In: Contemporary Art
October 18, 2017
Much of the contemporary performance art at this year’s Frieze Londons explored the notion of identity and the final day of the fair was no exception. Frieze offered a series of multi-disciplinary performances navigating themes of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Kicking off the afternoon’s performances was Leeds-born YBA Georgina Starr, staging her work in the UK for the first time in ten years. The piece, titled Androgynous Egg, took inspiration from the artist’s novel Empress 66 99 and incorporated an array of artistic practices, including puppetry, choreography and acapella melodies in both English and French.
The performers showered viewers with repeated words, fragmented phrases and an array of sounds, color, and visuals to create a surreal experience. Reminiscent of Dada sound poems, the experience felt almost claustrophobic in the purpose-built art fair filled with artistic objects.
Then it was time for the afternoon’s headline event: The Singing Lecture, performed by two vocal artists. First up was American cabaret performer Mx Justin Vivian Bond. Accompanied by the acoustic guitar, her lyrics explored themes of sexual orientation, gender identity and reconciling religious beliefs while each song featured candid anecdotes and musings.
Following Mx Justin Vivian Bond was Angolan/Belgian artist Nástio Mosquito, performing a vocal piece in collaboration with Martin Hirsch of the Bauhaus University, Weimar. A mixture of spoken words and songs, the performance explores echoed and looped, building layers of meaning.
Concluding the fair’s series of performance interventions was a queer art collective SPIT! (Sodomites, Perverts, Inverts Together!). Founded by Carlos Motta, John Arthur Peetz, Carlos Maria Romero and the performance was staged by performers Joshua Hubbard, Carlos Mauricio Rojas, Claudia Palazzo, Malik Nashad Sharpe, Daniel Brathwaite-Shirley, and Despina Zacharopoulou.
Having been invited to create a new performance piece to be premiered at this year’s fair by Raphael Gygax (Curator at Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, Zurich and Frieze Project 2017 Curator), Carlos Motta and his fellow artists developed work in two parts exploring gender-based discrimination and oppression. First came The SPIT! Manifesto Reader, a collection of queer manifestos dating from the 1960s to the present. Then a performance intervention took over half a decade of queer activism. The starting point of the movement was to create blending choreography, songs and spoken words in an attempt to highlight discrimination and oppression based on gender and sexual orientation and to negotiate contemporary queer politics.
Though manifesting in starkly contrasting ways, all the Frieze London 2017 performances used the human voice to challenge societal norms and to explore identity politics, some more concretely than others.
October 10, 2017
For nearly 60 years British artist David Hockney has been painting, drawing, and experimenting with the limits of artistic production. While merging traditional techniques with modern technologies, Hockney is interested in examining perspective and the reproduction of images.
A celebrated artist, he has been inspired by the never-ending genius of Pablo Picasso. Simply put, “[Picasso] mastered every style, every technique. The lesson formed is to use all of them.” From the beginning of his career, Hockney took it upon himself to master every skill, to become a virtuoso; this is what the artist continues to accomplish.
Hockney’s most recognizable works revolve around water, pleasure, leisure, and the domestic lives of his friends and family as seen in his double portraits and swimming pools. Starting in 1964 after a move to Los Angeles he switched to acrylic paint and a roller and embarked on a formalist journey that depicts a hedonistic and modern California. He also incorporated the use of photography in his practice by painting from his photos, resulting in precise and yet almost immaterial images. The most recognizable A Bigger Splash (1967) and Portrait of an Artist [Pool with Two Figures] (1972) proudly show his experimentation in representing transparency and light in water and his fascination with the male figure.
During the same period, Hockney began his double portraits to embrace naturalism and depict the psychological relationships between his subjects, friends or family. Despite their intimate nature, he painted these large-format works with a sort of mechanical “photographic” coldness.
The most famous works in Hockney’s oeuvre are far from how he began his career. He received a traditional arts education from the Bradford School of Art and later the Royal College of Art in London. During his schooling, he expressed interest in the social realism found in the British Kitchen Sink School of his teachers and American Abstract Expressionism. As a result, his early works are less colorful and vibrant. These pieces represent a mix of gritty realism and abstraction with themes concerning love, homosexuality, sexual liberty, and domestic life. In finding his voice and expression, the artist brazenly borrowed stylistic elements from painters he admired such as Bacon, Dubuffet, Picasso, Balthus, Hopper and Morris Louis among others.
