chasing rainbows – found in my files, a year later and little change!

This was written just over a year ago on 24th January 2014…..just found it….it’s rather sweet – and still rings true!

chasing rainbows…

I am chasing rainbows every day, negotiating  the rough terrain of resilience, trying not to trip over my own criteria, catch my toe in the terminologies, tumble down a hill helplessly.  I am so busy keeping my eye on where I am going sometimes I don’t always notice the slippery slope.

When I do roll to the bottom and lie there, looking up, I wonder what it is like to hang out on a rainbow, stretch my body along its length, let the sun that created it warm my skin and the fine rain leave silky traces on my face.

Instead I shiver, alternately absorbing or deflecting the endless rain. I carry on pursuing the golden calf of funding, though all I seem to encounter are colleagues on the same journey, heads down in determination, sympathetic nods and smiles. We will get there.

Despite the puddles and potholes forming from neglected public services. The lack of silver lining.

Oscar Wilde, gutter and stars come to mind.

Qwaypurlake – a day of sharing & transparency & privilege at Hauser & Wirth

Qwaypurlake – at Hauser & Wirth

I only write reviews of exhibitions when I’m commissioned to do so, allowing my blogposts to share personal perspectives, leaving me free to meander. The work I’m doing with other organisations often affects the way I view artworks and yesterday was no exception. I now find myself reflecting on the works and the wonderful discussions between the curator, Simon Morrissey, and three of the artists – Ian McKeever, Marie Toseland, Daphne Wright – chaired by Sam Thorne, through a particular set of lenses.

Sharing – influenced by my own project Story of Objects

Transparency – by my work with the Paying Artists Campaign

Privilege – because of my interest in audiences and politics

I’ll begin with sharing and transparency, because one allows for the other. By far the most enjoyable part of the discussion was the openness of all the speakers. Simon told the story of how he came up with the idea for the show and the name ‘Qwaypurlake’, how the journey across landscape to get to Hauser & Wirth informed it, as well as his interest in science fiction. Read more detail in the Elephant blogpost. He described his process of selection, how the word Qwaypurlake feels to speak, how familiar yet strange it is. Try it, feel how your mouth moves, the way your lips purse at the start, draw back and expose your teeth, then ever-so-lightly touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue, ending with a clicking K.

Simon said he wanted visitors to feel at home at the gallery, in the show. To walk in and be drawn between familiar and unfamiliar. The exhibition didn’t contain figurative works, the absence of humans is a deliberate decision, the visitors are the human presence. There are switches of scale in the show and a very clear pathway of navigation. The works are often uncanny, unnerving, they defy explanation and refuse language, yet words are omnipresent at all times. Some refuse material categorisation too.

The artists were very generous with their words and what they said constantly referenced back to the curatorial process, the collaborative approach, the lack of hierarchy. I wrote some notes so I could harvest the key comments, below is a summary of some of them, as examples of the fascinating words that came from their mouths:

McKeever said he doesn’t usually do group shows, but was interested by the name and Simon’s approach. He had loved the book Solaris. At first he wasn’t sure about title, he thought it was ‘Quackatock’ in Greenland, which just made him think of ducks. When Simon shared his story of the evolution of his word Qwaypurlake he found the title liberating. He said “Painting is a felt experience”. Maybe it was the feeling of the word in his mouth that he experienced?

Marie Toseland certainly related to the feel of words in the mouth. She exhibited works made with her own wisdom teeth. She was interested in the act of them being sold, the intimacy of selling part of her body. She spoke of her mouth as a sculptural space, a place where language is modelled and moulded. She used the term ‘mouth terrorism’ and referred to the ‘sensuality of pronunciation’. (Nice reference to the title of the show).

Qway-pur-lake: cooweypurrlaik

While I was driving there I was listening to Radio4 in my car and a woman was teaching listeners to speak the word ‘lingerie’ properly, with a French accent – a strange coincidence?

While Marie presented her teeth on a little plinth on a bigger plinth, defining them as sculpture, Daphne said she was attracted to the idea of subversion of the plinth. To the death of the plinth. Upturning the plinth. The cast of the powerful stallion, prone on the ground, recently dead, legs wide open revealing a stitched-up chest, a flaccid penis, flayed skin drawn back and cut sharply above the front hooves. The tail splayed on the floor, almost like a liquid flowing away. Water in a lake, Qwaypurlake? Emasculated not memorialised. Cast in marble, it references the monumental – it is a rebellion of power of a horse on a plinth. Daphne spoke candidly about the problems she had with the issue of decay and bloating, how she temporarily had to become a vet. Whilst she shared her story, she would not reveal her secret process!

Daphne’s parting revelation was that she always talked at length to the owners of animals she has cast. On this occasion, the sculpture was shown in Ireland and the owner came to the gallery to see the horse and sat with it for an hour. Apparently he told someone “that’s me”. He is elderly and has cancer.

Sharing – sometimes it’s excruciating and wonderful at the same time. Daphne referred to this process as “emotional archaeology”.

McKeever has always loved language and literature, though his work is always non-narrative. He spoke about how he had lived in Dorset for 25yrs and what he loves about it is its time. Not space. Place-time. He said that being there feels displaced from digital and referred to the “land below, digital above” which is poetic and enchanting thinking.

