Tag Archives: Fine Art

Fimbulwinter by David Fitzjohn at Cardiff MADE

I popped into Cardiff MADE this week to have a look at the exhibition/installation they are currently hosting called Fimbulwinter which has been created by artist David Fitzjohn.

The blurb that I had read ahead of visiting the exhibition space was as follows:

In recent work Fitzjohn has used imagery of wilderness and woodland as a metaphor for both a lost ideal (Elysium) and a hoped for future, in order to explore his concerns regarding climate issues and economic imperialism. Fimbulwinter has extended and developed these themes.

This installation has evolved over five years. While its essence remains intact its physical state, like the changing landscape, has morphed with every site-specific experience. Initially conceived as a response to landscape generally, since his relocation to Wales Fitzjohn has become more particularly concerned with the mythic and timeless character of the Welsh landscape. This experience has reinforced his environmental concerns, but also awakened a deeper feeling for the ancient rhythms of nature that remind us of the fluid and changeable state of our reality and the cyclical order of destruction and rebirth embedded in our landscape.

The title Fimbulwinter is taken from Norse mythology, a period of three successive winters without any intervening summer, an environmental disaster that is the prelude to Ragnarok, the end of the world. While the world may not be ending, it is changing and Fitzjohn’s paper-cut is a response to this; his imagining of the end of things as they are, the mutability and adaptability of nature and the hope embedded in possible futures.

Grand eh?

I was all set to get myself a feel for the ancient rhythms of life and to get all worked up about climate change and economic imperialism.

Unfortunately all I encountered was paper-cut trees.

Just paper-cut trees.

Cute paper cut trees.

Fitzjohn’s paper-cut may be his response to the Norse mythological idea of Fimbulwinter, and those mythical tales might well be relatable to ideas about climate change and the end of the world, but unfortunately this paper-cut doesn’t communicate anything whatsoever about these themes.

It’s just paper-cut trees.

I understand that each presentation of the work sees the structure of this paper-cut woodland change to fill a different space and in doing so this might be read as a reflection of our changing world, but you would have to be a Fimbulwinter groupie, following the work from one venue to the next to appreciate this. Instead what is presented at Cardiff MADE is a static installation of aesthetically pleasing paper-cut trees

Ideas about climate change, economic imperialism, environmental disasters, or the hope embedded in possible futures might have inspired Fitzjohn in creating this work but to describe the work as being about these things requires a real stretch of the imagination.

It’s all well and good telling us what themes this work addresses, but if the work itself doesn’t communicate these ideas then it’s a failure in this regard. Isn’t it?

I struggled somewhat trying to figure out what the work was really all about but then I started to wonder if it was actually about the artist himself or aspects thereof…

The installation is not immersive; it is in fact clumps of white paper thin silhouettes of trees that we’re excluded from, forced to navigate our way around them peering through gaps in the entangled branches. We’re required only to observe, not interact with, the work from the outside, peering in, trying to catch a glimpse at what, if anything, might be at the heart of this faux woodland.

I know a few people that could be described by such metaphors, and so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to wonder whether this is in fact a self-portrait masquerading as something more pretentious.

All said, I actually rather enjoyed walking around the installation. It’s really quite beautiful.


PS: The coffee at Cardiff MADE is not bad.

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May the plinths influence you: Katherine Fiona Jones

It’s that time of year again, and so yesterday afternoon I took myself along to see the Masters exhibition at Cardiff School of Art. I’ve never been very impressed with their Masters exhibitions and this year’s show is no exception; as usual it’s much more ‘Meh!’ than ‘Wow!’. That being said there are perhaps two, or possibly three, real standout pieces of work.

However, rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the exhibition I’m going to return to our old friend Katherine (Katie) Fiona Jones (aka KEA Illustration). You might remember this blog post about the awful artist statement of hers that we came across a year or so ago on a visit to the art school. Well Katherine is back again with another abomination of an artist statement. Brace yourselves this really is horrific…

Invisible Realms is an exploratory body of work that examines fertile and feminine spaces without resorting to explicit depictions of female anatomy in order to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief and enter a realm of deathlessness, a realm of the invisible (Luna 2004, p.98). The work itself encourages the audience to interact with artefacts and objects that have drawn influences from ritual coupled with their metaphorical reference to contemporary beauty plights such as; crows feet, hair and cosmetic procedures. The underlying themes and motifs for this body of work is the uncanny (as defined by Freud, 1919) and ritual, which have been substantiated by my research into the themes of the Mari Llwyd as a strong and empathic female archetype for the modern and historical woman. Finally this body of work is hugely influenced by the fears of castration and its historical reference to beauty and power, which are particularly linked to Goddesses like Aphrodite and the Great Mother. This body of work asks you to suspend your disbelief and to interact with these plinths in order to encourage your dialogue and discourses on modern contemporary depictions of female form. May the artefacts entice you, may the plinths influence you and may the conclusions be your own.

You can view Katherine (Katie) Fiona Jones’ original statement online in the exhibition catalogue here.

The work in the exhibition was equally shocking, but I’ll focus on the artist statement first because the idea that the person who wrote this now possess an MA rather disgusts me. If I had been presented with this anonymously I would have attributed it to a weak BA degree student… at best!

Katherine Fiona Jones’ statement reads like a game of tautological bingo; ‘dialogues and discourses’, ‘artefacts and objects’, and so on. The student`could have written half as many words and said twice as as much if she was a capable academic. Instead she presents us with a collection of independent statements about ideas could possibly be related in some distant way;

  • The first sentence tells us that the work is about ‘fertile and feminine spaces’.
  • The second sentence tells us that the work is about ‘beauty plights’.
  • The third sentence tells us that the work is about the uncanny.
  • The fourth sentence tells us that the work is about ‘fears of castration’.
  • The fifth sentence tells us that the work is about ‘depictions of female form’.

Clearly the student believes that there is a link between, for example, feminine spaces, beauty plights, and the Mari Llywd (a hobby horse?); and I’m sure she’s read a page or two about each of these things.

Unfortunately Katherine displays a complete lack of academic intellect in tying these themes together. For example, what does the uncanny have to do with contemporary beauty plights in this context? It’s like she’s been playing games of word association. Anyone can list a number of vaguely related themes, but as student in an academic institution I expect to see evidence of cogent thinking as means to produce engaging artwork, not research for research’s sake and art for art’s sake.

A student listing everything she has ever looked at – just in case – does not help the spectator. These ideas should be distilled into an insightful, concise artist statement that facilitates a greater understanding of an artwork.

In addition to this Katherine throws in a citation at the end of the first sentence which should make any academic worth their salt cringe with disgust as there is no accompanying reference. Without a proper reference, and taken completely out of context the student has cleverly managed to paraphrase Luna in such a way that one might think that this is actually written about her own work. That’s not the case at all though, because as we can see, whatever it was that Luna was writing about was written in 2004.

This just further highlights her lack of academic sensibility and makes her look like she’s playing at being an academic, acting how she thinks she ought to.

She saves the best for last however… “May the artefacts entice you, may the plinths influence you and may the conclusions be your own.” (Katherine Fiona Jones, 2014)

WTF?

What kind of call to action is this? It’s a really cack-handed attempt at enchanting the spectator before they have experienced the work. As I understand it a plinth is a stand, podium, or base, which in an exhibition setting one might expect to be supporting a work of art. Either she doesn’t know what a plinth is or she thinks that she has created some rather spectacular plinths that are works of art in their own right. Having seen her exhibition work I can reliably inform you that Katherine’s plinths are completely unremarkable and definitely not influential.

Katherine Fiona Jones’ exhibition work also makes it very clear that she doesn’t understand what a visual metaphor is. She references ‘crows feet’ in her statement which also appear in the show, literally not metaphorically. One of the objects on display is made up of dried crow’s feet. Really? I would even expect first year degree students to grasp visual metaphors!

Her statement and work (in my humble opinion) were by far some of the worst on display at the Cardiff Masters exhibition, but she certainly wasn’t alone in the level of academic and artistic ability that she displayed. I can only conclude that there is a lack of academic rigour in the assessment of these students both from the tutors who mark their work or external moderators who grade the work. Clearly the standards are low, whether this is the result of lecturers’ fear of actually failing a student, or their own lack of academic nous isn’t clear.