An underlying interest throughout Hockney’s career has been experimenting with the representation of space over time. Significantly inspired by Cubism, his work confronts traditional, static perspective in favor of multiple simultaneous viewpoints. Despite his skepticism towards photography, in the ‘80s he turned to photo collage and Polaroid composites to create what he calls “joiners.” He takes the camera’s single viewpoint, turns it on its head, and produces works that mimic traditional painting in size and subject while retaining photography’s claim to uninterrupted “reality.” Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #1, 1986, for example, shows a highway desert scene composed of a couple of dozen photos aligned next to one another to portray how each is a different, singular perspective coming together to form the image as a whole.
While he has never abandoned traditional painting or drawing, Hockney broadens his experimentation by using technology such as the fax machine, printer, video, computer, and Apple products as new tools for creation. He uses his iPhone and since its launch in 2010, the iPad. The iPad specifically proved useful for blowing up images and as a sketchbook with the capacity to record and later replay the process of production. Pretty impressive for someone born well before the tech generation.
A captivating production showing Hockney’s enthusiasm for technology is The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods, 2010-11, a work consisting of 36 synchronized screens showing video footage of winter, spring, summer, and fall in England. Hockney again combines old and new by taking the approach of a large-scale landscape painting, a traditional medium and theme, and puts it into motion through the application of nine high-definition tracking cameras. Here, a concept as simple as natural weather patterns results in the creation of a mesmerizing universe; the magic of 365 days transformed into a few minutes of simultaneous peaceful pleasure. It is a truly immersive experience that almost hypnotizes those who marvel at each season, either reliving their nostalgic memories or witnessing the changes for the very first time.
Hockney’s different themes and modes of production may be experienced in the most extensive retrospective of the artist to date, which also happens to celebrate his 80th birthday. The exhibition is currently on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and is scheduled to travel to New York City later this fall. Through over 160 works it is the most comprehensive survey of the Briton and touches upon all significant periods of his career.
During the exhibition’s run, the Pompidou announced with excitement that Hockney had generously donated one of his more recent large-scale landscape works to the museum. The work in question, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011) is the culmination of several months of continuous observation and sketching, all recorded on the artist’s iPad. The gift is a particularly important one as it is the first work by the artist to enter the Pompidou’s collection and according to Franceinfo to come into French collections as well. The work is currently on display in the museum’s central forum, open to everyone, and will be moved when the exhibition closes on October 23rd.
David Hockney is on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris until October 23rd, 2017 and afterward will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City at the museum’s Fifth Avenue location, opening November 27th, 2017 and on view until February 25th, 2018.
October 6, 2017
This year, apart from the usual household names, Frieze London offers a strong contingent of emerging artists represented by young galleries.
Here are five artists to watch at Frieze London this year:
Swiss artist Tobias Spichtig’s multi-disciplinary work aims to capture the psyche of contemporary society. Combing elements of the figurative, the abstract and the surreal, most of the works on display are shown for the first time at Frieze. This year he is represented by German gallery Jan Kaps, which can be found in the Focus section of the fair along with 31 other young galleries.
Jan Kaps, booth H20
Forming part of their series of “Survival Pieces,” the original portable orchard comprised twelve citrus trees, houses in hexagonal boxes above which individual lightboxes provided the vital ingredient. The installation was designed for the art gallery of the California State College at Fullerton and was nicknamed “the last orange orchard in Orange County” due to urbanization in the region.
See photographs, diagrams and plans of the original work and recreations of the trees themselves at the Various Small Fires (LA) booth.
Various Small Fires, booth H28
As part of Frieze projects, South African performance artist Donna Kukama presents an interactive installation co-commissioned by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. With a backdrop of medicinal plants, audience members are invited to interact with the artist through candid conversations on the nature of value.
Kukama’s installation can be found just outside the main entrance to the fair (P1)
Kiluanji Kia Henda
Frieze Artist Award recipient Kiluanji Kia Henda’s immersive installation explores notions of personal identity and heritage in the context of Angola’s western colonization, the Cold War period and the country’s relationship with the USSR. The work draws parallels between the widespread practice of witchcraft during the Angolan Civil War and science fiction narratives employed during the Cold War. Soviet iconography is juxtaposed with traditional craftsmanship in this interdisciplinary installation.
Frieze Artist Award is situated between booths B1 and B2
Regina José Galindo
This multi-media selection of video, drawings, and photography by Guatemalan artist Regina Galindo explores a wide array of themes. These themes include gender, the environment, immigration, violence, and labor in the context of post-war Guatemala. If we look at Galindo’s work as a whole, her work can be read an interrogation of the relationship between neoliberalism and the human body. Represented by Proyectos Ultravioleta, the selection of work also features the international debut of José Galindo’s bilingual poetry anthology ‘Dejen de disparar / Stop Shooting,’ presented for the first time to an English-speaking audience.
