Tag Archives: Art & Design

Fimbulwinter by David Fitzjohn at Cardiff MADE

I popped into Cardiff MADE this week to have a look at the exhibition/installation they are currently hosting called Fimbulwinter which has been created by artist David Fitzjohn.

The blurb that I had read ahead of visiting the exhibition space was as follows:

In recent work Fitzjohn has used imagery of wilderness and woodland as a metaphor for both a lost ideal (Elysium) and a hoped for future, in order to explore his concerns regarding climate issues and economic imperialism. Fimbulwinter has extended and developed these themes.

This installation has evolved over five years. While its essence remains intact its physical state, like the changing landscape, has morphed with every site-specific experience. Initially conceived as a response to landscape generally, since his relocation to Wales Fitzjohn has become more particularly concerned with the mythic and timeless character of the Welsh landscape. This experience has reinforced his environmental concerns, but also awakened a deeper feeling for the ancient rhythms of nature that remind us of the fluid and changeable state of our reality and the cyclical order of destruction and rebirth embedded in our landscape.

The title Fimbulwinter is taken from Norse mythology, a period of three successive winters without any intervening summer, an environmental disaster that is the prelude to Ragnarok, the end of the world. While the world may not be ending, it is changing and Fitzjohn’s paper-cut is a response to this; his imagining of the end of things as they are, the mutability and adaptability of nature and the hope embedded in possible futures.

Grand eh?

I was all set to get myself a feel for the ancient rhythms of life and to get all worked up about climate change and economic imperialism.

Unfortunately all I encountered was paper-cut trees.

Just paper-cut trees.

Cute paper cut trees.

Fitzjohn’s paper-cut may be his response to the Norse mythological idea of Fimbulwinter, and those mythical tales might well be relatable to ideas about climate change and the end of the world, but unfortunately this paper-cut doesn’t communicate anything whatsoever about these themes.

It’s just paper-cut trees.

I understand that each presentation of the work sees the structure of this paper-cut woodland change to fill a different space and in doing so this might be read as a reflection of our changing world, but you would have to be a Fimbulwinter groupie, following the work from one venue to the next to appreciate this. Instead what is presented at Cardiff MADE is a static installation of aesthetically pleasing paper-cut trees

Ideas about climate change, economic imperialism, environmental disasters, or the hope embedded in possible futures might have inspired Fitzjohn in creating this work but to describe the work as being about these things requires a real stretch of the imagination.

It’s all well and good telling us what themes this work addresses, but if the work itself doesn’t communicate these ideas then it’s a failure in this regard. Isn’t it?

I struggled somewhat trying to figure out what the work was really all about but then I started to wonder if it was actually about the artist himself or aspects thereof…

The installation is not immersive; it is in fact clumps of white paper thin silhouettes of trees that we’re excluded from, forced to navigate our way around them peering through gaps in the entangled branches. We’re required only to observe, not interact with, the work from the outside, peering in, trying to catch a glimpse at what, if anything, might be at the heart of this faux woodland.

I know a few people that could be described by such metaphors, and so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to wonder whether this is in fact a self-portrait masquerading as something more pretentious.

All said, I actually rather enjoyed walking around the installation. It’s really quite beautiful.


PS: The coffee at Cardiff MADE is not bad.

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May the plinths influence you: Katherine Fiona Jones

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;

  • The first sentence tells us that the work is about ‘fertile and feminine spaces’.
  • The second sentence tells us that the work is about ‘beauty plights’.
  • The third sentence tells us that the work is about the uncanny.
  • The fourth sentence tells us that the work is about ‘fears of castration’.
  • The fifth sentence tells us that the work is about ‘depictions of female form’.

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)

WTF?

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!


UPDATE: I’ve been reliably informed that the tweet, linked to above, exclaiming Katherine’s delight at achieving her MFA was posted before the grades were given to students… suspicious, what?

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Beyond the Border Donation Box Commission

I’ve been sent details of an ‘opportunity’ this morning from Beyond the Border story telling festival.