Sharing and transparency – McKeever answered eloquently in response to a comment from the audience about elitism and how difficult art can be, that it shuts people out, that he can’t understand the meaning, McKeever replied “to engage people you have to be prepared to open up. Art doesn’t have meaning. It has a choice of multiplicities.”

Audiences must work for it, and that takes us to education and how people learn. And the fact that creative education is being stripped to the bone.

And that takes me to the issues of privilege.

There’s no denying that as one drives closer to Hauser and Wirth, you cannot ignore the wealth in the area. Look at the cars in the car park and you will see some pretty expensive vehicles, mixed in with very ordinary cars. Before you even go through the gate you know this is a very different thing to a city gallery. It’s about land ownership, art collecting, a day out for Londoners who love art and will travel to see it. But it’s not just Londoners, it’s attracting international audiences and many many local audiences. It is a brilliant thing for the arts in the South West and provides something unique to the regions cultural offer. Yes, it has all the trappings of privilege. There’s a gorgeous café that sadly only provides seating for about ten people and won’t serve you food unless you are seated. I found that rather odd, considering the distance everyone has to travel to get there, from anywhere, not to mention a loss of income and hosting a lot of hungry people.

It’s free to get in

It’s a great day out for families too – lots of space to run around in and great gardens

It shows fantastic art and offers informative events at a reasonable price.

It is a privilege to attend in terms of pleasure and anyone can do so.

The invigilators are helpful and friendly and well-briefed

Since leaving and getting home and thinking, issues around education and privilege have caught in my throat a little. The government has just scrapped maintenance grants for students. Private academies are springing up everywhere. Creative education is being dismissed. Maybe great art for everyone is further away than we would like, and I don’t mean in miles.

Yet the creative economy is booming. An article in the Guardian recently referred to how the UK might get left behind if this slash and burn approach continues.

We need to share more, make transparent our processes, help people understand and appreciate what the visual arts sector achieves. We need to encourage the privileged to support the incubation of artists, as well as buy work at the top end of the market. There is a huge space between those places in the terrain. Art is quirky, evocative, moving, challenging and amazing – the children there yesterday proved that.

I took a photo before being told that you can’t. I’m sorry, I really am. Last time I went to H&W it was ok to take photos. I tweeted – maybe that was not acceptable either? Are words in the ether less damaging than images? Or is the digital above the earth stealing from the ground below?

handw

Daphne Wright, Stallion in foreground

Ian McKeever, Twelve Standing III, IX and V on wal

Heather & Ivan Morrison, various on floor

 

 

 

 

Double Elephant Keynote: Redefining Print: 13th November 2015 Exeter Phoenix

The presentation began with:

Who am I? Artist, one-time printmaker, producer of exhibitions in non-gallery locations, writer, project Manager, consultant

Why am I here? I was contracted by Double Elephant to engage with the artists throughout their residency and observe the project as it evolved – writing as a commentary to the development of the final commissions. Also to critically and creatively evaluate the process of “Redefining Print”.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to finding the experience of being in a print room again, after some 15 years out of one, seductive, emotional and slightly traumatic. I urgently wanted to do it – get messy, inhale, hang paper up in orderly lines, grab the wheel and roll the bed through.

What am I talking about? I’m starting with a series of questions, and will work through my thought processes during the talk. It’s not a straight line – just as the works shown here in the Phoenix are not hung in a straight line, as they are in the RAMM Café.

I will wander, move around, step backwards and forwards.

If we are to redefine print, we need to understand what we are redefining.

Printmakers make prints – but what happens if performers make prints?

Do performers make prints, or do they perform prints?

How can we talk about these things?

Does traditional print also involve performance?

How do viewers encounter print in exhibitions? Do they perform too?

The term ‘redefining print’ infers a change of direction, a shift in approach.

The original brief: A commission opportunity for artists working in visual arts, digital media and time-based media/performance.

Double Elephant Print Workshop is offering 4 artists the opportunity to explore the role of printmaking in relationship to practices of body/site/digitality. The invitation is to develop hybrid approaches and challenge traditional boundaries of printmaking, enabling audiences to see print in a new light through its relationship to your practice.

Body/site/digitality: Enabling audiences….challenging boundaries……these are the thing I wish to speak of….. Looking back at the applications submitted by the artists at the beginning, there is a powerful logic of language and body revealed……..

Body as sensing

Tapping my body

Organic and machine

The body opens up

Body, action, performance, document

The public act of performing

Body-site-text

Tacturiency – the desire to touch

Imagery that speaks of/to the body

The above phrases are from the initial artist’s application forms – even my own application for the role as writer stated: “The printmaking process is embedded in my memory and my body.

After a year of working together, the common thread of words and body are what bind their works together as a curatorial whole. The artists defined the keywords as SURFACE/CONTACT:

The slash mark between SURFACE and CONTACT in the show’s title allows for a range of operation between the two terms. The immediate sense of surface contact suggests a spark, or the transmission of a sensation, as one person’s skin is touched by another’s skin, as one material comes into contact with another. When a mark is made on paper, the intentional tool and the mark-making material come into contact with the receptive surface and material of the paper.