Proyectos Ultravioleta, booth H19
Frieze Art Fair is taking place in Regents Park, London, From Thursday 5th October – Sunday 8th October 2017
October 6, 2017
The South African artist, Jenna Burchell sits opposite me. Despite the fact we are surrounded by the creative bustle of the 1:54 (where she is currently exhibiting), she captivates me by the undeniable devotion she has to her work. Represented by Sulger-Buel Lovell, Burchell is fascinated with the theme of time and has used technology as a way to enhance her subject matter.
Burchell has a particular resonance with technology as her parents migrated from South Africa when she was younger, and thus programs such as Skype were her only forms of communication that produced an emotive response. She explains to me how technology not only helps to reveal previously hidden meanings and emotions but also connects and brings people together.
As a self-proclaimed anti-disciplinary artist, Burchell has designed her language to create a new form of art. When presented with the question of how she would describe her artistic practices, she explained how it is difficult to develop an idea that is unique; one can only improve what has already been conceived. The artist notes how what were once singular disciplines can now be joined and explored together to create something beautiful; for example, science and art can now work together to shape something new. She states passionately, “You must twist the ordinary on its head and question the conventional.” Her outlook of manipulating disciplines and borrowing techniques is especially prominent in her most recent project Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), nicknamed ‘the singing rocks’ by her audience. Within this project, she has transformed a relatively ordinary historical object into one of beauty and functionality.
The artist has collected some naturally broken fossils and rocks from three ancient sites in South Africa. She then repairs the fractures following the Japanese method of Kintsukuroi in which gold lacquer is inserted into the cracks of the object. As a result, the piece becomes more beautiful from the destruction which it faced; it has been gifted with a new lease of life. Not only does the rock become a form of beauty, but it also encompasses a historical tradition. In this sense, Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.
Although the rocks are incredibly beautiful, they are also functional objects. Jenna Burchell has ingeniously uncovered the poetic voice of the rock by capturing the raw-electromagnetic readings beneath the objects’ original resting place. In essence, when you interact with the piece, the magical sound of the earth echoes around you. Captured entirely by mother nature’s call, the viewer has an undeniably personal and emotional relationship with nature (click here to listen). The enchantment we have with the work is amplified by the different sound each Songsmith produces, based on its weight.
Each Songsmith is a time capsule. The voice of each rock is infused by the place it came from, meaning each song has been sung for 2.2 million years (in the case of those from the Cradle of Humankind). So not only are we connected to nature physically by touching the rock, but we are also teleported 2.2 million back in time. We are part of an unbelievable collective experience; we breathe the same air, walk upon the same soil and are reminded by nature’s melody.
It is important to remember that Burchell would not be able to conceive her artistic concept without technological help. She argues that technology is like “the books of our age,” and in a sense she’s right. In the 21st century, we learn and adapt through the use of technology, so there is no reason not to embrace it. The only way in which this can be reached is through the specific technological technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The golden band running through each rock also aides our understanding. It is not only compositional but also allows the stone to resonate and the foundation to sing. Without technology, Burchell would not have been able to build the bridge joining humanity and nature together.
Carry with you the beauty of the Songsmith’s and let them be a reminder to interact, connect and build relationships with those around you. Replay the Earth’s song in your head and know that beneath you something genuinely incredible is happening.
Jenna Burchell is exhibiting at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Somerset House, London until the 8th October. Find her on the first floor of the South Wing in room G27.
June 16, 2017
The art of calligraphy dates back to 4000 BC, which is the earliest record of written Chinese characters. Though many might see calligraphy as merely “beautiful writing,” Chinese calligraphy came to be appreciated as one of the highest visual art forms. Many ancient Chinese scholars were devoted to the importance and power of words. They produced a powerful means of expression by combining physical form and abstract concept with just the movement of a brush. A calligrapher’s style became just as revealing as the words they wrote, and the combination of the two created a supremely eloquent form of art. Today, artist Ni Li draws inspiration from calligraphy and brings this ancient art form into our present time by applying it to modern objects and ideas.
Ni Li was born in Shanghai, China in 1989. From a young age, she was introduced to philosophy, literature and calligraphy as part of her formative schooling. She eventually went on to become a well known television host, columnist and journalist for SMG (China’s largest media network). In a recent interview with AXS, she stated that “In my career as a TV talk show host, I interviewed high profile guests from all over the world and being a shy, introverted and sensitive type of person, I eventually realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. Art has always been my way of expressing my true self and connecting with others. As an artist, I also felt it was important for me to do different things and gain new perspectives on life.”
