Side note – Karla Black

Now would be as good a time as any to break away from recording my internship, as in my last post I introduced the work of Karla Black at GI 2012. Karla  represented Scotland at the 54th Venice Biennale and was a finalist for the Turner Prize in 2011, the year that Martin Boyce won. Martin was actually at an opening at the gallery while I was a volunteer tour guide, unfortunately I don’t have pictures but maybe someone does!

Karla’s sculptural installations are known for their light pastel colour schemes and ephemeral quality, and for the artists’ use of everyday household materials. This is a common sub-genre of conceptual and neo-conceptual art in itself, and a feature of a lot of Glasgow artists (hence the title of the latest sculpture show at GoMA, ‘Everyday‘. But more of that later.) One particular talking point about Karla in particular, is her adoption of what could be termed ‘feminine care’ products such as cosmetics, in her work. ‘Don’t Adapt, Detach’ is decorated with glitter eyeliner in place of paint, for example, and those looking closely at ‘Empty Now’ would have seen bronzing pearls casually strewn on the sawdust.

Karla Black GI 2012

The ramifications of such use of materials deserves in-depth discussion, and is a topic I will write about in a later post. The artists’ incorporation of stereotypical ‘feminine’ products raises important questions of meaning, intent, and interpretation. The habit of society to read gender into art, as in so many things, will form part of my Masters research, and the meaning we read into materials is something I am very interested in. Karla Black’s own reaction to such categorization of her work was one of the motivating factors for me in my research, and has posed many as yet unanswered questions.

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Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012

The beginning of my Internship coincided with the start of Glasgow’s contemporary art festival, so I spent my first day visiting nearby exhibitions around Trongate and the Merchant City. There was a staff briefing at the gallery, whose involvement in the festival consisted of an enormous sculptural installation by Karla Black. The work was made with seventeen tonnes of sawdust, and was a feat of logistical acrobatics to install. Who knew sawdust was so heavy? In a listed building, with the Glasgow underground system already running close to the foundations, and a gallery space which had public rooms below it, there was a real risk that the sculpture would cause the floor to collapse. The original design of the work was even heavier…

Karla Black GI 2012

Karla Black detail

 

The sawdust piece is titled ‘Empty Now‘, and the overhanging cellophane ‘Will Attach‘.

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Some reflections on my time as an Intern

I’ve come to the end of my twelve-month internship as a Curatorial Assistant. I actually can’t believe that a year has passed since I was finishing my finals and starting in the gallery, it has passed so quickly. My internship served as a crash course in contemporary art, and dropped me in to the city’s current art scene. If that sounds a little dramatic, you have to understand that there is a limit to how ‘contemporary’ your classes get when you study Art History. With my honours focused primarily on art of the twentieth-century, I didn’t really get any more recent than the late eighties. After all the (amazing!) stuff that happened in the sixties and seventies, study materials sort of trailed off…

Graduation Day

Which is precisely why such a different approach is needed when you are dealing with contemporary art. Sure, the theory and the historical impetus still stand, and occupy not just an important place but also a really useful one when it comes to critiquing current works. There is not, however, this sense of retrospective reinterpretation and categorisation that dictates how ‘historical’ art of times past should be viewed and understood. In my case, I was mainly viewing art by emerging and mid-career level artists, who are still in a developmental phase, which keeps things fresh and interesting! Even more importantly, if you come from an Art History background, there is very little literature about these artists! The odd review if you’re lucky, sometimes. Academic essays in peer-reviewed journals are the exception, and not the norm, which means I had to change how I approached researching these artists.

To be continued…

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The Light Show, Hayward Gallery, London

I visited the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery back in March (I meant to write about it, apologies) The premise appealed to me: I have never been to an exhibition which was composed entirely of light works, and I was curious. It was a hotly tipped show, so I tried to avoid the inevitable early reviews in the press. I try to make the effort to not read other people’s opinions of shows until after I have seen them myself, so that I can make my own mind up and form an unbiased account of them first. After I’ve done that, then it can be fun to compare different viewpoints on the exhibition in question.

Fast forward two months, and I saw that NY arts blog Hyperallergic waxed poetical about the immersive effect of the Hayward show. You can read their review here.