The selected artists all hail from non-printmaking backgrounds. The artists have responded well to the brief – they have achieved all of these things in their work, and carried the challenge through to the audience in the gallery. For them, working in the print studio meant learning a new language, of materials, of process and protocols of space, all of which draw attention to the body.

There are protocols to working in the print room….. of behaviour in the print workshop – bodies in the workspace

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we act and behave in specific places, and the protocols of working in a print studio. Everywhere we go and everything we do involves some form of framed behaviour. We usually know how to act in a particular space. Not just in the arts – but anywhere – you behave in a particular way when you go into a restaurant, or a shop, a cinema orenter someone’s private house.

I hope I am correct in presuming that many people here today, if not all, will be aware of how we act in a printmaking studio. We understand how people move through the spaces, how fast they might move, how they navigate around machines, or between the sink and the work table.

The machines are often very large and the space around them quite small. There are giant wheels that we physically need to rotate, we use our bodies to stretch and bend and move the large print bed through the rollers. We also respect each other within that space.

I haven’t worked in a print room myself for some years, so for me, on returning to the space, these behaviours were very evident. I’d forgotten the order of things – so what hit me was the way the gloves were hung in rows on the wall, the way the rollers were neatly positioned in racks, and the way the paper was hung by that wonderful structure of wooden frames with glass marbles. The marbles allow the paper to slip into place and be held firmly by their gravity. I made me smile to see Clare use this method as a form of display in the gallery, just as I smile when I think about the ‘clean fingers’ kept in the drawer near to the printing beds.

These things say so much about how meticulous and precise it is when we work in the print room.

So……the history of the project is that it all began in May 2014 when the artists got together for a week. On the Tuesday and Wednesday during the first week of the project, the artists spent time in the print room with Suzanne Ross and the Double Elephant team, learning about the processes, playing with materials. On the Thursday I joined them in the Drama department of Exeter University for a ‘collaborative workshop’ with drama tutor Fiona Macbeth.

It was the first time I had met all of the artists and the Double Elephant team. Together we explored how we held our bodies, how we spoke, then went outside to sharpen our senses and record, note, document our experience of being in the world. We then split into groups and made ‘objects’ or ‘sculptures’ for want of a better word.

I don’t recall doing ever doing these things in a print room before!

During the following months we met regularly at different locations – mostly here at the Phoenix in the print room, but also at Spike Island in Bristol, who was a partner to the project. Since that day in the drama department, I think we have all held the notion of the body at the centre of the journey. All forward motion was propelled by the conversations we had, the thoughts that were shared. I was primarily witness to this process. An onlooker. I made notes. I listed words.

The words I witnessed played large in the process, because they were a little different to what I had expected. The first text I wrote for the project flagged this up:

To me, these overheard words are the foundation of Redefining Print.

And the artworks in the show are the outcome.

We talked about conditions: subordination; obsolescence; permanence; utopia and inconsistency

We talked about actions: controlling; drooping; draping; folding; gesticulating; embracing; rolling-up and collaborating

We talked about sound: swish-swish; of fixing speech; the visualisation of speech and dialect

The artists selected for the commissions & their titles:

Katy Connor – UntitledForce

Bryony Gillard – On Frottage

Mark Leahy – Communicating Object; Ellipsis Gill Sans Regular 442pt & Parenthisis Cochin Bold 222pt

Clare Thornton – Triadic Croquet; Untitled

 

Working with the core Double Elephant team:

Simon Ripley

Catherine Cartwright

 

The research period evolved into a fascinating dialogue between the artists, the Double Elephant team – and the medium. What the artists share in common is that they all have varying levels of academic background and they arrived with little or no experience of printmaking methods and practices. They are also established artists in their fields with substantial experience of making works. This residency aimed to bring contemporary sculptural, digital and performance based practice together with the processes, facilities and expertise of the print workshop, offering the four artists the opportunity to explore these in relation to their own practice.

My own focus has been on

Words

Body

And behaviours

The descriptions of the artists works to follow are from the gallery handout, summarising their practice. All of the 4 artists commissioned for redefining print have made works that explore their bodies in some way. I am going to share some brief film clips with you, some made by the artists prior to taking their commissions, others closely related to the development of the work you see here. They reveal inspirations and processes, external influences and actions. I have elected to show movies because their work is rarely static in its presence.

[film clip of Katys video work]

Katy Connor uses cutting edge data visualization based on microscopic samples of her own blood to generate works that operate across video, sculpture, print and installation. Her animated fly-through video renders this sub-atomic data as navigable landscapes reminiscent of early video game graphics while a series of 3D printed objects draw out the aesthetic and experiential flow between digital and physical forms and modes of representation, also highlighted by the breakdown in print quality in her massively enlarged, wall sized print.

Katy refers to a comment by Laura U. Marks: “by engaging with an object in a haptic way, I come to the surface of myself”.

Katy states: There is something to be spoken of here that undoes any notion of ‘techno- progress’ and simply talks in terms of a (sensual) bodily engagement with the materials / process / time

This footage is created digitally with point cloud data. It is of Katy’s blood, which takes centre stage to all her work in SURFACE/CONTACT.

Katy’s work reminds me of Helen Chadwick, who made a very intense work , Blood Hyphen made in 1998/2004 with her blood, which was an enquiry in to the cells taken from a cervical smear test. Chadwicks work was very visceral, of body, of flesh, yet somehow uncannily beautiful.

