Tag Archives: Art

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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Vacuous Visual Arts Blogs

It’s great that there are so many blogs out there dedicated to visual art. Some of them have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of followers. It goes to show that there is an appetite for art out there which is hugely encouraging.

However, I can’t help but feel that these blogs and the constant sharing and reposting of images and videos of work is damaging the integrity of our visual arts. The content is often just so vacuous.

Artwork identified as being worthy of sharing is not selected because of its value as an intellectually stimulating piece of work that comments on our existence, the development of society, politics, war, or other such poignant matters. Work is selected because it is pretty, aesthetically pleasing, well executed, and most importantly non-offensive.

Many blogs even state outright that they do not accept challenging content, as exemplified by this snippet taken from Colossal’s submission guidelines:

If your project involves sex, violence or particularly sensitive topics it regrettably may not be appropriate at this time. Sorry!

Whilst I agree that there is room for technical ability to be applauded we should encourage these skills to be used in more thought provoking ways and not simply celebrate a work because it took 100 hours to draw.

Yes your very detailed portrait of a person drawn over an ordnance survey map looks lovely and is exquisitely executed but does it actually communicate anything at all?

It’s great that you can paint a detailed landscape in the style of old masters on the back of a postage stamp but does this tell us anything other than you have a keen eye and very fine paint brush?

Much of the work I see churned out across these blogs is nothing more than curiosity or decoration. Once one blog shares an artist’s work you can rest assured that you’ll see exactly the same work pop up on every other visual art blog online within a week. God forbid those bloggers miss a trick and let their peers post all the most popular content and get all of the page views.

These blogs are the visual equivalent to Radio 1’s daytime radio shows repetitively pumping out manufactured mind-numbing pop music. These pop singers (most of them at least) have the technical ability to deliver a song just like these artists have the technical ability to produce an accurate drawing, painting or sculpture. But similarly they’re all pretty vacuous and lacking in any real depth.

Viewers online are lured in with superlative headlines that would sound more at home in Heat magazine than Art Review:

This Painting Will Blow Your Mind When You Find Out What It Actually Is

The Tiny Landscapes This Artist Paints On Snacks Are Just Too Good To Eat

9 Unbelievable Works of Art Created With Just Some Ballpoint Pens

I get that it’s subjective, but as audiences why have we come to accept so little from the visual art we’re presented with. Surely a painting or drawing is not by default “a work of art”? Doesn’t it have to communicate something beyond its execution or function?

I see these images featured on various blogs making their way into galleries in real life. Not surprisingly really as galleries main priorities are visitor/customer numbers. If a blog post featuring some drawings has been shared 50,000 times then it must be popular and therefor a draw for gallery-goers. But this waters down the experience for those of us looking for something more than a well-executed technical exercise in drawing, painting or whatever other medium the artist has selected to use.

Art should challenge us, question us, make us think!

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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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Artist Opportunities – Fresh Meat

I’ve just come across this open call for artists from Fresh Meat Gallery who describe themselves as “a pop-up gallery and artist-run space established in late 2012”. Their mission statement is as follows:

Fresh Meat Gallery provides opportunities for emerging artists across the UK as well as continually developing creative opportunities for the East Midlands and Yorkshire. We intend to create programmes that focus on participation and debate, building relationships between artists and audiences. We aim to focus on working with young creatives in developing their practice and providing the public with contemporary, innovative art.
– (www.freshmeatgallery.com/?page_id=824, 8 April 2013)

Hardly ground breaking or awe inspiring is it?

Clearly Fresh Meat’s definition of an “opportunity” for emerging artists (whatever an emerging artist might be) is very different from my own.

It’s irksome enough that artists so often have to pay, through a submission/application fee, for someone to even look at their work. I can understand that there may be a need for those holding exhibitions to charge an exhibitors fee to cover the cost such as hiring a space, insurance or marketing, amongst others. And I can accept that more commercial galleries will take as much as a 50% commission. This at least puts the onus on the exhibition organisers to at least try and sell the work rather than hosting an exhibition and then sitting back with thir feet up expecting the work to sell itself.

The costs for exhibition with Fresh meat are: £20 entry fee. 40% commission on works sold.