Today, Ni Li lives in Los Angeles and creates mixed-media art that explores the relationship between an ancient art form, calligraphy, and contemporary materials and subjects. The artist’s love and appreciation for the Chinese prose stems from her extensive education in the art form, but it has blossomed into a mode in which her distinctive style expresses her authentic self.
Past projects, such as “Flow” from 2016, encompass Ni Li’s fascination with the old and the new. In this specific series, she used ten bamboo skateboards as scrolls for her wildly written calligraphy. Ni Li pays tribute to legendary ancient calligrapher Huai Su (737-799) by taking excerpts from his works (less than ten of which still exist today), which she combines with quotes from famous Chinese poets such as Li Bai (701-762). Phrases like, “The sounds of torrents and whirlwinds fill the room” and “Under the pen, one only sees the flow of arousing electricity” – taken from Huai Su’s Autobiography – are given a new context when Ni Li’s rapid and rhythmic calligraphy is applied to the skateboards. The ancient words and sentiments of movement are brought into the contemporary world by Ni Li’s use of the characters upon modern objects.
Another recent series, entitled “We Are Parts of the Culture” (which was featured at this year’s LA Art Show in January), expands upon Ni Li’s exploration of the concepts of ancient and contemporary. This project consists of a set of images of nude female models upon which Ni Li’s calligraphy of ancient Chinese poems and aphorisms have been written. The images are giclée printings on watercolor paper which, materially speaking, show the contrast between modern and ancient process of image making.
The use of the female body in this series creates many derivations. It criticizes the lack of representation of women in a historically male-dominated art form, but may be seen as a commentary on the exploitation of the female form as well. In addition, it also uses the female body as a vessel to transmit the ancient into the contemporary. Ni Li has been quoted saying, “As a feminist, I not only pay homage to the female form, but also convey the idea that the human body or even the human self are merely the carrier of the immortal culture and history.”
Since she left her journalistic career behind in order to focus on art back in 2016, Ni Li’s work has been exhibited at the Shanghai 2016 Art Show, the LA Art Show 2017, and Art Expo New York 2017. Her latest projects, “Heart Sutra” and “Untitled”, continue to explore the art of calligraphy from a contemporary perspective.
June 12, 2017
In the world of museum giants, inexhaustible lists of galleries, and raved-about art fairs, art foundations are often hidden gems that not only offer visitors the experience of viewing art and learning more about it, but also actively engage with their community, supporting contemporary artists or preserving the legacy of an individual. While other art institutions or businesses have commercial or collection-building interests, art foundations typically focus more on the development and backing of artists themselves. Here are some of the most reputable and successful art foundations found in Paris.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
Since recently opening in 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton has made quite a name for itself in Paris by rising to the top of the city’s cultural ranks. Located just west of the city center, at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the larger Bois de Boulogne, the foundation is housed within a unique structure designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry. A visit here is worth it just to admire the dazzling building, which has been called “the iceberg” and described as a “glass cloud.” Personally, I had the impression of walking up to a futuristic pirate ship stranded in a lush forest.
Fondation Louis Vuitton was born out of the ambition of the LVMH group to continue with their dedication to support art, culture, and heritage by placing strong roots in western Paris. With just about 4,000 sq.m. of exhibition space, FLV holds a permanent collection of 20th and 21st-century works (150 pieces by 71 artists) and puts on impressive museum-grade temporary exhibitions as well as site-specific installations. In its three years of existence, it has exhibited many of the masters of Modern Art, with landmark exhibitions such as Keys to a Passion and Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection, as well as displays of Chinese and most recently African art. The foundation also organizes a series of events ranging from dance and music performances to talks and activities for students and children.
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
Situated in an industrial-style, entirely transparent glass building by Jean Nouvel, both reflecting its environment and blending with it, the Fondation Cartier has been promoting contemporary art for more than 30 years. Since its opening, the foundation has aimed to stimulate creativity and discovery by revealing young artists to the public and regularly commissioning works for temporary exhibitions or for its own permanent collection, which includes over 1,400 works from 300 artists worldwide.
Fondation Cartier engages in all mediums and forms of artistic expression, from design to photography, from painting to video, and from fashion to performance art. Another unique aspect of their programming, entitled “Nomadic Nights,” places an emphasis on the various forms of performance art including dance, music, film, theater, conferences, installations, and spoken word. After exploring this large variety of activities, visitors can relax in the foundation’s “wild” but carefully curated garden, which mixes diverse flora, art installations, and local cultural heritage dating back to the 18th century.