Katy’s work does something similar but in a different way. The digitisation of the microscopic image of her blood is amplified by process – providing emotional distance.

Or Mona Hartoums exploration with a camera of her body interior. Mona Hartoum , ‘Corps étranger’ (1994), was a video installation that depicted endoscopic journeys through the interior landscape of the artist’s own body. Again, the flesh-body, but distanced through technology. Using the notion of the technology and logic to remove emotional attachment. But not quite body as machine.

[film clip by Bryony of frottage]

Bryony Gillard presents new works from ‘On Frottage’, an ongoing body of work exploring the medium of frottage — whether as a means of artistic production or as a sexual act, and its conceptual links to other practices, objects and times. Her large, frottaged fabric panels are layered with sound, projected concrete poetry and performance.

I have thought a lot during the RD-print residency about the similarities between frottage (or the act of making a rubbing) and print making. Both have to do with the making of an image from a matrix, but involve a kind of moment of blindness, a contact of surfaces.

Bryony makes reference to Paxton’s theory relating to ‘contact improvisation’:   Paxton was influenced by the experimental arts and performance scene in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, and he was interested in how the body could create a physical playground. Contact Improvisation developed out of an exploration of the human body and under the supervision of Paxton

In terms of the works connection to contact improvisation – both rely on the contact of surfaces – the transference of one thing to another ………..With the larger frottage pieces in the show, these have an even more direct relationship to C.I – made with friends, they became almost dances, contortions and manipulations of bodies working together to hold the fabric over the stone and make the rubbing. Working with and against the wind, rain, the angles and gravity of the rocks.

Her process requires that her own body, and those of others under instruction, necessarily stretch around huge stones and rub up against them. The imprint of that intimacy of body against stone is captured by her mark-making on huge lengths of flowing, fabric that folds and ripples. Whereas Katy looks deep inside molecular structures of body, Bryony makes the viewer very conscious of the external layers of the body – the skin, the surface.

On Frottage is an ongoing body of work exploring the medium of frottage  as a means of artistic production, a sexual act and the conceptual links that this process might have to other practices, objects and times.

This statement reminded me of a recent work by Katrina Palmer….

Extract from End Matter by Katrina Palmer: “It was like he was riveting us all into place and we were coming together, fixed in that contorted arrangement, in relief. There were sharp hard edges of cold stone against my naked backside. The island under my feet was pressing into me and scratching me from behind.”

Palmers investigation into the landscape as having agency reminds me very much of Bryony’s approach to her work.

[film clip – link]

This film is a precursor to the work Mark has done for his commission. It is performance. It is language. He will explain much more about it when he speaks. His work is about the action of speaking:

These works examine questions of language, speech, gesture and body across a 3-channel video piece where speech and gesture are isolated from each other, in a set of posters that play with the task of describing a voice in text and image, and in wearable paper objects that prevent or disturb speech.

Mark Leahy presents works that examine questions of language, speech, gesture and body. He is interested in pedagogical modes of display such as teaching aids, instructional videos or examination situations and explores relationships between the spoken word and the speaker, between the body speaking and the body of speech. In his 3-channel video piece, speech and gesture are isolated from each other, while a set of posters play with the task of describing voice in text and image. A further edition of wearable paper objects have been designed to prevent or disturb speech and are made available to try out and take away.

Marks work relating to gesture and performance bring to mind two very different works…..

[film clip – link]

Film by Yuri Ancarani made in marble quarry in Italy.

This connection comes from my experience of working on-site with heavy plant and drivers – the notion of the banks man. The banks man is trained in using specific hand gestures – like these:. To guide huge machines within tiny parameters of movement. Like a dance.

[film clip – link]

And Ceal Floyer’s nail biting performance: Nail Biting Performance (2001) in Birmingham before an audience of classical music devotees.

Ceal Floyer took to the stage of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on the evening of 7 February 2001, prior to performances of Beethoven’s Overture: Leonore No. 2and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Her ‘nail biting performance’ took stage-fright as its subject, as the artist bit her fingernails into a microphone for five minutes. The sight of her alone amongst the musicians’ empty chairs, accompanied by the amplified sound of nervousness, was affecting and tense.

These examples of how we use our bodies in particular ways, to convey emotional states, to direct people, to communicate, are endlessly fascinating. Few people don’t have some sort of behaviour that we can relate too. It’s the universal body.

Mark Leahys work is not dissimilar in approach to that of Clare Thornton’s – but the inspiration behind the works is very different.

[film clip – link]

Clare Thorntons work begins with dance performances, not of her own body, but the bodies of others – the Bauhaus Ballet Dancers. This work is about rhythm, pattern and systems, but it’s still very much of the body. Her quasi-figurative croquet hoops make reference to costumes designed by Bauhaus artist and designer Oskar Schlemmer for his avant-garde, Triadic Ballet. Using processes of computer aided design and more traditional printing techniques Thornton has flattened and miniaturised his geometric, abstracted human forms back into two dimensional planes. Between these anthropomorphic forms, and the implication of sharp contact between mallet, ball and hoop, it is unclear what the rules of engagement may be and where boundaries of play might lie.