That’s right; not an application (or exhibition) fee or a high rate of commission. They’re milking these “emerging artists” for all they can get.

Frankly I find this disgusting and far from an “opportunity” for artists.

I have a distaste for exhibition entry fees as it stands but this £20 fee is not far off the fees charged by the likes of Jerwood Visual Arts for their open calls or the Oriel Mostyn Open as previously discussed. In these instances artists applications are reviewed by arts professionals with a wealth of experience and proven track records (not that I approve of entry fees in these instances either).

But who are Fresh Meat? Apparently they are Calum Crowther and Alexandra Cavaye who graduated from their degrees (in fine art, or a related undergraduate degree, presumably?) in 2011 and 2012. So with the possibility of a whopping 18 months of real world experience between them how can they justify a £20 application fee for this “opportunity”? It seems to me that they are no more qualified, if even as qualified as many of the artists from whom they will likely be receiving submissions. Yet here they have placed themselves are arbiters of taste.

I can’t help but think that this exorbitant fee is simply a money making fee to help get their venture off the ground. Sadly there are hundreds and thousands of artists out there who will cough up the cash in the hope that their work my be exhibited in a real world exhibition in London.

But then this “opportunity” does offer “long-term promotion and the possibility of commissions”. …apparently.

The possibility of commissions? Surely every single exhibition opportunity out there offers such possibilities?

Given that Fresh Meat have only existed for a matter of months I can hardly believe that they have a network of buyers and collectors chomping at the bit waiting for their exhibition to open. Whilst I’d like to believe that these potential gallerists will be working their socks off to elicit countless commissions for their exhibitors the location of the show puts doubt in my mind.

The exhibition is to be held in the offices of a technology company. It’s hardly Cork Street. Yes, London W1 is a desirable location, but despite Fresh Meat’s bold claims that they are “working together to providing [sic] their contemporary space with artwork by emerging artists“, and that this partnership offers the “possibility of selling work to a high-end market“, I can’t believe that the staff at this technology company will have the time to be acting as sales representatives for Fresh Meat.

Likewise I find it hard to believe that the the Directors of Fresh Meat Gallery will be camped out in the offices of this technology company drum up sales in their makeshift gallery.

I have no problem with young graduates try to start up their own galleries and art organisations. In fact I would applaud anyone who is trying to do so. However, seeing such organisations, run by young graduates, exploiting their peers, or “emerging artists” if you prefer, in order to help themselves get a footing disturbs me.

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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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Mostyn Open Again

So Oriel Mostyn has announced it’s open call for 2013.

You’d think they’d have done a little research following last year’s show and garnered a little feedback from artists and makers outside of their own contemporary fine art bubble. They clearly didn’t come across this piece on the Cathedral of Shit (which shouldn’t have been hard to find) since they’ve upped the submission fee to a whopping £25.00 this year.

Given the austere times in which we live I can understand this. After all funding streams are dwindling and so it must be tough for a gallery in the back end of nowhere. Where better to scrape a few extra pennies together from than the pockets of artists struggling to keep their heads above water?

Perhaps the hike in submission fee is actually because they’re not expecting so many submissions this year after only making their application form available digitally as an Adobe Reader document.

As per Mostyn’s own instructions on their blog:

“YOU MUST FILL IN THE REGISTRATION FORM USING ADOBE READER ONLY”

This doesn’t really do much for widening participation in the project now does it?

If you have a butchers at the comments on the blog you’ll also discover that the only way to find out what the maximum size and age of the works that are eligible for this open call are is by emailing the gallery.

It’s a clear as muck then.

Nonetheless it’ll be interesting to discover which works they pull out of the lucky dip for the exhibition this time around.


Update 12 July 2012

clearly the lack of accessibility to the registration form as a result of it only being in an clunky Adobe Reader .pdf is showing as Mostyn have updated their blog to announce that the registration deadline has been extended by a week.

I guess they’re concerned that they’re not going to make enough money from the Mostyn Open enterprise this year.

Interestingly the .pdf information sheet that they distributed via email with an update about this extended deadline doesn’t include the registration form nor a direct link to the registration form on their finger out. Someone’s not doing their job properly are they?