I would expect the work that is displayed as a part of this public exhibition to be the best possible work that a student is capable of producing. After all, it is the culmination of their Masters studies and any student would want to put on their best face. If this the best that Katherine Fiona Jones has to offer then god only know what the university’s criteria for grading work are.

Quite frankly, the idea that she has successfully walked away with an MA after producing this god awful display really angers me. It devalues those similar qualifications held by myself and others across the country, not to mention her peers. It was my understanding that an MA is an academic qualification, however, Katherine Fiona Jones seems to be the proof that all you need to do is pay your tuition fees, produce some work, and Bob’s your uncle!

I suggest that Katherine makes use of some external assistance to write her artist statements in future. The Arty Bollocks Generator would be a good start; it certainly won’t make her statements any less comprehensible or effective.

I was not encouraged to interact with the artefacts.
My disbelief was not suspended.
The artefacts did not entice me.
The plinths did not influence me.

My conclusions are my own!


UPDATE: I’ve been reliably informed that the tweet, linked to above, exclaiming Katherine’s delight at achieving her MFA was posted before the grades were given to students… suspicious, what?

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Art-Speak Drivel

I had the pleasure of a meeting at the local art school yesterday. It’s a while since I’ve visited the place and the whiff of oil paints and dark room chemicals put me in a rather nostalgic state of mind reminiscing about my own time as an art student.

The school’s main gallery appears to have been decommissioned but there was a small show of work by Masters students on the ground floor where I stumbled upon some of the most nonsensical art speak I’ve encountered for a while. Brace yourself, this is a treat…

The artist, Katherine Fiona Jones, states that she is “Juxtaposing the objectivity of anatomy with the human form and bodily process, to present the debate on how beauty is perceived in western contemporary culture, inviting the discussion on the cultural view surrounding beauty and natural bodily function.”

Now I’ve come across plenty of art-speak nonsense in my time but I had to to take this one to task as it’s ‘apparently’ postgraduate level. It sounds like something that has been written by a keen foundation student.

If I understand this correctly, based upon what Katherine has written, she is placing the objective view of anatomy alongside the human form and bodily process for a contrasting effect. That’s despite the fact that anatomy is the study of the human form and it’s internal workings.

So by placing the science of anatomy next to the subject of anatomy she is going to present a debate about the perception of beauty?

That almost, sort of, starts to make sense when you think about it logically, but in order to have a debate you need to have at least two different, if not opposing stances from which to argue. What Katherine Fiona Jones is doing here is presenting us with a scientifically objective stance and the subject around which the debate is to take place but offering us no opposition to facilitate a debate.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the lack of clarity is mirrored in the visual work that was displayed next to this woeful statement of intent. The works featured what appears to be a female midriff and thighs clad in big knickers from which red ribbon hangs. This is all very badly photo-shopped over some black and white photocopies of God-only-knows-what.

Like Katherine’s statement says, the work presents the human form; or part of it at least. The red ribbons she states are representative of menstruation as the images “explore the honesty of menstruation as a bodily process, allowing the ribbons to act with gravity to represent the natural flow.

Now I have no idea how menstruation is ‘honest’ but I’ll put that down to my own ignorance.

Again these lines from Katherine are utterly confused and actually contradictory to what she has hung on the wall – one of the two images shows the ribbons flowing upwards as if blown by a gust of wind and defying gravity rather than going with flow – so to speak.

As an artist it is not enough to tell us what your intentions are you have to back this up in practice. In this instance the artist’s statement is so nonsensical that it suggests that the artist doesn’t have the capacity to articulate a simple debate.

– If you are “juxtasposing” two things then they should be contrasting.
– If you are presenting a debate then both sides of the argument need to be presented.
– Your artist statement should facilitate a deeper understanding of the work not try to explain or justify it.

I can’t decide whether Katherine Fiona Jones here is simply making the visual work that she wants to make and conjuring up some art speak drivel to wrap it up with because that’s what she thinks is the ‘done thing’, or whether she really believes that she is presenting and exploring a coherent and interesting debate about western perceptions of beauty.

You can find more work and equally rambling and incoherent commentary on Katherine’s website if you’d like to make your mind up for yourself.

