own. This article will take the opposite approach and focus on photographers whose work is primarily about where they come from, and why that is important to the rest of us.
The Balkans are a fascinating region which has endured violence and conflict over the past 500 years. In many Balkan capitals and cities, life appears to have been caught in time, or at least exists liminally, partly progressive, partly antiquated. The beauty of these places is unique, distinctive from their Western European counterparts. That character is wrapped up in the history of war and regime shifts that have been dominant throughout the different countries that made up Yugoslavia and its neighbors. So now the region is at a critical turning point, and much of the art being produced from natives of Southeastern Europe is not so visible to “the West”. At this juncture, it seems important to know and understand the artwork emerging from there, because (to be reductive and brief) artwork produced from any sort of struggle is often some of the best. Here are 5 photographers whose work allows us Westerners (me, as a Dutch-American) into an artistic vision of the Balkans and gives us a taste of the landscapes, identities, and cultures to be found there.
Michał Korta, Polish – Okay, so with this photographer I am breaking my word a bit in terms of origin. Korta is from Poland, not Southeastern Europe, but his photography project called “Balkan Playground” is a good introduction to the visual language of a place, namely, the Balkans. Korta has a strong eye, and an authoritative approach to photography which makes his work simultaneously easy to view, but complex to think about, like a good novel. This project takes us on a brief road trip through 8 Balkan countries, and shows us the beauty, contradiction, and humor that exists in everyday life in these different places. He captures a certain idiosyncrasy in an abandoned trailer in the middle of a forest, a handmade shack labelled “castle”, an unfinished house in naked cement, and two red chairs, one broken, one whole.
Enri Canaj, Albanian – This photographer, through high contrast, black and white, moody images, shows both life in Albania where he has his origins, and the difficulties of living in neighboring Greece as an outsider. This perspective does not necessarily include his own experience as an Albanian living there; he chooses instead to focus on other fringe members of Greek society, and their struggles. He creates intense and charged portraits of drug addicts and sex workers in Athens, as well as immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan living in deplorable conditions. The overall feeling from these photographic essays is that these subsets of Greek society are not accepted in terms of social equality or government support. His latest work is on the influx of Syrian refugees in Greece. His particular window into the lives of these people looks like one of sympathy and journalistic exposition.
Some of my favorite of his projects is called “Albania – A Homecoming”, where he describes the culture and place where he grew up as a small child. In this collection of images, he shows a group of five women at what appears to be a funeral. They are dressed in black, and holding each other in grief, support and solidarity. This is the first image, an introduction to the project, which goes on to highlight the significance of family relationships in a country that looks, in his images, to be pretty bleak.
Eugenia Maximova, Bulgarian – This photographer’s style could almost be classified as halfway between collage and photography. She contrasts vibrant and high resolution patterns with everyday objects, and highlights the culture of kitsch that existed in the second half of the 1900’s in Bulgaria. Within these constructions, she interrogates concepts of memory, the general taste and aesthetic of her country during this time, and her own emotional connection to objects and patterns. Her latest project up on her website, called “Associated Nostalgia” is her most sophisticated and concise work that brings together strengths existing in her previous projects to create a dreamy, exaggerated, hyper-reality where her imagination seems to play.
Ivan Blažev, Macedonian – Blažev’s work “Macedonia Dreaming” is photojournalistic, and mostly concerned with the everyday experience of people in Macedonia. It is lucid and humorous, creating contrasts and disconnects between the people and the background, but provides a realistic and clever look at the life and culture in a post-Yugoslav country. This includes the sense of a general lack of infrastructure, leaving people to fend for themselves. But in this type of abandonment, he finds peace and camaraderie between people, and shows how the society functions based on them rather than focus on the government. In many ways he seems to be a photographer still finding his eye, but is most at ease and fluid around people and their stories.
Samir Karahodzha, Kosovar – More than any of the other photographers on this list, Karahodzha plays with the viewer’s sense of temporality, and illustrates the timelessness of the Balkans. His images are cinematic, unfocused, and dreamlike, leading the viewer down a mysterious path. Little information or work is available about him via his website, but what is available is worth getting acquainted with.
I should mention that this list is not at all exhaustive or comprehensive, and during my research for the article I came across tons of artists and photographers whose work astounded me. Below, find a few links to recommended pages for deeper examination and also, please check out this article on photography of Yugoslavian punks in the ‘80’s (incredible!).