Immersion

Personally I found the Light Show a physically demanding experience. It is a difficult exhibition: there is little respite from the assault on the senses that comes from neon/undulating/flickering (delete as appropriate) pieces. The spectacular, and possibly infamous, Olafur Eliasson Model for a Timeless Garden translates well to film and may give you some idea of the viewing experience…

*Warning this video contains flashing lights*

The effects of such relentless retinal trickery can be jarring, although the sheer number of works on display sometimes detracts from the impact of the individual pieces. There are of course standout moments, although I thought that Hyperallergic’s description made an important point. The exhibition is immersive, completely and utterly. The Hayward succeeds in this largely due to the vast quantity of light works sharing the space. With fewer works, the focus would be on the individual pieces which in turn would alter the effect.  They would become objects to look at, and light works do so much more than exist to merely be looked at, they are experiential. If an exhibition is easy can it really be experiential?

The Light Show, Hayward Gallery, LondonI visited the

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Formal Training and Creativity. Versus?

Does theory and training hamper creativity?

At a talk this week by designer Wayne Hemingway OBE, he made the case for thinking outside the box with regards to training. As a fashion designer Hemingway was self-taught, which seemed to remove the barriers of self-preservation and open him up to be truly brave and experimental. While it is true that in 2013, a lack of formal education in your chosen field is an almost guaranteed barrier to entry, there is no reason, according to Hemingway, why an architect cannot design clothes, or a graphic designer cannot design social housing. The training is a basis and a foothold, but should serve to give you the confidence to think much more broadly. But isn’t it true that the more you know the more you realise you don’t know?

As a classically trained musician, I have long bemoaned my complete lack of songwriting ability, blaming it on the fact that I have been trained in the ‘proper’ way to write music. What I mean by this is that I just can’t put pen to paper and run with it, but I am crippled by rules of key signatures and what not. It would have to make sense to me, rather than  honest and unrestrained expression. While I love listening to contemporary and cutting edge artists, seeing their work in sheet music form hurts my eyes and my brain.

While not belittling the importance of sound theoretical training, I wonder if the extra rules and constrictions that come with the acquiring of academic knowledge can be restrictive? Or perhaps that is the point: that true greatness may come once you have mastered the theory and are then able to go beyond it with innovation?

The old adage rings true for me with music: I know enough to know that what I write wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as the work of the artists I listen to, and so I don’t bother. I think the key attribute in creativity may be neither training or lack of it, but bravery, tenacity, and resilience. 

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48 Hours in Hackney (or It All Comes Down to Duchamp)

Do you ever have one of those experiences where seemingly disparate events converge and you unexpectedly go full circle? Well, this weekend was one of those times. I had a heady two days planned of exhibitions and the new Art13 art fair in the capital. I had been desperate to see the Aspen Magazine show at the Whitechapel, and as it closed this Sunday it was my last chance to see it. As it happens, Gerard Byrne was also on display there, which was lucky, as the gallery where I intern has some of his work in their collection and I welcomed the chance to get better acquainted with his work. 

Central to the Byrne exhibition is a multi screen film installation entitled A man and a woman make love.The dated tone of the original text is juxtaposed well against tilted chunky  surfaces onto which the film is projected, on a time delay meaning each clip is framed by fraction of a second of darkness. This is a re-enactment of a well-known surrealist conversation regarding the ‘woman problem’. I had to smile at this. My senior honours Surrealism tutorial at uni had a female to male ratio of something like 20:1, so the token male bore the brunt of our indignation at some of the patronising and amazingly backward chauvinism expressed by Breton and his milieu. I say amazing, because of course so much of the artistic output of this avant-garde was so incredibly ahead of its time. 

Anyway, I digress.  

My artistic six degrees of separation went like this: Byrne (Whitechapel) – Surrealists/Duchamp – Duchamp/Cage/Rauschenberg/Cunningham (Barbican) – Cage/Cunningham (Aspen Magazine, Whitechapel) See? Full twentieth century art-historical circle. 

The complete set of Aspen magazines were on display at the Whitechapel. They were loose leaf publications presented in a box, and were not limited to text or paper.

