It’s that time of year again, and so yesterday afternoon I took myself along to see the Masters exhibition at Cardiff School of Art. I’ve never been very impressed with their Masters exhibitions and this year’s show is no exception; as usual it’s much more ‘Meh!’ than ‘Wow!’. That being said there are perhaps two, or possibly three, real standout pieces of work.
However, rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the exhibition I’m going to return to our old friend Katherine (Katie) Fiona Jones (aka KEA Illustration). You might remember this blog post about the awful artist statement of hers that we came across a year or so ago on a visit to the art school. Well Katherine is back again with another abomination of an artist statement. Brace yourselves this really is horrific…
Invisible Realms is an exploratory body of work that examines fertile and feminine spaces without resorting to explicit depictions of female anatomy in order to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief and enter a realm of deathlessness, a realm of the invisible (Luna 2004, p.98). The work itself encourages the audience to interact with artefacts and objects that have drawn influences from ritual coupled with their metaphorical reference to contemporary beauty plights such as; crows feet, hair and cosmetic procedures. The underlying themes and motifs for this body of work is the uncanny (as defined by Freud, 1919) and ritual, which have been substantiated by my research into the themes of the Mari Llwyd as a strong and empathic female archetype for the modern and historical woman. Finally this body of work is hugely influenced by the fears of castration and its historical reference to beauty and power, which are particularly linked to Goddesses like Aphrodite and the Great Mother. This body of work asks you to suspend your disbelief and to interact with these plinths in order to encourage your dialogue and discourses on modern contemporary depictions of female form. May the artefacts entice you, may the plinths influence you and may the conclusions be your own.
You can view Katherine (Katie) Fiona Jones’ original statement online in the exhibition catalogue here.
The work in the exhibition was equally shocking, but I’ll focus on the artist statement first because the idea that the person who wrote this now possess an MA rather disgusts me. If I had been presented with this anonymously I would have attributed it to a weak BA degree student… at best!
Katherine Fiona Jones’ statement reads like a game of tautological bingo; ‘dialogues and discourses’, ‘artefacts and objects’, and so on. The student`could have written half as many words and said twice as as much if she was a capable academic. Instead she presents us with a collection of independent statements about ideas could possibly be related in some distant way;
Clearly the student believes that there is a link between, for example, feminine spaces, beauty plights, and the Mari Llywd (a hobby horse?); and I’m sure she’s read a page or two about each of these things.
Unfortunately Katherine displays a complete lack of academic intellect in tying these themes together. For example, what does the uncanny have to do with contemporary beauty plights in this context? It’s like she’s been playing games of word association. Anyone can list a number of vaguely related themes, but as student in an academic institution I expect to see evidence of cogent thinking as means to produce engaging artwork, not research for research’s sake and art for art’s sake.
A student listing everything she has ever looked at – just in case – does not help the spectator. These ideas should be distilled into an insightful, concise artist statement that facilitates a greater understanding of an artwork.
In addition to this Katherine throws in a citation at the end of the first sentence which should make any academic worth their salt cringe with disgust as there is no accompanying reference. Without a proper reference, and taken completely out of context the student has cleverly managed to paraphrase Luna in such a way that one might think that this is actually written about her own work. That’s not the case at all though, because as we can see, whatever it was that Luna was writing about was written in 2004.
This just further highlights her lack of academic sensibility and makes her look like she’s playing at being an academic, acting how she thinks she ought to.
She saves the best for last however… “May the artefacts entice you, may the plinths influence you and may the conclusions be your own.” (Katherine Fiona Jones, 2014)
What kind of call to action is this? It’s a really cack-handed attempt at enchanting the spectator before they have experienced the work. As I understand it a plinth is a stand, podium, or base, which in an exhibition setting one might expect to be supporting a work of art. Either she doesn’t know what a plinth is or she thinks that she has created some rather spectacular plinths that are works of art in their own right. Having seen her exhibition work I can reliably inform you that Katherine’s plinths are completely unremarkable and definitely not influential.
Katherine Fiona Jones’ exhibition work also makes it very clear that she doesn’t understand what a visual metaphor is. She references ‘crows feet’ in her statement which also appear in the show, literally not metaphorically. One of the objects on display is made up of dried crow’s feet. Really? I would even expect first year degree students to grasp visual metaphors!
Her statement and work (in my humble opinion) were by far some of the worst on display at the Cardiff Masters exhibition, but she certainly wasn’t alone in the level of academic and artistic ability that she displayed. I can only conclude that there is a lack of academic rigour in the assessment of these students both from the tutors who mark their work or external moderators who grade the work. Clearly the standards are low, whether this is the result of lecturers’ fear of actually failing a student, or their own lack of academic nous isn’t clear.