These sort of failings wouldn’t fill me with the confidence to apply if I was an artist interested in this “opportunity”. If they can’t organise an effect open call what assurances is one going to get for their £25.00 that they are going to be able to organise an effective exhibition?

#Fail

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Becoming

We stumbled across Becoming… at The Old Library in Cardiff this weekend having seen the sandwich board at the steps of the building enticing us away from our retail therapy. As we discovered once inside the exhibition features work by graduates of the Masters of Fine Art course at Cardiff School of Art and Design from 2008.

When it comes to what’s going on in the visual art world in Cardiff We like to think we have our finger on the pulse but this exhibition had slipped under our radar. With that in mind we were intrigued by what we might find in the gallery having not been armed with press releases and such prior to our visit.

First impressions count for a lot, especially in the world of visual arts, and unfortunately Becoming… stumbled at the first hurdle. As we entered the exhibition space we were greeted by photographs mounted onto folded corrugated cardboard supports hanging limply from the wall. The first work we encountered was a shabbily cobbled together shelf of what we can only presume were supposed to be plastic bottles filled with urine. Things didn’t get much better as we explored the rest of the exhibition; poorly constructed light-boxes were hung with so many cables sprouting from them that we weren’t sure as to whether this was an aesthetic statement or a lack of professionalism on the part of the artist.

We can’t tell you whose work this was because none of the work was labelled at all. The only information about the artists and their work that was available took the form of a horribly produced ‘catalogue’. The copy we picked up featured a small amount of information about the artists involved. Clearly each individual had produced their own entry for this publication as the fonts change from serif to sans-serif and back again throughout and there are only one or two pages that share the same lay out. One artist’s page in the middle of the document had even been printed on card in contrast to every other page.

The information within the catalogue wasn’t in the slightest bit useful since the images accompanying the artists’ statements it didn’t necessarily match the work that was on display. As there were no labels next to the artworks we were left to entertain ourselves by trying to match the artists listed in the catalogue with their work. This wasn’t an easy task as some of the artists named on the list of exhibitors were not featured in the catalogue at all.

We tried to put the poor presentation aside, and having had a good look around the work on show we found three artists whose work we felt stood out above the rest:

Chris Short’s black and white photographs of the sea had a beautiful ethereal quality to them that drew us in to the work. Despite the mechanistic qualities of the media he successfully manages to capture the deceptively benign force of the water.

Ben Lloyd’s installation, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, features a large number of pre-owned soft toys that have all been dipped in building plaster. The objects allude to a sense of time passed and the preservation of intimate memories of our childhood. However, there is also a somewhat sombre undertone to these mummified toys as result of their bringing to mind an archaeological find. Whilst transporting us back to our childhood the objects also remind us of those memories that have been lost and of a time in our lives before our innocence was lost and we weren’t burdened by the stresses of modern living.

Kimberley Adams’ contribution to the exhibition was minimal. We almost passed by her heavily embroidered pieces of canvas that were simply tacked onto the ends of some exhibition panels. Adams’ practice explores ideas of identity. The work shown at Becoming… features portraits that only show a part of the sitters face; there is an eye on one wall and a nose and mouth on the other. The labour intensive method of production used suggests that the artist spent a lot of time studying her subject but we are only given small visual clues as to the identity of the persons pictured. Adams asks us to question How much visual information contributes to a person’s identity?

It’s a shame that the exhibition hasn’t been produced to a high standard as all the works on display would certainly benefit from a stronger exhibition environment and some curatorial nous. We would certainly like to see some of the work by the artists mentioned above in a different context to fully appreciate them.

This years exhibition by current students on the Masters courses at Cardiff School of Art and Design opens later this month. We will be fascinated to see how they compare to the class of 2008.

Becoming… continues until the 28 September 2011:
10:00am – 5:00pm Monday to Saturday
10:00am – 4:00pm Sunday


www.cardiffstory.com

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CSAD Masters Exhibition

We took ourselves over to the Howard Gardens galleries at Cardiff School of Art and Design last weekend to have a look around the Masters Degree shows. The exhibitions feature work by students studying postgraduate degrees in Art and Design, Ceramics and Fine Art.

