Tag Archives: Contemporary Art

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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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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The Cardiff Open

So I missed out on the opportunity to submit something for the Cardiff Open exhibition. Unfortunately I didn’t find out about it until the submission deadline had passed. It’s a little bit of a shame because it’s not often that geographically restricted shows include the Vale of Glamorgan within their boundaries.

However, hindsight is not a bad thing at all and after a little further inspection I’m not really that bothered to have missed out since the project seems to be lacking in intellectual rigour.

The remit of the Cardiff Open is as follows:

Cardiff Open will act as a platform for showcasing the best contemporary art practice from an open call of submissions.

Whilst the submission guidelines were as follows:

  • max. 3 images [jpeg 72 dpi or pdf. no more than 5mb in total]
  • details of all images [title, medium, size [cm], wall price]
  • current CV including contact details

How can the selectors for an exhibition that purports to act as a showcase for the best contemporary art in the region make their choices from nothing more than a handful of low resolution digital images without any context?

You’ll notice that instead of asking for an artist statement which contextualises the work the Cardiff Arts Collective asked artists to submit their CV.

I can only conclude that the selectors have chosen work by artists with a good track record (based upon the request for a CV) and/or artists whose work makes for a pretty picture at 72 dots per inch. Of course a pretty picture makes for a potential sale which is no doubt why artists were also asked to submit a wall price.

It’s a sad state of affairs but unfortunately symptomatic of many open call ‘art’ exhibitions that I’ve come across lately.

What really irritates me though is that this project has the support of the Arts Council of Wales. At least this is the assumption I making since the ACW logo is plastered all over the Cardiff Arts Collective website.

The Arts Council of Wales exists to “support the creation of the best in great art”.

I would argue that ill considered projects like this Cardiff Open exhibition do not present the best in great art. Instead we will be presented with a selection of works that are linked only by geography and by the fact that they satisfy the aesthetic tastes of the selection panel (who I assume were the Cardiff Arts Collective committee members).

It’s exhibitions like this that give the visual arts a bad name. They give the general public the idea that visual art is simply the creation of an image by relegating the intellectual values of the work

Without context visual art exhibitions are meaningless collections of images.

I’m all for regional exhibitions to highlight the strength and depth of work that is being produced but curators need to put more thought into these projects. Simply grouping all of the work together under one roof just because artists all live within the same county boundary is lazy at best.

Organisers of exhibitions like this should take the time to get to know the artists in their region and develop and understanding of the work produced. By doing so they’ll better place themselves in a position to produce an exhibition which works with the artist and their work to produce an exhibition that shows all involved in the best light.

Whilst I must applaud the organisers of the Cardiff Open for not charging a submission fee I fear that they will present us with a jumble of un-curated work.

I’ve no doubt that some, if not all of the work on display will be of a high calibre but it will be difficult to fully appreciate such work if careful consideration is not given to the presentation of the work in the context of the exhibition as a whole.

I suppose part of the responsibility should lie with the artists in as much as they should give some thought to the exhibitions they want to take part in and not exhibit for the sake of exhibiting.

Having said that I can understand that artists just want to see their art out there in the world.

Although I have concerns about the Cardiff Open exhibition I’ll reserve my final judgment until the show opens for us all to see.

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Contemporary Art Cardiff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:


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?


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Simon Fenoulhet

I attended a presentation by artist Simon Fenoulhet a couple of months ago. For those of you who don’t know “Simon Fenoulhet is an artist who plays with our preconceptions of the material world by skilfully manipulating everyday objects with unexpected outcomes”.* Those are his words not mine.

Simon was talking about the installation entitled Curtain (2010) he created for Newport Museum and Gallery. He spent some time talking us through the series of events that led to his mind expanding discovery that plastic drinking straws look pretty when light shines through them. He spent even more time talking us through the technical aspects of the project and explaining how much equipment and technical know how was needed to light enough plastic drinking straws to create his installation.

It wasn’t the most enthralling artist’s presentation I have ever sat through but it was vaguely interesting nonetheless. My opinion of this artist and his work came crashing down however when someone asked him what the point of it all was. Well that’s not exactly how they phrased it. It was more along the lines of “that’s fascinating Simon but could you expand a little upon the concepts that drive the production of your work?”

Having given us a lengthy insight into the technical aspects of the installation Simon gave us brief response to this enquiry explaining that he was driven to make work that presented everyday objects in a different light (pardon the pun there).

That’s it!?

After outlining the months of work that this piece took to create and the considerable cost of it’s production (funded in no small part by a chunk of public money) that was all he had to give us about the rationale for producing the work.