They have issued a brief and an open call to artists for the creation of a donation box ahead of this year’s festival as follows:

Beyond the Border would like to commission a sculptor to make us a beautiful donation box. The sculpture must:

  • the words Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival on it
  • Be robust enough to be kept outdoors during the festival and to last at least four years
  • Be transportable to our other events, but also be sturdy/large enough not to just be picked up/stolen
  • Be made of recyclable, sustainable or found materials
  • Be interesting and interactive to use, for example a coin would make a noise, set off moving parts, go on an interesting journey and somehow reflect the theme of stories and storytelling

I opened up the full details of the brief that I was sent eager to find out more as it sounded like an interesting project and one that I thought some friends of mine might be interested in; particularly with regard to the interactive aspects of the project.

However, as I scanned through the document I clocked the fee for this job which totals £200.00.

Maybe I’ve missed something, or maybe the visions of donation boxes that I was imagining having read the brief were a far too fanciful, but £200 for a project of this scale seems ludicrous. I’d actually go so far as to say I felt disgusted at reading this.

The donation box that they are asking for is essentially a one off handmade piece of sculpture with interactive components, whether that be digital or mechanical, and must be of a size that it can’t be stolen – which in my mind is a sizeable object.

Now I could rabbit on about the amount of funding that the festival receives, or the price of their tickets, or even the fees that they pay to festival staff or storytelling performers, but the fact of the matter is that regardless of all of those other counterpoints £200.00 is a pitiful amount of money for this brief.

I think I would be less offended if the the Beyond the Borders festival organisers had leant heavily on their charitable status crutch and simply come out and said that they are strapped for cash and would like to find an artist / maker who would work for free.

The briefing document states that the £200 offered is divided in half with £100 allocated for materials and £100 as the artists fee. It is stated that the box should be made from “recyclable, sustainable or found materials” so I’m sure a thrifty maker could scrape by with £100 materials budget.

The current UK minimum wage is apparently £6.31 per hour and £100 at this rate would allow for 15 hours of work by the appointed artist which equates to two full days work. However, I’m assuming that Beyond the Border storytelling festival are seeking a skilled individual to create their donation box. After all they refer to it as a ‘Sculpture‘ (see above). With this in mind a basic minimum wage would seem to be far too low a rate of pay which would mean that the fee that they are offering would barely cover a days work.

It’s oft been said that you get what you pay for and there is a little part of me that hopes Beyond the Border will end up with not a lot more than a cardboard box and a tin whistle. But the sad thing is that for every artist who looks at this brief and agrees that the fee offered doesn’t come close to work being asked for, there will be another who will jump at this opportunity because they will make and do regardless of whether they’re paid (fairly) for their creative endeavours or not, and of course this perpetuates the cycle of poor pay for visual artists.

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Art-Speak Drivel

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.

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Chapter Staff Tee Shirts

I popped over to Chapter Art Centre last month to enjoy a film and a couple of pints. It seems they’ve issued their staff with a new uniform since I was last there. Well half a uniform at least… staff tee shirts.

God only knows who designed them. They are black, the front is plain with no design or embellishments whatsoever whilst the reverse has the Chapter title cut out from a rectangle that graduates from red to yellow reminiscent of a sunset.

From a practical point of view they’re completely ineffective as you’re only be able to identify a member of staff from them if they have their back to you.

And from a design point of view they’re horrific. With all the talent available in Cardiff alone you think they would have commissioned a designer or illustrator to produce something snappy. I’m guessing that they either asked one of their fine artist (who from my own experience often lack any design sensibilities whatsoever) friends to come up with the design or else the staff team themselves all came up with a design each and they selected one to use by drawing lots.

Ok so I know this is only a small matter and yes I do have bigger gripes about Chapter. The thing is this sort of thing is indicative of the arts in Cardiff. Putting a little more time and thought into the production of these t-shirts wouldn’t haven’t been a big ask and everyone would have benefited; Chapter would have a better image and their guests would be able to identify their staff from any direction and not just as they’re walking away.

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Contemporary Art Cardiff

I popped into the new contemporary art galleries at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff this week.It’s the first time I’ve been back since they opened last year. Nothing has improved since then to be honest. If anything things in these galleries have gotten worse what with the current The Exhibitionists displays.