Fine Art often has a hard time engaging the general public through the presentation of high concept and abstract philosophical lines of enquiry that are often presented in quite personal visual languages. But if this work is what the future holds then we might as well all give up now.

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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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The Lumen Art Prize

I discovered this week that Cardiff city is the proud supporter of the Lumen Prize. In their words:

“The Lumen Prize is an international award that celebrates the very best fine art created digitally. Our goal is to focus the world’s attention on this exciting, emerging genre of fine art through a curated competition that will find the very best examples of digitally-created art and then take this work on a global tour in 2013.”

It sounds like an ambitious project although I’m not quite sure what a “curated competition” is. The word “curate” and various derivations thereof seem to be bang on trend at the moment and so I guess the Lumen Art Prize organisers thought they’d better slip it in there.

Yes I know I’m being pedantic but there was a time in the not so distant future when to curate something meant more than to organise or simply compile a collection of things. There was once the understanding that a Curator is an expert in their field, normally following a considerable period of study and research which would enable them to orchestrate exhibitions (for example) with a degree of intellectual rigour.

These days it seems one can curate a competition or even a blog. It won’t be long before we start referring to our accountants as ‘Curators of Finance’.

Anyhow, that’s my carefully curated rant over. Back to the Lumen Prize.

Is digital fine art really an “exciting, emerging genre”? Digital art has been around for well over a decade if not for the best part of two. There are hundreds if not thousands of online galleries which house millions of digitally created artworks. Behance, Cargo Collective and Deviantart, for example, are three big online portfolio sites where artists from all around the world share their work.

Perhaps it’s the idea that the selected entries are works of “Fine Art” rather than just “Art” that is of importance. After all, the literature produce consistently refers to “Digital Fine Art”. But having looked through the short-listed artists artworks I cannot see anything special that would indicate that these are works of Fine Art. Then the Lumen Prize organisers muddy things even further:

“The Lumen definition of digital fine art: Exceptional Artistic talent expressed through the use of a digital app or software. It may include elements of graphic design, animation, illustration, photography and film as part of the creative process.”

So entries must be works of Fine Art but can incorporate graphic design, illustration and so on? Like the use of the word ‘curated’ that irked me above. The more I explore the remit of the Lumen Prize the more I think that the term “Fine Art” has been inserted into the literature under the assumption that it adds some intangible level of credibility to the project.

It certainly seems to have led to a certain type of digital art being selected for the short-list. Whether this is reflective of all the work that was submitted I guess we’ll never know but I for one certainly don’t find these images inspiring or engaging. Many of them look like amateur attempts at chocolate box art.

Despite the fact that this genre of art is apparently “exciting” and “emerging” the selectors seem to have short-listed work that looks like it is trying to replicate traditional methods such as painting and drawing.

Excuse me for a moment whilst I just bang my head against my desk…

I think that this project suffers from the same problem as the Cardiff Open I mentioned in an earlier post. The Cardiff Open suffered from restrictions that were too loose as it was bound only by geographical location. Similarly this competition suffers from only being bound by media. To suggest that the competition is curated as the organisers do is ludicrous when the subject matter of the works is so wide ranging.

I do like the Lumen Prize concept but like many such projects it seems to be lacking from any serious pre-planning which has resulted in a rather flaccid selection of work.

As I understand it they received nearly 500 entries to the competition and almost 1000 votes for the public vote. For an international project with such apparently grand ambitions this is a minuscule number of submissions and barely two votes per submission. If I’d submitted work myself I wouldn’t have been happy unless I’d received a couple of hundreds votes for my work alone.

I hope that artists aren’t discouraged from applying from future iteration of the Lumen Prize by the “Fine Art” tag or by the work that has been submitted so far.

The idea of creating digital displays of art in non-traditional locations is in interesting idea. I hope the Lumen Prize organisers are able to take a more open stance in future to encourage participation from a breadth of artists and not just those who consider themselves Fine Artists.

The three Lumen Prize winners will be announced at Cardiff City Hall on Friday 19 October 2012.

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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:

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

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

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

It’s a clear as muck then.

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


Update 12 July 2012

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

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

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

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

#Fail

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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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Becoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


www.cardiffstory.com

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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.


www.glynnviviangallery.org

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