The main gallery space through which we entered the exhibition housed work by MA Ceramics students and we were pleasantly surprised. I must admit that we had fully expected it to be an exhibition of ceramic vessels and figurines. What confronted us instead was an array of abstract ceramic objects and installations that certainly bucked the notion that ceramics is craft and not art. Work by Julia Rempel and Michelle-Rose Quinn in particular stood out as we explored the gallery.

One of Rempel’s exhibits consisted of oversized salt and pepper shakers fixed high up on the gallery wall with piles of salt and pepper beneath them apparently having fallen forth from the perforated letters on the top of the vessels. There was something of a fantastical quality to these shakers that perhaps could have been exploited even further. As we stood beneath them we were reminded of tales such as that of the Borrowers or even Alice in Wonderland as she shrinks before falling down the rabbit hole.

Quinn’s work consisted of what appeared to be items cast in clay which included a pair of boots, a pair of gloves and an empty coat hook. The objects were not coloured but all presented in a white ghostly finish. There was a really lovely subtle suggestion of presence without presence. There was a definite sense of time, and to some extent place, about the work that certainly set our imaginations wandering. Our only criticism would be not of the work but of the space allocated to it. Quinn’s work would definitely have benefited from having more room to breathe. This feeling was exacerbated by the apparently disproportionate amount of space that was allocated to the Fine Art and Art and Design students.

You would have to be beyond blind to miss Dom Williams’ work as you enter the Fine Art exhibition space. The giant, hot pink, plush toy in the centre of the studio space towers over visitors. The creature has an amplifier installed inside it and so could be heard grumbling and rumbling as its tail was agitated by visitors. Accompanying this was a graffiti wall upon which gallery goers were invited to make their own contribution to the exhibition with Posca pens and markers. Williams’ work seemed to us to be indicative of a trend that we’ve seen in the arts over that last year or so which has seen more urban art forms encroaching upon the world of fine art. It is something however, that until now we have not really seen within Welsh art.

Exhibited alongside these bright bold works were some more traditional drawings and paintings from Hilary Wagstaff and Cathryn Lowri Griffith. These works were interesting but ultimately didn’t grab our attention. Dan Griffiths’ video installations however, divided our opinions. The first that we saw was a dark room in which broken skateboards and old skate shoes were suspended from the ceiling. The floor was littered with reclaimed TV screens on which were playing videos which had been recorded whilst the artist had been skateboarding around Cardiff. On the wall was an inscription indicating the number of skateboards and shoes that Griffiths had been through and also suggesting that all of the recordings being show had taken place over a two year period. Although engaging, the presentation of the work did nothing to convey the passing of time that the title suggested was of importance and ultimately the work felt somewhat fragmented.

The second video by Griffiths was a reel that was over twenty minutes long showing him trying to perfect a hop on his skateboard. One could imagine some visitors dismissing it far too quickly (as we witnessed) assuming that because it featured skateboarding it wasn’t for them. However, the endless repetition was fascinating. It is something that most all of us have experienced at some point in our lives: repeating an action to perfect it, and after having spent some time sat watching the video we actually found that it became somewhat soothing.

Minna Oberg’s work was also rather fascinating. Entitled Failed, the artist presented a number of photographs of an installation that didn’t quite happen. It was clear that photographs had been taken in the space in which they were presented. It was lovely to see that artist had been able to see, and accept, that the work she had intended to present was failing and that she had the confidence to react to this situation and still produce something note worthy for the exhibition. It was a shame since we are rather partial to a little installation art but the photographs presented the possibility of such a work of art and in some respects allowed the visitor to imagine the finished work themselves.

There was further work on display on the fourth floor which included prints, paintings and drawings but unfortunately these left us a little cold. The fifth floor was occupied by just one artist; Alan Goulbourne. His exhibition consisted of a number of abstract paintings and prints alongside some large installations which included an effigy of tree assembled from the branches of felled trees. If nothing else you can clearly say that Goulbourne is prolific but ultimately he failed to inspire us on this occasion.