Really? That’s it?

Now I could give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest that after having given his presentation he was being selfless in giving such a little response to such a big question and making way for the next speaker. Even so, as an artist one should do their best to contextualise their work in the clearest possible manner. After all, in these austere times surely we can’t be seen to be peddling art for art’s sake?

Such a brief response like this is, in my mind, not all that far far removed from Big Brother contestant Helen Adams’ infamous I like Blinking comment.

I like illuminating plastic drinking straws I do

Even Simon’s website does nothing to support the work in any intellectually rigorous manner. Although of another work archived on the same page he does offer that “the idea is to make passers by curious about what’s going on in there.”

How did this man secure funding from the Arts Council for this work which appears to be all fur coat and no knickers? Surely they should be funding projects that have something more to them than aesthetic appeal or am I mistaken?

Is that where we’re at now?

Have we succumbed to the dull blade of popular culture.

Are projects which titillate rather than challenge gallery goers all we are brave enough to support now?

*via http://www.simonfenoulhet.co.uk/about.html (10 July 2012)

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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


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I Know Something About Love: Part II

I know Something About Love Part II 30 August 2011

We took advantage of the long bank holiday weekend recently to take ourselves off to Swansea to see the current exhibition, I Know Something About Love Part II, at the Glynn Vivian Gallery. The exhibition, initiated by the Parasol Unit Foundation, brings together the work of three international artists; Shirin Neshat, Yang Fudong, and Christodoulos Panayiotou.

The first work we came across was Yang Fudong’s three channel video installation Flutter, Flutter… Jasmine, Jasmine. The film focusses upon the relationship between a young couple in the city as they are interviewed in on roof tops by an anonymous interviewer who remains behind the camera. Although initially sweet and seemingly rather innocent the interview becomes slightly discomforting as the line of questioning leads towards the couple’s sex life which they clearly are not so comfortable discussing so openly. Following this the couple both sing along to, what we have since discovered is a very successful Chinese pop hit. This reference was unfortunately lost at the time of viewing the work.

The film presents an interesting exploration of the innocence and naivety of young love although it was not easy to engage with the film. Of course, some subtleties are always lost in translation when watching foreign films but it was actually the camera work and presentation of the work that distracted from the content. It could be argued that the naive nature of the camera work reflected the naivety of displayed by the couple but unfortunately we found that the simple camera work something of an obstacle to really engaging with the work.

Similarly we struggled to understand the purpose of the three channel presentation. Perhaps if we hadn’t been reliant on the work’s subtitles we would have been able to focus more on the imagery. It didn’t seem that there was a a particularly cohesive pattern to the way in which the video channels had been cut until the final scenes in which she danced in the street whilst he posed on his motorbike.

Christodoulos Panayiotou’s video, Slow Dance Marathon, explores the social construction of love through song and dance. A ramshackle stage has been erected on which couple after couple take it in turn to slow dance together to numerous love songs and power ballads.

As a concept we really warmed to the this work but the execution left us a little frustrated as the marathon had been condensed to a video just 4 minutes and 22 seconds. In this format the temporal way in which we treat love in the modern world is brought to the fore but we couldn’t help feeling that if the documentation of the performance presented in the gallery was more of a marathon it would have been a more powerful piece. To have seen the couples having their 3 or 4 minutes on stage slow dancing together in the context of something much greater would certainly have conveyed the transience of modern love whilst reinforcing some of the concepts of time passing that the idea of a marathon conveys.

Perhaps that the marathon suggested in the title was negligible was the whole point of the video, or perhaps the video should only be seen as a documentation of a public performance. We were left wanting but the work certainly raises a lot of questions.

The final work that we encountered was Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s Fervour which is a two channel video installation. From the credits we watched roll it was apparent that this was a well funded film and it clearly showed. The film was beautifully shot in black in white and explores the theme of forbidden love in the context of Islamic society.

We watch as a man and woman pass one another at a cross roads and appear to share a connection, walking away from one another tentatively as he looks back at her walking away. We then see the pair as they attend a sermon where men and women are segregated yet their intangible connection seems to transcend the physical obstacle that is placed between them. On occasion the two channel projection is used to reinforce the physical barrier between the couple whilst it also facilitates their interaction as they gaze at one another across the ethereal cinematic void between the two screens.

Neshat’s film is a powerful poetic piece of work that warrants repeated viewings.

I Know Something About Love Part II is on display until Sunday 4 September 2011 at the Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea. It’s an exhibition that features three very different approaches to the examination of love through film and video and we’d definitely recommend it.


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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.


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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.


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