November 15, 2015
On a Saturday morning this November, I had my first artist interview with Poline Harbali in her cozy studio-apartment in Paris. That turned out to be a very inspiring conversation with intense exchange of deep thoughts.
Poline Harbali is of Franco-Syrian origin. Her artistic practice is constructed around the search for her identity, which is particularly difficult when she has no direct access to her family in Syria. Poline then started to work on family memories through collected photographs which are then superimposed, wrinkled, redesigned, printed on transparent or textile fabric or burned iron. Poline’s art strives to pose questions on various topics including femininity and to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context, for instance, giving new definitions of embroidery. Her embroidery work is currently being exhibited at bookshop-gallery, Violette and Co in Paris until 29 November. Her works were seen at JABAL Art Fair of Beirut in both 2014 and 2015.
- You specialised in graphic design, photography and illustration at school, in what way have these practices influenced your art?
At the beginning, I studied Master in Philosophy for four years and I already specialised in aesthetic, and for me, it is important to put ideas into forms. At the beginning in my photography class, I was working with old pictures of my family. My father is Syrian and my mother is French, while all other family members are in Damascus in Syria, but we can’t go to Syria because of the war and all the complicated situations. Then, photography became important as a means to share the life with the family in Syria, pretending I am living with them, because my family in Syria and I would exchange photos from our life. This was the beginning of my work –I was trying to find the missing pieces of myself, my identity through photography.
- How is your family background and identity important to you as an artist?
My family background is very important because I’ve always been striving to search for an identity. There is not one thing from either my mother’s family or my father’s family that can tell me who I am, and that will always keep me wondering about my identity. As an artist, I am not very interested in giving answers to people. What I like is researching and trial and error. So wondering about who I am, who my family is and how I can interact with them has influenced the topics of my work for sure, and also the way that I am working. That is, I am not trying to communicate certain messages, but I am more questioning through my work rather than answering questions. I put questions from my mind into forms.
- It seems your artistic practice stems from your quest to discover your identity, and you started this process with photography, can you tell us more about that process, how did you go further from that?
Yes, I started with photography. I’ve been always interested in “transgression”. As I come from an Arabic family, and in Arabic perceptions, there are many norms or rules of how you should behave as a woman. I think I never felt fine with what my family told me to be. To start with, there were a lot of Syrian tablecloths which were made of specific way of Syrian embroidery called agabanee, with gold threads, in vegetal patterns like flowers and plants. This embroidery is an activity that women do a lot at home, including my grandmother. And I really feel close to all the women in my family as I felt we’re concerned about the same wondering. So I wanted to use and work with this technique but make transgression about that. It means that, originally embroidery was something to keep women at home and to just spend their time while waiting for men to come home. And I wanted to make it in the opposite way that I make embroidery because I want to embroider and to talk about myself through embroidery, such as my fears as a woman, my sexuality or my intimacy in general.
I try to make something not beautiful. That’s an important point because traditionally we always want women to make beautiful things, for decorative reasons. But I want to make something raw; sometimes mixing it with beautiful things, for example, I love using floral patterns which I superimpose with something dark and raw.
- I see. So I think that’s a way how you to try to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context. Is that what you’re doing in your art?
Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important for me to use traditional materials, like fabric, because I’m really questioning the tradition in my work. Also, I’m working with clothes in an installation project right now. I make use of homewear clothing that I got from my grandmother and then I make embroidery, drawings and prints on it. I think the materials are like a soul. For example, homewear clothing in my grandmother’s generation was something very specific that represents women’s roles in the family as a wife, a mother. There is a book that I really like called A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I think it’s very important to always have the time and a place at home that you’re with yourself to focus on yourself, your work, your desire… So with this project, I hope to re-establish an individual space for women through these white and not decorative homewear clothes. I’m just trying to question why it’s so important for my grandmother to be a wife, to have beautiful homewear and to be always very pretty for somebody else. Also, I want to bring out all those things which are forbidden by moral norms and make women ashamed of, such as rape, abortion and other humiliations, and expose them on the outside on the homewear clothing, instead of keeping them inside women.
- Any artists who have particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?
