By: Evie Clifton
Earlier this year Ai Weiwei released his new project in Berlin which involved wrapping the columns of the Konzerthaus in 14,000 salvaged refugee life jackets to raise awareness of the plight of displaced people all over the world. With life jackets taken from those who arrived on the Greek Island of Lesbos after facing the dangers of the treacherous Mediterranean sea, Weiwei has created a piece that both the world and Berlin cannot ignore. The sheer scale of the installation highlights the sheer amount of suffering that these people face and as the blaring orange of the lifejackets has captured the attention of the world, we can only hope that these people will try to do something to change the situation of those in need.
This is not the first time that Weiwei has been seen in the headlines for his art this year. In January, Weiwei revealed he would be withdrawing his work from a show he was currently involved in within Copenhagen after new legislation was implemented by Denmark’s parliament which would delay families from being reunited and gave the authorities the right to confiscate the possessions of migrants in order to dissuade them from seeking asylum. The law provoked international outrage from many people including an array of human rights groups and Weiwei himself released a statement saying ‘The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously.’
Through his actions, it is clear to see that Weiwei is a hugely important figure in showcasing that art is political and that it is not merely an aesthetic form. Art is not shallow or meaningless and when it is put into the hands of someone like Ai Weiwei it can bring political issues to a range of people. Weiwei himself is no stranger to political turmoil and disruption with it featuring throughout his life from being beaten by police officials to being held in jail for extended amounts of time with no official charges. Both Weiwei’s life and career has been shaped by political authority who have not only impinged on his right to freedom but on his creativity as well with the demolition of his studio in 2011 by officials showing how this is an artist who knows how it feels to persecuted. Weiwei has suffered at the hands of tyrannical regimes just like the ones that refugees are fleeing from everyday and therefore there is an affinity between the artist and the people who provide inspiration for his work, there is a shared suffering between the creator and the subject.
Interestingly, the artist has not only chosen to explore these important issues through large scale projects, he is also utilising platforms within the social media world and particularly through Instagram. The artist posts videos and photographs documenting his time spent with refugees which includes anything from images of the people he encounters to the conditions they have to live with. These digital expressions act as a juxtaposition from the work people usually associated with Weiwei but they relay instant and important messages. Through this platform, the artist can posts daily and continual images that highlight the struggle these people are facing, meaning that the issue can never fade out of sight. It would be impossible for Weiwei to erect one of his large scale sculptures everyday or have an exhibition in every city in the world, but through the Internet he can spread his political and artistic message and people are able to interact with it almost instantly with Weiwei’s Instagram page having over two hundred thousand followers. You don’t need to be an art buff to recognise and acknowledge the suffering that the people in these images are facing and therefore by utilising social media, the artist can speak to a brand new audience and spread the message of their plight even further.
The refugee crisis is important and it should not be ignored, and with figures like Weiwei the world is waking up and the permeation of this political crisis into the world of art shows that this issue cannot and should not be ignored. Throughout history, art has been there to express some of the most important moments that define the world that we live in and I think Weiwei’s work is no exception. Art and culture can hold so much power and through these sculptures, photographs and videos, this power is being harnessed and I believe it can go a lot further. Ai Weiwei is an artist who has taken on both his own suffering and the suffering of others and has managed to take a stand through his work, and if you enjoy Weiwei’s piece perhaps you should consider stepping up and trying to make a difference too.
April 12, 2016
Focusing on actors, dancers, poets, artists and more, the exhibition contains a whirlwind of movements captured in a selection of images where the body becomes art. Organised into different sections such as ‘Staging/Collaboration’, ‘Performing Icons’, ‘Self/Portrait’ and ‘Performing Real Life’, the exhibition looks at the diverse nature of performance. It also contains diverse forms of photography from film to digital and even the inclusion of the ‘selfie’.
‘Performing for the Camera’ shows that performance is much more complex than people might think. Yes, it includes an array of posed models, choreographed dancers and constructed personas, but it also shows more intimate elements that we perhaps do not even realise are a performance. Whether you are vegging out at home, interacting with people around you or developing your identity through your clothes choices, it seems that life, in fact, is a performance and this exhibition captures every element of it.