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
Opened in 2003, just a year before the death of the iconic photographer, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson was established to preserve the legacy and complete works of Cartier-Bresson and his wife, Martine Franck. It houses various rare publications, vintage prints, and documents assembled from their lives, and it is regarded today as one of Paris’s central locations for photography: it is a space for education, discussion, and admiration for the photographic medium, as well as a resource and support for contemporary photographers. The foundation also sponsors the Henri-Cartier Bresson Prix, awarded every two years.
Perhaps the most aesthetically modest foundation on this list -white washed interior and all-, but certainly an important cultural gem of the city. It is located along a quiet residential street in an atelier dating back to 1912, where Cartier-Bresson’s famous “The Decisive Moment” (1952) has found a home and where all may come to discover the joy of photography.
Fondation d’entreprise Ricard
The Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, created in 2006, is much smaller than the other foundations on this list; but what it lacks in size and imposing architecture, it makes up for in its rich programme and involvement in the French art community. Situated right off of the Place de la Concorde, it runs very much like any typical contemporary art gallery, with five to six exhibitions a year and free admission. The foundation is dedicated uniquely to the young French art scene, supporting its emergence and promoting its awareness abroad.
In partnership with the reputable contemporary art fair, FIAC, the two organizations have created the program Young Curators Invitational (YCI), where young curators from around the world are invited to participate in the fair by meeting with artists, collectors, gallery representatives, and other critics to discuss the French art scene and other issues in the art world. Additionally, since 1999 Le Prix Ricard has been annually awarded to an emerging artist working or living in France. The winner receives a purchase of one of their works, the chance to exhibit in the Centre Pompidou, and support in producing a personal project abroad.
So whether you are interested in discovering the fresh talent in the French art scene, are yourself an artist or an art professional looking for resources, or want to attend one of the many monthly performances, conferences, or affiliated programs, there is certainly something to be found at the hyper-active Fondation d’entreprise Ricard.
Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent
What would a list of Parisian art and culture be without some fashion? Housed in a traditional Parisian hôtel particulier dating from the Second Empire, at 5 avenue Marceau (just across the street and around the block from the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris), the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent preserves the legacy of the iconic couturier Yves Saint Laurent. The foundation, whose galleries opened in 2004, occupies the same space that the YSL Haute Couture house operated in from 1974 to its closure in 2002. Its mission is to preserve the 5,000 garments, 15,000 accessories, photographs, sketches, and archives that bear witness to the YSL Haute Couture creative history. The foundation also puts on exhibitions of photography, drawings, paintings, and items from their fashion collection. It also owns and manages the Jardin Majorelle and Berber Museum in Marrakech, Morocco.
The foundation is currently closed for renovations in preparation for the opening of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent on October 3, 2017. This new museum will be dedicated to the life and works of YSL, showing across 450 sq.m. about 50 rotating models with items from the permanent collection as well as providing access to the salons and studio where YSL himself worked. From those who consider Vogue to be their Bible to those who more simply take an interest in design and fashion, this is a place to keep your eye on as October comes around!
At London’s National Gallery, known globally for its collection of masterworks by Late Medieval, Renaissance and Modern painters such as Botticelli, Titian, Vincent van Gogh, and J.M.W. Turner, visitors now have an opportunity to view a major new work by contemporary British artist, Chris Ofili.
In his latest offering – a large-scale, three-paneled wall hanging entitled “The Caged Bird’s Song” (currently on display in an exhibition entitled “Weaving Magic”) – Ofili narratively engages with classical themes of love, tragedy, and paradise, whilst simultaneously exploring how these may be recast into contemporary idioms of black, diasporic identity. The scene itself – a watercolour depiction of two lovers luxuriating in an Arcadian, tropical landscape reminiscent of Ofili’s adopted home, the island of Trinidad – also features a treed, serpent-like man (based on the media-sensationalised character of Italian footballer, Mario Balotelli), who, in the upper centre of the main panel, mischievously disturbs the tranquility of the scene by pouring a green, effervescent, and noxious-looking liquid into a cocktail glass held by the central, female figure.
This female figure is depicted, along with her musical lover, in the tapestry’s lower centre panel, and both are flanked by an additional pair of characters on two far side panels – a female on the left and a male on the right – whose representations directly reflect the title of Ofili’s wall hanging: on the right, we see the male figure carrying a caged songbird (a common sight in Trinidad, according to curator Minna Moore Ede), and on the left, a female figure whose hand dangles a sprig of seeds meant for feeding to the caged bird in order to sweeten its song.