Clare’s work is playful, she has taken three-dimensional imagery from the ballet as a starting point and flattened them into simple childlike slot and stand systems. The designs are available open-source over the Internet to create reproductions. Print has been employed as a process of production, reminding us of dress me dolls that you can cut out of books. And the croquet set looks like it has leapt out of Alice in Wonderland with it’s fantastical colours.

The audience encounter in the gallery spaces: So we have had a brief look at the artists work, which they wull tell much more about after this presentation. The other key people to talk about are the audiences that visit the exhibition. Maybe that is where the outcomes of Redefining Print present the challenge …..

Protocols of visiting an exhibition of prints – this is a diagram of how we usually approach an exhibition where pictures are hung on walls in frames. It’d how the show is hung in RAMM.

The show in the gallery at Phoenix may not be what you expected to see in a print show. If you visit the two different destinations in Exeter – the prints in the RAMM café and here, you will spot the difference, as a visitor/viewer.

walking gallery 1

In the cafe gallery the prints are hung on the walls, like this. They are framed and hung in a line, in a row, and as visitors to that space we read the information on the left, and then we move across and around the space. Our bodies trace the line around the wall of the images and we conduct small actions of of gesture as we look at the art works. We stand back and step closer, to read the name of the artist. We spend some time with each work, we may look at different angles and then we move onto the next one, we move in a clockwise direction. The exhibition has been laid out to respond to this habitual behaviour. Then there is the scale of the works. They could be said to be of a domestic scale. We understand them easily and can imagine them and them on our walls. If we buy the prints in their frames, we understand what we will be getting, we are comfortable with the scale of boundaries.

I left RAMM and went next to the Phoenix, where the show was in the process of being hung. I had of course had an insight into what to expect of the show and had become intrigued by the fact that the artists had approached Matt Burrows, the gallery curator, and asked if they could work together collaboratively to decide on how the show was going to be hung. I think you’ll agree with me that the work in the gallery in Phoenix presents a strong dialogue between the works by each artist. There is definitely a relationship there and I propose that relationship has evolved through the dialogue and the exchange of the artists within the physical space.

During the residency the artists had sought to develop their own individual practice, but they’ve also developed a collective practice. And navigating those dynamics involves the audience to some extent.

 

walking gallery 2

Here’s my scribbly diagram of the layout of the show in the Phoenix gallery.

It’s different to the one in the RAMM

The works aren’t framed, are rarely hung on the walls in lines, they protrude into the room, they make you walk around them.

 

They are not at the same height – they make you work to see them, look behind things, underneath things, through them.

In short, they are demanding that you physically perform in the space, you are actively choreographed around it.

You become an active agent in the work, you are welcomed into the work, not as a passive viewer but as a collaborator. If you wish to, you can download the open source data for Clare’s work and make your own copy of the work. No edition numbers.

Maybe this is what redefining print is? Matt Burrows said he got a real pleasure from hanging the show…thinking about navigation and encounter. I identify with that, because my work as a producer considers how audiences, and/or participants, enter a work in an open space.

The little nuances in the SURFACE/CONTACT show seem to relate to each other through coincidence – and Matt enjoyed negotiating the placing of the works with the artists.

There is the very shiny reflective black Perspex used on the plinth on which Katy’s 3D print sits. Nearby is a disk, like a dark moon leaning on the floor and that is a mirror is the same material, which kind of throws you back to yourself and your own body. This in turn is echoed in the black shiny ball in the next space, of Clare’s croquet ball.

Marks body language reminds me of the gestures used by the dancers in the Bauhaus ballet.

The scale of the drapes that Bryony has printed onto remind us of huge standing stones, we look up at them, we are made small.

The projected text is poetic, as is the fact that Clare’s geometric cutouts are suspended by the marbles of a print drying rack. Words and dance, bending bodies, stretching viewpoints, the action of navigating the exhibition is physical.

Does print need redefining? Some questions…….The mode of presentation in the Phoenix is slightly corrupting and disruptive – is it a challenge for the print audience?

Are we happy to accept these works as what we know as ‘print practice?

If not, why not?

Printmakers make prints – but what happens if performers make prints?

Do performers make prints, or do they perform prints?

How can we talk about these things?

Does traditional print also involve performance?

How do viewers encounter print in exhibitions? Do they perform too?

This text is taken from a presentation and adapted slightly for the page.

Download the entire document, with images:

summary of redefining print presentation carolyn black 2015

 Carolyn Black works as Flow Contemporary Arts as a producer, writer, consultant and mentor. She has a post-grad diploma in printmaking; an MA in Fine art and won an Arts Council Award for critical writing.

http://www.flowprojects.org.uk

 

 

Article about The Promise and PARADISE in new edition of CCQ

CCQ is an arts journal published in Wales. My first article is in this edition, available from all good gallery bookstores. It’s a quality publication and a great read.

My piece is a preview of Arnolfini show The Promise and Trust New Art show at Tyntesfield, called PARADISE.

More next month too.

See http://ccqmagazine.com/

IMG_2048.JPG

b-side at the seaside

b-side runs until 14th September, do go to Portland and see it, it’s the best year ever.

Going to the b-side Festival in Portland, Dorset, was a real treat. It was launched by the peal of the bells in the lovely old St. George Church next to Tout Quarry, followed by a soundwork by Duncan Whitley. As the soundwork crescendoes from quiet birdsong to the loud hammering sounds of rock being shaped, the audience became grounded as to why they had come – b-side Festival is all about Portland and the people that live there.