The celebrated Roland Barthes essay ‘Death of the Author’ was in fact commissioned for this very magazine. All manner of significant artists and writers were involved in this publication, along with an impressive calibre of musicians. What I liked about this exhibition, aside from seeing the entire contents of Aspen spread out before my eyes, was the behind the scenes documentation including recorded interviews (which reveal how haphazardly the publication was actually put together, surprising now when you see how important some of the included work has become) and also editorial drafts by people like Susan Sontag, giving an insight into the organisation and aims of the editors. I have a penchant for archival shows, I think it must be my history background. I get completely engrossed in glass cases full of what is normally deemed ‘support material’, so when it is actually made the subject of the exhibition I find it really interesting. It is a tricky type of exhibition to pull off, however, as visually it can be a little monotonous.

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‘We Are The Imagination of Ourselves’ – Bill Hicks

According to Netflix, I have a predilection for ‘mind-bending’ films and considering my love of all things David Lynch, I would say they are probably right. Which is possibly why I greeted Melanie Gilligan’s video series Popular Unrest, installed at Stills as part of two-centred exhibition ‘Economy’, with a warm sense of recognition.

‘Economy’ at Stills, Edinburgh

The characters in Gilligan’s series are brought together by the realisation of the binary relationship that isolated individuals have with each other in contemporary society. In an increasingly digital world everything from our economic transactions to our social ones are done electronically. The nature of mankind, life, and the soul boils down to numbers, like a code. Hence the real or imagined but theoretically possible threat of technology developing consciousness. In this way the quintessential question of the nature of reality can be seen in terms of digital economy.

The Role of the Image

If this sounds heavy or particularly abstract, it should serve to illustrate the concerns of the curators of ‘Economy’.This is not just an art exhibition, but has political and philosophical overarching themes which not only analyse, visually, the more obscure definitions of the concept of ‘economy’ but also, using the opposing functions of pathos versus tragedy, examine how a visual image operates within this concept.

Survey Says…?

Unfortunately, an iPhone camera does not do justice to AV work such as Gilligan’s. The show includes photography in addition to video pieces, including Andreas Gursky’s memorable image of the Chicago Stock exchange (see below). While this particular example may be an obvious link to the world of commerce, works such as Chinafrica by Paolo Woods subvert our traditionally eurocentric interpretation of colonialism. The content of ‘Economy’ is too broad for a singular blog post: this is a fabulous exhibition, I cannot praise it enough. It is an intelligent, deep, and wide ranging exploration of a loaded concept, not easily digested in one sitting. For me, a return visit is a necessity after an amount of time to ‘debrief’ and have a good think! I think it is one of those occasions where an exhibition possibly raises more questions than it attempts to offer explanation for, which is testament to the thorough and inspired research behind a complex and impassioned subject matter.

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The Critic Sees

I had an enjoyable lunch hour this week trekking round Kendall Koppe and Transmission galleries in Glasgow. The show at Transmission includes performances, which I missed, so I will write about that once I have caught the performances.

At Kendall’s, meanwhile, there is a two-man show of works by Craig Mullholland and Zachary Drucker. Drucker’s contribution is a film and accompanying light box image of drag artiste Flawless Sabrina, while Mullholland is showing three linen prints on the walls, as well as simulacral box of cigarettes and a ghostly jacket. I say ghostly because it’s puffed out as if being worn by an invisible man.

I’ve no idea if the jacket was ‘readymade’ or not, but it brings me nicely to the Jasper Johns reference in my title. ‘The Critic Sees’ centres on a pair of eyes looking through spectacles, simultaneously mocking the critic by subverting his role from that of onlooker to that of object on display. Crucially, however, it also reminds the viewer of their own relationship to the object: they are external and bring their own ideas and preconceptions to the table.

Mullholland’s Dadaist jacket stands in
for us as we look around the gallery, and temporarily forces us to step outside our physical selves and draw attention to our actions as a viewer. Similarly, his linen prints, with slogans like ‘refresh me’, play on our preconceptions to the nature and traditional method involved in their production. As to the intent behind all this, it’s maybe too simplistic but it could easily refer to the subject matter of Drucker’s film which is after all an exploration of identity and representation in microcosm.

As for the gallery, their accompanying text mentions ‘normative efficient embodiment’. I can’t say if that particular nugget corresponds to my interpretation or not, but maybe it will work for you!

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Susanne Junker

Susanne Junker

Guest blog I did for TYCI on artist Suzanne Junker in January

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