Tag Archives: Celf

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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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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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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National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Visual Arts Exhibition

The application form for the National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Visual Arts Exhibition (competition) 2013 landed on my desk this week.

I’m gob-smacked that there is still no online application process for the open submission exhibition. To apply artists must:

“send their £20.00 fee, a completed application form, the Jpeg images or DVD works, together with a clear statement concerning the work to the visual arts officer at the following address: Eisteddfod Office, 40 Parc Ty Glas, Llanishen, Cardiff CF14 5DU”

I’m not suggesting they completely replace this real world process with a digital process. There are plenty of ancient artists across this country who would no doubt have a heart attack at the prospect of having to complete an online form. But, I’m a millennial. I don’t have a chequebook, I don’t have a writable CD drive on my computer in order to burn jpeg images to a disk, and a certainly can’t remember the last time I sent anything by snail mail.

The thing is, this postal application process is typical of Wales’ national art events. The Welsh Artist of the Year organisers offered no digital submission process either this year, instead opting for their usual expensive hard copy application forms.

I do wonder if it’s an age thing. I know the key organisers behind both of these events and they are not exactly young whippersnappers! I get the impression that these open submission events in Wales are organised in this way because that’s the way they’ve always done things. For example, I never get an invite to the Welsh Artist of the Year exhibition via email. It always arrives through my letterbox.

The expense of continuing to issue hard copy only literature must be phenomenal. There’s the cost of having the fancy leaflets and application forms printed, and then there’s cost of posting these papers out. In addition to this there is of course the man hours needed to stuff and label hundreds of envelopes.

Using a digital submission process alongside the traditional postal method would not only make these open submission exhibitions more widely accessible, but also help to reduce the administrative costs.

Of course I’d like to think that any costs that are made would be passed on to the artists and the organisers would reduce their submission fees.

This years Eisteddfod is charging a £20.00 submission fee for their Visual Arts Exhibition and that doesn’t guarantee you anything but a quick glance across photographs of your work by the judges.

That in itself is enough to put me off. I occasionally pay £1.00 for a lottery ticket with ambitions of winning a million pounds or two, or a large fraction thereof. Why would I pay £20.00 for the chance to win five thousand pounds and risk the feeling of dejection that comes with not winning the Eisteddfod’s grand prize – or worse still not being selected for the exhibition?

After all it is just pot luck. The organisers will receive hundreds of submissions no doubt from across length and breadth of the country. Whether or not one gets selected is ultimately going to come down the mood of the judges on the day of selection and possibly whether or not they recognise your work.

Between the expensive submission fee and hassle of having to prepare a hard copy submission there is no way I’ll be submitting anything for this year’s National Eisteddfod of Wales Visual Arts Exhibition, and in my humble opinion that’s their loss.

I always have the feeling that these exhibitions are incestuous, introverted; constantly looking inward on our country ignoring the bigger picture. Open submission events such as the Eisteddfod and the Welsh Artist of the Year need shaking up from top to bottom.

Lets get some new blood in and bring them all kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. The country needs some national exhibitions by Welsh artists that we can shout about and be proud of.

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