Ofili, who discusses the making of his tapestry in a 15-minute, companion video also shown at the exhibition, says that the title of his wall hanging refers to the late poet Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that the image of the caged bird provides the “secret” to interpreting his tapestry, namely in its symbolism of the vulnerability and precariousness of humanity in the world. It is also significant that the central figures portrayed in the tapestry are black, and that their physical postures reflect a joyful state of innocence consistent with the tapestry’s paradisaical setting.
“The Caged Bird’s Song” provides viewers with a mural-sized translation of Ofili’s watercolour paintings, from small, preparatory sketches – some of which are also on view at the exhibition – into a large, jewel-toned wall hanging. For the Dovecot Tapestry Studio weavers charged with interpreting and executing Ofili’s design, their challenge was to both reproduce the formal subject matter, and incorporate the fluidity of line, colour runs, blooms, and puddling of watercolour pigments characterising Ofili’s original sketches. All of these watercolour effects are successfully captured throughout the tapestry, especially in the left-hand panel, where threatening blooms of storm clouds hover over the horizon.
Water is a dominant motif in Ofili’s tapestry; representing purity, life, and death, it recurs in his depictions of a waterfall, a sea in the background, an approaching thunderstorm, and a small, serene pool by which the lovers recline. The Dovecot weavers’ interpretation of Ofili’s watercolour effects further underscores the significance of this motif for the narrative, namely that of a paradise on the verge of being lost, flooded, or drowned.
For visitors to the Sunley Room, viewing Ofili’s tapestry is an immersive experience that the artist himself orchestrates with the aid of sophisticated lighting, and ceiling-height images of Indian temple dancers painted onto the surrounding walls of the gallery space. These dancers, depicted in greys and subtle browns, line the walls of the Sunley Room, and are arranged in rows by gender: female dancers appear on the left, while male dancers appear on the right, echoing the female/male couples depicted in the tapestry itself.
These gigantic images provide a neutral background for Ofili’s wall hanging, and they physically encircle the viewer, whose eyes are thus provided with sight lines for traversing the gallery, traveling back and forth from individual temple dancers to the scene depicted in the tapestry. On the far wall of the gallery, “The Caged Bird’s Song” gleams like a vividly-painted altarpiece, and viewers can reflect upon its symbolism and aesthetics from within a quiet, contemplative space that Ofili, in a creative departure from the traditional white cube gallery format, has specifically designed for this purpose.
“The Caged Bird’s Song” represents a three-year collaboration between the artist and the Dovecot Tapestry Studio of Edinburgh, Scotland. The tapestry was commissioned by The Clothworkers’ Company London to celebrate contemporary art in textile, and is on loan to the National Gallery until 28 August 2017. The exhibition is free of charge, and includes a catalogue providing additional information on the inspirations for, and production process of, Ofili’s new work.
May 20, 2017
Photo London is only in its third year, but this sprightly young fair does not disappoint in the quality and breadth of the work on show. Eighty-nine galleries present a diverse array of emerging artists and established names in this four-day festival. Here are some of our favourites.
1. Michael Wolf, ‘Tokyo Compression’
This series of uncomfortable, claustrophobic images depicts one of the many unpleasant realities of life in the metropolis. Catch it on display at the Flowers Gallery booth.
2. Stephen Shore, ‘Warhol and The Factory’ (1965-67)
A vintage series presented by Sprüth Magers Gallery captures glimpses of an “off-duty” Andy Warhol and his companions shot in and around The Factory.
3. Photo London Master of Photography 2017: Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon’s ‘Image Atlas’ is an interactive “work-in-progress” exploring the idea of a universal visual language. Using search engine data from around the world, Simon examines the fluidity of reference and the constant changing of meaning attached to images, in a work that interrogates the impact of censorship on our perception.
4. Discovery Galleries
This year’s edition of Photo London highlights the work of new galleries that are between one and five years old, with sixteen stands making up the ‘Discovery Galleries’.
5. Jacob Aue Sobol’s ‘Road of Bones’, presented by Leica Camera
Shot along the Kolyma Highway in Russia, Jacob Aue Sobol captures life in one of the coldest inhabited regions of the world. Using Leica X and Leica M Monochrom cameras, Sobol starkly portrays the bleakness of an area once notorious for its Gulag camps.