I would expect the work that is displayed as a part of this public exhibition to be the best possible work that a student is capable of producing. After all, it is the culmination of their Masters studies and any student would want to put on their best face. If this the best that Katherine Fiona Jones has to offer then god only know what the university’s criteria for grading work are.
Quite frankly, the idea that she has successfully walked away with an MA after producing this god awful display really angers me. It devalues those similar qualifications held by myself and others across the country, not to mention her peers. It was my understanding that an MA is an academic qualification, however, Katherine Fiona Jones seems to be the proof that all you need to do is pay your tuition fees, produce some work, and Bob’s your uncle!
I suggest that Katherine makes use of some external assistance to write her artist statements in future. The Arty Bollocks Generator would be a good start; it certainly won’t make her statements any less comprehensible or effective.
I was not encouraged to interact with the artefacts.
My disbelief was not suspended.
The artefacts did not entice me.
The plinths did not influence me.
My conclusions are my own!
I had the pleasure of a meeting at the local art school yesterday. It’s a while since I’ve visited the place and the whiff of oil paints and dark room chemicals put me in a rather nostalgic state of mind reminiscing about my own time as an art student.
The school’s main gallery appears to have been decommissioned but there was a small show of work by Masters students on the ground floor where I stumbled upon some of the most nonsensical art speak I’ve encountered for a while. Brace yourself, this is a treat…
The artist, Katherine Fiona Jones, states that she is “Juxtaposing the objectivity of anatomy with the human form and bodily process, to present the debate on how beauty is perceived in western contemporary culture, inviting the discussion on the cultural view surrounding beauty and natural bodily function.”
Now I’ve come across plenty of art-speak nonsense in my time but I had to to take this one to task as it’s ‘apparently’ postgraduate level. It sounds like something that has been written by a keen foundation student.
If I understand this correctly, based upon what Katherine has written, she is placing the objective view of anatomy alongside the human form and bodily process for a contrasting effect. That’s despite the fact that anatomy is the study of the human form and it’s internal workings.
So by placing the science of anatomy next to the subject of anatomy she is going to present a debate about the perception of beauty?
That almost, sort of, starts to make sense when you think about it logically, but in order to have a debate you need to have at least two different, if not opposing stances from which to argue. What Katherine Fiona Jones is doing here is presenting us with a scientifically objective stance and the subject around which the debate is to take place but offering us no opposition to facilitate a debate.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the lack of clarity is mirrored in the visual work that was displayed next to this woeful statement of intent. The works featured what appears to be a female midriff and thighs clad in big knickers from which red ribbon hangs. This is all very badly photo-shopped over some black and white photocopies of God-only-knows-what.
Like Katherine’s statement says, the work presents the human form; or part of it at least. The red ribbons she states are representative of menstruation as the images “explore the honesty of menstruation as a bodily process, allowing the ribbons to act with gravity to represent the natural flow.”
Now I have no idea how menstruation is ‘honest’ but I’ll put that down to my own ignorance.
Again these lines from Katherine are utterly confused and actually contradictory to what she has hung on the wall – one of the two images shows the ribbons flowing upwards as if blown by a gust of wind and defying gravity rather than going with flow – so to speak.
As an artist it is not enough to tell us what your intentions are you have to back this up in practice. In this instance the artist’s statement is so nonsensical that it suggests that the artist doesn’t have the capacity to articulate a simple debate.
– If you are “juxtasposing” two things then they should be contrasting.
– If you are presenting a debate then both sides of the argument need to be presented.
– Your artist statement should facilitate a deeper understanding of the work not try to explain or justify it.
I can’t decide whether Katherine Fiona Jones here is simply making the visual work that she wants to make and conjuring up some art speak drivel to wrap it up with because that’s what she thinks is the ‘done thing’, or whether she really believes that she is presenting and exploring a coherent and interesting debate about western perceptions of beauty.
You can find more work and equally rambling and incoherent commentary on Katherine’s website if you’d like to make your mind up for yourself.
Fine Art often has a hard time engaging the general public through the presentation of high concept and abstract philosophical lines of enquiry that are often presented in quite personal visual languages. But if this work is what the future holds then we might as well all give up now.
I attended a presentation by artist Simon Fenoulhet a couple of months ago. For those of you who don’t know “Simon Fenoulhet is an artist who plays with our preconceptions of the material world by skilfully manipulating everyday objects with unexpected outcomes”.* Those are his words not mine.
Simon was talking about the installation entitled Curtain (2010) he created for Newport Museum and Gallery. He spent some time talking us through the series of events that led to his mind expanding discovery that plastic drinking straws look pretty when light shines through them. He spent even more time talking us through the technical aspects of the project and explaining how much equipment and technical know how was needed to light enough plastic drinking straws to create his installation.