Well, there’re a lot. I really like Louise Bourgeois that I find the way she was doing her art was very interesting. What I like is that she’s not afraid of working on both more intellectual or conceptual art and raw or brutal art together. Her work is not conventional in the sense that she has plastic art skills for sure as an artist, but she’s also a conceptual artist at the same time. I’m very sensitive to her work. Two or three years ago in Berlin, it was my first time to see a work of hers in person. I saw this huge work with many drawings of red hands, which was powerful for me. I was crying.
Also, I like Kiki Smith because I find her work very seductive. She’s not trying to fit her work into something else, but she focuses more on the process than the results and I also like working this way. So she’s a big inspiration.
Then, the music of an Austrian singer called Soap&Skin who inspires me too. She has a traditional background too but she’s very experimental and contemporary. This is similar to what I do –questioning the tradition and making something new out of it.
- How do you define femininity? What do you think about women artists in the contemporary art world?
I think there should be no definition of femininity and there’re a million ways to be a feminine person. This is what is really interesting in our time. We can make the choice even if it’s not easy at all to make those choices. This is something very different from the years before. I’m not seeing myself as an angry feminist, but I think of the book King Kong Theory by a French writer Virginia Despentes. She says in our society women always define themselves from men. I think both for her and for me, a lot of people think being feminine is to be soft, kind, smart but not too smart, pretty and a bit sexy or seductive somehow. For example, there is one part of the book talking about the double standards between men and women. I always felt myself as a raw person who doesn’t like following others’ expectations. For example, if you’re not always soft or very independent, you speak in a frank way; people would think you’re like a man. And this is something bothering me a lot. I think it’s time to remove these gender stereotypes. There has been definition of femininity for a long time, but I think it’s very important to not have one.
- You exiled yourself to Nantes, Montreal and Barcelona. As I come from another culture but now living in a different one, I am very interested in your experiences of displacement, can you share your feelings about that?
I am a person with wanderlust and I like being like this because every time you move out, you have a chance to redefine yourself, to break through people’s perceptions of you. When you encounter new people, you always discover something new about yourself, and you have a broader view of what life can be or what you can be. The year in Barcelona was particularly difficult for me, but I learnt a lot about who I was and why this experience was complicated for me, so it was an important experience. Learning a new language can help to express yourself differently too. I was wandering around for almost ten years, but now I feel that I want to gather all those experiences and build something in a place. At some point, it is important for me to belong to a place for some time at least and then I can transform all the things that I’ve collected from my experiences into some forms.
- What impacts do these displacement experiences have on your artistic creation?
What can be seen in my art that is related to these experiences is that I like to experience new ways to work. I don’t define myself with embroidery or photography. In my work, I’m not only searching for subjects, but also searching for forms that I don’t even know what it is. I think I’m wandering in my art.
- So now do you see Paris as your home?
Yes, I really feel home in Paris. I’m French but I’m originally not from Paris. I’ve been living in Paris for around four years, but I really feel home here. When I went to Montreal, I really felt home there that I felt connected with that city which has my rhythm. But I thought I needed other experiences, so then I decided to go to Barcelona. I think it is possible to have different little homes and whenever I go back to Montreal from time to time, I still feel myself having nice energy there, so maybe it’s like a second home. And everyone in family comes from different origins and has been to different places too. I think it’s important to find and choose a place to be home by myself. Moving around can bring different perspectives that can make a person complicated but also very interesting. I feel lucky.
- How would you describe the art scene in France or in Paris? How do you interact with it?
I don’t really know because I don’t feel very connected with the French art, not that it’s not interesting, but it’s less related to the “questions” I ask with my art. I’ve been participating in the JABAL Art Fair in Beirut for two years. From the art fair, I can feel more connected with the Middle East art because those artists and I are concerned about similar questions, such as war, violence or women’s life. But what is different from other Middle East artists is that I use materials that are more similar to French art. For ideas, I’m more inspired by French writers.
- That’s interesting and brings me to another question: How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?
I always like reading and I think that’s why I studied philosophy. Reading is like endless conversations with the authors. As you read, you always answer and question the writer. Conversations with people are always with certain notions or goals, but with reading, you can always question the writers, which is something very important for me and my art. I work a lot on books. When I read a good book, it always inspires me on my art somehow. I like putting a concept into a form. And I always like questioning more than answering and my art is like questions without words and can make people question themselves while I question myself. There is not any goal. I didn’t choose to do something with words like writing or cinema because words are much more definitive by nature compared to visual art. That’s why I like visual art which is more flexible and open.
