virtual reality, reality virtual? Matt Collishaw at Lacock Abbey

Matt Collishaw VR work, Threshold, at Lacock Abbey, National Trust Estate, Wiltshire.

I’ve not felt compelled to write a review of any work lately, but today’s visit to Lacock Abbey fascinated me in many ways. I went specifically to see Matt Collishaw’s VR work about Talbot Fox, to inform my own learning about the potential of VR in contemporary artworks. I was not disappointed.

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I’ve seen a few in the past year – Bjork’s show at Somerset House; Rafman in Berlin Biennale and one in a Cotswolds barn, Corridor, by Helen Kincaid. All very different and satisfying in their own way. But I wish to consider context and the visceral experience and interactive qualities of Collishaw’s piece, not just in the space it was exhibited and experienced, but also in the wider location.

Firstly, you need to know that Fox Talbot was a pioneer of photography, so the medium is perfect shown here. Secondly, you need to know that the VR offer was in a tent in a courtyard within the Abbey walls, which enhances the circus-coming-into-town feel. After all, technology is contemporary snake oil, isn’t it?

What you also need to know is the ‘the village’ of Lacock is used regularly as a film set, so is designed to be easily adaptable for that purpose. It too is a VR environment, with all trappings of contemporary living removed from sight – no satellite dishes, no telephone cables, no PVC doors or modern trappings. Flip-flap – the street conceals the real, yet pretends it is real; the VR artwork presents a seemingly real experience that is virtual, by overlaying onto museum display simulations.

Photography was terrifying for many, and Talbot’s first ‘photos’ were made with real objects, such as plants and pieces of lace, on light sensitised papers to capture virtual images.  Contact prints. Touch.

This touch thing is important to our experience of place. What works extremely well with Collishaw’s work is the way you can hold onto the display cases, and even lean on them, (they are naked white blocks, like CAD designs of the wooden ones they are modelled from). Being able to touch the surfaces of the cabinets locates your own body in VR space and time. The virtual fire emanates real warmth and the images in the cases can be extracted and expanded by your hand movements. I even played with a virtual spider which was walking across a portrait on the wall (sadly it only had six legs so wasn’t very convincing!). When rioting chartists are heard outside, you can look through the window and see them shouting below you.

Outside the grounds of the Abbey, in the ‘real’ village, life felt more virtual than it did in the headset. It was more theme park than a theme park. It all messed with my head and really made me consider, yet again, about this merging of real and virtual, and what it means to us and how we experience this world we live in, and create. It all reminds me of Benjamin and Baudrillard, about how a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. Somehow the street reverses that phenomena, and Collishaw exemplifies it.

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an early plate camera on a shelf projects a digital presentation onto the wall, with the concealed projector – Plato eat your heart out

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Film set, BBC website

 

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The main street in Lacock

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just a great shot of the big hall with the sculptures in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flow Contemporary Arts is now a company!

I’m delighted to announce that Flow Contemporary Arts is now a registered company. And we’re open for business!!

This development will mean we can expand our offer and deliver contracts for others as well as initiate our own. Starting off with a small, but perfectly formed, Board of Directors, Flow will be in a better position for fundraising and available to clients to lead on a range of projects. The Directors – namely Grace Davies and Claire Gulliver – will inform and support the development of the Company.

They bring an excellent range of experience, knowledge and skills to the table – Grace as ex-director of Visual Arts South West and now Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust; and Claire as a founder member of New Expressions and co-producer of the Bideford Black Project.

Exciting times ahead – if you want to discuss any new projects with us get in touch – we look forward to working on new things together.

Flow Contemporary Arts Registered company no. 10498277

Story of Objects update – film collage & callout

The Story of Objects represents a return to practice, not in making objects, but in discussing them. SOO has evolved both from my work as a visual arts producer and my thinking as an artist, accompanied by a deep interest in how we engage with art.