A brief stroll down to the local community hall and there was a real sense of gathering. The artists, the curatorial team, local people, volunteers and those who had travelled especially all enjoyed what was on offer. There was Talkaoki (film clip) for those who wished to voice their thoughts loudly on art – which went down very well – and an Arts Confessional for those that had more intimate words to share. As the sun went down, families began to gather outside to have themselves and their bikes dressed with LED lights and soundboxes. As they moved off together as a group, led by Luke Jerram and his team, Lullaby (film clip) floated out into the street and up to children’s bedroom windows. People waved, watched and even cried – a simple idea turns into a moving experience when it is shared. I caught a little movie on my iPhone as they returned, one of those unexpected events that was more magical because it was a surprise.

Alex Hartley @ b-side
Portland Erratic by Alex Hartley

Saturday morning I went on a tour with other b-side supporters to view some of the works. There simply wasn’t time to see them all, so when you go, do make sure you plan things well. We began with Alex Hartley’s work Portland Erratic near Portland Castle. Sited on the harbourside looking out to sea, the work emerged from a sea-mist and seemed to be part of the place already. With it’s window frames painted as white as the fog and the stones it displayed seemingly the material of Portland, it was a surprise to hear that these objects were alien to Portland – had arrived as ballast, or were dumped during industrial works. In the distance, on the headland behind the sculpture, my eye kept travelling to view the dome at the Verne Prison. Another place that will be soon be processing unwanted arrivals on the shores of the UK, when it becomes a holding centre for asylum seekers, following the closure of the prison. The domestic scale and the use of up-cycled window frames made the experience of viewing the works through the windows, and beyond to the sea, a melancholic experience. A longing for a lost home.

A drive up to the Verne followed, where we were welcomed by Simon Ryder and shown his various works, which make up Passage, within the prison walls. Simon weaves stories with objects and histories and creates previously unconsidered links between seemingly disparate behaviours. Struck by a Pathe film he saw online of prisoners wearing masks to conceal their identity while they talked about keeping birds in the prison, Simons mind saw a relationship between the hoods that birds of prey wear and those donned by the men in the film. Another parallel discovery was that the game of squash was invented in prisons and was once a lowly game made by men locked-up and surrounded by high walls. It is now a game played by people with higher social status and is no longer allowed within the prison. The film Simon made, using infrared cameras, re-enacts men inside the prison playing squash, with resounding echoes of the balls as they thrashed against the walls. Confinement and freedom, leisure and echoes of history are all captured by a series of works installed within the rocks of the island.

Later the same day I witnessed an underground movie collaged from a historical collection of films that have featured rabbits. One must not mention the word rabbit on the Isle of Portland, because of its implications. Artist Alistair Gentry has been wandering around dressed as one – this snippet of a serious discussion observed by the underground dweller shows him infiltrating the Talkaoke. The films, powered by bicyclists behind the seasons due to the lack of electricity, revealed spoke peculiarities about rabbits in films – especially that they attack people, wear bow ties and are rather fond of white glove and time.

Talking was a key feature in two other works. Ellie Harrison shared a beautiful and moving set of personal stories from The Grief Series. Presented in a local home these works allow the viewer/listener to empathise with the storytellers as they responded to a number of questions written on cue cards. They got to choose which questions they would answer and the outcome was very emotional for as visitors sat in a chair opposite a photo of the speakers and listened carefully and privately on headphones.

Inside the cinema performance artist Tom Marshman presented a heartwarming set of stories in Everbody’s Auditiorium. Tom enacted charming conversations with local residents that told stories of their lives, with minimal props and subtle lighting and sound Tom warmed the cockles of anyone visiting this seaside cinema. Not to be missed.

I also heard and experienced the sound installation, Variable 4, by Jones and Bulley on Portland Bill, lovely resonance and mixing of pre-recorded and responsive sounds, melding in the mist with the deep tone of the fog-horn. Enchanting.

There is more, much more, to talk about. But I want you to read this NOW and go and see it SOON. There’s not long and you really do need to go and see for yourself. The support and engagement of the local community s absolutely fantastic – what every socially engaged organisation aims for. B-side Festival is not In Portland – it IS Portland.

Canal & River Trust, waterways, people, passion and museums

I attended the Canal & River Trust AGM on Friday in Birmingham’s beautiful new library. The Trust is only two years old, so very early days for them. Whilst their key business is about public engagement they have had a huge number of maintenance works to do as well. It is remarkable what they have achieved in this short time and there was a very positive feeling in the room. I’m very pleased I went because being surrounded by people with a passion for something makes life worthwhile.

Laurence Newman, Chair of the Museums & Attractions Partnership said: “Think about the outside of the museums, not just the inside”.

This was the first sentence that really took my attention – probably because whilst I work with Museums, I am very drawn by working beyond them too. That social history and landscape use is not only archive material but continues to be out there, in the streets, the architecture, in the fields and waterways.