I also want to talk to you about a French writer called Olivia Rosenthal that’s really inspiring me. She’s questioning the moral norms and the impacts of the family on her life. Like, she would also speak about how family secrets can influence your life a lot even if you don’t know them. So it’s mainly about the conflict between individual thinking and outside norms in the family system. Then, this is something really well done in the Turkish movie Winter Sleep. This spoke to me a lot because it’s in Turkey and my grandmother is Turkish. In this movie, you can how the family system is working and how in the Middle East, expectations from society can influence almost your every behaviours as a man. This movie is very violent for me because the tension was always kept below the calm surface. This is really in the Middle East culture and is very inspiring to me.
- What role does art play in your life?
I can’t say that I’m making art just for myself because I think when you make a form you want it to be seen. I’m making my works differently every time after some feedbacks and observing people’s interactions with my art. I think it’s always a bit political, not in the sense of defending some right, but in the sense that I’m really questioning topics like femininity, family secrets. It’s important to make art for myself for sure, but also to try to make repressed ideas visible to the world. Sometimes I just feel the need to find a good form to express what I feel. It’s very important for me to express all my colours inside me through my works. I have to create a form to get my feelings and questions out of my body so that it exists outside my body and it’s not mine anymore. Maybe it sounds weird… Maybe lots of thoughts come up to me and it’s like I need a place to deposit them, or else it may be too overwhelming. It’s important for my life and my art that at some moments I really concentrate on all my thoughts and questions and other moments I put them away.
- As a young artist, have you had some moments of feeling lost? How do you cope with that and find your own way?
I think in my creative life, there are moments when I’m more productive and other moments when I’m not doing anything. At the beginning, I would feel very anxious. I think this is normal and the beginning of the process. When I create something, I have to leave it for a while to let it grow and then get back to it to make it differently. That’s also the research part. As I also work for Le Monde as an illustrator. Illustration is more like an intellectual work because large part of the work is about finding the concept and how to link it with an image, so it’s like a philosophical work but with pencil. It’s also something important for applied art; it’s not just about looking for a good form. I’m trying to experiment with different forms from the same place, so it’s an evolution. Sometimes, it can be stressful when one week I keep working on the same thing, but the next week I don’t like it at all. It’s hard to be always satisfied with everything you do. Well, the way to cope with it is that I try to keep doing it. There is no rush. I just enjoy the process of making art, so I make it. That’s it!
Everyone is talking about the Frank Stella Retrospective at the New Whitney museum this fall. However, the art world is split right down the middle when it comes to their opinion of the show. Some find that the Whitney dropped the ball, stating that the show’s monumentality is purely just that, an aesthetic play on the public’s taste for the spectacular in the modern day of Instagram and Snapchat. However, some find that it is exactly this focus on the aesthetic that so greatly captures why Stella was revolutionary for the art world.
Frank Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts to first generation Italian-American parents and attended Princeton where he earned his degree in history. While attending Princeton, Stella furthered his interest in art and studied underneath the painter Stephen Green and art historian William Seitz, who introduced Stella to the New York art world, and in turn, the Abstract Expressionist movement that he was soon to react against.
Stella moved to New York in 1958 and quickly became famous due to his emotionally cool and aesthetically sleek geometric black paintings that stood dark and menacing in the face of Ab-Ex. Whereas critics like Clement Greenberg believed Pollock to be the ultimate destroyer of perspective (this is a good thing) and king of formalism, others like Michael Fried praised Stella for removing the “theatre” from art and allowing the works’ own formal properties, such as two-dimensional surface and structural shape, to define it. Ever since his explosion on the scene in the late 50s, Stella’s career has ceased to slow. Moving from Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism into Lyrical Abstraction, Color Field and Abstract Illusionism; Stella’s work is always reactionary, aware of the times and its own influence over the path of artistic experimentation.
The best word to describe the Whitney’s Stella Retrospective is monumental. Visitors are greeted by the artist’s enormous forty-foot painting entitled Das Erdbeben in Chili, 1999, paired next to his huge, gray-scale geometric work Pratfall, 1974. It is fitting, as the exhibition takes you from the early Minimalist works of the artist, though while minimal they are not small, to the “Maximalist,” hyperbolic pieces that the artist has created during the later years of his still on-going career. In its entirety, the show is filled with huge paintings and sculptures that tower over visitors and snarl with metal tongues or stare blank faced, sometimes almost haughty, from their painted structures; while the works at the beginning of the show may seem completely unrelated to those at the end, their differences highlight the true genius of the artist, a formalist with no limits.