Photography is a vital tool in the world of art as it preserves the moment before it is lost forever. It can be staged; it can be candid, though it always captures the precise momentum of time. The photographs within the exhibition showcase how our movements and expressions can become a political battle ground and how we can use our bodies to represent higher concepts such as gender inequality or resistance against a political regime.
Highlights of the show included a series of photographs of Ai WeiWei entitled Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn taken in 1995. The photograph depicts Ai WeiWei with an expressionless face looking into the camera and dropping a 2,000 year old urn, thus, allowing it to be smashed to pieces. In this performance, the artist is rebelling against the intense focus China puts on its culture. However, without the aid of photography, this performance would not have been captured. The act of dropping the vase itself would not have taken more than a few seconds, but its significance stretches far beyond its existence and produces a provocative and somewhat empowering effect for both the artist and the spectator, as we witness the artist liberating himself from a symbol of a regime that has limited him so much in both his life and his career as an artist.
Another highlight is the artist Jemima Stehli with her piece Strip from 1999-2000. In these images, Stehli takes an array of somewhat unconventional self-portraits where she performs a strip tease in front of seated male figures, all of whom come from the art world including curators, critics and more. With her back to camera and the male subject looking straight into the lens, Stehli creates a strange yet effective dynamic within her images. It is in fact the man in the photograph who is given the shutter release and therefore is in control of when the images are taken. These challenging photographs capture an array of concepts such as a male gaze, voyeurism and sexuality and the artists’ bold use of her body. The artist both sexualises and desexualises the body in her piece with everything from the use of her sexually charged title, the display of her naked body and the reactions of the male subjects involved.
Both Ai WeiWei’s and Stehli’s pieces are massively contrasting but they also have some similarities at their core which run throughout the whole exhibition. They show the diversity that photography can take, the meaning that one frame can hold and, ultimately, they really do embody the concept ‘an image is worth a thousand words’.
With it being two years since Tate Modern last showcased a photography exhibition, I think, their newest edition definitely showcases the importance and diversity of this art form. Whether we realise it or not we all perform for the camera at some point in our lives: a posed family photo, photographs taken of weddings and celebrations or simply selfies.
‘Performing for the Camera’ brings out elements that I believe most visitors will find a connection with as it also looks at life with the inclusion of celebrity culture, gender, race, sexuality and more. It shows how on some level, even if there is not a camera there to capture the moment, we all interact and engage with performance throughout our lives.
March 7, 2016
When Damien Hirst announced his new gallery space in London the question was, who would get the inaugural exhibition? The answer: John Hoyland. Newport Street Gallery is in Vauxhall and it acts as a ‘the realisation of Hirst’s long-term ambition to share his art collection with the public‘. Hirst has made his admiration for Hoyland quite public throughout his career and has been seen affectionately referencing his work, talking about how he is ‘an artist who was never afraid to push the boundaries‘ and how ‘his paintings always feel like a massive celebration of life to me‘.
Hoyland has often been characterised as one of the leading painters of his generation and his work impacted the world of contemporary art by showing how simple bold colours can have such a powerful visual effect. Up until ‘Power Stations‘, his last solo show was back in 2006 at Tate St. Ives, so I believe Hirst’s selection of artist’s works is particularly powerful as it brings the artist back to the greater art scene.
Hoyland studied at Royal Academy Schools in London before bursting onto the art scene at the forefront of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the midst of the 1960s. Hoyland’s work was mostly influenced by such artists as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, nonetheless, the artist carries his distinct personal style; he totally relies on colour and shape without any distractions.
Hoyland once famously said ‘paintings are there to be experienced … [they] are not to be reasoned with, they are not be understood, they are to be recognised‘ and I think it is very important to adopt this mindset when viewing his pieces. Large scale paintings look striking within vast spaces, therefore, the relationship between the artist’s work and the space they inhabit is perfectly structured. The bold colours light up within the gallery due to high ceilings, allowing the visitor to appreciate the depth of each piece and explore each painting down to the tiniest details. It can be challenging to look at Hoyland, and many people have questioned his integrity as an artist while they struggle to view blocks of colour as being ‘real art’, but thought is the key and you must embody the open and expansive outlook that Hoyland himself seemed to possess.