Museums are not only about conservation, preservation and collection, but also about the future. Professor John Hume, giving his retiring address, commented that “we need to find a better term than heritage, it’s awful”. He also voiced disdain for the term ‘attractions’, declaring them to be rubbish. I couldn’t agree more, I thought John Hume was an inspiration. He was vociferous about the need to generate history, not just look back at the heritage.  “We’ve been living in the past…too romantic”. Everyone spoke passionately about his or her roles within in the Trust. John more than anyone was keen to keep the focus on the social history. The image below is of one of John’s slides, showing the protests about the possible closure of sections of the Grand Union Canal in 1960’s. I think this image is very reflective of the tensions in the room about how to move forward:

 canal protest

The image of the 1960’s protesters floats above the orderly speakers table. Earlier this year there was another protest about the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes – which just shows how much people care about access these waterways. The view out to the city of Birmingham beyond is framed by the distinctive circular motifs of the New Library.

In the room we discussed the function of the canal and waterway network – past, present and future. Indeed Birmingham is built around the canal system – yet there is no Waterway Museum there. The Gloucester Waterways Museum is much loved, but is being crowded out by the Peel Development at Gloucester Quays. Someone mentioned it should relocate – but without the canal network it would be dislocated and stripped of meaning.

Time does not – cannot – stand still. The whole canal system is a museum – but it must also record and document current things, or it will have a huge legacy gap and be frozen in time. I love the way that the waterways are like arteries in the landscape – they carry things and people, connecting places together across time. Art projects could be used to join places up, by commissioning artists to explore each place and share their findings in other places.

Occasionally there were terms used that I questioned. There was talk about the Trust being ‘the experts’ and that visitors and the public are ‘customers’. So archiving knowledge is about sharing ‘their’ knowledge. But surely we should be thinking about collaborating with our membership, learning from them just as much as they learn from us? Living the Wikipedia principle both online and off. We are all the public. Defining people as experts and membership as ‘the public’ or ‘customers’ it sets up a mindset of there being a trading transaction, rather than sharing a genuine passion for the rivers and waterways.

Whilst the concept of the expert is, of course important, I’m not sure whether it is a useful way to bring people on board to support the Trust. Knowledge exchange, sharing learning and engendering generosity will help to feed the economic machine. I suspect that we are becoming immune to the hard-sell approach. Better to engage with enthusiasts and feed their passion as collaborators, rather than take a service provider role.

And that applies to the digitisation of the archives. The archives conserve everyday things that were made by, and belonged to, ordinary people. And living ordinary people can add to the knowledge about those things through storytelling. There was talk about educating and informing people – knowledge belongs to everyone, because everyone has a story to tell.

Artists can help in that process. And I hope that I can too. I thrive on these discussions and spend hours of my life considering new ways of thinking about them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the flush of delight when someone I mentor is awarded a grant warms the cockles!

I have to share this news, but confidentiality won’t allow me to say who it is – but well done you!

It’s an absolute privilege to mentor the people I do – they are committed and serious about their practice and work really hard to survive, despite all odds these days…..

I know how it feels to be an artist and face endless applications, constant rejections and still try to keep positive, keep going, believe in what you do. Anyone who thinks artists have it easy has evidently not tried it.

I often wonder why I do what I do, but the truth is, it’s because I care. Simple.

review of Mycophilia by Louise Short at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth

Please share this with others, it’s such a wonderful show.

Mycophilia is the first of two shows being presented in the Ceredigion Museum temporary gallery space by Short&Forward and runs from April 17 to May 31st 2014. Alice Forward’s exhibition Swarm Society will run from June 12th till 2nd August and her works resonate well with those of Louise. Both make work that explores our relationship with the natural world and expresses their passion for protecting and conserving it for future generations. They share a love of film, mushrooms, bees and life.

Louise Short’s exhibition, Mycophilia, exhibits exquisite casts of fungi and spore prints as filmic objects. In a temporary space next to the Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth, she has presented a constellation of 3D snapshots of moments in time and place, captured and recorded in plaster, bronze, paper, paint and spore-dust on paper. The title of the installation, Mycophilia, means the love of mushrooms, likewise filmophilia means a love of films. Spore-dust is an evocative phrase that whispers the story of their process in your ear. On entering the gallery to experience Mycophilia viewers are transported into another world. The prints on paper are trapped underneath glasses, lest they should escape like spiders or wasps, and the science-fiction presence of a constellation of plaster casts suspended in a deep blue universe spans the whole back wall. Ian Banks meets Richard Mabey meets Thoreaux. This installation is both 2D and 3D – filmic and sculptural. It hints at mass fields of growth and microscopic detail. Each trace of fungi reveals its own intricacy and uniqueness – together they are a cosmos.

A love of the process of film and a deep understanding of nature is present in all of Louise’s artworks, but not always in an obvious, cinematic way. Mothshadowmovie (1999, 2000) turned an everyday office overhead projector into a screening device in a woodland – attracting and amplifying the ghostly visits of fluttering moths and slimy snails. For Something Else, her one person show at Arnolfini, Bristol in 1997, Louise cast the tender insides of daffodil trumpets, fixing the voids in plaster. In 2001, in the basement of what is now the Exchange Gallery in Penzance, she filmed the walls of the redundant telephone exchange then re-projected the 8mm footage back onto their surface. The projectors shuddered and rattled, returning life to the abandoned architecture. Feeling Faint created a gentle echo on the walls, the images quivered softly like Narcissus’s reflection on water. In Louise’s work solid things are made ephemeral and transient moments solid. Casting is like a 3D camera, the imprint of the brief moment that the fungus manifests itself above ground as solid matter is caught and made tangible.