Overall we enjoyed our little excursion to Cardiff School of Art and Design for their postgraduate exhibitions. There really is a little something for everyone on display whether your passion is for ceramics, painting, sculpture, print making or drawing. There is far more on display than we have managed to covered here as some of the work was just not to our taste and some was unfortunately so poorly labelled that we have no idea whose, or in some cases even what, it was.

You should definitely go and check it out for yourself whilst you can. The exhibition is open now and will continue until the 24 September 2010.


www.csad.uwic.ac.uk

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Artes Mundi 4

We finally got around to visiting the Artes Mundi 4 Prize exhibition at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff this week. It’s an interesting project; the prize is awarded every two years and at £40,000 it is one of the largest arts prizes in Europe. However, rather than being established to promote the work and talent of artists in Wales it’s aim is to bring art into the country from all across to globe to highlight the cross-cultural impact that art can have. As a result Artes Mundi 4 features work from as far away as Peru and from little known countries such as Kyrgyzstan which is sandwiched to the east between Kazakhstan and China. Needless to say, having taken in some of this information prior to our visit we were looking forward to an exciting array of international arts.

The first work we encountered was that of Peruvian artist Fernando Bryce. The room‘s walls had been covered with framed hand drawn copies of pages from newspapers from the turn of the twentieth century. Bryce has meticulously copied the pages from newspapers and books in Indian ink and re-presented them to us here in the gallery. The majority of these newspapers were European or North American and due to the glut of information that was presented it took us some considerable time to make our way around the room.

Unfortunately we are not a linguistically gifted bunch and so we had to decipher what we could from the content presented in foreign languages through the accompanying images and the occasional recognisable words. It was certainly an interesting exhibit. Reading the propaganda and stories about political and social upheavals that were appearing in the newspapers at the time with regard to what is happening in the world today gave us cause to pause for thought. However, the display felt more akin to a museum exhibit than a work of art. We struggled to understand Bryce’s need to have spent what must have been some considerable amount of time copying these articles. There was nothing apparent in his drawings that appeared to suggest that he had added anything to them physically or philosophically, and Artes Mundi’s claims that his “process of copying, highlights the ways in which facts are constructed, culture is described and history is reported” seem somewhat unfounded. We felt that he could have highlighted these points equally as well by presenting the originals or even photo copies thereof.

Having examined Bryce’s drawings we moved on to a look at a series of photographs by Olga Chernysheva entitled “Cactus Seller”. The images appeared to have been taken inside a natural history museum of sorts. The monochromatic series featured shots of empty spaces and taxidermied museum exhibits that were interspersed with images of an old man looking after a collection of cacti with a small stall in the foyer of the museum. The man in question was not posing for the photographs but going about his business apparently unaware that he is being observed. He is presented in such away that he seems as if he is as much a part of the museum’s exhibit as the artefacts featured in some of Chernysheva’s other images.

There was also a reel of Chernysheva’s videos playing at the exhibition although we didn’t stumble across these until later due to the way in which the show had been curated as they had been separated from her photographs by another artists work. There were three videos roughly shot from afar at what appeared to be community events in her homeland of Russia. The most interesting of these was footage of some young boys dressed in military uniforms looking somewhat uncomfortable and unable to stand still. Next to them a troupe of slightly older cheerleaders were performing some rather lacklustre routines whilst a band played a repetitive tune across the top of the whole event. It was the children’s apparent discomfort that was most appealing about this video. We’re sure that it was not the dressing up that was causing them such discomfort but that they had clearly been made to adopt the role of adults for the purpose of this event, for example, as guardsmen standing to attention.

Chen Chieh-jen’s videos explored ideas relating to migration and consumerism with one video relating to each theme on display at the exhibition. The first of these that we watched was filmed at an airport and consisted of a number of Taiwanese women recounting stories about their attempts to get visas to visit the US. The second, “Factory” was a beautifully shot silent film shot in a derelict factory in Taiwan. We found the first of these two videos the more engaging which was perhaps down to the human stories that were being recounted. However, upon reflection it was perhaps the latter that we enjoyed the most. Without the stories as a sound track to the work we felt more freedom to absorb the imagery and give consideration to the spaces presented in relation to the theme that Chieh-jen. Although engaging, both the videos could certainly gone further to explore the themes at their core. In “Empire’s Borders”, for example, the medium could have been used to much greater effect. The static shots of the women telling their stories did to add a great deal to the work and as it stands. We didn’t feel the work would have lost much add it have been just audio.

