Tag Archives: Artists

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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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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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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Welsh Artist of the Year

So today is deadline day for getting your application in to the annual Welsh Artist of the Year competition.

Though to be honest if you’re not in Cardiff it’s probably too late already as there is still no online application process. Yes the Welsh art scene is still apparently entrenched in the dark ages of pre-digital media. It’s ridiculous really because the application form asks for little more than a name, address and title of the artwork. With the amount of time a digital submission process could save the organisers could probably half the submission fee which would be very welcome in these austere times.

Of course they could still make a hard copy available for the old dears who have a fear of technology. After all it should be as inclusive as possible.

Not that – finally – updating the application process would encourage me to apply.

The competition is a bit a joke really. How can they judge the Welsh Artist of the Year based on the submission of one piece of work?

Not only are the artists judged by one single piece of their output but there is no opportunity to contextualise their work either in the context of their own practice or within a wider view of the contemporary arts. After all context is everything.

It’s an issue I’ve had with an number of Welsh open exhibitions recently such as the Cardiff Open last autumn. By judging an artists career off the back of one single image without context perpetuates the notion that visual art is about nothing more than the creation of an images and that the intellectual values of the work are redundant.

The judges might as well pull names out of a hat or employ the age old ‘ip-dip dog shit’ technique.

Not that any of this will stop hundreds of artists from around the country handing over £10.00 on the of chance that it might be their year. After all without any context ‘Welsh Artist of the Year’ as a stand alone CV entry reads rather well doesn’t it?

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Welcome to Roath

We ventured back into the heart of the big city today to visit Milkwood Gallery in Roath, Cardiff, to view their current exhibition, Welcome to Roath (Croeso I’r Rhath), curated by Bob Gelsthorpe.

“Shwmae a croeso i’r rhath, welcome to five responses to the locale of Roath. Welcome to observations of the overlooked, celebrations of the community, the old, the new, the cracks in the pavement and the spaces in between. Welcome to outside perspectives and insider explorations, welcome to an exhibition of CF24 and welcome to Roath” – (via www.woic.co.uk)

The exhibition features work by Laura Cooper, Carwyn Evans, Mark Houghton, Tiff Oben & Helene Roberts and Becky Williams. Some of these names are more familiar to us than others with Carwyn Evans having been awarded the Gold Medal for Fine Art in 2011.

There was a mixture of work on display including fabricated steel, wood and glass sculptures by Carwyn Evans, a old table top painted with bands of colour by Mark Houghton and a video ‘installation’ by Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts.

Interestingly the signage on the wall as we entered through into the gallery gave the Curator, Bob Gelsthorpe, equal billing as the artists. We weren’t familiar with his name prior to this exhibition but having done a little online digging we have discovered that he is a recent Fine Art graduate.

Apparently this exhibition was brought together, at least in part, via an open call online:

“Artists/ Makers of any level making work that is critically engaged but also ideally involves the geography, community or idiosyncrasies of Roath. We are currently looking for expressions of interest from artists/makers of any level from Cardiff or further afield in using the Milkwood Gallery as part of a group exhibition, Croeso I’r Rhath/Welcome to Roath” – (via www.isendyouthis.com)

Whilst the work that was exhibited maybe “critically engaged” at some level there was no apparent engagement between one work and the next in the context of the show. Any concepts revolving around the exhibition’s “Welcome to Roath” theme were also rather lacking which was a shame given that the exhibition purported to present a “celebration of the community“.

Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts’ did presented a video of someone (presumably one of the artists) wrapping bunting around a lamp-post in Roath but we found it rather uninspiring and any ideas that it might have been trying to convey were lost to the deafening silence screaming out from the void between the works.

Becky Williams also presented a locally inspired work entitled the Roath Exploration Experiment. This was a participatory piece that was sloppily represented by a wall of grainy postcard prints curling from all corners. This didn’t do much to encourage us to participate.

Milkwood Gallery is not a large exhibition space and the nooks and crannies resulting from the old architecture of the building would present a challenge for any Curator. In this instance however, there was a sense that the Curator had selected work for the show without any real consideration of how the works would work not only with one another but with space in which they were being exhibited.

The exhibition appeared not to have been curated but roughly assembled.

To suggest that the exhibition had been curated would imply that there was a dialogue between the works on display with regard to the overarching exhibition themes. Unfortunately we found the show lacking in dialogue and any engagement, critical or otherwise, with the exhibition’s central themes that were alluded to in the press release.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of the work. Mark Houghton’s painted tabletop, for example, was appealing but in the context of this exhibition it was difficult to get a handle on the work at a conceptual level. The work would appear to be a part of a wider practice which say nothing to us of the “geography, community or idiosyncrasies of Roath“.

We’ve complained before on this blog about the all to free and easy use of the word “Curator” and derivations thereof and this exhibition was a prime example of the way in which the term has been dumbed down to be nothing more than a fanciful word for an “organiser”, “administrator” or on occasion “collector”.

Whilst we’d certainly look out for an opportunity to view work by these artists in a different context, on this occasion we were left a little cold as a result of the (lack of) presentation and curatorial nous.

The show continues until the end of the month so there’s still time for you to visit the gallery and make your own mind up.

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