I am intrigued by how visitors encounter art in non-gallery locations so have mostly worked in the public realm. How we talk to people about art both inside and outside galleries is imperative to our understanding of it. Yet ask someone to talk about something they keep and love they will talk endlessly, and very coherently, about it.

I became fascinated in how the term ‘curate’ is so loosely used these days – we curate essays, poems, websites, plants. And many TV programmes tell us how to display our objects in our homes – how to ‘curate’ things. So I started asking people about their objects in their homes, why are they grouped like that? Where did they get them from? What did these things mean to them? Most importantly, why do they keep it?

I found myself deeply absorbed in material culture – Daniel Miller’s books allowed me to step into another discipline, as did conversations with contemporary archaeologists. The idea for the Story of Objects began to take shape. I’ve talked to lots of people, from several disciplines:

  • Contemporary archaeologists
  • Museum specialist
  • Curators
  • Artists
  • Health providers
  • Members of the public
  • Producers – for arts and radio
  • Digital providers and app developers
  • Academics

Most recently I have hosted a number of trans-faculty conversations at De Montfort University, and thank them for their support and input.

Two years later I am still developing my thinking. I’ve collated a number of 30-second films together, which you can see below and on my YouTube Channel. It’s great to see them collated like this and I am now motivated to put out another call for films.

I’m also working towards producing a scattered-site exhibition, commissioning artists who will be invited to stories of the objects that they keep and gain inspiration from. As always, don’t expect to see these artworks in a gallery space, they will be somewhere deemed appropriate for the work and the concept.

Subscribe if you want to keep informed.

 

 

 

Last chance to see Blackrock in The Forest of Dean

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Note: This review is a personal one. I write to commission professionally, I write here, on my blog, because I enjoy the freedom of voice it offers me. (C) Carolyn Black

The Blackrock Residency Programme 2016 is a partnership between Matt’s Gallery, London and Lydney Park Estate on the edge of the Forest of dean, Gloucestershire. This is an art project – which needs to be stated clearly – whilst BlackRock (the investment company) is hitting the news big-time at the moment.

It is, of course, tempting to riff on this coincidence, but that will come later when I write an article for CCQ Magazine later this year.

The background to the development of Matts Gallery + Blackrock is very relevant to any critical analysis of both the exhibitions and the works they contain. Roy Voss, an artist and lecturer at Bristol UWE is also part of the founding group of Blackrock, along with Robin Klassnik (Matt’s Gallery, London) and Rupert Bathurst (Lydney Park Estate, Forest of Dean). It is very tempting to refer to them as the three R’s. In conversation, Klassnik referred to the group as a ‘triage’˚. A triage is defined as the process of ‘examining problems in order to decide which ones are the most serious and must be dealt with first’. It fits nicely and is an excellent way to describe what they have put into action together.

The first outcome was developed in 2015, when 4 artists were selected to take up residence on the Bathurst estate to develop new works for an exhibition, which was hosted that September. There was also a Susan Hiller work shown in a hall in Aylburton, a sleepy little place on the A48. It was wonderful walking into that space to witness a massive wall of TV monitors flickering in the dark. I wrote about it last year.

This years exhibits have moved further out into the landscape, utilising several spaces that are workplaces to those who work and live on the estate. Alison Turnbull’s beautiful notations overlaid onto historical accounts ledgers can be seen in the Estate Office. The relationship between the mark-making and the patterns found in and around the space create their own rhythm. I imagine if they had a sound, it would be that of pen on paper, accompanied by the clicking noise that Spirograph makes when cogs interlock.

Sound is quite high up on the programme this year, alongside natural selection and the theme of Us & Them. The BBC voice that narrates the found-footage about an experiment and enquiry into the survival rates of black moths, compared to white, was poetic, nestled as it was next to the Bathurst family museum that houses many finds from the estate. Artist Alison Turnbull has also scattered small images around the walls of the Collections Room, of the moths showing their varying levels of camouflage. The white ones were survivors.