Hirst’s selection of the pieces for this exhibition is important because it exposes new works from the artist and gives substantial insight into one of the most important periods of Hoyland’s life and work, from 1964 to 1982. Throughout the gallery, rooms are designed to take the visitor on a journey through colour. The highlight of the exhibition featured a collection of paintings showcasing Hoyland’s use of a colour palette made up of soft, pastel tones such as pink, lilac and white. As Hoyland usually prefers a bolder more striking palette that centers on reds, oranges and greens, this softer use of colour showed a drastically different side to his work.
Showcasing an array of some of Hoyland’s most compelling pieces, The Newport Street Gallery is an absolute must-see. “Power Stations” on view until April 3rd, 2016.
January 13, 2016
I attended the preview of Saatchi Gallery’s newest exhibition, ‘Champagne Life‘, and it certainly did not disappoint. Saatchi is committed to its advancement of the art scene here in the UK and internationally, which is why for the first time in its history, the gallery decided to formulate a display of all female artists for the exhibition. Within this exhibit, visitors can see the work of female artists from around the world, ranging from Iran to the USA to Australia and Saudi Arabia, and all the artists produce distinctive pieces including paintings, sculptures, mixed media works, and more.
‘Champagne Life’ is a celebration of women in art but the subject matters that each artist deals with go far deeper than just femininity. The artists look at the media, at heritage and much more and they explore these issues in a range of interesting ways for visitors to take in. Whether it’s a taxidermy horse, a canvas, a wall of over 200 pans or a papier mâché animal, these women display the vast [and varied] forms that art can take, and placed within the gorgeous setting of the Saatchi it makes for a great exhibit.
Although the canvas pieces were excellent, for me the true highlights of this exhibition lay in the mixed media work and sculptures. These artists seem to have mastered the art of taking the everyday object and molding it into thought-provoking pieces. They are new, fresh and in the words of Maha Malluh, one of the artists featured, it ‘forces you to pause, to contemplate and think harder about your surroundings‘. So to see this groundbreaking exhibition, head down to the Saatchi from 13th January and be part of what will become a historical moment for the gallery.
December 11, 2015
This week the Saatchi Gallery in London launched their show ‘UK/RAINE: An Open Competition For Emerging Artists From The UK and Ukraine‘, a project which is designed to display the best emerging talent from two very different European countries.
The work that is featured has a fresh and provocative vibe to it, feeling so new and innovative. There were a range of pieces on offer from James Fitzpatrick‘s bizarre and eye-catching sculptures to Matthew Spencer‘s street art pieces, meaning that this was no conventional art show.
One of the highlights of the exhibition, and the deserving winner of the whole competition, was Sergiy Petlyuk‘s ‘Untitled‘ video piece which gave a new meaning to this type of installation. The video almost seems to come alive as Petlyuk projects his pieces in a range of original ways on a range of different materials and it is definitely something that needs to be seen to fully appreciate its detail and its intricacies.
Overall the show is a massive success, allowing people to see not only up and coming artists from the UK, but expanding this and allowing them to see the international talent on offer as well. The exhibition contains an array of different genres and each room of the gallery provides a new experience which is as bold and as stimulating as the last. The show is running from the 24th November 2015 to 3rd January 2016 so make sure you don’t miss out on seeing the array of talent from the artists of tomorrow.
December 4, 2015
The Royal Academy of Art is known for its impressive exhibitions and their Ai Weiwei show is no exception. Providing a deeply political experience through the medium of art, the exhibition takes you on a journey through the life, work and struggle of the artist. This is more than just art, it is conflict, division, hope and resistance all rolled into one visual display.
With a mixture of sculptures, photographs, films, ceramics and much more, the exhibition acts as a provocative display of Ai Weiwei’s life and his relationship with his country, which is an extremely powerful thing to see. Weiwei’s work is so expansive that he cannot just be limited to the gallery setting, with one of his vast sculptures welcoming guests and I believe that this bold statement piece being brought onto the streets and directly to the people truly sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition.
However, if you want to catch one of the most significant exhibitions that has been displayed in London this year you’ll have to be quick as it finishes on the 13th December. Don’t panic though, to make the exhibition even more accessible, so as many people as possible can see this important collection of work, The Royal Academy of Art are extending their opening hours on its final weekend, offering art to the people 24 hours a day so there is no excuse for you not be able to catch this monumental display.
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!