My main gripe with the ‘Contemporary Art Galleries’ at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff is the lack of contemporary art in these spaces. One of the exhibitions is entitled “New Perspectives: “Landscape Art in Wales since the 1970s” and another is “Expressive Bodies: Art and the Body since 1950“.

Works from 1950-something or 1960-something are not contemporary. They are works from a period of recent history.

How can you justify displaying a painting from 1963 by Francis Bacon in a contemporary art space?

Admittedly there is a fine line to be drawn as I will accept the display of David Hockney’s 1964 painting ‘The Actor‘ in the same space. My argument for this would be based upon the fact the David Hockney is a contemporary artist; that is, he exists in our time.

The contemporary art galleries at the National Museum actually include works by Francis Bacon as mentioned above (died 1992), Ivon Hitchens (died 1979), Martin Bloch (died 1954) Evan Walters (died 1951) and even Gwen John (died 1939) – amongst others.

Things get older still when you walk through into the Derek Williams Gallery. Why is this included within the museum’s contemporary art space? I’m not sure that it includes by any living artists at all. In fact last year when I popped in to have a look at these galleries the Derek Williams Gallery included a work by Lowri as did the museum’s historic art galleries.

That’s a sure fire way to confuse the general public.

Of course there is some contemporary art in these galleries. There are some wonderful paintings by the likes of Brendan Burns and Terry Setch and fantastic sculptural work by Laura Ford.

These ‘Contemporary Art Galleries’ were opened last year as a part of a £6.5 million overhaul of the museum’s art galleries. What really irks me about these galleries is the use of the space relative to the fact that Cardiff has no real contemporary art spaces of national standing.

Of course there are one or two spaces like G39 who do an admiral job in supporting artists and their development. But Cardiff doesn’t have a contemporary art gallery that can compete with the likes of The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Baltic in Durham or Ikon in Birmingham for example.

If used properly the museum’s galleries could be used to put Cardiff on the Art map with a bang.

When it was announced that the new contemporary galleries would be opening in the museum I had a hoped for so much more. Clearly the attitude to curating these galleries is that of a museum curator and not of a contemporary art gallery curator. Only a handful of the works on display have changed since I visited last year and this doesn’t encourage me to make a return visit to these galleries in the near future.

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Wales Blog Awards

The search is on for Wales’ Best Blogger… amateur blogger that is. Yes, the Wales Blog Awards are back. The categories this year include:

  • Best Blog (people’s choice – voted for by the public)
  • Best Writing on a Blog
  • Best Political Blog
  • Best Community Blog
  • Best Lifestyle Blog
  • Best Technology Blog
  • Best Sports Blog
  • Best Multimedia Blog (New category for 2012)
  • Best New Blog (New category for 2012)
  • Best Music and Entertainment Blog
  • Best Food & Drink Blog

That’s right, there’s no arts category as was spotted by @WeAreCardiff. Apparently arts blogs might be eligible for the Multimedia or Lifestyle categories. Having read the remit of the multimedia category I find myself rather disgusted by this suggestion. It would indicate that the organisers of the Wales Blog Awards think that an arts blog would be nothing more than a stream of pictures.

*deep breath*

There is a glimmer of hope though in that there is a possibility that an Arts category might be included in future if enough entries are received. However, with there being no clear category for the Arts I can’t imagine that many entries will be received at all. The current format doesn’t exactly encourage participation from those interested or involved in the arts now does it? Even a Miscellaneous category would have been better than none at all. I’m sure there are many other bloggers writing outside the remit of this list that will feel that they have been excluded.

It’s shocking really given the reach of the arts in Wales.We have renowned galleries dotted up the length of the country (G39, Oriel Davies, Mostyn, et al) and our capital city hosts the largest contemporary art prize in the UK; Artes Mundi. And that’s Just the visual arts.

The interest and participation in the arts in Wales is huge.

Having said all that it will not stop me entering this blog into the awards. I think ‘Best New Blog‘ might be the category for me.

Of course there’s not a kittens chance in hell of me getting a look in as the Wales Blog Awards are organised by Media Wales and their PR company friends. It’s just wouldn’t be good PR to support such a negative and vitriolic blog like this.

But, if you don’t ask you don’t get and so it is into the mouth of hell I march.

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