Elsewhere on the Estate, the sound coming from a strange arrangement of floral curtains standing in a huge, otherwise empty, glasshouse, draws the viewer in. This random collection of drapes is not unlike a refugee tent, cobbled together for shelter in this leaky botanical incubator. The film it contains reporting on social issues of vulnerablity and loss of home while the rain beats down on the glass.

Walking through ancient scowles in the woodlands down to a field, you find two huge words built by Patrick Goddard, with timber from the Estate. Shouting across the field to each other, US retreats to the edge, whilst THEM is set up to burn and flame, roaring loud and clear. THEM is to be destroyed and feared. US watches quietly from a safe distance. It reminds me of American sci-fi films, in which aliens are usually the enemy and to be feared.

In the barns nearby are two films by Goddard, one a virtual garden and the other a film from a go-pro camera attached to an Alsation dogs head. It rushes through empty industrial units, the voiceover referring to the disenfranchised – more us and them. Back in Aylburton, in the Barn Hall which has been reconstructed and reborn as a gallery, photos by Willie Doherty are shown. The majority are of the troubles in Belfast from the late 70’s, early 80’s. Whilst they could be read as historical, they resonate with the now too. Some things don’t change. Someone commented that they could be photos taken from the Forest of Dean. They were right – it’s a poor area, burnt out cars, barriers and poverty. The images of roadblocks bring back thoughts about refugees….this is still happening…not so much in Belfast now, but in other places, worldwide, every day.

Whilst this all sounds like gloom and doom, it’s most definitely not. It is provocative. It makes people think. And ask questions of the art.

This is the final weekend to catch it. The first weekend delivered a brilliant performance, twice, written by Sally O’Reilly and performed by Rosie Thomson. More here about that. Sorry, you won’t get to see that again, but believe me, it was fab.

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September. 11.00am-5.00pm

 

 

 

 

 

Commodity Exhibition: part of Forest & Wye Valley Open Studios 

I was invited to select work made by the Forest and Valleys Open Studio membership on the theme of ‘Commodity’. I’ve lived here for ten years and in that time I have learned more and more about how many artists live here. And there are a lot of them, understandably, because it’s a very beautiful place that has inspired writers and artists and musicians for many years. It also has a long history of commoners rights and anarchic behaviour, and that political fervour has contributed to the feisty behaviour of people here, who love this unique landscape and defend it to the hilt. Recent threats include being sold off, and now there’s the threat of fracking.

‘Commodity’ seeks to reveal both sides of the coin – the beauty and the beast – by suggesting artists share work that explores the natural resources through the lens of landownership and the natural resources. Those industrial materials – timber, stone, coal, ochre and iron ore, were the backbone of local industries. There were also wire works, brick works and Rank Xerox. Those industries have been replaced by tourism.

Come to see the Commodity Exhibition in the Garden Cafe, nestled next to the River Wye in Lower Lydbrook, and you will witness both the beauty of the place and the demise of the industrial heritage.  Wander to the river side and walk a little way and you will see redundant manufacturing plants and warehouses. A disused railway line. There used to be a viaduct that ran over the Cafe rooftops, long gone.

The artworks in the exhibition may, at first sight, be yet another mixed show of works with no connecting thread. But they are deeply linked, they each respond to the forest in some way, whether in terms of environmental threat; the history of hunting that shaped the landscape (and continues to do so with boar in the forest); traditional fishing methods that are disappearing; free roaming sheep; soundscapes and meditations on the fragility of this place.

11am – 4pm Saturday 9th July 2016 – Sunday 24th July (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

Private view 6-9pm Friday 8th July

DOWNLOAD FULL OPEN STUDIOS PROGRAMME BELOW

FANDVOS OPEN STUDIOS 2016 Brochure

There’ll be another blogpost over the coming days, looking more deeply into our relationship with art in rural places, including what we mean, or presume, by the term rural.

But firstly, there’s a show to install!