Yael Bartana’s politically motivated work consisted of three videos and a couple of posters which had been produced en masse and were available for visitors to take home. One of these was a pictogram explaining how to create a wooden tower similar to that featured in one of the videos, “Wall and Tower”, and the second was a manifesto. Unfortunately we failed to fully appreciate the film, “Wall and Tower”, which is perhaps a result of our own ignorance with regard to world history. We’ve since been undertaking a little investigation and will be back to watch it again in due course.

Of the video works on display it was certainly the most filmic and was extremely enjoyable as we watched a group of people dressed as workers march into Poland where they proceeded to construct the said wall and tower of the title. The film clearly shows the creation of this structure in a public space and so the video becomes both a documentary as well as a political statement. Given the level of production in the video we were left in no doubt that the work was being presented as more than just a documentary. It would be interesting to compare the reactions of those people viewing the video with those who encounter the construction of the wall and tower.

Possibly the most disappointing work to be included in Artes Mundi 4 was the work of Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev from Kyrgyzstan. Their work documents life along the silk roads of their homeland along which silk would have once been transported from Asia to Europe. Of course transport has moved on since these times and now the Kyrgyzstani people are left to make their living by any means they can. A number of photographs provided us with examples of the way in which these people do this, for example, by driving caravans of lorries full of scrap metal into china for smelting and recycling. Although interesting to observe the life which these people live the artists really offered no critical insight into their subject. In addition to these photographs we were presented with an enormous five panel video installation. Again we saw images of people working and trucks travelling along the silk roads. As the videos unfolded we got a feel for the rhythm of life along the silk road but from a visual point of view we felt that Kasmalieva and Muratbek failed to make great use of the five video screens.

There was yet more video installation work on display from Ergin Çavu?o?lu. “Liminal Crossing” was one of our favourite works at this year’s exhibition as we watched, what appeared to be, a family pushing a piano across the border at the crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey. It is a very real place and there is real sense of struggle as the protagonists push the piano along despite the grim weather and steadily failing light. There was a magical quality to the film that drew us in as we watched them working together to pass through the border control. The video was edited in such a way that real sense of time passing was created. It provided a beautiful metaphor for life, of the passing from one place, one point in time, to another.

We weren’t so fond of the second of Çavu?o?lu’s video installations which was comprised of three screens and appeared to be shot in the Hebridean islands. It again dealt with ideas of time and place. The focus of this work was a father and son whom we assumed were being played by actors since dialogue between them felt scripted and unnatural.

The final work we viewed was that of Adrian Paci. Having already spent the best part of five hours taking in the work on show we must admit that we only skirted around his large tempura painted “Facades”. These large free standing paintings presented us with a brief story as the panels were divided up into squares each depicting different picture in the manner of a story board.

Although we might’ve not given these paintings the time they deserved we were very happy that we’d waited for Paci’s 35mm film, “Per Speculum”, to rewind. It was a beautifully shot and very cleverly staged piece. We were shown a group a children in an idyllic setting in a lush green landscape with clear blue skies above. As the camera pans out we realise that it is a reflection of the children we are seeing in a mirror that is fixed in the ground. This idyll is shattered when one of the boys throws a stone at the mirror mutilating the reflection of the children. We then see the children taking the shards of glass sitting in a tree and reflecting the sun towards the camera. The camera pans out so far that we can no longer see the children but just the reflections of the sun bouncing across the screen. A real sense of magic is created as the light dances randomly across this idyllic backdrop. The work conjures up ideas of worlds within worlds and asks us to question that which we believe to be real. It was a fantastically poetic way to end the exhibition.

The Artes Mundi 4 exhibition is open until 6 June 2010 at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Entry is free so there is no excuse not to go and see it if you are in the area, we’ll certainly be back for more. Of course we will be waiting excitedly to hear who will be awarded with the grand prize on the 19 May.


www.artesmundi.org

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