The spore-dust deposits fine footprints of the mushrooms reproductive potential, they multiply generously but few will survive the process. Their lives are brief, like stars they appear unexpectedly and disappear suddenly, as if by magic. They are indeed other-worldly without consumption – you don’t need to eat them to be enchanted and drawn in by their hallucinatory nature. In the scale of things humans are similarly short-lived. We make art, we write, we create, we procreate, and every moment is to be noted, considered and experienced in our short lifetime. This exhibition of fungi prompts us to be mindful of this and the artwork is the outcome of a very thoughtful and considered process of walking, meandering and being in the moment.

During Louise’s regular forays through the beautiful Welsh landscape, where she lives and works, she was able to immerse herself in her thoughts of the ephemeral, returning with a record of her journey, on that day, of that place. I must let my senses wander as my thought, my eyes see without looking…Be not preoccupied with looking. Go not to the object; let it come to you…What I need is not to look at all, but a true sauntering of the eye. (Thoreau Journal 4:351) Solitude, silence, no signage, wandering aimlessly, like the rhizome of mycelia that appear as fairy-circles below the surface of meadow grass, Louise reflected upon her roots and relationships, walking random routes through the landscape, meandering, thinking and casting her gaze as she foraged, capturing her fragile trophies to keep.

Fungi is corporeal in nature, soft like flesh, but cold to the touch. Love, tenderness, fragility, vulnerability, the human condition are all here in this exhibition.

 

20140427-195422.jpg 20140427-195403.jpg 20140427-195345.jpg 20140427-195332.jpg © Carolyn Black 2014

how things happen: I’ve got an installation to installate

By accident, I have just read a 2009 article: “Demolish a wall? No problem”, by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. I have no idea why when I opened the Guardian online on my computer today it opened on that page. I’ve certainly not read it before because I would remember it. I think it is the only article I’ve ever read about how a show is installed and the complexity that involves.

For over 15 years I have been installing work, checking out equipment and sourcing strange things from Screwfix, the Internet and elsewhere. It includes finding a whole set of cinema seats on Ebay; a specialist joiner who knows how to get around the restrictions that a listed building presents; visiting industrial manufacturers; negotiating with sheet steel suppliers; seeking a solution to preventing deer from nibbling through hundreds of metres of audio cable in a forest (we failed, it needed checking every day and taping where required); how to stop keen visitors from touching a wire deer by Sophie Ryder on a sculpture trail, which was damaging it (simple, keep moving it, don’t map it and make it fun to find). The list goes on.

I love the Simpson’s quote Jones refers to: “I’ve got an installation to installate”. It reminds me of a song rewritten by artist Louise Short and other ex-students of John Gingell to the tune of Johnny Be Good – to celebrate John’s 60th. It included and “my how he can installate.” (John was the much loved course leader of my, and many others, MA course in Cardiff.) Hum it to yourself and you’ll get it.

The other thing that caught my eye in Jones’s article was near the end:

Art is a world, and I don’t mean in the nebulous, ugly sense of the “art world”. I mean a real social process, in which people come together in complex ways to make things. It is relational, as Bourriaud and his theoretical followers would say. No one is an island, to put it another way: we’re all part of the archipelago.

Yes, yes and yes – a real social process it is. The visitors that see the shows have no idea about what goes on behind the scenes. Just like the theatre, they don’t want or need to know, it’s part of the magic. Talk about the art economy and most people think about rich artists like Hirst, or wealthy dealers and gallerists, auction houses etc.  But there is another economy behind the front stage – there’s all the people that make things happen, the jobs created by this, the industries that are involved, the cogs that turn the system. Publishers, graphic designers, foundries, researchers, industrial makers, hand stitchers, paper makers, picture framers, electricians, plasterers, builders and yet again, the list is endless.

As I imply in my article in Arts Professional – the artworld is a system and it is part of the whole-world system. And that system comprises of people and things. And together they are able to create new things that have never been seen before and experiences unknown and unexpected.

Economy is important to the survival of the system, but is not the only reason for its existence. Emotions matter too. The art sector is a holistic system − organisations, artists and audiences are all part of it. You can’t have a holistic body without organs, there would be no pulse.

the River Severn and it’s influence on Flow Contemporary Arts

Flow was named after the River Severn and the wonders of the Severn Bore. Every now and again I need to remind myself of that – and the best way is to trot down to the riverbank and witness the Bore. It’s magical.

Flow is the psychological condition of ‘Optimal Experience’ as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

The concept of Flow is deeply fascinating. Ants are good example to borrow from nature as a living demonstration of flow and collective intelligence. Another is the Severn Bore, which, when it occurs, is because the sea flows inland and the river flows downriver. The Bore is a physical example of two-directional flow, like knowledge exchange, traffic flow and dialogue.

And that is how Flow Contemporary began, a germ of an idea inspired by the power of the sea forcing a river back upstream.

As my early notes stated:

Flow projects are positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand

It continues to be the case, a wave of energy bouncing off the riverbanks/other people/places, revisiting things again and again until they are truly understood.