6. Michael Hoppen Gallery
Michael Hoppen Gallery presents an engaging selection including Siân Davey’s series depicting the innocent pleasures of youth over a British summer, and the timely “Brexit Wall” offering photographs capturing the essence of ‘Britishness’.
7. Alison Jacques Gallery
This year’s highlights from Alison Jacques Gallery include lightbox images by Catherine Yass from her ‘Decommissioned’ series and Juergen Teller’s brooding portrait of Kristen Stewart for System Magazine.
8. Galerie Johannes Faber
This Viennese gallery presents a selection of photographs from before the digital age, including works by Man Ray, Germaine Krull, Dennis Hopper and Horst P. Horst, among others. The elegant, more conservative compositions in black and white offer a sobering contrast to the abundance of technology-heavy works across Photo London.
9. Isaac Julien, ‘Looking for Langston’
At the Victoria Miro booth, Isaac Julien combines digital and analogue pre- and post-production techniques in a series of stills from his film ‘Looking for Langston’, which explore black queer identities.
10. Mat Collishaw, ‘Thresholds’
Mat Collishaw debuts his ambitious project ‘Thresholds’. The immersive, multi-sensory installation uses a virtual reality headset to recreate the 1839 exhibition of photography staged by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In collaboration with Blain|Southern Gallery –which simultaneously displays some of the artist’s recent works in The Centrifugal Soul–, Collishaw uses 21st-century visual technology to bring to life the cutting-edge photographic technology of two centuries ago and introduce virtual reality as part of the evolution of the photographic image. Collishaw’s work juxtaposes the scepticism that photography once faced with our modern anxiety towards new forms of technology and artificial intelligence. If you missed it at Photo London, ‘Thresholds’ will be on display at Somerset House until 11th June.
Can’t afford the price tag of an original print? A strong contingent of publishers, including TASCHEN, teNeues and Thames & Hudson, offer up their latest photography publications in the fair’s central pavilion. Check them out!
Photo London is at Somerset House, The Strand until Sunday 21st May.
You may have been lucky enough to embark on the journey of a virtual lifetime by travelling through the extraordinary installations of Mat Collishaw.
Emerging from Goldsmiths College, London in the late 1980’s, Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of the original Young British Artists. Although the YBA is not something that he particularly dwells on, he has established a provocative and increasingly intricate body of work since his first participation within the group. During his time at Goldsmiths, he started appropriating forensic photography, fuelling his interest in technology and his obsession with “the slightly morbid human fascination with the darker side”. He has exhibited widely internationally since his first solo exhibition in 1990, including at the Centre Georges Pompidou, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
His new exhibition at Blain|Southern, London, titled The Centrifugal Soul, is a fantastical combination of illusion and haunting reality. He attempts to create “images that are awe–inspiring”, enveloping the human conscious into a world that is equally shocking and familiar, governed by our primal urges for visual supremacy. The exhibition is separated into two fragments; a freestanding sculpture based on the model of a zoetrope, and an evocative projection inspired by the Victorian theatrical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.
Collishaw worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller to produce the centrepiece of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul. This sculpture in the form of a zoetrope –a pre-film animation device that simulates the illusion of movement through the use of rapid rotation and stroboscopic light– directly comments on Miller’s theories. Miller postulated that the origins of art derive from our natural instincts of courtship and reproduction, hence why the birds in the sculpture are condemned to repeat a series of seductive routines.
The dancing birds of paradise and bowerbirds not only entice and trick the viewer into entering an optical world, but their aesthetic beauty comments on how humanity has an unquenchable thirst for visual stimulation. We have an undoubtable appetite to be noticed in a visual competition, much like animals do in the courtship rituals they perform. Perhaps The Centrifugal Soul exaggerates how we cannot escape our own primal urges; we must create art as an attempt to articulate our own frustration with courtship and reproduction. Ultimately, the human race, like any other species, has the fundamental goal to reproduce, and if this goal is not reached then the purpose of life is questioned.
Collishaw continues his commentary on the ways in which we consume imagery whilst struggling with our own biological conditioning with Albion, a new installation in the form of a laser scan of ‘The Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. This hollowed-out tree trunk is supposedly the hiding place of Robin Hood, and it is because of this mythical significance that the tree and it’s limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. Collishaw’s rendition of ‘The Major Oak’ is a glowing ghost-like skeleton that slowly rotates on its axis. The eerie presence of the tree is a living representation of an object that is eternally trapped to present the illusion of life. The artist states that “the tree is interesting because it wants to die… it has chains internally holding it up. It’s very sad. It becomes a portrait of England -this mythical idea that everyone wants to believe in, which is perhaps something we should let go”.
