Tag Archives: Arts

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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The Silent Treatment

So until just over a month ago I was on the hunt for a new job. Not an enjoyable task by any means. Thankfully the hunt is over for now though and now I’ve had a little time for reflection.

The process of finding a new job is not easy and requires a large amount of time and effort filling out application after application, writing cover letters and constantly tweaking your CV. If you’re serious about finding a job then approaching each application afresh is important. Sending a generic CV and covering letter, or writing stock responses to the person specification in your application just doesn’t cut it.

Having submitted numerous applications over the last six months I’ve estimated that completing a job application can take as long as eight hours if you’re serious about landing the job that you’re applying for.

That’s why it angers me when organisations don’t even have the common decency to respond to your application. Job listings are frequently appended with a line such as:

“If you have not heard from us within three weeks of the application deadline please assume that your application has not been successful.”

These statements are often qualified with a reference to the large volume of applications that are expected in response to the job listing.

If an organisation is receiving 10 applications for a vacancy and every one of those individuals has put all their effort into the application then they could be receiving as much as the equivalent of 10 days’ work towards their recruitment process… for free.

Of course some people may rattle through their application in just a couple of hours. But then having been on the other side of the recruitment process in the past I have been in situations whereby I have received in excess of 50 applications for one post. That free labour towards an organisation’s recruitment process soon adds up.

I don’t know whether it’s arrogance, laziness or a fear of having to deliver bad news that causes so many organisations to treat applicants with such disregard. We live in an age in which Microsoft Office programmes are the administrative tools of the trade and so the excuse that replying to “X” many applicants takes too long just doesn’t wash. It’s a task that shouldn’t take much more than 10 minutes, if that!

If the argument that it takes up too much time is genuinely the reason for which an organisation has opted to give unsuccessful applicants the silent treatment then they should consider replacing their administrators!

In our world of art, design and crafts a huge number of the organisations that offer employment opportunities are publicly funded. As such they should treat the public that fund them with respect in all situations whether as visitors and customers, or as prospective employees.

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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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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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