Category Archives: Glasgow

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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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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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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Collecting Ghosts? Part One

Social Media Week 2012, Psychic Dérive, and GoMA forum

Renowned artist and Glasgow School of Art alumni David Sherry raised a number of interesting issues when speaking at the GoMA forum, ‘The Relevance of Museums Within Contemporary Art’. For those unfamiliar with his work, Sherry is an internationally exhibiting artist who has represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale and was shortlisted for the Beck’s Futures prize in 2003. He discussed the problematic nature of collection and display of performance art, such as his piece ‘Just Popped Out’ (see below) which he later performed.

Sherry discussed the extent to which the artist, as being an inherent part of a piece of performance art, becomes part of the collected and displayed work once a gallery has acquired it. He raised the possibility of being replaced by actors, which would seem to be an inevitable situation as the work will outlive the artist. This raises the dilemma of originality, however in the narrowest understanding of the term would the work not cease to be original after its initial performance? Perhaps performance art is destined to be ‘original’ only once. Galleries can, and do, display the props that accompany a performance: Sherry’s post-it note from the performance pictured above is framed on the wall of Gallery Two in GoMA. These props are not the art work, however they lend themselves more to the conventions of archiving and display than a performance does. How institutions deal with contemporary art that is of an impermanent and fleeting nature leads on to GoMA’s photo-sharing project for Social Media Week…

Social Media Week 2012

In contrast to performance, it would seem that photographs are permanent works of art. The scenes that they capture, of course, are not. GoMA’s ‘Your Public Art’ project ran for Social Media Week, and invited the public to have their images included in an installation. Inspired by the popularity of Tumblr and Instagram the aim of the project was to examine the idea of what public art really was. Real time photo streams on sites like Instagram’s ‘This Is Now’ project aim to capture the ordinary to the sublime and everything in between: the point is IMMEDIACY. On this feed, for example, photos from the twelve cities that make up the project stream through live, so what can be seen updates in real-time and is therefore constantly changing. The focus seems to be in the inclusion of the remote viewer in the action as it unfolds, albeit virtually. In this case, the impermanence of the medium is the appeal, rather than the creation of an archive of photographs. Of course technically such an archive exists, since nothing which has been put online can ever really be removed. This is incomparable to the way in which photographs as a ‘fine art’ form are used, appreciated, exhibited, or archived, in a gallery or museum situation. In the world of social media, it seems, the photograph is only of interest for a second. Not much longer than the lifespan of the blink of the eye of the photographer who viewed the original scene, the value of the image lies in the substitution of the real life experience of the original viewer which it represents. Yet is this really new? Has photography not always been about the viewer one step removed from the original action…?

Silent Bells

Jannis Kounellis at Tramway

It’s been an incredibly busy six months, filled with more art exhibitions than I have had time to write about in any depth. Now suddenly I find myself in September, with the daunting task of documenting a rapidly expanding and slightly erratic collection of notes and photographs! Relevance is king, and with that in mind I am going to start with an exhibition which is currently running: Jannis Kounellis at Tramway.

Artist Rooms

The large solo exhibition includes work created especially for Tramway, together with pieces from the Artist Rooms collection. A joint collaboration between the Art Fund, Tate, and National Galleries of Scotland; Artist Rooms has a broad scope, enabling smaller galleries to exhibit works by internationally renowned artists. There is nothing small about gallery 2, which is where Kounellis has been installed: Tramway’s previous life as a southside tram depot is visible from the tracks which still cover the floor, to the steel rafters of the roof high above. This vast, industrial space suits Kounellis’s aesthetic well.

A grid of steel beams, stacked on the diagonal and self-supporting, echo the rafters above, and seem to indicate the triangular skeleton of the roof of a building. However, rather than the neck-craning ceiling of the gallery, the structure is brought down to our level, rising from the ground. This foundation is covered with fine rugs: a sharp contrast of texture, material, and function. It invites further exploration, although situated in the corner of the gallery it is not possible to circumnavigate.

The same cannot be said for the piece which occupies the central space of the gallery. Steel beams are laid out at regular intervals along the floor, wrapped in dark toned coats and jackets, a contrast in texture of soft wool and hard metal, but also of human warmth and industrial cold. In the foreground, a selection of bells lie on a metal panel. Above, huge cloth sacks hang in their place, suspended from the rafters, like giant laundry bags yet the jagged outline of their hidden contents would imply otherwise. Their unexpected proportion plays with our perceptions of weight. Again, there is this contrast of soft and hard edges, and unexpected juxtaposition of homely comforts with unyielding man-made objects and machinery.

Trace

Around the walls are smaller works, arranged in a linear display and somewhat dwarfed by the two larger works which necessarily dominate the space. Once again these include bells, this time secured tightly to wooden beams against the wall so that, again, they are rendered silent. I wonder what this restraint of bells means? Traditionally the ringing of bells conveys a message of celebration, time, or warning. Perhaps the significance here is of the autonomy, or lack of it. In the industrial man-made landscape people are increasingly replaced by machines. Here the traces of mankind are like ghosts in the empty clothes that seemingly float across the fourth wall, and are arranged on and around the metal works in various ways…

A bed frame hangs from a hook against an area of wall rendered yellow, a row of filled burlap sacks containing coffee beans and grains stand on a metal base, and a pile of coal lays in front of two sheets of metal leaning against the wall. In this context of trace, the bed frame hints at domesticity while the commodities of grain and coal represent human endeavour, perhaps of earlier times and now discarded in the name of technological progress exemplified in the larger metal works. Alternatively perhaps the opposite is true: they are so elemental and essential that they are taken for granted and do not need to take centre stage. This spotlight is reserved for examples of technological progress and engineering prowess, which are fleeting and always temporary.

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