 

Novvy Allan
Tom Cousins
Lizzie Godden
Rob Olins
Kathy Priddis
Claire Robinson
Sally Stafford
Frances Warren

 

 

 

 

Forest & Valleys Open Studios – Commodity, a selected exhibition

ARE THE NATURAL RESOURCES OF THE AREA MERELY A COMMODITY?

PRIVATE VIEW & LAUNCH OF OPEN STUDIOS: 6-9PM ON FRIDAY 8TH JULY AT THE GARDEN CAFE, (Facebook), LOWER LYDBROOK, FOREST OF DEAN, GLOUCESTERSHIRE.

Keep up to speed on FandVos Facebook page

Congratulations to all the artists selected for this years special exhibition. Each artist will be awarded a sum of £100 to thank them for their participation.

This year is the first time FandVOS has hosted a special exhibition curated by a guest curatorial team, led by myself and supported by Keith Baugh, Adam Cairn and Carina Greenwood. Developing the Commodity exhibition with the artists has been an absolute pleasure. A great thing about forests and valley landscapes is they offer wonderful hidey-holes for creative people to live and work in. Artists and writers have celebrated this place for centuries through their creativity and have gained quite a reputation for doing so.

It is fitting to exhibit these ‘Commodity’ artworks in the Garden Café. What is now a tranquil homestead, tucked into a hill near the River Wye, was once a thriving industrial area. With wire factories across the road and a viaduct that actually ran over the house! If you want to know more chat to Paul Hayes, the owner of the Garden Café – he has many stories to tell and is a fantastic host.

The works have been selected to provide an entry point into an enquiry about the Forest and Wye Valleys specifically in terms of ‘Commodity’. They are not commissions – FandVos does not yet have the financial means to commission new work, but they hope in the future that will change. Some of the artists have, however, created new works for this show, motivated by the opportunity to stretch their practice, which is fantastic.

I mention the hidey-holes above, because as someone who moved to this area ten years ago, I am constantly amazed by the number of new artists I encounter who are working the area. And it’s great to see young artists moving here too, adding to the mix.

Living here is very special. Some local artists work in far-flung places, while others choose to work primarily in this area. It’s a privilege to see the range of work made here and exciting to install it in such a beautiful building and garden.

Thank you

Carolyn Black

Novvy Allan

Novvy is showing three prints, unframed, that respond to three natural materials found in the area – water, wood and wool. She is also showing some associated materials, including a piece of knitting made with wool dyed with local natural resources, which was used to create the Wool print. The print of the putchers is concerned with the traditional method of salmon fishing used in the River Severn but now in sad decline. The wood represents the wrangling and landownership battles that have gone on forever in the Forest of Dean, and continue to this day.

Lizzie Godden

Lizzie’s work is made with textiles dyed from local materials and stitched tenderly by hand. Each thread has its own colour nuances that when overlaid across the other pieces of fabric create a sense of rhythm through the work. Lizzie walks the forest and the riversides constantly, meditating on the land, praying for its safekeeping. Fracking threatens to fracture this landscape beyond redemption. This work is a meditation on that fear.

Tom Cousins

Tom is a political activist and a muralist and the work shown here is a very clever way of marketing both of those things. It raises our awareness, through wit and humour, about the concerns communities have about fracking. The twist is, of course, that Tom can earn his living from these political issues, at the same time as making sure that his own concerns by others, who amplify their worries by shouting them out loud on their house walls. He does this work exceedingly well and his film plays on the irony of that. Do take a leaflet if you want to be heard.

Rob Olins

Rob is a sculptor renowned for public art work, which he has been delivering widely for many years. The acoustic mirrors and their associated narratives have been a focus for him for some five years. Big, bold and colourful, they draw the viewer towards them so the more subtle nuances can be enjoyed. Only when close up can you hear the sounds emanating from them and listen to the soundscape. They create a place within a space, bright and calling with a reward at the end – like being drawn towards a rose and bending down to smell it.