It wasn’t the most enthralling artist’s presentation I have ever sat through but it was vaguely interesting nonetheless. My opinion of this artist and his work came crashing down however when someone asked him what the point of it all was. Well that’s not exactly how they phrased it. It was more along the lines of “that’s fascinating Simon but could you expand a little upon the concepts that drive the production of your work?”
Having given us a lengthy insight into the technical aspects of the installation Simon gave us brief response to this enquiry explaining that he was driven to make work that presented everyday objects in a different light (pardon the pun there).
After outlining the months of work that this piece took to create and the considerable cost of it’s production (funded in no small part by a chunk of public money) that was all he had to give us about the rationale for producing the work.
Really? That’s it?
Now I could give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest that after having given his presentation he was being selfless in giving such a little response to such a big question and making way for the next speaker. Even so, as an artist one should do their best to contextualise their work in the clearest possible manner. After all, in these austere times surely we can’t be seen to be peddling art for art’s sake?
Such a brief response like this is, in my mind, not all that far far removed from Big Brother contestant Helen Adams’ infamous I like Blinking comment.
“I like illuminating plastic drinking straws I do”
Even Simon’s website does nothing to support the work in any intellectually rigorous manner. Although of another work archived on the same page he does offer that “the idea is to make passers by curious about what’s going on in there.”
How did this man secure funding from the Arts Council for this work which appears to be all fur coat and no knickers? Surely they should be funding projects that have something more to them than aesthetic appeal or am I mistaken?
Is that where we’re at now?
Have we succumbed to the dull blade of popular culture.
Are projects which titillate rather than challenge gallery goers all we are brave enough to support now?
We went to check out the new Helen Frik exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff today. Frik was originally born in Worcester but now resides and works in Holland. This exhibition, ‘Difficult’, is her first solo exhibition in a public gallery in the UK and comprises three newly commissioned works which are supplemented by a number of works from the ‘Frik Collection’.
Upon entering the gallery space we were confronted by a rather surreal giant pink inflatable pink hand supporting cut out figure and protruding from a roughly made wooden passageway. This was the first of Frik’s new installations and to be totally honest we paid little attention to this bizarre housing as we were more intent on listening out for the noises that were being emitted through the passageway. The noises hissed and crackled occasionally building to a crescendo as they erupted into bursts of music. Meanwhile out of the other side of the passageway a large sculpture covered by a sheet of fabric was, every now and then, being de-robed by very sudden loud bursts of gas which would give the most prepared spectator a shock. The said fabric was left to fall to the floor exposing the garish, vaguely figurative, sculpture for all to see.
The final new work was tucked away behind a curtain in the furthest gallery space. The room was littered with hundreds of handmade toys all placed around a very oversized lamp in the middle of the room. This was actually the piece of work that brought us to the exhibition in the first place as all the toys had been handmade and donated by the public, including a couple of friends of Culture-Candy. Unfortunately it was a little underwhelming. Although there were apparently almost four hundred toys in the room, they failed to satisfactorily occupy the space and present us with a’ sea of toys’ as the exhibition information promised. The toys seemed to have been distributed throughout the space in a way which suggests the artist was trying to fill it rather than imbue the objects with any kind of energy. The accompanying literature talked of the toys escaping from something unknown to us and being drawn towards the light. The reality was however, that the toys felt static, more like they had been discarded and forgotten about rather than being full of a mysterious energy.
The most interesting piece we found on display as a part of ‘Difficult’ was an older work entitled Happy with Less Visits The Hard Worker (pictured above), in which an anonymous figure sits slumped at a desk under which there is the image of three woman on their knees. The contradiction between the lifeless form at the desk and the sexual energy with which the work is charged; implied by both the image of the women on their knees and the phallic object on the desktop; was discordant and unsettling. The suggestions of impotence and apathy towards life were clear and the realisation of how easily one can succumb to these afflictions was driven home by the clever combinations of very clearly recognisable imagery.
On the whole we felt that the older work displayed in Gallery Three, including Happy with Less Visits The Hard Worker and a number of drawings and collages such as those pictured at the top of this article, was certainly the most engaging part of the exhibition. The newly commissioned works seemed to lack the clear communication that was apparent in the earlier works and relied more upon a number of playful gimmicks to engage the audience. There is no doubt that the playfulness of these new works drew the attention of visitors to the gallery. However,we felt that the work did little more than this and did not give spectators any real cause to pause for thought. Even whilst reflecting upon the work we struggled to understand it’s purpose. Then again maybe we’re trying too hard to find a meaning, perhaps this is the difficulty that Frik talks of and we have been lured into this awkward debate about the work by the artist.
Despite our criticisms we would urge you to go and make your mind up for yourself. The exhibition is worth a visit just to experience Frik’s earlier work alone which, although displaying traits of the playfulness that is present in her new work, is also thought provoking and at times quite profound . The exhibition runs at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, until Sunday 9 May 2010.