Collishaw’s intuitive use of one form of illusion to illustrate another, observing how delusion is drawn out from the optical, is an unreserved refection of ourselves. The dying fragments of ‘The Major Oak’ embellish everything that we believe we are; what we perceive through our eyes, the things we consider to be true, the past, and everything we think we want. He therefore not only explores the tension between the beautiful and the wretched, but also how this tension relates to our own origins. The human race is a vacant shell, filled with memories and past experiences that cannot be escaped; the internal chains that support ‘The Major Oak’ are the same supporting elements that sustain our own thoughts and feelings. We all want to believe that there is a component of Robin Hood in us.
Mat Collishaw’s The Centrifugal Soul is on display at Blain|Southern, London until 27th May, 2017.
Since the early 20th century, some artists have been exploring the possibilities of movement by introducing the element of time, reflecting the importance of the modern machine and technology, and exploring the nature of vision in their work –they are kinetic artists. Among them, the most renowned figures are Jean Tinguely and Alexander Calder. Nowadays, Swiss kinetic artist Ralfonso extends this artistic lineage and incorporates motion into his Kinetic, Light, and Interactive sculptures, which are exhibited and installed across the globe, including China, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Switzerland, USA and Russia.
Ralfonso has been fascinated by mechanics and design ever since he was a very young boy. He then started to design objects and sculptures that had a motion component, which later on became art in motion, or kinetic art. For more than 20 years he has endeavoured to push the boundaries of kinetic art at the intersection of art, mechanics and design. His work is mostly inspired by nature, by the shape and natural interaction of different elements. His sculptures gently move with the wind, with water, through motors, or when pushed by hand, and range in size from 50cm to 15m.
Different from usual sculptures, kinetic sculptures are 4-dimensional with the added dimension of time and the “change over time” element. As our technology advances, kinetic artists nowadays do not only have to engage with motion, but also with other engineering fields. It is imaginably not an easy practice in art. Ralfonso sees that as a major benefit rather than a challenge. He enjoys collaborating with experts in technical fields, as well as developing new interactive public art together with graduate students and their professors in various fields of science and art.
With the help of engineering and technology, Ralfonso designs monumental public outdoor sculptures that are environmentally interactive and can even generate energy. For example, his 8m-tall Cube Tower consists of 5 cubes, all of which move in different directions with the wind due to the wind channels in each cube. Then, the next generation Cube Tower #2 will be constructed with high-efficiency solar panels on all surfaces. So it will generate electricity not only through sun exposure, but also through the rotation of the large cubes.
Ralfonso wants to create interactive and dynamic art –to change the prevailing one-sided, passive viewing of a still piece of sculptural art. All his works create dynamic interactions, where the art and the viewer exchange, react and interact. He strongly believes that art viewing should really be a two-sided communication between the art and the viewer. Therefore, some of his works have transformed from local art to global art, as they are accessible from anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, Ralfonso co-founded the Kinetic Art Organisation (KAO), a platform and a place for everyone interested in kinetic art to meet, exchange and share information about this art form. KAO has now become the largest kinetic art organisation in the world with over 1,000 members from 60 countries, and has published its first e-book about kinetic art, with new articles by 18 international artists, curators and collectors from all over the world, including the USA, China, Mexico, India, France and Switzerland.
Many of Ralfonso’s works have been installed in public spaces. In his perception, public art should be able to intrigue the public and make them enjoy engaging with it both mentally and physically. His goal is to design truly new, never-seen-before public sculptures, which actually can “see” and “hear” the viewer, and can interact directly with them. Ralfonso, together with a group of graduate students and their professors, are exploring various cutting-edge concepts for his public works, such as augmented and virtual reality, and globally interactive art –which implies that the viewer does not have to be in front of the sculpture but can interact with it via computers and smartphone applications from anywhere in the world at any time. One example is Ex Strata, an interactive light and sound sculpture installed both at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the NHL campus in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, that can be controlled through the Internet.
On February 2017, KAO held the 3rd bi-annual Kinetic Art Event and Symposium. Meanwhile, Ralfonso has been selected as the master artist for the Putian International Sculpture Exhibition in China and as the Silver Prize winner for the China (Ningbo) Urban Sculpture Design Contest. Ralfonso’s sculptures will be installed in both Chinese cities, adding to his growing list of large public installations across China.
More info: http://www.ralfonso.com
YouTube: Ralfonso – Kinetic, Light & Interactive Sculptures