Kathy Priddis

Kathy’s 3 Hunting Pots were especially inspired by ‘Commodity’ and represent different animals traditionally hunted in the Forest, always a source of food for foresters. Commoners’ rights for grazing were often high on the local agenda, and hunting with dogs represents both nature and the rural culture of Foresters’ resistance to the power of an overlord. The pots are richly glazed with local clay slips and iron ochres from Clearwell Caves; wax resist between the slip and the glaze reveals the original clay, which spontaneously interacts with the glaze to give both earthy and vivid colours. Her usual pots are more functional, made to be used.

Utilising Clearwell Caves ochres as pastels, Cinderford Stream uses a similar palette, harmonising with her pots, and revealing her love of complementary colours as found in Nature.

Claire Robinson

Claire is a landscape painter and has shown work in several exhibitions that explore themes of environment and conservation, exhibiting with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Raleigh International, at venues as diverse as car show rooms, London Zoo, ecology centres and hospitals. For this show she has chosen to further explore her methods of making work that can be shown outside, in the place that inspires it. Using robust materials means that she has to make very clear marks, as opposed to the subtler ones she can achieve in watercolours. These works have a very physical existence and straddle the worlds of painting and sculpture.

Sally Stafford

Sally makes very beautiful paintings that often celebrate flowers and landscapes in a dreamlike way. At first sight, you may consider these works to be doing just that, but they were informed not so much by a celebration of place but as a sadness that an area of land near Cinderford, called the Northern Quarter is to be developed – putting all of the plants and wildlife at risk.

In the Northern Quarter of The Forest of Dean the land is to be scraped off and reused. This work is a fleeting record of a brief moment in its long history.  Made when it was a liminal place recovering from industrialisation; the haunt of dog walkers and anglers. A place in the process of rewilding. Once again the land is being pressed into service of man. This is my fragile record of an alternative.

Sally collected leaves, water and found iron from the site, eco printed the leaves onto paper and coated the results in beeswax.

Frances Warren

Frances comes from a history of working in the social housing sector and now creates art (which she finds hard to name as such) from found materials and upcycled waste. She paints, nails and ties these things together to create fascinating structures which welcome insects and other creatures to dwell in them. She paints them with colours which attract insects and the frames are not dissimilar to those Mondrian created in his later works. They provide miniature ecosystems that have been created from the rubbish that ruins our landscape we claim to love.

 

 

Call for host venues for The Story of Objects – the next phase – workshops

 

SOO yellow bar logo longJust a quick note to get you thinking over the weekend – I’m looking for hosts for the next phase of the Story of Objects – maybe it’s you?

The Story of Objects to date has very much been about ‘show and tell’ sessions, for research purposes.  The overarching vision – to create a social media network for things – is still underpinning all activity. However, the encounters have been rich and rewarding for many people.

One set of themes that came up again and again were inherited objects from family members that  relate to making or creating something. All sorts of tools and materials, artefacts and childhood memories.

I’ve been exploring how to work with the stories you’ve shared with me – there are the 30second shorts on Youtube; the Flash Fiction pieces on Medium and even a Story of Cake! The Facebook page shares news about the projects and also about other interesting object-stories from around the world – all food for thought.

The next phase will involve workshops – and I invite you to contact me if you’d like to discuss this for your organisation. I’m shaping the programme now and have some great ideas developing from the conversations so far. Each partner/collaborator is welcome to get in touch now to explore how the framework can work for you and your audiences. It is currently flexible and adaptable, which is another of features and benefits of the programme structure.

If appropriate, where a making activity is not right for the object theme, there will be an option to book a talk/presentation by a practitioner or specialist for the subject area.

I’d love to hear from arts organisations, museums, heritage organisations, material culture people, ethnographers, archaeologists and historians. Also, studios for woodworking, metal working, potteries, forges, printmaking studios, musical instrument workshops, anyone who makes – oo, and I may need a chef too!

Get in touch by email (carolyn@fkowprojects.org.uk), phone or message me via the Facebook page.

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