The museum’s new space enhances the already intense overall visual impact of his works. The visitor follows Stella’s career as he shoots to art stardom with his Die Fahne Hoch! 1959, the epitome of his black painting series that is comprised solely of the shape of its own structure; at the time, a rejection of the exploding Abstract Expressionist movement and an embrace of the antithesis of gesture and human expression. This idea of allowing the art and its formal elements to define the very content of the work will remain with the artist throughout his career.
The show is designed in a mainly chronological order, exemplifying Stella’s experimentation with color and shaped canvases that create dynamic and complex structures to form the subject of his work. As visitors move through the open galleries, they can stand before a metal sculpture that is grotesquely kitsch, baroque to a point where Gaudi himself would be proud, and look two decades back at the artist’s first shaped, colorful canvases. The space allows the viewer to make connections and understand the artist’s progression by putting fewer restrictions on the visitor’s visual input.The one noticeable trait about Stella’s oeuvre that stands out in the retrospective is the display of true dedication to formalism. Whether it is the rejection of expression and perspective on a canvas to the embrace of gesture and curvature in metal works, Stella is always seeking to highlight the formal aspects of the materials, the object, itself. The motif that marks Stella’s career as presented by the Whitney’s retrospective is the growth and diversification of aesthetic in the realm of abstraction. The exhibition stays true to Stella’s early motto of “what you see is what you see.”
November 13, 2015
The current display at Four Corners Gallery is the culmination of work by five artists: Marianne Bjornmyr, Maria Kapajeva, Jo Lawrence, Georgia Metaxas and Elisa Noguera Lopez. All were selected to take part in Fathom 2015, a residency in its second funding round, granted via Arts Council England with additional support from the European Regional Development Fund for this final exhibition. The driving force behind the programme is to provide London based film makers and photographers with an opportunity to explore their ideas in an open, practice-based, experimental manner.
The exhibition space itself is fairly modest and fitting all five artists in was clearly a curatorial challenge. I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Dave Than, Exhibitions and Project Manager, who treated me to a fascinating account of the history and cultural significance of the space which houses (amongst other things): around twenty artists’ studios, a fully functioning photographic studio, the London base for photographer Steven Gill (arguably the photographer of London’s east end) and a fully functioning colour and black & white darkroom. The darkroom itself is shared with the photographic printing service Labyrinth who have just been awarded the Lucie Foundation’s Best Darkroom award – so a massive congratulations to them! Hopefully I am beginning to paint an accurate picture of just how important the work that goes on inside the Four Corners building, which is currently celebrating it’s 40th year, really is.
What became most apparent from my conversation with Dave is the care and support each of the artists in residence receives as a part of the programme, with such a wealth of knowledge and resources available it’s not surprising that there is such diversity in the works on display. At one side of the gallery you have the quietly confident work of Georgia Metaxas who has created bust-portraits of invigilators across London in a classical style, a great homage to those who work in the galleries we visit and endure the painful task of sitting in the same place for hours on end. Then, at the other end of the gallery, you have the work of Jo Lawrence who happened upon Angeles Duran, a Spanish activist who found a loophole in the legality of constellation ownership and claimed the Sun at the centre of our solar system as her own.
Her animation tells Duran’s story in a playful style and is the result of many conversations that took place between the two women. Sandwiched between these are offerings from Marianne Bjornmyr, Maria Kapajeva and Elisa Noguera Lopez. Bjornmyr’s beautiful black and white photograms were created by scattering actual meteor dust across the surface of the paper whilst, opposite the Dogs and Chairs in Lopez’s films and found images explore the notion of animism – the belief that natural phenomena possess souls. Finally, Kapajeva shows a sensitive and tense collection of previously undeveloped photos the artist found that had previously belonged to her Father. These are paired with equally delicate excerpts from the novel ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ by Italo Calvino. All of the works require a dedicated amount of time to really get the most out of them – I would highly recommend purchasing the exhibition catalogue to gain and even great understanding of the artists’ background and intentions.
To any budding photographers based in London, do make sure that you keep an eye on the Four Corners website for future photographic residencies as this programme is potentially one of the most exiting in the capital.
Fathom 2015 will run unitl 23rd January 2016 .